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On the Water: The End Is Near

Tue, 11/21/2023 - 18:53
Jim Quackenbush of East Hampton landed this chunky blackfish off Block Island on a recent outing.
Jon M. Diat

Last Tuesday morning was my last fishing outing of the season aboard the Rock Water. Despite a desire to go again, I decided to call it quits, as the long-range weather forecast was for strong winds for many days.

Notwithstanding an unexpected stiff breeze from the northeast that greeted us at dawn, four of us agreed to take the long ride from Sag Harbor to Fishers Island, well off to the east. I’ve experienced good success there over the years.

It took well over 90 minutes to arrive at our destination in some lumpy seas. While the exterior temperature was a very chilly 33 degrees, the water temperature was still a rather balmy 56. As such, I decided to anchor up in 45 feet of water just north of Elizabeth Field, the local public-use airport. Hopefully I had chosen the right spot.

Turning momentarily to the pages of history, Fishers Island was called Munnawtawkit by the Pequot tribe. Adriaen Block, who also “discovered” Block Island, was the first recorded European visitor, and he named it Vischer’s Island in 1614 after one of his companions. It remained a wilderness for the next 25 years, visited occasionally by Dutch traders. Today, there are about 400 full-time residents of the island, which is nine miles in length.

Interestingly, Fishers Island also seemingly suffers from an identity crisis. While it’s in the town of Southold, its postal ZIP code is 06390, corresponding to Connecticut ZIP codes, while other residential ZIP codes in New York State begin with 1.

The only public way to travel to the island is via a three-mile ferry ride from New London. Many consider the island to be a part of Connecticut and New England, rather than New York. I have to agree. While I’ve never set foot on the island; it’s on my bucket list.

“Okay, drop your baits in,” I said to my crew from the cabin. I was satisfied with the rocky piece of bottom I found below, where blackfish, a.k.a. tautog, like to reside. “Let’s see what happens.”

It only took a few minutes for the first fish to be landed. The bite for the next three hours on the incoming tide was constant, with plenty of fish up to 18 inches landed. The action slowed down considerably when the tide turned, but by that time we were more than content with our late fall day on the water.

The sea was flat calm as we watched two Navy nuclear submarines, accompanied by high-speed gunboats, enter and exit New London Harbor, where they are built and maintained at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton. Military might was on full display as we departed from the fishing grounds.

“This was a nice day to end the season,” I said in the heated cabin as we neared Gardiner’s Island on the ride back to Sag Harbor. “I’m already looking forward to next season.”

While the Rock Water is now encased in shrink-wrap, I have not officially retired my fishing rods. Depending on the weather, I still hope to do a trip or two on a Montauk party or charter boat for blackfish, sea bass, and codfish before things close down at the end of December.

By then, it will be less than three months before my boat is back in the water with my lobster traps on the stern deck, ready to be fished once again. I can’t wait.

Joel Fisher, the owner of Fisher’s Home Furnishings on Main Street in Sag Harbor, also had an excellent final trip on his boat last Thursday. Fisher did not go to Fishers Island. Rather, he anchored up in 50 feet of water off Big Gull Island, a few miles to the west. He made the right choice.

“The last couple hours of the flood was the most aggressive tog bite I’ve experienced,” he said. “They were taking whole green crabs. I was trying to see if I could count to 10 before a fish was on.”

“I honestly don’t think I missed a fish, as they were taking the bait with such abandon,” he added. “All were in the 14-to-17-inch range. Almost all males too. The bite mostly died on the ebb. Only a few more fish after the turn. It was a great way to end the season.”

Surfcasters take note: The action for striped bass remains solid, with some keepers in the mix. Bass is a good substitute for Thanksgiving turkey.

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


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