To be quite frank, I’d much rather be wreck fishing for blackfish or cod, or jigging bucktails for shallow water fluke. But it’s December, and although I can hop aboard a charter or open boat for either species, these ageing bones of mine, quickly remind me that I’m not 20 years old anymore. These days I try to pick and choose my ocean wreck trips when I know the Big Pond will be relatively calm. In the meantime, football games, sportsmen expos or spending too much time on the sofa watching the groove tube just don’t cut it. So as a healthy and fun alternative, I bundle up, grab some gear and head for one of the many docks and piers that provide plenty of fresh clean air and a good shot at some fine winter herring fishing, which is a great way to shake some winter blues.
Remember that river herring (blueback and alewife) are off limits. The herring targeted in our waters over the winter are Atlantic herring, otherwise known as sea herring. They migrate from the waters off the coast of Maine during autumn to the southern New England and Mid-Atlantic regions during the winter. The first of the herring schools to arrive usually show up by late November and spread among Long Island waters with many of the herring sticking it out for most of February, and depending on conditions, sometimes into March where they spend the winter spawning. Although the herring can grow upwards of 18 inches, most of them caught in local waters rarely exceed the 12-inch mark. They are the most abundant pelagic species in cool Northern Atlantic waters and are widely distributed from Labrador to Cape Hatteras feeding mainly on plankton and small baitfish. Being a boney and oily species, Atlantic herring leave much to be desired as table fare until salting, pickling and smoking converts them to a popular delicacy consumed in large numbers, especially around the holidays. Some anglers also salt and freeze them as bait for spring stripers.
A Light Touch
Spinning and bait casting outfits in the 6- to 10-pound class is the way to go here. It may be true that herring are not tackle busters, but with a rig possibly filled with five or six herring flapping from it, you’ll want the backbone of the rod and your line to withstand the job at hand. When it comes to rigging up for the silvery little critters, you just can’t go wrong with sabiki rigs. Sure there are many styles of multi hook herring rigs out there that do their job well, but when push comes to shove and the bite is picky at best, the sabiki rigs come through. Some favorites include the Tsunami Pro TSB-068R iridescent hage-aurora tedhead and TSB-068G iridescent hage-aurora green glo head. The nearly invisible fluorocarbon leader tied to the super sharp premium hooks combined with the high visibility fish skin are the elements that make this quality rig so effective time and time again. Other popular choices include Mustad tinsel mackerel trace T5/S0803, Mustad #4 shrimp bait rig T18/s0967 and Hayabusa Japanese sabiki hot hooks bait rigs – S-510E-8.
At the terminal end of these rigs, I employ a 1/2- to 1-ounce casting spoon if I am fishing an area with a moderate current. In an area that lacks current or during slack tide, I fish Tsunami SW spoons, particularly the TSFGH206 in silver scale minus the hook. The SW spoon creates a wild flutter and a brilliant flash in the water that does a great job of attracting herring. For areas with current, the Tsunami shockwave spoons in either TSSK 1/2-ounce or TSSK 1-ounce with a green, red or white tail has just the right pulse and vibration to round out any herring rig. Small diamond jigs also work well when the bite is on.
Once the herring arrive, they usually stick around most of the winter into early spring. The weather dictates whether they remain in a particular area or move around. Hot fishing areas for herring around Long Island include the West End bays, the East End and the North Shore. Starting with the West End, the piers and docks along the south end of Emmons Ave. in Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn always gather big crowds when the bite is on. The Brooklyn folks sure do know their herring fishing and employ all kinds of homemade gizmos and gadgets that all have one thing in common; they work and work well. While in Brooklyn a stopover at the Canarsie Pier located in the Gateway National Recreation Area of Jamaica Bay is worth investigating since there is often plenty of good action during the daylight or dusk hours, and usually some dynamite action during night tides. Don’t forget the Coney Island Steeplechase pier, which was badly damaged after Super Storm Sandy, but has been repaired and re-opened and looking good as new. Here anglers ply the water both day and night in search of herring with an occasional whiting or two being taken at night.
Hopping a bit east of Jamaica Bay, the Magnolia Pier located at the north end of Magnolia Blvd. in Long Beach, juts out into Reynolds Channel. Here you will find anglers fishing around the clock casting and jigging their favorite rigs in hope of a steady bite. The pier, as well as the spacious parking lot is well lit for nighttime fishing, which is open to the public free of charge 24/7 during the winter months. The Magnolia Pier is well maintained and has a fish cleaning station as well as cutting boards. Early in the season it seems that daytime action edges out the nighttime; however, as the season progresses into the heart of the winter, the theory is reversed.
