Steven Christophorou, 12, of West Hempstead is having beginner’s luck on his first Long Island snapper-fishing trip.
A few minutes after casting his baitfish into the waters off the Wantagh Park dock, Steven feels a tug on his line. With his parents, Gus, 54, and Oneida, 49, standing nearby, he hoists the 10-inch snapper (as bluefish 12 inches and smaller are known) over the railing for his dad to unhook.
“This is our first time, so we’re learning,” says Steven, who previously had caught only freshwater fish.
A fry pan seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice awaits the cleaned snapper back home, but right now Steven is concentrating on his next bite as he casts his rebaited hook back into the water.
The snappers were also biting for retired engineers Kenneth Markowitz, 72, of Wantagh, and his wife, Marjorie Levitz. They had arrived at 10:15 a.m., set up at their hot spot at the north end of the dock, and were catching fish after fish on spearing.
“We’re almost maxed out on the limit” of 15, Levitz says, pointing to a bucket filled with 8- and 9-inch fish. There is no minimum size on the first 10 caught.
A LONG ISLAND TRADITION
Snapper fishing in late summer has been a tradition for generations of Long Islanders who prize the fish for its feisty fight and plentiful numbers in bays and canals on the South Shore, North Shore and East End. (Baby bluefish are a local delicacy when cleaned, coated with bread crumbs and fried in oil.) If you’ve never fished for snappers before, you can learn snapper-catching tricks at derbies and contests held around the Island through late September.
Patricia Ryley, a park ranger at the Fire Island National Seashore, says snappers are plentiful in local waters from mid-August through about mid- to late September. Ryley hosted a snapper derby on a recent Saturday at Watch Hill on Fire Island, where youngsters caught 28 snappers — the largest 9 inches long — and learned important fishing lessons.
“One of the things we tell the kids is, don’t put your finger near their mouth” because snappers have sharp teeth, Ryley says. Not fishing for dinner? Anglers who want to practice “catch and release” can snap the barb off the hook with pliers, “so you won’t injure the fish by taking the hook out,” she says.
Snappers can also be caught at the Jones Beach fishing piers at Field 10, in Wantagh and Captree State Park in Babylon, and other public docks on the Island, according to local experts.
WHEN TO GO
Snappers can be caught any time of day, but they’re generally biting two hours before and after high tide, says Mike Roveto, 22, of Old Bethpage, a salesman at Causeway Bait and Tackle in Wantagh. Local bait shops sell brightly colored floats, which can be attached to your line. The floats bob up and down when a fish is on the hook. (Red and white floats are traditional, but orange and yellow are also available, Roveto says.) Bait shops also sell frozen spearing for bait, lures for spin-casting, bamboo fishing poles, and rod and reel sets.
Anglers over age 15 are required to enroll in the state’s Recreational Marine Fishing Registry. The license is free and good for a year. (For complete saltwater fishing regulations, visit www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7894.html
UPCOMING DERBY EVENTS
Shelter Island Snapper Derby
WHEN | WHERE Sept. 3, various locations around Shelter Island with weigh-ins at 5 p.m. at American Legion Mitchell Post 281, 1 Bateman Rd.
Geared toward kids ages 14 and younger, there are prizes for the biggest fish (less than a pound) and most fish caught and released (any size).
Greenport Maritime Festival Snapper Contest
WHEN | WHERE 1 p.m. Sept. 25 for children ages 8 and younger, 2 p.m. for ages 9-16 at Railroad Dock, end of Third Street, Greenport.
All bait and tackle provided at this free fishing event.