07/14/12 3:00am

Capt. Dave Brennan on the Peconic Star out of Greenport was enthusiastic about the scup fishing this month. Usually you wait for August for the better fishing with fish difficult to find in July. Not this year, though fish are in somewhat different spots. Some of the jumbos are spectacular, 18 to 19 inches! There are plenty of bluefish around, but blues are not yet a nuisance.

Liz Caraftis at Charlie’s Mattituck Marina on Mattituck Creek said there were plenty of scup in mixed sizes everywhere from the Northville Pipeline to Hortons Point. The biggest fish, jumbos to 15 and 16 inches, can be found in 40 to 45 feet of water. Bass fishing off Hortons continues to be quite good on chunks and live eels, even during daylight hours. Fish over 40 inches, including one 45-pounder, were reported. Summer flounder are all shorts. Hortons Point also has its share of large bluefish.

Linda Czech at Jamesport Bait and Tackle in Mattituck told us beaches were quiet. Excellent striped bass fishing still continues by night in Plum Gut and Fishers Island Race while a new wave of smaller summer flounder seems to have moved into the area around Gardiners Island. Stan Hentschel at the Rocky Point Fishing Stop also spoke of good fluke numbers but sub-legal fish. The overall porgy fishing close to the beaches and in boats impressed him. Snappers in four-inch sizes are showing along Long Island Sound, and blues from cocktails to slammers are also in the area. If you find them, keeper stripers are in up to 70-foot depths now.

Our final report came from Captain Marty’s Fishing Station in New Suffolk where porgies and weakfish are principal attractions. Scup are west of Robins Island while the weaks, fish to 24 inches, are taken on high-low rigs off Roses Grove. Porgy sizes have declined somewhat in recent days, and short fluke have pushed into the area near Jessups Neck. Cocktail bluefish can be found in both the North and South Race around Robins Island and off Jessups. In the latter zone, anglers should try diamond jigs to four ounces.

07/12/12 3:00am

The Fourth of July week looked awfully good for fishing, all the way from the Peconic Bays to Fishers. At Captain Marty’s Fishing Station in New Suffolk there were lots of scup, fish to 16 inches, around Robins Island. Blowfish and kingfish (northern whiting) were in the mix as well. Most bluefish are still in the Jessups Neck area with some cocktails in the North and South Race. Weakfish to 22 inches are consistently taken by porgy anglers using clams (for scup) or bucktails. Suggestion: Try Roses Grove or Buoy 22.

Nighttime bass fishing during the period around the Fourth of July impressed Bob Haase at Orient by the Sea Marina. Ramp traffic has picked up thanks to scup action, and specialists return daily with catches of bluefish anywhere from three pounds to slammer sizes. Steven at WeGo Fishing on the Main Road in Southold advises serious scup anglers to chum rather than pick fish on the drift. Rocky Point and Trumans Beach areas are excellent as well as Plum Island and slack water in the Gut. He described the night bite of striped bass as an “ebb, not flood” situation. Gardiners Island has the steadiest fluke fishing for specialists working Eastern Plains Point, not the Ruins, with a recent 9.65-pounder weighed at the shop.

On a busy Tuesday, Bill Czech at Jamesport Bait and Tackle Shop in Mattituck told us that scup were everywhere in the Mattituck-Southold area, with favorite spots from Mattituck Inlet back to the Pipeline. The best fish still approach 16 inches. In the Peconic Bays, Czech likes Buoy 22 for porgies, and advises anglers who pursue summer weakfish to try little tins or bucktails. Except for a few larger fluke near Bug Light, keeper summer flounder are hard to find in the Peconics, with smaller fish making up all but a few percent of the catch. Long Island Sound beaches are relatively quiet save for cocktail blues.

