The Four Seasons
(Originally Published in Nor'east Saltwater Magazine)
Some call it eastern Long Island sound, some call it Block Island sound, others call
it Rhode Island sound, Long Islanders usually refer to it simply as the east end. No
matter what you call it, it is one of the most productive fishing areas on the east
coast. If you are lucky enough to live close by, in Eastern CT, RI or the east end of
Long Island, you have easy access to most of the species that visit out waters. If
you are located a little further away you can easily take advantage of our great
interstate highway system and the many available launch ramps to trailer your
boat to the area. The area I speak of can be broadly defined as bounded on the
west by plum gut, and to the east by Cox’s ledge, on the north is the mainland
and to the south, with the exception of the south fork of Long Island and Block
Island is the open Atlantic.
Lets take a calendarized look at the fishing scene in this area.
Jan. - Feb.
January and February are the winter doldrums. Most boats are out of the
water awaiting the return of warmer weather. The few that are still in the water are
frequently iced in, and when they are not the NE winds will usually keep those few
brave souls tied to the dock. But when the wind and ice cooperate and do let the
diehards leave port, they can usually find some codfish not too far away. Given
the fickleness of the weather at this time of year most boats won’t stray too far
from port in search of the fish, but there are usually a few fish available at
Cartwright for the Montauk based boats and around Block Island for those boats
sailing from the mainland or the east end of Long Island.
March is when things start to stir and the extreme cases of cabin fever start to
return to the boat yards. St. Patrick’s day is the traditional start of the flounder
season, but state regulation take precedence. Generally most state seasons start
somewhere around the middle of the month, but check the state regulations
before you head out. As I write this, new, much stricter, regulations on winter
flounder are being discussed, so be sure to check the regs. for the both the state
where you’ll be fishing and the state you’ll be returning to, if it’s not the same state
where you’ll be fishing. When the founder season opens, most of the action will
be in the bays, salt ponds and estuaries that blanket the area. Look for muddy
bottom in shallow water, particularly on sunny days, for the first flounders of the
season. These days, it pays to chum heavily with some sort of ground up shellfish,
like clam, scallop bellies, and mussels. In a pinch, cat food will do but I don’t think
that it is as effective as the shellfish. If your chum pot has relatively large holes it
might pay to wrap the bottom half of it with some duct tape so that you only let out
a little dribble of chum. It will still attract the fish and be easier on your wallet. You
might well find a couple of tommy cod at the end of your line while flounder fishing
at this time of year.
For those who are willing to venture a little further, there will still be some cod
available locally, generally in the same spots that you might have fished during the
dead of winter. But, in the last several years there has been an influx of fish to the
southeast of Block Island. Maybe these fish were there all winter and no one ever
found them, or they moved into the area with the warmer weather, what really
matters is that they were there in late March and a red hot cod bite developed for
those that had their boats in the water. For those who either don’t have a boat, or
don’t have it in the water this early, don’t overlook the possibility of cod from
shore. The fish do move in close to the beach during the cold weather. Any of the
places in open water where you might catch a striper during the summer could
hold codfish at this time of year. One place that I have heard about is the deep
hole in front of the Castle Hill Inn in Newport, RI. Not that there is anything magical
about that spot, but it does have a hole that goes to almost 100 feet, not too far
from the shore. On the other hand, in the cold water the cod may not be that
deep. I have caught codfish in less than 40 feet of water off of Block Island at this
time of year. So deeper isn’t necessarily better.
April is the time when things really start to happen. Not because the fishing is
much better than it was in March, but more because the warmer weather motivates
more people to get out and about. As the weather warms the flounder fishing will
get better and better. The fish will gradually move into the deeper water
of the bays and ponds and down into the mouths of the rivers and streams.
