Oh, Brother, What a Trip

A few of the benefits of letting a true professional take all of the responsibilities off your plate for a day.
Tim Mott of Sag Harbor held a sea bass taken on Friday aboard the Oh Brother out of Montauk. Jon M. Diat

While I have always enjoyed fishing on my own boat, I truly appreciate joining some friends on a charter trip. In short, it feels like a bit of a holiday for me. I do about half a dozen or so of these excursions every year and the benefits are many. No worries or pressure to find the fish, no concerns on securing bait and tackle, no hassle of cleaning the boat at the end of the day, and no need to clean and bag any of the fish caught. Those are just a few of the benefits of letting a true professional take all of the responsibilities off your plate for a day. For me, it’s a great way to put my feet up on the gunnel and enjoy a day on the water without an ounce of guilt. 

I can fully relax.

It was with this in mind that early on Friday morning I joined a group of friends who chartered a boat for a full day of bottom fishing out of Montauk. The boat of choice was the Oh Brother, run by Capt. Robert Aaronson, a captain I have known for over 30 years. A check of my fishing logbook can actually pinpoint my first day fishing with Aaronson. It was Nov. 14, 1986, when he was a mate that day for another fine fisherman, Capt. Michael Albronda of the charter boat Montauk. I still have pictures from that trip, when we caught more than our fair share of striped bass and bluefish on a blustery, sunny late fall day. It feels like it happened just yesterday.

The Oh Brother is a rather unmistakable boat. At 39 feet in length, the stout, BHM downeast-hull craft looks much larger and is clearly defined by its steel tuna pulpit that extends well beyond its bow. It’s a boat that can be easily identified from many miles away. To me, it’s a bit eerily reminiscent of the Orca, Capt. Quint’s boat featured in the movie classic “Jaws.” It has true character.

“I had the boat built to my specifications in Maine back in 1989 as a charter and commercial vessel,” Aaronson said of his boat, which can hold 10,000 pounds of fish in its insulated fish hold. “She also draws six feet of water. You give up some speed and economy with a heavy, deep boat, but we make that up by being able to safely go fishing in challenging conditions. She is a monster in heavy weather.” 

Such a well-built boat would come in handy that day.

Taking a ride to the south and east of the windmills off Block Island was a bit of a Coney Island Cyclone roller coaster experience, but the boat held steady in the following sea. A west wind gusting up to 30 miles per hour had developed the day before and whipped up the seas to eight feet in height, but thankfully my fellow crew members were hardy and seasoned veterans accustomed to some rough water. Upon arriving at the fishing grounds, we were greeted by an anchored Viking Starship that had a good number of similarly hardy anglers. Measuring 140 feet in length, the Starship looked like a Navy destroyer steadily bobbing up and down in the persistent swells, but you could see a constant stream of black sea bass being lifted by those fishing at its rails. 

With a good amount of freshly cut skimmer clams at the ready as our bait, Aaronson decided to drift instead of anchor. And the action was immediate. The bottom was alive with fish despite the challenging conditions, as the boat drifted true in the stiff wind. With the restrictions lifted on fishing in federal waters the week before, each of us could now possess eight sea bass measuring over 15 inches. (From yesterday through the end of December, anglers can retain 10 fish per day.) Keeping our balance in the stern cockpit was no easy feat, but Rudy Bonicelli, the first mate, another seasoned fisherman who has plied his trade for many years on the docks and boats of Montauk, was at hand ready to assist in removing the fish from our hooks and rebaiting them. For Bonicelli, it was just another day at the office. 

“Today was nothing,” he said about the conditions, with a shrug of his shoulder. “You should have seen it yesterday. It was 10 times worse.” Aaronson certainly knew what he was doing when he had this boat built nearly 30 years ago. Tough as nails.

For anglers focused on striped bass, the action has been good. “Still good fishing for stripers and bluefish here in Montauk,” added Aaronson. However, the captain said the warm waters have slowed the hunt for blackfish. “Need some cooler waters to get the bite going.”

At the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, the proprietor, Harvey Bennett, was lamenting the defeat of his beloved Oakland Raiders to the Buffalo Bills (a team yours truly has backed since his days in college in western New York) on Sunday, as well as being on the short end of a $20 wager. Beyond the emotional and financial loss, Bennett was enthused about the striped bass reports. “White Sands in Amagansett has had some nice action on fish up to 20 pounds, while Flying Point in Southampton has been a good spot of late too.” Bennett added that porgy fishing remains good at the Navy dock in Fort Pond Bay in Montauk and that big bluefish can be taken at the rips at the north end of Gardiner’s Island.  

Sebastian Gorgone at Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton was celebrating his birthday on Sunday when he proclaimed that the striped bass action on the ocean beaches was “Good . . . in most of the spots, in particular near the cut at Georgica.” 

“Stick with small diamond jigs and teasers, as the fish are feeding on small sand eels.” Gorgone said that small bass were also frequenting the area near Lion Head Rock on the bay side too. As for blackfish, while he has been selling plenty of green crabs, the waters remain on the warm side and keeper-size fish have been tough to come by, he said. “Hopefully it will get better soon. . . . We need some cold weather.” 

Finally, it’s time to get the scallop dredges out of the garage. The much-anticipated opening of the bay scallop season is Monday in New York State waters. State law limits the recreational harvest to a one-bushel basket of the tasty bivalves per day. Get the fry pan ready.

We welcome your fishing tips, observations, and photographs at fish@ehstar.com. You can find the “On the Water” column on Twitter at @ehstarfishing.