Rust Tide Returns

No matter the type of bloom, it’s never a good sight to see
Rudy Bonicelli, first mate on the Montauk charter boat Oh Brother!, helped Timmy McKenna release a striped bass they had just caught. Amie Rappoport McKenna

It was bound to happen. Overwarm water temperatures this summer, backed by the unpredictability of Mother Nature and other factors, has resulted in an outbreak of a nitrogen-fueled rust tide in a number of locales, including parts of Three Mile Harbor, Noyac Bay, and Little Peconic Bay. The bloom has also been widely seen in other waterways on both the North and South Shores of Long Island in recent weeks. 

Not dangerous to humans, the algae bloom, which takes on the appearance of dark red blotches and streaks mixed in between clear patches of unaffected water, is lethal to many types of shellfish and finfish if it lingers for any length of time. Most marine scientists agree that nitrogen pollution, mixed with very warm water temperatures, is the main cause of rust tide, as well as brown, red, and blue-green algae blooms. No matter the type of bloom, it’s never a good sight to see. 

I recall the very first brown tide that struck our East End waters in June of 1985. In almost a single day, the crystal-blue water of late spring turned into a muddy, coffee-colored mess. Fishing activity immediately died and the fall scallop fishery ended up being a complete disaster. On opening day, commercial baymen dragging their iron dredges across the bay bottoms captured nothing but empty shells. Only a few scallops survived the summerlong onslaught. Sad indeed.

The scallop season, which opens in November, is widely expected to be not as good as last season, but the sight of the most recent outbreak of another algae bloom has put an even greater damper on an already rather dour outlook.

Despite repeated blooms and given the lack of eelgrass for almost two decades, which provided a natural protective sanctuary for juvenile scallops to grow into adulthood, I’ve actually been amazed at how good the scallop catches have been for a number of years. Sure, some years are better and some are worse. Only time will tell just how much of a bounty will be available for harvest in three months.

For now, many are hoping that the waters clear up before too much damage can be done. September will bring much-needed cooler weather to coincide with our ever-shorter daylight hours. The rust tide should begin to abate. 

As for the current fishing scene, you name a species, and chances are good you can catch it.

“It’s the typical late-summer activity where you have many choices of fish to catch,” Sebastian Gorgone of Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton explained from his shop on Monday, as a steady stream of cars headed westward on the unofficial end of summer. “Porgies are everywhere and snappers are growing and keeping the kids happy. Big bluefish and some striped bass are in the Race, while some keeper fluke can still be had on the drift off of Gerard Drive in Springs.”

Over at the Tackle Shop in Amagansett, the owner Harvey Bennett was also counting cars by what seemed liked the hundreds on Monday as they passed his establishment a few feet off Montauk Highway. “Traffic has been brutal, but the weather and fishing was great over the holiday weekend,” he said. “Porgy fishing has been off the charts and fluke are still around, too.” Bennett said that some bass and bluefish can be found in the ocean wash, while false albacore action continues to strengthen. 

Popular with the light-tackle crowd, false albacore, also known as albies, are feisty members of the tuna family and provide excellent sport when taken on a casted fly or jig. “Deadly Dick lures and Hogy jigs are two of the best items to try,” Bennett added. The veteran tackle shop owner of nearly 40 years just received a new shipment of the popular lures last week in anticipation of the late-summer run. “The lures are big sellers.”

“Lots of bass and bluefish have shown up in Shinnecock Inlet,” said Ken Morse of Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor, who is also a surf-cast enthusiast. “And it’s only a matter of time before the albies show up too with them.” Morse added that fishing for porgies and weakfish remains excellent in Noyac Bay.

Out at Montauk, the fluke catch continues to increase as the fish begin their migration to their winter grounds far offshore. 

“The fluke bite has really picked up and we have had fish up to 10 pounds,” said Kathy Vegessi of the open boat Lazybones. “The fishing last September was great and we hope we will see the same this month.” Vegessi added that sea bass and porgies are also mixing in with the fluke. 

The fluke season, which comes to an end at the end of September, should continue to feature a good quantity of large fish, commonly called doormats, provided the waters are not overly disturbed by any hurricanes that come within reach. Hurricane season hits its peak in mid-September.


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

Luis Leon and his son Gustavo landed this brown shark under the Montauk Lighthouse on a live bluefish. Luis Leon
The scallop season, which opens in November, is not expected to be as good as last season, and the sight of rust tide in local waters has put an even greater damper on an already poor outlook. Jon M. Diat