Shinnecock Canal: Spring Cleanup - The Fisherman

Shinnecock Canal: Spring Cleanup

canal
The canal drops right off at the bulkhead. Sometimes you don’t even have to cast out to catch fish. Walking your bait or lure along the walls will result in plenty of hookups.

The Shinnecock Canal is a migratory waterway for many species of fish entering or departing both Shinnecock and Peconic Bays.

Health issues had set me back in 2020, which included fighting COVID-19. Indeed I thank the good Lord for allowing me to live another day, however, fishing was not in the cards. I did make several trips to the Shinnecock Canal last May to pass the time and watch joyfully as both the sharpies and novice anglers were keeping rods bent with a variety of species that included weakfish, school size stripers, fluke, bluefish, blowfish, and all the sea robins you cared to catch. Some days the action was spectacular, while other days produced a slow pick. Although I was craving to cast a 3/8-ounce yellow bucktail along the bank and join in on the fun, I had just as much excitement watching from the front row of my wife’s SUV as anglers enjoyed the action. I truly did enjoy watching the rods bend and predicting what species was being fought. Mix bag fishing in the canal has been a spring ritual for as long as the canal was constructed. I do not doubt that this spring should prove any different. That said, a bit of tutelage from this feature and I’m sure the Shinnecock Canal will produce enough fun to keep even the kids smiling and wanting to come back for more, but get there soon as the action begins to wane by the end of May.

A Tidal Connection

Located in the hamlet of Hampton Bays, the Shinnecock Canal is a narrow, yet main waterway that joins Peconic and Shinnecock Bay, and is controlled by sets of locks. The influence to open and close is controlled by the tides. As the water builds from an incoming tide in Shinnecock Bay, it forces the gates shut. At the same time, the tide on the Peconic side of the canal does just the opposite. Fishing at this point becomes quite simple as the swift current that rushes through while the gates are open is eliminated. This phase lasts for approximately six hours and once the tide changes, the entire process is reversed. To calculate the time that the gates will open or close, simply turn to the tide table page of The Fisherman, select the day you plan to fish under the Sandy Hook portion of the tide table. Subtract 3-½ hours from the time stated on the date you plan to fish and you’ll have the time the gates will close shut. To know what time the gates will reopen, add 2-½ hours to the time and date.

Keep in mind that the best fishing in the canal takes place as the current begins to ease. This is approximately a half-hour before the gates close, then the first two hours that the gates are closed, and then the first 15 minutes or so after the gates reopen, or before the current picks up speed. While the first two hours are best for the bottom dwellers, schools of weakfish, bluefish, and stripers can show themselves at any time, therefore be ready.

May Madness

The Shinnecock Canal is a migratory waterway for many species of fish entering or departing both Shinnecock and Peconic Bays. Since a myriad of baitfish often accumulate in the canal while the gates are closed, many bottom dwellers and gamesters alike will reap the bounty.

The season kicks off in early May with schools of weakfish that pass through Shinnecock Bay and into Big Peconic Bay heading for their spawning grounds that surround Robins and Shelter Islands. Locals will fish the canal every day in anticipation of the early arrivals. Once the fish start funneling through, the bite can last a few days or the entire month of May. It would be best to give East End Bait and Tackle in Hampton Bays a call for an update before making the trek to the canal. Once the weakfish do arrive, the best of the action occurs during the last half hour before the gates close, while the current slows enough to bounce a leadhead jig along the bottom.

Weakfish feed on many different types of bait including crustaceans, mollusks, and a large array of baitfish. With such a broad diet, weakfish are susceptible to a wide variety of artificial lures and baits. Berkley Gulp, Fishbites, Spro bucktails and Bass Assassin shads, along with sandworms and squid strips, are by far the top choices. The 5-inch Albino Shad by Bass Assassin on a ½- to 1- ounce plain triangle shaped leadhead jig is probably the most productive choice for weakies. Shad Assassins have stood the test of time, but Crazy Legs Jerk Shads, which is part of Berkley’s Gulp Alive series is also atop many angler’s lists. New Penny and Pearl White-colored Crazy Legs attached to a ½- to 1-ounce jig head will get the job done. Blue Frog and Spro bucktails in white, pink, and yellow all have their times and should be added to your arsenal. Pink, white and motor oil color soft baits such as 5-inch Fin-S Fish, Mister Twister Tails, and Berkley Gulp Power Grubs in pearl white, pink and nuclear chicken are best fished on ½-  to 1- ounce plain standard balanced leadhead jigs bounced slowly along the bottom.

canal
A favorite of the author and many others who fish the Canal is the Spro bucktail.

