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On the Water: Neither Man Nor Beast

Thu, 05/14/2020 - 10:39
On a rare calm day, Burke and Hewie Dunne caught and released this striped bass while fishing with their uncle, Capt. Merritt White.
Capt. Merritt White

“When the wind is in the east, it’s for neither man nor beast. When the wind is in the north, the old folk should not venture forth. When the wind is in the south, it blows the bait in the fishes’ mouth. When the wind is in the west, it is of all the winds the best.”

The direction of the wind, as noted in the aforementioned meteorological proverb, is usually a reliable indicator of the type of weather that’s coming. Still, I have about a dozen weather apps loaded on my iPhone, as well as that creepy somnambulant voice of Alexa that also provides me with the weather when prompted. It is rare that any of these predictors are ever in full agreement.

Technology is a blessing in so many ways, but to this day, I’m a firm believer in going outside to see exactly what’s going on. As such, I’m usually pretty good at predicting what may happen. Age and experience do come with certain benefits.

That said, no matter what means you rely on for weather information, it’s been readily apparent that this spring has brought a preponderance of nasty, cold, and windy weather, mainly blowing from the north and east. The freakish snow squall we witnessed on Saturday afternoon certainly confirmed the obvious. 

However, the blustery west wind on Sunday was a true benefit as it brought about a classic blow-out tide resulting in an easy peck basket of hard-shelled clams for this faithful fish and shellfish chronicler. Clearly, that old weather proverb about a west wind being best proved truthful that day.

That said, while I’ve had my boat in the water since the middle of March, I have yet to venture forth to do any fishing. Yes, I have found some weather windows to check on my lobster traps every 10 days or so, but my rods and reels have yet to taste salt water. Not good.

Better weather will break out soon. At least that’s what my weather apps tell me. But I still plan to keep my sweater out just in case, no matter the direction of the wind.

Montauk Harbor remains eerily quiet as party and charter boats remain silently tied up to the dock awaiting clearance once again to take paying fares out for a day on the water. Unfortunately, the pandemic has brought about the cancellation of the 33rd annual Sam’s Star Island’s Shark Tournament in late June. The fate of other tournaments on the docket this season remains uncertain.

Before the weekend blow, a few private craft ventured out of the well-protected harbor in search of fluke. The still-cold waters resulted in slim pickings. Those who traveled farther out to the CIA and Cartwright grounds south of the Lighthouse landed a few small codfish.

Over at the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, the owner and part-time weather expert Harvey Bennett was shocked to see the white flakes fly on Saturday. “It was just beyond odd,” he remarked. “That was more snow than what we saw all winter.”

Bennett noted that when conditions allow, bass fishing has been good on the ocean, in particular at Ditch Plain and White Sands, and that the porgy bite continues on the upswing. Folks utilizing squid jigs have also caught their fair share of the newly arrived tasty cephalopods, and blowfish have shown up in force in recent days, along with a few weakfish and bluefish.

“Don’t forget the freshwater fishing too,” he added. “The fishing has been excellent with a lot of walleye being taken at Fort Pond in Montauk. Also, carp action has been great. Just use some bread or pizza dough for bait. Does not get any simpler than that.”

Bennett is stocked with a full complement of bait and is currently open on weekends and by appointment. In addition to 50 percent off on certain tackle items, Bennett offers local delivery and curbside service at his shop, where only one person is allowed at a time in accordance with social distance protocols.

“The weather has not been our friend, that’s for sure,” laughed Sebastian Gorgone at Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton. “But there has been a good shot of striped bass on the ocean beaches of late, and the porgy fishing around Shelter Island has been good on big fish when you can get out.” For the stripers, Gorgone suggests tossing a small bucktail for the greatest success, while clams and sandworms have been the ticket for the platter-size scup. 

Enjoy working with seafood? You are in luck as the popular Dock to Dish community supported fish program is looking for summer interns who are 21 or older.

“We are seeking honest, hard-working, recent college graduates who can work night shifts and have a valid driver’s license,” said Sean Barrett, the co-founder of Dock to Dish. “We need those who are passionate about sustainable seafood to help us bring the freshest and safest New York State-certified wild fish fillets to local communities.” Applications can be filled out at:

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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