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Manhasset Bay 1975-1988

                                         By Frank Blasko

 

My first memory of fishing was a chilly rainy day in 1975 when I was 4 years old. My father took me to Port Washington Town Dock and I caught I tiny sea robin. I insisted we keep it and bring it home for the fish tank. I had a small red pail and put it in the back of my fatherís International pickup. When we got home, most of the water had sloshed out of the bucket and when I poured the fish into the tank it just floated upside-down on the surface. 

My father took me to Port Washington Town Dock often. We would fish for flounder in spring and fall and snapper in the summer. We would sit and watch the sea planes land and take off, while we ate bologna sandwiches my father had prepared. He would tell me about the large bass and bluefish he would catch when the bunker came into the bay. He would promise to take me on these trips when I was old enough to handle the stout rods needed for such brutes. I would sit on the edge of the dock (there were no railings back then) holding my pole and look down past my small feet into the dark green water lapping and splashing against the steel and try to imagine huge bass and blues cruising beneath the surface, wondering what it was like to catch such a prized fish. We would look out at all the boats moored in the harbor as seagulls soared overhead.      

 

A young Frank Blasko       

 In early March, we would go down to the Plandome Dock where we would fish for flounder. Early in the season we would chum the area with corn and mussels we dug from the bank. We would dig our own bait at low tide in Kings Point at the private dock. We dug near rocks with pitch forks below the high water line. We would turn over a fork full of soft wet sand and mud, then dig through with our hands, pulling out the large sand worms. Sometimes the mud was almost black and would stain ours hands as we collect the worms. We put them in the rectangular cardboard bases from a case of beer, and covered them with wet sea weed.  We could gather a weekís worth of worms in a few hours, keeping them alive in the fridge between trips. I would struggle to keep up the pace with my father as he dug with ease. I would grow tired and thirsty and he would allow me to sip from his ever present bottle of Becks. We would then fish the incoming tide at Plandome dock, filling 5 gallon buckets with 2-3lb flounder. I tied all the flounder rigs in a high low combination, placing yellow and red plastic beads above the hooks. We used a mussel on one hook and worm on the other, while we crushed the mussel shells with our shoes and kicked the yellowish brown mess into the cold water near our lines. 

 As I grew older, I would fish with my father and his friend Ed on my fatherís boat. It was an old wooden Thompson with a Johnson outboard. Once the steering linkage broke and my father worked the throttle while Ed hugged the outboard and turned it to steer. Another time He and his friend were drinking before they launched the boat from the trailer at Manorhaven Boat ramp. They headed out from the dock and began taking water. They had no choice but to drive the boat on shore to the beach and run aground. Turns out someone forgot to put the plug in. We fished most Saturdays and almost every Sunday through the season, rain or shine. My father would wake me before dawn by opening my bedroom door and say ďWant to go fishing?Ē I would spring out of bed and into the clothes I had laid out the night before. Many nights I was too excited to fall asleep before a trip; usually waking up several times throughout the night in anticipation. Although I donít own a boat now I still get nostalgic from the smell of two stroke exhaust and sea water. 

Eventually the old Thompson was replaced with a 17í center console which we continued to trailer to Manorhaven. Every weekend we would go out on the bay. We would drift Half Moon beach during the day for fluke. We drifted squid and spearing strips off Barkerís Point and around Hartís Island. On spring nights, we wormed the back bay for bass. We set out two or three un-weighted whole sand worms, slowly stripping out line as one of us (usually me) rowed the boat quietly through the calm inky black water. I would get a thorough verbal beating if my oar slapped the water or bumped the hull. Heaven forbid I dropped something on the floor. Loud belches were common as the two men gradually worked through the case of beer in the cooler. We would row through the boulder strewn points, often bumping into submerged rocks, occasionally getting hung up.

