12/16/12 8:28am

CHRISTINE SACKETT COURTESY PHOTO | This Piebald doe, the mother of three fawns, is often seen in Wading River.

What are those ghostly looking deer?
The answer is piebald deer, the name given to a small number of rare animals that appear two-toned in color. Hunters and conservationists say there’s one in just about every hamlet of Southold Town, at least two in Riverhead and at least one on Shelter Island.
“There’s been more showing up in the last few years,” said Jeff Standish, a hunter who serves as deputy director of Southold Town’s department of public works. “There’s at least five between Orient and Laurel. There’s one in Peconic, one in Mattituck, one in Cutchogue, one right here in Southold village and a 12-year-old piebald I know of from Orient who recently passed away.”

Piebald is a 16th-century word that refers to the black and white plumage of the magpie bird; “pie” refers to the bird and “bald” means “white” or “spotted.”

The blotchy deer, which in some cases appear almost pure white, are the result of a recessive gene, said Aphrodite Montalvo, citizen participation specialist with the New York State Department of Conservation.

“A piebald deer is a partial albino, or is only partially missing pigmentation,” she said. “A true albino will have no pigmentation, so it will have pink eyes and nose and be fully white.”

Ms. Montalvo said the animals are rare; though the DEC has not conducted studies on the number of piebald deer, data from other states suggest they constitute less than 1 percent of the population.

That number can be slightly higher in protected areas or areas where natural predators such as the coyote or bobcat have been removed from the landscape, Ms. Montalvo added. They may occur more frequently here than in upstate areas, where predators can pick off the snowy fawns, whose natural response is to lie down and hide in dense cover.

“As you can imagine, it makes it difficult to hide when the animal is stark white,” she said.

“That’s the neatest part about these deer,” said Mr. Standish. “They don’t know they’re white, but they still have that instinct to hide. So you’ll see a buck lying down in a pile of briars, but he’s standing out clear as day.”

Cutchogue hunter Lisa Dabrowski said that although she hasn’t hunted in many years, when she did she let piebald deer be and believes other hunters do the same, even though they are easier targets than most.

In fact, she said she considers the animals good luck and recently fi lmed one she’s seen in the Fort Corchaug area.

“Most hunters have a great respect for nature,” Ms. Dabrowski said. “Just because it’s a white deer doesn’t mean it’s something someone will go make a trophy out of. It’s something we appreciate and protect. Most hunters will look at it from afar and only want to photograph it because it’s special.”

In addition to their unusual color, the bodies of piebald deer are somewhat different, said Ms. Dabrowski.

“They have narrower heads and short legs but are the same length,” she said.

Despite piebalds’ unique look, Ms. Dabrowski and Mr. Standish said, the unusual deer behave like all other white-tailed deer and are not shunned for their appearance.

“Let’s say a doe had two fawns and one was piebald, I never saw the doe not be with that fawn,” Mr. Standish said. “I was watching a piebald buck rut one time and he rutted like any other buck would. He just had longer hair and looked short and stocky. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought he was a goat,”

Riverhead hunters are also familiar with the ghostly deer in local forests.

Tom Gabrielsen, brother of Riverhead Town Councilman George Gabrielsen, said he’s seen one while hunting on the former Grumman property in Calverton.

He watched another piebald grow from a fawn to a huge buck in Sears Bellows County Park in Hampton Bays. Though he was a 12-pointer (more points mean a larger rack of antlers), Mr. Gabrielsen said hunters let him be, especially at a park ranger’s request.

Hunters aren’t the only people who enjoy the piebald deer.

One animal in Wading River earned the affectionate handle “Sweetie Pie” from resident Christine Sackett.

Ms. Sackett, who has lived in the hamlet for just over a year, said she sees “Sweetie Pie” and her three fawns just about every dawn and dusk.

Animals that are most active in the morning and at twilight are called crepuscular, as opposed to nocturnal or diurnal. The reason deer are such a hazard to drivers is they’re most active during commuting hours. Ms. Sackett normally sees Sweetie Pie and family at around 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

She and her husband can now come within two feet of the deer without disturbing them, she said, as they have come to know their friendly human neighbors.

“She has one fawn from last year who stays with her and she had twins this past year,” she said. None of the offspring is piebald. “I just started calling her Sweetie Pie because I was thinking she’s very gentle and she’s a piebald, so, Sweetie Pie.”

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08/05/12 8:00pm

CHRIS TEHAN PHOTO | Chris Tehan caught this triggerfish off Crescent Beach a few weeks ago. It’s just one of several of the more exotic species local anglers have hooked this year.

