Off To The Races: Annual Fisherman Traditions - The Fisherman

Off To The Races: Annual Fisherman Traditions

First mate Craig from Wego Bait and Tackle hoists a bluefish over the rail on the Nancy Ann IV

One thing that amazed me was the amount of life in the Race.

Every year, a group of tackle reps, manufactures, others in the industry and part of the crew from The Fisherman Magazine have the privilege of fishing a full day trip out of Orient Point on the Nancy Ann IV, captained by Rich Jensen for a slew of species that reside in the waters off this northern leg of the island. The trip this year saw some of the best and most innovative tackle from Spro, Sea Falcon and Gamakatsu with an array of different techniques applied that resulted in consistent action all day.

The Cast And Crew

I have to say, I love going on this trip every year. I was fortunate enough to get an invite on this trip several years ago before becoming the editor for the Long Island edition of The Fisherman. Funny enough, when I initially sailed this trip some years back, my current Fisherman colleagues Jim Hutchinson, managing editor of the New Jersey & Delaware Bay edition was at the rail with me in the same spot we fished on the ’23 trip along with Fisherman owner Mike Caruso.

Tackle reps Greg Nisito, Bill Scheridan, Rob Bulla and Doug Bentzel all made the trip and helped with the coordination. Goodies from Spro, Gamakatsu and Sea Falcon are always a staple and have been proven to do a number on the fish in these waters. Sid Rives, Ono and photographer Jordan made a showing from the manufacture side of these companies while Fred Haas and his son Cole from Tackle Direct, along with Paul Gluhanich of Southern Tackle also came out. We had good faith in the renowned North Fork captain Rich who knows the grounds like the back of his hand.

A Spro Power bucktail with a Fat Cow strip, sinker and 3-way swivel make up this traditional rig.

About The Race

And so we started the steam to the Race. For those of you that are unfamiliar with it, the Race is situated between Little Gull and Fishers Island east of Orient Point, The Race is a 3-mile wide and very deep channel of turbulent water, which is the primary area of tidal exchange between the waters of Long Island Sound and Block Island Sound. It shares this duty of tidal exchange with Plum Gut, another waterway further west situated between Orient Point and Plum Island.

The bottom contour in the Race is like a roller coaster in an amusement park; underwater hills with depths that vary from 17 feet on the shoals at Valiant Rock, to nearly 300 feet along the gullies. Most of the bottom and ledges consist of rocks, some the size of houses.

Keep in mind that with the massive amount of water that flows through this waterway, currents often push more than 4 or 5 knots. When conditions such as wind against the tide exist; the shoals in the Race can become quite chaotic as whitewater waves and standing chop can make for some challenging conditions, especially for smaller vessels.

Sea Falcon’s Cutlessfish Jig caught the attention of sea bass and porgies in the Race.

On The Bottom Grounds

Our first stop was somewhere within this vast body of water between Little Gull and Fishers Island. Some of us were set up with hi-lo rigs baited with clam while others opted for the use of Cutlassfish Cast Jigs from Sea Falcon and Aiya Jigs from Spro. We were on a high point of the Race so the water was about 40 feet deep, meaning we didn’t need excessive weight to get down to the bottom. We were also drifting so we had to make sure we didn’t let the jig or bait rig lay on the bottom or rocky snags would become an issue.

Let’s face it, the new 16.5-inch size regulation that went into effect this year for sea bass makes finding a ton of legal fish tough. We were still greeted by a bunch of fish just below and right at the legal size. I noticed that some of the larger fish were fond of the jig. The porgies on the other hand were all over the clam baits and more than made up for the “pick” of sea bass, with some real quality ones in the mix.

I scored well with the Cutlassfish last year and I went right back to it again this trip, doing quite well again with the sea bass and a load of nice scup. My main method was a sharp jig upwards and then letting then jig flutter back down to the bottom before repeating the process, letting out or taking in line depending on the change of water depth as we drifted. Usually the hits came on the flutter back down so maintaining some sort of contact with the jig during its descent was important. A 7-foot, medium/fast action rod with 15-pound braid helped me present the lure.

