by John Skinner
Between striper fishing from the surf and kayak, and fluking from my 16-foot tin boat, I realize I've been fishing 13 times in the last 12 days. I did take a day off (weather), but made up for it by making two trips on two other days. I manage this by keeping my trips relatively short. I'll rarely fish more than four hours on a trip, with two hour or three hours being about average. This lets me stay in touch with the areas I'm interested in. I have very little contact with other anglers, and am always off doing my own thing. This keeps the distractions down and lets me focus on the fish without worrying about who caught what where and when. All of this suits me just fine as I rely on my own observations and years of logs.
One observation I have so far this season is a lack of sandeels in the Sound, at least in the Riverhead Town area where I've been fluking on the shoals about 1.5 miles off the beach. The boat is usually caked with them after a fluke trip. So far after 5 trips and a lot of fluke, I've seen one sandeel. I thought I found a large school of them getting beat up by bluefish, but when I motored over, they turned out to be anchovies. The fluke are spitting up almost nothing, which makes me wonder how they can stay in the area. I'm not sure if there's a connection, but the same waters are unusually clear. If I could clone myself, one of me would be diving. I wonder if the clarity is related to a lack of plankton that the sandeels would normally be drawn to. The striper plugging on those area beaches has been very slow for me, which isn't surprising given the lack of bait. I just heard there are plenty of sandeels east of my area, so maybe they're on their way.
Another observation is an unusually large number of adult bunker schools heading west in the Sound. There appears to be nothing on them, and they've been screaming west as if they're on a mission. I guess western Sound anglers will benefit from this bait influx at some point.
I had an interesting encounter with the DEC a couple days ago. I was one of about five boats fluking one of the shoals. I saw the familiar DEC center console pull up and start checking boats. I was busy lock and load bucktailing on mostly shorts, but knew my turn was coming. My back was to them as I was boating a fish, but I could hear them motoring up behind me. As I went to release the fish a female voice yelled "Do not throw that fish back!" I chuckled, kind of confused, and over the side it went. As I turned around I was greeted by a very angry officer who yelled at me that "It's illegal to be dumping fish over the side when we're approaching!" To which I responded, now completely confused, "I caught a short, and I threw it back." Her response was "I just watched you throw two fish over the side." Now my demeanor changed from confused to angry. "Dumping fish" is the violation you get when you see them coming and throw illegal fish overboard. The fine is much worse than being caught with the actual fish. I had done no such thing, and let her know it in no uncertain terms. Like a baseball catcher pointing to the first base umpire to dispute a checked swing, I pointed to the stern of a boat less than 100 feet from me and asked those anglers to tell her what they observed. "He's catching one after another, and throwing every one right back." She then asked me for my Marine Fishing Registry and driver's license. I handed them to her, and she asked about the cooler. I showed her the clearly legal fish in one cooler, and explained the other smaller coolers had gear and tackle. At that point she boarded my boat. Not wanting to waste a good bite, I sent my bucktail back to the bottom and landed two more shorts while she performed a professional and extremely thorough search through all of my stuff. "Where's your bait?" I was surprised by that question because the deck of my boat looked like a Gulp commercial, so I explained to her that I don't use any real bait, just the Gulp in the jars. I assumed she was looking for fluke belly strips that many anglers use for fluke bait. If you do that, you need to keep the (legal-sized) fish that you cut the strips from.
After the search she took my driver's license and registry to her boat and was on the radio long enough for me to catch another fish. There were two other officers on the boat, and one of them commented on how great the Gulp works. Finally they were done with me. I'm always happy to see the DEC on the water enforcing the fisheries laws, and even though her perplexing accusation angered me at the time, I know the officer was just doing her job. These officers have a challenging job with many educational requirements because they enforce not only fisheries laws, but hunting and environmental laws as well. In thinking hard about what might have caused the misunderstanding, I recall that the fish I released while they approached kicked and slipped from my grasp when I went to release it. It landed on the deck of my boat, and I had to pick it up a second time to actually release it. Because my back was to them, she might have seen me go through the release motions twice and thought I threw two fish back. It's just a guess. The only thing that bothered me about this encounter was that I had the feeling she left thinking I was really tossing fish overboard as they approached. The moral of the story is to make sure you've done your Marine Fishing Registry obligation before hitting the water. I think I might have had some trouble if I didn't have mine. I'm also appreciative of the guys in the nearby boat who helped me plead my case, otherwise it would have been my word against hers.
This next four weeks or so is cow bass time. I'd bet more trophy class stripers are beached in June than during the much heralded fall run. The fishing is much easier now. The big ones are hitting almost exclusively in the dark, and there's only about 8 hours of darkness each day. The weather is much more stable than in the fall, so if you get on a good bite, it's likely to continue for at least a few nights. Good luck on hunting down that fish of a lifetime.