Dangerfields of the Shoreline

Whether baking exposed on the edge of a marsh bank during a weeklong summer heat wave or clammed up during an extended deep-winter freeze, bank mussels are just about impervious to all Mother Nature can throw at them. Jon M. Diat

The afternoon of July 3 was a perfect time to take a leisurely kayak cruise in Sag Harbor Cove. Due to other commitments this season, I had not had a chance to dunk my dinky little blue kayak into the water. Being nearly 6-foot-6 and one who labors with a ridiculously large size-16 foot, my kayak makes me feel as if I am snugly entombed in an odd-colored banana in a wobbly, old shopping cart. Comfortable? No. Practical and easy to store? Most certainly.

Comfort aside, I was really looking forward to my maiden voyage of the season away from the holiday traffic, jammed beach parking lots, and constant boat wakes of the more frequently traveled open bay waters. The peace and serenity of the back parts of the cove would be a much-welcomed change from the early summer hectic pace seen everywhere else.

Timed with a nice low tide, the bright sun gleamed off the water as I set out, and while its rays were intense, a nice gentle breeze from the west helped cool things off. While I was not surprised to see many houses along the shoreline being upgraded or rebuilt, it was thoroughly enjoyable to come across an assortment of aquatic creatures that typically inhabit such low tidal flow waters, including blue-claw and spider crabs, various whelks and snails of all shapes and sizes, oysters, clams, grass shrimp, killifish, and spearing, to name a few. The warm waters were teeming with life. 

But there was one particular item that could be seen everywhere in great abundance. The lowly bank mussel.

Citing a famous comedian’s well-known refrain, the bank mussel just can’t get no respect. It is clearly overshadowed by its very popular cousin, the blue mussel, which is highly treasured table fare. Cultivated lovingly in so many countries now, the market for this species continues to skyrocket in price and popularity. Yes, the blue mussel is king in the eyes of many, while the bank mussel takes the back seat as the joker. 

The muddy, dark-brown bank mussel, while marginally edible, has always had a low profile and little recognition. Hanging in clumps, standing upright like soldiers ready for inspection, or broken off from their ranks lying quietly in the shallow water, a huge population was in residence that afternoon on the exposed tidal banks. And that’s good to see. Prolific filter feeders that can live up to 20 years, the bank mussels serve to help clean our waters, especially in our creeks and salt marshes. 

They are tough, too. The bank mussel has a genetic makeup that tolerates huge temperature extremes. Whether it’s baking exposed on the edge of a marsh bank during a weeklong summer heat wave or clammed up during an extended deep winter freeze, bank mussels are just about impervious to all Mother Nature can throw at them. Not many other creatures I know have such tough-as-nails attributes.

While the bank mussel will never gain the status of its more prized relative, it is clear that this underappreciated shellfish serves a very important role within our marine ecosystem. No shame in that at all. But a little more respect for this very humble inhabitant of our local waters is most likely warranted the next time you walk, wade, or boat about our various East End estuaries.

Sebastian Gorgone of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton showed some respect for fishing conditions this week. “With all due respect, the fishing has been good,” Gorgone exclaimed. “Fluke and sea bass fishing has been productive on the east side of Gardiner’s Island and striped bass have been taking clam baits from the surf in recent days.” Bass can also still be had on the bayside. Gorgone said that a nice keeper bass was taken from shore on a small diamond jig near Sammy’s Beach in East Hampton.

Out at the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, Harvey Bennett said the action has been solid on several fronts. “Big striped bass have shown up big time in Montauk in the rips,” he said. “And the action along the ocean beaches has been good too, with some fish up to 29 pounds taken.”

He added that big bluefish can be had at North Bar and Gin Beach in Montauk, and that small bluefish (a.k.a. snappers) have shown up locally but are still very small. Bennett also proclaimed that the freshwater scene is still active on Fort Pond in Montauk, and that those big carp are on the chew again in Hook Pond in East Hampton. 

As per his continuing quest to send baseball gloves and mitts to underprivileged children in the Dominican Republic, the call for more used leather goods still beckons. “We’re getting to the ninth inning here,” he said. “The response has been good, but we need some more.” Check under your bed, garage, or the deepest part of your closet. 

The full moon this past weekend in Montauk did not disappoint those pursuing very large striped bass. The Viking Starship on Sunday night had a full boatload of fishermen and all went home happy, with most fish landed in the 25-to-40-pound range, including a whopping 53-pound pool winner for Tom Retzlaff of Setauket taken on a live eel. 

Capt. Art Cortes of the charter boat Halfback confirmed that the bass fishing is equally good during the day with fish up to 40 pounds captured, and that shark fishing has been good offshore, as the boat landed a 130-pound mako on Sunday’s trip. 

“The fishing inshore has really been red hot lately,” said Tanya Rade at the Westlake Marina in Montauk. “The bass fishing has been phenomenal, both day and night, and we have been selling a ton of eels for them too.” Rade said that the action for fluke has picked up considerably with a large number of fish up to 10 pounds weighed in recent days. Most of the action has been on the south side in deeper water. Smaller fish inhabit the local rips. For those intent on porgies and sea bass, the fishing has been equally productive.

“Offshore action for makos and threshers has been good too,” added Rade. Those focused on tuna report a pickier bite, with a few bluefin and bigeyes landed.  

As a reminder, the 17th annual Montauk Mercury Grand Slam charity tournament will be held Saturday and Sunday. Targeting four inshore species — striped bass, bluefish, sea bass, and fluke — proceeds benefit youth, families, and senior citizens in the East Hampton community. 

In addition, the inaugural Star Island Yacht Club fluke tournament is underway. The weeklong tourney started on Sunday and ends at 4 p.m. on Saturday. 

 


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