Friday, September 23, 2011

Daylight Delight

One of the best things about the 'fall run' is that it's actually worth surf fishing during the day again. Even just a couple weeks ago, I wouldn't have bothered testing the waters while the sun was out. Inshore water temperatures on summer days are usually too warm for striped bass to wander within casting range of surf anglers. That's why we forgo sleep on weeknights and look disheveled at the office. But now that fall is here and temps are dropping, stripers are dining in the shallows again.

This week a friend and I pricked several nice fish on live eels under bright skies in Long Island Sound. One of the fish that was hooked was in a class above all the rest. My fishing partner Kurt fought it for what felt like an eternity before the fish cut his 60-pound test leader on a boulder right in front of us. The bulldogging bass never showed itself, but we both knew it was something special--fish like that will keep us going back until there's ice in our guides. Thinking the night bite would be just as good if not better, we returned to the scene of the crime and were shut out two nights in a row. Then on the following day the action picked right up again...go figure.

I guess it is time to change up those summertime patterns. Striped bass and bluefish have only one thing on their minds and that's fattening up before they head to wherever they spend the winter months. That means that they will act and feed differently now than they did in July or August. That also means that surfcasters need to adjust their fishing tactics too.   

Photo credit: Kurt Daniello

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Longest Day

This story original was posted on in November 2007. It is an account of my final surfcasting trip of that season, which turned out to be very valuable in terms of knowledge and experience gained. Although written before the The Connecticut Yankee existed, I thought the piece was worth sharing here. 

The longest day began at 1:30 AM when Paul pulled into my driveway. He wouldn’t let me into the truck without a pair of Korkers, so I knew we were headed a serious fishing destination. We soon departed for Long Beach, NY, to pick up the third and final surfcaster. After loading Chris’s gear into the truck and awing over his Beach Master plug collection, we’re driving over sand in no time.

There was an hour of darkness and a few hours of flood tide left when we arrived at the widow-maker jetty at Breezy Point. I was told that too many good surfcasters have died here and to follow my partners closely. They weren’t kidding–this was by far the hairiest patch of rocks I had ever laid foot on. After a 10 minute white-knuckle walk, we were not greeted by the lone angler tossing plugs off the end. With the help of a full moon, I soon glanced at one of the strongest rips, within casting distance of shore, which I had ever seen. The three of us posted up on different rocks and began a rotation of tossing eels, letting line drift in the rip about 100 yards, and retrieving slowly.

As fishy as this place looked, it was slow going. I eventually landed an obese 26” striper, which little did we know it would be the only fish of the trip. At the first hints of daybreak, our live eels were replaced with bucktail jigs. There are stacks of books written on this style of fishing, yet I have just begun to wade into it. From what I could tell, these guys, with their hand-tied three and four-ounce bucktails and pork rind trailers, knew what they were doing. As good as the action at this spot was only a week before, it seemed the fish and bait moved offshore. Soon the rising sun revealed acres of birds working on the horizon in deeper water. The boatmen pouring out of the harbors must have had banner days as we could only watch with disgust.

The rest of the morning we had show-and-tell with our plug bags, made trades and test swam custom lures. I am sorry to say that after several seasons and many striped bass, my Team Daiwa surf rod snapped while making a routine cast with a pencil popper. Our educated guess was there was a hairline fracture in the blank and that particular cast was the straw that broke the camel's back. As horrible as the snapping sound was, the thought of a new hand-wrapped Lamiglas custom rod built by a fellow club member in the near future cheered me up.

After a few more fun but uneventful hours of running the beach looking for bass within casting range we called it a day. On our way home, we stopped in West End Bait & Tackle to poke around. We walked in on local sharpies swapping stories and smoking cigarettes. On the walls of this small shop hung what the owner claimed to be Long Island’s largest selection of custom plugs. Despite the overwhelming selection, I knew what my plug bag lacked and picked up my first Super Strike darter, a yellow over pearl tried and true fish-catcher.

Paul wanted more eels for his tank at home and we were hoping for a few monsters to skin as well. Sure enough with one scoop of the net, I saw Loch Ness stick her head out. She was not alone. In total we pulled out four huge eels, all over 20-inches long and thick as a brick. The young shop-hand said he would skin one for me, as I had never seen it done in person. He dropped in a few cigarettes into a bucket and the nicotine in the tobacco caused eels seizure and die within a few minutes. The sharpie-in-training then skinned the snake and put it into a Ziploc for my ride home.

After our skinning demo, an old timer with a handle bar mustache walked into the shop, sat down and started eating lunch. To no one in particular, he started spewing out knowledge that was hard to keep up with. For an hour we listened to this guy without realizing yet that it was Billy the Greek, one of Long Island’s most legendary striped bass anglers. Once I realized who we were listening to, I looked over my shoulder and saw his book on the shelf called “Night Tides.” That humbling experience was the trip’s icing on the cake and my only wish was to retain the information that was shared in that shop.

After battling choked New York highways and downing multiple Red Bulls to stay awake, I arrived back in my driveway at 8 PM, rinsed my gear and passed out to dreams about Long Island’s south shore. Although the actual fishing left much to be desired, I learned more valuable information in one day than some anglers do in several months.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The $25,000 Fish

In spirit of this weekend's WICC bluefish tournament, I felt motivated to put a few words and photographs together about the fish that so many anglers love to hate. Choppers, gators, gorilla blues, yellow-eyed demons; call them what you will, but pound-for-pound bluefish fight harder than any fish in Long Island Sound. Their famous acrobatics and drag-screaming runs help make up for the damage they inflict on terminal tackle and bait supplies. They can reach weights in excess of 20-pounds and are mean sons-of-bitches when it comes to removing hooks after capture. Bluefish are fierce predators that feed past the point of being full and puke up their last meal just to eat more.

In September of 2006, friends and I capitalized on a few-week span of great fishing for giant blues. There were fish ranging from 15 to 20-pounds gorging a large school of adult bunker pinned against a sandbar night after night. It was borderline stupid. Anything you tied on the end of your line was coming back battle-scarred, if it came back at all. The largest gator I caught during that stretch ripped two of three treble hooks off my Atom 40 plug and was puking up full bunker on shore. To this day it still ranks as the largest blue I've ever landed. That memorable chapter of fishing ingrained in me a deep respect for the mighty bluefish. 

This weekend's tournament kicks off at 12:01 AM Saturday morning and will come to a close at 5 PM on Sunday. All waters within Long Island Sound are open game and the heaviest bluefish caught on a hook and line will earn one lucky angler $25,000. Let me say that again--$25K for a bluefish! The tournament was originally scheduled when Hurricane Irene hit two weeks ago, so blues have had even more time to fatten up on the cornucopia of baitfish in the Sound right now. It would be nice to see some choppers on the leader board that rival the heydays of the tournament when 18-pounders were commonplace. I have never entered this tournament mostly because I don't own a boat and there is currently no surf division. I'm told a surfcasting category was given a shot a few years ago, but not again since. Perhaps the powers-at-be will try again in the future, especially if they looking for new blood.