With fall flying by and Christmas commercials already airing, the time is now to make those last saltwater trips before another winter sets in. As a devout Red Sox fan, much of my October was spent glued to a television set instead of on the water, but I managed to sneak in a few outings in the midst of an unforgettable MLB postseason. A couple of weeks ago, my friend Captain Mike Roy of Reel Cast Charters invited me on a predawn excursion in western Long Island Sound. Usually our trips together involve late nights out east, so getting up early and staying local was a nice change of pace. The plan was to take his boat to some spots we typically surf fish from and throw eels until sun up, which would signal the time to switch over to lures for a chance at surface action. But you know what they say about best laid plans...
Right after launching the boat, we were treated to telltale signs of bunker slapping the surface and snagged a half dozen to put in Mike's live well for good measure. We then motored out of the harbor and stuck to our game plan, but little did we know that we'd be back to the same spot an hour later desperately searching for more of the oily baitfish. After casting eels and top-water lures came up fruitless, Mike threw out a lively bunker to see what was what. It didn't take long for his bait to do a nervous dance on the surface, followed by the unmistakable crash of a striped bass engulfing it. That was all I needed to make the switch over to live bunker and the same sequence of events happened to me only moments later. It was lock and load for the next half hour with stripers up to 23-pounds making short work of our limited bait supply. After running out of bunker, we changed back over to eels trying to duplicate the results, but the fish were keyed in on something we didn't have anymore. So the executive decision was made to hurry back to the harbor, snag more bait and pray the bite was still going upon our return.
By now the sun was high in the sky and boat traffic had increased significantly, so the bunker were much harder to find the second time around. We were lucky to snag six more for the live well, returned to the scene as fast as we could and immediately experienced the same results, except the bass were exchanged for giant bluefish, the biggest we both had caught in years. They were incredibly thick and strong, putting up amazing fights and pulling the scale down to the 15-pound mark! After the wave of blues, a few bass toyed with the last of our bunker and when the tide died the bite died, and it was finally time to switch gears.
It's hard to admit, but I had never fished for blackfish from a boat before so a trip of this kind was way overdue. Mike had a bucket of Asian grabs that he collected at low tide a few days earlier and we anchored at one of his favorite shallow water rock piles and it was lights out action until we had our fill. There were plenty of short fish mixed in, but we managed our limit of keepers and had a blast doing it. Tautog fight like bulldogs and you really have to horse them off the rocky bottom before getting broken off or snagged. I can only imagine what catching a double digit-sized one must feel like after the fights these "small" four and five pounders put up. Mike already had enough meat in his freezer, so I took all the fillets home for the family and cooked it the next night to the delight of everyone at the table. It was a delicious meal that was fun and relatively easy to catch. The combination of landing striped bass and giant bluefish on live bunker followed by a hot blackfish bite made for an incredibly memorable fall day on the water--one that I'll surely look back on when I'm sitting in an ice hut this winter waiting for flags to pop.