The Rockaway Artificial Reef turns an impressive 44 years old this year and holds the title of being the first artificial reef in New York State waters. Located 4.2 nautical miles south southeast of Rockaway Inlet in 30 to 40 feet of water, the Rockaway Reef started out with pyramids of tires lashed together with heavy chains. Later in its creation, barge loads of clean concrete and steel from the demolition of the railroad bridge over Reynolds Channel were added. Most recently, on July 21, the reef site was bolstered with materials from the Tappan Zee Bridge, including concrete columns, deck panels, and pipes that will further improve habitat at the site.
At an impressive 413 acres in size, and a hop, skip and a jump from the inlet, it’s a no brainer why so many small and large crafts from the New York Bight area rely on this extremely fertile piece of real estate of the sea for its fast paced and diversified fishing opportunities. Blackfish, sea bass, porgies, ling and bluefish as well as false albacore, bonito, striped bass and weakfish roam the forage rich area. To add to the excitement, some very good fluke fishing can occur along the fringes of the reef during the summer, and then really light up during the fall as the flatties prepare for their migratory trip offshore.
Since the Rockaway Reef is situated in relatively shallow water, it is one of the first of the south shore reefs to come to life early. If the winter has been mild, good ole reliable ling dominate the structure during the cold months. Sea bass take over once their season opens sometime in June and hold their ground until a couple of serious cold snaps in the fall. Porgies are also a mainstay during the early summer and into the fall.
If it’s big fluke you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place. May through September, fish to 12 pounds are taken. Drifting long strips of fish bait such as fluke belly, mackerel, bluefish and large squid strips on a plain Jane rig usually does a good job nailing the bigger fish. Fork tail speedsters such as bonito and false albacore frequent the reef during the late summer and fall, as do bluefish, with stripers always a possibility. Artificial lures such as Kastmasters, Hopkins, Crippled Herring and Deadly Dicks will put you in touch with these gamefish. Once the water chills down to 55 degrees, some solid blackfish action is possible along most of the reef. Sharpies that know this reef also know where the bruisers live, while the average Joe can have fun with shorts and most likely put a few keepers in the box to keep coming back for more. Tidal current is often not a factor along the Rockaway Reef, therefore, sinkers to 5 ounces will be the maximum weight needed to hold bottom.
Even though it’s a short ride to the reef from the inlet, your first concern should always be safety. Make sure you check weather and sea condition reports before you head out. Days when winds are less than 15 knots are desirable and should provide safe and fishable sea conditions.