Angler's notebook: A night out in search of stripers

JASON SHIELD PHOTOS: Back on land this week, Bob Best, left, and Phil Anderson display two bass caught on bucktails at the Race.

We left the dock a little before eight p.m. with stripers on the brain. On board were Gregg Petry, Phil Anderson, Bob Best and myself. Gregg, the captain, and I have been fishing together since we were teenagers in the early 1980s. Back then, my father bought a JC 31 hull and basically put the boat together in our driveway one winter. The following summer was the beginning of a solid decade of offshore adventures on Stinkpot V and Gregg crewed on many of the trips.

Gregg’s father, Dick, who owns and operates the Pridwin Hotel and restaurant, also loves to fish and before they graduated to better-equipped offshore fishing vessels, Gregg, his dad and whoever else brave enough to join them would scamper out to the tuna grounds at 40 fathoms in their 23-foot Seacraft. That was an adventure in rough seas. On one of those gnarly, green water trips, we managed a real nice fish (I want to say it was bluefin). It must have weighed a good buck and a half. Using a tail rope, we hoisted it up over a cross brace to the awning on the Pridwin dock to take pictures and bent the pipe. It’s still like that today.

That old Seacraft wasn’t much bigger than the Pridwin’s Grady White we took to the Race last week. The other anglers, Bob and Phil, both worked at the Pridwin as teenagers and Bob and Gregg are brothers-in-law. Bob’s parents are Bob and Terri Best of Smith Street. Young Bob now lives with his wife and daughter in a town just outside Seattle. He’s an avid sportsman, enjoying freshwater fishing, upland hunting and waterfowling in the Pacific Northwest and he makes sojourns to Alaska, under the pretense of work, to fish and hunt there.

Phil grew up in upstate New York, fishing its lakes and streams. Phil’s also been to Alaska. On completing his undergraduate studies, he decided to pursue the big paychecks earned by Bering Sea cod fishermen. Forty-five days at sea, half of them spent in his bunk too sick to eat, and with a cast of the scariest characters imaginable, including the captain who, as Phil described him, was a “card-carrying member” of a certain hatemongering group, left Phil with only one option: grad school.

Gardiners Bay is definitely not the Bering Sea, although a stout southwest breeze had it stirred up and helped push us east to catch the bottom of the incoming tide. Once we’d reached the northwest limits of Block Island Sound, the full moon appeared big and pink to the southeast and then disappeared in the clouds before breaking through again later in the night.

From Block Island along the Connecticut shore and west to Long Island, fireworks shows punctuated the horizon, red and green dazzlers blooming in slow motion, an effect of time and distance. The waters of the Race were the stage for another light show as green and red navigation lights zipped back and forth. As you’d expect, the tide was strong, carrying the Grady White at a clip close to five knots — the fast water may have kept stripers out of the first spot we fished or was moving too quickly for them to strike if they were there. We had clearly marked pods on the fishfinder on a couple of drifts but no one got touched.

I tossed a white bucktail with yellow rind on the hook for the first few drifts and then switched to a purple bucktail with yellow rind to see if the fish preferred that flavor. The other guys all had black on black bucktails and rinds. Bob managed a gator blue but that was the only fish to hit until we moved to the pack, which, thankfully, had dwindled to about 20 boats, or less than half the number fishing there when we first arrived.

Three drifts into our new location, I hooked a nice bass and things were starting to look up. Our drift speed was down around two and a half knots and, although most of the boats were bunched around the area, the drifts were comfortable. With one good fish in the box and a mark on the spot, we literally dropped right onto a clutch of fish to start the next drift. All were hooked in except me. I managed to avoid the fish and find a snag before I could move my hand from the lever to the crank. For that first split second, and with everyone around me simultaneously announcing they were on fish, I thought the gigantic strain on my line was a mother bass. By the time that second was over, I accepted the cold hard truth and had to bust off as quickly as possible to avoid a major tangle and lost fish.

Big Daddy Bob Best, who’d changed to an eel at the end of our stay at the first spot, couldn’t seal the deal with his linesider, pulling the hook after a minute or two. But Gregg and Phil brought two keepers over the side and we were anticipating at least several more productive drifts before the tide petered out. I threw an eel on and we fished hard but didn’t have another strike at the Race. We worked our way west, stopping at various spots with the hope the tide had turned and we’d scare up another keeper for the cooler and maybe practice some catch and release. But the southerly breeze stymied our drifts. Phil managed a short at our last stop, the sluiceway between Plum Island and Great Gull Island. We met with some boats that had stopped for a few drifts on their way to the eastern grounds to catch the top of the tide.

We squirted our way home, fighting a stiff wind off our port bow. Relief came once we approached Hay Beach Point and the waters flattened in the lee of the Island. The ferries were tucked in for the night but their decks were alive with anglers casting under the slip lights. The moon brought the Island’s north shore hills out from the shadows and made their silhouettes on the smooth ribbon of bay. The dock beckoned and Gregg glided the boat inside the L where it nestled to the pilings. We iced the fish, Gregg and Bob cut Phil and me loose from boat cleaning duties. I went home, took that truly awesome shower that comes after a night on the water and fell asleep with stripers on my brain.

If you have a report and/or picture you’d like to share with the rest of the fishing community, please send me an email at: [email protected] And don’t forget to register for local fishing guru Larry Winston’s informative angling seminar on Saturday, July 21 at the Shelter Island Emergency Medical Services building on Manwaring Road. The seminar is offered through the Shelter Island Recreation Department and class size is limited so call 749-0978.