A new fishery was born within the Long Island Sound.
Since I began fishing some 50-plus years ago (52 to be exact), my target species in the Long Island Sound consisted mainly of flounder, porgies, blackfish, and bluefish. Through the years I’ve seen flounder and mackerel in incredible abundance shrivel dry, blackfish, striped bass, and bluefish going through their ups and downs, while porgies did a pretty good job of staying relatively consistent. Sure we had our times with weakfish, however, before the past 4 or 5 years, the weakies were a rarity except for some years during early July where anglers lucky enough to find a school of fish in mid-Sound were able to diamond jig up a few big tiderunners.
Then around the turn of the millennium, fluke made a strong showing among the shallow water shoals during May and June munching on the enormous schools of sand eels that would settle on the shoals for their yearly spawn. Sadly, the past several years have seen a steady decline in keeper fluke along these same shoals, while the short ratio remains relatively high.
Skates and sea robins never disappointed through the years, always making their presence felt each spring and summer. And what about windowpane flounder? Better known as sundials, which were once abundant and were often caught while flounder and fluke fishing during late spring. They seemed to disappear as well.
Then there was the black sea bass, which until 2010, was probably the rarest of local seasonal species to swim the North Shore with an occasional fish here and there. Then during the summer of 2010, acres and acres of small fry between 6 and 8 inches would swarm the shallow rocky lairs along both the Long Island and Connecticut shores which brought a lot of gray hairs among porgy fishermen. As the seasons passed, the sea bass kept returning and growing to a point where a new fishery was born within the Long Island Sound. Now this body of water is home to plenty of monster black sea bass often referred to as dragons due to their long spiny dorsal fin. Therefore we’ll guide you to the right path of putting a limit of these tasty sea treats on ice.
Early Arrivals Late Departures
By mid-May jumbo black sea bass are commonly found off the shallow rocky shorelines along Long Island’s North Shore. These early arrivals take to the shallows to drop and fertilize their eggs before heading for the cooler deep waters of the Sound during the summer months. Since the stringent New York State regulation does not permit possession of black sea bass until June 23rd, most of these jumbos move off the spawning grounds and gradually head for their summer destinations since they are water temperature influenced. Sinker bouncers from City Island to Orient Point targeting scup and fluke on the same grounds that black sea bass spawn on are often left releasing fish to 6 pounds.
Optimistically, there are countless rocky bottom grounds at every depth that sea bass will temporarily settle on where you can usually count on some wild fishing. In addition, good things happen to those that wait, especially should you miss out on the summer run. Instead of fretting, you will be happy to learn that the sea bass return to their spring spawning grounds during the first half of November and you’ll have the opportunity to put a 7-fish limit of tasty indigo jumbos in the box, if you wish. Most hardcore anglers at this point of the season are so heavily focused on blackfish, they overlook these strong sea bass opportunities.
Charts Are Paramount
A good eye and a good navigational chart can potentially bring opportunities to savvy anglers with honey holes that they can truly call their own. Sure, charts are paramount to plot courses. However, these days, fancy electronics contacting the satellites has shaved off much of the mathematics involved in plotting. Call me old fashioned, but I still prefer to break out the paper charts to “read” the water.
There’s a lot of ground out there and by examining a chart, you can have a detailed idea and pinpoint strong potential fishing spots. Whether it be seeking out sea bass or any other bottom feeders, it would be beneficial to study a chart before heading out to an area and marking possible prospects. Look for deep-water high spots, rock bottoms, and especially areas marked off with obstruction or wrecks.
Most nautical charts for the Long Island Sound have wrecks pinpointed. They may not all be located exactly as marked, however, most are close by. Therefore before waving the white flag, motor along the area in widening circles until some form of structure is located. Understand that just about every wreck in the Sound has been silted over or pretty much deteriorated. Nonetheless, such areas will hold giant sea bass and scup.
Come One Come All
Although there are countless areas along the North Shore that hold strong potential, the grounds within minutes of Mattituck Inlet stand tried and true for dragons and remains one of my top choices. Best of all, if you are a New York resident, or fishing with a New York resident that has a New York registered car and boat trailer, you are welcomed to use this Town of Southold location to launch your boat as this piece of ground belongs to the NYDEC.
The Mattituck Creek Waterway Access Site is the third and largest boat launch site operated by the DEC to provide public access to the waters of Long Island Sound. The facility features a two-lane ramp where two boats can be launched/retrieved at the same time. Parking is available for up to 60 cars and trailers. There is a fishing pier and a separate dock designated for kayaks and canoes. The facility also features picnic tables, privies, interpretive materials, wildlife viewing, and loading docks. All features are accessible to people with disabilities. The entrance to the facility and main gate is open to the public 24/7.
