Charter boats were back on the water and back in business as of May 27, and captains in Montauk say the fishing is good.
Mike Vegessi, captain and owner of Lazybones, has been going out for 37 years. He said May 29, “The feeling of fishing with everyone with a mask on is almost eerie. I can’t read your expression. Are you smiling? It’s a different feeling when we go out.”
Still, people are excited to get back out on the water and fish.
The deck of the Lazybones, a 55-foot Bruno & Stillman, has been marked for social distancing. Vegessi had to cut back on the number of passengers he can take out — from 40 to 16 — due to the COVID-19-related restrictions.
“I got my arrows. I got my sanitizer. I got my marks,” he said. “I got my temperature gauge — all that good stuff.”
Lazybones didn’t go out on May 29 due to weather conditions, but Vegessi said the boat left the dock the day prior.
“There’s lots of striped bass and there is bluefish around. But we target fluke,” he said. “We caught some big ones. We caught an eight-pounder, a six-pounder, a four-pounder.”
He said passengers just wanted to get out of the house, or get on the boat and see friends again.
“A lot of my customers, they come on the same day. The same trip,” Vegessi said. “They socialize and enjoy the interaction with other people, laugh and have fun. Enjoy the sunshine and fresh air,” adding, they left the “virus thing on land.”
Captain Tom Cusimano owns the Sea Wife IV, a boat he’s had for 21 years. He’s been on boats since he was 12 years old. After returning to shore May 31, he said the striped bass had been plentiful, but many still undersized.
“There’s a lot of fish around. A lot of bluefish,” he said. “The fishing’s been good — just waiting for another run of fish to come through. Maybe they are a little bigger.”
He, too, keeps his passengers waiting, taking temperatures before letting anyone on his boat. He even fills out a COVID-19 log if tracing ends up being needed.
“Everybody has to have a mask and gloves,” Cusimano said. “If they don’t have them, I supply them.”
He also supplies hand sanitizer and watered-down bleach to cleanse with.
One of the new rules? No high-fives when somebody catches a big fish. At the end of the day, the entire boat is sanitized. That includes the deck and cabin. Casimano is licensed to have up to 20 onboard at a time, but is now going out with groups of less than 10.
Captain Mike Elling, captain and owner of charter fishing boat CUJO, a Bertram 46-footer, was ecstatic when he heard that charter boat industry had been moved up from one of the final phases of reopening under New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s directive, to Phase 1.
“Very surprised,” he said. “Very happy.”
The captain has been fishing on a charter boat out of Montauk for about 20 years. He said calls for reservations are slowly picking up.
“We had a lot of cancellations of course,” Elling said. “But I think everyone is going to come back. I’m looking forward to a good year, actually. It is going to turn around. It is going to be exciting. There is good fishing, as always.”