Recently the flounder fishing in Narragansett bay has left a little to be desired. But
the fishing has held up fairly well in the salt ponds including the great salt pond in
Pt Judith, the adjacent Potter’s Pond, and Ninigret pond. On the Long Island side
there is often very good flounder fishing right in Lake Montauk. Another good
flounder spot is off the north west end of Fisher’s Island, between the island and
Cod fishing will continue during April, with the end of the month, depending on
water temperatures, often seeing the start of the spring run,. At the beginning of
the month most of the fish will be in the same areas they were found in the later
half of March, but as more fish move inshore places like 20 minutes east, off the
southwest side of Block island, the east grounds, on the east side of Block Island,
and shark’s ledge, off the southeast end of Block island may see some very good
fishing. One thing that’s sure to plague cod fishermen this coming season will be
the huge populations of spiny dogfish. One technique to avoid the doggies is to jig
for the cod. While jigging doesn’t seem to be as effective south of cape cod as it is
to the north, it will still take fish . If the doggies are thick and you suspect cod
under the boat try dropping a jig before you decide to move to another area.
The end of April will often bring some new arrivals to the area. Small striped bass
coming out the of the local rivers and power plant outflows, where they spent the
winter, will begin to make their way into the area. A few Tautog will start to move
into shallower water. Some years the Mackerel migration will pass by late in the
month, though most years it happens in May.
May is the month when things really start to happen. Codfishing in May is strictly a
deep water structure activity. Places like shark’s ledge, and the CIA grounds offer
the best chance at cod. May is the month of the big, “snowshoe” flounder.
Traditionally many of the se impressive fish were caught off Gardiner’s island’s
south end in Tobbacolot bay. While some fish are taken there every year most of
the big flounder these days are taken in the area of the hooter buoy off the
southwest corner of Block Island.
Speaking of flatfish, May is also the month when the summer flounder or fluke
make their initial appearance. Usually it’s the large specimens that show up first
and they usually make their presence known sometime between the first of the
month and Mother’s day. Look for them on Montauk’s south shore, anywhere from
the radar tower to the town. Also on the north fork of Long Island there is usually a
run of truly large fish off the north end of Shelter Island in Peconic bay in a very
small area locally called the green lawns. Later in the month you will be able to
find the big flatties off the center wall of the Harbor of Refuge in Pt. Judith and a
week or so after that up on Lucas shoal in Vineyard sound. Later in the month the
fish will settle into the rips between Montauk and Block Island, soon to be followed
by their smaller brethren. The initial run of fluke usually comes in pursuing the
spring squid migration, so whole squid baits are very effective. Don’t hesitate to
use relatively large squid on these first arrivals, I have seen a 5 pound fluke spit
up a squid that I measured at over a foot long!
For you calamari fans out there the arrival of the squid means more than good
fluke fishing. There are plenty of places in our area where you can catch your next
calamari dinner. This is strictly a nighttime proposition, during the day the squid
stay in deeper water and only come up in the water column after dark. While a
few people do target squid off of private boats, and a few party boats also target
them, mostly squid fishing is a land based endeavor. The key to finding a place to
fish is the presence of relatively intense light. The light attracts the squid which
can them be caught on squid jigs or bait. Some of the better known, and therefore
more crowded, places in the area are the Goat Island causeway in Newport, the
commercial docks in Greenport, the Ferry docks in Orient, the pier in Fort Pond
Bay in Montauk and the Commercial docks in Montauk Harbor. But there are
literally thousand of places along the coasts where you can catch squid,
particularly if you are equipped to bring along you own light.
Large striped bass will start to show during the month as the breeding fish move
out of the rivers and start their migration up the coast. The first fish we usually see
in the area are from the Hudson river but they are quickly followed by fish from the
Delaware river and the fish coming out of Chesapeake bay.
This is the time when the tautog, or blackfish, start to move inshore over the
rockpiles and mussel beds to prepare for their spawning rituals. The old timers
used to say that when the dogwoods bloom the tog are in, and that’s a pretty good
rule to go by. When the fish are inshore they can be caught on softer baits than
the usual large crabs. Some say that the soft baits work better in the spring
because the fish have tender mouths. Personally I think that, like almost all fish,
they simply prefer an easy meal over one which is a little harder to get down. We
can more easily accommodate them at this time of year, since there are far fewer
of the small bait stealing fish around. Don’t think that the big crabs won’t catch fish
at this time of year, they definitely do, but softer baits like clams, worms and fiddler
crabs will often out produce the bigger crabs. Any rock pile or mussel bed can
hold fish at this time of year. Some of the better known spots are the Beaver Tail
in Narragansett bay, the Watch Hill reef, and Cerebus shoal. But there is so much
good tog territory in the area, you should be able to find some fish close by where
ever you are.
