What will this new year bring to Long Island’s coastal fishing front? No one can predict for sure, but with a new season comes renewed optimism and opportunity. Following is a brief status report on a quartet of our most popular inshore game fish, along with a few tips on when, where and how to connect.
Striper fishing got off to slow start last year as water temperatures were a little low and the stock has seen a significant decline in recent years. There’s little doubt that this spring will also see cold water slow the initial bite. With a recreational daily limit for stripers in the marine zone now set at 28 inches (and similar regulations in neighboring states) many anglers are hoping that the stripers will once again be on the rebound a few years from now.
Bunker are the big draw for striper action as the season hits stride in May and June. As long as the bait returns the bass should follow. Indeed, from Breezy Point in the west all the way east to Montauk and Orient Points and then back west along the Sound to City Island, stripers can be stacked solid if the big, silvery baitfish arrive on schedule. Clam chumming can also account for fast action in bay waters, around the west end bridges including the Big Meadowbrook and Loop Parkway crossings. Out east, live eels always seem to do a number on the bass though the late summer and into the fall. For smaller stripers inside the bays, in the shadow of Robert Moses Bridge, and along the Sound beaches, soft plastic shads and weighted Sluggos work wonders from May into November.
Striper action should commence during late April and early May in the west end creeks and bays and western Long Island Sound – Little Neck is a perennial early-season hot spot. As waters warm, the action spreads east until the entire Long Island coast joins the game around Mother’s Day. At least that’s the game plan. The usual pattern is for the action to heat up first in creeks and rivers before spilling out into the bays and harbors and rolling out to the inlets and oceans beaches.
Like stripers, blues seem to be going through somewhat of stock decline. While some very large choppers – a few topping 20 pounds – have been caught over the past two years, the hordes of smaller, 2- to 6-pounders that usually attack fluke and weakfish baits in the bays have been missing in action. Hopefully, this year sees the bite get back on track.
Blues smack the same tubes and bucktails trolled for bass, inhale cut and live baits, and pounce on shiny metal spoons, diamond jigs and bottle plugs. Look for initial catches to be strong inside the bays and inlets with a mix of cocktails to four pounds and localized scatterings of bigger fish to ten pounds. A few gorillas to nearly 20 pounds can also show up in the western quadrant of Long Island Sound on the June moon. Peconic Bay’s Jessups Neck also sees some monsters in late May and early June as the bunker begin to filter out of the estuary. By mid- July, big blues to 12 pounds should be patrolling ocean waters, at the mouth of most inlets, and inside Long Island Sound Harbors. Birds diving on bait are the classic bluefish marker and can also tip you off to great action with surface poppers.
Regulations have actually relaxed a bit for fluke over the past few years. Currently anglers are allowed to keep five fluke daily with a minimum length of 18 inches and an open season of May 17 through September 21. That should allow for plenty of action and a decent chance at taking home a keeper or two on most trips.
If you just want to have fun and catch a ton of fish, work inside the bays and harbors with live killies, small strip baits or a one-half- to one-ounce bucktail tipped with squid. During May and June, you’ll likely
catch enough keepers for dinner and throw back fish until your arms are ready to fall off. The later into the summer you stretch, the slimmer the pickin’s for bay fishermen as the keepers get culled out.
For a real shot at keepers or filling the limit, work 20- to 50-foot depths in ocean waters or the open Long Island Sound (Smithtown Bay is traditional early-season hot spot) with six- to eight-inch strip bait cut from sea robins, bluefish and bunker, or use live snappers during the late summer.
Of course, the greatest number of big fluke each season generally come from the stretch of ocean between Montauk Point and Shinnecock Inlet but some very respectable scores are also racked up off Greenport, Orient, Mattituck and Port Jefferson, especially during June. Last summer also saw a solid run of keepers to four-pounders out of Captree, a point to keep in mind if keeper ratios in other areas begin to dry up during the traditional summer doldrums.
SEA BASS AND PORGIES
Mixed bag action with porgies and sea bass has been about as good as it gets over the past three years. In fact, even many old-timers are saying these species have never run bigger. Only a decade ago, a 12-inch porgy was a solid keeper. Nowadays, it takes a 16-inch fish just to turn a few heads and honest 3- to 4-pounders, while still unusual, are a real possibility. The action with sea bass has grown by similar proportions to the point where a 5-pounder might not even take the pool on open boat fishing over a wreck in Eastern Long Island Sound or the open ocean. Peconic Bay, Montauk, Orient and Greenport have all seen super scores, but the south shore reefs outside of Jones, Fire Island, Moriches and Shinnecock inlets have offers super action as well and great catches have reached all the way back into Long Island Sound from Port Jefferson to City Island.
Porgy season runs from May 1 through December 1 with a 10-inch minimum size and 30 fish limit. From September 1 through October 31, however party boat anglers can creel 45 fish each day. Sea bass have a later start to their season. You can target them from July 15 through December with a creel limit of eight per day and a 13-inch minimum size.