Every good fishing season has a poor stretch in it somewhere. We’re into the third week of one now, which at this time of year is both frustrating and worrisome.
Fishing has fallen into a major slump since the epic mayhem of Columbus Day weekend, especially in the surf zone and nearshore waters, home to light-tackle anglers who look forward to late October being the height of their season. With warm weather and calm seas, many thought this past weekend would signal the return of the blitzes to Montauk, and maybe the start of good fishing along the sand beaches west to Moriches. Alas, it was not to be. The water was nice and clear, and birds were picking away at plenty of small forage fish, but the bass, bluefish and tuna that had been gorging on them were nowhere to be seen.
After two consecutive serious blows, the nearshore waters were all mixed up for such a long stretch that it appears the predator fish moved elsewhere. Surf fishing has not really been very good this year in general. Certainly, surfcasting is not the only game in town on the South Fork, but it is our most unique and widely accessible form of fishing and, therefore, somewhat defines our season as a whole.
Of course, there has to be an exception to prove every rule. I guess this week that would be the 42-pound striper Mark Borucke picked off the rocks of Shinnecock Inlet. Amid a stretch of pretty average fishing at best, it’s an impressive catch, made even better by impeccable timing: It won the two-day Hampton Surf Club’s annual Gathering of the Anglers tournament. (Some people would say Mark is a lucky bastard. Yeah, that ain’t luck.)
The good news for those who are more reliant on luck is that water temps are still in the mid-60s and we’ve still not seen any real signs of late fall. The first blast of actual chilly weather—daytime temps in the low 50s and low 40s, maybe high 30s at night—looks to be lined up for this weekend at the earliest. So there still should be plenty of fish to the north and in Long Island Sound that could feed good fishing to come, as more bait answers nature’s call to move on.
There are a few bad signs. Gannets have appeared already—not unusual in itself, but since the weekend they’ve been diving on some kind of baitfish a mile or more off the beach, possibly a sign that bunker have fled the bay and are heading west offshore. It’s been a couple of years since the bunker leaving our area were chased into the surf zone by predator fish, an absence made less glaring by the abundance of sand eels the last two seasons to attract bass and bluefish into the suds. But sand eels are notoriously cyclical and might be due to up and vanish any year (not this year, though, it would seem).
Another discouraging sign is that after two strong southwest storms, the sand beaches between Amagansett and Moriches have taken on a decidedly plain face, with none of the scours and sandbars that east winds create, and which hold baitfish when they get chased by predators.
Offshore fishing appears to have taken a bow. The boats that ventured offshore this past weekend found cold waters inhabited by only scattered pelagic species. The Gloomy had a trio of swordfish and yellowfin tuna, the Flying Dutchman had a blue marlin and a pair of yellowfin, but the bulk of the rest of the fairly sizeable fleet had little excitement to report. Save for a new body of warm water sweeping in over the nearshore canyons, that curtain probably dropped behind the last boats to head north on Monday afternoon.
After a flurry at the start of the season, blackfishing has slumped as is typical this time of year. That will pick up as the air temps drop as well. The reopening of black sea bass season next week will give bottom fishermen a sorely needed boost (a couple of boats, including the Hampton Bays party boat Hampton Lady, have been taking advantage of research permits to keep their anglers in sea bass during this month’s closure).
We’re a long way from the finish line, folks—hopefully, the fish are queuing up for a sprint to the tape.
Catch ’em up. See you out there.