Sometime during the month of May the mackerel will make a brief appearance.
Unlike other areas to our west and to our east, the macks don’t like to hang
around these waters for very long. They’ll usually be spotted in the ocean,
somewhere between Shinnecock and Montauk. In a matter of a few days they’ll be
off the coast of Newport and then they’ll be gone. After that if you want mackerel
you’ll have to make the long run to the Cape Cod Canal area, where they will
usually hold for a couple of weeks.
Right on the heels of the Macks the bluefish will make their appearance. These
are usually the smaller 5-10 pond fish. But these are the long and lean models
that look like they are built for speed. They won’t stay in any one place for long,
just popping up in one place and then disappearing only to pop up again a couple
of hours later a couple of miles away.
May should also see the first of the weakfish arrive. Nowadays, there really isn’t a
strong run of weakfish in the body of water we are talking about. It’s not like the
old days when you could fill a cooler with these spotted beauties just by bouncing
a root beer colored salty dog along the bottom at Block Island’s north bar. But
sometime this month the first of the tiderunners should show up in Peconic bay,
just a short way to the west. The fish will come through Shinnecock bay and the
Canal and around Montauk point and past Gardiner’s Island. It used to be that
there would be a fair amount of them caught as bycatch for the fluke boats fishing
in Montauk’s north rips. But not much of that happens anymore.
May is also the month when things begin to heat up on the offshore scene. Blue
sharks will be available to play tag with right through the entire month. A
porbeagle is not out of the question early in the month and the end of the month
might bring the first mako of the season. Migrating bluefin tuna of all sizes may
show up, especially later in the month. But these fast moving fish often behave like
they have lockjaw, refusing all offerings, and seemingly intent on reaching their
Now things are starting to settle down into their summer routine. The new arrivals
this month are the scup, AKA porgies and the black sea bass. There is usually a
good run of scup sometime during the month off the coast of Gardiner’s Island on
either the bay or sound side. Off of Eastern Plains Point is often the center of the
activity, and if the fist aren’t there they are often just outside the entrance to
Cherry harbor on the Long Island side. For those further to the east there is often
a good run of large scup around the Elizabethan Islands in Buzzards bay. The
fishing is often concentrated around Devil’s Bridge.
Sea bass usually show up to the east. The first fish will be caught in the area
around Martha’s Vineyard and Noman’s Island sometime during May. Then they
will gradually move to the west, reaching the Block Island grounds sometime this
month. Look for them on the east and west grounds earlier in the month, then in
the rips between Block Island and Montauk, particularly on the Porgy Hump and
Great Eastern, and then down to Frisbees and the new grounds, as well as up into
the rockpiles in the eastern sound.
The first run of really large striped bass usually makes it appearance early in the
month. The fish will be moving from east to west and will often show up at the
Race, the sluiceway and then off Montauk and on to Block Island. These fish can
be caught in any way you like to fish. Wire trolling umbrellas, tube & worm, casting
or trolling plugs, clams, mackerel and bunker chunks, eels, live scup, live
menhaden, every technique will work with these fish.
Now all of the striper fishermen, whether they like it or not, will have to contend
with the bluefish. The fish, in all sizes from 2 to 22 pounds will be everywhere and
anywhere. Later in the month the really large “alligator” blues will settle into the
deeper water at the Cartwright grounds off Montauk, and a lot of the smaller fish
will take up residence in the race and in the rips between Montauk and Block
Island. But there will many of the “tailor” sized fish that will just roam anywhere,
much to the chagrin of anglers seeking other species and to the delight of
fishermen who just want to bend a rod.
