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Tales from the Wheelhouse

By Captain Vinnie Calabro

The opening of striper season was pretty much a blow out. Close to gale winds, rain and cold greeted me as I looked out my window at four a.m. Thursday was fishable so that we did. The trip resulted in a panoramic tour of the bay with one keeper bass in the low teens to show for it. The water temperature hovered around forty-five degrees, although the winds did back off for most of the trip. Friday saw better conditions and with that a decent catch; Captain Rich and I netted six keeper bass the biggest some thirty inches and at least a dozen or so throw backs or shorts.

On the north side of the bay up toward Speed Creek some dolphins cruised the shallows. The usual signs of spring began to appear. At a glance the familiar site of Smitty’s bright orange row boat rentals could be seen, an assortment of private boats, a couple of kayakers’ working the pier, and an occasional surfcaster by Charles Park. Regardless of the weather fishermen were on the prowl. Looking closely one can see the marshes take on a greenish hue, new waterfowl invading the bay by the day and the water sparkling as it reflects sunshine. If Currier and Ives did a Jamaica bay print this day would be one of them.

Saturday morning saw improved weather conditions but the fishing slacked off. Sunday was seasonably mild but not much to report with regards to the bassin’. Herring seemed plentiful up in Woodmere bay and the bunker seemed to be increasing daily.

The fact is it is still early and the striped bass fishing on a good year doesn’t get consistent until the end of this month. This isn’t a “good” spring with regards to weather. I find that early spring can be approached in a couple of ways; first consider fishing on the warmest parts of the day, another tip would be to work the shallows as these areas tend to warm up quicker. Fish are lethargic this time of year; however they still need to feed. Any little catalyst such as tide changes, wind and weather all play a subtle yet important role in your success. Keep that in mind as you pursue different fish throughout the season, fishing is a very involved activity.

The night bass boats out of the bay didn’t do much better. Even the bottom fishing for blackfish and flounder seemed to be on a downward spiral. Anglers from New Jersey that I spoke with also said the bite slowed down from a week ago. Let’s hope the next week we see some comfortable weather and a body of fish to report on.

Rockaway Outdoors/Tales From The Wheelhouse 4/3/09

Saturday morning amidst the rain and chilly morning Nick and I decided to take a spin around the bay. I had installed a new sonar and GPS and was anxious to see how they would perform. Amazing how we take so many things for granted. Today GPS, Chart plotters, Sonar, Radar are all normal expected items.

Over the years I have become familiar with just about every unit on the market. Back in the early seventies Loran was a new item for small vessels. Micro logic had a line of units that was compact, but expensive for the time. Until then most seamen relied upon ranging and shore points to locate wrecks or pieces of bottom productive to fishing.

Navigation was done by mariners with a compass, slide rule and the various charts available, oh yea and ability. Sonar or fish finders were machines which transcribed the bottom on to a paper readout. At the time the Lowrance X-16 was the pinnacle of units. It gave accurate detailed displays; unfortunately one had to have a supply of paper and stylist or needles aboard to replace the rolls as they ran out. The old rolls often times were hoarded by fishermen and reviewed later on, as one would drool over the pieces he fished that particular day.

Great pride and satisfaction went into this learning process. It was a different time back then. Skill was derived from experience and countless hours spent on the water. The offspring of the silicone valley age will never appreciate or understand these lessons, lessons which sadly they will never learn.

Mariners I believe were more cautious and had a better knowledge of their whereabouts. I think in part that is why there are so many boating accidents and tragedies today. Often time fishermen and boaters alike get a false sense of confidence in relying upon electronics. They become dependent upon electronics, forsaking the experience and wisdom of those before them. I for one appreciate the old Smith Barney commercial line "they earned it." Hmm, imagine that.

Returning to the dock both of us were satisfied with the performance of the units. Not only can we better see and locate the fish we can't catch, due to quotas and regulations we can do it more efficiently.

The flounder season officially opens this week. Due to deadlines I'll have to clue you in next week on the outcome. I'm optimistic I think the delayed start may help those pursuing the flatties.

Montauk cooled off a bit as to be expected. Will it rebound? Your guess is as good as mine. For the moment Stellwagon Banks off the Cape seems to be the codfish latest domain.

Tony "The Hawk" called from Florida. He had just returned from Panama, the highlight of his week a Black marlin some 585 lbs., not bad for a blind person. Not bad for someone with sight either. I honestly believe Tony chooses to be blind; at least that way some of us can catch a fish or two once he's aboard.

Anyone with a disadvantage can learn a lot from The Hawk. No, let me stand corrected; anyone can learn a lot from him. And with that being said; Until the next tide ...

Rockaway Outdoors/Tales From The Wheelhouse 3/27/09

Locally, our area is in transition mode. True the equinox has passed, but last Friday, while on my way out, east snow flakes hit my windshield. The trip was somewhat fish related. I was going to pick up some epoxy and fiberglass materials for one of my skiffs.

