One glance at the calendar will tell you summer has arrived, and the next month will be an active one on the water as people take time off to get away from the grind and hopefully catch a few fish. This time of year, the list of what might be in the cooler at the end of the day is a long one.
How about a trip for porgies, or “scup,” as they are called in New England? They bite readily, don’t require fancy tackle and provide action galore to keep any small anglers aboard with limited attention spans interested in the day’s events.
Some frozen squid cut into tiny pieces put on a two-hook rig, both sold in tackle shops, will do nicely. If you have light tackle aboard, break it out for even more fun dropping on near-shore rocky humps and ledges; the current hot spot often given freely at the same tackle shop where you bought your bait and rigs.
If, however, you hit a bad time — the rare days the porgies don’t bite — pull up anchor and take the party elsewhere, or pull the plug on the day. Nothing turns kids off to fishing more than boredom.
Blues also bite readily this time of year, and can be caught trolling with umbrella rigs and wire line; dropping a diamond jig uptide of a tidal rip like The Race; or just sitting off a rocky point in Long Island Sound, a chunk of frozen bunker sitting on the bottom.
The gleaming photos of striped bass are always prized around the water cooler or online sites. Catching a large bass your first time out of the gate isn’t impossible, but the odds at not in a newcomer’s favor. The way around that is to charter a boat and hire a pro.
Up and down the Northeast coast, there are any number of skippers that specialize in catching outsized striper bass, fish more than 35 pounds that bring smiles to all members in your party. Nothing gets a child’s attention more than when the net swings on board with 45 inches of silver bass in it.
Most of the pros have larger boats that can accommodate groups with a roomy cabin and enclosed head. I know several successful people that charter at least one day on their vacation, often taking the whole family, with non-fishermen watching and enjoying the day afloat.
If you’re away on a trip, a check of the phonebook or a stop at a marina or tackle shop might turn up the name of a skipper; many have Web sites to check out past catches or current conditions. Chartering a boat is often the best way to learn, watching the tackle used and asking the mate questions, a person usually well-versed in techniques the average angler lacks.
Go with the flow
Back on the family boat, though, you can also catch sea bass at this time, typically around wrecks and lumps and many within easy running distance (lighter on the fuel bill).
The important thing to remember is sea bass bite best at the end of the tide into slack water, sometimes lasting into the first hour of the next tide. This bite is often productive during times of heavy current when the fish seem to hunker down inside a wreck, not feeding until the flow eases. It’s at those times they bite very well, giving people drifting over the spots an opportunity to catch more than enough for supper in that 1- to 1-1/2-hour period.
Organized weekend anglers can often put together a variety day: fishing for sea bass during the slack, then possibly going for blues or fluke when the tide is running.
Regarding the old standby — summer flounder — higher minimum sizes are causing the average angler to fish deeper, often around structures, with bigger baits looking for bigger fish. Instead of drifting with the Saturday fleet in 30 feet just off Bikini Beach, more and more are heading to deeper water, looking for that 20-inch-plus fish to satisfy the higher size requirements (check with your local Department of Environmental Protection office for details).
Don’t be afraid of the dark
While most people will fill their time on board during the day, don’t forget after dark. Stripers and blues both bite well, summer weather is often great — warm and calm, fishing in a T-shirt, sometimes under a bright full moon that makes exiting and entering rivers and marinas easier, with or without a plotter.
Some of my fondest memories are drifting along the rocky shore on the south side of Fishers Island, N.Y., tossing a live eel and plastic bait into the shoreline, waiting for stripers up to 30 pounds to grab hold and put the 12-pound spinning rod to the test.
After an evening of fishing, often into the wee hours, the ride home on slick waters is a thing of beauty. Etched in my memory is the scene of a white moon over the top of a lighthouse, not something one sees coming home from work on the interstate slog.
Casting for stripers after dark is practiced all over the Northeast, from what’s left of Jetty Row on the north New Jersey coast up through the rocky shore north of Boston. Many savvy anglers double up, anchoring their boat and setting with a chunk on the bottom, then tossing a lure or live eel into the nearby shore with a second. If the fishing is up to spec, you can sometimes take kids on such a trip. Just make sure to head home quickly if the bite goes south.
July offers time to head out for tuna, though that fishery might also be left to a charter if you are new to the game. Paying for a 40-plus-footer to head offshore with today’s prices will not be cheap, but might be worth the smile on your granddad’s face when he bests an 80-pound bluefin tuna.
I know a couple on-the-ball dads who treated their sons to an offshore charter when grades reach a certain level, one father telling me the cost was worth it because he and his son will only come that route once in their lives. Too soon the nest is empty, with the crew off to college or a life on their own.
Don’t become a casualty; don’t set ashore on a bluebird summer day when you have a boat at the ready. Too soon the fall winds will blow anew and too soon life’s tedium will again, call. In the meantime, enjoy the many possibilities a calm, warm day out on the blue or green offers.
Tim Coleman has been fishing New England and Long Island waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.
This article was originally published in the July 2008 issue.