Finned Visitors From Afar

The diverse assortment of fish caught each morning can provide some interesting surprises
Adam Christopherson of East Hampton landed this 15-pound cod on Saturday. Jon M. Diat

Like me, I’m sure you have seen more than your fair share of out-of-state license plates on our roads this summer. California has been a common one, along with Texas, Ontario, Illinois, Florida, and New Mexico, to name just a few. There have been no sightings of a plate from Guam, but there is still time; however, we have seen some other foreign and distant visitors make a cameo appearance in the high-profile Hamptons scene of late. These are not your summer jet-setters ready to attend the latest charity event. These have fins and gills.

Every season, especially during the heavy depths of our summer warmth, we have a unique chance to gawk at some rather unexpected and infrequently seen species of fish that make an impromptu appearance in our local waterways. While striped bass, fluke, porgies, bluefish, sea bass, and the like rule the roost as some of our most common inshore species, especially for those who tend to commercial pound traps, the diverse assortment of fish caught each morning can provide some interesting surprises. And this summer has proven as no exception. 

Over the past few weeks commercial baymen, as well as recreational anglers, have reported such unusual catches as Lafayette, Spanish mackerel, cobia, black drum, torpedo rays, spiny southern puffers, sheepshead, hickory shad, southern croakers, and even a tarpon or two. Old-timers would call that a mixed bag for sure.

One fish that has taken up residence this summer in numbers not seen in years is frigate mackerel. A subspecies of tuna, they are normally found in tropical waters around the world. “Frigate mackerel are all over the place this summer feeding on juvenile butterfish and peanut bunker,” said Capt. Merritt White, the light-tackle specialist and guide of Gunkholin Charters. White also said that small tinker mackerel, a cousin of the frigate, are also in good supply.

The prevalence of frigate and tinker mackerel, along with huge pods of bunker close to our ocean shoreline, is a very likely reason that shark fishing has been exceptional of late, with a short ride to the fishing grounds from just about any port of call. 

“The shark bite is about as close as you want now,” said Scott Jeffrey at East End Bait and Tackle in Hampton Bays. “The massive schools of bunker are in anywhere from 20 to 60 feet of water. Thresher, mako, and brown shark have been spotted, caught, and landed by many.” He added that schools of Spanish mackerel are also mixed with the bunker. Jeffrey was equally enthused that false albacore have showed up in force at Shinnecock Inlet. Time to unpack your light tackle, small jigs, and thin fluorocarbon leaders. 

Bluefish have been a bit more elusive of late. While some small cocktails can be had on the incoming tide at Jessup’s Neck, better action can be found at Montauk. “The bluefish out in Montauk have been plentiful and large,” said Capt. Ken Rafferty, a light-tackle specialist in East Hampton. Large is probably an understatement as Rafferty’s nephew, Bobby Yurkewitch, landed a Godzilla-like bluefish that bottomed out the scale at 24 pounds. Even the most experienced dentist is likely to stay away from those teeth. Bluefish are not nicknamed “choppers” for nothing.

Down the road at the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, Harvey Bennett also extolled the great variety of fishing on a number of fronts. “Bottlefish are everywhere and the fluking is good off of Napeague and Fort Pond Bay,” he said. “Weakfish showed up off of Accabonac Harbor and Promised Land too.” Bennett confirmed that the big bluefish are roaming the shoreline at Montauk and points east along the ocean beaches, where sharks of several varieties have also been landed.

Sebastian Gorgone, the proprietor of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton, also confirmed the local shark reports. “It was truly shark week,” he said. “And many different species too, including dusky, thresher, bull, and brown sharks close to shore.” Gorgone added that bluefish finally showed up at the Ruins at the northern tip of Gardiner’s Island in recent days.

For those intent on weakfish, the action has been red hot in Noyac Bay. “It has been excellent near Buoy 16 in particular,” said Ken Morse of Tight Lines Bait and Tackle in Sag Harbor. “The sizes are mixed. One day they are small, but on some days larger fish up to eight pounds can be had even during the midday sun.” As a reminder, the recreational limit for weakfish is one fish over 16 inches per person. 

At Montauk, the striped bass action continues to be good depending on the tides, while porgy and sea bass fishing remains consistent. Fluke fishing has been excellent, with Midway, Cartwright, Frisbees, and Rocky Hill being the popular spots of late for those focused on larger fish.

“We have seen a number of big fish, too,” said Kathy Vegessi of the open boat Lazy Bones. The top fish of the week was taken by Joanna McKasty on Saturday afternoon’s trip: a true doormat tipping the scales at 13.7 pounds.

For those who don’t mind a longer boat ride, the cod action to the east of the wind farm at Block Island has also been productive. Despite a strong tide, a group of friends and I landed about 30 cod up to 15 pounds in Saturday’s rain. Good news is that we did not encounter any pesky spiny dogfish during our outing. Now that’s one visitor I’m glad we did not see. 


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Bobby Yurkewitch caught a monster 24-pound bluefish on Saturday while fishing with Capt. Ken Rafferty. Capt. Ken Rafferty