One measure of a great charter boat operation is a skipper's ability to find the fish. Another is that operation's ability to teach customers to actually hook what's under the boat. At no time on the inshore scene are these attributes more telling than during blackfish season, which is one reason anglers on Wednesday were happy to be aboard the Orient Point vessel Nancy Ann IV (nancyanncharters.com) with Capt. Rich Jensen at the helm.
The charter team of 12 people, assembled by Sportfishing on Long Island instructor Jerry McGrath, included a mix of expert and novice 'toggers, each hoping to get their four-fish limit and bring home a pile of tasty fillets.
Steaming out past Orient Point, we set up over rocky bottom and the more experienced anglers immediately began to score. As blackfish veterans like McGrath, Sam Amendolia of Nesconset, Don Johnsen of Floral Park, Joe Lien of Centereach and John Gardner of Bellmore set up with enough consistency to keep hard-working mate Kevin Parker moving at a quick pace, newcomers to the scene like 20-year-old Dan Gardner (John's son) and Anthony Rubino, 31, of Farmingdale, struggled at first to keep pace. I watched, however, as Jensen quietly emerged from the wheelhouse and gave a quick hands-on lesson to the younger Gardner.
"People think you've got to keep your crab perfectly still on the bottom to catch blackfish,'' explained Jensen as he reached for Gardner's fishing stick, "but bouncing it gently sometimes triggers more strikes.''
Taking that simple advice and a brief demo to heart, Gardner immediately nailed three fish to join the fun. Rubino, on his first blackfish trip, acted on a tip from another veteran and began teaming a soft piece of hermit crab with a harder chunk of green crab. He went on to finish among the day's leaders in fish caught.
"Hermits are good for catching a lot of fish,'' said Jensen, "but pool winners usually fall to green crabs. I like the ones with a lot of orange color on the bottom. Their meat seems firmer than crabs showing more green or yellow on the underside.''
Within minutes of Jensen's remark, Johnsen, fishing alongside Rubino, drilled a 6-pounder to take the pool. His bait: green crab.
"It's amazing what you learn if you watch and listen on a great boat like this,'' McGrath said as we chugged for home with a full limit. "I'm targeting blackfish over 30 years, and I still pick up new tips every time out with this skipper.''
The blackfish and offshore wreck bite has ranged from steady to solid from the East End all the way west to Captree, Freeport and Point Lookout. Blackfishing, in general, also remains solid along the North Shore, especially out of Huntington and Port Jefferson.
If you would rather try for stripers, Captree's Fishfinder II has had them pretty good in Fire Island Inlet on clams, and just starting up again on diamond jigs off the South Shore beaches.
Paul Graniello, at J&J Sports in Patchogue, also noted an uptick in surf action between Shinnecock Inlet and Smiths Point Beach.
"Sand eels showed up this week, so toss tins,'' he advised. "Stick at it and you should be able to hook a few schoolies.''