By the middle of the month the Tautog will have completed their spawning run and
begin moving back out to deeper water. Early in the month they will still be
available on the inshore reefs and rockpiles. The best bets for these migrating
fish before they head off into really deep water would be around the Beaver Tail in
Narragansett bay, the watch Hill reef, Cerebus shoal, Valiant rock, and southwest
During the early part of the month, the weakfish run should continue in Peconic
bay. A run of good sized fish also develops early this month in New Haven Harbor.
Later in the month some fish will begin to show up in Narragansett bay and, if we
get extremely lucky, along the North bar off Block Island.
By this time the fluke will have settled into their usual haunts for the summer,
though the run of big fish may continue into the early part of June up on Lucas
shoal. The fish should be available in all of the rips between Block Island and
Montauk, along the ocean beaches, between Gardiner’s island and the Ruins, on
Nebraska shoal and many, many other places.
Offshore, the beginning of June should see plenty of action with tagging blue
sharks and the first makos usually show up before the middle of the month. The
early arriving makos are usually the bigger fish that can handle the cool water
temperatures better. So the middle of June to the end of the month is a prime time
to go get that trophy mako. Also thresher sharks will start to show up, particularly
later in the month.
Bluefin tuna should be around and be a little more willing to eat than the fish that
came through in May. Mostly they will be school sized fish but an occasional pod
of giants will push through, often with disastrous results for the tackle of those
fishing for school sized fish. Look for them in the Butterfish hole, Ryan’s and Jenny’
s horns, the tuna grounds south of Block Island, the Mud Hole, and the Dump.
Further offshore, if a warm water eddy comes off the gulf stream, there can be
tuna action out in the canyons. We have caught Longfin (albacore) and yellowfin
tuna in early to mid June in more than a few years. A satellite temperature service
is almost a must have for this type of fishing this early n the season.
July is really the start of the “summer” season for fishing in these waters.
Generally during late June and early July the fish will spread out throughout the
area and take up their summer residences. In no species is this truer than for the
fluke or summer flounder. They will spread throughout the area, over virtually
every piece of bottom, hard or soft, that features good current flow and some sort
of structure where they can lay in ambush for their prey. From the rips between
Montauk and Block Island, to the rips off Fisher’s island and east to Narragansett
bay, these tasty flatfish will accommodate all anglers willing to put in a little time
learning the how’s and where’s of fluke fishing.
Bluefish will be frequent visitors to all of the current and tidal rips, pursuing any
bait fish they can find. Other than the Cartwright grounds off of Montauk, where
“alligator” sized blues will take up residence, most of the fish are in the 3 to 10
pound range and they will pop up here and there throughout the month. For the
boats targeting them this turns into a “run and gun” type of proposition, running to
where the fish have surfaced, and keeping far enough away to keep from
spooking them. Then the school will sound and it’s off to find the next school
feeding on the surface. It’s much the same drill for the shore bound anglers.
except they take the term “run” much more literally, especially those on beaches
that don’t allow 4X4s during the summer. Those knowledgeable anglers who let a
bait get below the surface feeding bluefish will sometimes be rewarded with some
good sized weakfish.
There will be lots of striped bass available to all anglers during the month. The
boat guys will typically target the SW corner of Block Island, the rips off Montauk,
the race, plum gut, the rips off Fisher’s Island, the watch hill reef, and the north
bar off Block Island. But that is no where near an exhaustive list, there are literally
thousands of holes, rips, and rocks that may hold stripers at this time of year. The
fish will also be up inside the rivers and bays, with plenty of fish also bring caught
up inside Narragansett Bay. For the surf guys, there will be the occasional blitz of
fish under the light and around both sides of the point in Montauk, all along the
coast of Block Island, in the areas around the breachways on RI’s south shore, in
Newport along the beaches and down the CT coast.
