The life aquatic

Some locals enjoy a day of fishing in the Esopus Creek. (Photo by Dion Ogust)

The Saugerties Marina on the Esopus Creek is once again a busy place. On a recent weekend, most people were there to fish for striped bass. Others were just enjoying the fresh air after the long, gritty winter.

Saugerties Marina owner Casey Currey said he hasn’t had time to fish himself, as spring – usually the busiest season – had been almost “too busy” for him despite the price of gas, which was as much a topic on his customers’ minds as the fishing reports. Currey said that in addition to his regular duties of selling fuel, renting dock space, and minding the store, he had to mechanically check over each of the 50 to 75 boats the marina maintains for their owners, charging batteries, making sure there are no leaks and doing any necessary repairs.

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Striped bass, a very popular sporting fish, spawn only in freshwater. The conditions along the Esopus upstream from Kingston are widely considered among the best in the country. The Esopus Creek area is also very beautiful, with the backdrop of the Catskills mountains, Currey said.

Live herring, sold to anglers for $2 apiece, are the striper’s favorite food, and Casey’s girlfriend Christine Seward, who helps run the place when she’s not studying to become a certified public accountant, is licensed to “scap,” i.e. net, herring.

While fishing for striped bass does not require a license, you need one to collect and sell herring. Herring are fairly delicate and a good indicator to the Department of Environmental Conservation of the creek’s health.

“Ninety percent of the boaters out right now are anglers,” said Currey, “But there’s a few pleasure boats out. And it’s mostly locals. You don’t see a whole lot of the real tourists up from the city until Memorial Day.”

Striped bass may grow as large as 60 inches but fish in the 45-inch range can win a tournament. The Saugerties Power Boat Association, a private club adjacent Currey’s marina on Ferry Street, sponsored the Gary Schmidt Memorial Striped Bass Tournament on May 14, which handed out a $500 award to the angler with the biggest fish.

The fishing tournament is one of many such events well-known in the Saugerties waterfront subculture, yet virtually a state secret to the rest of the community. While fishing may not be for everyone, an afternoon out on the water has wide appeal, and it’s easier and cheaper than most people think.

Favorite time of the year

Avid anglers Steve and Jeanne Niemis say mid-April to late May is their favorite time on the water in the Saugerties area, because striped bass are “so much fun” to catch, and also because the creek and marina are particularly uncrowded.

The husband and wife have owned boats for about 15 years, they said. Although both grew up fishing, they began boating as couple as the guests of a boat-owning friend. Soon, they bought their own, and they rent a slip at Saugerties Marina each year for striper season only, which costs about $300 for their 18-foot Tracker bass boat. The fee is determined by footage, Niemis said.

“We were thinking of buying a bigger boat this year, upgrading, “ said Steve, a testing technician with IBM in Poughkeepsie. “But with the price of gas we decided to stick with what we have,” he said.

During striped bass season, Steve tries to fish almost every day, and spends about $50 a week on fuel. The couple also plan their vacations around fishing, often going to Gloucester, Massachusetts in the fall, again, to fish for stripers, which like fairly cold water.

First day out

Longtime friends and Saugerties natives Noah Zeppetello, 24, a carpenter, and Jacob Dodd, 24, a mechanic, together purchased a 19-foot boat they found on Craig’s List last May. After many months of work, they finally put the reconstructed vessel in the water for the first time.

“We gutted it down to the shell,” said Zeppetello. “I did the carpentry and Jacob rebuilt the engine,” he explained. Not counting their “many hours of labor,” together they also spent about another $1000 on materials to get the boat in an attractive condition.

Out with two other male friends from the gym, the proud boat-owning duo appeared to be having a fantastic day, although they failed to catch any fish.

“It floats,” said Dodd, who works with his father at L.D. General Auto Repair on Malden Turnpike. “We’re pretty happy about that.”

While it’s hard to calculate exactly, typically a boat of that size in similar apparent condition could easily cost as much as $10,000, people at the marina said.

You don’t need a special license to rent a small power boat in New York, but you do need to be 18. At Saugerties Marina, each person who will be aboard gets fitted with the correctly-sized life jacket and there’s a 15-minute lesson on safe operations provided beforehand, off the clock.

Prices for boat rental start at about $90 for a full two hours out on the water plus gas and oil, which typically run about another $30.

“It’s much more economical to rent a boat than it is to own one if you are just going to go out three or four times a year,” said Currey.

You can also rent canoes and kayaks from Saugerties Marina: they’re about $15 apiece for two hours and includes paddles and flotation vests. Even people who own kayaks sometimes find renting convenient, because it can be done spontaneously if desired, without the transportation headache.

Casey and Christine also rent a two-bedroom with full bath apartment which has a private deck with a grill. Located on scenic, dead-end Ferry St., the pet-friendly rental’s a great deal for water-lovers, Christine said, adding that kayak or canoe usage and boat-ramp access is included. Docking fees would cost extra, Seward said.

From April 15 to September 30, the apartment rents for $800 a week or $250 for the weekend, and $500 a week or $200 for the weekend the rest of the year. For more information, call the Saugerties Marina at (845) 246-7533, or email saugertiesmarina@verizon.net.

Saugerties Marina, started by Casey’s parents in 1985, is the only marina down at the waterfront which sells fuel, fixes mechanical issues, offers transient and seasonal docking, and has a large store filled with everything boaters and anglers need. When Casey’s father died in 2000, he and his brother took over the business, with Casey assuming all operations in 2004. His mother still lives in the house next-door.

Rich in history, plus, the redneck yacht club

Neighboring Lynch’s Marina and Lighthouse Cove Marina don’t sell fuel. They primarily offer dock space. Lynch’s has about 50 slips and Lighthouse Cove has at least 20. Lighthouse Cove is owned and operated by New York State Police Senior Investigator Stan O’Dell.

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“Having O’Dell here certainly keeps things orderly,” a source said.

But Saugerties’ four marinas are not competitive with one another, said an employee of Lynch’s who did not want to be named. His employer was out-of-town at press time and the longtime employee did not want to speak in an official capacity.

“It’s a real community down here,” the Lynch’s employee said. “We all know a lot about the local history, and the fishing…and every Sunday we tie the boats together and have a party we call the Redneck Yacht Club,” the Lynch’s employee said.

The office of Lynch’s Marina is located in a former steamboat company building which dates from before the Civil War and is little-changed since then.

The Lynch family, which still owns the property, took it over in the 1930s when freight traffic along the Hudson declined, replaced by rail and truck.

Back in the day, the marina area was an important center for shipping bluestone quarried locally to New York for building construction. Paint, brick, paper and ice were the main other commodities transported through the area. The Ferry St. waterfront was also where visitors to the grand old Catskills hotels, arriving by boat, would disembark and begin their overland journey. 

 

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