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!"
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.