by John Skinner
Any hope that a warmer than usual April would come along and bail us out of the potential season delaying effects of the brutally cold and snowy winter have passed. We're most of the way through the month and there's been only a handful of warm days. As a result, Long Island's surrounding waters are easily five degrees colder than they should be for this time of year. As I wrote this, the Fire Island buoy read 43 degrees, and only 41 degrees on the Eastern Long Island Sound buoy. As expected, the bays are warmer. I saw the temperature reading at the Smiths Point Bridge at 53 degrees this past weekend, but it was back down to 47 degrees this morning. You'll see a lot of temperature fluctuation in the bays with the flood current bringing in cold water from the ocean, and the ebb draining warmer water from the back bays and marshy areas that warm quickly in response to sunshine. The temperature difference between flood and ebb is a good example of why it's a good strategy to target ebb currents in the bays in early spring.
Those 50-degree-plus bay temperatures of last weekend are well within the range of what stripers feed actively in, but the migratory fish would have to pass through many miles of cold water to get there. There are a few, mostly small, bass being caught in Eastern Long Island's bays and creeks now, but these are likely holdovers that never left the area. I'll have more confidence when I see the surrounding ocean and sound waters hit 48 degrees.
Recently, every year seems to bring more adult bunker that arrive earlier and leave later. From the reports I'm getting so far, this trend is continuing with the bunker pouring into Long Island waters on both shores. The great forage base is a positive for fish stocks, although I think it can present challenges for surf anglers when the bulk of the quality stripers are grazing on miles of bunker schools that are out of casting range.
As far as when I'm expecting to see quality migratory stripers on the East End, I'm watching reports from the New York Bight and Jersey areas. It's hard to get psyched for a local trip when Raritan Bay is still not producing teen weight bass in any numbers. It will all happen in the coming weeks, just not fast enough. It's been too long since I've felt a sharp tap to the rod tip.
And now for the Public Service Announcement portion of this blog entry, and I'll ease into it with a story. I rarely do party boat trips. One exception was on a November day more than ten years ago when a Noreast Moderators blackfish trip was being held on the Celtic Quest out of Port Jefferson. The day could be described easily with one word - "raw". The upside of these trips, in addition to the potential of good fishing, was that it was like a floating party with plenty of food. I probably would have been better off in the warm cabin stuffing my face, but was instead at the rail, near the bow, in a spot where no one else was fishing. My reasoning was that I had a better chance of hooking a big blackfish if mine was the lone crab on a particular section of the structure. To that point in time, the strategy wasn't working, as I couldn't buy a hit. As uneventful as things were, it would have been hard to believe that the next few moments would stay with me the rest of my life.
Maybe because he thought I wanted company, a friend came out of the cabin and dropped his line next to mine. "Can it get more miserable than this?" I asked. "This is wonderful. I'm enjoying every minute of it!" he responded in an honest tone. "Seriously? I can't feel my finger tips and can't get a touch," I pressed him. He went on to tell me that he had just spent the past several months caring for a relative who had died recently of cancer. I could tell by his tone that he had been through a terrible experience that had a profound effect on him. When put in perspective, the miserable weather and fishing wasn't so bad after all. "I sure hope I don't go out like that," were his last words before setting his hook into what turned out to be the pool fish. I was only slightly irked that he got the big fish I was looking for when I moved off by myself, but I was very happy seeing him so excited after all that he had been through. The friend was Phil Scocca.
A few months later, Phil's brother, Nor'east founder George Scocca, called me with terrible news. A hernia operation found that Phil had colon cancer that had spread throughout his body. He was only in his early 40s when he died after difficult months of battling the disease. While standing at the boat's rail, Phil had no idea what was growing inside him, and that he would meet the same dreaded fate as his relative who had passed recently.
I'm addressing this because colon cancer is preventable with regular colonoscopies in which they can catch things early and remove pre-cancerous polyps. I'm writing this a few hours ahead of a colonoscopy. It's my third one since Phil died. The procedure itself is not at all unpleasant. Within seconds after they turn the valve on the anesthesia, you're out, and then you wake up in another room all done. The unpleasant part is the preparation in which you can't eat solid food for a day and then have to drink some stuff that keeps you close to the bathroom. I get through it with a good attitude by thinking of Phil frequently.
Most of us spend a good deal of time, effort, and money keeping our fishing gear in top shape. Your most important piece of fishing gear is your body. While it can be inconvenient and sometimes unpleasant, the body maintenance shouldn't be neglected. Also of particular importance to anglers, and others who spend time in the sun, is getting regular skin cancer screenings from a dermatologist. They can head off all sorts of disfiguring and potentially life threatening situations by catching abnormalities early. I'll be dealing with that next week, hopefully along with my season's first stripers.