Fish on: The baseball-fishing matrix

COURTESY PHOTO Our columnist with a just-caught false albacore landed on a fly rod.
COURTESY PHOTO Our columnist with a just-caught false albacore landed on a fly rod.

Sportfishing is just like professional baseball.

Far-fetched? Follow my train of thought and I think you might agree with me.

Most people who love to fish take some time off right after the last trip in the late fall and don’t do or think much at all about fishing, especially with all the holidays approaching. By early December, the urge for almost all of is to spend some time cleaning up our tackle, campaign for a new rod or reel or other gear from Santa and daydream about how the season turned out.

Many of us edit our photos or videos of the year’s action. Slowly, memories of high winds, rough waters, soaking rains, bad moves that cost you the “big one” or a general dearth of fish during the season fade away. By early February many of us are making plans for future trips with our pals. We’re starting to really tinker with tackle and by mid-February we’re chomping at the bit to get after the early flounder bite and start the season.

Professional baseball follows roughly the same schedule, and the players do, too. The World Series ends the first week of November and then all the players take a deep breath and relax for a while.

They get a bit “antsy” by New Year’s Day. They’ve had time to review what went right or wrong over the season and have contacted some of their buddies to make plans to travel to spring training together. By mid-February pitchers and catchers are in camp starting the process over again. So, thus far, the scenarios look very similar. But it gets better.

Baseball’s opening day is April 3, 2016. That’s probably about the time the first striped bass will appear on the local scene to gobble up all the flounder or crabs that are coming out of mud. The bluefish are not far behind. By May, the season is really on for both anglers and baseball players and the similarities continue through the summer.

Both sports are affected by the weather. From early July through mid-August, it’s not easy for anyone to get too keyed up about either sport, since they are both generally in the doldrums with not much happening in baseball to excite anyone except the most ardent fans and anglers are having a tough time catching the larger sport fish with waters heating up and the fish going deep.

Suddenly, in later August, the waters cool, the bait re-appears and fishing picks up. At about the same time, it’s pretty clear who the league leaders are in baseball and both anglers and baseball players start to show greater interest. The bass return to shallower waters, the gorilla blues show up and, we know that the playoffs in both sports are soon to begin.

That’s where we are right now with most of baseball’s divisional races decided. Playoffs start on October 8. However, the fishing “playoffs” have already started and did so when the first dependable schools of false albacore — Fat Alberts — showed an interest in playing against anglers using fly or spinning tackle on about September 15. They began the game east of Bostwick Point on Gardiners Island and extended all the way past Eastern Plains Point at the northeast corner of Gardiners and even made spotty showings in the Sluiceway by Plum Island.

I got one at the southeast most point of land on Plum to start my seasonal chase of this great fish and have caught several from Bostwicks to Eastern Plains. There are plenty of boats fishing for them, so if you go after them there look to see who is hooked up and the school will be nearby even if there is no surface activity.

False albacore are a small member of the tuna family and are very hard-fighting fish. A big one around here weighs in at about 10 pounds but occasionally come larger. They compete for bait with bluefish and stripers from now through late October.

Most of the time Fat Albert’s are recognizable by the way they break the surface chasing food. If you see splashes made by fish slashing into schools watch them closely and if the splashes are huge eruptions, the fish are probably bass or bluefish. Albacore often “greyhound” as they pursue food and you can often see most of the fish out of the water as they go by. They also pick bait off the surface with a splash that is more subdued than the others.

When the stripers, blues and Fat Alberts are in the same area at Montauk it’s one of the most exciting fishing arenas anywhere in the world. The beaches are crowded with the surfcasters and their long rods and the near shore area is crowded with guide boats and anglers casting flies or lures to blitzing fish swarming over the anchovies and other baits under a curtain of screaming gulls. I call this event my World Series and feel that the only difference between fishing for all of these great fish and baseball’s Fall Classic is I can play in this game– and so can you!

How To Corner:
Since false albacore are not huge, you don’t heavy tackle. I suggest a 7 to 7 1/2 foot medium heavy rod with 15 pound test braid, or mono on a four or five series reel. Albacore have fabulous eyesight so you should tip your braid with five feet of 20 pound Fluorocarbon leader so they don’t see the line.

They don’t generally hit plugs so my two choices for lures are a 3/4 ounce “Deadly Dick” silver casting jig or a 5-inch long “Fluke” plastic jerk bait in pearl white color (made by ZOOM) on a weighted 4-5/0 hook or a small jighead with the same sized hook. Bass will eat the Fluke if they see it and bluefish will tear it apart so get two packages of Flukes and extra hooks.

When you see some targets, cast right into or past them and if you’re using the Deadly Dick, reel steadily at a good pace but don’t let the lure break the surface as albacore will often shy away when that happens. If you’re using a Fluke, your retrieve should also be generally steady but since it will not sink quickly a brief pause on the way in might increase the action.

Finally, when you hook one, hang on as the first run is a stunner, often ripping out 70 yards or more of line. When the run ends, get ready to reel as fast as you can since the fish will come right back toward the boat and probably go under it before making another long run on the other side. These fish are not good eating and die quickly if handled too long, so make sure your camera is ready and you can either net the fish or reach over and grab him by the narrow part of his back near the tail and hoist him in.

After unhooking him and getting your photo, hold the fish nose down over the side about 3 plus feet above the water and drop it in. As soon as the oxygen runs over the gills you will see the fish turn horizontal and disappear like a shot.

It’s a great moment when they are released and take off again leaving bubbles in their wake, so don’t miss the action.