Steve Byrne is a charter captain and fishing addict. He holds the current IGFA weakfish 30# line-class record, & guided his two sons to IGFA records of their own. "Catching stripers for 40 years, I love releasing big fish to catch them another day!"
Sitting at the scoring table with Manhattan Cup creator Dave Fallon, I couldn't help but compare myself to a clown sitting in a dunk tank at the Fair. The entire fleet of 41 boats managed to return to Chelsea Piers nearly simultaneously, just minutes before the 4PM tournament deadline. Score sheets shot at us like paintballs, with everyone clamoring, "Who won?"
I figured the late return indicated one of two things: a slow day on the water, or a late bite. Looking at the results, both assumptions were accurate.
Of the 41 boats entered in the Cup, only 26 turned in score sheets with fish. Three boats were used for camera crews, so there were a dozen boats that either got skunked or simply felt they had no contending fish so they didn't turn in their score sheet. These are some of the best charter captains around; if they had a hard time finding fish, it was a tough day on the water.
Of the 85 striped bass entered on the score sheets, 51 of them were caught after 1PM. A handful of stripers were caught during the final hour of the tournament - most years the majority of captains are back at the dock by then.
The overall winner of the 2013 FCA Manhattan Cup was, appropriately, one of our honored Wounded Warriors. Looking at Army Specialist James O'Leary, you would never know he was gravely injured during a 2003 mortar attack in Iraq. Powerfully built, James lost part of his left lung and shoulder in the attack. The injuries that left him near death could not prevent him from landing a 33.20-pound striped bass and taking home the Cup.
NOAA Fisheries Northeast Regional Administrator, John Bullard, fished with Capt. Tony DiLernia and proved he knows his way around a rod and reel. John caught the heaviest striper on artificial in the celebrity division with a 5.91-pound fish and just missed the top striped bass on bait in the celebrity division with an 18.74-pound fish.
I took advantage of the opportunity to grab John and express to him FCA's support for "regional management" of fisheries. Those bodies of water bordered by more than one State, that currently have multiple sets of regulations, are a constant problem, with anglers crossing State boundaries for fish that are short or out of season, frustrating anglers from the more restrictive side of the water and making them more likely to ignore regulations.
The 15th Manhattan Cup was a resounding success, with 85 striped bass and hundreds of bluefish caught - and all released alive! With the support of a team of volunteers dedicated to the resource, we proved again that New York City is home to a vibrant fishing community and that we don't have to kill hundreds of fish to have a successful tournament.
Congratulations to the winners, and heartfelt thanks to all of those volunteers who gave their time and energy to make the Manhattan Cup possible - it wouldn't happen without you!
The FCA Manhattan Cup raises money for a variety of programs.
The Hooked for a Lifetime children's program takes groups of underprivileged and autistic children out to the pier and shows them, and their families, the where, when and how to catch a fish. The children also receive rods, reels and tackle boxes so they can come back and do it again.
FCA hosts Veteran's fishing trips to honor both our Wounded Warriors and our Veterans. The Manhattan Cup features a few boats that have Wounded Warriors on board as anglers. These guys are the best, and everyone wants to fish with them. During the summer, FCA typically hosts a Veterans fishing trip on one of our local party boats to honor our Veterans and give back a little bit to those who gave so much.
The organization conducts beach clean ups throughout the year, and is active in fisheries management, advocating positions that protect fish yet ensure recreational anglers' access to them.
In the hours immediately after Sandy passed, I drove in the darkness to the marina where my boat was docked. You've seen the pictures; boats upside down, underwater, docks sticking straight up into the air…that's what I saw when I turned into the lot. I was certain that my boat could not have survived the storm in the water, but there it was right where I left it.
Those minutes of uncertainty made me wonder: what if my boat was gone? With a mortgage, college tuition and high school tuition to pay, it's probably not realistic to think I'd be able to run out and buy another new boat. That left me thinking about the fishing I'd done - or not done - over the course of the past decade.
The charter business has been a great experience, and it allowed me to afford a brand new boat and keep it in the water. It's been fun, but there's a hidden cost. To be more exact, what you're really selling is not just your expertise; it's the opportunities to catch big fish. And those opportunities are limited.
It's time to get out and have some fun of my own.
Maybe when I retire from my "regular job" I will go back into the business full time, but for now I want to fish. Life is too short.
Speaking of fishing, I made my first post-Sandy trip today with a couple of friends and we had 4 bass from 15 to 17 pounds, plus a whole lot of bluefish on bunker chunks. We fished in 22 feet of water just outside the channel. The water temperature was a surprising 61 degrees, and as the tide dropped it went up to 64.
Bunker were not easy, but they were certainly get-able. I don't want to sound preachy, but when you see a boat closing in on some bunker splashes, please don't approach the same pod from the other side or try to cut off the boat. The inevitable result is that neither of you will get the bunker, so what's the point? Also, you need to trust your fishfinder.
While bunker splashes are great indicators of where to throw your net, they are just that - indicators. Go to the splashes, but when you get there - look at your screen! If the marks are not thick don't bother throwing the net.
Fishing in Raritan Bay is excellent right now. There are plenty of bass, bunker and bluefish around, so there's no reason to stay off the water. Bait guys are having success with clams and bunker while trollers are catching bass on plugs, with the bigger fish coming on spoons.
I am looking forward to spending a lot of time on the water over the next few weeks. I'll keep you posted.
When Sandy blew through the northeast, one of the victims was Nichols marina - a concession within the confines of Gateway Park in Staten Island, serving the community for the past 37 years. Fortunately, the vast majority of pilings and bulkhead survived and the marina operator stepped up to take on the job of replacing the floating docks at their own cost. Sounds great, right?
When the Feds are involved, the simple solution is never simple.
The National Park Service has refused to renew the lease for the 350-slip marina and instead will conduct a 3-year, $10 million study. So to recap, they could have their property repaired at no cost and begin collecting rent, but instead they will spend 3 million taxpayer dollars to study it for 3 years.
There is a Facebook page "Save Great Kills Park Marina." Please stop in and "like" it. If you happen to be on Staten Island, there will be a tour of the property today with Congressman Michael Grimm and Senator Charles Schumer. Here are the details, pulled from their page.
On Tuesday at 2:30 Nichols Marina in Great Kills Park welcomes Senator Charles Schumer and Congressmen Michael Grimm to tour the marina (that the National Park Service says isn"t even there anymore.. LOL) and show Staten Islanders that we have their support with our cause . Don't let another part of Staten Island history be lost forever.
Whether you have young children of your own or know someone who does, this blog post is for you. It's something I wrote in 2000 when my oldest son was wise to Santa, and his little brother was beginning to have doubts of his own. Here it is -
My oldest son was six. That's an age where kids can go either way when it comes to Santa. They probably have friends with older brothers and sisters who may have said that there is no Santa Claus. At six, some children start to have doubts themselves. You can remove that doubt for a couple more years.
We spent Christmas Eve at my in-laws. Always a hectic affair with 11 children and 10 adults, my better half and I were happy to say our goodbyes at 11:30. The baby was tired and he was starting to cry, so there was little protest when we announced our departure. We loaded the van with the gifts and the boys and headed home. By the time we got to the house, the baby was asleep. I put him in his crib and went to work on the big guy. Bathroom, brush the teeth, put on pajamas, tuck in and kiss goodnight - check. I told him to go right to sleep, so that Santa could come.
