Fish On: Going to school on fishing

COURTESY PHOTO College friends Taylor Draper, left, and Morgan O’Donnell were successful anglers during Fish On’s excursion of Shelter Island waters last week.

College friends Taylor Draper, left, and Morgan O’Donnell were successful anglers during Fish On’s excursion of Shelter Island waters last week.

The past week has been a tough one for anyone who has been out fishing with light tackle for striped bass in Gardiners Bay, Plum Gut and other close-in environs.

Air temperature over 90 degrees and water temperature around the Island in the 80s is not a great recipe for stripers who like the water 10 degrees cooler. Thinking that the cooler incoming tide with ocean freshness might wake the fish up a bit, I ran my boat to Plum Island several times, and while my companions and I got a few fish, it wasn’t worth the effort.

We cast big lures and got some halfhearted hits. We cast small lures and got a few more hits, but from small fish. We tried soft plastic lures and never had a bite. We fished the Gut-side of Plum and did next to nothing and then the Sound-side and did less. One day when the wind was blowing directly from the west it split as it hit Plum so it was blowing northwest on the Sound-side making fishing impossible there and at the same time blowing southwest in the Gut, making that an even more chancy place to fish than usual.

We headed to the calm water at the easternmost point of Plum where it was dead calm-and — you guessed it, totally fish-less.

After one of the trips, I contacted two of the more successful guides who fish the same waters I do and got the same answers — fish the outgoing tide in Plum Gut with surface plugs and you’ll love the bluefish and they will tire you out. On the next swing out there we did just that for a while and discovered that the fish were all of about three pounds. We caught a few but left shortly thereafter from that fishing “Mecca.”

The other thing guides told me on my calls is that they had become proactive in cancelling many of their trips during the heat wave so as not to aggravate their clients with long, unproductive boat rides in the blazing sun with little action. After hearing that, I vowed to just sit out the hot spell and drink pina coladas at the pool until the weather cooled.

But I got a call that my granddaughter, Morgan O’Donnell, a college senior, was coming for a visit with her classmate, Taylor Draper, and they would like to go fishing. Morgan is no slouch when it comes to the sport; she can cast with the best of them and I know she had shown several photos of fish she caught to her pals at school.

On Sunday morning, we headed out as the tide ebbed to see what we could do-after I explained how terrible the past week had been. “No matter,” Morgan said. “Let’s just give it a shot.”

Then wind was up a bit out of the southwest and I wasn’t ready for another bumpy ride out to Plum, so we headed toward the Mashomack bite. We had enjoyed some luck there on Morgan’s last trip six weeks ago when she and another guest landed and released several nice bass, one just at 20 pounds.

I had located those fish by pure luck that time and wasn’t sure the spot would produce again, especially since the water was shallow where I was heading. I pressed on and discovered that the location for that hotspot that I had so dutifully put on my GPS in the past was gone and now I had to figure out where it was all over again.

Because I am such a skillful navigator, I ran right over the spot on the first try, no doubt scaring the scales off most of the residents. I put the electric trolling motor to steer us and we started to cast around the boat trying to see if any fish were dumb enough to have stayed around after my buzzing them. We both got hits on our third or fourth casts but missed them. I suspected they were striped bass and we had bluefish plugs with single hooks on them so as we drifted away I put my favorite yellow Smack-It plugs on for the second run at them.

Morgan connected on a small bass that broke the ice. We put that one back in and she got another and another and I finally hooked one that Taylor fought for a while and landed.

After about 45 minutes we had landed several fish, including a 6 pound, 25-inch beauty, before our flesh started to burn from the hot sun. Being smart college girls they decided that we had had our fishing for the day, enjoyed some real luck with some brave fish that stayed in one place, while I ran the boat over them.

I thanked Glaucus, the Greek god of fishing, and headed in.