One Last Trip Before the Bell

The unofficial change of season earlier this week does bring about a number of noticeable observations on both land and sea here on the East End
Bennett Burki, 14, caught a 35-pound striped bass on the charter boat Hurry Up off Montauk on Monday. Peter Burki

While the calendar says it’s still summer for a few more weeks, the passing of Labor Day and Tumbleweed Tuesday always seems to trigger an inner emotion that’s sometimes a bit hard to capture and describe. For many, the instant reflection is how fast the summer went; we all seem to say it in unison. One day it’s the Fourth of July and the next thing you see are a few leaves already starting to change color. I even saw Halloween candy in a local store two weeks ago. Now that’s truly pushing it. 

All that said, the unofficial change of season earlier this week does bring about a number of noticeable observations on both land and sea here on the East End: less traffic and congestion on our local roads and streets, easier access to a table for dinner at a favorite restaurant, diminished lines at the local deli or grocery store, boats already being hauled out of the water for winterization, as well as the start of the school year for students, parents, and teachers. It was with that last rite of early September in mind that I did an end-of-season fishing trip with my next-door neighbors and their two children on Friday. 

Truth be told, I have barely used my boat this summer. Why? I can’t really explain it, to be honest. While weather played a part on some aborted trips, other commitments, both of a family and personal nature, came up at various times to keep me away from the helm station. Excuses and reality aside, it was time to embark on a local trip to see what was lurking around Shelter Island waters.

Lunch sandwiches packed up and water and soda stowed away in the cooler, the lines were thrown from the dock as we slowly made our way to a deep hole on the east side of Smith’s Cove bordering the expansive Mashomack Preserve. Windless conditions combined with an overcast sky provided a perfect drift, and it only took about a minute for the first fish of the day to be landed — a fat porgy by 12-year-old Emilie. A few seconds later her younger brother, Timmy, landed his first smooth dogfish of the day. 

Both of them had their fishing game face on, and lunch would have to wait. It was also very clear that the thought of the start of school this week was the furthest thing from their minds. Good times. 

The action remained constant for the next two hours, with a nice mix of porgy, weakfish, black sea bass, and snappers making up the bulk of the catch, all safely released to fight another day. Intensely focused on the task at hand for the duration of the trip, Timmy landed a large spider crab that stubbornly latched onto his strip of squid, taking a ride upward from the 40-foot depths before gently falling from sight in the warm 70-degree water. Not a bad way to end the trip, with smiles and laughter all around the stern cockpit. It’s unclear if those smiles remained on their young faces on their first day of class. But I’m quite certain good memories of their catch that day will be stored away for safekeeping for a long time. 

For other anglers, there were plenty of things to be happy about around the local docks over the long weekend, even if the school bell was not ringing for them. 

“False albacore are everywhere in the bay,” proclaimed Harvey Bennett, proprietor of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. “Sharking remains strong in the ocean, while porgy fishing is hot near and around Gardiner’s Island. Blowfish were also back in Three Mile Harbor and there are tons of snappers off the docks too.” Bennett also said that big bluefish are roaming the length of the ocean beaches and are mixed in with some striped bass. 

For those following Bennett’s ongoing efforts to collect baseball equipment for underprivileged youth in the Dominican Republic, there’s still time to donate. “It’s the bottom of the ninth inning and the count is full,” he said in his best play-by-play radio voice.

Sebastian Gorgone of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton concurred that the false albacore have shown up in local waters. “It has started and it should only get better,” he said. Gorgone added that large porgies, mixed with blowfish, are in force in Three Mile Harbor. “The fishing for them has been really good of late. And the porgies are really big too.” 

The fishing action out in Montauk has remained consistent as well. While the night bite for striped bass has been poor of late, many expect the action to pick up on the full moon this week, backed by a favorable incoming tide. The daytime action has been good, with fish upward of 40 pounds landed, but catches are also dependent on the tides. Those focused on fluke experienced a bit of a pickier bite in the waning days of the season, which ends on Sept. 21. 

Long-period ocean swells are expected to increase this weekend, emanating from powerful Hurricane Irma as it churns the waters and nears the southern United States coast. How much of an effect the waves will have on the fluke bite remains to be seen, but black sea bass and porgies are around in solid numbers to serve as a backup plan. 

“Fluking has been up and down of late,” said Kathy Vegessi, the shore-side support arm of the open boat Lazy Bones. “Mixing in with the fluke has been a nice amount of sea bass though.” The Bones plans to stick with fluke until the end of the season before making the switch to diamond jigging for striped bass and bluefish starting on Sept. 22, the first day of autumn.

We welcome your fishing tips, observations, and photographs at You can find the “On the Water” column on Twitter at @ehstarfishing.

Emilie McKenna kissed her freshly caught smooth dogfish before setting it free on Friday. Amie Rappoport