Freshwater fishing at Belmont State Park.

Freshwater fishing at Belmont State Park. Credit: John Williams

In the big rush to kick off the saltwater fishing season here on Long Island, many anglers single-mindedly focus on the arrival of striped bass, bluefish and fluke. There's nothing wrong with this approach, of course, especially after a winter's worth of dreaming about that next cow or double-digit doormat. Still, it wouldn't be a bad idea to consider some additional options for wetting a line, especially during a cool spring when action in the briny takes a while to get out of the gate.

Freshwater fishing is the perfect example. Since most local rivers, lakes and ponds are relatively small and shallow, they warm up faster than the salty depths. The key to a really strong start on the freshwater front is a slow rise in water temperatures that hinders initial weed growth, allowing anglers to work lures without needing to clean their hooks after every cast. This spring's mild warming trend has been perfect for building "sweet water" fishing momentum.

Trout, which love cool weather, remain quite cooperative in stocked lakes and ponds including West Lake in Patchogue, Argyle Lake in Babylon, Belmont Lake State Park, Wantagh's North Twin Lake and Massapequa Reservoir. The DEC stocked a mix of roughly 30,000 browns and rainbows this spring and anglers have been catching them on a variety of offerings including Blue Fox Super Vibrex spinners, KastMaster spoons, Berkley Gulp! and Power Baits, plus Blue Dunn dry flies and Gold-Ribbed Hare's Ear nymphs.

Pickerel have also been hitting with abandon in shallow coves with toothy monsters to 24 inches hammering white or chartreuse spinnerbaits and Rapala Minnows cast from boat or shore. Panfish, including bluegill, pumpkinseed, yellow perch and crappie, have cooperated with anglers using small spinners, meal worms or tiny white plastic grubs dangled beneath a float and tipped with a single wax worm.

Largemouth bass season remains closed in most waters until the first Saturday in June to protect spawning fish. The exceptions are Blydenburgh Lake in Smithtown and Artist Lake in Middle Island where catch and release fishing is permitted year-round.

To get in on any freshwater fun, you'll need a freshwater fishing license. The $29 resident permit is available at most town halls, some tackle shops and department stores, DEC headquarters in Stony Brook, by phone at 866-933-2257 or online at:

While freshwater catches are hitting full stride right now, saltwater action continues to build. Fluking has been a little picky so far but several huge doormats have come over the rails. Greenport Harbor has been the doormat flash point, with the open boat Peconic Start II taking a 10.25-pounder as its first keeper of the season last Sunday, and the Orient Point charter vessel Prime Time III drilling a 10.6-pound monster summer flattie on Wednesday. Ocean waters have seen the best of the action in 55- to 80-foot depths.

Striper fans using bunker chunks have noticed an uptick in catches of keepers to 15 pounds in the western harbors of Long Island Sound and action has also improved around the South Shore bridges on clam chum. Surf casters continue to score with bass on bunker chunks cast along Robert Moses Beach.


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