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Fish On: When does the party start?

COURTEYS PHOTO Dressed for arctic fishing, our columnist landed and released this small bass last week.
COURTEYS PHOTO Dressed for arctic fishing, our columnist landed and released this small bass last week.

Several people I spoke to this week wanted a few ideas on when and where to go to catch some fish.

Some of you may have been reading about the large fish being caught to the west of us including a monster striper of 58-plus pounds. Local newspapers are saying stripers are hitting well in the western part of Long Island Sound and west of Shinnecock Inlet. That’s been the pattern around here for years as the migratory fish head north from their winter haunts in the south.

There have even been some nice catches of stripers on the shallow sand bars in the Port Jeff area. As far as I know there have been few if any bluefish caught around the Island or in the commercial netter’s traps. I can only blame that on the 52-to-54 degree water temperature.

But within two days of warm sun shining on the bays, they will be here.

In an effort to provide folks with an educated answer on when and where to go, I dug back into my fishing logs over the last several years. Amazingly, in 2015 I got the first legal (28-inch) bass on May 21 and a few small bluefish.

On May 21, 2016 I also did well after two days of not catching anything and on the 23rd I landed a 37-inch striper on a fly rod that weighed 25-plus pounds. And finally, my 2017 records report that I started catching bass from my boat on May 2 and really blew the lid off on May 28 catching and releasing a 42-inch striper that weighed 29 pounds.

The answer to the question,”When does the party start?” might be, if you believe my records, ”Right now!”

I took my boat out three times this week and compared to the past three years did O.K. The first day was sunny, windy and cold. I wanted to search the flats a bit to see if I could spot any fish and maybe land one or two. I did a little better than that, landing two small stripers of 19 inches and a legal fish of slightly over 28 inches, covered with fresh sea lice, and which I returned to grow a bit more. I also blundered into a small school of fish that saw me first and took off.

The next day, with the same conditions, I managed two 18-to-23-inch fish and a sea robin, but mostly went exploring and discovered that the winter storms had moved a lot of sand around. Since I was on an ebbing tide, I had to watch where I was drifting so as not to get hung up on the bottom.

When I’m scouting I always stand on a platform on the bow of my skiff so I can scan the bottom looking for fish through my Polaroid glasses. The water around the Island is as clear as gin.

It reminds me of the great fishing areas in the Bahamas or Belize where I could see 50 yards in every direction. This day I pulled into the Nichols Point area and started drifting.

Usually I have my flyrod in hand since the fish on the flats like small fish patterns and not noisy plugs. But because of the wind I had my plug-casting rod in hand as I climbed up to the platform. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t see a thing.

There hadn’t been fish anywhere else I’d been. After three minutes I looked 20 yards away and saw trooping along a school of 11 striped bass of about 5 pounds each heading directly at me.

I couldn’t cast a plug at them since my movement would be seen and they would blow out and run. Instead, I let them pass and didn’t cast until they were 20 feet past, but they never wavered and just swam away.

The next day I tried the same places all over again plus several others and landed one 23-inch fish on the only hit I had on my popping plug all day. I did see two bass in the mile of shallow water I slowly passed over, flyrod in hand this time, but they saw me and hit the road.

With an obviously tiny body of bass around, no bluefish and with the “official” start of the season a few sunny days away, what should you do to get ready for them? First, get your equipment in shape by making sure the reels are oiled and ready to go and the guides and tiptops of your rods are smooth and have no cracks.

You might want to add fresh line to your reels so you don’t lose a big one to a frayed line and certainly you should discard old leaders and put new ones on. If you don’t have any, I’d recommend buying a few popping plugs since early in the season the fish go for them.

Finally, early in the mornings or evenings, go down to the beaches like Menhaden Lane or at Shell Beach and do some casting. Let me know how you do.