Mixed Bag Clean Up

Fluke are also early arrivals and will most certainly be waiting for your offering by the May 4th opener. Since the canal is loaded with forage baitfish, you will most definitely find fluke. During the early stages of the season, the fluke are chewing down on spearing, sand eels and bay anchovies, which are extremely abundant in the canal during the spring. As for artificial offerings, Spro Prime Bucktails between 3/8 and a ½ ounce tipped with a 3-inch Gulp Swimming Mullet will produce plenty of quality flatties. As for color, white, pink, yellow, and chartreuse will all produce well. There are times when a plain leadhead jig baited with Gulp or any of the soft baits I already mentioned can also be very effective.

Bluefish will terrorize the canal by early to mid-May and will continue to zip in and out of the “ditch” throughout the spring and summer. Metal jigs such as 007’s, Kastmaster’s, Hopkins Shorties, or just about any shiny object will catch the attention of choppers. Since bluefish have a mouth filled with fine razor-sharp teeth, a 12-inch steel leader will help cut down the losses of terminal tackle.

Stripers will stalk the canal during the spring and mostly consist of shorts. However, if you are serious about doing some striper fishing in the canal, it would be best to do it after dark by tossing swim shads, such as Tsunami’s Holographic Black Back Swim Shad. Please be advised that a Suffolk County Parks Night Fishing Permit is required to park at the canal during the nighttime hours.

Big blowfish have been making a strong appearance the past couple of years. Tandem rigs baited with clams will catch the puffers just about anywhere you throw a baited hook in the canal. A few big porgies will also take fresh clam bait.  The best location to catch a few would be at the rock jetty located on the very north end of the canal. There you can park in the parking lot where the jetty is about 100 feet from the lot.

Snags Galore

weakfish
Weakfish are a staple in the canal during May. This is one of those shore bound locations where Fisherman subscribers have a good chance of catching a Dream Boat qualifier.

Don’t go too fancy or too expensive on those jigs and bring plenty of backup as many jigs, rigs and lures have settled in Davey Jones Locker compliments of a sticky bottom. My experience has been the closest to the gates I fish, the snags are considerably less. The area south of the railroad trestle to the Montauk Highway Bridge consists of a sticky bottom, however, this stretch of terrain often produces the best all-around fishing.

As for rod and reels, you’re going to need the proper outfit with a rod that has the taper and flexibility to prevent tearing the hook from the jaw or lip of weakfish and fluke especially. At the same time, you’ll want an outfit that will handle the occasional bigger striper, blue or fluke that cruise the Canal. I find that 6- to 7-foot spinning outfits in the 10- to-12-pound class with a moderate taper tip are ideally suited for working the banks of Shinnecock Canal.

My favorite outfit consists of a 6-½ foot Lamiglas Inshore Classic spinning rod model IC70MLS which is perfectly matched with a Daiwa Advantage TDA2500A filled with Daiwa’s 10-pound super soft Steez Fluorocarbon line. This outfit gives me good sensitivity, but also the toughness to take on gamesters without added stress to the fish, resulting in a healthy release. If your reels are filled with braided synthetic lines, be sure to add a 12-pound fluorocarbon shock leader to the mainline via an Albright or Blood Knot.

Shorebound Dreamboat Possibility

Fisherman subscribers have a great shot at placing in the 2021 Dream Boat Fishing Challenge. Aside from the grand prize of a 25-foot center console Steiger Craft pushed by a 300-horsepower Yamaha engine, there are many other prizes that can quite possibly be waiting for you. Most of the sea robins in the Shinnecock Canal during May are big females loaded with roe. The key to nailing a few monster robins for contention is to fish here throughout the month since the size of the birds will drop way off as summer comes into town. The Canal is also capable of producing a Dream Boat weakfish, since tiderunners to 12 pounds have been landed here.

Travel to the canal is made simple by driving east on Sunrise Highway (27A) to Exit 66, which is North Road – Shinnecock.  At the end of the ramp, you will come to a stop sign.  Take a left on North Road and go under the overpass to Montauk Highway. Make a right on to Montauk Highway over the canal and take the first right past the overpass onto Canoe Place Road. Then take the next right onto Holtzman Street.

May at the canal provides shorebound enthusiasts with fantasyland reality fishing. Therefore, whether the plan is to put a few tasty fillets on the dinner plate, a fun day of quality time with the family, or a shot at the Dream Boat, Shinnecock Canal is the place to be. Don’t miss out as many opportunities await. As always, practice self-restraint, keeping only what you need, and obey all DEC regulations. Lastly, don’t forget that long handled net. There is a good chance you will need it.

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