Keeper stripers showed in good numbers this week, so why the F are we killing them all!
Yes, we finally had some good striper fishing this week, which is a darn good thing, as at least for a few days I don’t feel like strangling everyone.
What’s left of the last strong year class we had, the 2003s, seems to have finally stumbled across all those immense schools of bunker that have been loitering along the south shore of western Long Island. (The 2011s were strong also, but they have yet to recruit). It was actually pretty epic at times, with adult menhaden spraying out of the water as 25- to 35-pound bass boiled underneath them. They were taking surface plugs, even flies if you fished them right. Most people of course were live lining. … Pretty much everyone was killing fish. I mean a lot of them. Unfortunate that this exploded on Sunday, so there were a lot of boats out and a lot of guys on the beach. All of them killing fish.
I get it, man. Bass haven’t really been around in good numbers in the last few years, so when they did show, everyone felt they had the right. And I suppose they did. Still, it doesn’t make it right.
But before getting to that, lemme just talk about the lack of fish. Some of the unenlightened still blame it on the weather, confirming their armchair theories with the sudden onslaught of 2003s in June. But that ain’t it. There are simply less stripers around. We all see it on the water, and it’s been pretty well documented by the pointy-head science guys, also. But these infrequent slugs of fish moving though, while awesome even as they become more short-lived and infrequent, probably aren’t helping convince managers that there’s a real problem.
It’s not unusual for fish to be locally abundant, even when a stock is depleted overall, and such pockets of good fish stand out even more when they appear in an otherwise empty sea. They have become the new norm in the striped bass fishery, and it’s kinda a bummer. I pretty much built my business around the schoolie fishery. I really hate to be one of those old guys waxing about “how it used to be,” but we used to consistently catch a dozen, maybe two dozen fish in the 18- to 24-inch range, with the occasional good fish (in the 30- to 40-inch range) mixed in. Even if we didn’t catch a good fish, there was always the expectation that we could, and that always brought people back.
Now what we have are scenarios like the one I described above, where we have brief but extraordinary showings of fish, all of which are generally large. A couple of years ago, right around July 4th , we actually stuck more 40 and 50s in the space of a just few days than I had ever seen in my life. On the third day, I ran out of Breezy Point after telling my clients how awesome it had been the prior two days to find the same sort of bait concentrations, identical conditions, but zero fish. The small but concentrated body of fish had simply moved on. There wasn’t much before them, and nothing came in their wake.
I’m all for extraordinary fishing, but it’s tough to handle the huge highs and then the low lows. I imagine it’s like coming down from a good crack buzz or something. Leaves you empty and just wanting more. For sure I’d rather just have the sort of consistency we used to have, which comes with a healthy fishery and a good distribution of age classes, so I don’t feel like I want to punch everyone during three-quarters of the fishing season.
But I’ve talked about all this stuff before, and I’m getting off track. The point is that when these fish do show up, why do we all feel compelled to kill them? I mean, come on man. Don’t we realize that these are the last of a great year class and it would benefit us all to just let them go so that maybe we can catch them again next year? For Christ’s sake, the big ones don’t even taste good! If you’ve ever eaten a fish over 40 inches I’m guessing you know what I mean. They have those thin purple veins throughout the fillet. I imagine it’s very similar to eating a ribeye from an 80-year-old steer. Yuck!
While we’re on the subject, striped bass in general doesn’t really taste like anything. Sure it’s “white” and “flakey,” which for some reason is what the magazines say we should want from our fish, but seriously, it’s relatively tasteless. Sure, it’s good when you fry it, but anything is good fried. I suppose all the chefs like it because it’s, well, bland and serves as a good medium for various sauces they’ve concocted, and I get that also. But I dunno man. When I eat fish, I kinda want it to taste like fish.
So … brass tacks. I’m sure there are some who may disagree with me here, but as a food fish, striped bass generally sucks. And as we all pretty much know at this point, the stock is in trouble. If all of you guys really give a shit about the stock as much as you say you do, then stop killing them! I know, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the hunt. Hell, if you don’t get all fired up when it goes off, then you shouldn’t be fishing! But take a step back next time you get into them good. And think to yourself all the reasons you should just snap a quick photo and throw that big beautiful fish back in the water, so it can spawn again, so that another angler can encounter it one day, when it’s even bigger!
Listen, there are plenty of bluefish around right now. In fact, I’ve been having some epic fishing in just a couple feet of water, fishing poppers for some monster bluefish. If you are turning your nose up right now, you are gonna have a really tough seven or eight years before the striped bass resource gets back to where it should be. And that’s assuming Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission does the right thing, and we all know it may not.
The point is that if you want to bring something home for the table, kill a bluefish.
Don’t give me that bullshit about how you simply “don’t like” bluefish. And yeah, I’ve heard the one about placing a bluefish on plank. Placing the plank and the fish on a grill. Cooking for 30 minutes, then throwing away the fish and eating the plank.
The truth is the stigma comes from all those jackasses eating bluefish that are either too large (and have been eating bunker their whole lives) or aren’t fresh. Dollars to doughnuts, if you don’t like bluefish, that’s because you haven’t prepared them right. So I’m gonna do you a huge favor and give you my double-secret bluefish recipe, even though I’ve been hoarding it for myself and my family for the last 20 years.
Trust me. If you like fish at all, you will like this!
First, cut the throat of the fish when you catch it and let it bleed out on the ice. Then,
- Take a “small” bluefish (5 pounds and under), fillet and skin.
- Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees or as hot as that MF will go
- Put a generous slab of butter on a 12 inch by 12 inch piece of aluminum foil
- Put the fillet on top of it
- Generously salt then cover it with lemon pepper (if you don’t have, then just use lemon juice and cracked pepper)
- Put two more generous tabs of butter on top
- Slice up some onions and place across the fillet
- Wrap up the fillet
- Place it on a cookie sheet
- Note: if you do more than one fillet, wrap each fillet individually
- Cook for 8 to 10 minutes
- Put on plate, open the foil and eat right from the foil (note: there is no reason to remove it from the foil. If you do that you will totally F it up).
- Note: Asparagus goes really good with this, and so does a baked potato … and, um, so does an ice cold Budweiser out of a can. You fancy beer snobs can drink whatever trendy IPA you might have in the fridge. And, um, the wife says pinot grigio goes well with it also.
Yes, bluefish is a “fishy” tasting fish, and yes, the big ones can be “oily.” But the ones under five pounds, if fresh, are really F’n good if you just give them a chance – especially when they are prepared in the way described above, where you are basically steaming the fillet in butter. I mean really, what could be better? There are a lot of other ways to prepare them. Capt. Paul Eidman makes ceviche, which I haven’t yet tried, but I’m told is awesome. (Hook us up with a recipe, Paul!)
The point of all this drivel about killing/cooking/eating bluefish is so you knuckleheads might think twice about killing bass in the increasingly rare instances they do show these days. Seriously, just because they haven’t been around, should we knock the shit out of them when they do show? Is that bland striped bass fillet with the gnarly veins running though it worth the spawning potential you just destroyed? The answer is no! All the talk means nothing if you choose not to walk the walk. Take home a couple of bluefish instead. Try that recipe, then thank me in the morning.