By Jack Shea Staff Writer, The Daily News of Newburyport
NEWBURYPORT — Logan Rogers stood on the beach Sunday morning, patiently watching his fishing line during a lull in what he said was a busy day of catching fish.
“It’s my first time coming out this year, and I’ve lost count of how many fish I’ve gotten so far today,” said Rogers, 22, of Seabrook.
Rogers was one of many fishermen casting off Plum Island Point on Memorial Day weekend with the hope of catching striped bass, which have been filling the area’s coastline as they migrate north when New England waters started warming in recent weeks.
“This is the place I’ve been coming to since I was a little kid,” Rogers said. “When I got here, it was loaded. I was lucky to get this one little spot.”
Striped bass — or “stripers” as they are commonly called — have to be at least 28 inches long to be kept by fishermen. Most that have been turning up around Plum Island lately haven’t fully matured, and some fishermen have had a tough time finding anything big enough to take home.
“The goal is always to find one that’s big enough to take home and eat for dinner,” said Jim Margolis, who came with friend Matt Ash from Framingham. “We got lots of small fish last week, but none big enough so far this season.”
Despite the lack of keepers, Margolis said he still enjoys making the trip to relax at one of his favorite fishing spots.
“We love coming to Plum Island. For a shore fisherman, it’s kind of like a mecca,” Margolis said.
But this year’s abundance of small fish is an improvement after a fickle 2016 season, according to Kay Moulton, who opened Surfland Bait and Tackle on Plum Island with her husband in 1960. Moulton said she hopes bigger fish will continue to fill in throughout the summer.
“Right now, we’re bombarded with little eight-, ten- and twelve-inch fish all up and down the river, but right now the big fish are just starting to come in,” Moulton said. “We had a bumpy year last year and this year there’s twice as many because they had a good spawning year down in the Hudson River and the Chesapeake Bay.”
Moulton said she hopes the recent wave of stripers will continue and that local fishermen’s luck, which slows down during the warmer months, doesn’t hit that lull.
“Hopefully, this will last all summer,” Moulton said. “A lot of the time it will go quiet when we get the heat and the water warms up, so the guys go out early or at night when the water is cool.”
Meanwhile, Peter Murray returned aboard his charter, Mary Lee III, with two 28-inch stripers, one of which was caught by longtime patron Marcos Rodriguez.
It was a good sign for Murray, owner of Obsessed Charters, who said the increasing amount of catchable bait, such as mackerel, will allow him and his customers to bring in more keeper-sized fish.
“It’s been slow for bigger fish since we started up last week but there’s a lot of bait out there so the big fish will move right in,” Murray said.
With so many small “schoolie” stripers in the water, Moulton said she worries people might be hurting them while taking pictures, and that the smaller stripers should be handled with care.
“There are so many fish around here and you can’t keep them all,” she said. “It’s important that you hold the fish so that you’re not harming it. If you’re going to take a fish out of the water, you should hold it with one hand under the head and another underneath the belly” when taking a photo before releasing the fish.
Jack Shea covers Newburyport City Hall. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.
Photographs by Jim Vaiknoras Staff Photographer