When Captain Joe first started telling me the story about Captain Ron Schlueter, I wondered how he eventually became the most noted bottom fishermen out of Moriches Inlet, a area well known among fishermen as being one of the best on Long Island for producing both quality and great quantities of winter flounder and fluke.
This story starts back near the end of World War II, as Captain Ron’s father whose name Captain Joe could not remember, became one if the not the first, for-hire vessel to regularly use Moriches Inlet, sailing with what would be this families name sake vessel, the original Alma.
The history of Moriches Bay Inlet area should be noted here, as it was newly created just a few years prior. In fact, to give you some back ground about the origin of Moriches Inlet, was due to a massive north east storm in 1931, a relatively small cut was carved through the white sandy dunes that separated the shallow bay from the ocean. Subsequently throughout the 1930s, the passages leading to and the inlet itself at Moriches, were gradually widened and deepened through various small dredging operations on till the great 1938 hurricane, which again shifted the sands in the area at this barely navigable inlet. Not much was done from that time to correct the very shallow nature of this inlet, up and through the years of World War II.
It was only after a few years post World War II, that extensive work was conducted with various dredging projects to make the Moriches Inlet passable for boat traffic to safely navigate through. The largest project though was not taken up on till the early 1950s, when a number of groynes and jetties were finally put in place by the US Army Corp of Engineers, who were trying to come up with a semi-permanent way to stabilize and slow the normal east to west drift of sand that commonly silts up all of the south shore inlets.
Again, one has to wonder why Captain Ron’s father would choose this area to start a fishing business, which was devoid of any boats taking passengers to go fishing along with having a risky, well know treacherous shallow water inlet?
It was during the mid 1940s that Captain Ron was born, right after the war in Europe had ended on July 1st, 1945. His father around this time period, started running for-hire fishing trips in the bay and through the narrow Moriches Inlet area during the next few years, with young Ron at his side working deck on his fathers boat and learning how to successfully fish in the very shallow waters that make up the area. One would think that as he came into his late teen age years that he would get his ticket and partner up as the second captain with his father, who had now built up a locally noted fishing business in this area. But Ron went on to work and run tug boats on the inland waters of New York and along this coast to Florida through his young adult years.
It was also during this time period, running from the sixties through the early eighties that the inlet just east of Moriches, Shinnecock, developed into having one of the largest commercial fishing fleets on Long Island. Fire Island Inlet to the west during this era, grew into having one of the largest fleets of party boats coming out of Captree Boat Basin, much different in a decades time from its genesis in the early to mid fifties when Ron was growing up near this port.
Captain Ron who was now 37 years old, finally purchased his first Alma in 1982, which he ran from his back yard located behind the Union Ave dock in Center Moriches. It was as Captain Joe stated ‘the perfect setup’, as the Moriches area was in its latter ‘hey-day’, with still fabulous bay and near shore bottom fishing for what had now become the most noted party boat, fishing in that region of Long Island. It also did give first birth to the ‘Rosie’, when she originally started sailing out of Moriches, adding another for-hire boat to that area, which is still in business till this day.
It was a few years after Captain Ron was well established running his boat, that Captain Joe said he made his first trip in 1987 when he was 11 years old. After a few years, Joe started working on the boat during his summer vacation in 1990, and every weekend there after. Joe states that during this time period, Captain Ron became noted as the first party boat captain to introduce and regularly use light tackle for shallow water buck tailing for fluke. Captain Ron proved that this was the most effective technique for fluke fishing on the south shore bays. But as much as Captain Ron enjoyed fluke fishing, he loved and looked forward to go cod fishing.
I asked Captain Joe if he was talking about ‘open bottom or wreck cod fishing’ since the Moriches area had a bare handful of cod fish wrecks within a reasonable distance of the inlet. Joe then stated that Captain Ron was a pioneer of hunting and finding some of the well known wrecks many wreck fishermen take for granted knowing these days, only armed with Loran-C, a good bottom machine along with the most important lesson that he would pass along to Joe:
“If you want to run this boat, you better pay attention Joe! It's all in the details!"
