Encounters of the Odd Kind

Harvey Bennett has never witnessed so much action tight to the ocean beach with sharks — mainly brown, thresher, and dusky sharks — as he has this summer
Mason Mannino, 10, of Sag Harbor held a weakfish he caught in Noyac Bay. Brian Corbett

As the owner of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett for nearly 40 years, Harvey Bennett has probably seen just about everything that could happen on the water. But even with his keen sense of awareness and history, Bennett has never witnessed so much action tight to the ocean beach with sharks — mainly brown, thresher, and dusky sharks — as he has this summer.

“I have never in my life seen anything like it,” said the wide-eyed purveyor of bait and tackle behind his counter the other day. “Since July, it has been something crazy to see. I mean, so many people are getting their reels spooled by sharks taking their line and bait to Portugal that I’m actually running out of line to refill all the reels I need to do. It’s also been a challenge to keep enough bunker in the shop.” Sharks have a strong affinity for feasting on the oily baitfish, which have been in extreme abundance close to shore all summer.

And the encounters and stories of the activity continue to grow every day. Bennett relayed the tale of a recent incident involving a surfcaster fishing near the rocks of the Montauk Lighthouse who landed a very respectable 20-pound striped bass. About 20 minutes after safely securing the fish to his left torso on a stringer, the caster felt a violent tug to his left side and was immediately pulled off his rocky perch. After regaining his balance and securing his footing, the hapless caster checked on the status of his recent catch to find that only the head of the freshly caught striper remained. The once 36-inch fish was now down to a mere 12-inches or so.  Bennett was not sure how quickly the caster exited the water, but I’m sure it was in near-Olympic-record speed. 

And it’s not just sharks getting all of the attention of late. Seals, too, are in abundance, especially out at Montauk, and are creating their own news, as well.

While fishing Montauk Point last Saturday with three anglers, Capt. Ken Rafferty was experiencing some excellent light-tackle action with bluefish. Then the scene changed quickly. “We were catching lots of bluefish, and off in the distance near a big rock I notice a huge gray seal, but I really don’t think anything of it,” Rafferty said of his own personal close encounter of the strange kind. “About 30 minutes later, one of the anglers hooks up with a bluefish and his line goes screaming out at full speed. I know it has to be that same seal that grabbed his fish, but there is nothing I can do that will stop it or allow the leader to break at my knot. It completely spooled the reel in a matter of seconds.”

About an hour later, in about 17 feet of water, Rafferty’s crew hooked into a bluefish in the bow of the boat, while the captain was busy in the stern helping release a small bluefish that was also hooked. “Just as I released the fish in the stern, I turned to deal with the fish in the bow,” explained Rafferty. “But that same seal comes charging up from the bottom and grabs the bluefish that’s on the line as he rubs against the hull of the boat. The seal then breaches with the bluefish in its mouth to a height where all our eyes meet. It scared the hell out of all of us. We were all stunned as it ran off with the bluefish, spooling another reel.” 

Rafferty may want to call ahead to Bennett to see if he has enough line in stock in his store before paying a visit.

On more benign fishing matters, the action on more low-key species of fish remains good in many areas.

Despite a bloom of rust tide in the Peconics west of Shelter Island, action for blues, weakfish, and porgies remains good. “Excellent weakfish action is going on in Noyac Bay and Smith’s Cove,” said Ken Morse of Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor. “Bluefish can be had at Jessup’s Neck on the incoming tide, while porgies of mixed sizes can be found just about everywhere. Blowfish, too, are also hanging around in good numbers.” Morse added that the local action on snappers and blue-claw crabs remains excellent as well.

Large summer fluke are gearing up for their annual fall migration offshore, as fish up to 14 pounds were landed from the deeper water south of Montauk and Shinnecock in recent days. Providing that we avoid any hurricanes, the action should remain strong through most of September. Those focused on porgies and black sea bass also continue to encounter some great action in local waters. Mixed with them have been a good number of triggerfish. Note that the limit for sea bass expands from three fish per person to eight as of tomorrow. The minimum size remains at 15 inches.

Seems like sea robins have found a nice home in Shinnecock Bay of late. “The bay continues to hold the most sea robins anyone has ever seen,” said Scott Jeffrey of East End Bait and Tackle in Hampton Bays. “That said, we have seen an increase in the amount of keeper fluke despite all of the robins.” Jeffrey says that the best action is coming from those who fish in the shallowest part of the bay. He added that the Shinnecock Inlet has seen a few nice fluke taken on live spot and that the area around the Ponquogue Bridge is holding some schoolie striped bass for those chumming and fishing with clams.

Offshore, bluefin are still in range at the Coimbra wreck and Butterfish Hole. The action for yellowfin has been a bit picky, with some making the long trek to Veatch Canyon far to the east to secure a few fish. Capt. Robert Aaronson of the charter boat Oh Brother out of Montauk set course for a long-range trip recently and reported that the mahi mahi were plentiful everywhere. The captain and crew also hooked into a white marlin and a large blue marlin on the same trip. 

Light-tackle enthusiasts will be pleased to know that false albacore have shown up in force on the east side of Gardiner’s Island. “I was out there a few days ago and there were several pods of them around,” said Bennett. “It’s a sign that the seasons are changing.”

No word if any sharks or seals followed Bennett around that day.

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