Next came the good part: I ran downstairs and put on my coat - it was freezing out. First, I took the sleigh bells from the front door. Then I went into the shed where there was a lone pole and some duct tape. I taped the sleigh bells to the end of the extension pole. Sneaking around the back of the house, I opened the pole as far as it could go. It was perfect. The pole made it right up to the second floor window of my sons' bedroom. I held the sleigh bells right next to the glass and gave four good shakes. I thought about giving a loud "Ho, Ho, Ho!" but I have an easily recognizable voice, so I kept my mouth shut. Lowering the bells as fast as possible, I ran back inside so I wouldn't get caught. I fully expected Stephen to come running out of his room - instead; there was no reaction. Could he be asleep already? I couldn't believe it. It was quiet. Oh well, maybe next year.
Christmas morning, 6:30am Stephen comes in the room, "Mom, Dad - you're never going to believe this! I knew that the presents were here last night. You know how I knew? I heard Santa's sleigh bells last night, so I knew that he left us presents! I heard his bells, I really did!"
I read John Skinner's latest blog - great writing as usual - and was surprised by his experience with bluefish during 2012. It is amazing how different the fishing can be in separate locales during the same year. While John examined a season with just 16 bluefish out his way, I fish the west end, out of Great Kills Harbor, and we enjoyed some of the greatest bluefish action I have seen in my 40-plus years of fishing. To that point, during 17 charters in May & June I recorded some 358 bluefish, 90 percent of which were over 10 pounds. To further drive home how good it was, keep in mind that I am not a party boat or six-pack operator; I take two anglers with the exception of one trip that had three. That trip ended in a little over two hours because they had enough of the bruisers.
Here are a few photos to illustrate:
I guided my angler to the biggest bluefish award in the FCA Manhattan Cup, and I recorded a new igfa All-Tackle release record during 2012.
But all of this crazy bluefish action is not happening in the form of all-out blitzes, like we are used to seeing. Increasingly over the past few years, we find bluefish swimming calmly at the surface with their tails showing. This "finning" is easy to spot when the water is calm, but nearly impossible during less than ideal conditions. Most of the time the fish were 50 to 250 yards off the beaches, as you can see in this video.
One morning I found them crowded around one of the buglights, and you can see all the tails here.
I also found loads of huge bluefish further south at Shrewsbury Rocks while I was searching for stripers, and that is where I found the slammer that was submitted for the igfa record. These fish were not tailing, but they were willing to eat anything that crossed their path. Here's an example of the size of those fish:
That brings us to striped bass, where I find myself on the same page as Skinner. My striper numbers are WAY down. Part of the reason could be that I fish live bunker almost exclusively. But I started doing that several years ago, and my numbers are progressively down, year after year. Maybe if I went back to chunking my numbers would improve, but is it my fishing method that's limiting my success, or is it a lack of striped bass?
I hate sounding like some enviro-alarmist, but I really am worried about the health of striped bass stocks. Fisheries managers insist that stocks are in great shape, but I am not convinced. There are plenty of captains and anglers in my area - boat and surf - who share the same concern I have for striped bass. It is even more worrisome when guys like John Skinner are reporting similar results from waters that are over 100 miles away.
Everyone has their own Sandy story; for some the storm's destruction included loss of their home or loved ones. Many had no power for more than a week: many still have no power. And we have had some cold nights. The significance of these losses is far greater than the loss of a boat or even a marina, but this blog is about fishing so that is my focus.
It was close to midnight on 10/29/12 when my cellphone beeped with a new text message. With the storm in full gear it was impossible to sleep anyway. I flipped open the phone and read, "Docks floated off their pilings. All Great Kills marinas destroyed. Nothing left."
I read the words again just to be sure I read it right, and finally fell asleep.
On the Saturday before Sandy arrived, I moved my boat from Great Kills Harbor to the more sheltered waters of the Arthur Kill. Now that's not to say GKH is unprotected - the harbor is a nearly closed circle, with just a narrow inlet on the west side. Still, it seemed that the river would have more protection, and the only other choice was to pull the boat, which would mean the end of my fishing season.
Instead of running straight to Tottenville Marina, I stopped for one last fishing trip before the storm. I fished for an hour and a half, with three keepers out of a dozen ‘tog - including a memorable 24-incher that was stuck in the rocks for a solid ten minutes before I snapped off the sinker and was able to bring him to the surface.
I pulled into Tottenville Marina and secured the boat between the main dock and the next finger. The space would normally hold two boats, but it was empty so I used the extra room to hold my boat off all docks. I doubled all of my lines and took off my electronics.
In the yard was most of the party boat fleet from Atlantic Highlands: the Mi-Jo, Sea Hunter, Prowler, plus others. Their presence reassured me that I was putting the boat in the right place.
At 4:30AM the morning after Sandy, I made my way around downed trees, wires, telephone poles and a few cars that were swept to the side of the road. Even in total darkness, the level of destruction was obvious. The smell of diesel was heavy in the air. "There's no way I'm still floating," I said aloud.
In the marina, boats and docks were everywhere. On their side, upside down, under water, and piled on top of each other. The ramps to the floating docks were missing or sticking straight up in the air. Two large boats went over the side of the bulkhead and were jammed sideways between it and the floating docks.
Part of me was afraid to look, but I got out of the truck and shined the flashlight into the darkness. My boat was right where I left it, bobbing happily in the midst of the chaos around it.
I had to get to Great Kills and see if there was anything I could do at my marina. I parked the truck two blocks away from Mansion Avenue, across the street from a boat that was tied to a tree. There were boats everywhere. In driveways, on the street, in restaurants, tackle shops, lawns, backyards…just everywhere.
Mansion Avenue was littered with boats and slick with oil. The smell of diesel, gasoline and oil was mildly nauseating. If a boat was on blocks or on a trailer, it floated off. If you tied your boat to your trailer - as many failed to do - there was a fair chance you were okay. If you were in the water, well, it was not good. There are easily a thousand boats in Great Kills Harbor, and just a handful - maybe two-dozen - survived in the water. A single string of floating dock in Staten Island Boat Sales seemed to be all that was left of the seven or so marinas. All of the docks were gone.
When I first arrived, it was me and one other boat owner. The crowd built while I was there, and they belonged to one of two categories: the gawkers who came to see the damage, some posing in front of debris for photos, and the boat owners and marina operators, dazed by the magnitude of the damage, and daunted by the financial impact to come.
During the first week after the storm there was little action as owners waited for claims adjusters to arrive, and many dealt with problems at home due to the storm.
As the second week began there was substantial progress as marinas got access to their heavy machinery and began pulling boats from the wreckage and putting them back on blocks, jack stands and trailers. From the chaos, order was once again taking hold. Some boaters began jumping in and removing debris from their marinas themselves, dragging wood, plastic dock floats, etc. out to the street for sanitation to pick up.
Once the marinas have their yards in order, they can focus on reconstructing docks. Many pilings are still in place, but they will have to be inspected to see whether they are still in good condition. Certainly, there will be many pilings that are broken or lost and must be replaced. Some marinas may have to reconfigure their docks entirely. But you can see the progress. It will get done.
