What’s worth catching in Peconic Bay: North Fork Outdoors

A blowfish. (Credit: Chris Paparo)

Nestled between the north and south forks with an eastern boundary of Shelter Island are the Great and Little Peconic Bays. These large, relatively deep bodies of water are popular places for rafting up for a barbecue, cruising from port to port, water skiing, tubing and many other summertime boating activities.

But what about fishing? Are there any fish worth pursuing in the Peconics this time of year?

The Peconics are home to a wide variety of fish, with the dominate species varying with the change of the seasons. As we enter July, the gamefish of the summer are here in abundant numbers and will be eager to tug at the end of your line. The most plentiful of these species is the scup. Better known as a porgy, this schooling fish can grow to eighteen inches and weigh four pounds. Do not let their small size fool you. Pound for pound they are a very scrappy fish and put up a good fight when caught. In recent years, the population of porgies has not only been strong, the size of individual fish is much larger than it used to be, allowing for easy filleting of this extremely tasty fish.

Finding porgies is fairly easy. Start by looking for hard bottom structures such as rock/shell fields, boulders, wrecks and mussel beds. Here is where they feed on crabs, mussels, worms and other benthic (meany deep dweilling) invertebrates that hide among the many nooks and crannies of the structure. Although they have a tiny mouth, it is full of small, blunt teeth that are perfect for crushing the hard shells of their prey.

This same hard structure will also attract many of the Peconic’s other fish species. Probably the second most abundant fish you will encounter will be the striped sea robin. To many anglers, a sea robin is a nuisance that steals your bait and is considered a “trash” fish by most. In my opinion, with its large bird-like pectoral fins, the sea robin is one of the more interesting (and tasty) fish found in our waters. Primarily a bottom dweller, sea robins feed on a variety of fish, shrimp and crabs by using their finger-like fins to “walk” along the bottom, sifting through the substrate in search of food.

The “funniest” of all the North Fork’s fish has got to be the northern puffer. Known by many other common names (pufferfish, blow toad, sugar toad, sea squab), the northern puffer is best known simply as blowfish. Referring to their unique method of defense, a blowfish can draw in a large amount of water (or air) into their stretchy, elastic-like stomach. In doing so, they can expand to more than double their size. Hopefully this increased size will deter potential predators and allow them to live another day.

Tom Lovett holds a huge sea robin. (Credit: Chris Paparo)

They too live a benthic lifestyle among rubble fields. And just like the previously mentioned fish, their diet also consists of invertebrates such as worms, shrimp, crabs and mollusks. With a set of powerful, beak-like teeth they can feed on hard-shelled prey with ease.

Blowfish were at one time extremely abundant in the Peconics. I have been told countless stories about the “good ‘ole days” when you could walk into knee deep water, wiggle your fingers and toes and simply grab one as it tried to bite you. For most of my youth, I only knew about blowfish through these stories as it was a fishery that was heavily overfished in the 60’s and 70’s for their extremely delicious flesh which was marketed as “chicken of the sea.” In recent years however, they have made a strong comeback and can be once again found trying to bite a wiggling finger (see video).

Another fish that can be commonly caught while fishing these rough bottom areas is the weakfish. Unlike the previous fish stated, the weakfish is a mid-water fish that will feed from the top to the bottom of the water column. Although they feed on invertebrates such as shrimp and crabs, they feed primarily on other fish as they prowl the boundaries of the rocky area waiting for a small fish to stray too far from the safety of the structure.

The name weakfish is deceiving, as they are anything but weak. With the potential to grow three feet in length and weight up to twenty pounds, they will put up a strong fight once hooked. The name weakfish comes from the fact that the tissue around their jaw tears easily when hooked, hence the name “weak” fish.

In addition to the Peconics being a great place for boating, it is an excellent place for fishing. With an abundance of fish cruising the local waters, it will be easy to catch some fresh fish to enhance the next time you raft up for a BBQ.

Videos

The View from the Chum Pot- Porgies, sea robin, blackfish and spider crabs

Hand feeding Puffers in the Peconic