On the Water: About Those Blowtoad Tails

Although foul weather has slowed down the season somewhat, fluke and striped bass are being landed with regularity. Russell Drumm

    Blowfish have invaded Gardiner’s Bay and trap fishermen have been bailing them. When this happens, culinary thoughts turn toward the tasty tails of the blowtoads, or bottlefish, as they’re known locally. Fried, or scampi style, the tails are hard to beat. Stay clear of South­ampton scungilli, however.
    The State Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation have issued warnings against eating carnivorous snails, including conchs (from which scungilli is made) and moon snails, as well as the hepatopancreas (tomalley) of lobsters and blue-claw crabs.
    Starting early this month, the warnings went out to forswear the aforementioned critters if they were harvested from Shinnecock Bay west of the Ponquogue Bridge in Hampton Bays. As more tests were done, consumers were warned not to eat snails or crustacean livers from bays and harbors in Huntington township. The reason is saxitoxin, which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans, potentially life-threatening.
    Saxitoxin is not neutralized by cooking, as are bacterial pathogens.
    Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett said anglers can catch blowfish with the same kind of rig they’d use for flounder. Clam baits worked, he said. “Never tried squid, and sandworms are too expensive, like $7 a dozen with the delivery fee. They come from Maine. There’s a whole industry up there with a union and everything.”
    Bennett said bottlefish were easy to skin. “Slice ’em like nine-tenths of the way through and just peel the skin off. Their whole body is tail. I fry ’em. Then next day make lobster salad out of ’em. They’re better than lobster salad; you swear you’re eating mild lobster. Growing up with these things, thousands of them, all the time. I remember my mother trying that and it was so good,” Bennett said.
    “A six-pound weakfish was caught off Devon,” he added, going on to curse the cold east wind that has been keeping boats tied up.
    Paulie’s Tackle shop in Montauk reports striped bass in the wash. Mike Copolla caught one weighing in the high teens, and lost a bigger one. “It’s been very good. Plenty of fish around and not a lot of players,” said Paul Apostolides. The action was on Montauk’s south-facing beaches and under the Montauk Light. The prey species are small so far — white bait, spearing, perhaps some sand eels. “There’s been a couple of good nights,” Apostolides said.
    Three Mile Harbor is said to be chockablock with stripers, including keeper-size fish at least 28 inches long. Porgy (scup) lovers already know that Tuesday marked the start of the 2011 season. The bag limit is 10 per angler per day measuring at least 101/2 inches until Sept. 26 if you’re fishing on your own. From Sept. 7 through Oct. 11 anglers fishing from charter or party boats can keep up to 40 scup.
    State fishery managers are considering changes to the black sea bass regulations. The new regs will include a 13-inch minimum size, up half an inch from last season, and a 10-fish bag during a split season, June 13 to Oct. 1 and Nov. 1 through Dec. 31.
    In the fluke department, Tom Jordan of the Gone Fishing Marina in Montauk said the action was steady but still fairly quiet. “Seems better on the turns of the tide, but the weird winds don’t help. Still, they’re catching nice fish and shorts, but it’s not rock ’n’ roll time yet. The weather is late, and the fishing has not broken open yet.”
    T.J., as he’s known, also reported the strong showing of blowfish. “Ritchie Nessel ate three or four pounds last night,” he said on Tuesday, “and he is going to get more for tomorrow’s poker game.”
    I’ll see you, and raise you four blowtoads.