I bet some of you who are reading this short life story of Captain Ron, and know the wrecks in that area would say to yourself, ‘so what is the big deal about wrecks like Shang-gra-la, Sea Wolf, Miller Barge and Markland?’ In two words, even back in the late eighties and early nineties, they were still inshore winter cod ‘king pins’! Joe calls this the last of the glory days while working deck, sailing just a few miles off the Moriches beach as Captain Ron was now running the steel Whilheric, and trophy sized cod during the best years of the monster cod run weighting between 40 – 50 lbs, would regularly take the pool on most winter trips.
Joe said that for the few years prior and right up to 1990, cod fishing was relatively very good out of Moriches with plenty of the average sized 6 – 10 lb fish being caught on these wrecks ever trip. A big change occurred during the winter of 1991, as it started a four year period that peaked in 1994 where the average size of the cod fish caught, dramatically increased in weight. Joe said that in the last year of this unforgettable big cod fish run termed ‘the winter of the monsters’, almost every trip seeing ‘as mentioned above’, a 40 pound plus cod fish taking the pool! It became a pattern where each year the ‘average’ cod fish became bigger and bigger in size.
It was this reminiscing where Joe brings up a story about the biggest fish he saw during that legendary winter:
“Scotty Fetzer worked on the Alma with me during the ‘winter of the monsters’…Years later I was on board and saw him working on the deck of one of the Viking boats. While he was talking to a passenger, the customer asked Scotty about the biggest codfish he ever saw when he was fishing. It just so happened that a 50 plus pound was pulled up in the bow on the Viking, and everyone was marveling at the massive size of this beautiful fish. Without missing a beat, Scotty said, “hmmmm, biggest cod fish”…..”biggest cod fish I ever saw was with Captain Ron Schlueter of the Alma…..70 lb cod fish off the Markland.”
Captain Joe who was there on deck on that February 1994 day said,
“there must have been 90 plus pound cod fish sitting on that Markland…..problem was both the customers and crew couldn’t pull them off the bottom!” Joe added, “it was also the biggest cod I ever saw in person too.”
After the winter of 1994, it seemed that the great cod fishing out of Moriches Inlet, both the quantity of fish and quality of cod fish took a noticeable turn for the worse as it did all along the south shore of Long Island. By this time, Captain Ron was as a sharp as they came as a bottom fish captain, to the point where he would run out to the various wrecks in the area using time and course while following certain bottom contours and features.
In particular, Captain Ron had a very special ‘ace in the hole’ that he made a few years back. It was a small spot with little relief, and if you did not know it was there and passed over it quickly, you would never think it was a piece of bottom. Joe said, Captain Ron would carefully watch his fish finder as he pulled up to the spot and then set up on it.
“It barely read, yet on this one February day we pulled over 200 cod off this spot. All the other wrecks in the area combined could not even come close to giving up the amount of cod fish this spot would. Since it was the last of his consistent cod holes, he refused to ever put the loran numbers into his Loran-C machine.”
As the mid 1990s were winding down, Captain Ron’s interest in the fishing business was not what it once was. Captain Ron also had two daughters who at that time had no interest in running the business, and since Captain Joe was spending so much time at Captain Ron’s side, became like a son to him. Joe said that it was during these last years when Captain Ron was under the weather, he now entrusted him in running the big boat, only that Joe was just 17 years old.
As the Alma/Whileric fishing boat days came to an end, Captain Joe said he regretfully lost touch with his ‘father-like’ mentor. Joe said he will always remember Captain Ron taking the time to explain everything in great detail, and these invaluable lessons are with him at all times as he now runs the KING COD. One thing Captain Joe emphasized was that Captain Ron knew the bottom off Moriches like the back of his hand. Before GPS units and chart plotters became a regular piece of navigation equipment on board everyone’s boat, Captain Ron was both literally and figuratively speaking a ‘human chart plotter.’
It was just this last past December 16th, 2009, that Captain Ron Schlueter passed away after a prolonged battle with emphysema. Captain Joe who sent me the information the day before his birthday July 1st, added,
“Happy Birthday Captain Ron…you taught me so much. Fair winds and following seas, skipper.”
Captain Ron who was now a passenger on the KING COD holding his favorite fish.