The USCG has all but closed the Port of NY & NJ to recreational boat traffic, except for the purpose of moving your boat to safe haven. If you do move your boat, exercise extreme caution - particularly when approaching any harbor or inlet that formerly held boats. There are many partially submerged boats and pilings in the water.
Like many Staten Islanders, Old Orchard Light was one of my favorite places - not only on the water, but also in the entire world. I grew up here, and I have sailed, boated and fished around that light for over 40 years. Unfortunately, Orchard is no longer a lighthouse, and instead a slab of rocks is the only evidence of its existence that remains. Here's a before and after -
If you are navigating Raritan Bay in the darkness, be advised that the light is no longer there and the rocks are a very serious hazard.
Sheepshead Bay party boats are sailing and catching bass & blackfish, so if you want to satisfy that itch to fish, hop on board; they could use your support.
You gotta love October. It's thirty degrees one day, seventy the next day, and windy every day. The fall fishing season gets my blood pumping, but I always seem to forget about those pesky winds. It seems as if there is a perpetual small craft advisory on NOAA; and on the days an advisory wasn't issued, there probably should have been. But it's okay, I have been able to squeak in a few trips to the surf and a few ‘tog trips in sheltered waters.
Two weeks ago stripers on structure from the beach seemed like a good bet. As always, the only thing you can count on in fishing is that nothing stays the same. My jetty probing results have yielded just a handful of small bass, as they become more focused on the schools of peanut bunker in the bay. I witnessed several minor Raritan Bay bass blitzes this week. They were short-lived and nothing to get too worked up about, but they were certainly encouraging to see.
Blackfish season got off to a flying start for me on opening day, but I only managed one "real" trip since. That produced decent action for me, and my son, with six keepers up to 6/7 pounds out of 21 blackfish. The majority of the fish took green crabs, as opposed to opening day when all they wanted was asian crabs.
One thing that has kept me occupied is catching asian crabs. On a few of the days that I didn't fish because of the wind, I opted to devote the time to flipping stones for crabs. It's been productive, and I have a solid gallon of the little guys. While I'm on the topic, I'd like to point out that if you feed your crabs and check on them every few days, they will stay alive indefinitely. The old 5-gallon bucket with a bunch of half-inch holes is a cost-effective solution to keeping them happy and healthy. The key is to feed them, don't let the bucket sit in the mud, and clean out the carcasses so the crabs aren't overwhelmed with slime.
I will probably start bringing a couple of light tackle rods with me when I go blackfishing, in case I happen across any schools of feeding bass. A few guys are asking me to take them bassing, so I might try clamming one afternoon this week. Of course, the fishable days this week are limited to Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (maybe).
Saturday morning I met up with a bunch of guys from the Natural Resources Protective Association, and the Fishermen's Conservation Association, for a beach clean up. We spent a couple of hours picking up trash on the beach, talking fish, and having coffee and donuts. These are two great conservation-minded groups that you may want to check out if you want to protect recreational fishing for future generations. Both groups have a lot going on, and you can find out more about them by clicking on the links at the start of this paragraph.
I have the boat fueled, loaded up with crabs & ready to go. Looking forward to Wednesday, and the days after that. It looks like things are setting up nicely for a strong fall run. I hope to see you out there!
I love fishing the spring run, but nothing beats the fall. Of course, fall also drives me crazy, as it did this afternoon when I was supposed to do an albie charter. The wind was a steady 20 from the west - at least it felt that way - and the bay was looking a lot like that Congo Rapids ride at Great Adventure. And that was wind and tide together. I had no interest in seeing what it was going to look like when the tide turned into the wind.
Another fall, another canceled trip. It's a familiar pattern. That's why I try to keep everything ready to roll: if there is an unexpected opportunity to get out and fish, I will be ready.
The albies have been plentiful this fall, and they will probably hit the road soon. With some luck, we will get another shot at them before they depart. On the other end of the angling spectrum is the 2012 New York blackfish season, which opens this Friday. There may be a scenario where we are catching albies and ‘tog on opening day. I can't wait.
Since today's trip was blown out, I decided not to let the time go to waste and instead went crab picking. There were plenty of Asian crabs under the rocks, along with a few greenies. I flipped quite a few boulders and couldn't believe all of the life I found. Besides the crabs, there were eels, sculpins, one stargazer, bloodworms and tapeworms. I could have stocked a small bait shop with all the stuff I found in the hour at the beach.
There are stripers around locally, and they are hanging tight to structure. If you know of a rocky jetty that you have access to, check it out at high tide. Small bucktails and soft plastic jigs should produce bass for you. There were several private and party boats clamming at Romer Shoal on Saturday but I didn't see any reports, so I can only guess that it was slow.
We will probably see bass fishing limited to the small fish around local structure for another week or two. I plan to play with the albies and blackfish until the bass return in larger numbers. If I hear anything to the contrary, I'll let you know.
You can't get there from here. I was reminded of those lyrics from REM on Saturday morning, when I stopped by a long neglected surf spot. I was disappointed to find the wooden bulkhead falling apart; that bulkhead used to provide access to my fishing spot. Turns out, you can't get there from here anymore.
I settled for a less desirable casting perch and spent half an hour exercising my right arm. My plan was to catch some stripers and then go help out at the kids fishing event with the Fishermen's Conservation Association. On Saturday we held the second of two annual events, this one reserved for autistic children, in coordination with the Grace Foundation and Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro. I cut short my fishing time and headed over to the kids event early.
The kids braved windy conditions and while the fishing wasn't stellar, they did come up with a wide variety of local species including blowfish, porgies, bluefish, sea robins and small sea bass. I may have left out a couple. There are enough volunteers to match up with every family, so the kids get rods, reels, tackle boxes, tackle & t-shirts, and the volunteers show them how to catch fish so they can come back and enjoy more fishing trips in the days ahead.
Sunday morning I took a different approach to the spot I couldn't get to on Saturday, and I released five schoolie bass in half an hour. A beautiful way to start the day, and catching fish from the shore was something I hadn't done in a while. It felt good.
The amount and variety of bait in the Bight is amazing. Peanut bunker, mullet, butterfish and a few other species whose names escape me are all around in big numbers.
Bluefish are feeding on everything in sight, albies are popping up all over the place to feed on rainfish, weakies are taking peanuts and stripers are taking small jigs - as I confirmed this morning.
It looks like things are setting up for a classic fall run. The bass I caught this morning were holding tight to a row of big boulders. I used a quarter-ounce jighead with a 4-inch soft plastic body. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you will only catch small fish this way. I have logged plenty of fish in the mid-twenties on these little jigs. It's a safe bet that you will find bass on any structure that has current and bait in the area.
Halfway through September, the full run is on and will be over before we know it. Let's load up some fresh line, sharpen our hooks and check our drag; we can definitely get there from here.
With water temperatures holding at a steady 78.5 degrees in most of Raritan Bay, there hasn't been much striped bass fishing to talk about over the past month. My normal routine is to re-focus my efforts on schoolie bass before dawn, but as I get closer to the age of 50, it seems that my energy should be conserved for fishing that holds a more substantial payoff.
