The Scallopers Awaken

The first Monday of November at sunrise is the opening of the bay scallop season in state waters
The opening day of scallop season in state waters was surprisingly promising, as Robert Cugini, left, and Ray Sperling discovered on Monday. Jon M. Diat

I had set my alarm clock on Sunday night for an early wakeup call the next morning. But my own internal timepiece is very reliable, and I already knew I would be awake prematurely. 

My sleep that night, as expected, was restless. It always is the night before the first Monday of November. 

Why the anxiousness and lack of sleep on such an odd day in November? It’s pretty simple really: Monday at sunrise is the opening of the bay scallop season in state waters. Most of my friends and former co-workers know how important this date is to me. 

How significant? Well, one time a few years ago, I was able to persuade the C.E.O. of the Fortune 50 company I worked for to announce our third-quarter results on the Friday before scallop season opened (we were originally scheduled to report the following Monday, on the first day of the season). I have had this ritual for several decades, and you can’t break with tradition, right? Plus, he received some fresh scallops for his kindness. 

I truly appreciated how accommodating and understanding my boss was to switch the dates just for me, Wall Street be damned. Scallops are a treasured commodity around here. Forget about frozen concentrate orange juice, pork belly, or gold futures. Given their popularity, bay scallops should have their own futures market on the big board.

I was up and dressed well before my alarm was set to go off on Monday. It was still pitch dark, but there was a lot of anticipation amongst the rather sizable crowd of men clad in rubber boots and heavily-worn sweatshirts lined up to pour a cup of hot coffee at the 7-Eleven in Sag Harbor. Clearly wasn’t the only one who savored and favored the lure of this highly treasured shellfish from our inner bays and harbors.

However, I was also fighting a rather significant ailment. About 10 days earlier, I had wiped out while playing ice hockey and busted my hip badly. Walking and driving have been an extreme chore, and I worried just how I would be able to maneuver and lift my heavy six-iron dredges. Two visits to my doctor confirmed that it would take many weeks, if not months, to properly heal, and I would need to be careful.

While it’s not like playing hockey, a competitive team sport, scalloping should be considered a contact sport at the very least. It’s hard and strenuous work on the entire body. 

Figuring I needed to protect my hip to prevent further pain and damage, I decided to wear my padded ice hockey pants under my foul weather gear. Other than staying home, I had no other obvious option. However, getting my oilskin pants over my hockey gear was no easy task. The fit was snug and comical to the two other people who joined me on Monday morning. I shrugged off the laughter. There are no beauty contests in scalloping. 

The engine warmed up as we secured our gear on board, and it was off to the scallop grounds. But where to start? Unless you do some pre-season scouting, you are literally playing a game of hide and seek. Figuring I had seen a decent set of juvenile scallops in my local area late last fall, I decided to stay close to home. 

It was a good call, as we claimed our three bushels of scallops in a few hours (noncommercial scallopers are allowed to retain one bushel per person, per day). We also returned to port before the northeast wind gained strength and the heavy downpours arrived. All in all, it does not get any better. It was a very pleasant surprise.

While the season for scallops continues to the end of March, the vast majority of the catch usually takes place within the first few weeks after Monday’s opening. It’s too early to say whether the harvest will be sustainable at these levels. But given how productive it was on Monday, even while I was anticipating a rather poor season, there is a good amount of optimism for a long and prosperous season among many who dragged their dredges that day. Even better, there were plenty of juvenile scallops (that will be ready to be harvested next November), hauled up in the dredges. Only time will tell on both fronts.

On the local fishing scene, some solid action continues with many species.

“The bass fishing off the beach, especially from Mecox heading west, has been excellent,” said Ken Morse, the owner of Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor. “And when the winds allow, anyone I know who has tried for blackfish reports really good fishing.” Morse has a plentiful supply of green crabs for those looking for some late season blackfish. “And there are still some false albacore near Plum Island, but that should be coming to an end soon,” he added.

“Lots of striped bass around, but the bigger fish are actually back in the bays,” said Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. “It’s really weird, so hopefully some bigger fish will be back on the beach soon. We shall see.” Bennett also confirmed the excellent blackfish action out at Montauk, as well as porgy and sea bass fishing. “Lots of people start to stow away their rods for the season, but some of the best action around here happens in November.”

It’s also not too late to sign up for Bennett’s two fishing contests. The $20 entry fee also includes a yearlong membership in the Amagansett Sportfishing Association and an end-of-season raffle. 

As for Montauk striped bass, it has been a bit of a challenge finding keeper-sized fish. “Lots of little bass around,” said Michael Vegessi of the open boat Lazybones. “But keeper-size fish are hard to come by.” Vegessi expects to stick to diamond jigging for the next few weeks.


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

The eyes of the scallop Robert Cugini