Anyone who fishes the Northeast from Long Island north to the Cape during the late fall has noticed the increasing number of seals in these waters over the past decade. Whether you fish the surf or boat, you may have even had an unfriendly encounter with these fish loving mammals. There are times when they have been a serious problem on the Cape, gathering in such numbers as to make landing a striper almost impossible. Their numbers continue to grow and their range continues to expand. A decade ago I never encountered seals prior to the fall but the past few years I have seen them along Long Island’s South Shore even during the height of summer.
Up until a few years ago, the only conflicts I had with seals involved their presence killing what had been a good bite of stripers. Once the seals moved in, the stripers would disappear, or at least go off their feed. Several years back, that all changed.
I was fishing Montauk’s North Bar on an October evening. Prior to sunset, bluefish were pouncing on pencil poppers, but the abundance of bait in the water and an ideal tide after sundown held promise that stripers would take the place of blues in the rip off of the bar. Octobers in Montauk had not been what they were for so many years and just two other casters shared the bar with me before sunset. Garry Moore of the High Hill Striper Club was there with one of his younger fellow club members. As the sun set, Gary was off to another commitment, leaving just the two of us working the darkened point. As full darkness set in, so too did the stripers. They weren’t big fish, ranging from 8 to 14 pounds, but they were aggressive, full of fight, and hits came as soon as your darter hit the water. After releasing my third or fourth fish, I fired off another cast and within two turns of the handle I was in. Within five or 10 seconds it became immediately obvious that something much bigger had decided to make a meal of my struggling striper. Line peeled off my Van Staal at a steady and powerful pace. Since seals had become increasingly prevalent along Montauk’s beaches I was pretty sure of the culprit. I tried applying more pressure by cupping my spool and within a minute or so, the pressure was gone. My fish was gone but my Super Strike Darter was returned, with all but the tail hook intact.
I replaced the plug rather than straightening an already weakened hook – it was easier than replacing the hook with one of the spares I kept in my surf bag. On the next cast, the hookup and powerful burst occurred almost simultaneously. The seal pounced on the fish immediately, heading down current toward False Bar with me in its wake. Again I applied pressure but this time my line came back minus any resistance. The hungry mammal had taken my fish and my plug, leaving me with a mangled Duo-loc snap at the working end.
Most people would take the hint at that point, but after re-rigging I made my way to the water again. I was more amazed that the stripers continued to linger and feed so aggressively with hungry seals sharing the rip. I convinced myself to give it one more try, laying out a shorter cast in hopes of avoiding the seals that I hoped were feeding at the deeper end of the rip. No such luck. The strike and the steal were again immediate. This time the seal dragged me in its wake as I took turns applying and reducing the pressure. Despite my efforts, I could not break the creature of its grip and eventually, 150 yards of braid had slipped through my guides – and parted. There went my fish, my plug, and 150 yards of braid. I trudged back to my truck and went to work repairing my damaged gear. I was done until I noticed Garry’s fellow club member land a fish unmolested, and then another. The seal or seals had apparently had their fill of stripers that evening, and the stripers continued to feed, none the worse for wear.