The thermometer in the truck read a balmy 28 degrees as the lone angler pulled into the marina. Donning multiple layers of fleece, a gore tex duck hunting jacket, wool hat and gloves, he carefully made his way down the frosty dock to his lone boat sitting in the slip. Dipping a bucket into the slushy water, he washed the ice off the deck, formed from the dew freezing overnight. The outboard grudgingly started on the third try and warmed up while he organized the rods on the gunnel and bags in the console. A thermos of hot coffee was secured to the helm.
Pulling out of the slip in this early December morning, he had a sense of urgency since a cold front with snow was forecasted to hit the island later that night. He knew this was the end and was hoping for one last shot at the migrating bass. Even though the bulk of the migration had passed, there is always the chance of landing the biggest bass in the late stages of the season.
As he pushed the throttle forward, the cold air numbed his cheeks as he watched the water temperature gauge slowly start to climb into the 40’s. By the time he reached the inlet at first light, the water was 52 degrees; perfect he though to himself. One lone angler stood at the tip of the east jetty, launching bucktails into the now building outgoing tide. With no visible action outside the inlet he turned west, hoping to intercept some feeding fish, wishing their appetites had the same urgency as him. After 20 minutes of cruising at 25 knots, tiny specks of white began to appear on the horizon. He pushed the throttle down and soon came upon a scene like out of a national geographic channel. Huge gannets by the hundreds pounded the water and came up with twelve inch blueback herring in their beaks. Large bass in the twenty to thirty pound range slapped the helpless herring out of the water. Big blackback gulls joined in on the action as well. Stopping upwind of the mayhem, he cut the motor and sat for a moment admiring the beauty of nature. He unhooked the two ounce bucktail from the reel handle and fired a cast. Two cranks of the handle and his rod doubled over. Several minutes later a twenty pound striper was along side the boat. Without hesitation he slid the jig out of the bass’s mouth and released it back to continue feeding with the others. This scene went on for hours and after every few fish a layer was shed. Freezing cold and numb fingers turned to sweaty, slime covered hands. After three hours of fish on every cast he racked his rod and cut off the jig which had most of its hair chewed off. A warm cup of coffee was poured as he continued to watch the gannets, gulls and bass feeding, admiring the beauty of nature, thankful to be a part of this magnificent aquatic world.
Hopefully the above described scenario plays out for anglers across the island this season. Without a doubt it has been one of the more interesting seasons for the books. At the time I write this in early October, the first decent schools of bass poured into the east end inlets as well as Montauk, giving anglers some optimism that there will actually be a good fall run, unlike the past few years. Heavy northeast winds helped sparked the action. After the famed sand eel run a few years ago, it has been painfully on the slow side. Making up for their absence has been terrifyingly huge bluefish in the twenty pound range which mauled the local bunker populations. Many anglers are hoping for their return this season.
The false albacore run has been terrific as well with many anglers reporting double digit days from Montauk to Breezy point. The usual array of tins have taken the majority, however may anglers elected to break out the long wand and epoxy flies and were rewarded with equal success. If the water stays warm, they should stick around until early November like they have the past few seasons along the south shore.
Frustrated bluewater anglers, many having their worst season in history, are praying that they can actually make the run to the canyon a few more times since the weather has been downright horrible for the majority of September. Those boats which were able to make the run found our waters barren of tuna. Myself and many friends were skunked or had a swordfish on overnight trips. On a positive note the marlin bite, for both blue and whites was world class. The other good news is the huge amount of bluefins which are currently giving anglers up north steady action. Hopefully they repeat what has occurred in recent seasons and set up in Hudson canyon in late November and early December. If the weather patterns change and there is a few days of calm seas, keep an eye on the sea surface temperatures and be ready to make a run at a moments notice. The bait is there so hopefully the bluefins find it and stick around long enough to give us a shot at them.
Of course no fall would be complete without bouncing various crab species amongst wrecks and rubble hoping for the tug from ole white chin. Blackfish season started October 5 and closes December 14. We are allowed four fish, sixteen inches or bigger. With a cult like following, many anglers across the island eagerly await the season opener and brave cold weather and rough seas for their shot at the pugnacious fish with a face which only a mother could love. The various party boats along the north and south shores can put you on the structure if you’re lacking the means to do so. The other bottom fish which many anglers target are sea bass. Starting November 1 until December 31, anglers are allowed ten fish, fifteen inches or larger. Sea bass are one of the prettiest fish we can catch in the fall and taste even better than they look.
As the snow starts to fly and you are sitting by the fire amongst family and friends during the holidays, take a moment to reflect on the past season as the next one will be here before you know it.