Cigar Aficionado

Fish Stories

Four thirty a.m. on a Saturday, and I was awake. Well, sort of awake. I took a quick shower, got dressed, and headed out for coffee and bagels. I was heading out on the water with a group of friends, and we were going after stripers, which apparently don’t sleep, not even on weekends.

Stripers are striped bass, the most coveted game fish in the Long Island Sound. Bluefish put up a much harder fight, but nothing makes your soul sing like pulling a shimmering silver and black striper with a fat belly out of the water. To top it off, they taste great.

I was invited on this trip by my buddy Tim, who won it in a charity auction. He invited our mutual friend Russ and his very experienced fisherman friend Mike. We were in the hands of Bill, the captain and owner of the fishing boat. Bill welcomed us at the dock, thanked all of us for being on time (amazing, given the hour) and took us out into the Sound just as the sun was cracking above the horizon.

I go fishing a lot, but I seldom catch fish. (To borrow a line from Deadliest Catch, that’s why they call it fishing, not catching.) I’m usually out there with a cigar, maybe a beer or two, and I throw a few lures in the water, but serious fishing? Not so much. This day was to be different—we were going to find something.

We set out in good spirits, sipping coffee and munching on breakfast as Bill took the boat out of the harbor. After a quick peek at a spot where he had seen a bunker boil (an area where baitfish are feverishly trying to escape from circling blues and striper below) we settled in one of his favorite spots off of Stamford, Connecticut. After cutting up some frozen bunker and setting them on hooks, we let out line, and a few of us worked spinners and lures on the surface.

It was quiet for the first 20 minutes or so, then came the clicks and whizzes of a line being taken by a fish. “Fish on!” someone said. Russ was closest, so he took a reel, and soon after he cranked in a striper.

Hey, this is fun.

The first three stripers (hauled in by Russ and Tim) were too small to keep. We threw them back. Then I found myself holding onto a rod that was bending with the weight of a good sized fish. Bill and Mike instructed me, having me haul up, then crank down, and after a few minutes of fighting a flash of silver began to shine from beneath the water. Striper. A good sized one.

I reeled him in, and we plopped him on the cooler, which has a built-in ruler. He came in at 29 inches, big enough to keep. Dinner was on the boat.

We threw more lines in the water, but I was ready for a celebratory smoke. I broke out a Humidipak bag and took out a few Ashton VSG Robustos, which I’ve been aging for a couple of years. I clipped the end, and fired up my turbo torch. Delicious.

We caught a few more fish, including a pair of sand sharks and two blues. Mike had a blast with the sharks (which he claimed were toothless—we didn’t buy it), pointing one like a weapon at Tim’s pants. That made him jump. The blues, true to their reputation, fought like mad, and the first drew collateral damage when he thrashed around, sinking one of the Rapala barbs into Bill’s finger. Mike cut out the hook, and I helped Bill wash the wound out with Mount Gay Rum. Bill then eased the pain with a cocktail. The stuff comes in handy.

The day concluded back at the dock, and Mike cut my bass up into fat filets. I took half, and Tim took the others. Back home, I fired up the grill, hit the fish with some salt and pepper and cooked the filets in a basket. My wife mixed some good olive oil with parsley and lemon, and we had a great family dinner out on our deck. My little boy even had some.

The fish was 29 inches long, but I expect as I get older, the striper will grow in the retelling. Give me ten years—that striped bass will be three feet long, with enough meat to have fed two dozen hungry men.

"Stripped bass is favorite fish to catch. They put up a great fight and, as you say, they taste great as well. My fav. way to prepare them is to coat them in dijon mustard, roll them in crushed pistachos, pan sear in a little bit of olive oil. Hit them with a little salt and pepper and serve with sun-dried tomato risotto and sauteed spinich w/ garlic. Goes great with a good Pinot Grigio or Sav. Blanc. Follow it up with a nice Ashton ESG." —June 22, 2009 15:24 PM