Mike Caruso went with the standard hi-lo bait rig to catch scup during the trip.

Mastering The 3-Way Rig

After loading up on plenty of scup and enough sea bass to feel content, we shifted focus to stripers and bluefish. One of the go-to methods for catching both these species in the Race is the 3-way rig. This setup works best with stout conventional gear since it requires about 10 to 12 ounces of lead. The rig itself has a sinker on the bottom, on a 2-foot leader tied to a 3-way swivel. One end of the swivel has a 3-foot section of monofilament tied off to a bucktail. On this trip, we used Spro’s Power Bucktail Jigs in white and chartreuse for their stronger hook. The bucktails were either tipped with a Fat Cow Strip or one of Spro’s Wavetail Grubs. The last portion of the 3-way swivel saw another 8-foot section of monofilament that was tied directly to the braided mainline coming off the conventional reel.

New Jersey & Delaware Bay managing editor Jim Hutchinson shows off a tanker bluefish he boated in the Race.

The method for 3-way jig fishing itself is all about the drift and coming across some fishy terrain. Pretty much, the way the captain described it was drifting “up the hill.” We’d start in over 150-feet of water and drifted up the underwater hill to about 60 feet where the rip was situated. Fish were set up well before the rip along the rocky bottom and at the rip line itself. Again, I mentioned how turbulent these waters can get and even though the day we were out there was very pleasant, the rip itself was continuous 5- to 6-footers and a smaller boat would have had major problems going through it.

Nancy Ann IV
Capt. Rich Jensen
(631) 477-2337 

Fishy Business
Capt. Phil Kess
(516) 316-6967

Peconic Star
Capt. Speedy
(516) 551-4548

When fishing this way you’re limited to fishing off one side of the boat to avoid excessive tangles in deeper waters with the scope of the line. We took turns at the rail on every drift. So six of us at a time lined up and dropped the rigs down to the bottom. Once we made bottom contact, four cranks were taken to just hover the sinker off the rocky terrain. With this technique, anytime you felt the sinker bump the “bottom” again you sharply swing the rod like you were setting the hook on a fish. And it could very well be one! The bump would either be the sinker tapping the bottom or a fish hitting the jig. If it were a fish you’d be notified quickly when your rod doubled over! If not, it would just be bottom and another four cranks were required to keep the rig swimming safely above the bottom. This process was repeated as needed until we crossed the rip, then we’d reel up and motor back up-tide for another drift. Dragging the rig along the bottom would result in an immediate hang-up so paying attention was certainly key.

Blues, Bass & Blitzes

Bluefish dominated the scene as they have all over the island for the ’23 season so far. I’m not talking about small blues either. Some of these fish were in the mid-teens and angry. The kind that never stop pulling from the time you hook them until they hit the deck. We did have our share of stripers of all sizes as well but the competitive bluefish certainly made it tougher for bass to get a good look at the jigs.

At one point some sizable blitzes erupted around us with large blues busting all over. I ended up dropping down a Spro Shimmy Flat jig and immediately got tight on one of these huge blues. If I was fishing a private boat I could have certainly positioned the boat on top of the fish and worked topwater or even a fly rod with success.

The fishfinder shows distinct bluefish marks on the “hill” at the race.

One thing that amazed me was the amount of life in the Race. All the fish were spitting up loads of sand eels and I even ended up hooking a squid on one of my jigs which just shows they were also in the Race.

So many different bodies of water converge here in this one general area. Its huge underwater landscape has so many twists and turns, drawing massive amounts of sea life and in turn anglers looking to pursue all the different species of fish it has to offer. Fishing it is no joke either. It can be dangerous and if you have minimal experience, leave it to the knowledgeable captains of the North Fork to get you out on the action. Know that if you head to the Race, the possibilities are endless and you could stay busy fishing this huge aquarium for decades.



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