My oldest son will be off to college in a week or so, and we only managed a few trips together this summer. Fluke fishing yielded just a few shorts, and I haven't been motivated enough to make the ride to any of our reefs or wrecks for bottom species.
We gave the bass another shot early this morning, tossing live peanut bunker around some structure that we hoped was holding fish. Several stops with handfuls of peanuts got zero attention, so we switched up to fluke. After putting a few shorties in the boat, the current got a little too brisk for our bucktails in 65 feet, so we moved to 25.
The screen was absolutely loaded with fish, and it didn't take long to find out what they were. Stephen got the first weakfish, I had one a minute later, and then it was drop and reel for the next hour. The weakies were small, topping out at 14 inches, but they loved the Gulp baits we jigged.
A single drift lasted an hour and covered a mile. Just when you came off of one school, another filled the screen. Conservatively, we released 50 spikes - all hooked in the mouth - and every one of them swam off like a shot. It was as fun and relaxing an hour as I've had in a long time.
There have been reports of weakfish, but this was the first school this size that I have encountered this year. Hopefully this thriving mass of trout portends good things for a weakfish population that is seriously depleted.
For me, the rest of the summer will be spent laying the groundwork for a fall run full of striped bass, false albacore and one of my favorite fish of all - TOG! By "laying the groundwork," I mean finishing all of the work around the house so I'll be free to fish.
Speaking of work I'm supposed to be painting the hallway right now, so until next time!
I suppose spring is over. Here we are in our second heat wave of the year, facing triple-digit heat Saturday. Striper fishing in the New York Bight has slowed to a crawl for me and, judging by the reports for the past couple of weeks, my results are fairly typical. With water temperatures in the Bay reaching the upper 70s, the chances of encountering any quality bass are low. I heard some reports of decent bass around the Statue, but even that action has faded.
This spring's striped bass fishing was sub-par for me. We caught some nice fish, but not in the numbers that I am used to seeing. My time on the water was limited almost entirely to charters, so I didn't give it the personal effort that I usually do. Moving into a new home and trying to get the family settled in definitely kept me away from the fish, and probably hurt my bottom line with the bass.
On the other hand, we experienced some of the best shallow water bluefish action that I have ever seen. Not only were the fish big and aggressive, but they were in the bay for the past six weeks. These fish ranged from 9 to 16 pounds and we usually found them in packs, tails sticking up out of the water. After my past two trips it seems that while the bay is still loaded with bunker, the tailing bluefish may have vacated the area. Hopefully they are still around and just lying low, but 78-degree water may be too hot for them too.
So we move full on into summer mode. For me that means some relaxing trips for fluke, sea bass and hopefully, weakfish. But I won't be giving up on bass entirely. There are resident bass to play catch and release with during July and August. I like starting out at false dawn with some schoolies on light tackle or on the fly, and then switching over to the secondary target species of the day. It's a welcome change from the effort that comes with fishing live bunker.
In the meanwhile, I finally stopped making excuses, got off the fence and published my collection of 23 fish stories.
The motive for writing it was to share fishing stories that relate some of the small details that helped me become a better angler. Often, it's the little things that make the difference between fishing and catching. It's available in multiple formats and you can download a preview of it online. If you decide to check it out, let me know what you think.
It seems as if we have stripers to the east and stripers to the south, leaving us with mostly bluefish plus some resident bass here in the NY Bight. The bright side of that is the bluefish are good size, and they are willing to come up and smash a popper.
Saturday morning we headed south with a bunch of live bunker and dreams of big, fat stripers. First stop was Shrewsbury Rocks, and we found that the humongous bluefish we left there last week were still there. We wasted a few bunker on them and continued south.
A few miles south of the Rocks we found big bunker schools. Live lining around them was unproductive, so we cruised the area looking for marks. Not far from the schools, I read a few very nice piles of fish on the bottom, but they did not take the bunker we sent down. Of course, there's no way to tell for sure, but I believe those were the stripers we were looking for.
Back in the bay there were more bunker schools, and we picked off a teen-size bass from the edges. Not at all the fish we were looking for, but it was still good to get some stripes on the boat.
For the past few seasons, we have found bluefish tailing in shallow water at this time of year. They seem to love water that is 5 to 8 feet deep, and they cruise along the surface with their tails sticking high above the surface. You can see two, three or a dozen, grouped together. I like casting my plug so that it lands about 6 feet away. You can see the tail stop dead in the water and then change direction and come after your plug. It's a blast.
Water temps are still okay in the bay, water quality is relatively good and there is plenty of bait around, so we have every reason to believe bass fishing in the Bight will pick up again.
There is a ton of great fishing to be had in the friendly confines of Raritan Bay. The most obvious action is taking place around the bunker schools, and it's easy to spot them when they are being harassed. There are schools of bunker all over the bay. In the past week I've seen them all along the south shore of Staten Island – literally, from South Beach to Tottenville and up the River. I shot over to Keyport yesterday and there were bunker pods there.
Most of the kayakers and surf guys are doing the snag-and-drop when the schools come close enough. Boat anglers can take a similar approach, but have the advantage of carrying live bunker in a well.
Speaking of bunker in the well, I pulled 30 from the net Saturday morning for my trip down to Shrewsbury. When we got to the Highlands Bridge we stopped on some bunker schools getting pushed, and when I went to the well for a live bunker, I found that only 5 survived the ride.
The die-off in my live well is a result of rising water temperatures, leading to lower oxygen levels. To compensate, I will reduce the number of bunker I put in the well. Fortunately, the bunker schools on the ocean are thick and refilling the well was not a problem.
The only action taking place off the Highlands Bridge was created by the hundreds of dolphins that were feeding on the bunker. We watched them for a few minutes before continuing south.
When we arrived at the Rocks we found some of the biggest bluefish you could want to catch. The two smallest for the day were probably 12 pounds, while the average was 14. I checked out the surrounding waters for signs of bass, but I didn't find any, so we went back to the blues.
Earlier in the week I did a trip with Mitro & JB, and we stayed in the Bay. We started off by getting in on a huge bluefish blitz and went through 30 bunker in less than an hour. Again, I was able to make a throw with the net and put another 50 baits on the boat.
When we went back to work, we turned our focus from bluefish to bass by staying away from the huge blitz and instead looking for readings near structure. We worked at it and put 5 teen-size bass in the boat, keeping 3 and releasing 2.
We are using 8/0 circle hooks throw the lower jaw and out the nose. When we are fishing shallow – 10 feet or less – we go weightless. Anything deeper than that, we are using an appropriate sinker to get the bunker down.
Despite the "no-bass" outing on my last trip to Shrewsbury, I plan to go there again this weekend with my oldest son. The forecast looks good, bunker are easy, and the blues are there if the bass don't come to play.
I did a few trips last week, but they were limited to Raritan Bay – either because of time restrictions, or weather conditions. The bay is loaded with bunker, but water temperatures are high and bluefish are in complete control.
Thursday afternoon's trip got off to a late start, as Sal, Mike & Natalie got stuck in Manhattan traffic. We stayed close to the harbor to avoid getting abused by the southeast wind. It took about ten minutes to get the fish started, and then it was constant fish for 2.5 hours. The trio brought 30 to 40 medium to large bluefish to the boat & had enough. They ended the quick trip with sore arms and washed up for dinner.
