Photo above by Adam Eldredge
Not much can convince this country boy that braving New York traffic is ever going to be worthwhile. If being tailgated, sworn at, or cut off is your thing, then who am I to judge? For me, putting life and sanity on the line should be reserved for something truly special. I’m not talking about the 100-mile-per-hour flybys on I-95 or the horrifying, high-speed deer-dodging on the Merritt or Sawmill parkways. The traffic I’m talking about is the traffic on the water.
No brakes, unresponsive steering, swirling tides, and gusting winds can make crowded boating conditions even more difficult. For those of us used to a more placid commute, where the worst part is a bug-splattered windshield, this is stress and suffering on an industrial scale. What could actually be worth all this trouble? Who would willingly subject themselves to such anxiety, and dangerously high blood pressure spikes? Me, that’s who, for one of the greatest prizes in all of the sea—porgies!
There’s nothing like the pinch point at Jessup’s Neck in the south end of Noyack Bay to kick off the porgy fishing season. Not just any porgies: scup, maidens, silver snappers, ‘Ol Ironsides—the kind of porgies dreams are made of. They are the super-sized slabs that never bother swimming to my side of the Long Island Sound in Connecticut. To catch hubcaps worthy of legitimate wide-smiled pride, I brave the long trip to porgy heaven.
Soon after the shrink-wrap is off the Steiger in April, I start getting an itch that can only be scratched with a tight line. Unfortunately, cold water usually keeps me in the salty backwaters at first, praying over featureless black mud flats for a winter flounder bite that never seems to materialize. But all is not lost—just put your ear to the wall for whispers of the Peconic. The whispers will be quiet, but when local headboats confirm the rumors and start burning diesel to make the hop across the Sound, it’s time to buckle up and put the hammer down.
Getting to Noyack Bay is a bit of a grind from my home port of Niantic, Connecticut. However, after making the voyage once, I never looked at the early season on the eastern end of the Long Island Sound the same way again. Depending on the weather, it takes about an hour of zig-zagging and anticipation to reach meat-fishing Nirvana. Shoot across the sound, tiptoe your way through Plum Gut, and set a course for Greenport. Unfortunately, clam rolls, coleslaw, and cold ones at Claudio’s will have to wait for another month or two. Zip right past this historic port and don’t look back. You’re on a mission.
Boat traffic begins to build into some minor congestion in front of those big green lawns but keep pushing onward. Take a hard right at North Channel Buoy 14 and you’ll find the mother of all New York traffic jams. In this concentrated collection of crazies, everyone is competing for the same thing—jumbo porgies. With birds screaming, fish breaking, and boat horns blaring, it’s some of the most insane fun you’ll have all season. As long as the crowd (mostly) behaves themselves and follows basic safe-boating rules, it’s easy fishing.
Early porgy season falls toward the end of squid season, so I head to the Peconic with a small cooler stocked with freshly caught, pre-cut squid bits. I clean up a dozen freshly caught squid the day before I leave and cut the mantles into triangular pieces around an inch long, then throw the tentacles into sauce for pasta.
The typical porgy rig is easy to make. It has a dozen clever, unofficial names, but my grandpa Lou used to call it a high-low rig, so that’s good enough for me. I tie mine with 10- to 15-pound fluorocarbon, starting with a length around three feet long. I make a quick loop with a surgeon’s knot at the bottom for a sinker and two mid-stream dropper loops around six to eight inches apart as I work my way up the line. At the top, I like to tie in a ball-bearing swivel with a clinch knot.
I use Mustad O’Shaughnessy 2X Strong hooks attached directly to the dropper loops and start with a bigger hook than most anglers use. I recommend beginning with a hook in the range of 2/0 and downsizing if you’re missing too many solid hits. Since you came to the Peconic for jumbos, bigger hooks tend to help leave those shorts on the bottom where they belong.
The loop on the bottom is useful for changing sinkers quickly and efficiently. Start with one ounce of lead and adjust as necessary. Ideally, you want to be tapping rather than dredging the bottom. Because this area constricts, accelerates, and tumbles the tide, it may be necessary to frequently change the weight.
I send the rig to the bottom with a 7-foot, saltwater-rated spinning or baitcasting setup with a smooth drag and 15-pound braided line. Leave the freshwater gear at home because you never know what bonus species you might find.
Bluefish and stripers are to be expected in this northeastern maelstrom, but you’ll also find fluke, black sea bass, jumbo puffers, and colossal sea robins. Even elusive weakfish are fairly common.
The most difficult part of fishing here is avoiding an unwanted game of bumper boats as you drift across the channel and merge into traffic. Keep the motor running and save the season’s first scuffs in the gelcoat for the inevitable docking disasters.
I start at Cedar Beach Point, where the Garmin begins screaming shallow water/abandon ship warnings, before drifting out over the deepest water just off Buoy 17. I hit the area over and over until the bucket is full. Either tide produces fish—I’ve even gotten them near slack tide.
Bait the hooks with a couple of those pre-cut squid strips and start your drift. No need to hide the hook point or do anything special—just hook and drop. Minimal scope is always the goal, and you’ll know right away if you have enough weight. It will also be immediately apparent if you have chosen the right location. Most of the time, those bait strips barely make it to the bottom before something tries to grab a snack. At that point, all you need to do is have the patience and discipline to wait for a double. The 15-plus inchers in this region will have your arms aching in no time.
No discussion of an enjoyable day on the Peconic would be complete without a fabulously creative recipe to properly enjoy your harvest. However, if you’re looking for gourmet, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Filet the fish, skin it, and remove pin bones. Next, heat a pan and add butter, salt, and pepper. Maybe even add a little squeeze of leftover lemon if it’s not too dried up after last weekend’s Bunco party. If you have a can of beer in your hand (yes, you should), throw in a splash for a little extra class. Add the meat, and cook for one minute or so on each side until the fish just starts to flake. (Overcooking fish is a crime.) Serve them up with whatever green, leafy stuff you’ve got on hand. That’s it, friends… this is about as good as it gets.
So, if you’re feeling the early-season blues and need somewhere to cruise, brave New York traffic and enjoy the glorious fishing mayhem that this special section of the Peconic is sure to bring.