For the sinker bouncers, in addition to the fluke, the Scup and sea bass should
begin moving inshore onto the hard bottom in places like the east and west
grounds off Block Island, Southwest ledge. Frisbees, the porgy hump, the
pocketbook, Watch Hill reef, and the area outside the Harbor of Refuge in Pt
It also is not the least bit unusual for a good cod bite to develop this month on Cox’
s ledge. The fish are usually scattered on both the east and west sides. Recently,
the dogfish have become a real pain, with catches of four or five dogfish for every
cod not all that unusual. Adding to the dogfish problem is the fact that jigs are not
usually very effective at this time of year on Cox’s, and most of the fishing is bait
fishing with clams.
Offshore the bluefin tuna bite should turn on this month, with school sized fish
scattered throughout the area. They might be found anywhere from the dump to
the butterfish hole to the mud hole, around the acid barge and tuna bank off Block
Island and off to Ryan’s and Jenny’s horns. These same areas should hold plenty
of sharks, primarily blues, with some makos and threshers mixed in, as well as the
occasional dusky and Brown shark. Later in the month a few of the more exotic
species will begin to show up like hammerheads and tigers. During the first week
of the month is the traditional arrival date for white marlin. We used to spend a
couple of days early in the month specifically targeting these spectacular fighters.
But with today’s dwindling numbers specifically targeting whites is an exercise in
Further offshore, yellowfin, albacore and bigeye tunas should show up in the
canyons, along with some white marlin. Late in the month may see the arrival of
some of the big blue marlin that visit us during the warmer months.
August pretty much follows along in July’s pattern, so rather than repeat myself, I’ll
just touch on what typically changes during August.
The first big change is that the weakfish will virtually disappear. Those letting their
baits get below the surface feeding bluefish will much more likely find striped bass
feeding on the pieces left behind by the bluefish.
Meanwhile the scup and sea bass, while continuing to be found in the same
locations will become considerably larger. This past season we were catching sea
bass to 4 pounds and scup the size of dinner plates by the last week in August.
This is also the month when the fluke will begin to prepare for their fall migration.
Usually by the third or fourth week in August the fluke will begin to move into the
south side of Montauk and become considerably larger, on average, that they
have been since the beginning of June. By the last week of the month the run of
large fluke, to double digits, should be well underway off Montauk’s south shore in
40-70 feet of water on the hard bottom.
On the offshore scene this month should bring the first good numbers of Mahi-
Mahi, or dolphin fish. Look for them around the offshore lobster pot buoys,
around any large mats of floating sarragassum weed or any floating debris. The
smaller models make dandy baits for the bigger offshore predators including the
tunas and marlins. Also this month you might be lucky enough to hook into a
wahoo while tuna trolling. If you want a shot at landing one, should you be lucky
enough to hook one, you should use a sort length of wire leader in front of your
hook(s). They have teeth that will make a bluefish blush.
This is the month that fall fishing begins. The fluke will usually be gone by the
middle of the month, though some years they may hang on until the end of the
month. The beginning of the month is prime time to get that trophy doormat off
Montauk’s south side.
As the month goes on the scup and sea bass fishing will steadily improve, with the
fish getting even larger and more willing to take a bait. This is the prime month for
scup and sea bass anywhere from Point Judith and the west side of Block Island,
over to Montauk, Plum Gut and any rockpile in between.
Bluefish and stripers will soldier on much as they have during the months of July
and August. Their internal clocks have’nt begun to hint at migration yet.
Offshore fishing should be in full swing with the highest water temperatures of the
year. If there is going to be an “inshore” run of tuna, this will be the month that it
happens. Whether it happens or not depends on a volatile mix of water
temperatures, bait availability and fishing pressure. If the inshore water
temperatures are warm and if there is a lot of bait available inshore, and if there is
a relative lack of bait in the canyons, and if the draggers are working the inshore
bait, and if a lot of fishermen are out there throwing chunks in the water, then the
fish, both bluefin and yellowfins, may decide to take up residence inshore for a
couple of weeks.
Out in the Canyons this is the prime time for big blue marlin. We don’t get a lot of
blue marlin in our offshore waters but a lot of the ones we do get are the real big
mommas, that have a higher tolerance for the relatively cool waters we have
during the season.
