John Skinner is the author of Fishing the Bucktail and A Season on the Edge. He’s the creator of the fishing log software FishersLog. He’s a consistent producer of trophy striped bass and holds the current New York State false albacore record.
In reading this keep in mind that I'm referring to waters east of William Floyd Parkway, which runs from Shoreham on Long Island's North Shore to Smith's Point on the South Shore. If you're fishing well west of that, your observations may be quite different. With the exception of my years in school upstate in the 80's, I've lived on and fished Long Island's East End all of my life. This season is by far the slowest bass start I've seen with respect to anything larger than schoolie stripers, and judging by my opening day effort for fluke in Long Island Sound off Wading River, that fishery isn't much better. Yes, there are all of the bluefish you could want along much of the South Shore, particularly the inlet areas and bays, but quality stripers have been another story. In looking at my previous blog entry I notice the title was "Cold Water". While running my boat about a mile off the beach near Wading River on May 17th my temperature gauge read 49 degrees, as it had several times during my three-hour effort that produced a single short fluke. The highest I read was 52 degrees, but that was in calm water with a bright sun on the stern so it's likely I was getting a slightly inflated surface reading. The one lethargic fluke I pulled off the bottom was so cold it felt like it came out of my cooler. I saw no bait, and the occasional terns I saw swooped down to the water but never dove in. Given that it was opening day, there were a fair number of boats fishing the same area that I was, and they didn't seem to be doing any better. Most years the fluke are very plentiful by mid-May in this part of the sound. In checking my electronic log for fluke trips between May 14th and 18th over the last five seasons in this area it shows my boat averaged 36 fluke per trip. The bulk of those were over our now 18-inch minimum. I usually had two people in the boat - typically me and one of my kids. The fishing was often nearly "lock and load", and the water temperature was in the mid-50s. I heard from two sources that local draggers have done well recently. It was also interesting to see better fluke reports from charter boats in the western sound this weekend, where the water was almost certainly warmer. A look at the past few weeks of Nor'east posted reports shows impressive bass catches west of Jones Inlet, but not too much to the east. The sound bass reports were still concentrated to the extreme western end. I'm used to having teen weight bass by late April and I'm usually into the 20-pound class in the first week of May. That was not the case this year. It will be interesting to see if the fishing in the eastern waters shifts further into the calendar. We often lose the bass bite by around the beginning of July. Maybe it will last a little later this year before the summer doldrums set in. I guess a lot will depend on the weather. I don't find the slow start all that discouraging because I'm confident that it's only a matter of time before the good South Shore and Peconic fluke fishing spreads into the Sound, and the big stripers gorging on adult bunker in Jamaica and Raritan Bays work their way east. Given that we're right at the start of the fluke season, I'll leave you with a short fluke video that I posted last year, but has been very popular and quickly summarizes the rigging and fishing technique for the light tackle fluking that I do. Many people who formerly were dragging baits off heavy boat rods have told me that this and my other fluke jigging videos have converted them to this style of fishing because it's a lot of fun and their catches have improved significantly.