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On the Water: A ‘Tap, Tap, Tap’ Day

Thu, 10/26/2023 - 08:41
Jeff Guilmette of North Carolina has enjoyed excellent fishing for striped bass the past two weeks on the bay and ocean beaches.
Jeff Guilmette

The last time I fished on the Rock Water was back in mid-August. For a variety of plausible reasons, mixed in with some rather poor excuses, I have not wetted a line from the boat in quite some time, but that finally changed on Oct. 18.

Catching a few blackfish for the dinner table was on the agenda. It was good to fire up the diesel engine once again and get back on the water.

Joining me that sunny morning was Al Daniels. Also known to many as Big Time, Daniels has written the fishing column for The Sag Harbor Express for several decades. With a deep Bonac fishing lineage going back 13 generations, he is one savvy fisherman.

“Looks like we have perfect weather today,” he said to me as he neared my boat on the dock with two fishing rods in hand. There was nary a breath of wind as we untied the dock lines while the sun began to rise off to the east.

Arriving at Plum Island an hour later, we anchored up in 20 feet of water. The water temperature was still a balmy 62 degrees as the incoming tide had just begun to run. We could not have asked for better conditions.

Unfortunately, the blackfish were not hungry as they tentatively pecked on our green crab baits. It was as if they smartly knew that a hook was embedded in the crab and were wary of taking a larger bite. Intelligent fish, they were.

“Tap, tap, tap,” Daniels said, mimicking the light bite. “All I’m feeling are some slight taps on my line and nothing else.” It was the same for me. We stayed for an hour on that pile of rocks as I managed to land one fish that barely made the 16-inch minimum size limit, along with a smattering of shorts. Not a great start by any measure.

We moved to a location half a mile away and it proved to be even more of a challenge. We failed to land any fish, even shorts, despite losing a copious amount of bait. “I’ve never seen a bite like this before,” he said. “It’s really weird. Maybe it’s the new moon that affecting them today.”

With frustration building, we re-anchored on a cluster of rocks on the northeast side of the island. The bite was still tentative, but we ultimately managed to retain our respective three-fish limits by 1 p.m. It was not easy.

“That was tough fishing today,” I said to Daniels in the main cabin on our return to Sag Harbor. “But that’s part of the challenge with blackfish. Tomorrow they may decide to bite their heads off.” He nodded in agreement. He’s seen this movie before.

As the waters continue to chill down, the fishing for blackfish will only improve over the next few weeks. I will be back on the Rock Water again real soon.

“Blackfish action has been good for many when the weather allows,” said Ken Morse from behind the counter of his new establishment at 260 Hampton Road in Southampton. Check it out. Morse now has much more space to exhibit his various wares for fishermen.

“Local spots like the Sag Harbor bridge, Nichols Point, and the black spindle rock pile outside the breakwater have been producing of late.” After hearing his news, I realized I should have stayed closer to home. No need to go far if the fish are close by.

Morse was also enthused about the excellent striped bass action along the ocean beaches. “There have been some really big blitzes going on for the past two weeks. It’s been fantastic.”

To wit, Jeff Guilmette from North Carolina fished the past two weeks on both the bay and ocean beaches and did very well.

“He’s been my guest every October,” said Alan Applebaum of Amagansett, my occasional tennis partner. “I met him many years ago on the beach surfcasting. He shared a group house every fall and we became friends. When the house broke up several years ago, I invited him to come stay with me as my wife moved back to Manhattan in mid-September. He wanted to know the charge, which was funny.”

“Last year he finally met my wife, and it was a seamless co-existence with the three of us,” added Applebaum, who at the age of 90 still plays a mean game of tennis. “Our fridge is loaded with striped bass fillets.” That’s a mighty fine tenant in my book.

Elsewhere, sea bass and porgies continue to please anglers out in Montauk. As well, striped bass remain on the feed in the various rips and eddies off the Lighthouse with fish to 50 pounds landed and released. The fall run is on.

And don’t forget about the squid. The night bite for the tasty cephalopods has been epic over the past few weeks. Those who sailed aboard the Ebb Tide II and Viking Star over the weekend had nearly 200 squid apiece in their buckets. Fried calamari has been a common dinner for many of late.

Both boats have added more trips during the week. Check their websites for more details and sailing schedule. Catch ’em while you can.


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


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