That’s not me. That’s my friend Tyler. I don’t think I know how to catch fish anymore.
On the Friday after Thanksgiving I was fishing the Indian River Inlet in Delaware on a clear, cloudless morning under a gorgeous cerulean sky while wearing waders and a t-shirt. The surf up and down the beach was crisp and clean, with lots of white water and a swift current thanks to the moon tide, and in the inlet the water was rushing through. You definitely did not want to fall in here. Everything, to me at least, looked very fishy and promising. However, I’d been seeing a lot of beautiful sunrises and fishy-looking tides of late in the Rockaways, and this particular beautiful morning wasn’t much different: a few shorts here and there and lots of fishy-looking water. Even the boats working the drift were coming up empty this Black Friday. This was basically December. It was a balmy 68 degrees outside. The conclusion I drew from this day: the fish weren’t here yet.
The previous week and a couple weeks after that, the south side beaches of Long Island and Queens were loaded with bait. Maybe it was a matter of bad timing on my part, because I always seemed to show up a few hours late. A day late. Six hours too early. Peanut bunker washed up all over the shore the morning I arrived at one spot in the afternoon. An old-timer at the bar told me about the whales he spotted around noon. There were big bluefish blitzes up and down the beach, he said. Schoolie bass, too, with some keepers thrown in here and there. I managed to hook a stingray with a heavy needlefish in the unusual heavy darkness of dusk. Now that I think about it, I think that’s the last damn thing I’ve caught in the last six weeks.
A few days later a friend who works in the Rockaways spent his afternoon chasing a blitz up and down the beach from Tilden to Jacob Riis and back to Breezy Point. I showed up the next morning at dawn to a cold, snappy wind with just enough light to see the birds awake and pick at the abandoned bait leftover from the previous night. As the day turned from pink to bright sunshine I could see hundreds of birds working about 500 yards from the beach. Heading east. Heading west. Heading anywhere but within casting distance. A guy came up behind me and asked if that—the mass of birds, bait, and pursuing fish—had come towards shore. I shook my head. “Oh man, you should have been here yesterday!” he said. “Fish not 20 feet in front of me. Man my arms were tired!” I rolled my eyes. For what reason do people feel they have to tell the same story about yesterday, last night, last week.
The good news is, despite my poor timing in these outings, is that even now close to mid-December, it’s not over yet. The water temperatures off the Rockaways are still in the mid-to-low 50s, and there are reports of lots of herring moving through to follow the peanuts and adult bunker that have passed through already. Oh, and the air temperature is supposed to be in the low 60s this weekend. It’s December for god’s sake! I hate to think about what’s on the other side of this coin—I’m guessing a prolonged and extremely bitter winter lasting somewhere into June—but I’m pretty sure I’ll be fishing until at least the day after Christmas. I had to sell a bunch of gear a month or so ago due to some financial crisis, but I’m pretty confident they went to a couple good homes, and I still have enough to keep going through the end of the year. Plus, now that I can see a dim light at the end of this financial difficulty, I’m picking up a new piece of equipment this weekend which I’ll hopefully have time to use before the year is out.
This (the weather conditions, bait in the water) isn’t going to last too much longer, so I’m also preparing my winter reading list, which I’ll get to in another post this week hopefully, as well as updating the state of our conservation efforts we’ve worked on this year. Speaking of which, I never posted this response I got back from Jamie Pollack, my contact over at Pew Charitable Trusts. A few months back, I wrote about the hearings on Unmanaged Forage Species and how it’s important for us to jump on pushing for research and potential conservation of fish like bay anchovies, spearing, and sand eels, among others, before they end up in the grinder like menhaden. This is her response, and it seems we made a good start so far.
Thanks so much for your help and support on the Council’s Unmanaged Forage amendment. Our efforts during the Scoping period were incredibly successful, and the voices in favor of the action far outnumbered those opposed.
Last week the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council met with in Philadelphia, PA for their fall meeting. On their agenda was discussion of next steps for the Unmanaged Forage Amendment. Because of your support, the Council overwhelmingly voted to initiate an Amendment that protects currently unmanaged forage species from new and expanding fisheries.
This isn’t the last we’ll hear of this action. The Council’s staff will now draft an amendment including a broader list of protected forage species as a result of your comments, and there will be future votes and hearings before we cross the finish line. There will be challenges and some may seek to delay or sidetrack this important initiative, so our work only becomes more important from here. However the Unmanaged Forage amendment wouldn’t have gotten this far without your support, and most importantly your voice.
You can find a copy of the Unmanaged Forage presentation describing the Scoping hearing process and comments received here.
Thanks, and we’ll keep you posted on next steps.
More to come this week and next. Get out there and fish while the season is open and the weather is good. Get outside. Maybe head south if you can.