Repairing of decks regardless of the boat type — commercial, fishing or pleasure craft — involves considerable thought and preparation. Most decks today are fiberglass or a composite of FRP (fiberglass re-enforced plastic). They are usually molded, or as is the case with many work boats, hand laid. After which a top coat of gel-coat, epoxy, or deck paint is applied. The decks themselves stand up well to use, but over time, they wear and need a top coat or replacement.

If you consider that an average cockpit is less than 100 square feet, and the amount of traffic the small area gets season after season, not to mention the saltwater environment, it's amazing they hold up for so long.

The process is fairly simple: inspect the area, measure, decide which materials satisfy your needs and preparation. It's really not that different from applying epoxy to your garage floor. After inspection and deciding that your deck could use a face lift, you think about which material would be best for you.

If you have a production boat, say a Grady White, you may want to give the parent company a call and pick their brains a bit. They'll be familiar with the existing deck and advise which materials would best suit your needs.

Another place to research your project would be the Marine supply store. Usually they will be knowledgeable of the product lines they sell, and if not, can reach out to the manufacturer. Don't overlook the computer and the many websites that could be of assistance to you.

Preparation is, in my opinion, the most critical step in the process. The surface needs to be thoroughly cleaned and dried. Different materials require different standards of prep. We are not rebuilding the space shuttle here; we are applying a top coat over a deck but it can be tricky. Sometimes a light sanding and primer is recommended. The materials themselves usually are temperature sensitive; as to when they can be applied, most like fifty degrees or above.

Many are two part materials; an activator and the paint itself.

For the most part they have a limited time for use once they are mixed. I roll my decks with a short nap roller. The initial coat light to moderate, then followed by a second coat infused with non-skid sand. The deck is dried and ready for use in about twenty-four hours.

When will the warm days arrive? Your guess is as good as mine.

Rockaway Outdoors/Tales From The Wheelhouse 3/20/09

My trio of compadres Captains Richie and Eddie, both captains of the Karen Ann, along with George tagging along for good luck, made the trip to Montauk on Monday. Ah.…the never ending quest for cod.

Captain Rich placed second in the pool, while Eddie and George were content with bending their rods to codfish.

It wasn't a banner day by the standards of recent trips, but there was enough action to keep all aboard happy. Also this week, two of my other cohorts, Alex and Tom, made the pilgrimage up the Hudson River to do a little pre-season striper reconnaissance.

A quick note: the bass season opens this week up in the Hudson. Fishing from shore with blood worms as bait some schoolies obliged and were released to grow old.

Flounders 101: Jamaica Bay is really the quintessential fish haven. From a fishing perspective, it has a lot going for it. Backwater in the head of the bay that borders on brackish, to the mud flats along the banks and the deeper water in the channels, make it appealing to a wide variety of inhabitants.

Structure abounds with the various bridges, wrecks, and shore points. The banks up and around Inwood to Rosedale are thick with mussels, plus clam beds that are fairly plentiful. Poke a digging spade into the mud along the water's edge at low tide, and you're bound to see some worms as well as other sea life. The grasses break the tidal flow and provide not only forage to its residents, but cover for young of the species that set up seasonal residence.

The shallow waters along the cuts and banks rich in silt and mud of sorts, warm up early and attract fish into the comfort found in rising temperatures. Flounder really tend to frequent these areas early in the run.

Whether you're fishing from shore points, or a skiff, a chart is definitely a useful tool. It enables you to see depths, shoreline and bottom type. A chart also gives you a presence and a fish mindset of sorts. Patterns often correspond with the seasons, and as you take fishing to another level, you'll appreciate the enjoyment and satisfaction of predicting your spots.

Early season flounder are typically lethargic in their feeding habits. Therefore chumming with crushed clams and mussels, either in a chum pot or broadcast randomly, will tilt the scales for success your way.

Depending on the tide and wind, some captains set two anchors to keep the boat from swinging. It ensures that your bait and chum are in proper order for presentation. Little details usually separate good fishermen from great ones.

Take note that sea temperature often coincides with tidal flow and weather conditions. Bait is simple with the favorites being mussels, bloodworms, and clam.

Rods with light tips allow one to detect the smallest of hits and rebound well when gently working the rod and eventually setting the hook. Hook preference is really up to you. I lean toward a smaller hook with a modest shank. As far as line, light is right, keep in mind a monster flounder may go … oh 3 pounds.

Hopefully this will help you hone up on your flounder skills, good luck. The Karen Ann will be flounder fishing by reservation.

Rockaway Outdoors/Tales From The Wheelhouse 3/13/09

It's location, location, location and for the moment, Montauk seems to be as hot as a pistol with the cod fishing. Friends of mine have been making the trek out east to get in on this action. It has been a pretty consistent "bite" with quality fish and lots of them.

Captain Mike Wasserman, a long time friend who runs the Captain Lou out of Freeport, hung a left turn due east last week and made the run to the East End fishing grounds. There were plenty of cod for his customers and a boat ride/excursion on top of that, it doesn't get any better. Mike said he'll probably be doing that run on a regular basis, so you might want to give him a call for the details at 516- 369- 1646.

