There’s Little Rest Ahead
With my boat now firmly planted on terra firma for the winter, it’s time to turn the page. The number of recreational boaters and those in the pursuit of finfish have now dwindled to the true hard-core types. While I plan to take a few voyages for codfish this winter out of Montauk on one of the few party or charter boats that will remain in the water, and get my clam rake out to dig up some hard and soft-shells on a good low tide, it’s generally a time for me to take a break and regroup before my boat re-enters the salt in April.
But for some hard-working commercial fishermen, the song remains the same, so to speak. These weather-worn skippers of the sea are not about to spend much downtime on the couch watching a football or basketball game by the glow of a warm fireplace during the “off-season” of winter. Nope, for them it’s game on, time to work and provide for a living, despite dealing with some hard punches from Mother Nature and other factors. Whether it’s taking their solid steel ship on a weeklong journey to the distant continental shelf in the pursuit of tilefish or dragging a well-used net for codfish, squid, or sea scallops east of Block Island, the season does not end for some who ply their time-honored craft.
“I really don’t take a break during the year, even during the winter,” said Capt. Chuck Etzel of the dragger Damariscotta out of Montauk Harbor on Monday afternoon, where he was unloading a catch of yellowtail and blackback flounder destined to be sold at the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx the next morning. “My trips are local and I only go out for the day. Obviously, if the weather is bad, I will stay in port. But I fish pretty much year round.”
Capt. Vinny Damm, owner of the stout 43-foot Nova Scotia-built Lady K, reluctantly plans to bring in his 1,200 lobster traps over the next few weeks from his fishing grounds upward of 25 miles offshore.
“It has been a good year for lobster, but with the weather and in particular the large amount of sea scallop boats that are dragging in the area where I’m licensed to trap, I can’t afford to lose any of my gear.” Earlier this year, Damm upgraded his large arsenal of gear with new four-foot traps, which cost upward of $100 each. “It’s just too expensive. If I lose a trawl of 20 traps to a scalloper, that’s a big loss for me. Some days there are 30 or 40 boats where I like to fish. It’s too much of a risk.”
Later this winter, Damm will focus on gearing up to gillnet for monkfish until the early summer before he switches over full time to offshore lobstering. “There is always something to be done, even if you are not on the water,” said the 30-year commercial fishing veteran. “Whether it is maintaining and repairing your gear or work that needs to be done on the engine of your boat, it really never stops. Plus, with all of the rules and regulations enforced on all of us, it just does not get any easier. But I love what I do.”
Damm said that he would like to take a brief vacation later in February, but has yet to finalize any plans. “We’ll see how it goes,” he smiled.
For other die-hards who refuse to hang up their fishing rods, the action for black sea bass remains strong out of Montauk. As it has for many years, the annual Montauk Locals fishing trip took place aboard the Viking Star last week. The group of intrepid anglers experienced a fine day in good sea conditions while hitting a few deep-water wrecks.
“The fishing was really good, with lots of large sea bass and a few cod mixed in, too,” said Sam Doughty, who is actually from Amagansett. Doughty was also fortunate to land a 12-pound monkfish on the trip. A total of 13 different species, including a 12-pound amberjack, were landed that day. Now that’s a true mixed bag. The pool-winning fish was a fat 18-pound cod nabbed by Stan Dacuk, who grew up in Sag Harbor, but has since been a longtime Montauk resident.
Those focused on blackfish are finding some fine action too. Capt. Jamie Quaresimo, who runs the Miss Montauk II out of the Montauk Marine Basin, took some time out of the pilothouse on Friday to land a fish that tipped the scales at nearly 12 pounds, a personal best. The veteran captain reports that the blackfish are getting bigger as the waters continue to chill. Quaresimo is also mixing in some time fishing for sea bass and cod, in addition to the pursuit of tog. However, time is running out if you want to tangle with a large blackfish. The season comes to a close next Thursday. Don’t wait much longer.
“Still some stripers along the ocean beaches,” said Harvey Bennett, owner of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. “Most of the fish are small, but there were a few fish that were of keeper size.” As for striped bass, the season comes to an end on Friday, Dec. 15.
Bennett alerted me that the annual Tackle Shop and Amagansett Sportfishing Association one-day “last chance” tournament for both fresh and saltwater fish, will take place on Saturday. “There is no entry fee and everyone is welcome to enter,” he said. “And the person with the largest fish will get to pick the lure of their choice from the store along with a Tackle Shop hat.” The cut-off to weigh in a fish is 2:30 p.m. at his establishment on Montauk Highway, but he will also accept a photo of the angler and their fish. Submissions can be sent to Bennett’s email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. No PhotoShopping allowed, he said with a wry smile.
For your holiday angling gift needs, Bennett will be open on Friday and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., as well as by appointment. He will also be open the week of Dec. 25.
“Still plenty of striped bass in the surf, but the vast majority are shorts,” said Ken Morse of Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor. “I had a customer on Sunday come in to say he caught 30 bass, but most were in the 18-inch range.” He added that he had a few anglers who confirmed that there was solid sea bass fishing taking place out of Montauk, with plenty of jumbo-size fish making it back to the dinner table. At Morse’s shop all rods and reels are 10 percent off for the holidays. If you buy a combo of both, the discount is 15 percent. Tight Lines will be open Thursdays through Mondays through Dec. 21, before Morse takes a well-deserved rest.