2008-01-11 / Sports

Rockaway Outdoors/Tales From The Wheelhouse

By Captain Vinnie Calabro

With weather like last week brought, one would be a little crazy wandering far from the wheelhouse, but we did indeed venture out. Although it was blistering cold, Friday saw a break in the winds.

The boat broke through the skim ice covering Dead Horse Bay, nosed out the inlet, and headed offshore a compass course of 160 degrees south to 17 fathoms. The GPS plotter scribed a course line. And as we hooked up the big diesel, a puff of black smoke belching from the exhaust spewing into the air, the Downeaster was on its way.

Out on the horizon the familiar sight of the ''horse'', as Ambrose Tower was called by mariners of a bygone era was invisible. Replacing it stands the remains of an unmanned outpost banged up by a tanker this past year.

The horse with reference to Ambrose Tower describes the four legs or supports and riser that somewhat resembles the silhouette of a horse.

Fishing boats and tankers saw its facade while cruising up and down Ambrose Channel. Now as the boat settled on the anchors, half a crab skewered on a 4/0 hook tethered to an 8 0unce sinker, dropped 124 ft. to the bottom of ''17''.

The scratching and gnawing of a 12 lb. blackfish was almost instant. Finally the ''big hit'' was telegraphed through the line. With a swift, explosive lift of the rod a blackfish was headed toward the surface, and ultimately the deck, but not without resistance.

The tenacity of the lunges was felt as the rod buckled. A big ''taug'' gives the angler an exhilarating feeling, and this was the case as the tug of war, a stalemate at times, continued. The fish chewed for most of the morning, building to a good bite into the afternoon.

Throw in some codfish and ling and you have a memorable day on the water. At the dockfish were filleted and prepped for freezer and table.

Winter sunsets don't really have the pyrotechniques of their summer and fall counterparts. The grays only predict the cold to follow. By 5 p.m. it's dark. Swans with their necks tucked into their bodies, looking statuesque; don't even stir as you walk by. A lone cat peers out from beneath the dock house, the paper plate of dry catfood clean; rough night ahead.

Saturday morning saw the air temps creep up a bit. But the sea conditions, 2'-4' and wind out of the SW made for a cranky sea. It's January and we are still sailing, so I guess we'll take what we get. However Saturday seemed to be a bit ''off'' with the overall number of blackfish landed. Catching blackfish really becomes both a science and an art unto itself. Lunar phase, tides, current, water temperatures, water depth, anglers experience all factor into the equation.

Sunday was a better day all around. The blackfish moved inshore, and the boats fishing "New Grounds", an area north of 17, had better catches. So, as you can figure out by reading this column, these fish bounce around a bit.

Remember one thing a wise *pinhooker told me years ago; "HUMAN BEINGS ARE CREATURES OF HABIT FISH AREN'T".

Blackfish catches were typical for early January. Water temperatures ranged from 40-43 degrees and sea conditions, at times, pretty rough. Reports out of Sheepshead Bay are good. Blackfish, plenty of big ones at that, and a fair sprinkling of cod and ling mixed in. Locals reporting from the back; Broad Channel and Howard Beach echo the same.

With this break in the weather the fishing should hold up. Apparently the fishing rebounded after the wind and cold front of last week. Weather for the week ahead apparently looks good, wet but good.

Mackerel also have been cruising the area, and now that the weather seems to be settling in, the head boats should get a bead on them. I always liked the winter mack attack better than the spring. It seems they hold up longer and are more predictable, as predictable as mackerel can be. The Tower and Ambrose Ridge being their likely haunts. So 2008 seems to be holding its own with 5 1/2 months till the opening of Striper season. But I wouldn't be hanging up your *oil skins yet.

Until next time: Tight Lines........

*pinhooker refers to some one fishing with a hook and line

*Oil Skins; term used by fisherman back in the day before rain gear as we know it was invented. The old timers would literally oil their clothes so they would repel water.

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