Many of us who began fishing as youngsters spent many hours fishing local docks for snappers, flounder, blowfish and whatever else we could catch. That included eels and even targeting large killies with tiny size 16 hooks. As our fishing horizons broadened, some took to the surf, others to boats, but rarely did we return to the places where the love of fishing was first ingrained. The docks were often left to kids on bikes or adults without the luxury of a boat or 4×4. What we often overlook are the opportunities that many docks provide over the course of a season.
Every community along the South Shore has its own town or village pier or marina. During the summer season many are limited to local residents, but during the spring and fall, residency restrictions are rarely enforced should you decide to check out the potential of neighboring docks and piers. State, city and county managed fishing piers like those at Captree, Robert Moses, Oak Beach, Jones Beach, Magnolia Pier in Long Beach, Canarsie, Coney Island and Hampton Bays (Ponquogue) offer easy access to the general public. Most are situated in good fishing areas to begin with, but don’t overlook the potential of those local mainland docks that dot the Island’s southern shore.
The return of blowfish to our bays has generated lots of activity on these structures as young and old alike discovered, and in some cases rediscovered, the fun that comes with catching northern puffers. While blowfish and snappers are currently the attraction for many dock fishermen, more “glamorous” species like fluke, weakfish and stripers are realistic options in many locations for those savvy enough to target them. Some seasons, an abundance of baitfish in the bays, most often adult or peanut bunker, will trigger some good action with any one of these three species. Some years have seen big blues into the teens come from docks in Bay Shore, West Sayville and Patchogue. A few years back, peanut bunker flooded Great South Bay triggering some amazing striper action on the north side of the bay, often within reach of anglers on docks and shorelines. Once again, the bays are packed with peanuts and many anglers are hoping that some of the many school stripers currently stretched along the oceanfront will find their way into the bay again this fall.
What is really exciting is the return of weakfish to our bays. This season saw weakfishing reminiscent of the “good old days” with catches of 50 or more yellowfins not uncommon and having five or six fish follow hooked fish to the boat. Having those numbers of fish in the bay resulted in some decent catches from mainland docks. If things happen as they did during their historic return in the 1970s, they should return bigger, and in big numbers next spring. That could translate into some good early season action on the docks. And if they continue to return over the next few years, we will likely see some real tiderunners roaming the creeks and canals from late April to well into May. Some of these fish can be impressive. One year I won the long defunct Great South Bay Weakfish Tournament with a 12-plus pound weak caught from an East Islip dock. It beat out entries from over 100 boats participating in the contest. Much more recently, I scored a 14-pound weak from the same dock. That fish was cruising slowly along the bulkhead feeding on grass shrimp. I jiggled a Fin-S fish in front of her nose and then spent a few hectic minutes keeping her from cutting me off on nearby pilings. If there is a lesson in this, it is don’t underestimate the potential of the mainland shoreline.
One of the nicest features of working these close to home locations is that you don’t need a lot of time to do it. An hour, even a half hour before work, before or after dinner when there is no time to jump in the boat or run over to the surf might be all you need to bend a rod. Recently, I hit a local Islip dock at 6:15 p.m. after dinner. Between then and dark – maybe 40 minutes – I got four fluke to the dock (dropping two of them while lifting them from the water), including a keeper, and two weakfish. I also lost a 4- to 5-pounder close to the bulkhead when he made a final dive and pulled the hook. That happened to be the last day of fluke season and you wouldn’t expect fluke to still be that deep in the bay so late in the season, but I’ve learned to expect the unexpected when fishing the mainland shoreline.