What's biting? You need to look at the calendar -- and this state Department of Environmental Conservation fishing guide compiled by retired biologist Philip T. Briggs.
JANUARY AND FEBRUARY
Few party boats, open or charter, operate. Those that do at this time of year usually sail only on weekends and holidays. Atlantic cod, pollock and red hake (ling) are the main species sought, although whiting (silver hake) and Atlantic herring also will be caught. Likely ports are Sheepshead Bay (Brooklyn), Freeport, Point Lookout, Captree State Park and Montauk. In some years, herring can be caught in numbers at such areas as the Jones Beach piers, Captree piers, Shinnecock Canal, Mount Sinai Harbor, Centerport and other places where there is access. Some white perch can be caught at Sunken Meadow State Park and some South Shore rivers.
MARCH, APRIL, MAY
Cod, pollock and large winter flounder are caught aboard Montauk-based open and charter boats. Although not as common as they once were, once they start in flounder will attract anglers to ports all around Long Island. Catches can be made from April through May when the season is open. Popular ports include Babylon, Bay Shore, Center Moriches, Sheepshead Bay, Island Park, Freeport, Captree State Park, Greenport, Port Jefferson, Mattituck, Montauk and Huntington. Among the more popular bank and pier spots are the west shore of Little Neck Bay, the banks of Shinnecock Canal and the fishing piers in Brooklyn, Captree, Robert Moses and Jones Beach state parks, and Ponquogue Bridge (Hampton Bays). In some years, mackerel can be caught in large numbers by ocean-bound anglers out of a variety of ports, starting as early as March.
The striped bass season starts in mid-April. The western South Shore beaches and Little Neck Bay are often early hot spots.
The summer flounder (fluke) season usually starts in May, but the best fishing for this flatfish doesn't really start for a few more weeks. Mid- to late May also sees the beginning of scup (porgy) and weakfish in the Peconics and northern puffer (blowfish) in the South Shore bays. Bluefish start to show up in mid-late May along the South Shore and Long Island Sound.
In June, it's black sea bass, scup and summer flounder, and then bluefish and striped bass. Some Montauk charters will concentrate on sharks through October. Greenport charters may target porgies and weakfish along with a few summer flounder.
A few bluefish may be caught out of Port Jefferson late in the month; otherwise, those boats will concentrate on porgies and fluke.
Anglers out of Captree State Park and those throughout the South Shore bays will go after striped bass, summer flounder and weakfish when plentiful. Porgies with the occasional weakfish and puffer should make up the bulk of the catches in the Peconics. The offshore catch in Freeport and Sheepshead Bay usually will be a mixed bag of porgies, black sea bass and fluke, with occasional spurts of bluefish. Bank and pier fishing along the South Shore is for summer flounder, weakfish, blowfish and northern kingfish. Bluefish, northern kingfish and blowfish will join striped bass and weakfish for the surf fishermen. North Shore bank fishermen will take a mixed bag of weakfish, striped bass and bluefish.
JULY AND AUGUST
Most anglers on Montauk boats will land fluke, porgies and black sea bass. Cox's Ledge, Block Island and even Georges Banks are popular spots for cod and other cold-water species. Bluefish and striped bass will be the main support for charter fleets from all ports, but some tuna and shark will be taken on boats from Hampton Bays, Montauk, Freeport, Sheepshead Bay and Captree State Park.
Fluke fishing continues throughout the South Shore bays. Some weakfish may be caught off Heckscher State Park and West Sayville. Porgies, northern kingfish and weakfish and a few fluke dominate in the Peconics. Boats from Sheepshead Bay, Freeport and some from Captree will be after bluefish. Anglers on the Port Jefferson boats will hit good schools of bluefish from time to time through late September. Snappers (young bluefish) will support the bank and pier fishery in August. Blue crabs will be willing to take baits along the South Shore through October. Surf fishing on the South Shore and bank fishing on the North Shore will be similar to June. Charters from Greenport will concentrate on large bluefish and striped bass through November. Open boats based there will be after fluke, porgies and weakfish.
Porgy fishing in Montauk is usually at its best this month. Striped bass are also more frequent from all ports. Bluefish will be targeted out of Port Jefferson and other North Shore ports. Anglers out of Captree State Park will be taking a variety of species, even a few triggerfish may be found in the creel. Black sea bass angling becomes good late in the month through November on the artificial reefs off the South Shore. Freeport and Sheepshead Bay anglers are often after tuna, but bluefish and striped bass remain the most frequent catches. Tuna will still be found offshore.
From now through mid-November, big blackfish near Orient Point and Plum Island will be sought by anglers aboard Greenport- and Orient-based boats. Blackfish will also be found on the artificial reefs and most of Long Island Sound. However, the tautog migrate offshore from Kismet Reef by mid-October. With that full moon, get those bass. Captree open boats and rentals along the South Shore may land blackfish and black sea bass on the Fire Island artificial reef.
A few bluefish, and occasionally large schools of tuna may offer some good action at Montauk and along the South Shore. North Shore bank fishermen should do well with striped bass. Surf fishing along the South Shore is often at its best this month for bluefish and striped bass. The last of the tuna and sharks will be seen offshore as they migrate south.
The best fishing should be for cod out of Montauk and big blackfish near Orient Point. Striped bass will be taken from all ports. Surf fishing will taper around mid-month, though both bluefish and striped bass may surprise. Freeport and Sheepshead Bay boats offshore will concentrate on blackfish and black sea bass until the cod and whiting come in.
Tautog, cod and pollock will be the prime objective for most boat fishermen from all ports although there will only be a few days of tautog fishing left. Nearly all fishing will be done on weekends. Herring may return in abundance in some years. Look for white perch at Sunken Meadow State Park and in some of the larger South Shore rivers.
Please check the NYS DEC website at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7894.html for the most up-to-date marine recreational fishing regulations, including season, size and possession limits.