#SPOTBURNS AND RIVER HERRING TAKE A HIT
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to fish outside of NYC. I haven’t made any trips out east yet to Montauk and some would consider the fall to be already almost over. I haven’t done much in the way of “urban angling” since Greenpoint got hyper-developed, but I have a few spots in my neighborhood marked to hit. Most of my fishing takes place in the Rockaways and Breezy Point these days. But a couple weeks ago I also saw a few pictures of a guy catching schoolies on a fly rod out of Newtown Creek! Right by the new bridge the city is building to replace the Kosciuszko Bridge! (Aside: this is a pretty interesting article about the Kosciuszko) I remember a couple years ago when all the menhaden were schooled up under the Pulaski Bridge and we snagged a few for bait, but there weren’t any bass or blues on them. And I’ve never caught a striper out of Newtown Creek. This city never ceases to surprise me.
It’s also been a LONG time since I’ve fished the North Shore of Long Island, but I got out there a couple weeks ago in a Nor’Easter. I did make it out to Caumsett two weeks prior on a super bright moon and thought the place has a lot of potential that I’ll have to investigate further, but before that it was probably years. If you know the North Shore, you probably know the difficulties of finding a way to fish the very lucrative waters up there. Probably the best bet for us common folk are parks, in this case it was Target Rock National Wildlife Refuge, just east of Caumsett and Lloyd Harbor. It’s about 25 miles from NYC as the crow flies, which means it’ll take you at least an hour and fifteen to get there by car. You will drive past some great looking bay spots along the way, through some pricey neighborhoods in woody lots that exude refinement and pleasant living, and, of course, zero places to legally park along the water. There is literally no place to park along Lloyd Harbor Road, but if you follow it past all those tempting coves and cuts, you will reach Target Rock Park.
Target Rock park gets its name from a large, roughly crystal shaped boulder that juts rudely out of an already very rocky beach in what is technically Huntington Bay. Local history says the rock was used by the British as target practice. Parking in the park is easy: the lot is well maintained with restroom facilities and while it’s small, it doesn’t seem crowded. There is a fee for parking: $4. It’s on the honor system, but do the right thing to help maintain the park. When I reached into the box for pay envelopes I somehow grabbed one, out of about a hundred envelopes, that already had $2 in it. From the lot it’s about a 10 minute walk through the woods on a trail to get to the beach. On this day it was very overcast, with 15 knot winds out of the north east. I arrived about an hour after dead low tide in the early morning. Usually on conditions like this with a Nor’Easter brewing over the weekend I would head to Montauk and tempt fate. However, seeing as how I haven’t been out there all season, plus the fact that my waders have so many holes in them that I pretty much just have to be near the surf for them to start filling with water, I decided that maybe this storm wasn’t the time to get reacquainted. I also knew that guys were watching this storm for at least 7 days and that this weekend would probably be a crowd—also a big turn off, but that’s Montauk in the fall.
There’s a lookout point where the trail reaches the beach. I took a second to look through these park-provided binoculars out over the bay out to Hobart Beach Park across the water. There was a misty rain along with strong winds, so there wasn’t much to see out there. The water an hour after low was already rough and choppy. Snotty as they say. I looked down on to the beach and to the surf to see that it’s very rocky: a very fishy looking boulder field. It almost looked like a mini-Montauk south shore. If one wanted to practice wet suit fishing, this is probably a good spot as there is a good mix of rocks to stand on close to shore as well as big boulders further out. The north east wind and rough water seemed like a good mix, but there wasn’t any sign of fish, no other fishermen around either. Target Rock proper, the park, is not that big, but there is a very prominent point to the south that I didn’t explore on this trip. Technically Target Rock only comprises the half-mile of rocky beach, so I’m not sure if you can fish down at this point which leads in to Lloyd Harbor, but, looking at maps, I certainly hope you can.
