Widgets Magazine

Captain Sloan of Black Rock Charters on North Fork Fishing and Catching Big Striped Bass

Note, that's a 52 lb striper Captain Sloan is holding Q: You’ve been fishing on the North Fork for decades. Why? What’s so special about fishing here?

A: We have a lot of diversity in the types of fish, fishing techniques and bodies of water available. The Atlantic Ocean meets Long Island Sound meets Gardiner’s Bay, Block Island Sound, and Peconic Bay. Each body of water offers a different kind of fishing and they are all so close to the Orient marina. Our waters are generally very calm and that makes for more fun.

Orient Point, where we and most professional boats are based, is really special because we’re only five minutes from Plum Gut and the famous Striped Bass fishing in it. No long ride out to the fishing grounds or ocean seas.

On a full day charter we’ll try to catch a bunch of stripers in the morning, and then fish the bays for fluke, porgies, black sea bass or blackfish in the afternoon. The afternoon/evening sundown trip leaves at 4 pm and is great for stripers as it’s their most aggressive feeding time. Come out for great fishing and get home not too late, so not to miss a day’s work. Unless you want to skip work of course.

Q: I’ve heard that before, that striper fishing is really special here. Is it really? Or is that just a fish tale designed to lure people out on the water?

A: It really is special. Because of the underground terrain created by the Wisconsin Glacier back when, coupled with the super fast currents, it’s a natural habitat for stripers and blues.

Underwater, the North Fork extends east, as a big glacier-built hill, from Orient Point to Plum Island, then to Gull and Little Gull to Fisher’s Island. It’s all rock, so the fast moving water from Long Island Sound hits it, creating the rip that holds the small baitfish.

Q: Wait—the rip? What’s the rip? And how big is this hill?

A The underwater hill is tall; on either side you can have water that’s a hundred or two hundred feet deep coming up to as little as twenty feet deep on top of the hill. The rip is the churning, the turbulence created when the fast moving water hits the hill and zooms over it. The smaller fish get caught in it.

The big stripers and bluefish swim right in and feed on them. So we catch them there where they are on the feed. It’s very exciting.

Plum Gut and The Race are sections of that underwater wall. Another one goes by a couple names on the charts--sluiceway or sleuth way. Either spelling, it’s the spot where a local caught the once-world record striped bass. 72 lbs !!

The striped bass start biting in May and they bite more or less until November. But we always have something good to catch all season.

Q: So you get stripers out along the underwater wall, where the water churns and speeds over the top of the wall. What’s the other fishing like?

A:  Well, from May through August we catch fluke, also known as summer flounder. The Porgies run May through October, Black Sea Bass July 15 to about November 15, and Black Fish October 5th though Thanksgiving.

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Giant Porgies

Bottom fishing in the Bays gives me as a captain the opportunity to come down from the bridge and fish along with everyone.  One of the great perks of my job.  It’s a lot of fun with constant action and great eating fish.

Q: Given all those options, how do you decide what to go for on a given charter, and what kind of gear or technique to use?

A: Well, we know these waters really well and because I am out fishing every day I know exactly what to expect. So we tell our guests the best opportunities that day based on the season and the weather and ask them what they would enjoy the most. Then we focus on what the group would like to catch, and use the gear and technique we know is going to work best based on my 40 years of experience fishing these waters.

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Big Blackfish

We have as many as 50 different rods and reels for different species; even with the striped bass we’ll have 4 or 5 different set ups. We drift with the engine in neutral or off, riding the current at its natural speed or we troll using the boat’s power. Jigging and live bait can also work great and is a lot of fun. Live eels are the most common live bait and sometimes the big bass just can‘t resist them.

Q: I read that you went to college for mechanical engineering. Did you turn to fishing later in life, or were you always a fisherman who just tried the conventional life for a while?

A:  My father got me hooked when I was 4 years old. He bought our first boat in 1972 from Port of Egypt. At first it was just recreational fun but then I started commercial fishing when I was 15.  I’d either go out with my dad or he’d drop me off and pick me up at the dock when I got back. Either way we’d bring the catch to sell at Southold Fishing Station, which was then at Port of Egypt, or to Braun’s Seafood. From that moment on fishing became my life’s love and career focus.

Although I got my Coast Guard Captain’s license when I was 18, I did go to college because that was just the natural course in my family. For a couple of years I worked in engineering and then I went back into professional fishing; commercial fishing and then sport fishing charters.

Q: Does the engineering background help your fishing?

A: Yes. The math and physics I studied has 100% aided me in understanding the complexities most would never imagine exist in the professional fishing world. There are changing currents, celestial effects and just plain logical analysis on a daily basis that is required to be the best fisherman possible. What you learn studying mechanical engineering is that there is a physical reason for everything. It makes you very analytical, helps you see the causes.

In addition, on the boat there are many technical aspects including two big diesel engines and sophisticated electronics: fish finding sonar, radar, a variety of types of GPS—having a technical background has helped me use them to their fullest benefit in finding and catching as many fish as possible.

Q: I realize the fishing is great here on the North Fork. But it’s great in other places in the world too. Why are you here?

A: When I was five years old my parents were introduced to the North Fork by a friend and then built a house in Orient in 1972. It started out as our summer house, but then I settled in full time after college. Yes, the fishing is really special, but the whole place really excites people.  It’s a naturally peaceful haven. Farms, vineyards, artists and the greatest genius in modern times, Einstein, used to sail these waters too, so enough said. It’s uniquely special. Just makes you feel good to be here.

