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On the Water: Back at the Helm

Tue, 06/27/2023 - 13:03
Rick Drew of East Hampton caught and released this 42-inch striped bass on a recent outing. 
Jeff Ragovin

Last week, I finally made it back on the Rock Water to do some fishing. It was almost a month since my last outing and it was great to return to the helm station of the 30-foot Novi that I had built for me in the small village of Arichat, Nova Scotia, nearly 25-years ago. While she is showing more signs of age, she’s still a mighty fine, reliable craft.

That said, over the past few years, I’ve given a bit more thought to replacing her. I even reached out to the manufacturer who built her and received a comprehensive price quote. But I hesitated.

When the pandemic broke out and everyone was in lockdown mode, I placed another call to the manufacturer, but by that time it would be several years before they could even start to build me one. Business has been exceedingly brisk for many custom boatbuilders.

After untying the dock lines in the early morning light last week, I gently cruised out of the Sag Harbor breakwater at a steady 12 knots as I steered westward towards the South Ferry that links Shelter Island and North Haven. Our goal was landing a few bluefish that would ultimately be filleted, brined, and dried for the smoker. But the conditions on the water were rather nautical, as some would describe them.

“The wind is really strong,” said Ray Sperling, my longtime fishing partner, from the port side of the main cabin. “It’s much stronger than what the predictions said it would be.”

 Sperling was spot on. The marine forecast issued the night before stated that winds would be light — around five knots. That morning, it was gusting beyond 20 knots. Not good.

As I approached the ferry slip, the two ferries that crisscrossed in front of me were fully loaded with cars and trucks. Vehicles parked in the bow were liberally showered in salt spray from the waves that stacked up as the tide was running against the wind in the narrow channel of Shelter Island Sound. A car wash would be needed for many later that day.

Arriving at the rip at Jessup’s Neck, we dropped our diamond jigs into the 66-degree water. Two other boats were there as well, including a commercial pinhooker who was also on the search for blues. Not much was spotted on the fish finder and the first two drifts resulted in no bites.

But that quickly changed on our next pass, as we both latched into four-pound blues, a perfect size for the smoker. Given the turbulent conditions, we only fished for about 30 minutes, yet we landed our respective three-fish limits.

Despite the conditions, it was great to be back on the water again.

As expected, striped bass limits changed last week as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in accordance with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and its Atlantic Striped Bass Management Board, approved an emergency measure to lower the upper end of the striped bass slot size to 31 inches. The previous slot size regulation allowed anglers to retain one bass between 28 and 35 inches in length.

The reduced slot size was in response to the magnitude of the 2022 recreational harvest, which was nearly double that of 2021, and new projections indicating that the stock has a very low chance of rebuilding if the higher 2022 fishing mortality rate continues. According to the A.S.M.F.C., the 31-inch size restriction is designed to reduce the harvesting of the 2015 year-class of bass, the last strong year-class, which was a significant factor in the recreational fishery’s increased harvest of the popular fish in 2022.

A.S.M.F.C.’s plan seeks to rebuild the striped bass stock by 2029, and updated projections show that the probability of achieving that dropped from 97.5 percent to 15 percent. The striped bass season closes on Dec. 15.

As for bass fishing itself, lots of fish between 30 and 50 pounds continue to be caught and released off Montauk. Finding fish in the smaller slot size has been a challenge at times. Plenty of bluefish are also mixed in with the bass.

“The bass fishing has been truly excellent,” said Capt. Frank Braddick of the Hurry Up, a Montauk charter boat. “It’s been an incredible run so far this season.”

On Friday, fans of the other bass — black sea bass — rejoiced as the season finally opened. Anglers are allowed to retain three fish per day over 16.5 inches. The bag limit increases to six fish as of Sept. 1. Anglers out in Montauk reported good catches of the popular fish over the weekend, along with porgies, The fluke bite even perked up.

“Given the very challenging conditions, including rain, fog and lots of wind, I really did not receive many local reports,” said Ken Morse at Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor. Morse did confirm that Montauk was the place to be for great action on stripers and bluefish. “Lots of big bass out there.”


Fishing tips, observations, and photographs can be sent to [email protected].


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