That trip was preceded by Wednesday's trip with father & son Ron & Jake. The guys had similar bluefish action for 5 solid hours, easily tangling with 50 bluefish.
On Saturday I took care of some maintenance and fueled up the boat for Monday. We finally had an opportunity to fish the bunker schools on the ocean, so Steve C met me at 5AM and we headed out with a well full of bunker.
The amount of bunker on the ocean is just plain silly. We fished around the bunker schools and found slow action, but quality fish. Steve released this fat bass after a great fight, and we caught some mid-teens bluefish.
On the way back in there were some birds working south of Romer, so we broke out the spinning gear and caught some 4 to 8-pound bluefish on poppers.
You can find schools of bunker along the Jersey coast, or around Breezy Point and east from there. I like netting bunker in the harbor & bringing it out with me, but you can snag them on the ocean too.
I am still using circle hooks, putting the hook in the bottom jaw and out through the nose. It works. Just be sure to fish in free spool, with the clicker on – and let them eat. Then just reel nice & easy, and the circle does the work for you.
If you've been following this blog since its inception, you know that the idea is for me to post reports of the striped bass I'm catching, and then explain how you can do it too. Boy if it was only that simple. What's that old saying? Man plans, God laughs. The past five days have been a real struggle when it comes to putting bass in the boat.
When the open-bottom bass bite first slowed, I compensated by focusing on structure. That worked well, but I found that bite shuts off very early in the day. In fact most of the structure I pull bass from don't give up fish once the big hand on the clock passes 7.
If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that nighttime is probably the most productive time to be fishing right now. The thing that is particularly bothersome about the lack of a good bass bite lately is that the action fell off just before the new moon. For me, that's usually the time for some of the best striper fishing. On top of that, the amount of bunker in our local waters is just silly. We should be seeing fish crashing through the bunker schools like a bunch of drunken sailors (apologies to drunken sailors everywhere) but instead there are schools of menhaden all over the place, milling happily about like guests at an outdoor wedding.
On Friday I fished the FCA Manhattan Cup with former NY Ranger Kris King as my angler for the day. I had a well full of live bunker and we raised bass at several different locations. In each case, the stripers smacked the bunker around for a while but in the end, they swam away without eating it. Those were some lackadaisical fish. The highlight of our day was a 14.54-pound bluefish that destroyed the live bunker on the end of Kris's line – all in plain sight of the boat. That chopper took first in the bait division.
The Cup was a success this year, and in no small part because of the weather. Usually plagued by some sort of outrageous weather phenomenon, this year's Manhattan Cup featured the best conditions you could hope for. It's unfortunate the striper fishing wasn't as good as it could be, but we did have some solid fish weighed in and released live at Chelsea Piers. This included the tournament winning 34-pound bass brought to the dock by Team Structure Tone, and a 31-pound bass for Wounded Warrior Gil Robert. Proceeds from this year's Manhattan Cup will go towards fishing programs for the Wounded Warriors, children with Cystic Fibrosis and children with Autism, and will also support fishing conservation efforts.
One bright spot in the local fishing scene is the bluefish. They are here in all sizes from 2 to 15 pounds, and they are often mixed together. You might follow up two 3-pounders with a true arm-busting gorilla, which isn't all that bad.
I'm not sure what all of this rain will do to the bass fishing, but it can't make it much worse. Hopefully it will shake things up and the action will improve as we come off the new moon that just passed.
There's something special about looking through clear water at several hundred bunker swimming straight at you, mouths open, and then watching as they suddenly explode in reaction to a bluefish tearing through the school. It's good stuff.
Good as that stuff may be, bass are better. Problem is that lately, the number of bluefish seems to rival the number of bunker. Stripers don't stand much of a chance in the race to live bunker when they're competing with pomatomus saltatrix.
That meant channeling my inner George Peppard and coming up with a plan. Those of you too young to remember the A-Team will have to google it.
I pondered the question of how to deal with the onslaught of bluefish and I came up with a couple of good solutions. I found the bunker, loaded up the live well, and then put my plan into action. The Plan included two tactics this morning and they both produced stripes.
First, I found schools of bunker (not the ones I netted) that were getting hammered by bluefish. Instead of tossing a live bunker into the melee, I put the boat down-current of the war zone and started my drift.
That paid nearly instant dividends as line left my reel faster than any bunker ever swam. I was hooked up on the first drift, and it was not a bluefish. By the time I brought the fish to the boat, unhooked her and straightened everything out, I was a good one hundred yards from the blues and bunker.
I was able to repeat that performance three more times before the action broke up. The four fish were from 33 to 36 inches, and I kept one for dinner.
Instead of waiting around for the bluefish to get their act together again, I took a ride to one of my blackfish spots, and no, I was not going for blackfish.
The structure appeared on the fish finder as I passed over it, and I stopped the boat upcurrent. Four ounces of lead was enough to encourage the live bunker to swim down to the structure, and very quickly there were bass smacking it around. Although the bass definitely were playing with the bunker, they never took it.
A slow retrieve brought the bunker to the surface and there were two stripers right behind it. They knocked it around some more but swam off without finishing the job.
The next few drifts were frustrating: the screen had excellent marks on it, but the fish just weren't eating. Finally I connected with another bass, after which I decided to call it a morning.
So for the next couple of weeks that's my plan: fish away from the schools getting chomped by bluefish, and focus on structure when I can't find active fish.
The sound of foghorns nudged me into consciousness around 4:30AM Saturday. I planned to fish with Steve, and it was apparent that we would face foggy conditions. Steve got up at 5AM and we headed to the marina. Visibility was about 200 feet, so I netted some bunker and we live lined in the harbor.
Steve released this fat striper, and I whiffed on a great opportunity when another bass managed to cough up my bunker without getting hooked. Around 8 O'clock the fog lifted and we drifted live bunker and chunks along the flats outside the harbor. Sometimes I find bass there, but today it was all bluefish.
The waters of NYC are full of life right now, and the biggest challenge facing bass hounds is getting through the bluefish. If you ask me, I think that's a good problem. Yes, I'd rather catch a big bass than a big bluefish, but I don't mind weeding through a bunch of big ole nasty choppers to get to some bass.
From the boat, I pull back on the chum when the bluefish move in, but sometimes it doesn't matter and they just keep on coming. Surfcasters have even less control when it comes to limiting the yellow-eyed interlopers. Clams seem to attract more bass than blues, but I also think they attract less fish overall.
Surfcasters are finding bass at night on swimmers and soft plastics. Most of these fish are schoolies into the upper-teens. I made a few trips to the beach this week and found schools of bunker with fish on them but, unfortunately, they stayed out of range.
So that's about it: If you're fishing during the day, get fresh bunker and fight through the bluefish until you connect with the bass. If you're into the night scene, artificials will get you into the bass.
One more thing – when you're on the water, you have to pay attention if you want to catch fish. Well, maybe you don't have to, but it sure helps. Today I watched one boat, clearly on the bunker hunt, go directly over a big school of bunker. Five minutes later another boat comes by and the guys are holding rods with bunker snags and yes, they go right over the school of flapping bunker.
Sometimes it pays to shut the motor for a minute and listen for bunker. Other than that, we can only rely on our eyes and our electronics. Electronics are wonderful, but if you don't look at the screen…well, then I don't know what to say.