Later in the season, bunker arrived, with monster blues and bass creating some of the biggest boils I have seen. We found the tightly packed bunker frantically zipping out of the water in the creek by Lewis Oil, and all the way out to Throgs neck. Sometimes the blues would push the bunker out of the water where they covered the wooden slips around Port Washington Yacht Club. Many afternoons were filled with the smell of oily bunker that had been slaughtered over the course of a dropping tide. We needed wire leaders on the snag rigs as the blues would tear the bunker from the weighted trebles. Often we ended up battling blues on the snag rod while we were simply trying to get bait to chunk beneath the pod for bass. Many of the bunker simply came back to the boat as a bloody half carcass. The gear we used on these trips was short, 5 1/2í rods with squidders loaded with 30lb mono.   There were three rods being used, with three standing by as back up. We kept two snag rods on board which were beat up spinners on old casting rods that had been amputated by car doors and trunk lids, no longer suitable for casting anything other than a 2oz weighted treble. 

 Blues were everywhere and easy to catch. We spent long mosquito filled hours on the bay at night chunking for bass without so much as a hit. We would fish several nights a week only to catch one small bass. In 1984, my father nailed a 27lb striper. At this point, he and his friend Ed had joined Manhasset Bay Sportsmanís Club and had a slip there so we could fish whenever we had the chance. That fish won the club pool that year. It was great to see two men so proud of such an accomplishment, especially during such a slump in bass stocks. They cleaned the fish at the club the next morning, still drinking cans of bud from the soda machine outside the club. The machine sold soda, with all the commonly bannered buttons such as Coke and Sprite, except for the very top one, which had a white piece of paper with a simple B hand written in magic marker.

 As the summer wore on and fluke and bass moved off into the deeper part of the sound we would still chase blues in the evening, but with less frequency. When summer faded into fall, my father and Ed turned there attention to hunting and would take off upstate. With out boat access, I resorted to riding my BMX bike from Manhasset to Leeds Pond. I road from my house near the Manhasset Fire Dept down Plandome Road filled with excitement. As I passed Stonytown Road and the Bay came into view, I could see the tops of the large 30í and 40í Bertrams and Luhrs tied together in groups of two and three, a sight my father and Ed referred to as The Jewish Navy.

A young Frank Blasko with a "Bucket of Snappers"

I would fish for snappers with a light spinning rod and a silver and blue Sidewinder lure. Because of the thick weeds and bottom structure, I lost quite a bit of line and many lures. This would necessitate a trip into Port Washington to the Bait and Tackle shop. Back then, there were two shops on Main Street, just past the Town Dock. I would ride my bike with my rod resting on my handle bars and a plastic bag with 8lb mono and 3/4oz Sidewinders and Kastmasters hanging from the hand grip. I didnít mind the ride, I just lamented the lost part of the tide, hoping some water would be left when I got back to Leeds. Occasionally I would stop at Plandome Dock for a few casts on my way home, provided it wasnít getting dark. I made the bike ride countless times through my early teen years, happy to have the independence from the Town Dock. Before then, when I was 8 and 9, my father would drop me off at the Town Dock while he went to work. He left me with bait and a sandwich and a few dollars for the ice cream truck. He would come by and check on me at lunch time. I would spend the entire day fishing at the dock while he worked nearby for the Highway Department. I mainly used spearing on long shank snapper hooks with a bobber. After running out of bait I quickly learned you could use small pieces of one of the previously caught snappers as bait. In the late afternoon he would pick me up in his red dump truck. We would load my bucket of snappers and rod into the back of the truck. I would climb up into the passenger seat, rolling down the window of the hot cab as the crusted fish scales flaked off my dirty fingers onto the floor of the truck. The breeze felt cool on my sunburned face and I grew very sleepy on the short ride home.

 As I grew into my later teen years, I chose to fish less and spend more time with my friends. My father and Ed continued their expeditions into Manhasset Bay with ever increasing results. By the Late 80ís Bass were coming back and some double digit fluke started hitting the club scale. Manhasset Bay and Hempstead Harbor were relatively clean and baitfish thrived. A good number of 30ís and 40í began to appear and I spent less and less time with my father and Ed. 

     

In July of 1987 my father suffered a fatal heart attack while at work. It is a loss I never recovered from, and I know had equally profound effects on Ed as well. I stopped fishing all together and didnít see Ed for over ten years. Ed is now in his late 70ís. He still fishes and hunts as much as he did when I was growing up. We still fish together every year now and talk about the great times we had with my father.   

I moved away from Manhasset in 1989. It has changed a lot since then, but I still get a tightness in my chest each time I drive over to Manorhaven to meet Ed. I cannot express my gratitude to my Father for taking me fishing when I was a child.


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