So, as Marvin Gaye sang in his great R&B hit from 1971, “What’s Going On?”
Are we really catching fewer and fewer fish as the years pass? I decided to take a look at the fishing logs I’ve kept on every fishing trip made since 2005 to see what I caught then and what I’m catching now. The sad fact is that it’s not my imagination — we’re catching way fewer fish now and the bass have all but disappeared. Take a look at these abridged notes from my logs written about trips nearest to July 4th of each year.
July 4, 2005. We caught 10 bass to 26 inches on a chartreuse FinS with a few on poppers and flies thrown in. They were showing on the surface and grandson Doug straightened a hook on one of them that was obviously larger than the rest.
July 7, 2006. I went first to Orient Beach and saw bass of all sizes — none of which wanted to eat but I finally got one fish on the fifth fly that I tried. I got three on a FinS up to 25 inches and a porgy before I moved over to east Plum Island and really ran into them there. I ended up with 11 bass to 25 inches and scattered about 100 as they were so hard to see with the wind, wakes and high haze.
July 4, 2007. Mike McConnell and I went to Plum and found fish all over the place and we pounded them with plugs because of brisk winds. They hit the Smack-its best and we landed eight bass to 26 inches and over 10 blues, the largest of which was a 7 pounder.
July 8, 2008. I fished the beaches at Plum and managed four bass on plugs and saw lots in the wash that wouldn’t take the fly. I also got several bluefish but the highlight of the trip was a 10-pound, 30-inch bass I got by the three groins on the south side.
July 8, 2009. Mike McConnell and I headed to Plum and Mike hooked one on a plug near Piney Point. As he fought it I saw lots of bass right in the wash. By the time we had to leave we had landed 10 bass to 26.5 inches and a tern.
July 6, 2010. I took my boat out to Little Gull with McConnell but saw no fish action in the sluiceway. We next hit the beach along Plum and found lots of smaller bass to 24 inches all over, landing six, some on flies and the rest on lures. I also got hooked in my right thumb but will live.
July 4, 2011. The weather was just spectacular so grandsons Drew, Matt and I headed to Plum where we saw bass all over the place and both Drew and Matt each got five to six of the smaller ones but the other million we saw had lockjaw! Next stop was Gardiners, trying to find big blues in the shallow water near Bostwicks. Matty managed to tame one of the 9-pound monsters before the tide quit.
July 6, 2012. The grandkids wanted to go fishing so four of us headed out to Plum Gut and ran into a big school of very large bluefish on the way. Two hours later we had landed about 10 blues between 6 and 10 pounds, lost four plugs and had a really good time on a beautiful day on the water.
July 6 to 7, 2013. After two days of terrible weather, all the kids wanted to fish the flats near Reel Point where the bluefish had taken up residence. Blues from 2 to 9 pounds were there and the kids loved them. They would get a hit, miss that fish only to have two or three more hit the plug. After the fish threw the plug and it hit the water, the process started again! All in all, we made the best of what we had to work with and the bluefish cooperated in spades.
July 8, 2014. We took McConnell’s boat and went to Bostwick Point where it was absolutely dead calm and I got a 10.5 pound bluefish on my first cast and then the fun really got going and almost every cast produced a hit or a fish. We landed about 40 bluefish to 11 pounds as they hit all along the rip for two hours and as the tide died we actually had two small bass hit, too.
July 2, 2015. Mike McConnell and I took my boat and made stops at Reel Point, Bostwick Point, the buoy inside Gardiners Island bight, the Ruins, Cartwright Island Point and home. We had a few hits from big bluefish but no connections travelling 31 miles, fishing for 4.5 hours and made hundreds of casts catching three small bluefish and two under 20-inch bass.
What these records indicate is that we have seriously damaged our striped bass population locally and “catch” numbers have plummeted since about 2011. Even the bluefish aren’t here in the numbers we had in the past. The striped bass reports of fishing for them at night during the full moon and high tide at the Gut and the Race were disappointing with fewer fish caught and of a smaller size.
On The Positive Side
There have been some indications that things might be picking up as the “peanut bunker” and tiny sand eels are starting to show in numbers in our bays in spite of the filthy condition of our waters. Porgies are still being caught, especially around Cedar Point. A friend did well on “Cocktail Blues” at Jessup’s for the first time in awhile and some of the local beaches are producing small blues. I managed to catch a few larger blues with one right at 7 pounds off Reel Point and know of 10 pound-plus bluefish being caught in the commercial pound nets off of Barcelona Point. On a recent trip I had hits from really large slammers at the edge of the rip to the north of Gardiner’s but they would only attack the plug once and then bolt without trying to kill the lure again.
How To Corner: With the positive indications saying things might improve, I would place my bet on bluefish in the coming weeks. If you go to Plum or Jessups I would be jigging three ounce diamond jigs on the outgoing tide and remember to use a 30-40 pound leader to help land the fish and avoid cut-offs.
If there are bass present and birds working them, a “Smilin Bill” white bucktail cast into the commotion could do the trick. If shallow water casting is your forte, I’d use a popper that casts well and floats and work the rips on the outgoing tide at Gardiners, the rip at Coecles Harbor or along Mashomack to see what you can find.
If you have some luck, let me know about it at [email protected]