You’ve been to the winter shows and seminars. You purchased what you need to be locked and loaded for the spring, and you replaced your braid and mono so it’s time for action. The spring run in the Peconics is a fine way to break your cabin fever. The waters in and around this area provide some of the most productive early season scup action in the Northeast. The truly wonderful thing is your excursion will not be a one species trip. Be prepared for porgies, weakfish, fluke, blues, sea bass and the occasional striper.
To get a better feel for this fishing, I spoke to three individuals who know the Peconics like both sides of their hands. Capt. Dave Brennan of the “Peconic Star Express,” Capt. John Capuano of the “Shinnecock Star” and Capt. Keith Williams of the “Fin Chaser.” Each captain has concentrated his efforts on the Peconic spring buffet and continues to locate productive bottom for his customers.
Capt. Keith Williams started fishing the Peconics in the mid-1980s as a young man in a skiff. In those days he worked the South Race, Rogers Rock and Robins Island. For the past six years his fishing has been done at the helm of the Fin Chaser. During the month of May he sails from Prescott’s Dock in Greenport. Keith explained that the scup arrive in the Peconics after they make their way inshore from the Continental Shelf. He told me the larger scup arrive first and tend to set up on isolated structure with the juveniles following close behind. Later on weakfish and blues take up residence, often in the same areas.
The prime action begins to occur when the water temps are above 45, and will improve considerably when it hits the 55-degree mark. As for winds Keith stated, “I know that many anglers have the mantra ‘when the wind blows east the fish bite least’ but I like an east wind. However, no specific wind gives a distinct advantage or disadvantage. One of my best fishing days occurred on a hard-west wind over 15 knots.” On the tide side, Keith said in some areas the fish may be sensitive to certain stages of the tide, but new moon and full moon phases seem to have little effect on the fishing.
Keith always drops anchor up current from the school and only drifts when he needs to locate a body of fish. Chumming is considered a critical factor as it holds fish under the boat.
Keith tells his customers to bring a light, fast action rod and a reel spooled with 10- to 20-pound line. High/low rigs always work well, and a fluorocarbon leader helps but is not mandatory. Use just enough lead to hold bottom, which is usually 4 to 8 ounces. If the scup aren’t aggressive Keith advised that you leave a slight belly in your line. A hit will feel like a light bump, and sometimes a bump is a bite.
My next conversation was with Dave Brennan, who has been sailing out of Greenport on the Peconic Star since 1980. Scup activity was very good from the beginning, and customers had no problem filling a couple of buckets or more. (Note: There was no bag limit in NY back in the day.) Porgies were the main target, but Dave noted that weakfish were in abundance as well. Many party, charter and private boats made twilight trips into the bay and enticed the weakies with sandworms, or with what is now a “Golden Oldie” lure, the Salty Dog Pink Shrimp. However, in the late 1980s action began to fade on both species, and Dave said he was forced to try the areas around Gardiners and Plum Island. Then in 1998 and 1999 the porgies returned with a vengeance and action was red hot. The boat is so close to the action that a run to the fishing grounds can vary from five to 35 minutes.
The decision whether to anchor or drift depends on the wind and tide conditions. Dave also prefers overcast, cloudy days since bright, sunny days cast shadows in the shallower depths. A mild SE wind is another positive factor. Dave emphatically stated, “Tell everyone to leave the light tackle at home. I fish depths from 15 to 90 feet, so bring a medium-heavy rod and sinkers from 6 to 12 ounces.” If using mono spool your reel with 20-pound line.
I then asked Dave what to do of the fish get finicky or the bite slows down. He said give the bait a little motion with a slight bounce. Also, keep your bait fresh and replace it if you are not getting hits. Speaking of bait, Dave said, “Don’t throw the old bait overboard! The only meal being offered to the fish should be the meal on the end of your hook.”
John Capuano has been running his Shinnecock Star out of Hampton Bays for 25 years. He is quite pleased that the Peconics has maintained good numbers of various species. At the start of May porgies and fluke are both targeted and which species he heads to first depends on the tides that day. He anchors up to get scup but don’t worry, anglers have connected with summer flatties while the boat is anchored.
John wants you to pack a medium action rod. If spooling up with braid use 30- to 40-pound but for mono 20- to 25-pound suffices. The average depth being fished is along the 45-foot range so you rarely need more than 6 ounces to hold bottom.
Weakfish have often joined in the fun and have hit clams without hesitation. However, when the captain sees the yellowtails appear, he grabs his light tackle spinning outfit and offers them an artificial jellyworm on a jighead or a small bucktail. John noted that when the weakies are present a sandworm fished off the stern works very well. He added, “They don’t call them weakfish for nothing. When you get the fish to the surface wait for the net! Or you can watch as the hook pulls free and your possible pool fish swims away.”
John prefers the end of the flood and the beginning of the outgoing tide for the best results. Some of his favorite areas are Rogers Rock, Roses Grove that is SE of Rogers and the Greenlawns where jumbo fluke hide out. He also likes Jessups Neck for scup due to its deeper, fast moving water.
The Peconics area offers some nice jumbo summer flatties. John targets the Greenport Docks, the big holes close to the Canal, and Shinnecock Bay; especially on the outgoing tide. Bring bucktails and teasers that match the hatch. The flatties feed on what is available and that can be grass shrimp, mud crabs, sand eels or spearing. Bait rigs are equally effective with fluke belly or sea robin strips, or squid and spearing.
All the captains agreed on certain basics. Whether to spool with mono or braid should be a matter of a customer’s preference. However, mono tends to be a better choice for anglers who lack experience with braided line. The drag setting and hook setting technique is quite different from mono. If you prefer braid attach a 2- to 3-foot mono leader. Hook sizes should be from #2 to 1/0. Save your money and don’t purchase worms. Worms can sometimes be an advantage when the scup are spawning but their cost usually outweighs the advantage. If you like squid, it will stay on the hook longer, but has no real advantage as far as enticing porgies.
The captains gave me some additional tips that are noteworthy. Try not to use a piece of bait that is too large. A good rule is to use a piece of clam no larger than your thumbnail. If the tide goes slack and the bite slows toss your bait away from the boat and walk it back along the bottom. If the scup get finicky, regardless of the tide, try using the soft part of the clam (the guts).
The springtime influx of cocktail blues was once considered a blessing by the captains. They provided a bailout for the captains on a slow day. However, in 2017, they proved to be a detriment as the choppers arrived in such massive numbers and were so ravenous that for a few days the porgy bite literally shutdown.
If you are a novice don’t worry. The mates on these boats are glad to rig you up and show you the ropes. Rod and reel rentals are available, and terminal tackle can be purchased on board. Bait is supplied. In addition to your fishing gear, make sure to bring a cooler with sufficient ice to keep your catch chilled.
I would like to personally recommend that you bring an extra handkerchief. Unless regulations change dramatically, you will be shedding many tears as you release the 3- to 5-pound out-of-season sea bass that have shown up in the Peconics over the past three years.
Count on porgies, fluke, weakfish, blues, stripers and sea bass putting on a show in Peconic Bay this month. Don’t miss it.
|OPEN BOAT CONTACT INFO|
|Prime Time 3
631-323-2618 • www.primetime3.com
516-643-0940 • www.myfinchaser.com
Peconic Star Express
631-875-2631 • www.psconicstarboats.com
631-728-4563 • www.shinnecockstar.com