Tom Schlichter writes the Outdoors column for Newsday.
For Long Island anglers, the start of a fishing season traditionally is greeted with tremendous anticipation, buoyed by a heavy dose of optimism. Forgive us, however, if a sense of anxiousness supersedes the norm this year.
How could it not? Some local residents still are trying to piece together lives derailed by the powerful strike last October of superstorm Sandy and her follow-up nor'easter. Yet leave it to the piscators to persevere. At the winter shows during January and February, I ran into person after person expressing how they couldn't wait to get back out on the water this spring. One Oceanside resident told me he lost his house and boat "in that damn storm,'' but wished for nothing more than a warm day to go flounder fishing.
"Last year was a tough one for sure, but the angling community is bouncing back,'' said John Mantione of J & J Sports in Patchogue, who also serves as chief executive officer for the New York Fishing Tackle Trade Association (NYFTTA.) "There is definitely some pent-up desire to get out and wet a line.''
Of course, access still is hindered in many areas, but look around and you'll find a place to try your luck. The farther east you head, the more open bulkheads, docks and beaches you'll discover.
"Most North Shore beaches are open,'' said Mantione, "and you can surfcast at Smiths Point, but only in front of the pavilion. Four-wheel drive beach access still needs to be resolved in many areas.''
Interestingly, the West End, despite getting hammered, has quite a few places open for fishing. According to Jimmy Giordano at Bernie's Bait and Tackle in Sheepshead Bay, anglers can try their luck at the Bay Ridge and Rockaway sea walls, Brighton Beach, Manhattan Beach and Coney Island Beach, the Sheepshead Bay piers, and parts of Floyd Bennett Field. Still closed are the Canarsie and Steeplechase piers, and the Captree fishing piers (although the Captree fleet is sailing).
Also open, amazingly, are the Jones Beach piers, rebuilt in time to start the fishing season. The piers were one of the top winter flounder spots for shore-bound anglers last spring. Kudos to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for spearheading the project, as this is also a popular and easily accessible spot for catching fluke, blowfish, bluefish, striped bass and more throughout the season.
Mantione noted that while some bait and tackle shops were obliterated by the storms, most have weathered the worst of times and are gearing up to serve their customers. No doubt those stores, along with the charter and open boat fleets, could all use your support and business.
Just days after Sandy blasted our coast last year, Gary Grunseich at Silly Lily Fishing Station in East Moriches stood in the middle of his shop, where 5 feet of floodwater had wiped out virtually everything in sight. "The fishing community is resilient,'' he said then, as reported in this column. "We'll be back next year.''
I had my doubts, but as winter flounder season commenced on Monday, Silly Lily was open for business.
"Like all the other fishing operations around here,'' he said Thursday, "we couldn't have done it without our customers' support. Thank you.''