Featured Story

Fish on: A day to remember

Summer is officially over now that Labor Day is behind us. The days have started to cool off significantly after some of those scorching, humid days in August and the waters around our Island and in the ocean are cooling down too.

As the water cooled, it was a signal to the game fish that live north of us that they had better start to fatten up before heading south on their annual migration.

It also signaled to those of us who want to catch some of these fish that we’d better get our gear together and get going since the weather and the water temperatures will only get colder, and the fish will soon be gone until next spring.

I contacted my long-term flyfishing guide who plies the seas all around Montauk. We made a date to go out on a half-day charter on Sept 4 to see what was up. He suggested that we leave the dock at the Star Island Marina at 7 a.m. as the tide started to flood and try to ambush more of the striped bass, bluefish and hopefully false albacore that he’d been sporadically catching for parts of the past week.

Our middle daughter, Donna Winston, volunteered to fill the second spot on the guide’s 23-foot Steigercraft open boat. We made the first boat off South Ferry, stopped at a deli to buy breakfast and lunch on the way out to Montauk. I had brought a flyrod for myself and a good spinning rod for Donna to use, and the guide had his set of “weapons” to use if our gear failed.

At 7 a.m. the marina was alive with boats moving out toward the inlet where Lake Montauk meets the ocean. The water was a little choppy on our trip to the Point, but it was smooth sailing once we rounded it. There were definitely 4-to-5 foot swells breaking on the shore, but no breaking waves anywhere else around us.

Any splashes we would see would probably be fish on the surface. It was a perfect day, with plenty of sunshine and it wasn’t long before we spotted swirling on the surface about a quarter mile off the beaches.

We got our gear ready and crept up on the commotion not knowing what was making the swirls, but guessing that it was either bass or blues or both. Donna cast into what’s called a “blitz,” which is caused by the predator fish literally rounding up and pushing thousands of smaller bait fish to the surface and holding them together so that their buddies can slash through them, gobbling all they can catch.

The predators are only a foot or so below the surface, so we could see them as we stayed with the blitz as long as we could.

As we got withing casting range, I immediately hooked a fish on a fly that took off and eventually chewed through my leader, shredding it, so I knew I had lost a bluefish. Donna made a cast with a small jig with a pink plastic tail that was consumed immediately.

She boated a small bluefish which we photographed and let go. That blitz had gotten away from us as we fought the first bunch of fish, and it only took about 10 minutes to find another bunch as we continued to the west looking for any signs of activity.

There were small flocks of birds flying along doing some scouting for us. We noticed several diving about a half mile offshore, so off we went, arriving at the end of that blitz. Donna got another bluefish and I got nothing since they were out of flyfishing range. That’s when we saw the first giant blitz, which covered about half an acre of water.

We headed to them and each of us got a striped bass. Donna’s was small and mine was probably about 28-inches long, but the guide “accidentally” dropped mine overboard while unhooking it so I have no proof that I actually caught a bass that day.

By 8:30 we’d caught a nice spread of fish with the spinning rod doing almost all of the catching. There were lots of boats crowding into our small blitzes. Many of them were rookies who just ran their boats right into the blitz, immediately sending the fish way down in the water as they swam away from us.

I continued to have trouble getting fish to even sniff my flies since there was something they didn’t like about it, and even when we changed flies, I did poorly, while Donna’s catch was in double digits by 10 a.m.

About that time I spotted breaking fish splashing about a half mile offshore and we abandoned the crowd and raced out to the off-shore disturbance. Donna flipped her jig tipped with the pink plastic on it. I got an immediate hit and the fish went screaming off toward Spain.

I helped her adjust the tension on her reel, so the line didn’t go flashing out at warp speed and she settled down to fight one of the toughest and most beautiful small tunas, known as false albacore. They are very speedy fish that immediately take off from the boat when hooked and will pull off 100 yards of line before you can stop them.

Next they will take all that line down on a dive to the bottom and away from the boat and the rest of the fight will be bringing the fish to the surface.

That wasn’t an easy task on the light tackle she was using. When the fish got to within 50 feet below the boat, it started to do a series of neat figure eights, which meant it was tiring. After about 10 minutes, the guide grabbed the fish just in front of its tail and hauled it aboard for the obligatory photo op.

With her bluefish, bass and “albie,” Donna managed a “Fall Slam” of all three of the neatest fish around.

We headed back into the marina for our car ride back to Shelter Island and headed west to stop at the Scenic Overlook, which shows a panorama of all of Long Island. As we ate our sandwiches while leaning against the car, we could visually take in Long Island from Amagansett on the due west and north toward Gardiners Island and everything in between.

Heading back to the Island, we enjoyed looking at all the vehicles heading out to Montauk that were at a complete stop on the main road. When we got off Montauk Highway, we squirmed our way through the back roads of East Hampton, and finally to Sag Harbor, where there were hordes of cars going in the opposite direction.

We went in and out of Sag, and the line to get through the town going east over the bridge started at the traffic circle at Route 114.

I have a feeling some of those folks are still stuck in that car jam.

We made it to the ferry and back to the Island by 12:30 and were napping by 1 after a terrific day on the water.