There is lots of talk these days about how good the fishing used to be compared to now but are things really as bad as some folks make it out to be? We can certainly make a case for what the flounder fishing was like 30 years ago and we could go back further than that if you choose. These days it is almost non-existent by comparison in most areas and has left a major void in the spring fishing season.
Where fluke are concerned, the biggest complaint is the lack of keepers, and that should come as no surprise given the current 19-inch size limit. Most of us remember fishing under a 14-inch size limit years ago, but I also remember plenty of days when you were happy to catch three or four keepers barely over 14 inches. Compare that to now. Numerous reports of catches ranging anywhere from 15 to 40 fluke – shorts yes – but most of those fish range from 15 to 17 or 18 inches. While it might do you no good when it comes to putting food on the table, it does make for a heck of a good day of fluke fishing, especially on light tackle. If you do get a keeper or two, or three, you’ve got some serious fillets to take home. These days, I can’t even imagine filleting a 14-inch fluke.
Let’s talk striped bass. Remember the 16-inch size limit? Hard to believe we actually kept 16-inch fish back then. Even though ASMFC has determined the stocks are not healthy, has there ever been a better time to catch the striped bass of your dreams? Along the South Shore it has been Mojos and bunker spoons to the west and live bunker in the bunker pods to the east, and let’s not forget the summer moons in Montauk. Catching a 50-pound striper used to be a mark held in high esteem. These days, 50-pound fish hardly raise an eyebrow and let’s be honest. When it comes to snagging and dropping in the bunker schools, anyone, and I mean anyone, can catch a trophy striper of 40 pounds or more. As good as the boat fishing for big bass has been, surf fishermen in our area have a legitimate right to complain as big bass have become almost a rarity compared to what it used to be. On the other hand, for those willing to put down the big rod and turn to light tackle, do you remember ever having so many bass in the 18 to 26-inch range in the surf? I love targeting big bass as much as anyone, but I’ve been having a ball with the small fish on light tackle the past few seasons.
How about the weakfish in Jamaica, Great South, Peconic and Noyack bays this season? Kirk Fay of fishgaak.com has been on the weaks in Great South Bay since mid-May, and has seen more than a few days that resembled the glory days of the 70s with catches of 50-plus fish, and hooked fish having five or six fish following them to the boat. Sound familiar? Okay – there is a one fish bag limit, but that shouldn’t take away from the fun of catching these great sport fish that give a good account of themselves on light tackle and aggressively strike a wide assortment of artificial lures, not to mention their colorful good looks.
Now, we’ve admittedly lost the flounder fishery at this point, but have we ever seen as many sea bass and porgies in our waters? The answer is simple – absolutely not! And the best part about these two species is they have been available around every part of the Island, and in sizes that sometimes boggle the mind. A 3-pound sea bass used to be something to talk about. Now there are times during the season when some anglers are having days when all of their fish fall into the 3 to 5-pound range. Even better is that the old sinker, hook and a piece of clam way of catching these fish has given way to delivering jig heads tipped with Gulp or bait on light tackle. Is there a better or more fun way to catch these fish? I don’t think so.
The numbers and size of porgies, and their availability around the Island, including along the shoreline, is nothing like I remember during my lifetime. They feature generous limits which are commonplace on many party and charter boats, and surf fishermen are now targeting them in many areas around the Island. Let’s all stop complaining and take advantage of some of the great fishing available to us these days. The fun is in the fishing and catching. We don’t need to bring a bucket of fish home to make it worthwhile. There are plenty of other benefits to a day on the water, catching some fish, and spending time with friends and family.