The recent passing of the bayman Wayne Vorpahl at the age of 49 caused this observer to mourn the loss to the community of people whose lives and livelihoods depended on an understanding of nature’s rhythms.
Wayne knew where the clams were and why. He knew where the bass were and why. Same with crabs and oysters and striped bass and any of the creatures we share this place with.
I would love to have asked him or Stuart Lester or Norman Edwards or Capt. Bill Lester or Tommy Lester or Calvin Lester or any of the other lifelong inshore fisherman who have passed over the bar if there is anything to my theory that fishing seasons like this one, filled with wet weather and strong west winds, are especially bountiful.
I believe that rain, when accompanied by strong west winds in spring, causes rivers along the East Coast to swell and pour a surfeit of nutrients into the sea. Phytoplankton consume it, little fish swarm to feed on the salad, bigger fish eat the little fish, and the rest is Darwin. Millions of signs and triggers that add up to the East End being swarmed by prey and predator.
It seems that sand eels make an especially strong presence under these conditions, as they have this year. Sand eels draw all kinds of predators including marine mammals.
Paul Bruno is the skipper of the Elizabeth II charter boat out of the Montauk Marine Basin. He reported huge schools of tinker mackerel offshore. “If you could get a net on them you would be a fluke magician,” he said. The tiny mackerel are tops in the fluke boat department. He said the tinkers and the massive schools of sand eels farther inshore explained the dolphins he’s been seeing and the whales that others have reported. “There’s got to be bluefin in the area,” he said, meaning bluefin tuna.
Could this wet west wind-Gulf Stream phenomenon account for the presence of Portuguese man-of-war? Several of these jellyfish cousins have been seen washed up on East Hampton Town beaches in the last week.
As Captain Bruno said, these are excellent conditions for shark fishing. Three very large makos topped the scales at the Montauk Marine Basin’s 43rd annual shark tag tournament over the weekend. Capt. Chuck Mallinson’s Joy Sea charter boat got the biggest, with the able help of the angler Rich Lipari of Katonah, N.Y. — a 377-pound mako. In second place was a 295-pound mako wrestled aboard the My Mate with Pete Casale at the helm. That fish was angled by Ray Ristau. Capt. Tony Froitzheim took the Montrachet offshore where Peter Pappas reeled in a 292.2-pound mako.
The top blue shark was a 239-pounder caught on the Pension Plan from Connecticut. Capt. Tom Cusimano’s Sea Wife IV took second with a 233.6-pound blue with another Connecticut boat, the White Hawk, as the runner up. The largest thresher shark was caught on Capt. Peter Brancaleone’s Fish On boat.
There is another, and probably related, explanation. If you check the Web site of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, you will see that the Gulf Stream and its warm-core eddies and meanders have begun to flood us with very warm water. Big predators like tuna and billfish travel within the Stream’s hospitable cocoons, which bring them within range of more northern prey, and of more northern fishermen.
“We got fish up the ass,” was how Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett put it. “When we were kids I used to go tinker mackerel fishing in the ocean first thing in the morning and fry them in the pan,” he said in response to Captain Bruno’s offshore observation.
“A lot of 24 to 29-inch striped bass off Barnes Landing. A lot of porgies and fluke off Cartwright Shoals and Napeague. Napeague Harbor is holding small bass and bluefish. The hanger dock in Fort Pond Bay [Montauk] is hot for porgies and small bass. Some people have been jigging squid down there too, as well as in Three Mile Harbor at night. The Georgica jetties have a lot of bass, and Georgica Pond has some nice size crabs starting. The blues are off Sammy’s Beach and the ocean beaches in East Hampton and Amagansett are still hot. Diamond jigs and clam bait are working best.”
“There are a lot of fish for all, lots of fun. Snapper, bluefish at least two weeks early,” Mr. Bennett ranted. “Cloudy skies make for perfect fishing weather. Fishing the shoals is so much like the flats of the Caribbean that you get lost in between the fish and the U.F.O.s flying by. Happy Fourth.” He also mentioned that bike riders can expect free water and repairs at his shop on Montauk Highway.