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April Flounders on the Flamingo
By Charlie Sciara

The rising sun shimmered on Brooklyn’s Gerritsen Creek as sleepy-eyed anglers, one by one, boarded Captain Bob Wiegand’s “Flamingo III” party boat.  There was a relaxed eagerness in the air, spurred by a long, cold icy winter and an early spring of unrelenting wind and rain.  On this late April morning, flounder were awaiting us. 

The rhythmic tone of the diesel engines signaled our imminent departure promptly at 6:30 A.M.  Everyone aboard said or thought “nice day” as the Flamingo III quickly sliced through the placid waters of Sheepshead Bay on her way toward the NY Bight’s Romer Shoals. New York City’s skyline offered a majestic, scenic backdrop, while intense activity in the stern grabbed even the casual fisherman’s attention as anglers busily shucked mussels into cardboard coffee containers that would tempt even the most fastidious flounder.

The engines slowed, then stopped.  Quickly, the anchor line and chum pots were dropped, the horn sounded and wordlessly sinkers and hooks hit bottom.  Ground bits of mussel and clamshells were deftly cast by mates Bernie and Captain Bob’s son, John.  Moments later, an angler in the stern nailed the first fish, a keeper.  Twenty minutes later, the engines revved; only six fish caught by the 30 passengers prompted Captain Bob to change course for the beaches off Sandy Hook.

For the next three hours, a steady pick of flounder, some weighing nearly 2.5 pounds, were swung over the gunwales, unhooked and deposited into waiting plastic pails. One fisherman caught everyone’s attention with a double header.  These fish had “shoulders;” hardly any throwbacks. The frenetic piscatorial pace combined with a warming sun caused nearly everyone to shed sweatshirts and jackets.  We intuitively knew this was going to be a great fishing day and it was until 11 a.m.

Suddenly that beautiful azure sky became gray; the invigorating salty air became anglers in cabin.a howling wind creating swift currents and whitecaps around us.  Sweatshirts, jackets, hats and gloves materialized and fishermen quickly sought refuge in the spacious cabin to eat a sandwich, drink coffee or simply to blow one’s nose.  Bernie and John, experienced pros that they are, used the opportunity to begin expertly filleting fish for many prospective dinners, careful to keep any possible pool winners intact.

En route to the dock, Captain Bob, 49, a third generation captain at Gerritsen Capt. Bob WiegandCreek, shared his passions and frustrations as a party boat skipper.  His calm demeanor belies his love for the water, fishing and the camaraderie that is evident among the captain, the crew and his party boat regulars.  His frustrations focus on wrong-headed governmental regulations that have decimated the party boat industry.  He points out that only one other party boat will be bluefishing from Sheepshead Bay; a far cry from twenty years ago.  He attributes this “thinning of the herd” to governmental catch limits of 10 choppers per angler.

The recent fluke regulations limiting catches to three fish 17 inches or larger cause him to seethe. “The government says we over fished our fluke quota in 2003 by late May.  Do you remember last May?  Rain, rain and more rain.  All but the diehards got out, so how did we over fish our quota?”  He shakes his head.  “I’m all for conservation, but the fish stocks are in fabulous shape; the recreational fish counts the government conducts are troubling.  Exaggerated catches by individual fishermen must be multiplied by some formula to create Alice in Wonderland numbers.

That hurts everybody in the recreational fishing industry: bait and tackle dealers, party and charter boat captains and Joe Public, who simply wants to take home a fish dinner.” The government, he adds ruefully, doesn’t even acknowledge the distinction between the generally larger fish sizes on the east end of Long Island with smaller fish caught to the west.  “How are the Sheepshead Bay fluke boats going to attract customers with these restrictions?” he wonders.  His question is begging for an answer.

We ended the day with over 110 flounder caught for the 30 or so anglers this day in what is an overlooked flounder fishery. Each season as bass and blues start to move into Raritan Bay and water temps rise, flounder move out of Raritan in search of cooler water temps to their liking and to escape the voracious predators on the prowl. These flounder work their way down the Jersey Shore in 15 to 20-foot of water and are fixed on hard bottom which is why baits like mussels and clams strips work much better…on average, then worms.

You can also encounter swifter currents and the tackle you need needs to be upgraded a little from the super light outfits we enjoy for winter flatties in the back bay calm waters. Try using the new Penn International series of baitcasters like the 965 or 975 or spinning tackle such as the Penn Slammer  series spinning reels the 260 or 360 series Slammer. You also have stray bass, some are keepers, to contend with and the extra beefiness allows you to control your fish so as not to take fellow anglers’ lines with you and get the fish in the boat as there are some keepers here as well.

Make sure you vet out and try this fishery before it ends and make sure you visit the fantastic crew of the Flamingo before they switch over to the bass ands blues that cause the fishery to end rather abruptly sometime in late spring each season. You can reach the Flamingo III at 718-763-8745     

 

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