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On the Water: This Time I Mean It

Thu, 12/14/2023 - 08:57
Celebrating his birthday aboard the Elizabeth II out of Montauk, Robert Cooley, second from left in orange, and his buddies enjoyed a nice catch of blackfish to go with his cake.
Capt. Paul Bruno

Well, I was happily wrong.

Given how late it is in the fishing season, I stowed all of my gear in the basement last week for deep hibernation. At this time of the year, there are usually very few fishable days, mainly due to the incessant winds of the upcoming winter season. It’s also hard to find hardy anglers who want to fish this late in the game. I was resigned to the idea that I would not wet a line again until 2024.

But on Saturday morning, my alarm clock went off at 3 a.m. — but I was already awake. I could not sleep. I was anxious to go fishing one last time this year.

Unlike my last fishing trip two weeks earlier, when the morning temperature was a frigid 20 degrees once I arrived at the Montauk Marine Basin, it was a rather balmy 47 when I parked my Jeep there on Saturday. A huge and welcome difference.

Not exactly palm trees and T-shirt weather, mind you, but it certainly was much more tolerable.

And as a bonus, there was little wind at the dock. I can handle the cold well — after all, I went to college in Buffalo — but wind is another factor. Fishing in an overly turbulent sea is never fun.

It was nice to climb aboard the charter boat Elizabeth II for a last chance to catch some late-season blackfish (the season concludes on Dec. 22). I looked forward to a final day on the water with some good camaraderie and a nice group of friends. If the fish were to cooperate, I would consider it a bonus.

“Let’s see what happens today,” said Capt. Paul Bruno as I entered the main cabin.

After exiting the jetties of Montauk Harbor well before dawn, Bruno pointed his 46-foot boat off to the east and toward Block Island. Bruno had his sights set on fishing Southwest Ledge, a broad, elevated outcropping of rocky bottom located a few miles off the island.

Small talk and laughter filled the cabin on the ride out among the seven of us on board. The trip was organized by Robert Cooley, who has an intense passion for fishing. It was also his 60th birthday that day, and on the ride back to the dock we presented him with a birthday cake to celebrate. Unfortunately, he was unable to blow out any candles, as the winds would predictably come up later that morning.

After a 90-minute ride, Bruno slowed down to an idle as he settled on a lump of bottom he liked in the 49-degree water. After the anchor set hold, we all dropped our green crab baits to the depths below. It was game on.

It did not take long for a hefty blackfish to be hooked and landed. I pulled in a nice, four-pound fish a short while later. Another 10 minutes went by, and I reeled in another keeper (anglers can retain four fish over 16 inches). The tog were hungry and on the feed.

Up toward the bow, Bruno abandoned his captain duties and turned into a full-fledged fisherman by landing one blackfish after another. The man was on fire.

By 8:30 a.m., I had reached my legal limit. Others at the rail were also doing well. By 10:30, we had reached a full boat limit. By then, the winds had picked up and were blowing swiftly out of the south in advance of an upcoming coastal storm, and the seas were building quickly on the change of tide.

It became rather nautical, as they say. It was also time to stop fishing and enjoy Cooley’s birthday cake on the ride back home in the bumpy sea.

“That was a really nice bite this morning,” smiled Bruno on the ride back to Montauk, as he steered the boat on the steep, following sea. “I’m glad it worked out.” I could not have agreed more. Weather permitting, Bruno hopes to squeeze in a few more trips before the new year.

Happy holidays, calm seas, and tight lines to all.


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


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