I'll be fishing afternoons this week, and have a couple of mornings available next week – send me a PM if you feel like catching some fishies.
Okay, enough with the wind already. Vin and Mike called early in the week to try and get out for some bass, but it seemed like we faced crummy weather conditions all week long. When we spoke Wednesday I told Vin, "Rain and wind Thursday, or very windy Friday – your choice." After further deliberation we agreed to go Saturday morning.
Friday afternoon I picked up my youngest boy from the bus stop and headed to the marina for gas. I was excited to see a rare "OPEN" sign at the gas dock, but before I could get the boat there the "OPEN" sign was apparently back in storage. Oh well.
An advance supply of bunker would be welcome in the morning, so we went on a bunker hunt. My son spotted a few splashes and we were loaded up with one throw.
Vin and Mike met me at the boat at 4:30AM, and we were anchored up and chunking by 5:00AM. The bite started slowly, but after a half hour we started to get some play. Unfortunately, it was almost all bluefish. We had one bass in the boat, and by the end of the trip we easily had 50-plus choppers up to 9 pounds.
That reminds me – I have to take back my anti-circle-hook statement. We ran through about 25 hooks with the bluefish, and before we knew it circle hooks were the only option. Surprisingly, our hook-up ratio immediately improved dramatically. After today's results I am willing to go back and give the circle hook another opportunity. Every fish we got was hooked in the corner of the mouth; just the way they're supposed to be.
After speaking with several other groups who were on the water this morning, it appears that our results were typical. One bass and loads of bluefish was what I heard from five different guys. The only exception was a friend who had three bass and a load of bluefish.
Weather permitting, I will be out several times this week and will continue updating the blog.
The FCA Manhattan Cup is an awesome event that is about as "NYC Stripers" as you can get. And I don't just say that because I am the fisheries committee chair of the organization. The Manhattan Cup is recognized as one of the best fishing events around – certainly for striped bass.
In the days ahead I'll share some of the behind-the-scene stuff as we put the event together. It is an all-day catch and release fishing event and if you live or work in Manhattan it is probably worthwhile to stop by to see the weigh-in. Seeing a 40-plus-pounder come out of a striper tube to be weighed in a cradle and then released back into the Hudson is something you won't soon forget.
Got out for a couple of hours after work today. The wind was fairly stiff and although it was with the tide it still whipped up a decent sea (for the Bay). I set up chunks on two rods, one in the holder and one in my hand. After twenty minutes I went to change the bait & put the rod I had been holding into a rod holder.
It immediately bent over...
Missed that one, but I did connect with this bass, which was released. Fresh chunks, moving tide & a little high spot = fish. I have my first charter of the year tomorrow afternoon. With a little luck, I'll have some better photos for my next post.
So, I finally went fishing on Sunday. The first trip of the year would have come sooner, but I closed on our new home March 29th. The contract listed the closing date as "on or about" March 2nd. What I learned, was that "on or about" actually means within 30 days of the date listed. In addition, the "possession agreement" gave the seller an additional 5 days after closing to actually turn over the property. And of course, the seller stayed those 5 extra days.
With all of those delays, I couldn't begin painting and moving everything until April 3rd. I am completely exhausted, but I painted the bedrooms, living and dining room and have just another twenty or so boxes to get out of storage. Then all we have to do is unpack everything and figure out where it all goes; but it's all good.
Back to the fishing: I left the dock at 11AM to search for bunker. There was plenty of them, but they weren't really net-able. The finder showed bunker, but they were not at all thick and throwing the net was really a waste of time. That said, I wasted an hour throwing the net. Partly because I like to throw the net, and partly because throwing the net is easier on the back than snagging bunker.
After killing an hour for just two bunker, I gave in and dug a bunker snag out of my bag. In five minutes I snagged another four bunker and headed out.
I anchored on a high spot – 11 feet of water, surrounded by 14 feet – and started chunking. After wasting over an hour for bunker, I only had two or three hours left to fish. I'd like to tell you that I caught a bunch of stripers, but I can't.
I tried using circle hooks, and I think I paid a price for it. One rod was set in "idiot mode." Baited and stuck in the holder with the reel in gear, it doubled over after waiting twenty minutes, but the fish wasn't stuck. After that failure, I set the baits out with the reels in free spool. I had three more solid takes, but the bunker chunks popped free of the fish's mouth every time.
They are definitely here.
Talking with several guys at the dock, it seems that results varied widely depending on whom you spoke with. Two boats came back without so much as a bite, while another friend had three bass from 25 to 27 pounds. All of these guys know what they're doing, so it's not a case of one person knowing something nobody else does.
There was a report of a 50-inch bass caught by a local kayaker. As for the weight, estimates ranged from 30 to 45 pounds, depending on who you asked. Apparently, it was a skinny fish.
My plans are to take a break from working on the house for now, and start concentrating on the bass. Several clients have been texting, emailing and calling me, and I look forward to getting them out on the water and reporting the results to you.
It's funny how 40 degrees in December seems warm, but the same 40 degrees in April feels cold. I think it's because those 40-degree days in December are the last of the fishing season for most of us. Knowing you have a few days left to the fishing season makes the cold seem not as cold. We're willing to put up with more discomfort.
The beginning of the year, naturally, is the opposite. Sure, I can't wait to start fishing again, but when it's 38 degrees and I know there's a bunch of warm fishing days ahead….well, that 38 degrees feels a lot colder.
I waited until 9AM before going to the boat, so it was up around 45 degrees – definitely an improvement over 38. The short story is that I caught no fish.
Bunker were there, but they were scattered and in small pods. I spent the first half hour throwing soft plastic in some shallow water; no swings, hits or misses. Then I checked out the bunker situation. Like I said, the pods were small so I was only able to net a few. I chunked for an hour and a half and did not get a bump.
On the positive side the boat ran well, bunker and bass are here and the water temperature was 51.2 degrees. It's possible that the last two days of clouds, cooler temperatures and light rain have made the fish that are here, more lethargic than they were last week.
I hoped to follow the chunks picture with a nice shot of a striper....
I planned to wait until I had first-hand information to report, but there's enough confirmed action happening to justify an update. With some help from my friends, the boat went in the water Sunday and is now resting comfortably at the dock. I thought that I would be painting a house this weekend, but it turns out I will have to wait a few more days, so…. I think I'll go fishing.
This is the earliest start I've ever had for striped bass, and I'd typically expect schoolies to be on the end of the line at this time of year. However, 2012 is anything BUT typical. Quality bass are being caught on Jersey party boats fishing in the ocean, and by surfcasters and boat guys fishing Raritan Bay.
My game plan is to net bunker and live line. Again, this is not normal for this time of year, but it's what I am going with. I'll give it a few hours and let you know how it works out.
I spent Friday afternoon and all day Saturday manning the Noreast.com booth at the Somerset Saltwater Fishing Show, and I got to meet a bunch of noreast.com members. There was Billy40, MoJo (both halves), Bobby Waldbaums (with Mrs. Waldbaums), sifisherman, Cbass and several more members, whose names escape me at the moment; I must be getting old.
The show was great, but let's get to the important stuff!