I waded out about a dozen yards and found a series of three good rocks to stand on. In places like this I always start with the bucktail as I’ve had lots of success in boulder fields with it. But with the north east blow the water here was really weedy—lots of cabbage as Dave likes to say. Nearly every cast came back with weeds, making it difficult to work the boulders the way I wanted to. I threw a series of pencil poppers and this new 247 Spook, which I have to admit I have no idea how to work as a walk-the-dog kind of plug, and just tried to use the same way as a pencil. It casts very well by the way. Also another By-The-Way: the rod I had Lou Caruso build for me last winter is awesome! It took several trips to break it in on fish, but I love this rod. It’s a Cousins 10M, a one-piece rod comparable to the GSB 120-1M, but without, as Lou explained, the noodle-liness of the GSBs. I’ve never used the 120-1M, but I have a GSB 132-1M and can say the recovery on that rod is slow and it is pretty whippy. It (my GSB) is not my favorite rod—it’s tough as all hell, but the cone-of-flight layout on it, built for a guy who was 6’5” (the guy I bought it from), actually kind of sucks for this rod, but Lamiglas is coming out with their “Old School” GSB series of rods soon, and those rods were the standard for surf fishing for a long time, so I may give them a shot when it comes time for another Montauk rod, with a more custom build for a guy of my size. The Cousins 10M, however, is an excellent all-around rod and is now my go-to rod in most situations. I use a VS 200 on it.
Anyway, getting off track with gear stuff. The three rock perch wasn’t producing so I moved closer to Target Rock itself. The day before I checked the Navionics app (an EXCELLENT app by the way, I highly recommend it) and marked a bunch of deeper holes and cuts. Unfortunately, Target Rock Park is adjacent to a neighborhood, and the residents have taken it on themselves to build sea walls at the high water mark to keep the riff-raff like you and me out, and a lot of the holes I wanted to hit are in these residential areas. At low water you can get in, but if the tide comes in while you’re out there you will probably be stuck and some rich prick is probably going to call security, if not the police, on you. Target Rock is a Can’t Miss landmark, and it has a big osprey nest perched on its peak. It being the early incoming tide, I couldn’t help but notice a high water mark about six feet up Target Rock—something to keep in mind while wading out to stand on rocks. I found a very nice rectangular and flat rock about 20 feet from Target Rock. I wasn’t having any luck with the pencil or bucktails, but the conditions, the wind, the water—it was the kind of water you just knew had fish. I just had to find a way to work the water and not get hung up. Out came the SP Minnow. I initially didn’t want to toss minnow lures because they generally suck at casting, but the SP is a different kind of minnow. I love Bombers, but you’d never get a good cast with a Bomber Long A in wind like this. I lost an SP earlier this season and replaced it with this crazy looking Mother of Pearl and chartreuse colorway. I removed the back treble and replaced it with an inline VMC 3/0.
First cast paid immediate dividends. I was so caught off guard I didn’t really set the hook well and thought I was losing the fish. “Oh what the hell,” I said to nobody because I was the only one on the beach, as I reeled up the slack, only to find the fish was making a beeline for my rock. I recovered enough line to reconnect and get the fish in close. Nothing big, but a nice fat schoolie about 24″ released for another day. A few casts later I had another hit that felt heavier, but because I was lazy about setting the hook I lost it after a couple seconds. In my mind it felt heavier, but that’s how it is whenever you lose a fish. It was probably not any bigger than any of the other fish I caught off that rock, and there were two more, all around the same size. Sorry no pics, but I don’t really take photos of small fish, plus I like to get those guys back in the water as soon as possible. The size limit is beside the point, and anyway if I have to measure the fish, it’s too small I always say. On that note, I had this ridiculous conversation with a friend of mine last month about a 27” “legal” bass:
Again, anyway. Did you know it’s blackfish season? Target Rock, with its rocky coast, I think could be a great blackfish spot too. I’m pretty psyched on this spot seeing as how it’s a public park and pretty easily accessible for the North Shore. It’s a nice walk in the woods before getting to a very fishy looking beach. The only downside I’d say is open hours. You can’t fish here at night at all. The lot opens 30 minutes before sunrise and closes 30 minutes before sundown. I’m sure there’s a way though. There’s always a way.