I took advantage of the mild weekend weather by doing some much needed boat maintenance and tried to get ahead of my workload. The usual upgrades installing electronics, fresh bottom paint you get the picture.

The day began around 5 a.m., and by mid-morning, some of my entourage began mulling around. These "fishaholics" put a little work in with me. Subsequently, I had to feed them. Most of them were averaging 260 pounds and it meant Captain Vin was dipping into his pockets on this one.

Lunch lasted for about two and a half, maybe three hours, so that pretty much put any hopes of making progress with the boats to rest. I must admit they did eat enthusiastically.

The fish should start stirring around in our backyard soon. The April first flounder pounders get their shot, and then on the fifteenth, the striped bass season opens.

No, I didn't stutter. I said the SB word; striped bass. The bass should make the run up along the beaches and into the bay as they put on the feedbag. Usually bluefish and an occasional weakfish will be mixed in. Much of our run is predicated on bait movement, and one can only hope the bunker will be abundant. I guess I'll have to give the old "Cheach" a call and get the latest vibe.

To briefly acquaint new readers with "Cheach", he is my bass guru. He and I launched many a pencil popper back in the day. I'll be starting up for flounders and bassin'.

Rockaway Outdoors/Tales From The Wheelhouse 2/27/09

Codfish are once again the "winter king". One only needs to read the fishing reports out of Montauk to see these much heralded winter combatants are back.

The fishing is so hot that reservations are needed on most of the east end boats targeting them. I was lucky enough to get some fillets from Captain Eddie Parker, who by the way will be joining Captain Rich and myself aboard the Karen Ann this Spring.

I'm jonesin' to catch a few stripers. Hopefully, they'll be on track and follow the schools of bait into the back bay soon. My guess is that on Easter week the bunker will show up and the bass won't be too far behind.

Traditionally, March 16 marks the arrival of flounders to our bay, but then again, that has been another questionable fishery as of late.

Blustery winds and colder air temperatures made for another week of unfavorable fishing conditions. Along the beaches, skimmer clams were just about everywhere, not a bad time to stock up and shuck a few if you have the freezer space. So that is where we are at. For the moment, Mother Nature is turning the corner slowly and when the fish will come once again, we'll be in our element.

Rockaway Outdoors/Tales From The Wheelhouse 2/6/09

The temperature down in Fort Lauderdale varied from the mid-seventies to mid-fifties throughout most of last week. Tony "The Hawk" is down there with his winter cronies and daily, he relays the weather and fishing to me.

Apparently, the kingfishing is a bit off with the colder temperatures and most days, he is bottom fishing, with an occasional trip by execution cut for tarpon. The highlight of the week being a twenty-pound permit caught on light tackle. I'll be the first to admit I'm a little jealous he is down there, still going fishing daily and I am sitting at my desk repairing rods and reels. Such is the fishermen's life here in the northeast during January and February.

The winter mackerel run has been, to put it mildly, sporadic, and the water temperatures, in the mid-thirties more or less; put the lid on the coffin, so to speak, regarding any decent blackfishing. Apparently, the only worthwhile fishery, locally that is, would be sea bass offshore trips.

From Freeport, the Captain Lou, skippered by Captain Mike Wassermen, has been sailing special offshore trips with good results. Sea bass, cod and other bottom dwellers fill the coolers for hardy anglers. I like Mike. As a kid, he used to fish with me regularl and definitely has paid his dues and knows his craft well.

Regulations for the upcoming season are on the table, with the state and other coastal overseeing agencies. It doesn't look too promising for the upcoming fluke and flounder run. Hopefully, the final decisions will give us a fishery that's worthwhile. I'll keep you updated.

Rockaway Outdoors/Tales From The Wheelhouse 1/9/09

The New Year brought with it some cold weather and stiff winds. At times, that made it unfishable. The fishing scene locally is down to the usual winter cast of characters: ling, mackerel, codfish and blackfish for those whom posses a commercial license.

Trips offshore are dictated by sea conditions, and it seems like each week, the window of opportunity is less and less.

My schedule allowed for two trips this past week. Both days, the weather cooperated and we had enough action with the ling mixed in with some codfish to make the trip worthwhile.

The fishing grounds ordinarily are a parking lot of sorts this time of year and are fairly void of boats. The closure of the blackfish recreational fishery in New York has definitely translated into fewer boats.

I think the regulated season will no doubt help the local fishery; albeit painful to those who relish the winter action. The stocks of blackfish have really been hit hard over the past decade. They are a crop that has great market value, yet replenishes slowly.

In the late seventies I can recall being offshore this time of year and seeing a hand full of boats. Fast forward that to the late eighties and nineties, and you couldn't count the armada out there. So, at this point in time, fishing is dictated by the powers that be. As I have said in the past, regression is often times the price of progression.

Water depths of eighty to a hundred feet or so seem to be yielding the most fish. Ling, with an occasional cod, are taking soft baits clams and white crabs. Mackerel have eluded me, but boats from the bay southeast from my point had some good catches. The weatherman holds the key to the next week's fishing. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Until the next tide . .