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Fish on: Summer update

Update on the Snapper Derby: The great summer event has historically been run by the Lions Club but, instead, a new organization is running it as a virtual contest and you can read all about it here:.


More on snapper fishing below.

Shark hunters: We all know sharks are in the waters around our beautiful island, but it’s not often one comes close, especially when “Shark Week” is on TV.

A shark did come cruising in to Coecles Harbor about 10 days ago looking for something good to eat and see if it could create some havoc in the attempt. Brian Carroll and his son Charlie were fishing for snappers off their dock on Big Ram Island when Charlie thought he saw a shark cruising around their docked boat. He called his dad and they waited a bit, looking for a shark, which make circles in the area they’re stalking, and sure enough it came by again.

Charlie had his tackle ready with a fresh bait and cast it where he thought the shark might be and bam, the shark grabbed the bait and the fight was on. The area they were fishing had lots of obstructions with the dock piers, a boat tied to the dock and lines for another boat on outside pilings, so they did the best they could to avoid tangling everything up and finally the shark tired and swam into the waiting net.

Next came the examination of the shark and it turned out to be a sand shark. It had a full set of small teeth, because the shark was only about 24-inches long, but at least it was something happening in our waters. Father, son and shark were subjects of photos and when they and the rest of the family released it they told me that the shark hung around the dock for a little while staring at them. Then, as it finally swam away, a few bubbles rose from it’s mouth and floated to the top where they burst.

Report on summer 2020: The soon-to-end summer of 2020 is one that should be mentioned in the history books as one of the worst fishing seasons for our local waters, such as around Shelter, Plum, Gardiners islands, and Jessup’s et. al. Following 2019’s generally weak results we received a positive set of new rules about size limits and amount of fish that can be kept per day, and most of us were anticipating a positive increase in the volume and size of the sportfish we would pursue this summer — but it was not to be. There appear to be plenty of black sea bass, porgies and other bottom feeders, but our gamefish targets went swimming somewhere else. Again.

However, there is a definite increase in snappers around now.

Even the pros on local charter boats, which would normally load up on fares going for striped bass and bluefish, had a terrible season. The only consistent catches for those species were made by the Montauk fleet.

The waters we’ve been fishing have had plenty of bait in them with huge schools of menhaden and smaller schools of other live critters, but they seemed to be almost totally overlooked by our target fish, which would normally storm into them with regularity.

There’s a lot of discussion about why the predators were not here in any numbers. The unusually high air and water temperatures and poor clarity of the water have been big parts of the scarcity of the fish. Farther out near the east end of Plum and Gardiners, the large seal activity has definitely moved the fish away from old haunts.

Last fall’s run of striped bass, bluefish and false albacore was incredible, with top-water blitzes echoing the great fishing of years gone by. Among the gamefish there were schools of porpoises and whales too, which made it exciting and productive for all who gave it a shot in September and October 2019. Maybe our luck will turn.

What to fish for: Lets start with bluefish. If you are out in a boat or on the beach and see lots of surface activity in the water near you, put on a popping plug and cast right into the middle of the splashing to see who is there. A wild strike by the fish with a strong run and even a jump or two will indicate what you have on and the odds are it will be a bluefish.

They will fight like crazy to get away, and if the hook pulls out of the fish that attacked it and it hits the water nearby, work the lure in since another fish has no doubt followed the action and would like to take a crack at it. If you land one of the blues, make sure you’re careful unhooking these killers; a 4-pound fish could chop off a finger if given a chance. Use pliers or a de-hooker to disengage the hook. 

A great place to fish for larger bluefish on the surface is in the middle of Plum Gut when the tide is changing. You can easily find schools of fish by the swarms of terns picking up the little baitfish being forced to the surface by the attacking bluefish schools. If the surface plug doesn’t work, try a white bucktail of about 3 ounces and cast it into every school of fish you can reach and let it sink about 3-to-4 feet before cranking it in. A second place to look for big blues and some false albacore is on the sand bar between the Ruins and the tip of Gardiners Island that runs toward the Ruins. If you’re there at the last two hours of the outgoing tide and the birds are working the water on top of the bar, you may be in for a big treat.

Striped bass: The tricks for catching striped bass at either location is fundamentally the same as for bluefish, but they are usually feeding below the bluefish at about 6 feet, while the bluefish are above them. Stripers like both surface lures and bucktail jigs, especially when the birds are diving on schools of bait on the surface. Bass can be found in the Gut with the blues and also out at the Ruins and Gardiners.

A third way to catch them is casting popping plugs along the rocks on all sides of Plum Island, but when you get in close to the rocks, you have to be careful of larger rocks below the surface along the Island.

Taking the kids: This has been a tough time for the little fishing folk in everyone’s homes. What we should be focusing on is trying to get the young ones who will be on the Island for several more months interested in getting some nice snapper bluefish.

We all know how exciting those little killer bluefish can be and how accessible they are when tides are moving. You can catch them almost everywhere on the Island, including boats, docks, and beaches. When they’re around you can catch lots of them, but can only keep three per person, according to the new rules that were adopted in 2020.

You can get folks of all ages started with the least expensive tackle available for the little guys and girls. This rig consists of an 8-to-10-foot bamboo pole with about 10 feet of light line tied to the tip, along with a float and a hook on a leader, and maybe a tiny weight to get the bait down a bit for the snappers to eat. Jack’s Marine on Bridge Street has an ample supply of tackle and also sells the minnow bait and other gear. 

When the bait thaws out a bit, just thread one of the frozen minnows on to the hook and swing the cork with the hook and bait over the side so passing fish can see it. Snappers have razor sharp teeth, so the fishing person has to stay alert or the bait will be chopped up and gone before they can react to the bite.

As soon as that float shows any movement or is taken under the water, the young angler has to quickly raise the rod and pull the cork and, hopefully, the fish out of the water or it will be gone with the bait in a second or two.

Additional tackle for a trip with beginners includes a towel-like rag, a small bucket to carry the bait and other things, a small pair of pliers to unhook the fish and, most importantly, your camera to record the smile that comes with each caught fish.

For those of you that have some older or more experienced folk looking for snappers, a light spinning rod will do the trick casting an indicator cork out a good distance with the bait on the hook. If the angler is a reasonable caster, they might want to buy some inexpensive shiny metal lures that can be casted a long way and attract lots of snappers as it nears them.

I have been searching for bass in the back (northwest) corner of Coecles Harbor and accidentally catching lots of aggressive bluefish on small plugs and some shiny spoons. Another benefit of fishing there is, if someone falls overboard in that corner, all they have to do is stand up to be rescued.

Reeling it in: So, that’s where we’ve been, where we are, and hopefully where we are going before the snow flies. I’ll try to keep you informed if fishing picks up in the next few weeks and look out for the sandshark the Carroll’s released, since I think it has a nasty disposition.