On the Water: Lots of Cod, Few Boats

Dennis Rodriguez, left, and Rod Augustin showed off two of a number of large cod they caught while fishing from the Blue Fin IV charter boat last week. Augustin, a marine, will begin his fifth tour in Afghanistan next week. Michael Potts

    The late, great Capt. Frank Mundus, Montauk’s Monster Man, said that during his many years of ferrying charter clients offshore to come to grips with their various demons by way of tangling with big sharks, it was the wives and children they brought along who often hooked the fish.
    We are all creatures of habit, a fact that often works against us. Mundus observed that experienced fishermen, that is fishermen who put a lot of time in on the water, handled their fishing rods in a practiced way, smoothly, with rhythmic winding of the reel, habitual jigging routines — actions that, when telegraphed down the line to the terminal gear, spell healthy prey, or something unnatural, to a predator.
    By contrast, the jerky, fumbling, uncertain rod handling of neophyte anglers signaled injured or otherwise vulnerable prey to a predator. “Don’t listen to your father,” he would tell a child after taking him or her aside. “He will tell you what he don’t know.”
    And, so it is these unusually cold spring days when the routinized dreams of sport fishermen turn toward the arrival of striped bass, bluefish, fluke, and flounder — the species their calendars say it’s time to catch. The party boats from UpIsland that came to Montauk over the winter to get in on the cod fishing, have left. Private and for-hire boats are out of the water getting their spring paint jobs and engine overhauls. Meanwhile, cod and the piles of herring they feed upon are just offshore in numbers not seen in many years, and with relatively few boats on them.
    Michael Potts, captain of the Bluefin IV charter boat said he would be missing the action if he’d hauled his boat as he usually does this time of year. Weather has been an obstacle, but the fish are there. “And, they’re bigger. Very few tiny ones. We had a 22-pounder the other day, and fish in the teens,” Potts said.
    Unseasonably cold ocean temperatures are keeping the fish and their cold-water bait in the area, and in what could be another instance of habitual behavior, striped bass and bluefish are keeping to their spring migratory pattern despite the cold water.
    Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett reminds us that Easter week was the traditional start of the commercial haulseining season. “They would get the early bass run, and mackerel,” Bennett said, the mackerel so thick at times that the nets’ cod ends would fill to overflowing.
    Bennett reports “runner” bluefish in Gardiner’s Bay. The runners are the early scouts that arrive here first, skinny from not eating en route. They are likely fattening up on alewives, which have made a strong appearance in Southampton, and probably in Gardiner’s Bay as well.
    Kathy Vegessi, shoreside support for the Lazy Bones party boat, said there was hope that the State Department of Environmental Conservation would be allowing a three-fluke-per-day bag limit with a 201/2-inch minimum size, a big improvement over last year’s two at 21 inches.
    “We caught a lot of fish last year that were 20, and 201/2. It’s not written in stone,” Vegessi said of the 2011 regs. As it stands, the season is set to begin on May 15, but that could change.