Shinnecock Inlet Bucktailing
The bays of the South Shore are the heartbeat of Long Island, the pulsating chambers of life at the Island's center, around which everything surrounding them depends. The inlets that feed them work like arteries, delivering nature's bounty to the shoreline each spring.
As the water in the bay warms and big stripers arrive in greater numbers, they will take up position in the warmth of the bay where the mussel beds and jetty slip into the deep water. On still early mornings, topwater plugs worked along this edge will call fish from the deep and bring nuclear explosions, capped with a waving tail and singing drag. Despite the unthreatening terrain, this is no place for light tackle. Three-ounce pencil poppers are the weapon of choice to draw strikes from fish in the high 20 and 30 pound range and long casts to the channel edge require big surf sticks.
As the days turn warm in June, the fishing at Shinnecock East switches to the main fairway of the inlet, where cool ocean water runs deep and fast, just the way big stripers like it. Bucktails, big guns, and braided line are the bread and butter of fishing at Shinnecock East, and once the fish set up in the inlet, there can be good fishing straight through until it is time for the Christmas decorations to come out.
As air and water temps climb in late June and boat traffic in the inlet ramps up, stripers settle into their regular dusk, dark, and dawn routine. In early summer, some fish are taken in the late morning (that is, after 8 a.m.) but most of the fishing is done at the fringes of the normal day. As the days get warmer moving from June to July, the after dark and pre-dawn hours are typically the staples.
Bucktailing in Shinnecock and Moriches inlet is a far cry from the fast cast and retrieve style of fishing most anglers who have visited Montauk associate with bucktail fishing. In the inlets, retrieves are saved for retrieving the lure from the strike zone and the action of the bucktail is largely left to the control of the tides and bottom contours, bouncing along as naturally as possible with nary a flip until a rubber-jawed bucket wraps it lips around it.
Using a 1.5- to 2.5- ouncebucktail, depending on the speed of the current, flip your jig up-current. Take up the slack but don't move the bucktail until you feel it banging into the bottom. From there the handle of the reel should barely turn enough to keep the line taught and the rod-tip nibbling. As your bucktail passes down-current and naturally starts to swing in toward the jetty a couple of quick bounces of the tip will pop it up the slope of the jetty base, hopefully calling the attention of a last licks striper, before the jig has to be retrieved in a hurry to keep it out of the rocks.
Bucktailing this way is not something picked up in short order. The bucktailing lineup at Shinnecock-often 20 to 30 guys or more separated only by a quarry stone or two when fishing is good-is typically a who's who of the local Southampton sharpies. Out-of-towners fill themselves in where they can but it is the guys who fish the rocks day in and day out that consistently produce the fish.
August is typically the quietest time of year around the bays. But the fish are still there and the angler that is willing to go completely nocturnal will continue to find them. The dog days produce some great catches of fish for lazy anglers soaking bunker chunks, eels, or worms in the surf zone just east of the jetty in the midnight hours. The East Cut also becomes one of the better spots again as stripers crawl along the edges of the channel looking for crabs and baitfish once boat traffic has ended.
As the days begin to grow shorter, early mornings at Shinnecock Inlet bring some of the first signs of the fall run beginning. Even if the days are still summertime balmy, the dark clouds of rain minnows, or bay anchovies, that cluster tight to the jetty walls are a sure sign of the autumn feeding frenzies.
The first fish to start marauding these little morsels are usually cocktail blues and they often provide the day-timers with some outstanding fish blitzes marching up and down the jetty on the last days of summer.
But it is never very long before the inshore speedsters show up: Spanish mackerel and false albacore. The macks are usually only around for a short engagement-a week or two at the end of August in most years-and stay near the ocean-side tip of the jetty, but some tasty fillets can find their way to the cooler when they are in.
Once the falsies find the rainbait, they are in for the long haul and often in amazing numbers. On good days, there will be dozens of schools of falsies spread from the ocean end of the jetty far into the bay along the edge of the East Cut. Flyrodders and light tackle enthusiasts put on their rock cleats and sprint up and down the rocks as the tunas march up and down the edge of the jetty.
Perched high above the water, this type of albie fishing can be far more exciting than fishing them from a boat because anglers can clearly see the bright green backs and silvery sides of the albies as they cruise along the edge of the rocks, even when they are not "showing."
Little Al-Bone-Tuna flies for flyrodders and the 3/4-ounce Deadly Dicks for spin fishermen are the lures of choice. Spinning rods should be a little more stout than might usually be chosen for the sake of controlling the fish as they near the submerged rocks at the foot of the jetty.
The albies often hang around until the middle of October, or whenever the first bad northerly blow muddies up the bay. After that, attention of most anglers turns back to the stripers.
While the ocean beaches to the east can produce better days of fishing as fall wears on, the Shinnecock sharpies usually stick to the rocks, working the early morning tides more heavily. While there aren't the blitzes that the migrations bring to Montauk and the beaches, there are some shots of real good fishing, 10 fish or more, straight through until December.