New York’s striped bass fishery, often overlooked by outsiders, enjoys a singular distinction: Sitting smack-dab in the middle of the annual migration, it’s ground zero for stripers.
In April and May, Jamaica Bay is awesome. “Jamaica Bay is fishy, man,” notes Capt. Danny Reich. “All sorts of bait, structure, flats.”
He’s right. The spring in particular can be off-the-charts.
Jamaica Bay, part of the National Park system, holds 10,000 acres of protected salt marsh. It’s about as close to wild as you’ll find in the New York City metro area. “It’s unique,” says Reich. “There’s deep water next to productive mud flats and more bait here than anywhere else on Long Island.”
In recent years there’s been a solid influx of juvenile menhaden (aka peanut bunker), a relatively new occurrence.
“The peanuts push up into those mud flats and load up in the creeks,” says Reich. “That makes the topwater fishing insane.”
Stripers destroy poppers, like the 5-inch Madd Mantis Atasi or the Guides Secret Baby Bottle Pop. But walk-the-dog baits kill it too. The 7-inch Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper has always been a go-to. But my recent fave is the 7-inch Drifter Tackle Doc.
“There is nothing cooler than seeing 20-pound stripers cruising across a white-sand flat,” says Capt. Paul Dixon. “Then when one turns on the fly, the red gill plates flare, and it’s the ultimate experience.”
In the back bays, from Fire Island all the way to Montauk, iwhite-sand flats extend for i acres. In June, they fill up with sand eels and small crabs, and the stripers come in to feed.
This is i technical fishing, dominated by flats skiffs and fly rods, but a lot of these flats are i accessible to the wade fishermen, and spin-fishing is i just as productive with the right gear and a stealthy approach. “We use 4-inch Slug-Gos unweighted,” says Dixon. “Heavy plugs seem to spook them. “Small epoxy sand-eel patterns are the go-to fly for us,” he adds, “but we use crab patterns sometimes too.”
Just south of the city proper, long swells crash on beaches, creating prime grounds. “The rougher the water, the better the fishing,” says Gateway Striper Club President Lou DeRicco.
The more white water you have, the richer the feeding grounds for baitfish.
Boat guys fish the sandbars around the inlets, whereas the surf-casters fish the wash, often catching big stripers in knee-deep water.
When the sun is at the right angle, you see big stripers inside every approaching swell.
“It’s pretty intense,” says Reich. “We pull the boat up to big breaking waves, cast as far into it as we can, then try and scoot out of there before the next set of waves comes along.”
Because you are competing with a lot of bait in rough water, you want big poppers that make a lot of noise.
Pretty much every hungry striper from Maine to Massachusetts passes through here on their great migration in October and November.
“It’s all-out mayhem,” says Capt. Brendan McCarthy. “Birds, bait and stripers go nuts on top!”
Such blitzes are generally fueled by bay anchovies out east on Long Island. To the west, it’s more about the peanut bunker. Juvy menhaden fuel a late-season back-bay bite.
“The bay is pretty cool,” says Reich. “Peanuts get pushed up into some really shallow water, and big stripers send bait spraying.”
It’s been my policy to throw topwaters to enjoy those awesome surface strikes. On the South Shore during the last few years pods of 9-inch menhaden create some extraordinary fall fishing for large stripers.
“We usually drag 9-inch Drifter Docs or 8½-inch Guides Secret Poppa Pencils along the outskirts of the bait schools, and they absolutely get pounded,” says Reich.
December can be one of the best months in lower New York Harbor and the western South Shore of Long Island. Atlantic herring show up when the larger stripers are migrating. This creates extraordinary conditions for big-bass blitzes.
Indeed, because of its location, New York remains largely a sleeping giant for stripers.
What: Light-tackle striped bass
Where: Lower New York Harbor to Montauk
When: April through December
Who: This varied fishery is readily accessible to private anglers, but the local pros know the ins and outs.
Three New York Striped Bass Guides
• Capt. Danny Reich, One More Cast Charters, nycflyfishing.com
• Capt. John McMurray, One More Cast Charters, onemorecastcharters.net
• Capt. Paul Dixon, flyfishingmontauk.com
SWS Tackle Box
Rods: 7-foot medium-action spinning rods
Reels: Light to medium spinning reels
Lines: 15- to 20-pound braid
Leader: 20- to 30-pound fluoro
Lures: Poppers and walk-the-dog topwater baits such as 5-inch Madd Mantis Atasi, Guides Secret Baby Bottle Pop, 7-inch Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper, 7-inch Drifter Tackle Doc; 4-inch Slug-Go or similar light lures for shallow-water sight-casting
Depending on conditions, select from a range of topwater lure actions, from walk-the-dog to disruptive, noisy poppers.