Stony Brook Harbor has four distinct sources of structure that make for a prime feeding buffet for hungry bass and large veracious bluefish. First, there is the channel itself which is the ultimate tidal drain flushing bait in and out of the harbor during tidal shifts. Second, is the plethora of reed lines that surround the harbor holding a varity of bait such as small shrimp, an assortment of crabs, mussels, spearing, worms and sand eels. The third and very important structure, is the abundance of drains and holes, but these will take you some time to find. As I always recommend, take a few scouting missions at low tide and you will find these great areas that hold bait and ultimately attract your target species. When looking for the deeper holes, search for dark water which typically indicates a hole or deeper water. They will be easier to locate at low tide on sunny days. The fourth area that you should be targeting are the rocky bottom rips that can be found where the tide moves briskly through the harbor. I have found that some of these rips hold a ton of fish just as the tide is about one hour before low. This skinny water fishing can be a light tackle or fly angler’s dream come true.
FISHING THE AREA
You will have many options when fishing the back harbor area, but one thing you will need for sure is a good pair of waders and the right equipment for the job. In the early spring just around the beginning of May, you can expect to catch and release schoolie bass that infiltrate the area chasing spearing. During this time of year focus on the reed lines and shallow waters using light tackle or a fly setup. The action is very consistent when luck and science actually agrees with your plan, but no need for the 11-footer spooled with 40-pound test at this time of the year in my opinion. I start the season with a medium/fast action spinning outfit consisting of a Shimano Scimitar 7-foot graphite rod matched with a Shimano Sonora 4000FA spinning reel. The reel is loaded with 15-pound test Power Pro braided line attached with a Palomar knot to a #7 barrel connector. Tie a 24-inch, 20-pound test Fluorocarbon leader to the barrel with an improved clinch knot and use the same knot to connect to a #52 duolock snap which will allow you the flexibility to experiment with different lures. When it comes to sub-surface lures, I prefer to toss 4-inch storm shads, ¼-ounce bucktails with pork rind, small ½ to 1-ounce Kastmaster tins and I love the small blue and white Yozuri swimmers. When working surface plugs I have two favorites that produce well. There is nothing more enticing to a bass or bluefish than a blue and white 3/8-ounce or 7/8-ounce Atom popper or a 3/4-ounce holographic bunker style Gags popper. Both are deadly in the area and will provide for great light tackle action.
Once June comes around so do the bluefish and bass with their feed bag on. Once the fish size and quantity start to increase, I upgrade my equipment to take on the task at hand. For the rest of the season, with a few exceptions, I use a Lamiglas 9-foot S-Glass rod matched with a Quantum Catalyst PT40 spinning reel. The reel is spooled with 30-pound test Power Pro braided line. Stick with a 24-inch fluorocarbon leader, but up the strength to 50-pound test to better withstand the larger fish and sharp teeth of the blues that will be roaming the area. I use the same knots to make my connections but change the barrel to a #5 and the snap to a #55. I add the classic 7-inch Cotton Cordell pencil popper in red and white or silver and black to the arsenal and up the blue and white Atom popper to a 1.5 or even the larger 2-ounce size, and of course some larger tins too. With bucktails, adjust the weight from 1/4-ounce up to 1.5-ounce depending on the current in the area. This setup has enough backbone to pull a big fish out of the harbor while still keeping me light and very mobile. To that point, I want to emphasize mobility here. Since there are several areas in the harbor that are productive, don't stick to the same spot for hours hoping that the fish will come to you. As a smart angler, be prepared to move around, as you can see by the map, the area is not that big and there are several options to try if the bite is slow. In general, I believe in a slow retrieve for both top and bottom artificials, but when the bluefish are in town, speed things up a bit and you will be surprised at how the action will pick up.
Here are a few of the lures I carry in my surf bag when fishing Stony Brook Harbor.
Bait is also an option in the harbor, so if this is your preference, you have several choices. Whichever bait you choose go out of your way to find the freshest you can get your hands on. In the spring I would suggest sandworms. All the local bait and tackle shops will have them at this time of year and they are a deadly striper bait deep in the harbor. Since the skinny water will be warmer, the bass will be drawn to these areas in search of this local food source. During the early part of the summer I have proven success using clams. Both bass and blues will never pass up an easy clam dinner. Towards the end of summer and into the fall my preference is fresh bunker and porgy chunks. You can obtain all of these baits at your local bait and tackle shop. In the Smithtown, St. James areas, you can visit Suffolk Sportsman in Smithtown off of Rt. 25 and in St James, you can visit Swaine’s off of Rt. 25A.
PLAN "B" OPTIONS
As all our detailed planning would have it, sometimes we arrive expecting to find fish all around us and none show as hoped. So don’t get frustrated, go find some fish. If you try a few spots in the back harbor and nothing is happening then try the Sound side along the beach where you can work sand bars and boulders along the shore. If that doesn't work you can always take the ten minute ride to Short Beach (again you will need a Smithtown resident pass), or drive a little further west to Sunken Meadow where you can fish along the State Park beach-front or walk until you reach the mouth of the Nissequogue River entrance where you have another great Long Island North Shore hot spot with an abundance of options.
So what would all this technical fishing talk be without a great story about the area to lend some credibility. I enjoy keeping a detailed fishing log and highly recommend that everybody keep one as well. Not only will the details help you be a better angler, especially in your local areas, but I also add all sorts of interesting commentary about the day, the laughs we had and tidbits of information about the interesting people that I meet along the way.
Both Danny and I enjoy fishing with our two teenage boys, Andrew and Richard, and they both love fishing the harbor area. We have a friendly annual fishing contest that we look forward to every year, so big bass equal big points. During a nice evening in July of 2005 we arrived at the harbor just before sunrise with fresh bunker and our surf bags. While Danny and I were casting Atom poppers, catching and releasing bass and blues, the boys decided to chunk the bunker. I pointed out a nice deep hole that has been kind to me in the past and Andrew cast right into the middle of it. About one minute later I look over and Andrew is hooked up with a very nice fish. The drag was screaming and his rod had that nice bend indicating that the fight was on. The bass started to head for the reed lines where I advised Andrew to let it take another run out to deeper water. Our plan executed to a tee and before we knew it, I was helping him drag a nice 22-pound bass to the shore. What a fish and what a fight to a then sixteen-year-old teenager, which gave him bragging rights that day.
So find your way down to the harbor and bring a family member or friend, I assure you it will be a memorable day that may lead to the fish of a lifetime.
My son Andrew with a nice Stony Brook Harbor bass.