Stan Hentschel at the Rocky Point Fishing Stop figures that most keeper fluke in the western area have dispersed with shorts now dominant. Bluefish are sporadic, and boat fishing is best now for both blues and stripers with larger bass in 70-foot depths. A two-day shot of weakfish, four to six pounds, and the sight of scup anglers catching kingfish and blowfish made the week interesting. Triggerfish are already numerous off the South Shore.

06/28/12 2:00am

When I felt the bump of the horse trailer on the curb as I drove through the turnpike toll, I had a bad feeling. Minutes later on the Massachusetts Pike, a glance in the rear-view mirror of the haul vehicle confirmed my fears; the tire on the trailer just didn’t seem to be running right. When a car passed alongside and its driver frantically gestured towards the trailer, I knew it was time to pull over and change the tire. Fortunately, we had all the tools necessary; even more fortunately, we had a spare tire bolted to the front of the trailer.

No motorist in his or her right mind would think of taking a long trip without such a “spare” tire assembly. Yet, it’s amusing how many outdoors persons travel without preparing for such contingencies. It’s so easy to stumble over gear and fall on a fishing rod, crushing it, or catch a long wand in a closing door as you step across the doorstep into camp. Fly rodders are notorious for leaving tackle assembled while proceeding through tricky entrances or into rear compartments of autos. Anglers set up a reel with shock leader or tippets ever so carefully, but often fail to check reel screws, bails or nuts that hold reel handles in place.

Sometimes we’re able to make emergency repairs. An older generation of bamboo rods always came with spare tips, for example. I’ve made repairs on guides when wraps came undone by finding a handy roll of duct tape and taking a turn or two around the foot of a loose guide. On one Canadian trip I got really lucky and snapped a fallen guide ring back into place, then used a drop of instant glue to make it more secure. If I catch a loose screw or two on a reel plate or notice a loose nut on a bail or handle, a small screwdriver from my kit or a pair of pliers comes to my rescue.

The worst “uh-oh” moments come when repairs in the field are impossible. Where’s the technician who can replace a bail spring on the spot? Who can load up a spool of line while standing hip deep in the surf? Who can take apart a delicate reel after it has fallen into the bilge and filled with fine sand? That’s where your replacement comes in.

Just as you wouldn’t think of fishing with one lure and one leader, you shouldn’t think of proceeding without a spare outfit, or at least a spare reel. If storage is no problem on a big boat, we usually stash a spare outfit in a safe corner of the cabin or tie it to the rail where a spot is empty. We also put a spare reel into our daypack, just in case one of our winches malfunctions.

On a bottom fishing trip, the spare outfit is handy when we lose a rig and want to jump right back into the action during a “bite.” Re-rigging can take place during a lull in the action. On a drift fishing trip years ago in the Florida Keys, I had an outsized mahi burn up a bail roller and render a spinning outfit unfit for casting. I spent the rest of the afternoon with a 12-pound class drift rig, set up with a tandem-hooked ballyhoo, and saved the trip with my very first sailfish.

It’s a tough call when you have to go with only one rod, as one does so often working a stream of wading from the beach. Unless you want to carry the spare rod all day, you probably leave it back in the truck or back in the tent, but you at least should stash a second reel in a pocket or wading vest. Fly fishers sometimes carry spare spools to change lines, which is so much easier. I’ve seen a few anglers manage to carry spare two- or three-piece rods by taping them together or using a Velcro strap fastened to their person. Still this can get pretty clumsy as you plod miles along the gravel or walk a forest path. It’s tempting to put them down above the high tide line or off the trail as you proceed, but hours later you had better remember exactly where you stashed the spares!

One trout specialist I fished with in the wilds of Quebec got around this problem by building a short fly rod with somewhat larger guides and a reel seat just above the butt. He could, in a pinch, slip a small spinning reel onto the back of the rod and toss tiny lures when he wasn’t fly-fishing. Such spinning-fly combinations were offered by specialty catalogs at one time long ago, and they were deadly on tiny streams where backcasts were out of the question.

