Western Sound: February 2015

February in the Western Sound is a quiet month for fishing, although a persistent angler might find some schoolie Striped Bass in the back of Little Neck Bay on a warm day. Small swimming lures are usually the best bet, reel them very slow; at worst it’s a great way to get outdoors for a while.

But if you need to feel a boat under your feet, head east and jump on a party boat! I love being out on the water this time of year and if you watch the weather it can be a comfortable day, even in February. These trips are not the easiest fishing; you must be prepared for changes in the weather, different tackle that’s required and a long day.

I recently fished on the Hampton Lady, skippered by James Foley out of Hampton Bays, with some good buddies. We all live in western Long Island, so our trip started at 1:30 AM, with me picking up my friends on the way east. Capt. Foley leaves the dock at 4AM this time of the season and we like to get there an hour ahead of departure to get our favorite spots on the rail and a seat in the cabin. We were warmly greeted by mates Craig and Caroline who helped us aboard and got ready to begin our adventure.

Dress warm!! Bring plenty of clothes, layers are key to keeping warm this time of the year; insulated waterproof boots, extra socks, foul weather gear, gloves and a warm hat are a must, don’t leave home without them! Bring a cooler for your catch, food and beverages for your belly; this is a twelve hour trip and you need to sustain your energy level throughout the day. I usually bring two rods, one tofishbait,onetojig.Iliketousea seven and half foot medium heavy rods, matching reels loaded with 50 pound braided line attached to ten feet plus of 60 pound mono line to tie my connection with. Craig & Caroline will have rigs prepared for free and the
appropriate lead needed for the day, when in doubt follow their advice. Bring some eight to twelve ounce hammered silver or gold diamond jigs and some teasers that can be attached directly to your jig and rigged three to four feet above your jig; a simple dropper loop will suffice to attach your teasers.

It’s a two and a half hour ride to the fishing grounds, I suggest getting off your feet and getting some shut eye on the way out. Craig & Caroline will be checking everyone’s outfits on the way out to make sure you’re ready to go. They also will be cutting Skimmer Clams for bait and a lot of it; these mates work hard the whole trip and want you to catch fish. As you get close to the first drop, Capt. James will get everyone up, and ready to fish. When using clam bait, thread your clam on your hook, one or two pieces are enough, sometimes small baits actually fish much better. Listen to the captain and mates and watch the regulars, they’re the ones catching fish! Capt. James may drift or anchor; either way you must be on the bottom to catch fish. If you’re not holding comfortably on the bottom, change your sinker for a heavier one; it’s important to feel confident, it will make a huge difference in you catching fish. Once you feel a good bite, set the hook, keep your tip up and reel; you don’t want the fish to fight its way back into any structure, it will be hard to get them out. A steady, constant retrieve works best; when your rod tip drops, you give the fish a chance to spit the hook. When the fish gets near the surface, if it’s a nice fish wait for one of the mates to net or gaff it; Capt. James always seems to be able to spot a big fish coming up and either he or a mate will be right next to you and ready to help.

If you decide to jig, drop the jig to the bottom and swing your rod up, letting your jig hit the bottom until you hook a fish, then it’s the same steady retrieve to the surface. The size of your jig will be determined by the current; it’s important to stay near the bottom and I find that jigs usually work better straight up and down. If there is no current and you’re not catching, try using a smaller jig, dropping it to the bottom, but just reel it very slowly up ten to fifth teen feet, repeating till you get a bite. I learned this technique many years ago watching Capt. Paul Forsberg of the Viking fleet, while fishing George’s Banks; we were all swinging heavy jigs, really working them and not catching. Capt. Paul walked up to the rail with a much smaller jig, used the above technique and caught one fish after another; it only took two fish before I switched and started catching too. Watch what’s going on around you; there’s always someone that you can learn from.

On these winter trips Codfish, Pollock, Black Sea Bass (make sure the season is open), Conger Eels and Dogfish will be caught. The doggies can become a nuisance and sometimes can be avoided by jigging.

On the ride home, Craig & Caroline will clean your catch, bag it and throw it your cooler. Capt. James and his entire crew always take the extra step to make your trip a success, comfortable and a lot of fun. Make sure you always take care of the mates; they work hard for you and deserve a good tip!

There are also boats that sail out of Freeport, Point Lookout, Captree and Montauk that run first rate operations, choose what and where works for you. I’ve fished every party boat on Long Island; they all work hard to get you fish and show you a good time! Get out and fish! If you’re prepared, it’s a great day of fishing, even in the cold!

I will be starting to charter for Striped Bass out of Port Washington on April 15th; if you want more information about a charter, or have a comment or suggestion about Coastal Angler Magazine, drop me a line at capttommykampa@gmail.com