We’ve had a lot of unstable air this past week, making it difficult to plan a trip without the threat of being peppered by a passing thunderstorm. Anglers who did get out found mixed bags of bluefish, porgies, sea bass and fluke. And the usual bass spots to the northeast continued to yield strong catches depending on tide, bait and drift location. Offshore fishing reports are also beginning to filter in.

Gregg Petry, his dad Dick and crew, including Richie Lenzer, took the Pridwin boat out to Block Canyon last week in search of yellowfin tuna and any other offshore species that would look good on the Pridwin restaurant’s dining menu. They managed one yellowfin, dropping another at the rail and missing a few more opportunities during the overnight. Although the tuna pick was a little disappointing, they supplemented their catch with a hold full of mahi mahi.

This was the Pridwin’s first offshore trip of the season. Gregg said there was some life out there, describing whales and dolphins feeding, but there was nothing happening on the troll. They weren’t expecting much action during the night as reports of a night bite hadn’t been promising. But some 60- to 70-pound class fish did show up, following the chunk trail to the boat.

Chunking is basically chumming with large pieces of baitfish, typically butterfish or anchovies, cut into half-dollar-sized chunks.

Speaking of the Pridwin Hotel, Islander Chris Tehan was fishing the area in front of the boat ramp across from the Perlman Music Program, next door to the hotel. The tide was going out but an eddy was slowly pushing Chris west toward the Pridwin.

“Something kept stealing my three-inch squid,” Chris said, “So I put on a small porgy hook and a smaller squid strip and got him.”

What he caught was a triggerfish in the two-and-a-half-pound range.

Triggerfish have an exotic appearance, at least for these parts, where we’re used to the sleek torpedo shapes of bluefish and bass.

Triggers are oval with spiny anterior dorsal fins and larger, softer posterior fins. The tailfin ends in points at top and bottom, completing its resemblance to a giant angelfish. Chris bagged a grey trigger, the least colorful of the more than 30 members of the triggerfish family, but the best eating, according to most sources.

Chris mentioned that triggerfish are usually caught around rocks and jetties along the south shore of Long Island, and are common down South in warmer water. If you catch a trigger, be careful of the dorsal fin. And don’t be fooled into a sense of security by the fish’s small mouth — it’s equipped with razor-sharp teeth and very strong jaws.

ROD REBUILDING

If you have an old rod you want repaired or are thinking about having a custom rod built to your specifications, give Chris a call at 902-5687. He can build a rod to target specific species whether you fish from the beach or a boat. You can get a basic rod for around $200 and use that price as a starting point if you want some fancier hardware.

If you’re like me, you have a pile of old rods leaning in a corner of your basement destined for some future yard sale or the Goody Pile at the dump. Chris says instead of throwing those damaged rods out, give him a call. He can replace busted or missing guides and match the colors of the existing wraps. Guides come in around $30 and tips between $10 and $15. Those prices can vary and some repairs may be a little more involved. He’ll look at any rod and give you an idea of what it will cost to restore it. Blanks on the other hand are difficult but not impossible to replace.

“I will look at any repair,” Chris said, adding that even if you think the rod’s a junker, “Don’t throw it out. Sometimes the blank’s real nice and worth rebuilding.” He also takes old rods for parts so, even if it’s not worth fixing, it may serve a purpose. If you want to email Chris, his address is [email protected]

BOTTOM DWELLERS, BLUES

Although fluking locally has tailed off, other bottom dwellers have filled the void. Porgies and the occasional sea bass can be found off the east side of the Island between Mashomack and Cedar Point. Porgies are notorious bait stealers and sometimes snub squid strips, which are firmer than clams and give you more opportunities to hook the fish. If you’re serious about porgies, research some clam brining methods and try that. In fact, brining cut baits for all types of bottom fish has its advantages. And bring some frozen clam chum to attract the porgies and lure them into a feeding frenzy. Pull the pot when the fish show up in numbers; drop it back down when the bite slows.

Cocktail blues are patrolling waters around the Island and are a great diversion when the bottom fishing slows. On a hot, still day, I always welcomed a little artificial breeze supplied by trolling the bays for blues. Generally, you can troll some up out by Jessups and around the mouth of Coecles Harbor. If you’re willing to travel a bit farther, you can run down pods of bluefish in Gardiners Bay from the south shore of Plum Island right up to the Ruins. Look for the telltale swarms of terns in the air to pinpoint the fish.

06/13/12 7:00am

Back at the dock, the fish is cleaned and we bring the fillets home to be cooked and eaten that night. Then it is gone and we go fishing the next day to catch more, to clean and eat. And that is not fishing, that is simply the action. Some days we catch nothing and still we go again and again because catching is only a formality and is not the essence of fishing.