Being prepared is like being flexible. It certainly doesn’t hurt.

06/18/12 3:00am

Local writer Tom Schlichter figures that the best bets on the North Fork are open boat fluke aboard the Captain Bob out of Mattituck Inlet or the bass off Orient for myriad party and charter boats. Shoreline fishing on Long Island Sound is pretty quiet, although scup action is everywhere.

Capt. Dave Brennan, who skippers the Peconic Star and the Peconic Star Express out of Greenport expected to be shifting to porgies at the time of this writing. In the last days of his fluke excursions, he was regularly seeing fish over nine pounds. Post-spawn weakfish also showed up recently, fish in the four-to-eight-pound class, a very good sign for the future.

Charlie Caraftis at Charlie’s Mattituck Marina on Mattituck Creek is coming off a terrific scup run with many fish in the 17-inch class over the weekend. There were not a lot of keeper summer flounder in the near inshore, but one porgy angler had a 25-inch fluke over the weekend. Around mid-May, Caraftis was surprised by the number of four-to-five-pound weaks in his catches. Small bluefish are also quite abundant. Beach stripers are quiet now, but boats fishing Hortons are producing some bass day and night. Back west, the Caraftis Fishing Station in Port Jefferson had lots of sub-legal fluke and schoolie stripers on tap off Buoy 11, working on sand eels.

Bill Czech at Jamesport Bait and Tackle in Mattituck detailed catches of the largest jumbo scup we had heard about in recent times. Fish of 20, 21-1/2, and 24 inches were measured at the shop. Finally, Stan Hentschel at the Rocky Point Fishing Stop liked the local porgy action and was impressed by the blowfish (puffers) along the beaches. Fluke tend to be short, smaller than those taken farther east. Bass were not plentiful with occasional keepers and better fish outside the shoal areas. South shore beaches were also quiet, with bass schools working on bunker in 50 feet of water, although Montauk appears to have a reasonable run,

06/12/12 3:00am

An East End charter skipper once told me he couldn’t wait to get back to Florida for winter action on snook and tarpon. This confession came on a late November day when we were pursuing tautog and the tides were rather strong, causing one-pound sinkers to bounce merrily away in 70-foot depths. The thought of catching fish averaging four times the weight of the sinkers doesn’t appeal to anyone who regularly fishes tropical seas where currents are often non-existent.

But, if you are a pilgrim in our area, you have to learn how to fish northeast waters where “5-to-1” or “10-to-1” ratios of fish weight to line strength are impractical, and techniques are different from those used in other coastal areas. There are three good ways to learn these techniques first hand, once you’ve been properly outfitted. You can share a charter, sail aboard a party boat, or, in a few places, rent a skiff and motor. I’ve deliberately left out the surf game here; although beach techniques are relatively easy to learn, the game is daunting because of its feast-or-famine aspects and because of the difficulty getting access to the beaches when you want to fish them. I’ll have more on this in a later article.

A “newbie” should spend a few days scouting the docks and tackle shops, observing and asking questions. What boats are recommended? What do the catches look like? What does the tackle look like? No matter how well you think you’re set up, there are always new rigs to learn, new baits to bring, and new techniques to apply, good reasons for our first preference, a shared charter.

A good charter boat has a patient skipper plus an attentive crew, and provides a running tutorial during at least four hours of fishing, maybe twice that. Almost always, there are well-rigged, well-maintained outfits on hand; even if you’ve brought your own, it’s not a bad idea to try fishing with the boat’s tackle. Just make sure you check reel drags, hooks, and, above all, knots. If drags have no “give” (generally, they are set at one-third line or knot strength for strong running predators like bass and blues, a bit higher for powerful bottom-hugging bulldogs like tautog or fluke; for delicate-mouthed scup and small hooks, drags should be on the light side), if hooks seem dull, if lines look frayed — ask the mate courteously about the outfit or get another.

