It was a typical late September evening and traffic light as we made our way through the Riverhead traffic circle. While the early evening was warmer than usual, it held a hint of crispness fall anglers (boat or surf) look forward to signaling the end of summer and a beginning to some of the best angling of the year. Stopping for fresh locally grown tomatoes at $.99 a pound and fresh local sweet corn, my next stop as always was the Pindar Winery for a case of North Fork wine.
With my usual North Fork stops completed, it was time to meet Capt. Phil Kess of the "Fishy Business" (631-722-9677) charter boat at Orient Point Marina for the 6 p.m. departure time. On the trip with me was cameraman Mike Mirabella for a "vacation" trip with his gear just to shoot some B-Roll as filler material for future shows. Neither of us at the time knew he was going to have to work as we ended up filming a television episode for the 2003 season.
We were a few days on the backside of this late September full moon and Capt. Phil said this can be some of the best fishing of the fall season, but we were on the wrong tide as it would be flooding after sundown. Even though we always expect to catch fish, we didn't know what to expect as far as size and numbers. We were using live eels fishing the Race and as we passed behind Little Gull Island and the lighthouse projecting its protective beam, the sun was setting with temperatures still in the low 70's.
Using Daiichi 7/0 octopus wide hooks tied to an 8-foot leader of 80-pound test off a three-way swivel in which the sinker is tied 16 inches off the bottom, I rigged both Seeker rods and handed one to Mike. Holding bottom with just 6 ounces on a slow drift, we weren't fishing more than 5 minutes when we both lost eels to hungry bluefish, although Mike was able to set the steel and boated a 9 pounder, which Capt. Phil released unharmed.
Action was slow, but as a setting sun threw pastel shadings over the North Fork, Capt Phil said action had been on the pink light bite. "This is when fish turn on at dusk, just before dark when the sky is a bright pink. It happens with some regularity out here on the Fork. Sometimes when this happens fish bite into the first hour of dark, then shut down till later in the tide," Capt. Phil said. This is exactly what happened on our trip and as darkness blanketed the North Fork, the fish turned on better than expected despite the slow drift.
We boated quite a few fish in the 13 to 18-pound class, then I had what I thought was a good fish, but turned out to be rubble on the bottom. Once I cleared the line, I again established contact between my sinker and the bottom and no sooner did I take a few turns of line, I had the hit and run off of a freight train. My Seeker rod bent to the handle and the 50-pound test TUFF line jolted the hook home. I had the fish for a minute or two before the line went slack. I lost my eel and the fish and upon examining the hook, found the point intact but bent over to the inside gap from the hard rubble I momentarily snagged before the fish found my eel.
The bite lasted as predicted into the first hour or so of dark and with the moon bright and the sky clear, the Milky Way and other galactic marvels became visible in the northern sky as the absence of lights only magnified the darkness and contrasting brightness of the night sky. Time passed and Capt. Phil took us to other areas that hold solitary larger fish as we looked for one or two big fish for the show. Late that night between 11 p.m. and 12:30 a.m. the fish turned on again and we found stripers in the 18 to 25-pound class on the live eels in a just a few drifts.
After some terrific action and jovial kidding it was time to return to port. The 32 footer captain Phil runs as his Fishy Business charter boat handled the standing rips and wind against tide slop the Race and area are famous for smoothly and evenly. I noticed on the trip we did not encounter the "snap" in the roll of the boat in the sloppy conditions because of the keel of the boat. This makes a good choice when choosing a charter boat especially for beginners.
We finished our trip with a dozen fish to 25 pounds and some wonderful footage for an episode of "The Fishing Line" for 2003. Special thanks to Capt. Phil Kess on the Fishy Business (631-722-9677) for doing a great job with a great boat and to my cameraman Mike, who when all is said and done, I guess I still owe him a fishing trip...without bringing the gear! Look for this episode to air early in our season of 2003.