Now it’s starting to get serious. The cobwebs of the offseason leading into the spring are well and gone. A solid April bass bite from Raritan to Jones inlet, while the bays and inlets further east had their typical schoolie to lower slot size bass has the season off to a great start. Break out the Gulp as fluke season begins to add another option to target. With my fingers crossed and pencil poppers ready, the phenomenal bluefish bite all along the south shore of the island last year hopefully repeats itself this month.
Adult bunker have been present as far east as Bridgehampton since mid-April, typically only harassed on the east end by ospreys. That’s going to change this month as spawning blues move into the bays. If you’re a top water junkie like me, this is the month to get your fix. I’ve gotten in the habit of swapping out the rear treble of most of my plugs to a single hook for a few reasons. The first is one of convenience when de-hooking as blues will typically bite the back of the plug. It’s also going to decrease the odds of a treble lodging in your hand. I also like the fact that with stripers in the mix, the release mortality improves since stripers typically attack the front of the plug so that the second treble won’t get lodged in their gills.
The thrashing of a pencil popper is a perfect presentation of mimicking a wounded bunker. They cast well and are relatively cheap for the beating they take from gator blues and the inevitable of getting chewed off. I like throwing bottle poppers as well. They may not create as much commotion as a pencil but throw a lot of water when worked correctly. A yellow super strike little neck popper is typically the workhorse of my spring plugs. Blues will bite them, and bass will chase them. May presents a great scenario when the blues are present. The competition for feeding they create leads to some amazing fishing.
I tend to target blues in the back bays on the east end of Long Island. The bite’s more consistent for a few weeks versus the ocean, and the fuel burn is significantly less. Marshy areas east and west of Jones Inlet are productive grounds and well worth working throughout the month. One method gaining popularity in the last few seasons with fly fishermen is the teasing up of blues and bass in skinny water. The “Doc” plug, originally a freshwater muskie offering, devoid of hooks is worked back to the boat with a medium to fast retrieve creating action a bit less thrashy than a typical size pencil popper. Gators and stripers alike will show themselves and while they miss that hookless doc, they’ll be more than happy to eat a fly landed close by.
Another bite worth chasing after is the ocean bunker pod bite for bass. Later in the month as water temps rise, there’s a good shot at solid fish as far east as Shinnecock but primarily Robert Moses and the Fire Island area are about as far east as you can go before the odds drop off to get into those bigger fish. Circle hook regulations are still in effect so have a dedicated spinning rod on board for snagging bunker if you haven’t thrown the cast net and stuffed the live well.
That topwater fix can still be gotten when working the bunker pods. If the bass are there, they’re going to be big and your offering needs to match their appetite. Large pencil poppers like the Guides Secret Poppa Pencil, the Doc I mentioned earlier (put those hooks back on!), and large bottle poppers like a Gibbs Polaris Popper worked on the edge of the pod will raise some trophy catches.
I’ve gotten a bit salty on some trips when there’s fish in the area that just don’t want to take a topwater. Diamond jigs, bucktails, large swim shads, and the latest craze…the flutter spoon will get the job done below the surface. If you can find any flutter spoons for sale grab me one and I’ll Venmo you.
Choosing to release all the bass I catch, and not a fan of bluefish as table fare, May is the first chance to enjoy the bounty of our waters as fluke season starts. On the east end, Shinnecock Bay is one of the island’s best spots for spring skinny water fluke. I’m not against using bait but find that Gulp works much better than spearing. With gas prices poised to make a bigger dent than ever in the fishing budget, the short to keeper ratio as the season starts also makes Gulp a more wallet-friendly choice. I’m partial to the 4-inch chartreuse mullet on a 1-1.5 oz S&S rattling bucktail with a skirted Gamakatsu octopus hook on a dropper loop about 6 inches above the bucktail. Skinny water fluking isn’t exclusive to the east end, as opportunity abounds from Jamaica Bay and the bays from East Rockaway Inlet and east.
The serious doormats most likely won’t show up in the first few episodes of the season, but some nice keepers are regularly taken early season all over the region in the Sound and the ocean. I had my doubts we’d have anything to put in the cooler when I brought the family out to fish with Captain Mark Ryckman in his first season as the new owner of the Montauk Star back in 2018. Water temps were still cold, there was a real unwelcoming Montauk wind that day, and I figured I’d have more time in the cabin with my wife and 5yr old than at the rail. We came home with filets in the cooler, along with the memory of being the first few people to fish on the now premiere fluke boat in Montauk. Don’t be shy to poke around the usual ocean haunts where summer double-digit fluke are taken.
Aside from topwater gators, fluke ceviche, and back bay light tackle stripers, there’s one more box I check off each May. A spring training of sorts for what’s become my most important day of fishing all year, The Manhattan Cup takes place the first Friday in June. 2022 marks the 21st time the top anglers, captains and guides and dozens of distinguished guests gather for the largest catch and release tournament in the Northeast targeting striped bass and bluefish. Teams of anglers “buy” a boat for the day. At the wheel of those boats are the best charter captains, guides, and fishermen from the tri-state area that donate their day. Competing amongst those teams in three categories (bait, artificial, and fly) are the distinguished guests I mentioned. They are brave men and women that have served our country and returned home from the battlefield with both visible and invisible scars of war. In my ten years of being involved in the tournament, I’m blown away year after year as to what the power of our shared passion for fishing can do to change lives. It’s also one of the most intense days of fishing while being the most rewarding. The opportunity to fish with and against the top fishermen and the privilege to meet men and women that put everything on the line for our freedom, it just doesn’t get any better.
The event is sponsored by The Fisheries Conservation Trust of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, along with corporate sponsors such as Raymarine, Black Rifle Coffee, Staten Island Yacht Sales, Yamaha, Tsunami Tackle, Bimini Bay Outfitters, Tony Maja, and many others. The day starts at Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City with a premium breakfast buffet and short captains’ meeting. Boats depart their slips to gather in front of the Statue of Liberty to be greeted by the FDNY’s Marine One firing her water cannons before teams head out to fish. Photo and written documentation of all fish caught are tallied when the boats return to Liberty Landing at 4 pm. There are no boundaries for the tournament, just the 4 pm cutoff to submit scorecards. The indoor/outdoor space with a spectacular view of downtown Manhattan is hands down the greatest spot for drinks, raw bar, apps, and dinner followed by the awards ceremony along with a live and silent auction. Participants can also fish their own boat to compete for the day. We can also always use more boats if you are a captain that would like to take out one of our teams of anglers and veterans. Overnight slips are available for the night before or after the tournament
Registration is currently open online at manhattancup.com. I really hope you can join us for this unbelievable day that takes place on Friday, June 3rd. Don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can text/call me at 917-873-6651
Get out there and catch ‘em up!