Pay strict attention to instructions about hooking fish, avoiding hangups, and manipulating baits. Dropping a live eel into the maw of a striper or discerning the difference between the bounce of a sinker and a strike in a strong current won’t be easy for you. You’ll lose rigs and drop fish while you learn. Again, the best skippers are either very patient or they have diplomatic crews to smooth hurt feelings!

Party boats serve beautifully once you’ve got the essentials or if you’re able to handle your own errors in public. Again, there should be a patient skipper and an attentive crew, but now you’re at a buffet, not a private table, so you’re serving yourself! You should learn the rigs and baits of the day ahead of the trip or at least during the boat ride to the grounds, but then, once the action gets going, you had better be able to tie and rig after any breakoffs. If you can find a kind, honest “regular,” ask questions, lots of questions, and pay attention to the railbirds who have figured out what techniques and rigs are paying off on that particular trip. If you stumble into something that works, share it and be modest about success. Many a pool-winning fluke has been decked by a grade-school kid who paid no attention to his or her rod or by an old gaffer who had too much beer with lunch and went to sleep with a rod fastened to the rail.

Sadly, liveries or boat rental stations, our final choices for the pilgrim, are disappearing rapidly. Still, places like Captain Marty’s in New Suffolk, the Caraftis Fishing Station in Port Jefferson, or Silly Lily in East Moriches can provide an inshore experience like no other. They will help you set up rigs and baits for the day and give you instructions on where to find the fish out in that incredible expanse of water; however, once you leave the dock behind, you and your companions are on your own. Nevertheless, if you want to really learn the secrets of anchoring on a good spot or drifting a productive area at the right speed, nothing beats fishing in “your own” rental craft. And if you have a few fish to show for your efforts at the end of the day, you know you did it yourself.

Learning how to fish a new way never grows old.

06/12/12 2:00am

Capt. George Grosselfinger, who runs the Second Chance charter out of Orient by the Sea, called to say that boats are doing very, very well on nice stripers to 40 pounds, especially at night. Grosselfinger expressed disappointment with the early-season beaches for bass, but there was simply no bait on the beach in April, although the boats did well.

Capt. Rich Jensen, getting ready for a night bass trip on the Nancy Ann in Orient, had an excellent day on a scup trip. He told us that bassing is a little better than last year; it’s a good sign that there are lots of smaller fish around, too. The second run of fluke seems to have arrived off Gardiners Island with many keepers in the 21-22-inch range and pools over six pounds. Jensen wonders if the first run actually went through before the season opened.

Steven at WeGo Fishing on the Main Road in Southold felt that the Long Island Sound bite on fluke was also good now. For scup, the best Sound action was off Rocky Point, East Marion. Beach fishing is best along South Shore beaches while the Race and Plum Gut are tops for boaters pursuing bass. Steven has weighed three linesiders around 38 pounds at the shop in recent days. Jessups Neck is loaded with small “cocktail” blues to three pounds.

Phil Loria at Captain Marty’s Fishing Station in New Suffolk is seeing abundant porgies, but the sizes have dropped considerably in the last weeks. The best scup posted this season was an 18 1/2-inch silver platter. One bright spot was a showing of weakfish in the 22-23-inch class west of Robins Island. Fluke are plentiful, but all are sub-legal, 18-19-inch fish.

Stan Hentschel at the Rocky Point Fishing Stop was happy now that Shoreham has opened its beaches to fishing although the $25 fee for entry is steeper than expected. There was excellent fishing in the area, with some bass to 30 pounds and good fluke fishing. The Captain Bob, sailing from Mattituck Inlet, reported summer flounder to eight pounds, and scup to three and a half pounds have graced the shop scales in recent weeks as well.

