This month’s feature fish is the bluefish. If I’m not looking to bring dinner home then I would take a 15 pound bluefish over a 15 pound striped bass any day. A lot of people on the water are what I refer to as bass snobs. These snobs are those fishermen that feel if they aren’t catching bass they would rather be sitting on their couch. Not me, when I know the big blues are in the bay I’ll hit the water in the morning and again in the evening. The blues that usually show up first in late April are usually the “racers.” They have big heads and long skinny buddies. These fish migrate from way offshore and “race” in to find prey. The fact that they haven’t eaten in a while will explain their skinny bodies and their vicious appetite once they find bunker. Without the presence of brown tide, these hungry bluefish will push deep into the back bays looking for bunker. If brown tide pops up don’t bother looking for bluefish or any other fish in the back bays, head towards the cleaner water closer to the inlets. If the water is clean and you don’t see any surface activity it doesn’t mean that the bluefish aren’t there. There are two ways to confirm their presence. First, throw a popper. The more noise and raucous it makes the better. I use a bunch of different brands/types however they all have one thing in common, a single hook. Treble hooks and multiple hooks are a recipe for a disaster. I usually use inexpensive poppers. Quite often a tackle shop will have a bargain bin. Take a look inside and you just might find some great bluefish poppers at a bargain price. The second way to find out if bluefish are around is the use of live bait. With the abundance of adult bunker in the bay, you should have no problem filling your live-well. Live baiting for bluefish is not rocket science. All that you need is a wire leader, a very strong snap swivel and a circle hook. I don’t use any weight when I’m live-lining bunker in the bay. You want the bunker to swim on top causing a commotion. Unlike striped bass, bluefish don’t swallow the bunker whole. Make sure you place your hook either in the middle or the tail of the bunker. Bluefish normally won’t eat the head. The appearance of these big fish is the perfect time to bring along the kids and newbies. They won’t be bored, just keep their fingers away from those teeth.
There is a good chance that NY will have an April blackfish season. It’s been a long time since we were able to catch blackfish during the spring. If it’s approved the bag limit would be 2 fish @ 16”. If the season does open up for the month of April stay shallow. Hit your local bridges, shallow wrecks and jetties. These fish will be feeding on much softer baits than those that are usually used in the fall. Clams, squid or sandworms will keep you busy. Please double check the regulations before you head out as nothing was set in stone before we went to print.
Along with bluefish, striped bass begin to show up. Keep your eyes on reports coming out of Jamaica Bay. These fish will be moving from the west to the east. If you fish Jones, Fire Island or Moriches Inlet you can usually expect to see some bass action about a week or two after they invade Jamaica Bay. Shinnecock and Montauk will have to wait a little longer. These bass will be on the smaller size but they will have no problem taking down an adult bunker. If you fish artificial lures match the hatch by going with large lures that mimic an adult bunker. If you can’t find bunker to put in the live well or you don’t enjoy casting artificial lures you can clam chum. Inside the bay, anchor uptide of a rip, hit a local bridge or fish on a bar just outside the inlet. If you are clam chumming the best tide is the outgoing. The more the white water the better. Bass love feeding on clams when it’s sloppy out. It’s best to use circle hooks to prevent you from gut hooking the bass. If work has you tied up during the day then head out at night and toss bass assassins or swim shads around your nearest bridge that you suspect holds fish. If the bridge has a shadow line from the lights above you are in business. As a reminder striped bass are the only saltwater fish species that can be targeted out of season. If you catch a bass before April 15th it must be released. Catch one on or after April 15th it must be a minimum of 28” to keep, with a bag limit of 1 fish.
As April comes to a close there should be some reports of weakfish being taken. The first half of the winter was a cold one, however, the second half has been very mild. The mild temperatures may cause the weakfish to show up a little earlier than normal. It’s my understanding that back in the day weakfish would be a staple in the month of April. Fingers crossed that those days return. If you do target weakfish in April I would use artificials or blood worms. You want to keep your baits just off the bottom.
April used to be a great month for winter flounder. It’s become the forgotten fish. I have been on Long Island for 12 years and I have never witnessed a great flounder bite. The season will open up on April 1st and run through May 30th. You are allowed to keep 2 fish at 12”. The key to catching flounder is the heavy use of chum. Along with the chum if you want the best chance at catching flounder I suggest you spend a few bucks and buy some blood worms. They are expensive but keep in mind you do not need to put an entire worm on the hook. They can be cut into several pieces. If you don’t want to buy the worms the next best bait would be the use of mussels. Concentrate your efforts in shallow areas. The shallow water will warm up much quicker than the middle of the bay. Flounder tend to bite better as the water warms up.
A look ahead
It looks like our fluke season will get an earlier start than last year. With the options that have been presented, there is a good chance that fluke season will start on May 1st. Not only will it most likely open earlier, we may actually get an extra two weeks in September added on. Those of you that like to fish for scup/porgy, it looks like the size limit will be reduced by an inch. That’s good news for those who like to eat them as well as those who live-line them for striped bass.