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On the Water: Gators on the Prowl

Wed, 05/24/2023 - 18:34
That’s no fluke. Bill Bennett of Sag Harbor hoisted a 50-pound halibut he landed on a recent long-range trip to the Gulf of Maine aboard the Viking Five Star out of Montauk. 
Capt. Steven Forsberg Jr

On Friday morning at 5:30, my newly installed fish finder in the main cabin of the Rock Water displayed large schools of fish gathered below on the strong incoming tide. It was a very promising sign.

A few days earlier on my previous outing, the striped bass were hungry to take our lures. The action was great. Like many areas on the East End, Shelter Island Sound has been alive with stripers this spring. Many have partaken of the fine action.

As I slowed the boat down into neutral gear, the green bucktail jig adorned with a red artificial trailer was not in the water more than 30 seconds when I felt a solid strike and was immediately hooked up. The fight was on.

Despite having the drag on my reel set very tight, the fish took my line out at a feverish pitch. My fishing companion, Ray Sperling of Sag Harbor, was also latched into a fish that had bent his rod almost to the water line. It was a fierce battle on our respective rods and reels.

“Whatever it is, it’s very big,” he grunted, while struggling to gain line on his reel. I too was not making much progress on my still-unknown fish. After crossing our respective fishing lines several times for the next few minutes, we finally made eye contact with our formidable combatants.

“It’s a huge gator,” Sperling gasped, looking down at the alligator-size bluefish that thrashed about near the surface. “It’s way too big to lift in.”

He was right about that. Running back to the cabin, I retrieved my gaff. The fight was soon over. The twin-size bluefish we decked were about 17 pounds each when weighed on the stern deck.

After catching our breath, we repeated the drift and it was “deja vu all over again” as Yogi Berra would say. We quickly hooked into similar-size bluefish once again.

If any striped bass were in the neighborhood that morning, they had no chance of outrunning the faster swimming bluefish that were instantly attracted to our jigs. The bass were also clearly outnumbered too.

As a footnote, some people spurn bluefish, but the supersize fish we caught would not go to waste. Later that day, they would be filleted, brined, dried, and hot-smoked for several hours over aromatic apple and cherry wood chips. Smoked bluefish spread has since been enjoyed by this fish chronicler and other close friends. If you have never tried it, you have truly missed out.

Returning to the same location on Sunday morning, it again only took a minute or so for me to hook into a fish. This time, it was a spunky striped bass that measured 34 inches. The next drift produced another keeper.

The gators were gone. The bass were back.

Elsewhere, the striped bass action remains strong in many areas, especially at Montauk, where diamond jigs and bucktails have been the popular lures of choice. Tuna have also begun to show up in distant offshore waters.

“The fishing for striped bass has been really excellent,” said David Reutershan at Westlake Marina on Westlake Drive. “It has been a great run of fish for the past two weeks and the bluefish have shown up too.”

Reutershan noted that, unfortunately, the fishing for fluke as well for porgies has been slow in local waters. “But that can instantly change on any given day,” he added. An angler aboard the Miss Montauk II this weekend did weigh in a fluke over 10 pounds. Better days lie ahead.

For those who enjoy the competitive challenge of pursuing striped bass from the surf in Montauk, take note: The annual Montauk SurfMasters Spring Shootout tournament is underway. Concluding on July 8, positions are up for grabs for men, women, and youth fishing in either waders or wetsuits.

Casters can sign up for the popular contest at or by dropping by Paulie’s Tackle Shop in downtown Montauk. Brandon Sausele of Lake Grove has once again signed up. Sausele, who is just 25, has captured the top prize in seven fall and spring SurfMasters tournaments in recent years.

Recently returned from a trip to Ireland with his new wife, Taylor, he immediately returned to the Montauk surf scene. Perhaps he was looking for the luck of the Irish, not that he needs any.

Sausele is currently in second place with a 33-pound bass, while the surf rat Ben Kushner has taken the early lead with his 37-pound striper that was safely released to fight another day.

“The bassing from the surf has been really good out in Montauk already,” observed Sausele. “It’s a very early run of fish this year.”

“There were not many reports due to the gusty winds,” said Ken Morse at Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor. “The weakfish are still in Noyac Bay and striped bass are around too.” He added that porgy fishing remains consistent, but that fluke have been a “no show so far.”

Over at Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton, Sebastian Gorgone said that “it has been a great season thus far. Bluefish have moved into Three Mile Harbor and the porgy fishing has been solid in Cherry Harbor and other local areas.” Gorgone also has live eels in stock for those looking to catch larger striped bass.

“It’s all setting up to be a great Memorial Day weekend for anglers,” he added.


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


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