06/07/12 1:00am

Nothing beats an outdoor dinner when the weather turns “summery” as it did over the Memorial Day weekend. We were sitting down for “happy hour” after a day of running our dogs down East near Freyburg, Maine, last Saturday and having a wonderful time — until the local deer ticks showed up at the party. First, someone picked a couple off his neck; then another tick showed up on a sleeve. Next, a crawler got peeled from a bare arm. Now the inspection of pant legs began in earnest. Suddenly the scene resembled an assemblage of monkeys and apes picking parasites off one another in an African documentary!

Thanks to a mild winter with very few days of freezing temperatures along the seaboard, Ixodes ticks are out in force this spring in fields and woods. They are, as always, particularly abundant wherever one finds deer, rodents, sandy soils and pine barrens, places like coastal Connecticut, Cape Cod and, of course, our very own Long Island. But we’ve found them plentiful inland, too, in the Catskills or the Black Forest area of central Pennsylvania.

Fortunately, you do not have to be an expert in the diagnosis of the half dozen or so tick-related diseases to know that preventive measures are quite helpful. As we’ve pointed out many times in previous pieces, you begin with insect spray or liquid on the skin (legs, forearms, neck) and clothing and wear the kind of clothing that makes ticks (the adults, at least) easy to spot in the first place. Rolling pants legs into your socks probably keeps the downstairs ticks from accessing your lower body, but we’ve never figured out where the upstairs ticks come from. How the heck can they get into the sweatband of a ball cap?

Our rule for outdoor clothing worn in marshes, forests and fields is simple — one and done. Once worn, the day’s attire goes into the washer, making for lots of laundry but lots of drowned ticks, too. As for pets, they are better protected than we are, thanks to annual vaccines and regular applications of systemic tick killers; we spray dogs lightly with repellents after days in the field and comb them out, minimizing the ticks that drop off in the house.

If you’re fortunate, you feel a tick moving on your skin during the day or two before it settles in for a bite, or you see it, looking like a tiny, dark, out-of-place scab. Then you kill and discard it. Three weeks ago, a day after we returned from a trip to Falmouth on Cape Cod where we had judged a trial in a wildlife area, I plucked a tick off my forearm. It wasn’t embedded, but it had been working with its enzymes, dissolving tissue before biting, and leaving a quarter-inch red spot surrounded by a pink area. So potent are the chemicals, I can still see the faint mark of the “burn” 13 days later.

When you’ve been bitten, the signs are sometimes unmistakable, sometimes not. The characteristic “spreading bull’s-eye” doesn’t occur in every case, and you may not see a tick embedded in your scalp or a hidden body part, especially if the insect is a sub-adult nymph or larva. And the onset of generic “Lyme disease” (e.g. true Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, etc.) weeks or months after the bite, shows up as aches, fatigue, weakness, or “summer flu-like” symptoms, mimicking many common ailments.

Forty years ago when tick-related diseases were first diagnosed in large numbers on Long Island and elsewhere, physicians would search diligently for medical proof of a tick bite. A few still do, insisting on thorough blood work and a “positive test.” Because the spirochete remains hidden in the system, one can contract “Lyme” without a timely positive test. You occasionally hear of folks who suffer for a year or more with consistently negative tests; this creates a dangerous situation, because “Lyme” never goes away, and can result in permanent nerve or heart damage as symptoms return in a cyclical fashion. Most wise physicians opt for symptom-based treatment with antibiotics like amoxicillin or doxycyclene and take the curative effects of the treatment as proof that patients were infected.

With thousands of these cases every year, bites from infected ticks are part and parcel of the outdoors on the North Fork and just about everywhere else in the mid-Atlantic region. If you tend a garden, hike, bicycle, go afield with your pets, or even “fire up the barbecue” in the back yard on weekends, watch for ticks and go at once for treatment if you see any sign of a bite from an embedded Ixodes tick. With outdoors persons, it’s not a question of “if” we’ll be bitten. It’s only “when.”

You cannot let these arachnids keep you from enjoying the North Fork outdoors, however. Fortunately, vigilance is simple, and treatment is simple, too!