Stripers are here in good numbers. Both Raritan and Jamaica Bays are producing bass into the teens, which I can't ever remember happening this early in the year. Bunker are in the bays in their usual favorite spots – harbors, coves, etc. – and guys are snagging them and chunking.
If you're going out to give it a shot, try dark colored, muddy bottoms. The mud absorbs the warmth of the sun and the fish love that warmer water this time of year. If you can, fish incoming. Low water is early afternoon for the next few days, so late afternoon and into the evening should be good.
In Raritan Bay, there are reports of bass from Keyport, Union Beach and Laurence Harbor; pretty much any area in the back of the bay is good. Jamaica Bay is holding fish also, but I have heard fewer reports from there. That is probably due to access issues – surfcasters can just drive up to the spots in Raritan to fish, but most of Jamaica Bay is best suited for yaks. It's still cold for kayaks to be on the water, and every year there are reports of kayakers drowning after falling into frigid waters.
Let's be smart here: if you do go out in the yak, go with a buddy and wear a lifejacket. Truthfully, I'm no kayak expert, but I think that if you don't have a dry suit you have no business being on the water this early in the season. Be careful.
I'll have my boat in the water soon & hope to have some first-hand reports for you.
If you have read any of my conservation focused angling articles, you already know that I believe poaching is one of the biggest obstacles in improving our fisheries – in particular, blackfish and striped bass. That position comes from years of on the water observation – and while I'm no fan of poachers, you can hardly blame them. The combination of difficult economic times and near-zero enforcement creates an easy money temptation that struggling fishermen find difficult to resist.
Just in case anyone thinks I'm getting soft on poachers; forget it. There are lots of us struggling economically – it's no excuse to abuse the resource and if you get busted, don't expect any sympathy from me, ‘cause it ain't happening.
Anglers have asked for increased enforcement for years, only to be told repeatedly that, "There just isn't enough in the budget."
And THAT is what makes the following story so disturbing.
In response to a freedom of information request, the Office of the Inspector General released a July 2011 report on irregularities in NOAA's purchase and use of a $300,000 luxury boat.
The boat was purchased with monies from the Asset Forfeiture Fund, which consists of funds from fines levied against commercial fishermen. Commercial anglers are using this report to support the position that the government needs to back off from fining commercial vessels, but I'm not sure I am ready to leap to that conclusion.
By all means, if fishermen (commercial or recreational) are caught breaking the rules they should have to pay the piper – improper use of the funds doesn't change that. What really juggles my onions is the misuse of money that could have paid for more enforcement units. You know, the ones they have been telling me they can't afford for the past 10 years or so.
I questioned myself after posting: What is the purpose of the Asset Forfeiture Fund? Can it be used to help the states marine law enforcement efforts? The answer is a resounding YES.
Not only does the AFF specifically prohibit "funding for any vessel purchases or leases," but it ALLOWS for "Reimbursement to other Federal or State agencies for enforcement related services provided pursuant to an agreement entered into with NOAA."
I just finished reading Frank Ruczynski's blog and I have to admit, I'm a little jealous. All through January and February there were reports of stripers in the surf along the Jersey beaches, and here we are just a few days from New Jersey's striped bass opener on March 1. A few of my friends were surf fishing south Jersey this past week and they reported good action with small – but "football" fat – stripers. The schoolies are stuffed with sand eels and they are hitting plugs, tins, bucktails, and soft plastic; basically, anything you can get in front of them. The only obstacles were the large waves, which limited access to those anglers who were on the jetty, and the parking, which is limited to three hours.
Here in Staten Island, we still have a while before the bass arrive. Down at the marina yesterday, I continued with some minor repairs and maintenance that needs to be done before the boat can go back in. During a break, I walked onto the dock, and was surprised by how low the water was. Check out the photos I took with the phone -
Our marina is normally shallow during the new and full moon ebb tides, but nothing like this. The exaggerated low water is the result of persistent, strong northwest winds. They add to the current as Raritan Bay empties into the ocean, and then slow its return on the flood. It's hard to believe that wind can have such an effect on the movement of the ocean, but there's no denying the evidence. These extreme lows usually occur in the fall, and I used to take advantage by walking out to structure that is rarely exposed and picking off old lures that were snagged on them.
It's a little too cold for me to do that now.
Instead of chasing schoolies or searching for old lures, I'm getting ready for the coming season by registering with New York and New Jersey for the 2012 saltwater season. You can register with New York DEC and New Jersey DEP right online, without even leaving your house.
I might also spend some time looking into what tournaments I might be interested in entering this year. My two favorites are the FCA Manhattan Cup and the HRFA Liberty Derby both tournaments benefit organizations that do good work in the fishing community. Between that and prepping the boat, there's plenty for me to do until the bass get here – how about you?
Sunday afternoon was the last day of the Saltwater Fishing Forum & Auction presented by the New York Sportfishing Federation at the Freeport Recreational Center. I spent the day in the Nor'east Saltwater Booth, meeting and greeting anglers, many of them members. The show featured some good deals, and I picked up 4 nice plugs for $20 – which I thought was a bargain.
Speaking of off-season fishing purchases, I bought new waders for my oldest boy and myself. We have made some trips in the surf over the years, but the overwhelming majority of our fishing has been from the boat. Before children my fishing habits were completely reversed, with a normal season consisting of two hundred plus fishing trips, only a few of which were on a boat.
Anyway, we are moving to a new home and we will be close to the water. Spending more time surfcasting makes sense, and we are both looking forward to it. For me, it's a return to my beginnings, for Steve, it's a whole new fishing adventure.
Capt. Jeff & his mate Sara, from Blackfoot Charters shared the time in the Nor'east booth with me. We had a good time swapping stories about wacky things that have happened while we were doing charters. I can't get into the details here, but most of these events involved some degree of nudity, vomiting or drunkenness. Ah yes, good times.
For the past week or so, one of the hottest topics on noreast.com has been What's Your Take on the Striped Bass Population posted in the General Fishing Forum. If you doubt – even for a second – just how passionate we are about our stripers, read through some of the comments and you'll be quickly relieved of that notion. Whether the member expressed the belief that everything is just ducky, or that the sky is falling, there were plenty of intense emotions that came through the posts.
Some factually incorrect statements were made, and I thought we should just spend a minute getting a handle on the real numbers. I'm getting my facts from www.asmfc.org so if you want to know more, you can go there and check out the latest Fisheries Management Plan for striped bass.
For those who think everything is just great in the world of striped bass, the favorite sentence in the 2011 review is "The stock was not overfished and overfishing was not occurring in 2010..."
The sky is falling crowd, however, is quick to point to the rest of the line, "…although total striped bass population abundance declined 37 percent from 2004." Equally concerning is the 2010 recreational catch estimate, which is the lowest since 1995 and represents a 70 percent decline from the peak in 2006.
I suppose you could take the position that the peak in '06 was an aberration and is a poor yardstick by which to measure the stock going forward. After all, you can't expect a fishery to remain at its all-time high for years on end.
To me, if the declines in abundance and landings aren't enough to make you go, "Hmm," you probably aren't paying attention, or you have some other priority that comes ahead of the health of the fishery. But, that's just my opinion, and we all know what that's worth.