Old teach young, that is the essence. It begins with a respect for and appreciation of the water and its bounty. The young boy is first familiarized with the boat, its lines that will be cast off. He is told to push the vessel from the dock, the pilot throttles up and man and boy leave that last connection to the land as their eyes turn to water ahead of the bow.

Then there is rigging and bait to learn about and how to drop the line and feel the sinker hit the bay bottom, bouncing along as the tide carries the boat in the drift. It is all feel and intuition now. The man tells the boy, “Hold the line between your thumb and forefinger” to detect the nibble. And be patient, he is told. Don’t jerk the rod when you first feel the fish. Let it take the bait, give it some line but carefully, otherwise you’ll end up spooling the reel and be left with a rat’s nest. All of this and more runs through the boy’s head, fueling anxious anticipation, every nerve tingling, every sense on point. The boat rocks, waves slap the gunnel, the sinker skips across the unseen ground 30 feet below the surface through a landscape mysterious and unknowable to the boy, inhabited by storybook monsters.

Then something different is felt in the line, traveling from that deep darkness up to the little finger and thumb. It is thrilling and unmistakable. It is a fish accepting the offering. “Let it take the bait,” he is told, “Nice and easy. Now when you set the hook, don’t jerk it too hard. Go ahead, set it.” The boy lifts the rod tip as he’d been instructed, not too quickly else he’ll pull the hook because these are weakfish and their jaws are frail.

He lifts the rod and the fish cooperates, the hook is set. The boy reels, struggling to keep the rod tip up, as the man coaches him and readies the net. A cutting, darting figure rises into view and turns to let the sun filtering through the water reflect a silvery, speckled flank. The fish is boated and the boy is shown how to remove the hook and hold the fish by its gill. He looks up to the man, who is smiling broadly, as if he’d just shared a beautiful secret he’d been keeping a very long time.

I received a letter in the mail from the man who took me fishing on a boat the second time in my life (the first time was in Brooklyn and I managed a snapper with the help of my grandpa). Jim McMillen is something of a fishing legend in these parts. It was sheer circumstance that brought us together. I was an eight-year-old only child being raised by my mom. Jim had hired her to care for his aunt, Caroline Webber, at her estate on Nostrand Parkway. Jim had promised his aunt she would reside at her beloved Alturas until she’d passed and he kept it, visiting often.

His boat, Jiggin’ Jim, was kept at the large L-shaped dock at the foot of the Greenlawns overlooking Southold Bay. I remember Jim being a gentleman who treated everyone with respect. He had a brilliant, engaging smile and an easy way about him that invited conversation. And he truly was a fishing fanatic who preferred using jigs to catch his fish and so he was referred to locally as “Jiggin” Jim McMillen.

Jim sold his home on Nostrand Parkway to the man who bought the estate after Ms. Webber died. He now lives in Delray Beach and sees his good friend, Jeff Simes, who fished commercially and is a past Shelter Island town supervisor, at least once a month.

He writes, “…ironically, neither of us fish anymore but we do go to the fishing pier near the restaurant … and often watch the fishermen casting in the ocean, mostly catching nothing because of the time of day.”

After reminiscing some about the good old days we spent together at the Webber house, Jim reflected on his fishing experiences and offered some pointers, which I would like to share here verbatim. I hope he doesn’t mind. It’s just that I would ruin it by trying to paraphrase the content.

“I read with interest your column of May 17. May-June, September-October were my favorite months to fish. July-August too hot but the blues usually showed in the Gut by that third week in August.

“Your mention of bass at Plum Gut at the ‘top of the incoming tide’ brought back memories. I used to fish the last three hours of the ‘flood’ there but the best time was the last hour. Being a ‘jigger’ as opposed to bucktailing (not my forte) I found that ‘slow reeling and stopping’ often produced bass, especially the last half hour of the flood tide. Also big blues.

“I look back at Shelter Island and have to confess ‘my home away from home’ was Buoy 17 at Jessups. It was a short run for me from the dock and the spring and fall fishing there was terrific. My favorite location was the end of the rip especially on the flood tide, bigger fish because of the slower drift and bass just a few yards north of the blues. My last trip there was in late October 2010 and produced seven huge blues and one big bass (11 pounds). It was very rough and I had to quit after that though the fish were still biting. Couldn’t stand up!”

Thank you, Jim, for being a great guy and taking me on my first real fishing trip. I will never forget catching my first weakfish with you and all the fun we had during our time in that magical place.