Fishing for snappers, the diminutive juvenile bluefish that invade Long Island bays and harbors in late July and early August, is never a sure thing. Some years, anglers score limit catches just about any time they head to a local dock. Other years, not so much.
So far, this year looks to be a good one. The young blues, albeit still small, have been terrifying tightly bunched schools of spearing along both the South and North shores. While the south side currently has an edge in terms of size and abundance, the next week or two should see that even out.
"We're off to a great start," said Paul Graniello at J & J Sports Center in Patchogue. "The snappers are still a little small but they grow an inch a week at this time of year so some should measure seven inches by the weekend. That's a nice size for eating."
That would be a good thing, considering the Village of Patchogue is holding its 32nd annual Snapper Derby at Mascot Dock Saturday and all kids are welcome. Ages 6 to 10 fish from 1 to 2 p.m. while ages 11 to 14 compete from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. There is a $5 sign-up fee at the dock, but Graniello suggests contestants arrive an hour early to sign in before the tournament begins since there is a prize for the first fish caught. J&J sponsors the tourney and sends along a crew to offer free fishing instruction.
Snappers are also starting to show at the Captree Fishing Pier, where anglers are finding a few fish big enough to take home for dinner.
"The small blues really love snapper poppers," said Katie Burnett at Captree Bait and Tackle, which is hosting a snapper derby at the Captree fishing piers Aug. 15-16 for kids ages 16 and under. That tourney runs from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. each day and is free to enter. You can even rent a rod, reel and snapper rig right at the shop if you don't have your own.
While there aren't any impending snapper derbies scheduled for the North Shore of which I am aware, Mark McGowen at Cow Harbor Bait and Tackle in Northport said that bigger fish are currently running the Long Island Sound beaches at Sunken Meadow and Hobart Beach. Smaller but more numerous snappers are available at the Huntington Town Dock.
The Cedar Beach pier in Mount Sinai, traditionally one of the best spots on Long Island, hasn't seen much action yet, noted Sue Flora at Miller Place Bait and Tackle, but catches there should start any day now with snapper poppers generally the best offering.
And just what does it take to win a snapper derby, or at least catch your limit of these tasty finsters?
"Simple preparation is the biggest thing," Graniello said. "Get your gear set before heading to the dock. That way, you just cast out and let the fun begin without the frustration of rigging up, tying knots or discovering at the last second that the reel you haven't used since last year isn't working."
Current bluefish regulations allow anglers to keep 15 fish of any size, but no more than 10 can measure less than 12 inches in total length.