Ask a local fisherman if climate change is for real and you'll likely get an earful on the topic. That's because many have witnessed not only apparent changes in weather patterns but also a presumed migration of traditionally southern fish species expanding into our waters. Not that these fish aren't welcome.
Consider the smooth puffer, a large member of the blowfish family that can exceed 2 feet in length. A rare catch here until a few years ago, they are now common enough so as to no longer turn heads. Grey triggerfish, although indigenous to our region, have had their numbers swell to the point anglers now target them on reefs and rock piles as if fishing in the Carolinas, where the species is seriously pursued. Croaker and spot, common from mid-New Jersey southward, now invade bay and harbor areas to the extent striper sharpies consider them live bait.
Then there's the flying fish that landed at the Town of Brookhaven Forge River Marina last week. Occasionally spotted in warm, offshore eddies that have broken free of the Gulf Stream and spun in toward the Long Island coast, this southern visitor somehow entered Moriches Bay and managed to swim up into Forge River. That's where Alan Hanssler, launching his boat, watched the critter fly up onto the dock following a predatory splash out in the river.
"It flew right up the boat ramp," said Hanssler, who first thought it was a bird. He picked it up, took a photo and froze the fish for positive identification.
"I've been living on the Forge River for 30 years and I've never seen a flying fish here," said Hanssler's fishing buddy, Ian Kross of Mastic. "Weakfish, fluke, stripers, blues, porgies, crabs, sea robins, we get them all. But flying fish? That's a new one. Something is definitely amiss."
One thing that hasn't changed in recent weeks is the solid fluke fishing to be found around Long Island. Action in the South Shore bays remains especially productive with the Moriches and Shinnecock flats providing especially strong catches for anglers using bucktail and teaser combo rigs tipped with spearing. The waters around New Inlet on Fire Island also are producing well, and anglers have been treated to the sight of loggerhead turtles weighing 300 pounds or more in the same area.
Striper action has cooled a bit on the West End and in western Long Island Sound, but it is still solid to the east. Orient Point gave up cows of 46 and 56 pounds on the same drift for anglers aboard the Prime Time 3 last Friday, and Montauk has had plenty of fish in the 20- to 30-pound class. Even better, however, have been the waters around Block Island, where several fish in the 50-pound class were reported during the past week.
On the North Shore, school stripers can be caught after dark on bucktails and swim shads along most rocky points between Port Jefferson and Wading River. Fluke are also a good bet in 15- to 20-foot depths throughout the Sound, but porgy fishing has been even better, with some humpbacks caught in 25- to 35-foot depths pushing the 3-pound mark.
Offshore, makos, threshers and blue sharks are in good supply. Magic numbers for the shark action are 65-degree water over 155-foot depths.