Thrown Back for Another Day

False albacore remain thick in local waters. Michael Larson of Montauk caught this one near the Lighthouse this week. Lou Serio

Saturday morning dawned damp and gray at the docks in Montauk Harbor. The steady and strong northeasterly wind the prior three days had dissipated overnight and was now gently coming off the slowly cooling Atlantic Ocean from the southeast. Despite a forecast only a few hours earlier calling for little to no rain, I thankfully took the foul-weather gear and non-skid fishing boots as a precaution. Better to be over-prepared than wishing I had packed more clothing and supplies, especially if we were planning to fish a decent distance south of Montauk for codfish. 

On the ride out — hot coffee secured in the cabin — the seas were still a bit lumpy from the previous blow. By the time we reached our first fishing hole in about 130 feet of water, the steady drizzle turned into a light rain. Good call on bringing the extra gear.

There were some decent reports of cod a week earlier, but the ever-present black sea bass could be a problem. While they are widely proclaimed to be one of the tastiest fish, sadly, we would not be able retain any, as the season for them in Rhode Island and federal waters (more than three miles offshore) remains closed until this coming Sunday. Aggressive feeders that swim fast, sea bass can quickly overrun a hungry cod to a hook baited with clams. Still, if there were enough cod around, we stood a good chance of taking home a few for dinner that night. It was a risk we were willing to take. 

With the boat slowing to a crawl, the fish finder screen in the wheelhouse was lit up, showing a plethora of life below. Was it baitfish, sea bass, porgy, cod, or a combination of them all? Whatever was showing on the color screen, it looked like there was a big New Orleans Mardi Gras-style party going on. And we would soon find out who was invited. 

While my colleagues decided to bait up with fresh skimmer clams on a hi-lo rig, I rigged up with an eight-ounce diamond jig adorned with a pink rubber squid teaser about two feet above. I’m always happy to avoid dealing with slimy clams if any fish is willing to inhale an artificial lure. The boat now settled squarely on the drift, the rain started to intensify along with a newly formed blanket of fog. 

Casting away from the boat, my jig took about 15 seconds to hit bottom. And as soon as I engaged my reel to start my slow retrieve, my rod took a huge hit and a large fish was immediately hooked. About two minutes later, it was a sight to behold as a beautiful double-header of sea bass, each weighing at least four pounds, lay lazily upon the surface. I have never caught two sea bass of that size on one cast before. Alas, the fish needed to be safely returned to fight another day and rejoin the party down below. 

Looking to my left, my four friends on board were also instantly hooked into similar-size fish. All were sea bass and all had doubleheaders on their respective rods. The fishing was insane. After about 45 minutes and a few drifts, it was clear that the sea bass were just too thick and that our hopes of landing a cod would be in vain. We did land one short cod that was released, but it was impossible to get away from the giant-size sea bass.

Back in New York State waters closer to shore, the sea bass were still in residence but were remarkably smaller in size, as it was a true struggle to find any keeper fish.  Despite a distance of only a few miles, the adults and children clearly resided in different neighborhoods. No doubt when the ban on fish being taken in the deeper federal waters is lifted on Sunday, some excellent fishing will take place for those lucky enough to venture offshore. Get ready.

As for the other bass, striped bass, catches remain solid at Montauk. “Striped bass fishing has been excellent when the winds allow us to get out,” said Capt. Michael Albronda of the charter boat Montauk. “Lots of nice-sized fish too.”

Big bluefish are also in town. “The giant-sized gators are everywhere from Shagwong to the Point,” said Capt. Michael Vegessi of the Lazy Bones, which specializes in half-day fishing with diamond jigs. “The blues have made it a challenge to get to the striped bass, but hopefully some cold weather soon will change it up a bit.”

Over at Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton, the owner, Sebastian Gorgone, was enjoying the memories of savoring the culinary delights from his recent trip to Paris. “Paris is such a great city and the food was just amazing,” said Monsieur Gorgone after returning home Saturday night. “I had my share of frogs’ legs and escargots for sure. And the local people there were so nice, too. Great time.” Gorgone added that bass and blues were being taken locally in Three Mile Harbor. 

“Fishing along the beaches has been pretty good,” said Harvey Bennett of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. “Some nice keepers were taken on Monday morning at Georgica and some blues and weakfish have been mixed in too.” Bennett added that blowfish and kingfish are still running on the bay side and that false albacore fishing continues to be productive as well.

Fishing news out of Sag Harbor was on the quiet side. “I had very few reports coming in,” said Ken Morse at Tight Lines Tackle. “Blackfishing is still slow and even the activity along the ocean beaches has not been great either.”  

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