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Sep 3, 2019 9:35 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

A Return To The Good Old Days?

Sep 3, 2019 10:05 AM

There are some glimmers of hope this past week — and I don’t just mean about the traffic finally letting up a little.There have been some very encouraging signs in the waters off the South Fork in the last several days that the long drought of frenzied, feeding schools of striped bass may finally be returning to some resemblance of the days that defined our shores, and Montauk in particular, for decades.

Of course, it’s too early to say the blitzes have returned to their old form, but as of Monday afternoon there had been at least five straight days of significant sustained blitzes by striped bass in the waters around Montauk and even as far west as Bridgehampton. Combine that with the fact that last fall, for the first time in at least five years, there were days when schools of striped bass could be seen churning the surface across a broad swath of ocean south of Montauk, and it’s hard not to find some encouragement.

The fish that are fueling these blitzes are of the same ilk that boiled into the legendary showings of the late 1990s and early 2000s: small schoolie-sized stripers between 18 and 26 inches long feeding on the tiny bay anchovies minnows often called rain bait.

With that context in mind, the long absence of the bass blitzing makes sense to a certain extent, since it was this size class of fish that has been largely absent from the population for some time.

After years of very good reproduction from 1993 to 2008 that rebuilt the striped bass population to great heights, we then fell into a decade of poor striped bass reproduction — and broad reckless over-harvesting — and the population has aged out of the type of fish that feed blitzes on the tiny minnow species that school up in great reddish clouds near our shores in late summer and fall.

In my experience, you will rarely catch a fish under 18 inches or so or over 34 inches or so in one of those classic minnow blitz situations, for whatever reason. So in the last several years we’ve had lots of fish under 18 inches and lots of fish over 34 inches.

So with a couple of strong year-classes of 4-to-7-year-old fish coming of blitz feeding age now, I think it is reasonable to think, or at least hope, that we will see a rebound of the fall run fishing we had grown so accustomed to since the dark days of the 1980s (when at least there were bluefish to fill in the gaps).

A few days of calm weather early this week, before the wind cranks up as Dorian slides by, should present ample opportunity for the fish and fishermen to test this theory!

Catch ’em up. See you out there.

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I hope you are right about the come back. The 2018 stock assessment tells a very different story. Striped Bass are overfished. The population is low enough that it has tripped an important management threshold. There will be a mandated 18% reduction in catch for the 2020 season and new minimum size restrictions.

Around 90% of fish caught by recreational anglers are released alive. Catch and release fishing has long been perceived as having minimal impact on the population, but the ...more
By J Gans (4), Southampton on Sep 4, 19 3:13 PM