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On the Water: Thar Be Blows!

Tue, 05/21/2024 - 12:38
Blowfish, according to The Star’s “On the Water” columnist, are both cute and tasty.
Jon M. Diat

You gotta love blowfish. Not only are they incredibly cute with their affable, blended mixture of yellow, blue, and green eyes, but they also have perfectly pearly white buck teeth. I’m not a marketing expert, but Colgate may want to consider hiring a blowfish for one of its toothpaste commercials.

Their outward appearance also matches well with their prickly white balloon-like belly that greatly expands when they’re caught or when their tummy is tickled. They are called blowfish for an obvious reason. Blowfish are also one of our tastiest local fish in our warming waters as we jump from spring to summer.

Even better, they are one of the cheapest fish at seafood markets here. Many refer to them as the chicken of the sea. I can’t say that they taste like chicken, but I can most certainly agree that they’re incredibly tasty and sweet when cooked and plated. They are one of my faves.

The price for blowfish rarely goes beyond $15 per pound. When I was on the North Fork last Sunday, one market was offering them for $10. An amazing deal when compared to, say, striped bass, which was well over $30 in the same display case.

To my personal palate, stripers are far inferior. I’ll take a blowfish any day. It’s not even close. Sorry, striped bass connoisseurs. More restaurants here need to add blowfish to their menus. It’s the same with porgy, skate, monkfish, and sea robin. Chefs, please take note!

Commercial fishermen who tend to box traps have had a solid spring catch of blowfish so far. Danny Lester of Amagansett, who has over a dozen of such traps, has seen large landings the past few weeks.

It wasn’t long ago that it was rare to even see blowfish, also known as puffers and blow toads. But they are back in a big way.

Growing up here on North Haven in the 1960s, they were beyond plentiful. I still can vividly recall having my mother fry their tasty tail meat for breakfast for us. Fresh fish for breakfast was an almost daily occurrence, bacon and eggs be damned.

All we had to do was row out a few yards in front of our house and the blowfish were there. Mixed in, too, were kingfish, weakfish, and porgies. We often ate fish three times a day.

I still recall the story my mother told me of my grandfather catching 69 blowfish in about two hours at the long-gone community dock here in North Haven Manor, where I was raised. He loved to fish, but he always had my mother clean his catch. I think my grandfather had more fun than she did. In the end, we all enjoyed the benefits of our bountiful catch. Good times, good memories, and great meals.

“I love blowfish,” said Harvey Bennett, the former longtime owner of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. As one who has seen the fluctuation of catches over many decades, he said, “It’s nice to see them back. They are one of our true delicacies here. More people need to appreciate and enjoy them.”

Elsewhere, striped bass are literally everywhere it seems, from the innermost coves and creeks near Riverhead eastward to Montauk and beyond, but it’s not been easy when addressing them with a hook and line.

“The amount of striped bass in the Peconics is unbelievable,” said Scott Jeffrey at East End Bait and Tackle in Hampton Bays. “But they are extremely finicky and are feeding on anchovies. Some are taking small rubber shads and paddle tails.”

Jeffrey added that “most encouraging is the amount of schoolie-sized fish mixed in after the lack of reports of smaller fish earlier on our beaches. Bluefish are also mixed in and tearing up those soft plastic baits.”

Farther east, Ken Morse at Tight Lines Tackle in Southampton and at his satellite shop at 53 Bay Street in Sag Harbor also confirmed that stripers are here.

“Yeah, the bass are thick, but catching them of late has been a bit of challenge,” he said. “The bite has been best out at Montauk of late on jigs and bucktails.” Morse was hopeful that the tide will soon change for those who fish in the bays.

“The porgy bite has also not been overly great west of Jessup’s Neck, and the weakfish have been scarce as well,” he added. “But a few fluke have been caught in the mix. I hope things pick up.”

Going back to that old salt Bennett, he is once again accepting donations of baseball equipment, clothing, and school supplies that he plans to ship to underprivileged children in El Salvador. While Bennett may occasionally be a bit crusty on the exterior, inside he has a heart of gold. Bennett can be reached at 631-324-7770 and at [email protected].


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


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