Fishing For Conch on Long Island Sound

Matt is the captain. He likes to work early in the day. We were on the boat around 4:00 AM.

I spent Monday morning on-the-water. Erik Dobratz’s brothers Matt and David are fishermen… or I guess more accurately ‘conchers’. I packed up “Clicky,” picked up Erik and headed to the dock in Old Saybrook.

Matt is the captain. He likes to work early in the day. We were on the boat around 4:00 AM.

The boat itself is called “Free Bird,” though you won’t find that stenciled on the hull. It’s a “Downeaster” — a stubby working boat with a flat deck leading to a totally open stern. A winch and pulley on the starboard side are used to haul the conch pots out of the water. If you’ve watch “Deadliest Catch” you’ve seen winches like this in action.

It’s dangerous. You can lose a finger. Matt has.

Unlike “Deadliest Catch” we were heading into the totally ice free, reasonably flat Long Island Sound. The shellfish the Dobratz boys were going for sat under 90 feet of water off the shoreline between Guilford and Clinton.

The sky was just beginning to turn from black to blue as we headed down the Connecticut River past the two lighthouses at the mouth of the Connecticut River and into the Sound. Within a few minutes the reds of dawn were brightening on the horizon. Sunrise itself was still over a half hour away.

There’s a lot of trust being a fisherman. Matt’s lines are unprotected round-the-clock. Anyone floating by knows they’re full of valuable catch.

“Free Bird” motored through the sound picking up pot-after-pot of conch. Fish or crabs mistakenly caught were thrown back into the drink or left as bait for the next catch.

By the time the day was done 14 orange bags full of conch sat on the deck. They were sold and in an industrial refrigerator on-shore within moments of docking.

My final catch was over 500 photos! Here are my keepers. The rest I’ll throw back.

Here’s a little video I captured on my iPhone over the course of the morning.

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