Wait for it, Wait for it, Wait for it, okay get at it!
Going into the start of striper season didn’t provide much excitement other than being a date on the calendar this past April. The bite was slow, with the season opening to mediocre schoolie action that’s normally happening a month before the season. There was a keeper here and there, and for most it was just a victory to be on the water or near its shores after a brutal winter.
Oddly enough the bluefish showed up much earlier than usual and in force. Raritan Bay was Montauk west going into the first weeks of May. While some nice sized bass were caught, the whole story was about the gorilla blues. Antsy for action after a long offseason, the yellow eyed demons delivered. After a week or two of anglers steamrolling through tackle wrecked by the toothy bluefish, the craving for stripes was on everyone’s mind.
Big pre spawn bass hugged the coastline of New Jersey and Staten Island on their way up the Hudson, and resident schoolies started to show up in the usual marshy and shallow water back bays of Long Island come the first week of May. With reduced bag limits up and down the coast coupled with a new consciousness among anglers that we’re the ones responsible for the state of the fishery, many of the big fish were released to head north into the Hudson River spawning grounds.
By mid-May Fly and light tackle fishing for small stripers became spotty with big fish and the relentless bluefish bite continued on. Acres and acres of bunker, more than most had ever seen in their fishing days continued to feed the frenzy.
My favorite fishing day of the year, The Fisherman’s Conservation Association Manhattan Cup sponsored by Regulator Marine, was set to go for May 15th. While I had gotten into wannabe cows on small plastics and curly tails on the east end of Long Island, and went through the motions on opening night aboard my favorite party boat, The Sea Queen VII out of Brooklyn, I let the reports both first and second hand fuel my anticipation to get on a big fish for the tournament. This was my third year fishing the Manhattan Cup, and my first year of really pitching in to help the organizers. I had no idea the amount of work that went into putting a tournament like this together. Definitely a labor of love, and everyone’s hustle, hard work, and patience paid off.
Top Chefs Tom Colicchio and Kerry Heffernan kicked off the tournament with the launch of the Save Our Stripers campaign during CNBC’s coverage prior to boats launching. One of the most important conservation efforts in years for Striped Bass, over 20 chefs have taken a pledge to not serve striped bass in their restaurants until the population can return to a sustainable one. http://video.cnbc.com/gallery/?video=3000379827
Shortly after FDNY’s Marine One shot her water cannons high to send off the fleet and the brave and courageous from Wounded Warrior Project and Team Red White and Blue.
Finally it was time to fish. Aboard The Katfish, we hit Captain Vinny Vetere’s usual spots with unusual results. Just about every boat dropped the hammer at the opening horn to scream to Raritan Bay hoping to get through the bluefish and into the bass. We took the water less traveled, but the late spawn made them pretty quiet. Soon enough we joined the rest of the boats and got into the same pattern repeated over and over on the radio. Enough with the bluefish!
New York City fishing is as unique and unforgiving as the city itself. Typical structure and on the run spots are attainable by most and account for some nice catches. The real trophies are rarely caught by anglers and captains without a special and guarded knowledge of certain wrecks and holes throughout the fishing grounds. Our captain had one of those spots, one “gifted” to him in the early 70’s and that to this day only a handful of captains know of.
We had worked our way through over a dozen setups that were mangled by ravenous bluefish the first three hours of fishing. With each fish that bit off just before landing, frustration grew that it could have taken the bluefish division. There were reports of a few stripers, mostly cookie cutter size.
Another blue. Bring her in, we’ll rig up another setup.
Captain Vinny was on his piece, with the right tide, that he had pulled uncountable numbers of bass over the past three decades. It was our third Manhattan Cup together, and he wanted a win. We shook at our heads at the idea that seemed like it would be a reality that a sub 20 pound fish would win this year.
Port Corner rod!
It felt heavier than the other fish, but it was hard to get excited for a fish that most likely would chew through our 50 pound leader boat side. She gave a few headshakes at first like the rest of the bluefish, then just turned into a log. In the typical frenzy once hooked, it made sense that we wouldn’t even see the fish as it had probably wrapped up in the wreck. Then the rod pumped, and pumped some more in a very stripery way. We went back and forth with just about a locked up drag.
Might be a bass.
A few minutes later after gaining some line, I saw the dorsals and came to a quick realization 20 yards of water and a perfect netting job stood between me and the top prize. She took a few dives when she saw the boat and I let her go. I wanted her in the boat, in the net, measured and released but she wasn’t giving up easy. I eventually won out over a beautiful fish. She went 48 inches and estimated 47 pounds when we measured before releasing her. We turned the radio off for the remaining hours of the tournament. It was a long three hours, and she held up as the winner.
I can’t see anything topping such a day of fishing for me, but they continue to bite, and who knows, maybe there’s a 50 swimming around that’s going to get tricked that one time.