I'll be in the Nor'east Saltwater Booth at the Freeport Show this Sunday. If you're there, stop by and say hello. You can sign up for the giveaway from Oyster Bay Marine for noreast.com members, or we can talk stripers, and you can even tell me all about how the stock is in great shape – I'm always glad to listen.
Saturday morning's surf seminar with Zeno was like spending time with an old friend. He was straightforward, honest and enjoyable – which is about all you can ask for in a fishing seminar. Z was quick to acknowledge that there really are no "rules" in fishing, and that something that works well in one location might not work equally well somewhere else. He hit on a lot of little things that make the difference between fishing and catching. I'm confident that the guys who were there will hit the surf with a better idea of what they are doing – and as a result, will have a more productive fishing season in 2012.
The Fishermen's Conservation Association did a nice job putting the Zeno event together, and everyone had some breakfast, got Zeno's book The Art of Surfcasting With Lures, and there were plugs, pliers and artwork given out as door prizes.
A few of the attendees were from Jersey, and they said they are still catching stripers in Deal. Most of the fish are schoolies but some larger fish are around, including an 18-pounder that John released on Thursday. The fish are stuffed with big sand eels, and they are hitting fin-s fish and teasers in front of plugs. It seems that the "February bass" is the newest challenge for surfcasters.
On another note, dolphins have made their way into the news both here at home, and across the Atlantic in France. Strangely, more than 100 of the usually intelligent mammals got their directions mixed up and managed to beach themselves on the sands of Cape Cod.
According to reports, hundreds of volunteers are trying to save them and they have been somewhat successful. That's good news, but I have to tell you I was puzzled by their theory that the dolphins were being "pushed ashore" by low tide. I never saw an ebbing tide push anything ashore – then again, I'm no marine biologist.
But I saved the best for last – apparently there are dolphins that can speak whale. Yep, you read that right; they can remember whale dialects that they have heard in the past. Specifically, the dialect belongs to a humpback whale that has been seen around Hawaii playing a "lift and slide" game with the same species of bottlenose dolphin.
The scientists further speculate that the dolphins are talking whale in their sleep.
My new hobby is checking the 10-day forecast. With the last days of January and the first days of February forecast to be in the mid-30s to mid-40s, every time I look at the forecast it feels like I won a free scratch off ticket. Sure, it's not the jackpot, but every week that passes without temperatures in the teens or 20s makes me feel like a winner.
As mild as it's been, I have not been sufficiently motivated to try catching the herring that are allegedly hanging around some of our local spots. There are still reports of schoolies being pulled from the surf in South Jersey, so if you were really hungry for a shot at stripers, you could make the drive down to North Monmouth County and give it a whirl. Personally, I'm comfortable on the couch right now; I look at the time off as time to recuperate from a long season.
If you just can't stand staying indoors, there are options for catching fish closer to home. The Brooklyn has been catching mackerel, Capt. Dave has been sailing for cod and the Marilyn Jean has been picking up ling and a few cod.
If you're just looking to get out of the house but not necessarily freeze you rear end off, you can hit a few of the fishing shows that are coming up. The Somerset Fly Fishing Show is taking place January 27 to 29, and if you're into saltwater fly-fishing this show is a must-see. The Suffern Show will be held at Rockland Community College March 1 to 4, and I will be helping man the Nor'east booth at the Somerset Show at the Garden State Art Center, March 16 to 18, so stop by and say hello.
On Staten Island, the Fishermen's Conservation Association hosts fly-tying sessions every Sunday morning, and will have Zeno Hromin present a "Secrets of a Surf Pro" seminar, February 7. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org for details. If you know of any other fishing organizations or clubs with winter activities, please share them with me at email@example.com
Let's hope the mild weather continues for another four weeks or so….before you know it we'll be on the water again, leaning back against the pull of a fat striper.
Right off the bat, I have to thank noreast.com for giving me the opportunity to write something on a regular basis again. The blog format is especially appealing because there are no hard word counts or space limitation – you can say what you have to say without worrying about going over your assigned word count. I'm also excited about including pictures and video with my blog; which brings me to the purpose of it.
Rob Pavlick asked me to approach the blog in this way: "This is what I'm catching, this is how I caught them, and this is how you can catch them too." That sounded like a good idea to me, and I'll do my best to stick with that formula. If you have any comments, suggestions or subjects you would like to read about, please let me know and I'll do my best to address them.
By now you have probably read a bunch of round-ups and re-caps of the 2011 fishing season, so I won't bore you with mine. Instead of simply reflecting on the previous year, I like to think back through the season and see if I can find anything new that I learned, or something that I did differently and had good results with. There were a few things that stuck out in 2011.
Perhaps the most important change I made was in the way I net bunker. I've always been comfortable throwing the net, and usually have decent results. But – at times, I struggled with it. When the bunker pods were small, I would throw a lot of zeros.
The problem with the approach I was using was not with my net throwing – it was the way I used the boat. I was stuck in the bad habit of throwing from the bow; not too smart when you consider that the transducer is located in the stern. By the time the transducer reads a small pod of bunker, the bow is already past it.
With encouragement from one of the guys at my dock, I began throwing the net from the back of the boat. I'd motor slowly, crank the wheel hard to the left, turn my back to the helm and throw the net on the port side of the boat. Circling above the bunker, I made sure I let the net sink all the way down. It cut the time I spend netting bunker and I was able to fill the livewell more quickly than ever before.
Speaking of bunker….
I hardly chunked bunker at all last year. In fact, I may have only dropped the anchor and chunked two or three times the entire year. Instead, I live lined almost exclusively. Watching bass tee-off on live bunker is a blast, and most of the guys who fish with me look forward to fishing with live bunker. Sometimes though, the fish just don't cooperate.
There were a few trips that featured less-than-enthusiastic bites from the bass. After 30 to 40 minutes of bass taking our bunker but not getting hooked, I had enough and started cutting chunks. We dropped our chunks on the next drift and we were doubled up almost immediately. These bass were in the mid-teens, so maybe the live bunker were just a little too much for them.
I used that same back up plan whenever the bass were reluctant to take live bunker after that, and it produced fish consistently. So in those situations, it's almost as though the live bunker were used to attract the bass, but the drifted chunks closed the deal.
I suppose that's enough reminiscing for now. On a completely different note, now is the time to get ready for spring bass. I replaced the lower unit on my motor last July. Unfortunately, when the new unit came the drain holes were cross-threaded. Since I didn't want to lose even more of the season, I worked with what I had and got the screws to go straight in. That said, I'm not happy with it so I sent it back to the manufacturer on Thursday. They said that turn-around time is about three days, so I should have it back and mounted on the boat by the second week of February.
There are a few other minor items to take care of, and I plan to complete all repairs before April 1. I decided that it would be a good idea to pull out all the wiring from the bilge, and re-wire everything from a high spot several feet from the bilge, all the way down to the pump. I could splice in the extra length of wire needed – before the installation. Touch it up with a little solder and shrink tubing and the connection will stay solid for years. I'm going to replace the original bilge pump with one of those new units that checks for water electronically – no more float switch to get jammed up.
The flood light for the deck needs to be replaced; not much to talk about there, but it needs to be done. I'd also like to rewire the battery switch and install a second battery. A few other odds and ends and she'll be ready for action when the bass come back.