RIVER HERRING AND SHAD GET THE SHAFT
By now you may have heard the news that river herring and shad did not get the protection they needed from the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, AKA The Council. Earlier this month I made a post about a meeting the Council held whether or not to designate the fish as “stocks in the fishery” under their Fishery Management Plan for the Atlantic Mackerel, Squid and Butterfish Fisheries program. Basically, the fish would have then been under management to regulate their numbers in bycatch of other species (like Atlantic herring, mackerel, and others) in ocean waters. River herring and shad are already protected in state waters, however they are not regulated on a Federal level. From an article on 10 October,
The iconic fish now are under badly needed protections for the parts of their lives they spend in rivers and waters close to the East Coast, said Joseph Gordon, manager for U.S. Oceans Northeast at The Pew Charitable Trusts. But he said, millions of the embattled shad and river herring are caught in federal ocean waters farther from the coast – often as accidental bycatch.
“In the end there’s no limit in the ocean to how many of these fish can be taken and there’s no plan to reduce the catch,” Gordon said. “Hollow statements of support are not enough for species that are this depleted, and in the case of blueback herring, listed at risk for extinction.”
The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council recently turned down proposed catch limits. The fishing industry has described the limits as unnecessary over-regulation.
Historically, shad were so plentiful in Virginia rivers they were easily harvested in huge numbers. Gordon said they’ve been nicknamed America’s founding fish; George Washington was a shad fisherman.
Now the numbers have fallen so low that eastern coastal states have all banned shad fishing entirely, Gordon said. But more than 100,000 pounds of the fish are estimated to be caught in the Atlantic each year – a serious threat to the shad and similar river herring.
“A lot of the states feel like they’ve done almost all that was possible to protect that part of the life cycle of these species,” Gordon said. “If that large catch in the oceans was held in control, the populations might rebound in a very significant way.”
However, as Charles Witek says, it is not just a matter of simple negligence or ignorance by the Council. “The problem is, there isn’t much hard science available to guide federal actions. Pew points out that: ‘The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is planning stock assessments for river herring and shad for 2017 and 2018, a NOAA technical expert working group for river herring is compiling information; a River Herring and Shad Committee and Advisory Panel serves the Mid-Atlantic Council; and council staff members have compiled significant work analyzing river herring and staff issues.’”
Witek, whose blog I read often and respect as a well-informed writer, is not known as the conservation guy who brings the hot mixtape to the house party. He points out that despite the ASMFC’s involvement, there is no guarantee there will be any hard data next year, “or the year after,” that the Council can use as “reasonably accurate reference points that could be used to set biomass and fishing mortality thresholds for various shad and river herring stocks.” That does not mean, however, that the NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) doesn’t have river herring and shad stocks on the radar.
In Amendment 14 to the squid, mackerel and butterfish plan, NMFS adopted rules that allow closer monitoring of major participants in those fisheries, which will better allow federal observers and port samplers to check for shad and river herring bycatch in such fisheries. In addition, unless the safety of the vessel is at risk, or the net is filled with spiny dogfish (which are extremely difficult to handle, and can have their own conservation issues), trawlers are not allowed to dump netfuls of fish at sea, so that they might conceal instances of high river herring bycatch from onboard observers.
Amendment 14 also provided for the establishment of a bycatch cap, which would shut down the mackerel fishery once a preset poundage of shad and river herring were caught.
This of course is dependent on the honor system of fishermen and the availability of fisheries observers, which, also of course, are dependent on budget. The Council sought coverage on 100 percent of the mackerel fishery, but it was rejected.
Instead, the great majority of vessels will sail without observers, and when unobserved fishermen are faced with the choice of either 1) taking nets filled with shad and/or river herring on board so that such fish will be counted and included in a cap that could easily shut down their fishery, or 2) dump the fish dead at sea and not recall them at all, thus better insuring that the fishery, and their personal incomes, will not be impeded, it’s probably safe to assume that in most cases, human nature, and the second option, will prevail.
Like many things in the fishery, we will have to settle for Better Than Nothing. For now.