Striper knowledge on Jamaica Bay from an experienced captain.
Having spent well over 50 years fishing Jamaica bay and living on the bay, I paraphrase Captain Ahab speaking to Starbuck “I feel tied to it.” I feel bound to this treasure nestled among the heart of Gotham. The bay itself for those not familiar with it has a north and south side each with its own diversity and characteristics.
The bay begins to show signs of life around mid-March as the days become longer and the marsh grasses shed their winter coats of brown and that greenish hue blends ever so subtlety over the landscape. Baitfish remnants from the winter herring usually ball up in several spots—soon they will be joined by the seasonal interlopers, bunker.
The back bay riddled with mud flats flanking the sod banks warm quickly as they bake in the sun. This is where you want to stalk stripers. Skinny water, big bass, it doesn’t get any better.
Fish The Skinny
Kayakers and shore anglers have a distinct edge in lieu of the fact they can navigate the shallows in stealth mode. That’s exactly why I have two skiffs in my fleet capable of going as like the Starship Enterprise “were no one has gone before”. I have caught thousands of bass well into the 50-pound range in 15 inches of water or less. Why are they there? Simple; warm water, easy pickings when foraging and less energy expended when feeding. Look for drains or cuts along the banks all manner of bait gets flushed off the marshes with each ebbing tide. Just as the bass gravitate toward warm water, so do the herring, bunker, crabs and so on. These traits tend to be universal along the coast, whether it be redfish in shallow oyster beds rutting like wild boars or snook among the mangroves, fish like to be comfortable and feed leisurely—especially big fish.
Tools And Techniques
What to use and what techniques are best? Well nothing anyone says or proclaims, myself included, is Gospel. That’s to say when you think you know it all, you don’t. Moons are big factors in back bay fishing, especially in Jbay. The reason is it doesn’t have a big tidal flow between the moons and in general moon tides are higher, lower and are accompanied by stronger currents. I’ve seen leviathan bass in marsh grasses on moon tides literally shaking the stalks as they pick off unsuspecting baitfish. Here’s were surface lures and baits tossed flatline get good results. A slow, patient retrieve is a must—the slower the better. Think you’re going slow enough, slow it down more almost to a standstill. Also have in your arsenal small versions of your go to lures. Bucktails should be scale down at times to 3/8 or 1/2 ounce versions. I’ll go with a twister tail as opposed to pork rind because it’ll ride higher and have more movement crawling it in and through the marshes. Small shads, various paddle tails all produce as do shallow metal and plastic swimmers. My friends all in their late-60s have their own go to lures. One usually lives or dies with a bucktail and he’s such a craftsman he’ll scale down to 10-pound braid with light lumber and usually out fishes us by far. Another who makes custom lures that we call them wonder plugs because they look like crap but man his metal lips Danny plug knockoffs are phenomenal.
Areas Of Focus
So let’s explore some of the bays hot spots. The radar pier wooden groins extending from the tarmac are a thing of beauty. If beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, because they haven’t aged well. Their broken up but, adorned with barnacles and weed the perfect maze for bass to sunbath beneath. You know this is a good spot to make some noise—rattle traps, Doc Spooks and pencil poppers all of their moments. Even using bunker, especially when the schools are pressed against the pier can be lethal.
Structure fishing in Jbay has endless possibilities. Bridges old and new all can have their moment. The north channel is usually the favored bridge. Kayakers can launch from the south parking lot and from there fish the bridge or pumpkin batch and surrounding islands. The bridge has a lot going for it; one its lit at night providing a shadow line a shadow line for fish to sit in; two, it’s a funnel and highway with good movement; three, due west of it is the old wooden bridge; four, on the southwest corner theirs a monster bar and ledge because you’re in close proximity to the channel. I can go on but suffice to say it’s good stuff.
As one navigates the bay it’s easy to see it is riddled with structure. Both the north and south side have bridges both old and new and the rubble strewn about attracts bass who can hide around it. Bridges are certainly good pieces of real estate but there are other immeasurable interesting pieces of geography. It should be noted that there is two ways to navigate the north and south side of the bay—runway channel to the west and Winhole in the middle of the bay—actually three if you cut through the Pumpkin patch. Bass are a willy fish and will often play the tides, moving along with the ebb and flow depending on the conditions.
If one takes a topographical view of the bay either with a GPS or chart, it’s easy to see the maze of islands, cuts and drains which provide bass endless runways to go throughout. Fishing is a combination of variables primarily but not limited to the following: wind, tide, lunar phases, water temperature, and bait movement. Briefly I’ll discuss some of their influences I’ve noted throughout the years.
Lunar phases have a dramatic influence on Jamaica bay. Big fish as a general rule like a big tide especially on the back and north side of Jbay. With that in mind, on upcoming moons a good guideline would be four days on the upside and four on the downside have strong tides or pull. Multiple that by two full and new moon and you have 16 days give or take a few when fishing tides should be optimal. In between the moons usually separates the men from the boys with regards to catches.
Next up wind, well one can’t control the wind but the beauty of Jbay is you can make adjustments and find a fishable area in certain ends of the bay depending on wind direction. Blowing a gale, sneak into Starret creek, or the back toward Inwood golf course were the airport buffers strong southerly winds or some of the other spots. There’s dozens of hideouts all produce at any given time. From the back bay up towards Rosedale and Woodmere to Barren Island way to the west, each with potential.
Moving along, I personally believe the single most important factor in hunting trophy bass is bait movement, and the principle supporting actor is bunker. Nature doesn’t punch a timeclock so no movement and migrations answer to a different call. An angler must be in tune with nature and as you mature as a fisherman, you’ll realize the complexity as it all unfolds. When forsythia, those yellow shrub-like plants you see along the highway bloom well it’s a coincidence that water temperatures are usually around 50 to 55 degrees at this time, which just so happens to be a good time for the arrival of bunker and stripers. Now that’s not to say you won’t find bass in 40 degree water but the scales tip in your favor when these “variables” intertwine. My first Jamaica bay bass are usually caught on the south side in quiet out of the way spots. Inwood and further back have winter over herring which funnel out from Doxies Pond into this area. Look for breaks in water temperature even a small fluctuation can impact your success.
This article briefly acquaints you with Jamaica bay and should put you on some good catches this spring. I’ll go into more details and updates in the future. Until the next tide, tight lines.