Some of the best spring striper fishing in the Northeast takes place off New York's Staten Island. Local striper experts explain how you can get in on this unsung May fishery.
By Dan Mazza
Striper fishing has a long and storied history in the New York Bight. There have been ups and downs over the years, with bounty tempered by scarcity, as well as every variation in between. Popular methods of catching New York's linesides have changed as well, depending on the natural and sometimes man-created fluctuations in the region's food chain.
One theme continues to emerge among New York's striper anglers: The spring runs of the past few years stand out as some of the finest ever in these waters.
Not long ago good striper fishing was hard to come by. After a series of ecological and manmade disasters in the 1970s, striper fishing had to be curtailed in order to save the species. By the late 1980s, there were reports of improved fishing for smaller fish, and by the mid-'90s, charter and party boats began turning their attention back to the popular game fish.
At first, the best fishing appeared to be during the fall months, with trollers taking the most and biggest fish from the Reach Channel. As more fishermen began showing renewed interest, stripers have become the focus of the spring saltwater fishery in New York's waters.
Stripers will begin to show up as early as March, and by May the fishery is in full swing. Some local experts have offered the following expertise and tips for anglers who want to tangle with Staten Island's lunker stripers this season.
Captain Paul Bonnett is a 28-year veteran of Staten Island fishing. Originally from Brooklyn, he grew up fishing along the rock wall where the Atlantic Ocean meets New York Harbor southeast of the Verrazano Bridge. A 12-inch fluke was enough to give a kid bragging rights all along the beach in those days.
Photo by Ron Sinfelt
Bonnett favors bait-fishing for stripers, starting with clams and then switching to bunkers when the fish arrive in numbers later in the spring. Although, he noted, sometimes the bass are so focused on taking clams that little else will work.
For clamming, Bonnett uses a fish- finder rig with size 5/0 or 6/0 hooks. He favors a 36-inch leader between the swivel and the hook and is partial to fluorocarbon line.
The standard method is to locate schools of fish with an electronic fish-finder or by watching the movements of bait schools or working birds.
A good spot that always seems to produce is the open bottom area around Old Orchard Lighthouse (GPS coordinates 40.51170/74.100000) east of Great Kills Harbor. This historic lighthouse is about three miles off the beach and is visible from the shoreline of Gateway National Park, which is adjacent to Great Kills. The 50- foot conical, white steel structure was built in 1893 and still has an active beacon, according to the National Lighthouse Museum.
This hotspot can only be fished by boat. The best way to get there is to launch at Great Kills Park, head out of the inlet and travel southeast. The lighthouse will be visible on the horizon.
Folks who are unfamiliar with Staten Island are often surprised to find that boat access is limited. Despite being an island surrounded by water and populated by 418,000 people, there are just two boat launches, one at Lemon Creek (call 718/317- 8213 to reach the New York Department of Environmental Conservation forest ranger for this area), and one at Great Kills Park (call 718/351-6970).
The latter is open from March to Oct. 31 and launching is free, but there is a $25 fee for a season parking pass. The launch is on Hylan Boulevard. There are signs leading to the park.
The free Lemon Creek ramp can be reached by taking Hylan Boulevard to Sharrots Road.
To get to Hylan Boulevard, take Interstate Route 278 to Route 440 South (the West Shore Expressway) to the last exit - Exit 1) just before the Outerbridge Crossing. Toward the end of the ramp there will be a stop sign. Turn right and go to the next intersection and turn right. At the traffic light, turn right to Page Avenue and continue on through five lights, and then turn left onto Hylan Boulevard.
Captain Joe Mattioli, another Staten Island striper expert, recommends fishing offshore of the beach houses at Great Kills and around Lemon Creek. Prince's Bay, the small cove that Lemon Creek empties into, also harbors big stripers.
Mattioli recommends the areas around Lemon Creek and the entrance to Great Kills harbor at Great Kills Park. Bait congregates around the inlets attracting stripers.
He recommends looking for small dropoffs over open bottoms such as Round Shoal, which is across Reach Channel from Prince's Bay and is fishable only by boat. Sailing from Lemon Creek, bear left into Prince's Bay heading south, cross the Reach Channel (buoy marker 33) and you are on Round Shoal.
Prince's Bay, accessible by boat from Lemon Creek, can also be fished from shore. This area is known as the Mount Loretto Unique Area and is operated by the DEC (call the park ranger at 718/317-6537, or the Region 2 environmental educator at 718/482-4953).
This 194-acre site boasts a mile-long shoreline and encompasses five ecosystems, as well as the historic Prince's Bay Lighthouse. Anglers who fish the shoreline can get a close-up view of huge container ships as they pass through the Reach Channel just off the beach. The parking lot for Mount Loretto is about three-fourths of a mile along Hylan Boulevard on the left coming from the Verrazano Bridge, or on your right coming from I-278.
One of the biggest advantages to this fishery is that so many spots can hold stripers and you don't have to travel far to find them.
Lyn DiBenedetto of Great Kills Bait and Tackle (718/356-0055) has operated his shop for the past 12 years and had been pleased with spring striper fishing in recent years.
He claims the area around Great Kills Harbor is as good as any, and even the back of the small harbor contains bass. The mouth of the harbor is also very good, as bunker tend to gather there early and can be snagged for fresh bait. The sandbar along the mouth is another place that offers fine action, as is the narrow channel leading into the harbor. Anglers wishing to try their luck from the beach can cast plugs and cut bunker from shore at Great Kills. Jelly worms tipped with live sandworms also work wonders.
Anglers who enjoy pie
r-fishing are in good luck because two new piers have been opened and offer excellent fishing. The Ocean Breeze Fishing Pier at Midland Beach is at Father Capodanno Boulevard and Seaview Avenue. Follow Hylan Boulevard to Midland Avenue. Turn right on Midland and then turn left at Father Capodanno Boulevard, then make a quick right, which leads to a well-marked sign for the pier and parking, according to DeBenedetto. At a cost of $9 million, it is the largest steel and concrete pier structure built in the last 100 years in the region. It boasts ample parking with 106 spaces and no fees.
Another hotspot is Pier One on the east side of the Ferry Terminal. Take the Staten Island Expressway to Bay Street and follow it to the Staten Island Ferry. Park at the public parking lot for the ferry, where a nominal fee is charged. For more information, call the NYC Economic Development Corporation at (888) NYC-0100.
The refurbished pier reopened in June 2003 and offers fine striper fishing, according to Patty "Scags" Scaglione of Scaglione's Bait and Tackle (718/727-7373), who caters to fishermen on the north shore. This pier is on New York Harbor north of the Verrazano Bridge, and the deep shipping channels nearby attract some big stripers. Fish up to 40 pounds were being landed this past summer.
Most anglers who ply these waters stand a reasonable chance of success, and many catch more than their limit.
The current striped bass regulations allow one fish at 28 inches for shore- and boat-fishermen, but two fish are permitted aboard party and charter boats. There are no major regulations changes for the immediate future, but plans are to increase the two-fish limit to all anglers.
Staten Island's spring striper fishing may not be as famous the Montauk and New York Harbor fisheries, but anglers from the tri-state area who try it will be richly rewarded for their efforts.
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