Fish on: Homeward bound

We’ve rounded the last turn and are heading down the home stretch toward the last weeks of local fishing for the year.

Historically, the fall has been the best time to get out on the water and chase a variety of fish that have, under normal conditions, always come our way as the waters cooled. The bluefish and striped bass, which usually show up over the summer, were a huge disappointment to almost all of us from Shelter Island, with “catch counts” at all time lows and the fish caught generally paltry in size.

While we were doing practically nothing but burning gas in our boats going from one former hotspot to another, the folks in the northern part of Rhode Island and in ocean-front Massachusetts had good seasons with large numbers of fish (and Great White Sharks, too) in their waters all summer. That usually means that those large schools of fish should all migrate and hopefully pass through our territory on their way south in the near future.

They start to move south with the bait so they can fatten up for the long trip to the Carolinas and beyond. The fish usually swing through the Race, the Sluiceway, Plum Gut, the rip on the north side of Plum extending out to Pigeon Rip, and the sand bar between the Ruins and Bostwick Point on Gardiners Island before going out around Montauk. The recent cool down of water temps will get the bait heading for warmer climes and the bass and bluefish will be right on them — we hope.

The second potential for some great fall fishing is the arrival of the bonito and the false albacore (aka Fat Alberts or albies) that join the mix right about now. There have been reports of a fair number of bonito caught in the Port Judith area of Rhode Island over the past several weeks. It shouldn’t be long before Fat Alberts join the party and the fun begins.

Both of these species of fish are not huge in size, averaging about 8 to 12 pounds, but are exceptionally strong fighters, especially on lighter casting tackle. They are terrific to catch if you like a savage hit on your lure followed immediately by a long run of 100 yards at about 25 mph. The run is hard to stop until the fish decides to come back toward the boat at equal speed, causing the angler to nearly get cramps cranking the reel handle to regain the line.

Next, both species dive under the boat and the fight is mostly vertical for a while, but probably one of two other runs upcoming.

Finally, they’ll swim in a figure eight design before coming to the surface so that you can net them headfirst or reach over and grab them at the narrow spot just in front of their tail and haul them aboard.

The albacore make great photos, but are terrible table fare, so they should be released ASAP by dropping them head first into the water and watched as they zoom away to get something else to eat.

The bonito are a better table fare and if you like fish you should keep one to give it a try.
For detailed info on what lures to use and how to fish for both species go to and read what they have to say.

My advice is to use medium stiffness, 6- to 7-foot spinning rods with size 4 reels and filled with 12-pound test line tipped with 20-pound test Florocarbon leaders. You’ll love what happens if you can get a lure among the fish.

After the mini-gales of the past week finally died, Mike McConnell and I went out a week ago Saturday, hoping the fish would be in the rip just west of Plum Gut. Those hopes died when we saw only four boats in the whole Gut, fishing on the bottom for porgies and no birds flying, looking for bait. After seeing the lack of action in the big water, we changed tactics and fished hard, casting plugs into the rocks below the lighthouse, and caught four or five small bass up to 24 inches before they moved on.

I took the boat back out of the Gut to look toward Connecticut, and saw some birds diving about a half-mile away. We went over and landed two small bluefish that would have been winners in the Snapper Derby. Being the sportsmen we are, and since we were too old to enter the fish in the Derby, we decided to let them go.

Finally, I ran us around to the southeast end of Plum. We cast among the rocks there and along the beach, picking up another three or four fish before heading in.

The final indication of the fact we are on the home stretch of our fishing year is that the Lion’s Club’s annual Snapper Fishing Derby took place last Saturday after we got in from fishing.

There has been a scarcity of snappers in our bays and creeks this year and as one of the sponsors of the event, I was concerned that the kids would not do well fishing for the little critters and might skip the Derby entirely.


A little after 5 p.m., I went over to the weigh-in at the American Legion with my daughter and her young Labrador, Gillis. The show was really going on with the weigh-in of the “giant” fish caught by the kids. While the small fisher-folk were there, they helped to consume the stacks of hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza. Some even had their snappers cooked and they ate it carefully to avoid the bones. All were having a great time including the parents, the kids, and Gillis, who made many new friends and ate about a pound of dropped popcorn.

This annual endeavor took a lot of time and effort to put together and execute, so a big hats off to all the Lion’s Club, volunteers, sponsors, the weather man and Darrin Binder, for making the event a huge success again.