As the 2019 fishing season winds down, it’s time to reflect on some of the highs and lows that the fish gods delivered over the course of the year. While I admit I tend to look at the glass half full, I’d say the good easily outweighed the bad with most of our fisheries.
The season got off on a bad note in that we lacked any semblance of a winter cod run. The hoped for Block Island fishery never got off the ground and fishing effort was next to nothing as a result. The fishing was so poor that the Viking Fleet canceled its winter sailing schedule at the beginning of February, while a few South Shore party boats managed to just pick away at the cod.
Herring fishing was generally disappointing with the exception of a few scattered areas. There a few good innings scattered through the winter at places like the Coney Island Pier and Magnolia Pier but poor fishing days easily outnumbered the good ones. To the east, piers at Jones Beach and Captree were pretty much void of herring throughout the winter. On the other side of the coin, ling were a reliable and often abundant target as winter morphed into spring, with bucket filling catches the norm from Captree to Sheepshead Bay.
Spring brought some positive vibes to the fishing scene. The Peconic Bay porgy run was a sure bet throughout the first month of the season, with big fish dominating the early part of the run. There was the usual mix of bluefish, weakfish and some pre-season sea bass that had to be released, but the fluke fishing that this area has been known for was overall, disappointing. There were some quality flatties, and a few decent catches reported here and there, but most anglers accustomed to the good fishing of past years went home disappointed.
One more downer that continued through most of the season was the lack of bluefish in many areas around the Island. As summer progressed, and even into early fall, what action there was in places like Long Island Sound and much of the South Shore was relegated to cocktails. Throughout most of the season, the word cocktails was synonymous with bluefish reports. There were a few instances of big blues showing up in places like the Race, Plum Gut, Montauk and Block Island, but those were the exceptions. The disturbing trend of no bluefish to speak of in the fall, especially in the surf, continued this year. Now, before you start getting depressed, let’s talk about some of the good things that occurred in 2019.
For offshore anglers, the bluefin bite was one of the best in years, mahi were super abundant and there for the taking if you found some floating debris, and especially if you had live bait like peanut bunker in your baitwell. Not to be forgotten was the phenomenal late season swordfish bite. Capt. Tony Gatto will review the offshore scene in detail in the January issue.
Inshore, weakfish swarmed into Great South Bay and adjacent areas in numbers not seen since the great runs of the 1970s. For those who focused on the yellowfins during the summer months, catches of 50 or more per boat were commonplace. Like the 70s, there were times when a half dozen weaks would follow hooked fish to the boat. Many anglers are anxiously awaiting their return and hoping for a traditional spring run. Fluke fishing got off to a quick start in May along the South Shore but quickly fizzled, and the Sound fishery remained pretty much disappointing throughout the season. As the summer progressed, there seemed to be a lot less complaining about a lack of keepers than in past years, and by late summer was some good action being reported in the bays. Montauk was again the place for doormats, with many quality fluke coming to net in August and September.
Despite all of the negativity about the state of striped bass, particularly the lack of big females, the good news has been the massive amount of small bass from 18 to 27 inches currently in the fishery. In November, huge schools of these small fish blanketed Montauk rips, while other schools extended down the length of the South Shore. If fishery managers do the right thing and protect these small fish, we could see a return to the banner striped bass action of the 90s and early 2000s.
Two final highlights – can the sea bass fishing get any better, and this fall’s blackfishing has been the best in years from all corners of the Island. Overall, I’d call it a pretty damn good season.