It is funny how something new in the realm of fishing or the outdoors in general can over time become expected. That something can and often is the appearance of a species from another region expanding its range searching for food, spawning grounds or possibly due to climatic changes.
Often it’s more southerly species moving north during mild winters. Though a decade or so ago we had a series of cold, snowy winters which brought species more common to the Gulf of Maine into the area.
A friend who ran a tackle shop in Rhode Island told me about three customers who came in with an odd fish for identification. It was a large skate like fish, a torpedo or electric ray.
Evidently they were drifting for fluke in fifty or so feet of water off one of the popular beaches when one of them brought what they thought was a skate up to the boat. It was netted and one of the three, the one who was not laughing put his barefoot on the fish and received an electric shock that can be up to fifty volts!
That guy was not laughing but his buddies thought the incident was hilarious.
By chance a week or so after hearing this story I hooked one of these fish, which I’d looked up in a great book, Bigelow and Schroeder’s ”Fishes of the Gulf of Maine”. I had an original, which was a textbook we were required to buy and was brought into the UCONN bookstore when I was in grad school during the late 1970’s. It’s a bible of sorts for people into marine fisheries.
The electric ray I hooked, thankfully didn’t shock me like it did that unsuspecting angler a couple of weeks earlier. We never brought the fish into the boat; I opted to cut the line as close to the fish’s mouth as possible. It was big about four feet long from nose to tail. The “Fishes of the Gulf of Maine” notes they can be 180 cm long, which is about seven feet, which would give an unsuspecting person a heck of a surprise.
Like electric eels in the Amazon Basin, this ray is a slow fish that buries into soft bottom and shocks prey that ventures too close, like the electric eels hunting strategy a continent away.
When I touched the leader with my fillet knife to cut the fish free I received a mild “tickle” of a sensation on the tip of the finger that was guiding the knife blade for that odd release. It was the only one of these fish I’ve ever encountered and am glad I had talked to that shop owner or I might have received a severe jolt.
During the 1970’s I bought my first boat that was used to explore the fishing opportunities available in this area. Seaworthy enough to fish the Sound, Rhody beaches and Fishers Island providing winds and tides were not kicking up the surf too much.
Ignorance is not bliss and nothing is a better teacher than experience. In my case, that experience was expanding and that lack of knowledge was shrinking, but my mindset was essentially local. One friend had a series of progressively larger boats that we used to run offshore to hunt for tuna and occasionally shark.
Locally, I primarily targeted striped bass and bluefish with a little fluke fishing around the edges to catch some “frying or baking material” for supper.
One trip after a series of very mild winters I was fishing from my first non-row boat, a seaworthy, rugged 18-foot aluminum, Lund Alaskan. It was during that period when striped bass had been heavily overfished and were notably scarce in our local “fishscape”. They were essentially replaced by hordes of always cooperative and hard fighting bluefish. One beautiful summer day and I spotted some gulls diving on what looked like surface feeding bluefish. It was just windy enough that I could not see more than a splash from whatever was chasing bait just under the surface and the school was moving very rapidly.
A couple of rods were rigged with standard and proven lures. These fish wouldn’t even sniff a popper or the larger Rapala and Rebel type swimmers on what would be considered to be fairly light saltwater spinning rigs. I was dabbling with some of the then relatively new braids and Fireline, which can be tricky to use but once you get used to the thinner more supple lines they were and are wonderful. They are strong, cast very well and hold up well under constant use. Specific brands of super lines as they were called are a matter of personal preference. I’ve had the opportunity to try many and all perform well. I like braids on level wind casting rods and Fireline on spinning tackle.
One thing I’ve learned over the years when proven lures in a normally effective size don’t catch fish you know are present, it’s time to change colors and reduce the size and type of lure until something works. It is this experimental side of angling that appeals to me.
That trip with fish that were assumed to be bluefish totally ignoring the usually effective lures I started “playing around” with different lures. Nothing worked until I pulled small chrome colored “Rattle-Trap” out of my freshwater box. A simple plug that is cast and retrieved at a fast clip. It looks like a baby menhaden or “peanut bunker”. That was the ticket, on the third or fourth cast something grabbed it and took off like a dragster.
That fish turned out to be a false albacore, the first I’d ever caught. Due to the fact the school was moving so fast only two or three total were hooked, all were less than ten pounds. Pound for pound they are hard charging fish.
From that time on the “albies” and bonito when they show up during the late summer and fall have become very popular targets for light line and fly fishermen. They are very exciting and often challenging to hook and are a species that many people wait for and target exclusively when they are in the area. I have to admit I never became addicted to chasing these speedsters but have had some fun with them over the years.
Its funny how tastes and interests change over time. Personally I, some might say devolved, from a striper/bluefish fan into a “fluke meister” over the years. Summer flounder are a species that requires a more subtle and relaxed style of fishing that is highly site specific and nowhere near as much work as winging plugs into rampaging schools of bass, blues or albie’s.
As time went on, marriage and kids came into the picture and I was required, as a sort of payment for any fishing I did, to bring some fluke home for supper. It was our family favorite and both my son and daughter often came along and both became accomplished multi-species anglers at a young age. They both loved fishing, like me for anything and everything, so regardless of conditions, we could drop a line somewhere.
My favorite summer time meal is fresh native corn, boiled blue crab dipped in melted butter and a couple of cold brews after the driving of cars and boats is done. Blue claw crabs should be showing up in decent numbers by now. I’ve not gone crabbing as of this writing, due to the fact I keep injuring my feet and knees doing stupid things. I’m hoping to improve on my crab bite scar collection, which are kind of like tattoos and battle wounds, each has a story.
Blue crabs should be showing up in decent numbers by now. Seeing some caught in late June is a good sign that indicates there was at least some degree of survival of our local population over the winter. The stupid thing is many of the worst bites don’t occur when crabbing but rather at home, while shucking corn, boiling water for corn and crabs. They are angry in the kitchen sink ready to attack anything that comes near. I’ve had a cold brew or cocktail, maybe two while getting things ready and instead of using tongs or donning heavy gloves to get the crabs into the pot, often simply start picking up the crabs bare handed, which I get away with most but not all of the time and I have the “stupidity scars” to prove it.