Now He’s Really Hooked

It was time to get the bait out of the freezer and take a ride to the fluke grounds
Robert Cugini of Seattle and Sag Harbor caught his first-ever fluke last week. Jon M. Diat

Last week’s surge of hot weather was much needed in so many ways. A number of popular pursuits like gardening, planting of crops, and fishing were all affected by the extended and painfully cold spring weather. Other than a trip or two to the lobster grounds, I never even considered wetting a line to go fishing. It was just too windy, cold, and damp most days. But the burst of heat changed all of that in a hurry. 

While Friday was not as warm as the previous two days, it was time to get the bait out of the freezer and take a ride to the fluke grounds. The season for the popular flatfish opened that day and many other anglers had the same idea. 

Pulling away from my dock slip at 7 a.m. with a hot coffee in hand, I was joined by Robert Cugini, a good friend from Seattle, who also has a place with his wife in Sag Harbor. Every November, Cugini faithfully flies in from the West Coast to join me for the opening week of bay scallops. He told me that he already has secured his plane reservations for the scallop season that’s still six months away. Now that’s dedication.

While his passion for scallops runs deep, for some reason he had never done any fishing in his 20 years as a part-timer on the South Fork. It was certainly time to break that streak and hopefully land a fish or two for dinner. A 30-minute ride to the west side of Shelter Island, an early season fluke spot, was our intended destination. 

About a dozen boats, including a few party boats, greeted us upon our arrival. A light, warm southwesterly wind rippled the waters ever so slightly as the engine was shut off for our first drift of the season. Squid strips and local spearing were our baits of choice and we promptly dropped our rigs into the clear 50-foot depths. Last week, the bay temperatures hovered around 47 degrees, but they jumped to 55 degrees with the heat. We hoped the fluke had followed the warming waters from their winter grounds far offshore.

While pods of bunker rolled on the surface nearby, the first two drifts on the outgoing tide produced nary a bite. The action on the others boats was similar. Moving farther to the south in shallower water, our luck finally changed. But the first fish of the day was a sea robin landed by Cugini. While not our intended species, at least he caught his first fish. He was off the hook so to speak. A few minutes later, I nabbed a keeper-size porgy and finally an undersize fluke (anglers can retain four fish over 19 inches).  

We made a few more drifts before the tide slowed down. We landed a few more fluke, including a keeper, plus a large number of sea robins and a nice black sea bass, which sadly had to be thrown back as the season does not open until later in June. Nearing 10:30 a.m., it was time to call it a day, as we both had a number of chores to do around the house.

By no means was this a great morning of fishing but given the lousy weather we have dealt with for so many weeks, it did not matter to us. It was just good to be on the boat to relax. It also gave my friend an opportunity to try something different for the first time. He is now looking forward to his next trip at the end of May. He’s hooked. 

In other areas, fishing activity picked up. While Montauk is still shaking off the cobwebs of a long winter, a few boats made the trip outside the inlet. Most tried for fluke, but a few others, like the Viking Star, made the long trek westward to the bays to find porgies.

“Fluking was okay, but the waters are still cold,” said Capt. Michael Vegessi of the Lazybones party boat. “The water is about 44 degrees, but the action should continue to build over the next few weeks.” The Bones is out there every day, weather permitting, with half-day trips at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. 

“There are small striped bass all over, including Hither Hills, Georgica, and in all of the harbors on the bay side,” said Harvey Bennett, owner of the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. “Big early season bluefish have shown up off of Accabonac Harbor as well as some porgies in Cherry Harbor.” Bennett said that some nice fluke were taken outside Napeague Harbor as well, and that freshwater fans have done well with largemouth bass at Hook Pond in East Hampton and Fort Pond in Montauk. 

The well-seasoned salty proprietor added that he expects to receive a shipment of Van Staal and Zeebass reels shortly. For those who ply their trade along the surf line, these reels are considered to be the Rolls-Royce and Lamborghini of their class. Lastly, Bennett has expanded his store hours to be open from Thursday through Sunday.

“The squid are in!” said a very enthused Sebastian Gorgone, owner of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton. “They are getting them off the docks in Three Mile Harbor and Fort Pond Bay in Montauk, as well as in the commercial box traps. How long the fishing lasts is anybody’s guess, as the bluefish are sure to be behind them shortly.” 

Bluefish have a particular taste for calamari. Gorgone also noted that anglers have headed up to the Greenport area to try for fluke with decent results. “And those who went inside the Peconics did well with porgies too,” he said.

Over at Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor, the owner, Ken Morse, welcomed the warm weather, but fishing was a bit on the slow side. “Fluke fishing got off to a mediocre start, but there were a couple of keepers taken. Porgies were on the small side too, for those who focused on them.” Morse added that some small stripers are around in the various coves and bays. “The action should begin to heat up soon. It’s still very early in the season.” 

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