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Black Gold, at Last

Tue, 06/25/2019 - 16:58

After months of eager anticipation, the black sea bass season in New York finally opened on Sunday. While anglers in New Jersey and Connecticut have been allowed to retain the popular fish as of May 15 and 19 respectively, folks in New York have had to sit on the sidelines while their nearby neighbors have enjoyed bountiful catches for over a month. To rub salt in the wound, Jersey anglers could keep 10 fish per day, while those in the Nutmeg State could retain five. A huge, if unfair, advantage.

Needless to say, despite a fishery that by every measure is more than fully restored, Empire State anglers continue to come out on the short end of the stick. When will the inequity change? Nobody has a clue, but it is certainly long overdue.

Politics and imbalanced regulations aside, many here were just happy to be able to fish for sea bass again. And by all accounts, the fishing started on a positive note.

“I’m glad the season is finally open,” said a relieved Sebastian Gorgone of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton. “So many people have been frustrated to throw back many beautiful keeper fish for the past month or so.” Anglers are allowed to retain three fish over 15 inches per day. On Sept. 1, it increases to seven fish per day.

Over at the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, the owner, Harvey Bennett, was also enthused about black gold, his description of the black, white, and silver-hued sea bass. “By all accounts, it seemed like many people took advantage of the good weather to focus on them,” he said. 

As for other species, the fishing has been on the uptick on just about everything. “You name it, and you can probably catch it now,” said Bennett, reciting the equivalent of a lengthy Chinese takeout menu. Some of the à la carte items include blowfish, porgies, fluke, kingfish, striped bass, bluefish, carp, and, of course, sea bass. 

“Blowfish, in particular, are just about everywhere,” he said. “They are at Gerard Drive, the town dock in Three Mile Harbor, and Long Beach. . . . And striped bass fishing from the surf in Napeague took off in the past few days. Some big fish, too.”

Gorgone also confirmed the nice bass catch coming in from the Napeague area. “There’s been a good bite going on,” he said.  “Blowfish are thick in Three Mile Harbor and fluking has been decent when the weather allows.” 

Some oddities have also made an appearance on the local fishing scene. In the very strange category, green bonito made a surprise early showing at Shinnecock Inlet last Thursday. “People were catching them from the jetty and from boats,” said Morse. “I’ve never seen them here so early. They usually don’t show up until early September. Many fish were landed.”

The inlet also produced an Atlantic sturgeon and several houndfish, also known as crocodile needlefish, due to their razor-like denture work. On the east side of Shelter Island, a few red hake, normally found in the deeper waters of the ocean, have been landed. It is very unusual to see them that far into the bay. As John Lennon once sang, “Strange days indeed.”

Speaking of deep water, the 49th annual Montauk Marine Basin shark tournament witnessed fine fishing conditions last weekend and several large sharks were brought back to the scale. The largest fish weighed in was a 316-pound thresher on the Empty Pockets, while the largest mako was a 170-pounder taken on the Slammer. The charter boat Oh Brother! captured second place in the mako division with a 142-pound fish. 

The heftiest blue shark was landed, ironically, by a boat named Sharkin, and weighed in at 236 pounds. When you name your boat after a certain species, you better have confidence in your skillset. 

Closer to shore, for anglers 16 years of age or younger, there are only a few days remaining to sign up for the Montauk Youth Fluke Tournament. The entry fee is $25 and can be dropped off at the Montauk Marine Basin, which is also the official weigh-in station. 

“We’ve already raised $1,000, which will be donated to a local charity in the winner’s name,” said Tim O’Rourke, the organizer of the tournament. The largest fish landed will receive a custom-made fishing rod courtesy of MTK Custom Rods in East Hampton. Other prizes will be given to the top five fish weighed in by the youngsters. Atop the leader board is Justin Prince with his 5.3-pound flattie. Monday is the last day to enter the competition, which concludes on Sept. 30. 

Fluking in general at Montauk has been a bit cumbersome at times, with some days better than others. For those fishing in deeper water, some nice fish up to 12 pounds were taken in between bouts of pesky dogfish that ran interference. “The bite has been picky,” said Kathy Vegessi of the Lazy Bones, a half-day party boat. “We picked up a few sea bass on Sunday to fill in the gap.” 

Fishing for striped bass has been solid in the rips, where they are feasting on large schools of sand eels. Diamond jigs and trolled bucktails have been the hot lure of late, with a number of fish up to 40 pounds weighed in. “Striper fishing is going off big time,” remarked Capt. Rob Aaronson of the Oh Brother!

We welcome your fishing tips, observations, and photographs at [email protected]. You can find the “On the Water” column on Twitter at @ehstarfishing.

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