A word of advice; make sure your vehicle and trailer are registered and inspected, otherwise there will be a Town of Southold summons or two under the windshield wiper. Rest assured they will be looking. In addition, a DEC Officer is often looking for fish and Saltwater Registry violations from boatmen returning to the ramp. However, if all is up to par, you will have one enjoyable day.
Sea bass are not finicky when it comes to viciously attacking hard metal jigs. Some of the metal tasting imitations include the Shimano Lucanus Jig which has become a Hallmark for anglers who take their sea bass jigging seriously. The Lucanus Jig has an aerodynamic head design that lets it sink quickly to the bottom and stabilizes the jig during the retrieve. This jig also uses the multiple hook system to provide a higher hook-up ratio and durable silicone skirts. The trailers wobble and vibrate during the jig movement.
Also, a sea bass killer from Shimano is the Butterfly “Flatside” Jigs which have been innovatively designed to perform the best action in the most common situation of angle-vertical jigging from a drifting boat. The rear/center weight balance design lets the Shimano Flatside Jigs fall to the bottom quickly with a swinging motion. The off-set eyeball position allows for the use of two different hooks for an overall better hooking ratio. Both lures come in a variety of colors and sizes to 7 ounces and can be easily purchased from local tackle shops as well as online.
If you like the Lucanus Jig, you’re going to love Tsunami’s Facet Jigs. The Facet Jig is a high visibility jig that can be danced off the bottom for strike-triggering action. Glowing tentacles in the silicone skirt provide a tempting target for wary fish in heavy structure. Light-catching 3-D eyes make for a realistic look and the scaled holographic finish (except on the glow jig) beautifies these gems. The Facet Jigs have a natural tendency to circle as they are lifted while jigging. This allows them to move laterally as well as vertically to cover a bit more water. A swivel-rigged ultra-sharp VMC Siwash hook completes the jig. They’re available in. 3 ½ and 6 ounces in glow, green, and silver.
As for diamond jigs, you can’t go wrong with the Marathon Jigs. The Marathon Diamond Jig is of sleek aqua-dynamic design with durable triple chrome plating which leaves a long-lasting bright silver finish and is also available in a holographic finish design. Top-quality Mustad hooks round out the jigs and are available between 2 to 8 ounces.
If you want some shake, rattle, and roll included in your arsenal, then you absolutely can’t go without the Raging Rattler from S&S Bucktails. The Raging Rattler has a full glow head and skirt but also has an internal rattle. Curiosity catches the ear of the sea bass and draws them in. Also off the S&S line is the Octo-Pi and the Flutter Jigs that are must-haves if you take jigging sea bass and fluke seriously.
Baitcasters and conventional outfits in the 20-pound class are best suited for the task at hand. You’ll appreciate a combo light enough not to cause fatigue from jigging all day, yet strong enough to handle the brutality of those jumbo knot heads. Whatever outfit you employ, an 8-foot shock leader, and preferably fluorocarbon of 20-pound test should be tied to the mainline via an Albright knot. The good ole and reliable improved clinch knot should be tied to your lure of choice which will round out the terminal end.
Although the Lucanus and butterfly jigs should produce without support, lures such as the Raging Rattler, the Facet, and the diamond jigs can use a bit of enticement in the way of Berkley’s Gulp! To keep it even simpler and ultimately effective, stock up on the 3 and 6-inch Gulp! Alive Swimming Mullets in nuclear chicken, chartreuse, and new penny.
Jig Those Jigs
When fishing jigs over scattered rocks, mussel, clam, or oyster beds, it would be best to jig along the bottom with a foot of lift and a steady bounce. Otherwise, where hard structure is involved, you’ll just want to let the jig touch bottom, then put a couple of turns on the handle of the reel and glide and jig just high enough above any structure you may be going over including big boulders.
If employing and jigging artificial jigs is new to you, you will have to get used to the differences between feeling bites and banging against the rocks. As for being off the bottom and out of range of the feeding calvary, fret not as sea bass have great eyesight and range of smell and will venture well off the bottom for something of interest, particularly the jumbo bass, and will hit the bait like a freight train, just like their cousins, the grouper. Therefore be forewarned and hold that rod tight!
Watch The Weather
Although Long Island Sound can be as flat as a lake, it can also become quite lumpy. A tight chop can make for wet and uncomfortable motoring and drifting. Since some of the hotspots are a 6- or 7-mile hike from most bays and harbor inlets, getting to and from the inlet can become quite a challenge. Be sure to check out NOAA weather reports for sea conditions and wind velocity. Keep in mind that winds from both the north and east will produce challenging, tight chops, especially against hard moving currents.
It should be another banner year for jumbo sea bass on Long Island’s North Shore. Come get your share of the bounty. Just remember that while a cooler of fish does equate to a good day, take only what you need and play the catch and release game with the rest. Please practice self-restraint at times so we can keep this fine fishery healthy and strong for years to come.