Last month I mentioned that the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) commented that there was concern about the health of the bluefish stock. Well, to everyone’s surprise, including mine, they implemented new coast-wide regulations. Last year’s regulations were 15 fish per person with no more than 10 being 12” and under. This year’s regulations will see a huge drop in per person bag limits. In 2020 if you are fishing from a private boat you will be able to keep 3 fish. There is no size limit. If you fish on a charter boat or head boat you will be allowed 5 fish. States will have the option of conservative equivalency and they may be able to adjust the regulations to meet the required 28.56% reduction. I will never agree with different regulations for paid customers and those that fish on private boats. However, I don’t have a problem with the reduction in bag limits. Bluefish are one of my favorite fish to catch. During the last 2 years, they have been a no-show along the south shore during the fall run. I used to love catching big bluefish on jigs during the fall. With these new regulations, I hope to see them return. Thankfully bluefish have continued to show up in the spring. When they arrive they are hungry and super aggressive. If you plan on releasing the bluefish that you catch, don’t be afraid to switch over to a lure with a single hook instead of a treble hook. 99% of the time if I’m targeting bluefish I’m throwing a Cotton Cordell pencil popper. The lure comes with two treble hooks. One in the middle and one on the end. I remove both hooks and replace just the end treble with a single J-hook. If I miss a few fish that’s ok, I have no desire to bring any home. It’s hard to beat a bluefish bite in three feet of water on top water plugs. Just remember if you like using “snapper” bluefish for bait targeting fluke or mahi you can only take three.
One of the first fish to start to appear on Long Island is the weakfish. I wasn’t around for the heydays of weakfish during the 70’s and 80’s. However, I have been targeting these fish ever since I moved to Blue Point back in 2006. I can honestly say that last year was the best year I have ever seen for weakfish. These fish showed up in big numbers during their spring run. The fish weren’t huge but they were plentiful. These spring fish averaged between four and six pounds with the occasional eight pounder mixed in. I was also amazed at how long these fish stayed around. I stopped fishing for them in mid-June only because I started to chase bluefin tuna. On my way home from a tuna trip in late August I decided to take a look and see if the summer run of weakfish had begun. Sure enough, as I slowed the boat down and kept my eye on the sounder it “lit up” with fish. I returned two days later and found the weakfish still stacked up. From late-August through mid-October the weakfish bite in the Great South Bay was insane. I had days where I released 100 fish. The lure of choice was a Zman 4” minnow. These Zman lures hold up incredible despite being pestered by snappers and blowfish. I can’t begin to tell you how much I miss those days. I have my fingers crossed that we may see resurgence in weakfish stocks.
I’m still expecting a decision about new regulations to be made when it comes to striped bass sometime in February. I will certainly keep you posted. Bass are another fish that begin to show up in late April. When I first started to target striped bass I couldn’t catch one to save my life. The only way I was able to catch them was to fish at night under the Fire Island Inlet Bridge. It was very stressful just getting to the bridge. My first boat didn’t have radar. I wouldn’t leave my house until 10 pm or 11 pm. Once we got to the bridge very rarely did we leave before sunrise. I started to fish the bridge a lot at night. We had nights that you wouldn’t believe. We had nights of 50-75 fish. We had a night that we caught six fish over 40 inches. All of these nights were spent throwing soft plastics. I don’t want to insult anyone but sitting under the bridge dunking clams is boring. Besides being boring you get cold real quick just sitting there. It may surprise you to learn that once under the bridge we would anchor. Bouncing from abutment to abutment gets old real quick. It’s tough when one guy needs to stay behind the wheel while the other guy is up front casting. I learned how to fish the bridge when I used to fish on the head boat Laura Lee at night. I remember a night that the boat was shoulder to shoulder on both sides. It was crazy watching all of these people cast under hand as the boat moved in and out of the shadow of the bridge as the lights from above created the perfect ambush point for hungry bass. I actually caught 10 bass that night. All I did was listen to what the mates and captain told us to do. Those that listened caught fish, and those that didn’t were found inside staying warm. It’s not rocket science, it is actually very easy to catch fish under the bridge. All you need to do is cast your soft plastic upstream and reel very slowly. You want your lure to be near the bottom. If you are getting snagged that means you are reeling too slowly. You may lose a lure or two but once you get the hang of it you will probably want to just stick to night fishing. Most people like to fish the outgoing tide when it comes to striped bass. I didn’t care what the tide was doing. We caught fish on both sides of the tides.
It’s that time of the year, fishing seminar season. Last year I spoke at the AllPro Expo and Seminars that took place at the Hilton in Melville. I spoke about inshore tuna and mahi. This year we decided to split the class. One class is dedicated to tuna and a separate one is for mahi. I will also be doing a class on weakfish. Besides the seminars, there are tons of vendors. If you are in town and you have cabin fever I hope to see you there. Plenty more information can be found at www.allprocharters.com/expo-workshop/.