Heading east approximately 7 miles from the Long Beach Pier is the pier at the Conservation & Waterways in Lido Beach. Located just west of the Loop Parkway off Lido Blvd., the Conservation & Waterway pier is approximately 100 feet long, and juts out on the western end of Reynolds Channel, just before Point Lookout and Jones Inlet. Here, the herring action is quite consistent during December to mid-January, but usually trails off after that with catches becoming sporadic the rest of the season. There is ample free parking here during the winter months, the only restriction is night fishing is not allowed due to the lack of lighting on the pier. Driving north across the Loop Pkwy. Bridge and east toward Ocean Pkwy are the fishing Piers located at Field 10 in Jones Beach State Park. Here, there is a series of four piers reaching out into Sloop Channel. Herring action is consistent here through December and January during both the day and night tides; however, nighttime fishing in the park is restricted to night fishing (Sportfishing or 4WD) permits only. Permits can be obtained at the park office at Jones Beach State Park, Robert Moses and State Park headquarters in Belmont State Park for $30 (The fee may increase in 2018.). Heading north on the Wantagh Parkway you will run into a relatively new pier on Green Island just north of the third Wantagh bridge (south end bridge) where anglers can target herring in Sloop Channel 24 hours a day from April 1 to December 31. There is daytime only access from January 1 to March 31. This area packs a good crowd during spring through fall as fluke, stripers, blues and blackfish are all possibilities here. You are required to have a NY State Sportfishing permit or a Beach Vehicle permit in order to park here.
Eleven miles east of Jones Beach, Captree State Park, has its moments, particularly during the start of the ebb tide. In fact, the best tide at all these locations is usually at the high turn from last of the flood to first of the ebb. Further east, Shinnecock Canal holds strong potential while the locks are closed and just as the locks open and close. In recent years, the canal has become sporadic at best whereas in years past, the canal produced quite consistently. Perhaps the abundance of harbor seals that plague the canal during the winter is the reason for less herring here.
Up on the North Shore, we find most of the harbors, piers and docks well supplied with herring particularly during periods of high tide. Starting to the west, the Port Washington Town Dock can produce well before it becomes iced in. Here light winds from the south and high water are the best ingredients for success during January. Moving east, the bulkheads behind the Halesite Fire Department inside Huntington Bay are worth a visit on windy days and also on high water. High tide and the first two hours of the outgoing water are prime time at the Mill Dam Bridge in Centerport. Here you will find the gates to the Mill Dam will only open at high tide, which is when the herring move into the area. During the low tide period, there is no water entering or leaving the Mill Dam, which results in poor action. Before heading up to the Mill Dam or any of the docks or piers along the North Shore, check the tide tables and plan your fishing around the top of the tide. The pier along Porpoise Channel at the north end of Stony Brook Village is another area that has its times, again on an ebb tide. Finally the Pier off Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai Harbor can be quite productive. Here you can fish either side of the tide as long as the current is moving.
Clearly, these are not the only spots to hold herring. In fact, I’m confident that anyone who lives on Long Island is only a hop, skip and a jump away from a productive area. Therefore expand your horizon and try out some new spots that you can call your own. This winter push away the chips, leave the remote with grandma and enjoy a few hours outdoors. Better yet, grab the kids and put in some quality time together. You may not always score when chasing herring since they tend to be unpredictable in their movements and feeding habits, but I am certain that the more you go, the more you’ll know. So get the salt and Mason jars ready, and go have a blast.
|Canarsie Pier – Jamaica Bay, Brooklyn
(Gateway National Recreation Area)
Magnolia Fishing Pier – Magnolia Blvd., Long Beach
Conservation and Waterway Pier – Lido Blvd., Point Lookout
Jones Beach Fishing Piers – Field 10, Jones Beach State Park.
The Fisherman Walk and Overlook Piers – Captree State Park
Mill Dam Bridge – Mill Dam Road, Centerport
Port Washington Town Dock – Port Washington
Cedar Beach Fishing Pier – Harbor Beach Road, Mount Sinai
Shinnecock Canal – Holzman Drive, Hampton Bays