Blackfish Paradise Found

I felt it was time to rustle up a few friends to get in some late-season fishing for blackfish
Al Daniels held a six-pound blackfish taken at Fishers Island on Sunday. Jon M. Diat

I like cold weather. I always have. But the wicked change in temperatures this past weekend was truly jarring for me. Just a few days prior to the freezing conditions, which were enhanced by the bitter northwesterly wind, I was walking around in shorts and a light T-shirt. I was reluctant to say goodbye to our warm weather. 

But my blood naturally runs cold. As someone of 100-percent Russian ancestry who attended college in overly frigid Buffalo and who has laced up skates eagerly to play ice hockey most of my life, even I was caught off guard by the biting winds as I felt the full wrath of the harsh, newfound icy conditions. Perhaps my blood is beginning to thin as I advance in my years. But I still enjoy the chill at times.

The drastic drop in temperatures also spurred my urge to ensure that I make every day count. As the days continue to get shorter for another month and the temperatures drop, I have an inherent need and want to get on the water as much as possible before my boat gets yanked up on dry land later in December.

While I have had great success since the bay scallop season opened on Nov. 6 in state waters (note that the season opened on Monday in town waters), I felt it was time to rustle up a few friends to get in some late-season fishing for blackfish when the winds finally abated on Sunday. The scallops can wait. Carpe diem. Time to seize the day, as the Roman poet Horace noted in “The Odes” nearly 2,000 years ago.

Sunday morning dawned with temperatures hovering around 32 degrees, but that did not dissuade my two guests from showing up dockside with fishing rods in hand just before the sun was to rise at 6:33. Both were as eager as I was as I plotted a northeasterly course for the nearly 90-minute ride to Fishers Island, a sparsely populated, narrow, and craggy island a few miles south of the far eastern end of Connecticut. Cold be damned, we needed to fish.

With half a bushel of green crabs at the ready for bait, along with some highly-prized hermit crabs I had dredged up from my scallop adventures earlier that week, we finally reached our destination just off the single-strip airport at the western end of the island. 

Anchoring up in about 50 feet of water on the outgoing tide, the bow of my boat pointed directly across Long Island Sound toward New London, Conn., and the clearly visible, giant blue General Dynamics Electric Boat hangar where nuclear submarines are constructed for the Navy. Looking out for subs would have to wait; it was time to fish. 

After dropping my freshly cut crab down into the dark water, it was only about five seconds before a blackfish inhaled my bait. The fight was on and a minute or so later, a feisty and determined nine-pound blackfish lay upon the stern cockpit deck. It was a great start for me. My two previous trips for blackfish resulted in precisely zero keeper fish (anglers are allowed four fish per day over 16 inches). It felt good knowing that a nice dinner would await me later that evening. Hard to beat fresh blackfish, even when scallops are aplenty.

For the next three hours, the bite was furious and intense. It was action that I doubt I’ll ever witness again. It was that good. In that time frame, the three of us landed well over 100 blackfish. Needless to say, none of us complained about the cold air at any point. 

While many were short of the legal-size limit, we ended up throwing back many keepers that would have to be left to be caught another day. And while other boats near us repeatedly reanchored to find some prime bottom and fish, we never moved and were fortunate to be on a spot that allowed us one-stop nonstop action. It was perhaps the finest day of fishing for blackfish each of us had ever experienced. 

By 11 a.m., it was time for us to call it a day. While the sun broke out, the tide had slacked, and by that time it took only four ounces of lead to hold bottom. The fish were still biting as eagerly as when we first dropped anchor, but it was a long ride home to Sag Harbor in the rare, calm, late fall sea. It was time to raise the anchor, depart, and store the vivid memories of what was a very special morning. We had experienced an aquatic excursion that each of us will never forget. We were truly very fortunate. And we all knew and appreciated every moment of it. 

As for other species, the action along the ocean beaches perked up with some occasional shots of striped bass and bluefish. The activity has been rather widespread from Southampton to spots to the east of Amagansett.

“There has been some good action on the beaches of late,” exclaimed Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. “Bass and blues are around and some keeper bass are in the mix. The season is not over yet. And the waters are still warm.”

An avid hunter, Bennett also reminded me that the season to pursue wild turkey commences on Saturday and expires on Dec. 1. For folks who have so far only purchased a Butterball turkey with a pop-up timer, a fresh turkey is a true treat. 

Quite different from roast turkey, if you have a hankering for fried calamari, you may want to drop a squid jig in Three Mile Harbor. “The squid fishing has been fantastic,” said Sebastian Gorgone, the owner of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton. “The commercial dock and other areas are loaded with squid. I’ve been selling many squid jigs of late.” Gorgone added that the action for stripers has improved the past few days from the ocean beaches. If you are not a lover of turkey meat, striped bass makes a very suitable option for the Thanksgiving table.

Ken Morse, the proprietor of Tight Lines Tackle Shop in Sag Harbor, and a true surf rat, agreed about the action along the ocean. “Bass and blues are in the wash,” he said. “Not many keeper stripers, but there are a few around.”

Back at Montauk, cod and sea bass catches remain solid when conditions allow. “Lots of large and jumbo sea bass are around,” said Capt. Michael Potts of the Bluefin IV. “Fishing for blackfish has also been on the upswing.”

Sunday afternoon was the last trip of the season for the Lazybones, the open boat that pursues striped bass and bluefish. “We got two keeper stripers on the last outing,” said Kathy Vegessi, the dockside support arm of the popular half-day boat. “It was a great season of fishing over all. And Sunday was a nice way to end the season.” Amen to that.

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