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Fish on: Searching for spring

COURTESY PHOTO Our columnist’s daughter, Donna Winston, moments after landing a 27-inch striper in Coecles Harbor.

COURTESY PHOTO Our columnist’s daughter, Donna Winston, moments after landing a 27-inch striper in Coecles Harbor.

The way this whole fishing thing is supposed to work is when the water warms up from the frigid temperatures of winter all sorts of fish are supposed to show up and start to feed on whatever they eat as soon as they are comfortable doing so.

Around here, that event usually takes place in late March when the flounder and porgies shake off the cold and start the ball rolling. And they were right on schedule with an A+ for being on time and for getting the local fisherfolk back on the water in boats or on the beaches. Air temperature were in the low 50s but longer periods of sunlight were letting these fish know it was time to move and as long as the temperatures continued to creep up, they would keep on feeding.

Next, the larger predators like weakfish, small bluefish, fluke and mixed sizes of striped bass were scheduled to make their appearance along our shores, in our bays and around the surrounding islands.

They, too, deserve an A+ for punctuality. When they came in large numbers it was before most of us were ready for them.

All was going well in the natural cycle of nature until air temperatures got way above the norms for a good part of April nearing or setting highs for several weeks, causing the water to heat up faster than normally. Suddenly, the local waters were alive with menhaden (bunkers to most of us) and there were huge schools of these baitfish clogging the local harbors, the bays and even the ocean around Montauk.

With that much natural food in the water, there was an onslaught of outsized bluefish, some up to 15 pounds, being caught regularly off Montauk and off our beaches, too. The stripers were there, as well, and lots of them succumbed to the gentle rhythm of a popping plug making its way across the surface during the days, or a swimming plug doing its thing in the gloom of late evening or at night.

In spite of the early date of the onslaught, many outsized fish were caught with a 54 pound fish taken off Montauk on a live eel and a 38-pound bass taken on a needlefish plug off a beach.

When this whole thing started here I was still in Florida watching it on the internet and reading the fishing reports from my friends. But I couldn’t get here until I had shipped my car north so I was stuck.

To dull the pain and forget about what I was missing I continued to swat golf balls into the ponds near my Florida retreat in the afternoons — not on purpose — and then trying to catch largemouth bass out of the same ponds in the evenings. That worked for a while but the Shelter Island fishing reports got better and better, so I finally made it back here on April 13.

It took me hours to unpack all the junk we brought back with us but finally I got a chance to grab a rod to collect a few fish on the beach at Menhaden Lane. I was surprised at how cold it was and how empty it was on that beach with no fisherman, or fish. I next tried the Cedars on Coecles Harbor, but had difficulty casting my plug south into the harbor with a wind gusting to 25 mph in my face. What happened to the warm weather and to all those fish, I wondered,

The next morning I was up early and on Reel Point at 6:30 trying to cast into the wind that had shifted so it was again right in my face. After many, many casts and no hits on my lures I noticed a slight tingling starting on the tips of my nose and ears. It was then that I remembered my Army training and identified the feeling as early frostbite so I left the beach a defeated man, wondering, is it spring yet?

Next I picked my boat up from Port of Egypt, all prepped and ready to start a new season. I convinced Mike McConnell to join me to fish off the mouth of Coecles Harbor where a mutual friend had been catching lots of smaller stripers with a few legal fish thrown in. Again, the winds plagued us, but we did manage several 7-pound bluefish and lost a few others, so I began to think that it really may be spring.

Next my wife and I took a four day, 700 mile round trip upstate for our granddaughter’s graduation. When we came back to the Island, we encountered the same cold winds and spitting rain for several days until Tuesday afternoon when it finally stopped blowing long enough for me to sneak out for a few hours.

I actually got a bunch of bass on popping plugs (Rattling Chug Bugs) in the Mashomack bight and even more in Coecles Harbor for a total of 10 with the largest up to 27 and a half inches. As I left the boat I decided, yes, this is spring!

And finally, on Friday, I took daughter Donna Winston out for a few hours on the high tide in Coecles Harbor and she got a nice 27 and a quarter inch bass. We landed a few others before — you guessed it — the wind came up again.

The moral of this story is that spring arrives when it is ready and the fish will be cooperative if given the chance.

COURTESY PHOTO Here’s another beautiful striper running 42 inches and weighing in at 31 pounds caught by Michael Colligan last week near South Ferry.

COURTESY PHOTO Here’s another beautiful striper, running 42 inches and weighing in at 31 pounds, caught by Michael Colligan last week near South Ferry.

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