It’s been a poor summer for fishing for the larger fish like striped bass and bluefish, but now it’s time to scrape the dust/rust from your fishing gear, and head east of Shelter Island.
After the storm we had last week, it seems like someone opened the door and the fish all came streaming in. We had our children from near and far and their families visit just after the storm ended, joined by a few stragglers. We had several days of calm seas and cooler water, making for great boating and fishing. Dean Weaver, our son-in-law, was here with his family and his new boat.
As soon as the skies cleared, off we went to scout to see if there were any schools of bunkers close to the Island or farther out in Gardiners Bay. There were plenty of small schools of bunkers wending their way toward Plum Gut and we spotted heavy bird activity the closer we got to the Gut. We could see folks jigging in deep water above the Gut to the west of the lighthouse.
But I was drawn by the wild water heading through the Gut with three flocks of birds diving on the fish in the water below them.
The outgoing tide was moving at about 20 mph from west to east. We started above the whirlpools in the outgoing tide, casting surface plugs, since the fish were in the swirling water all around us.
It didn’t take too long before we started to land fish. We looked at the strong swirls and the birds crash diving into the water, picking up scraps of small minnow-sized fish from the mayhem caused by striped bass hammering into their schools. The birds flapped out of the water with food in their beaks and went aloft to swallow it and, when finished, caught up with the other birds and did it again.
We stayed in the whirlpools for a while, using small 1-ounce bucktail jigs to give the bass a good shot at our lures, which they did. After catching three midsized bass and releasing them, we noticed that the largest number of birds had pulled out of the whirlpools and were doing a different kind of fishing nearby.
Instead of smashing into the water to grab pieces of fish, they now flew low to the water, almost touching it, and picked up small fish or pieces of them from the surface. This was a good indicator that the fish they were tracking were bluefish; the birds knew not to swim with those killers. We stayed with those blues, casting 1-ounce popping plugs at them and landed a bunch of blues in the 4-to-5-pound range, letting them go after tough fights on light tackle.
If you’re out hunting fish and see birds are active, but are not crashing into the water, skimming just above the surface grabbing what food they can, you can be pretty sure they’re with bluefish. If they dive into the water for their prey with a big splash, it’s a good bet the fish they’re following are stripers.
We caught three nice stripers in the Gut on 1-ounce feathery jigs on our first trip before we turned our attention and caught nine bluefish of about 4 pounds each. After a while, we had several boats around us, causing problems, getting way too close to us, so we moved on.
The tide was still pouring out of the Gut, moving toward Montauk. We ran the boat out to the sandbar between Gardiners Island and the Ruins. There were lots of birds around, but not much in the way of aggressive action. We took out larger casting rods with bright colored, 6-inch top water plugs and headed above the shallow water waves from the outgoing tide and started casting.
Typically, the idea there was to either drift over the sandbar while casting, or stay in the waves above or below the bar and keep casting the plugs into the melee of the waves and popping them so that the bluefish in that water can zero in on the lure.
You’ll be surprised at how many terrific surface hits you’ll get on your plugs, drifting farther away from the shallow water. In addition to the strikes, you’ll hook a lot of fish only to lose them near the boat in the tumbling water. If you have one, spit the plug, pop it a few times and one of his buddies will probably take up the chase and nail it for you.
We fished several hours that day, and in each of the next three days, following the same route. The only change was the striped bass decided to disappear after the first day, replaced with lots of blues and lots of action. We didn’t keep any of the fish we landed, treating them carefully enough to guarantee their survival. The largest bass was about 6 pounds, caught by Dean, and the largest blue I caught was about the same size.
I’m guessing that things will only get better now that the water is a bit cooler, so I’d suggest if you want to participate in what could be a good fall season, you might appreciate some tips. First, make sure your gear, including rods, reels, lines, landing nets, lures, fishing pliers, gaffs, boga grips, cellphones, coolers, boats and motors are all in good condition. Make sure your lines are in good shape and tipped with some 20-to-30-pound test monofilament leader materials about 2-feet long, and your lures are clean and hooks sharp.
It won’t take your fishing buddies long to get the hang of spotting birds finding fish near the surface, casting right into them and fighting them right into the boat. Try to use your landing net or boga grip to get the fish into the boat instead of just swinging them in. Bluefish have terrifically sharp teeth and bad attitudes; they will attempt to bite everyone nearby before jumping back into the water. Remove the hooks from the bluefish by holding them with a boga grip or a rag and using long-nosed pliers, and you should be all set.
Good luck, and let me know how you are doing at [email protected].