North Fork charter captains: striped bass fishing ‘very, very good’ this season

Earlier this month, Westhampton Beach resident Doug O’Neill and his family took a fishing charter out of Greenport that began with a trip to Plum Gut for striped bass.

“There were 40 or more boats in the area,” he said of the popular fishing spot east of Orient Point and north of Plum Island. “We were hitting like crazy. It was amazing. We were just nailing them.”

His son Tucker — celebrating his 13th birthday — couldn’t believe the conditions on his first trip to Plum Gut.

He said a crew member “was demonstrating how to jig this certain rig — a three-way rig — that we were using, and he caught a striper while he was demonstrating. He just set the hook, and he had one.”

His older brother, Trip, 15, got in on the action too.

“He barely goes fishing — he goes fishing if he’s forced to — and he got a really nice one,” Tucker said. “There were so many stripers down there and they were so aggressive that even he snagged one.”

Mr. O’Neill said the family went home and “had striper three nights in a row on the grill and it was delicious.”

As the summer fishing season gets into full swing, the Riverhead News-Review checked in with some of the North Fork’s top fishing charter captains for a look at the season ahead and the various options to charter a fishing boat this summer. 

“Striped bass fishing has been very, very good this year,” said Dan Buckley, co-captain the 55-foot Orient Star V, the North Fork’s largest charter boat, based out of Duryea’s Orient Point.

Spring brings striped bass, fluke, flounder and porgy season, while bluefish can be caught year-round. Sea bass season begins in late June, and the North Fork is famous for its blackfish in the fall.“We start fishing in early May and … end up right around Thanksgiving,” he said.

Captain Sloan Gurney, whose Black Rock fishing charters sail out of Orient Point, said he runs about a dozen half-day and full-day charters a week, and his charters are popular with families.

“Typically a four-hour trip is great for a family,” he said, “because we catch a lot of fish and everybody’s excited and doesn’t need to spend whole day on the water — unless they want to!”

In addition to return customers he’s been fishing with for decades, Black Rock charters has hosted a few Hollywood stars and even some New York Jets players, according to Mr. Gurney.

“Unfortunately we don’t get baseball players because it’s in the middle of their season,” he said.

Black Rock charters primarily fish at Plum Gut, where Mr. Gurney said you can find “some of the best striped bass fishing on the East Coast, maybe anywhere.”

Richard Jensen, captain of the Nancy Ann IV of Duryea’s Orient Point, said he runs mid-sized fishing charters with an average of about 10 people and caters to longtime fishermen.

“Ninety-nine percent of my customers are all avid fishermen, or they bring people that want to catch fish. I probably have six or seven different fishing clubs that fish me once a month.”

The Nancy Ann IV goes wherever the fish are, Mr. Jensen said.

“We can go across the Sound toward Connecticut. We can go up the bay towards Peconic Bay. We can go east towards Montauk or south towards East Hampton,” he said. “We have a tremendously big area, and we fish it all.”

At 34, Derek Grattan, captain of Gratitude Charters, is one of the younger local fishing charter captains. But he’s been fishing since he was 6 and got his captain’s license at the age of 20, “and basically, I’ve been running boats ever since.”

As a kid, he said, “I might have had some attitude problems. So people would say, ‘you’ve got attitude problems,’ and I would say [in a nod to his last name], ‘No. I’ve got gratitude.’ ”

Gratitude Charters sails out of Albertson Marina in Southold and can take up to six passengers.

Perhaps the most laid-back fishing charter on the North Fork is the Challenger, captained by Vinnie Claps, who sails out of Gull Pond in Greenport. Mr. Claps said that he “used to pick people up at the parking lot, but now they just come right to my house [on Snug Harbor Road] and we leave from there.”

Mr. Claps said he caters to families and doesn’t limit himself to fishing trips.         

“My boat is really comfortable, and I don’t mind taking two or three people out, and I can do a short trip just for people that want to just try fishing out in the bay. So it’s not like a long scheme. I’m not running them to Montauk. I’m just keeping them right here. … I do all kinds of different things — not just the traditional just fishing charters. You can basically do what you want.”

His repeat customers are his favorites. His typical trip?

“A mother, father and a kid, and I see them growing up,” he said.

“I don’t mind beginner fishermen. I’m very patient. I’m patient with the people, so I’ll teach them, and I don’t yell at them if they do something wrong.”

The Orient Star V can carry up to 49 people, Mr. Buckley said, “but we usually limit it to 35 to 40.”

He said his charter service hosts a lot of large groups, whether it be firefighters, fishing clubs, church groups, landscapers and construction workers or bachelor and bachelorette parties. He said the boat is not strictly for fishing charters.

“Sometimes we’ll do a lighthouse cruise or a fireworks cruise or something like that.

“We provide rods, reels, bait, tackle — all that’s included in the cost of the trip,” he said. “And the mates that we have on the boat will take care of them, really all day long, whether it’s cleaning the fish for the [inexperienced anglers], cutting the bait for them and, at times, baiting the hooks for them. They show them the techniques that are used for best catching the fish. And if they get a nice fish on the line, we’ll net the fish for them, so they can land it. We take pictures of them with the fish — really whatever they need.”

Nautic Lady Fishing captain Joe Paradiso, who offers four-, six- or eight-hour fishing charters out of Safe Harbor Stirling Marina in Greenport, said charter boats like his clean the fish for clients as well.

“It’s filleted and packaged up and put on ice and then the customers take it home at the end of the day.”