Fine dining on the East End would be severely limited without the daily fresh catches local fishermen pull from our waters. Fishing has long been a way of life on the Twin Forks, and any foodie worth his or her salt should know the regional species and seasons.
Understanding what’s being caught, and when, will ensure only the freshest fish find your fork. Or, better yet, learn the ropes and catch your own—nothing beats reeling in a big one, and cleaning and cooking it right on the beach!
Not all fish are in season between Memorial and Labor Day, so it’s important to know what you can catch, when and how you can catch them and the number of fish you’re allowed to take. Here’s a handy guide for dining on local fish, along with everything a fisherman needs to know about the sea’s summer bounty.
Before you bait a hook or tie a fly: State law requires everyone to have a fishing license, which must be carried any time you drop a line in the water. They’re easy to get and they’re free, so don’t let a website trick you into paying a fee.
Visit the Department of Environmental Control’s website, dec.ny.gov, and click “Permit, License, Registration” under “Services” at the bottom of the page to register online. A printable license will be made immediately available to you.
Coveted by fishermen for their large size and athletic fight, “stripers” can reach lengths of 53 inches, but smaller catches are more tender. The white flesh has a mild flavor and medium texture, nicely balancing meaty and flaky. Striped bass can accommodate a wide range of cooking applications, from beer batter frying to poaching to marinating and grilling. Try wrapping filets in a tinfoil packet with shallots, butter, salt and pepper, lemon, garlic and some white wine, and then bake for about 12 minutes.
April 15–December 15
28” minimum size
1 per day
Record: 76 lbs., Bob Rocchetta, East Setauket, NY 7/17/1981
Named for the black, horizontal stripes running the length of the fish, striped bass can be found inshore near underwater structures, such as rocks and pilings, though they can also be caught in open water. Try surfcasting off Montauk Point with lures like bucktail jigs and swimming plugs. You can also bottom fish using sandworms, bunker, mackerel or squid for bait.
Like stripers, porgies meat is white and tender with a mild, though fishier, flavor profile and large flake. Also versatile in terms of cooking styles, this fish has more small bones, but can be fried, baked, grilled or sautéed. This little fish lends itself to cooking whole on the grill. Clean out the guts, dry the outside and brush with oil, and then season before tossing on the grill. Porgies don’t need to be cooked to death—try leaving a little pink on the bone.
May 1–December 31
9” minimum size
30 per day
Record: 6.25 lbs., Samuel Warren, District Heights, MD 10/01/1978
Relatively small, flattened fish, porgies have a spiny dorsal fin and a deeply concave tail fin with sharp corners. They have a silver to brassy color with a light blue stripe that runs along the base of the dorsal fin, with flecks of the same color on its sides. They migrate inshore in spring and summer and feed off the bottom in daylight, commonly caught around rocks. Try bottom rigs with sea worms, clams or squid for bait.
Summer Flounder (Fluke)
White, firm and mild, fluke meat typically requires more liquids or frying to keep it from drying out. The skin is edible and may be left on, especially considering the delicate nature of this flaky fish. Fluke meat takes on the flavor of whatever you cook it with, so enclose some fresh thyme, butter and lemon with filets in tinfoil packets.
May 4–September 30
4 per day
Record: 22.44 lbs., Charles Nappi, Hicksville, NY 09/15/1975
These flatfish are left-eyed, meaning that the fish’s mouth points left if you lay it horizontally so the eyes are above the mouth (winter flounder are right-eyed). They can change color to match the bottom, but fluke are generally brownish with lighter spots and white bellies. Fluke move inshore in the spring and mostly bottom feed in sand or mud. They congregate near structures and can be caught with bottom rigs using spearing or squid for bait. They will also hit a bucktail jig lure tipped with squid.
Black Sea Bass
Another mild, delicate fish with a firm texture and small flakes, this lean fish lends itself to cooking whole. With little fat, sea bass can dry out easily so it should not be overcooked. A simple bone structure and edible skin makes for easier eating.
June 27–August 31
3 per day (daily possession limits change in fall and winter)
Record: 9 lbs., Sal Vicari, Bronx, NY 10/10/1993
As their name suggests, these large-mouthed fish typically have a dark, smoky gray color, as well as a continuous dorsal fin and rounded tail fin. Black sea bass inhabit rocky bottoms inshore during the spring and summer. Seek them out off local jetties, rocks and reefs. Try a high-low bait rig with squid, clam or fresh baitfish, or use a soft bait artificial lure.
Many discount the culinary value of bluefish, but this plentiful species can be quite good if properly prepared. The meat is darker and oilier than other local catches. It offers medium density and a distinctive flavor that gets milder with smaller examples. Toss filets on ungreased sheets of tinfoil, season with acids such as lemon, lime or other citrus, along with salt and pepper, and then grill. You can leave the skin on—if done right, it will remain on the foil when you remove filets.
No size limit for first 10 fish, 12” minimum for next five
15 per day
Record: 25 lbs., Peter Weber, Jr., Montauk, NY 10/30/1998
Among the most common fish to catch on the East End, bluefish offer quite an aggressive fight. These long, fairly thick fish have forked tails and jaws of sharp, triangular teeth (watch out when removing your hook!). Bluefish swim in dense schools that can be reached surfcasting or from a boat—just look for the “boiling” water and flocks of seabirds overhead. These voracious eaters will strike all sorts of artificial lures, especially when in a feeding frenzy. Try shiny spoons and jigs, or drop chunk bait to the bottom for the big guys. A wired leader will prevent them from biting through your line.
A moist, flaky fish with a mild and sweet flavor, weakfish may require skin and bones to maintain structure during cooking, but the meat easily falls away from these bits when it’s done. This fish doesn’t keep well and won’t do great after freezing, so eating it fresh is paramount. Like porgies and black bass, cooking whole is an excellent option.
1 per day
Record: 19.13 lbs., Dennis Rooney, Seaford, NY 10/11/1984
Long, thin fish with dark spots on their back and sides, weakfish have yellow pelvic and anal fins and pale skin in a variety of colorful overtones, from pearly lavender to rose, gold or blue. Weakfish spawn here in the spring and fatten up during the summer and early fall before traveling south in October. They school in estuaries, bays and tidal creeks, or along the sandy beach. Use bottom rigs with spearing, squid or sandworms for bait. You can also use lures, such as bucktails and diamond jigs, pulled near the bottom in rapid currents.
For more information on licensing and rules and regulations visits dec.ny.gov.