The Times Are A-Changin’

John Lombardo of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., landed this nine-pound fluke on the Lazybones on Sunday morning. It was, by all accounts, the largest fluke landed so far this season out of Montauk. Jon M. Diat

Despite a mixed bag of weather, the Memorial Day weekend saw a much greater influx of angler participation. Whether it was more boats on the drift for fluke or anchored up on hard bottom for porgies, or, for those who preferred to stay on terra firma, casting a variety of lures into the surf, it truly felt like the fishing season officially got underway for 2017. The ribbon has been cut.

But it wasn’t always that way. Fishing activity used to take off much earlier here on the East End, usually even before the first dandelion bloomed on your neighbor’s lawn. Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, it’s easy for me to vividly recall the April morning sun shining on literally dozens of boats plying Shelter Island Sound, Three Mile Harbor, Tobaccolot Bay, and Montauk Harbor fishing for winter flounder. Catches were plentiful and required little effort. Chumming was not necessary or even thought of. It was that easy at times. 

For almost 30 years, Sag Harbor held a popular and eagerly anticipated flounder derby for the largest fish landed. In some years, nearly 100 boats entered the contest. But the last one was held about 15 years ago, and sadly, I was the winner of the final tournament. Unfortunately, flounder catches have been on a steady decline since the early 1980s and angler interest has slowly died off with it. Today, few people if any even wet a line for flounder in the spring (the season is only open during April and May). At this rate, today’s younger generation will scarcely even know what a flounder is, never mind having a chance to catch one.

“I did not have a single customer come in to buy any bait or rigs for flounder this spring,” said Ken Morse, owner of Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor. “It’s unfortunate really. It used to be such a popular fishery on the entire East End. But it’s gone, most likely forever.” 

It also is pretty much the same story for codfish, in particular pollack, even though cod action has been pretty good at times in the past few winters and there’s been some solid action for those taking the over-30-mile ride east to Cox’s Ledge in the summer. The heralded local spring fishery was eagerly anticipated by many in the tristate area and beyond. Several party boats loaded with fishermen sailed out of Montauk on a daily basis through June. Action was consistently good. I even remember wanting to fish on Good Friday on the old Marlin IV back in the early 1980s and being turned away before even boarding, as the boat was sold out. Thankfully, I had a backup plan: My golf clubs were in the trunk.

And even when I was able to get on board, I recall fishing elbow-to-elbow several times on a packed Viking Starship south of Block Island in the hope of landing a pollack on my diamond jig. And these were no ordinary pollack. Feasting on enormous schools of 8 to 10-inch sand eels sometimes stacked 20 to 30 feet high, these muscle-bound brutes approached 35 pounds and their fight would put even a bluefish to shame. For the truly masochistic angler, four-arm umbrella rigs would be trolled in the hope of landing a grand slam. I never tried that method. One pollack was tough enough for me to handle. Alas, this fishery is long gone too. 

I’m not sure I subscribe to the theory that the more things change, the more they stay the same. With regard to fishing, fish and patterns do change. And in most cases, history does not always repeat itself. 

On the bright side of the coin, other species thankfully have arrived in place of flounder, cod, and pollack. Action this week was consistent on many fronts, just in time for the holiday crowds.

“Striped bass fishing has been pretty solid on trolled parachutes, but they are hitting diamond jigs too,” said Richard Etzel, captain of the Breakaway, sailing  out of Montauk Harbor. “No big sizes yet, that’ll come in a few weeks. But the action has been good.” Captain Etzel also remarked that bluefish are around in sizable numbers, but not as thick as the previous weekend. 

Fluke fishing out of Montauk remains a pick, with action mostly located in deeper water south of the radar tower and past Frisbees. “Fishing has been okay, with fish up to five pounds,” said Jake Nessel, skipper of the Ebb Tide party boat. “Some sea bass are in the mix too, but they have to be thrown back, as the season does not open until June 28.”

Chris Miller at Westlake Fishing Lodge echoed those reports. “Fluke fishing has been a bit of a struggle, but the bass fishing has been good. Porgy action at Gardiner’s has been consistent too.” 

For the surf rats, bluefish have their teeth sharpened and are on the prowl, according to Paul Apostolides of Paulie’s Tackle in Montauk. “Lots of big blues around and they are mixing in with some small stripers on the beaches. Very consistent fishing on various lures.”  

Action was good for many different species, reported Harvey Bennett, who has been behind the counter of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett for 38 years. “There have been some nice, large-sized fluke taken near the entrance of Napeague and Accabonac Harbor on squid and spearing combos. Porgies are platter-sized and hot off the windmill to the big rock in Cherry Harbor too.” Bennett also said that striped bass action has been solid for those fishing the Race, Plum Gut, and the ruins at the northern tip of Gardiner’s Island. 

Closer to home, the ocean beaches had a nice mix of big blues and small bass at Gurney’s and Hither Hills in Montauk, and White Sands on Napeague, Bennett said, while Fort Pond and Hook Pond were the places to be for smallmouth bass and large carp. “Those carp put up a real good fight, too,” added Bennett. 

Sebastian Gorgone at Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle on Three Mile Road in East Hampton also waxed enthusiastically about the terrific porgy fishing taking place in Cherry Harbor off the windmill on Gardiner’s Island. “The action and size of the fish — up to nearly four pounds — has been excellent. In addition, large bluefish are still running near the shoreline at Gerard Drive.” 

Gorgone heard that the first cinder worm hatch occurred in Three Mile Harbor and that small bass are on the feed there. He added that blowfish catches continue to improve in the harbor and that larger stripers can be had along the oceanfront at Georgica and beaches heading east.  

I got a chance on Saturday to drop a line for fluke locally on my boat. Two hours of drifting produced two small sea robins and a consistent amount of weed on my line. As with all of us, a skunking will happen from time to time. That’s one thing that is sure to never change. 


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