The Nowakowski men ply the waters off Long Island in...

The Nowakowski men ply the waters off Long Island in search of fish. They are from left, Ronald Jr., Ronald and his brother John. (August 2010) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Growing up in Massapequa in the 1960s, Peter Cittadini learned just about everything he needed to know about sport fishing from his father.

"I . . . used to go fishing on the canals all the time," Cittadini, 56, of Lindenhurst, an ironworker, recalled recently.

However, after his father died 20 years ago, and without a son of his own, he had lacked a close family fishing buddy. But that changed about five years ago when his daughter, Alison, said she'd like to try tossing a line in the water.

"It was something different, I just decided I'd try," Alison said. "I was never much into being a girlie-girl." She wasn't daunted when her father told her she'd have to bait her own hook.

And so began a family tradition of father-daughter fishing trips. Now, when they have the same night off, Cittadini and Alison, 30, a patient care associate at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, board a "party boat" that's headed for the fishing grounds off Long Island shores.

On a recent clear, warm summer night, they were among 50 anglers aboard the Laura Lee, a Captree Fleet fishing boat making the rounds of man-made reefs in the Atlantic Ocean about two miles south of Fire Island. They filled two buckets with 15 "keepers," including a five-pound sea bass landed by Alison.

Standing next to his daughter at the stern, Cittadini said fishing is "a way to relax and spend some time with her [Alison]." He later added, "It's nice to have a daughter that shows interest in fishing."

Ronald Nowakowski Sr. and his son, Ronald Jr., prepare bait...

Ronald Nowakowski Sr. and his son, Ronald Jr., prepare bait for a day of fishing out of Seaford. (Aug. 8, 2010) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A week afterward, Cittadini took Alison to a local sporting goods shop to buy a good fishing rod, so she'll catch even more fish.

Alison, who plans to marry in October, said she plans to use her new fishing pole even after the wedding. Her fiancé, she says, doesn't fish. "Of course, I'll keep fishing with Dad," she said.

Anglers now in their 50s or older can trace their passion for fishing to idyllic childhood days spent with rod and reel. Decades later, the itch to catch fluke, striped bass or other saltwater species around Long Island hasn't ebbed.

Instead, these lifelong fans of the sport are teaching the lore, lure and love of fishing to their children and grandchildren. And even when they don't catch fish -- some call that "drowning worms" -- devotees say it's a pleasant way to spend quality time with the family.

Fishing knows no age limits and can be just as thrilling for old salts as first timers, especially those who experience beginner's luck. (There are, however, size limits for certain saltwater species, and other regulations you need to know before taking up the hobby. For details, see the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website, dec.ny.gov.)

Rich Van Wicklen, 72, of Freeport says he never tires of the satisfaction gleaned from fishing. He especially enjoys showing a novice how to "outsmart the fish," he said. He taught his children to fish when they were young and is now indoctrinating his grandchildren in the ways of the sea.

Van Wicklen said he recently showed a young family friend how to catch fish. First he tested a lure, and when it caught a fish, he let the boy use it. The gambit worked, when, Van Wicklen said, "he caught his first fluke. It's fun to watch a kid enjoy that."

The bonding experience that fishing creates is what keeps the sport going for many families that have been hooked from the time Long Island was a landscape of potato fields.

Ronald Nowakowski Sr., 59, a carpenter who lives in Garden City Park, says that even as a tot, his father took him fishing every weekend, rain or shine. Early on, he learned where the good fishing spots were -- in Seaford, Merrick, Freeport and the Jones Beach inlet.

Now, the Nowakowski family casts for fish aboard his 28-foot boat, Seahorse. They go for striped bass in the spring, fluke in the summer, and sea bass and porgy when those other fish have left the area.

Nowakowski's son, Ronald Jr., 34, of Lake Ronkonkoma, took a vacation from fishing to parent his now 1-year-old twin boys, but he has started going out again. And Nowakowski says he looks forward to the day when all of his grandkids are ready to go out on the Seahorse.

On a boat, he says, "you sit there and talk about everything and anything, and you have that kind of bond, at the same time you are waiting for the fish" to bite.

For families that fish, togetherness is as important as the catch.

Also aboard the Laura Lee party boat were Bay Shore residents Luis Montes, 29 and his father, Luis Montes-Brito, 48, a retired diplomat from El Salvador, who works for State Sen. Brian X. Foley (D-Blue Point).

Although they caught few fish that night, they were enjoying their father-son evening. The sport is a tradition in the Montes family -- and at one point, fishing was also their business.

During the 1990s, Montes-Brito was a partner in a shrimp factory in Acajutla, a port city in his native El Salvador. He often took his two sons on deep-sea fishing trips. He used the trips to educate them about the environment and the wildlife in the sea, such as sharks and dolphins. On a fishing trip, the father says, "there's no television, you can talk to them with no distraction . . . You have a very close moment with your family."

Montes, an economist and chief of staff for Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood), said he appreciated those early fishing trips, despite getting seasick. "We were always pretty close, but that created a special bond, just spending time on the sea."