With much anticipation, the full moon of April brings our angler out of hibernation. Waiting all winter for this moon, he eagerly sets out in search of the season’s first striped bass. With the big, bright moon slowly rising in the eastern horizon, the tide will start to move around ten pm. He doesn’t need to look at a tide chart; years of experience are engrained into his decisions on when and where to go.
Parking in a little turn-off near the creek, he quietly slips on a pair of boots, rigs up his fly rod and tosses a few flies on his pocket. There’s no need for variety of flies as he knows this moon triggers a great spawn of tiny, translucent grass shrimp. Most years they get swept out of the marsh grass and into the main current where the stripers line up in feeding lanes like trout, casually picking the shrimp out of the surface film, often with a loud pop as they slurp up mouthfuls of the tasty morsels.
Impatient, the angler is eager for the action to start, but alas, tide and time wait for no man. The current remains slow for a few minutes and in what seems like an eternity, gradually gains speed. As the rip forms about forty feet in front of him, the first indication of their presence is known. During the next thirty minutes a building crescendo of feeding bass gradually takes up their lines in the rip. He unhooks a brace of floating grass shrimp flies and pulls off a few feet of fly line. Long casts are not necessary and often a detriment to success as lining feeding fish is a sure way to put them down. His first cast is a bit rusty and the line piles up in front of him. It does not matter and the whole creek is lit up in feeding bass. Even though there’s hundreds of bass feeding at his feet, the action is painfully slow. Having his two little flies picked out of the millions of real specimens is like winning the lottery.
The first strike comes without notice as the line gradually tightens under his fingers pinched to the cork handle. The fish feels the steel of the hook and takes off with the current and is quickly into the backing. Our angler is in no hurry as he knows the action will last most of the tide. Gradually he works the bass to his feet where he bends down in the marsh grass and lips a perfect specimen. Dark olive back fades to a pale lavender and then into a pearlescent flank and belly with seven perfect stripes. The tiny number six hook is firmly planted in the corner of the mouth and the barbless hook easily slides out. He holds the bass by the tail, admiring the beauty and power of his favorite quarry as it flicks its tail and resumes feeding with the others.
April is the month where the island finally awakes from its winter slumber. As the longer days and warmer night time temperatures gradually warm the water, many of our larger baitfish such as bunker and alewives migrate toward the shallow, nutrient rich back bays of both the north and south shores. Similarly the loligo squid glide into the shallows of the east end’s twin forks, followed closely by big, hungry, ocean bluefish. Spending the winter near the continental shelf, bluefish tend to be the most predictable of the spring species in recent years. Each area is different, but the full moon of April (if you have not already done so, mark your calendar for the 11th) usually sees them flooding the south shore inlets and western north shore bays. Lean and mean, they are appropriately named racers due to their long, slender bodies and enormous heads adorned with razor sharp rows of teeth. Generally not picky, they can be caught using a variety of methods but nothing can beat the topwater strike of a hungry spring bluefish.
Another long forgotten visitor to the island is the yellow tail flounder. Decades ago our local bays such as Moriches, Freeport and Jamaica bay, among others, all had their waters filled with yellow-hulled dorys powered by loud 20 horsepower outboards. Burlap sacks were filled with two to three pound fatties. Everyone had their favorite methods; some chummed with crushed mussels, others tossed handfuls of corn around their anchored boats. Others drifted bits of bloodworm or whole grass shrimp with the tide. Unfortunately this past time has faded away along withe the flounder population.
The bluewater canyon cowboys can be found waxing hulls and outfitting their battle wagons with the latest gear. A handful of the past few years saw gulf stream eddies pushing up into our local canyons relatively early in the season. The poor spring weather prohibited most boats from making the run but the ones that were able to be on the water early in the season found good action with both yellowfin and bluefin tuna. Don’t be surprised to be tracking that first warm water finger at the end of the month.
So it starts again, months of fun in the sun on the boat enjoying all that out island has to offer. Get out there and make the most of every day.