Q: Is there a best time to go fishing?

A: Depends what you mean by time. We fish seven days a week May 1 through the middle of November, and we run charters that are 4, 6, and 8 hours long, morning through sundown. In that sense time isn’t really critical. I always say the best time to go fishing is when you can.

Weather makes a difference; it affects how fish feed. On an overcast, grey, even rainy day, the stripers love to feed; reversely fluke like calm, sunny days the best. For example tomorrow’s going to be snotty and rainy which is going to make for great striper fishing. So I am looking forward to that. Lots of big fish will be biting.

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If people can do it, weekday charters are better than weekends as there are only a few boats on the water and we catch many more fish. You sort of feel like you own the water on those days. Weekend days boat traffic can scare the fish and there’s a lot of technique, strategy and manipulating a boat in fishing. So having the space to do what we do makes a big difference. Still, we catch plenty of fish on weekends too.  So just come fishing when you can.

Q: So if I’m considering hiring a sport fishing boat out of Orient, what sets you apart? What’s the Black Rock Charter experience like?

A: For years many people have been having great fun on our boat, catching a lot of fish and enjoying the complete experience. We have learned what makes a trip all around fun. It’s not just the fish but the whole day, boat, crew and understanding what makes fishing so much fun. I think for that we have had the decades of repeat and a successful business.

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We specialize in small groups of no more than 6 people so to give personal attention to all. While we do one person charters, usually it’s two or more. All rods, reels, and bait are included. When you land a fish we get some good pictures (for bragging rights) and then our first mate filets all the bones out, bags your catch and packs it up in your cooler.

People can bring what they want to eat or drink. Beer and wine are okay, but it’s not a hardcore party scene; we like the fisherman to fish well—and teach them how—but you don’t land a big striper by luck.

We recommend planning ahead to reserve a date, but sometimes you can get lucky if you just spontaneously call to check availability.

Q: What kind of boat do you have? Is there anything special about it, that makes it particularly good for fishing?

A: It’s a 40 foot Hatteras sport fish yacht—designed specifically for fishing and comfort.

Black Rock

It has great stability when you’re fishing on the back deck, which gives you the opportunity to concentrate on fishing no matter what the sea conditions.

Because it has two engines it’s very maneuverable, which helps tremendously in fishing. Whether you’re trying to get over a certain rock, or a sunken boat—someplace you know there’s fish—or when you are battling the big one, that maneuverability makes all the difference.

In addition we have two sofas inside, a head (bathroom), and special custom fighting chairs on the back deck for the big fish or just to throw your feet up and enjoy the ride.

Q: Can anyone come out fishing on your boat? How about children?

A: We welcome families and friends. Bring the kids for a half day, they will love it.  And when it comes to women anglers, even first timers, in general they are better than their male counterparts. They take instruction better and don’t try to muscle the fish. Ask any captain and you will hear the same.

Huge summer fluke caught in orient on the Black Rock

That's a summer fluke

Many businesses come out fishing with their clients or employees, it’s a great bonding and entertainment experience catching fish together. These type trips make up a large part of our business. It’s the perfect trip.

Q: Where does most of your business come from?

Most of our clients are repeat business; something like 90%. We have people who come two or three and even 15-20 times a season. Many for more than 15 years with us.

If you’re a long time fisherman or have never even tried, I guarantee you just have this urge, a natural instinct in all of us to go out and get our food, it’s exciting. Watching first timers find amazement catching fish while their natural instincts come out, those they never knew they had, feels great.  Everyone loves it no matter their background; it’s a guaranteed good time.

Q: Wow, 90% of your business is repeat clients. That really is saying something about the quality of the experience you offer.

A: Well, fishing here is totally different from the touristy areas like the Florida Keys, Cancun or other less personal destinations.  In general those boats know they’re only going to see the client once, because the people are on their big vacation. So it’s a one-time customer.

For us, it’s the opposite. We care very much about our clients.  They come from Long Island, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Southern New England—some take the Cross Sound Ferry—and they’re here to fish, enjoy the boat and the whole experience. We enjoy their company too; it’s not only the fishing or the business, it’s been a lifetime of knowing so many people. I have made many great friends.

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Joan of Orient celebrating her 75th birthday with Larry of Greenport

Q: So my charter’s ending, I’ve a cooler full of fish, ready to eat. There are some places to stay out here that have kitchens, like Cliffside and Heron Suites and others, but is there any way to have someone cook my catch? Do you provide chef services too?

A: Orient by the Sea restaurant, which is where the boat comes out of, will cook your catch for lunch or dinner. They can do it family style, meaning they’ll broil it, fry it, scampi all at once—so you can try it all different ways. But no, I don’t cook people dinner as part of a charter (though I’ll surely come enjoy with you in the restaurant.)

Q: If I’m not heading home right after my charter, and I’m not going to Orient by the Sea to cook it up—let’s say I’m throwing a dinner party the night after I get home or something—how long will my catch keep?

A: Fish that’s been properly cleaned and iced, there’s no reason you can’t have it up to 5 or 7 days later and have it still be delicious. We recommend you enjoy it while it’s fresh, and then come back and catch some more