It’s summertime, and the fishing is fine.
From summer flounder (fluke) and striped bass to that lightweight favorite of anglers young and old — snappers — there’s a bite just waiting for your next cast.
There’s also plenty of fishing tournaments where you can test your skills against others, garnering bragging rights or winning a little extra cash.
“There is something special about participating in fishing contests,” says Stan Burghardt, 74, from Ronkonkoma. “I’ve been fishing for 64 years and I still get excited with every tournament I enter. A lot of people go fishing each day, but only one will catch the biggest fish. I’d like to be that guy.”
Ed Walsh, who runs a series of fishing derbies out of Jones Beach Fishing Station, loves the fun and camaraderie at the shop’s events. “Most of our contests center on fishing from the shore or Jones Beach Piers,” he explains. “That means everyone has access to the same fishing areas even if they don’t have a boat. We all have a ton of fun, especially the youngsters.”
RANGE OF TOURNAMENTS
Most fishing contents offer prizes including raffles and drawings, “so you might not even have to catch the biggest fish to win something,” says Ray Bartlett, 69, of Brightwaters. Some tournaments are more serious than others. Expect to pay an entry fee.
The Aug. 12–20 Hamptons Offshore Invitational has more than $20,000 in total prize money as big boats race up to 100 miles offshore in search of tuna, shark, mahi and bluefish while raising money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island.
Less intense is the July 30 Fluke Rodeo Special Olympics Fundraiser, offering roughly $1,000 (cash/fishing accessories) for the biggest summer flattie hauled in between Jones and Shinnecock inlets.
Then there’s the Sept. 2 Shelter Island Snapper Derby with trophies for lucky winners who catch the diminutive but tasty baby blues. The first-place fish in this contest generally weighs a little less than a pound, and chefs from the Lions Club will cook your catch before the awards ceremony.
Most contests also have several divisions — kids, adults, boats, and catch-and-release (for those who don’t want to take their prize home for dinner). The Aug. 12–13 Captree Snapper and Crab Derby even has a category for blue claws.
KEEP IT FUN
Even for expert anglers, fishing contests provide more pride and satisfaction than payouts and awards.
“No matter the prize, you need to keep things in perspective — and you have to keep it fun.” says Stephen Roland, captain of the Montauk charterboat Professional Crier. Roland has finished in the money in several major offshore tourneys. Beyond general equipment prep and smart bait choices, he says, “you really need some luck because no one knows for sure if a big fish is going to bite.”
While fishing in the annual Star Island Shark Tournament in in Montauk in June, Roland and crew hooked into a mako that tipped the scales at a whopping 780 pounds. But the boat couldn’t make it back to the dock in time for the weigh-in, missing the deadline by 20 minutes.
“That would have been a cool $50,000 or more,” Roland says. “But we were all still thrilled in the end because that was the biggest shark any of us had ever seen.”
UPCOMING FISHING TOURNAMENTS
Fishing tournaments large and small are scheduled across Long Island spanning the rest of the summer and well into the fall, but some require that you register. Many contests double as charitable fundraisers.
Moriches Anglers Fluke Tournament
6 a.m.-4 p.m. July 29, weigh-in 3:30–4:30 p.m. at Union Avenue Dock
19th Annual Marine Max Fluke Rodeo — Special Olympics fundraiser
9 a.m.-6:30 p.m. July 30, from Jones Inlet to Shinnecock Inlet
FEE $20 (includes barbecue, goody bag and T-shirt)
Star Island Mako, Thresher and Tuna Tournament
Aug. 4–5 at Star Island Yacht Club, Montauk
FEE $800 per boat
Captree Snapper and Crab Derby (ages 16 and younger)
6 a.m.-4 p.m. Aug. 12-13 at Captree State Park, Babylon
17th Annual Hamptons Offshore Invitational — benefits Brothers Big Sisters of Long Island
5 a.m.-noon Aug. 12-20 at Oakland’s Marina, Hampton Bays
FEE From $650
INFO 516-731-7880, ext. 214
Babylon Tuna Club Snapper Derby (ages 12 and younger)
9 a.m.-noon Aug. 26 at Babylon Village Dock
FEE Free. Bait provided, loaner rods available, includes hot dogs, ice cream and soda.
WICC Greatest Bluefish on Earth Contest
Midnight Aug. 26-5 p.m. Aug. 27, coastal waters between Long Island and Connecticut
Shelter Island Snapper Derby (ages 14 and younger) — benefits Shelter Island Lions Club
Sunrise-5 p.m. Sept. 2 on Shelter Island with weigh-in at the American Legion Hall
FEE Free (includes barbecue and awards ceremony)
TOURNEY WINNING TIPS
For most Long Island anglers and fishing families, the fun of entering contests centers on participation and spending quality time with friends and loved ones. But if you really want to go for the gold, there’s no shortage of theories and advice on how to finish in the money.
“Practice as much as possible on the waters where a contest will be held,” suggests Elias Vaisberg, a Brooklyn kayak fishing guide who fishes all across Long Island and has twice won the prestigious Kayak Fishing Classic at Jamaica Bay. “The more you know an area, the better your odds.”
If your usual baits and lures don’t work, try something outlandishly different, Stan Burghardt advises. “Last year,” he says, “I saw an angler drill several big fluke inside Great South Bay on a huge, 6-ounce bucktail tipped with a large Berkley Gulp! grub. You can bet I’ll have that combination along for this summer’s fluke tourneys in case I need a secret weapon.”
Keeping confusion to a minimum during the heat of a battle is one way Ray Bartlett, winner of the Fluke Rodeo Special Olympics Fundraiser in 2015, tilts the scales in his favor. “Make sure your teammates know who should do what when a big fish strikes,” he instructs. “On my boat, if a big fish is hooked, everyone immediately reels up to avoid tangles. Then one person grabs the net and the other steers the boat. Everyone knows their role beforehand.”
Bringing along a net is also vital to success. “I can’t tell you how many big fish get away because anglers try to lift them up onto the piers here without any help,” says Ed Walsh.