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Accidental Shark Fishing

Official DEEP reports of outstanding porgy, bluefish and Tautaug fishing were effective siren calls. Large groups of small fishing boats appeared throughout Long Island Sound and Fisher’s Island Sound on a sunny Saturday in October. Gliding slowly across the horizon were a handful of hopeful sailboats and fluffy white clouds dotted the sky. Launching in 43 degree temperatures before dawn provides better odds when the fish are just beginning to eat so “avid fisherman” plan accordingly. Leo and I didn’t launch until it was almost 50 degrees which was well past dawn but our definition of “fun on the water” includes a full night’s sleep and avoiding frostbite. So, there were plenty of fishermen on the gentle, cobalt waters before we even showed up.

Hauling up two tiny pots left us with only a handful of bait crabs for Tautaug. These particular fish have large, sharp teeth for crushing crab and lobster. Removing bait from my hook was easy for the fish who won every round until I was out of crab. Since the season for Tautaug just re-opened, my expectations were high but ‘taug are elusive and the advantage is theirs. The line and bait need to remain stationary in rocky terrain while the boat is affected by wind and current. Successful fisherman are rewarded with flavor reminiscent of crab and lobster.

Montauk, NY and Block Island, RI were both clearly visible once we were past the Stonington breakwater. Late afternoon sun reflects off the 5 white wind turbines comprising America’s first offshore wind farm. Located three miles Southeast of Block Island each turbine is twice as high as the Statue of Liberty. Locals tend to bemoan the marred view rather than the promise of clean energy. Love them or hate them, the structures are now part of life in Long Island Sound and visible for miles. The hearts of fishermen may be softened by the schools of fish who are drawn to the new structures. May history and memories be preserved and appreciated even as demand for energy grows and new ideas emerge. Quality of life depends upon balancing both.

dogfish-shark-in-waterFew lines were bent and only a handful of fish were being hauled onto the adjacent boats as we motored further from shore. No whoops of excitement, only deep quiet and concentration. Even the radio was quiet. After settling into a location that reliably produced porgy and black sea bass throughout the summer, we waited patiently with lines in the water. I lost my bait a few times to stealthy fish but the line suddenly became heavy. Responding enthusiastically with quick reeling action, I was surprised to haul in a juvenile dogfish shark. Avoiding sharp teeth and controlling the thrashing body was easier with two sets of hands. Removing the hook and sliding the shark into the water prompted a grin: he got a snack and I had some fun. During the next 45 minutes, I hooked three more sharks in the 25-30 inch range. It was fun to catch and release the powerful, small sharks but they were not my target. Aggressive commercial fishing for dogfish resulted in a seasonal swing beginning with no limitations and ending with zero allowable catch. Though they weren’t my intended catch, it was good to see juvenile sharks in rebounding numbers.

Hoping to change our luck, we motored among another group of boats near Latimer Reef Lighthouse. Juvenile black sea bass and a single, tiny porgy were caught by me using squid bait while Leo’s various lures attracted no fish at all. Adult fish are becoming scarce with water temperatures dropping but abundant babies are a promise of renewal. I’ll get some of them next year after they double and triple in size.

Late afternoon brought satisfied, tired smiles and gratitude for a gorgeous day on the water. There were no fish to fillet, no bait to return to the freezer and no work to take home. We couldn’t have asked for a better day and the memories will warm us when the days are cold.

Elizabeth SaedeElizabeth Saede is a local author of Lobster Summer. She is also the author of thisismystic.com’s “On the Water” column. Elizabeth can be reached by email at Sunshine06378[at]gmail.com.

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