At 11 p.m. on a recent Saturday night, the Laura Lee pushes off from its slip at the The Captree Boat Basin, bound for the Great South Bay's fishing grounds. A group of 16 anglers ranging from senior citizens to children is standing at the railing. All apparently have one ambition: to catch a keeper striped bass.
The ride out
A night fishing trip offers pleasures beyond fishing, including a pleasant boat ride. At night you can appreciate the beauty of the moonlit bay and fill your lungs with invigorating salt air. The Laura Lee, part of the Captree Fishing Fleet, is a clean and comfortable 72-foot wooden Gilliken fishing boat. It has a capacity of 150 for cruises and 80 for fishing trips. You can hang out on the upper sun deck (nothing but moon after dark) or rest in a heated cabin with cafeteria-style seating. Snacks (Slim Jims, cookies, soda) costing a dollar are available in the wheelhouse. The head (bathroom) is very clean.
'Let 'em go!'
As we ride to where the fish are, the mates are baiting the fishing rods with the white Bass Assassin lures that attract stripers and bluefish. By the time Capt. Neil Delanoy of West Islip maneuvers the Laura Lee under the Captree Robert Moses bridge, the anglers are already standing ready with fishing rods poised over the side. "OK, folks, let 'em go," Delanoy says over the boat's PA system. The mates tell us to cast into the "shadow line" on the water beneath the bridge, where game fish chase smaller baitfish. Hopefully, they will chomp on our lure, too.
But why the odd hour? "At night is when the stripers bite," says Steve Scholz, 45, of Amity Harbor. A computer technical specialist, he goes out fishing five times a week and has caught striped bass up to 35 pounds aboard the Laura Lee.
For avid fishermen, the 11 p.m.-3 a.m. trip is as much fun as any day trip, and there are fewer people on board to tangle lines with.
"Friday nights there are usually less people, so the boat's less crowded," says Scholz.
Still, there are no guarantees you will be taking home fresh filet. On a recent Saturday, 20 anglers caught 42 stripers - half were keepers, measuring at least 28 inches and there is a two-fish limit, according to state fishing regulations. The three stripers caught tonight are "shorts" and thrown back. But 12 bluefish are kept.
Night trippers should take along a light jacket even during summer because the bay can be cool and windy in the wee hours. One angler wore waders to keep his legs warm and dry. Others brought sandwiches and beverages, including beer (stronger alcoholic drinks are prohibited). Seasickness is generally not an issue.
If you are lucky enough to catch fish, you won't have to get your hands dirty cleaning them. Mates will clean your catch into filets or steaks, or will gut them with the heads on or off. They supply the plastic bag to take home your prize.
It's traditional to tip the mates 15 percent after they hand you the fish, according to Delanoy. Even if you've been skunked, the hardworking mates still deserve a gratuity as you leave the boat.
Late night striper trip with live eels
The Captree Fishfinder II's night fishing trips use live eels as bait to reel in striped bass. Reservations suggested.
When | Where: 10 p.m.-3 a.m. Thursday-Saturday through Sept. 1, Captree Fishfinder II, Captree State Park, Babylon, 516-287-3704, captreefishfinder.com
Cost: $60 ($50 ages 12 and younger)