05/13/12 3:00am

With the demise of the winter flounder fishery now in its second decade, anglers have pretty much come to terms with the loss of our once reliable treat for the springtime table. Fortunately for those who grew up fishing freshwater, substitutes are readily available — the ubiquitous “pan fish” found in ponds and lakes all over Long Island.

Just like flounder, freshwater pan fish exhibit schooling behavior; catch one and there are probably a dozen lurking nearby. Also, these little fellows are best taken on light tackle, and, finally, they are great table fish.

I grew up on a lake some 60 miles from Manhattan that once had a population of bluegill sunfish so robust it would have brought tears of joy to any of the Good Ol’ Boys who loved their “brim” so much in Dixie. Almost any time of year, you could locate these sunfish hanging around the shallows where they would eagerly take anything resembling an insect or tiny minnow. The groups of big bluegills from eight to 10 inches in size were so easy to find in the spring that we would invite guests over and wait until they arrived to start fishing the great big fish tank off our dock. In very short order, we had enough fish for a “fry.”

Early this month, a cousin who had lived through those days with me and was now an expert on rainbows and browns, came through on a visit and wanted to revisit that lake. We called my brother, who still lives in the old family house, and got together on a miserable, showery afternoon with an east wind and more rain in the forecast. To make more space in the aluminum skiff, we jettisoned battery and trolling motor, opting for oars and a small mushroom anchor instead. As expected, fishing was picky. When we couldn’t locate any chain pickerel to fool with (we try to avoid the spawning bass), we dropped back to light fly rods for the pan fish — first a nice rock bass (“redeye”), then a couple of seven-inch bluegills. When the wind sent us drifting into a big sheltered cove, we considered moving out to a couple of brush piles in front of the cove that were home base to schools of black crappie later in the season.

Suddenly, cousin Steve hooked a large but sluggish fish, not a bass, not a spunky bluegill, and I dropped another at the same time. When he coaxed his fish to the boat, I grabbed the net — and we had our first crappie. With large but soft mouths, crappie are the one pan fish you don’t swing aboard, especially when you’re fishing streamers in sizes 10 and 12. The next half-hour was classic, just like a flounder run, and we caught dinner in short order. These crappie, 12 to 14 inches in size (we’ve caught them to nearly 18, in fact), were apparently well off the brush piles and probably spawning or feeding on fry in a few feet of water.

To best enjoy the art of pan fishing, you fish light with tippets less than six pounds and two- to four-weight fly rods. Nothing fancy here; sink-tip or floating lines work just fine. Besides midget streamers, wet flies will work, and so will dry flies or tiny popping bugs later in the summer. For non-fly rodders, spinning tackle — ultralight with lines testing two to four pounds — works equally well. Just remember to keep the lures tiny. Spinners, jigs and the smallest wobblers you can find will catch all pan fish species. Usually freshwater pan fish are so abundant (in fact, they can outcompete a bass population unless there are top predators like pikes around) they can be enjoyed on the table without concern for “overfishing.”

Besides the pan fish species mentioned above, there are myriad species in all eastern waters. In the course of a fishing career, we’ve caught both white and yellow perch on the North Fork when they were abundant in Marratooka, and one of the largest white perch I ever saw, a two-and-a-half pounder, took a full-sized Rapala on Laurel Lake. Remember that pan fish species are cyclical, and a lake may change over the years with one species replacing another. The niche once occupied by bluegill in the lake I described above appears now to be occupied by black crappie and bass.

As table fare, pan fish are (again, like flounder) superb. For best results, you can fillet the larger fish, the ones well over 10 inches, but you might want to simply remove head and tail and eviscerate the smaller ones. Unless you like the stronger taste of the skin (scaled, of course), you’ll want to skin your catch before frying, baking or broiling. When you put some fresh pan fish on your table with a good Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, you might just for the moment forget those winter flounder.