Divining Rods of the Deep

Fishermen read the movements of fish in spring, comparing their comings and goings with those kept in logbooks and legends
Squidders lined a dock in Montauk as their lamps lighted the water below. Carissa Katz

    An infinity of tiny fish darted and gathered in the green glow of a submerged squid lamp on Monday night. The long tentacles of a pulsating jellyfish swept for food in the slow current. Time passed. Larger fish jetted through the small, lighted section of bay carved out of the night by the lamps. “Bunker,” a voice declared, breaking a long silence.

    There are tea leaves, of course, but they pale beside the divining offered up by a quiet, windless night of squid fishing. Fishermen read the movements of fish in spring, comparing their comings and goings with those kept in logbooks and legends.

    This is the time of year when schools of bunker, short for mossbunker, a k a menhaden, appear in Montauk’s Fort Pond Bay like big, dark purple blossoms.

    The oily filter feeder forages on plankton, dense clouds of which drifted through the light of squid lamps that night. The bunker won’t stay in the bay for long. Striped bass will be hot on their trail. Nor will squid. The squid may have vamoosed already, scared away by arriving bluefish. Squid buckets remained fairly empty on Monday.

    One squidder said he was witness to the brief visit of a tremendous school of porgies in the bay last week, a bountiful surprise. He said he’d never seen the like. It seems like the local porgy population has been growing steadily.

    Weakfish show up when the lilacs bloom. They may have beat the blossoms this unusually cold spring. Word has it that weakfish, one of the most beautifully silver, purple, and yellow-colored species around, are being caught in and around Sag Harbor.

    Small striped bass are in the wash on the ocean side of Montauk, Amagansett, and East Hampton. They are falling to those rubber, fish-shaped lures. Rubber fish work well when fishing for toothless bass, but they get expensive once a toothy school of bluefish begins to chomp.

    Organizers of the Montauk SurfMasters spring tournament for striped bass have announced there will be a youth division this season after all. The tournament starts tomorrow morning and will run until June 28. The entry fee is $100 for adult competitors, free for youths 18 and younger.

    Summer boats are being launched. The State Department of Parks and Recreation is alerting boaters that a new law requires that anyone born after May 1, 1996, must have taken an approved, eight-hour course in boating safety in order to operate a recreational vessel. The new law supersedes a 2012 Suffolk County requirement that all motorboat operators earn a boating safety certificate. Courses are offered by the Parks Department, the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and the United States Power Squadron. A list of approved courses can be found on the Parks Department website, nysparks.com/recreation/boating/safety-courses.aspx.