This is the month when the weather usually turns iffy. Sometime between Labor
Day in September and the beginning of October we will get into our fall weather
pattern which usually has a cold front coming through our waters every third day
or so. If the fronts aren’t too strong, and if you can get out between them, this can
be the one of the best months of fishing.
On the inshore scene, this is the month when the stripers and bluefish put on the
feed bag to get ready for their fall migration. All of the areas that usually hold
these fish will have them and they will be hungry.
The scup and sea bass fishing will hit its peak on the inshore grounds this month,
and then, as the water cools down the fish will move off into deeper water. Until
they make their final push into the really deep offshore waters in November.
Cox’s ledge will still be producing some cod during the month, if the dogfish don’t
make fishing unbearable. In the later part of the month you may also find the big
scup and migrating sea bass on the ledge for a few weeks.
If winter flounder are going to make a fall appearance, they should start to show
up sometime after the middle of the month. Look for them at the entrances to the
salt ponds and rivers.
Tautog should start to show up on the wrecks and rockpiles in 20-60 feet of water.
There are so many spots on the western border of our area to catch tog that
listing them all would take more space than I have allotted. But to the less rocky
east two of the prime spots are southwest ledge and Cerebus shoals. Of course
the area around Plum Island is filled with potential tog hot spots.
On the offshore scene, weather permitting, this is the month for tuna fishing.
Unlike earlier in the season when night chunking may or may not produce fish, at
this time of year chunking is as close as it gets to guaranteeing fish, if the fish are
around. Inside of the canyons the fish may or may not be around, though in recent
years its been more likely that they won’t be inshore. Out in the canyons, if you
find a warm water edge, the fish are more than likely going to be there and be
November is the month for striped bass fishing. Sometime early in the month the
bluefish will start to thin out. They won’t completely disappear, but there will be few
enough around to allow you to fish with bait without the fear of losing all of your
bait to bluefish. Sometime later in the month the sea herring will probably show up
and if you can catch a few of these, drifting them live in the right spots is like
offering candy to a baby. Anywhere and everywhere that Stripers are usually
found will likely hold fish up until the end of the month. This past year we pounded
fish the week before thanksgiving off the South West corner of Block Island, and
they guys to the west had fish off Montauk and in Plum Gut well into December.
As the water cools the scup and sea bass will move off into the 40-50 fathom
depths and the codfish will start to move inshore slightly. This year they were a
few sharpies catching codfish at the mud hole, to the east of Block Island, in the
latter part of November.
If the winter flounder are around they should be found up into the rivers and inside
the salt ponds this month. Depending on the temperatures, they may be available
through the end of the month.
The tog will also continue strong this month, still on the 20-60 feet wrecks and
rockpiles. They will also be found up into Narragansett bay in places like
Beavertail and back into the eastern Long Island sound, which could be aptly
called blackfish heaven.
Out in the canyons, the tuna are usually still out there in November, but the
weather makes getting to them more and more problematical. Some of the bigger
partyboats will make the trip at this time of year, but most of the privately owned
sport boats give up the ghost before the month is out.
This is the month when the stripers start to disappear. Early in the month they still
can be found around Block Island and further east. Usually by the middle of the
month they will be gone from the waters around Block Island, but still can be found
off Montauk and Plum Gut. By late in the month they will just about be gone until
next year, except for the hold overs in the various rivers.
The tog will gradually move out into deeper water as the month goes on. They will
remain available on the deep water wrecks and rockpiles, in around 75-100 feet
of water through the end of the month and possibly into January if the water
doesn’t cool too fast.
Meanwhile the codfish will continue their push into shallower water. Some of the
same spots that held sea bass in October could now give up some codfish around
By Christmas even the hardiest of souls have usually pulled their boats and are
busy working on their holiday decorations and getting tackle ready for next
season. A few diehards will stick it out by fishing the party boats or one of the few
private boats left in the water. They will tend to fish close to port and bring home a
mixed bag of codfish, ling, and whiting. The rest of us start dreaming about next