Herring are one of the bright spots for Long Island’s winter anglers. For those willing to take on the cold in search of these silvery, tasty treats, there are many possibilities. Small runs are found across the area on both the north and south shores, as well as in the Peconic estuary. For those just starting out, however, the best bet is to head down to a traditional hot spot where the odds are good that you’ll both find the fish and anglers that can you can watch to get a feel for how to get things done.
Herring aren’t difficult to catch. The keys are to figure out which stage of the tide the fish are favoring, use a basic Sabiki rig, dress warm, and head out at night if you can find a spot where some light shines on the water.
Here’s a quick preview of a few top spots around Long Island. Figure the action should by now be underway at most of these locations. They’ll be lulls and peaks in the action – it’s usually best during brief warming periods and toughest during better cold spells – but catches usually last into late February so there is time to pick and choose your outings.
THE FAR WEST
Coney Island Pier is a traditional hot spot on the West End of Long Island, but nearly as good on a regular basis can be the 69th Street Pier, Canarsie Pier and the Sheepshead Bay bulkhead right where the party boats are docked.
At Coney Island Pier, sunrise and sunset usually see the best catches and the action can continue throughout the winter if it doesn’t get too cold out. As is the rule at most places, expect catches to pick up with warm spells and drop off when the Mercury dips below freezing for several days in a row.
Sabiki rigs usually produce best here but the top color varies from day to day, so bring along an assortment of white, fish skin, crystal flash and at least one multi-color rig to cover all the bases. Concentrate your efforts at the deep end of the pier, jigging vertically. If that doesn’t pan out, give casting a try off the shallow end.
Another tip that works well here is to place a float on your line to prevent it from going all the way to the bottom. That way, you can jig in the strike zone without getting snagged (the bottom here is a bit dicey.) Position the float so it stops your rig about two feet from the sea floor.
BET ON MAGNOLIA
Perhaps the most popular herring hot spot on Long Island’s South Shoe, Magnolia Pier offers easy access is easy and fairly consistent action.
Expect the action here to kick intofullswingashighwaterbegins to ebb. Many anglers see this as a night spot because of the lighting, but it can be just as good during the day – and it may be less crowded then.
The standard rig at Magnolia sports a five- to six-inch oval-shaped, size zero or double-zero Luhr Jensen dodger, connected to the main line by the swivel end and a Sabiki or Fin Strike herring rig at the other end. The herring rig should sport silver or translucent fish skin colors. Use a small diamond jig or sinker for the weight.
Most of the better catches from this pier come from the deeper water at the easternmost end where local sharpies use vertical jigging techniques but don’t overlook the shallow end of the pier on slow days and nights. Catches here vary from a couple of fish per angler to full buckets when the action heats up.
MILL DAM PAYS DIVIDENDS
Sabiki rigs with a diamond jig weight serves as the usual rig at this popular North Shore herring hot spot. Here, you’ll generally find the best action right near the spillway.
You can jig vertically here when the tide is high, but you’ll need to cast and retrieve as the ebb progresses and the water grows shallow.
For those who want to add a little extra challenge to their herring pursuit, this is a great place to break out some light tackle. A six-pound class freshwater spinning outfit teamed with a small KastMaster jig will let you catch the fish one at a time with a little more sporting feel – but don’t set your drag too tight because resident stripers here occasionally hang around right through the winter months.
A LITTLE ELBOW ROOM
For anglers living on Long Island’s East End, the northwest elbow of Shinnecock Inlet is a great place to try for herring. The action here often heats up at near the end of incoming tide as the schools stage before moving into the bay. You can park right near the west jetty of Shinnecock Inlet in Altenkirch Park. The herring can show here at any point in the winter, although the peaks are usually around New Years and again in March.”
One point to keep in mind at this location is that you don’t want your rigs to go all the way to the bottom because the rocks will eat them up. So, get your line down – but not all the way – and be sure to work it up quickly toward the surface as you bring it in close.
Keep in mind that herring love flash, so tie your own rigs with some Mylar or metallic-looking material. Silver works better here than multi-color or even white rigs.
PLENTY OF OPPORTUNITY
Of course, there are plenty of other places where herring show up during the winter months; the Port Washington, Captree, Jones Beach and Cedar Beach piers are just a few examples. Shinnecock Canal is another possibility, as is the Rail Road dock in Greenport. Each of these spots is worth checking out if you live nearby.
Herring season runs from late November through early April, but the action sees a lot of peaks and valleys. Often, the bite is very productive in December and early January before slowing as the waters continue to cool in February. Drop in a warm spell and the action can quickly rebound. Thus, it helps to keep one eye on the thermometer and the other on the tides to try and figure out the when the bite should peak. I find an occasional spot check is also good, both for finding fish and warding off the winter blahs.