It was with much anticipation but only moderate hopes of success that some anglers tested the waters for striped bass this past week. With the marine season for the linesiders having opened on Tuesday, there wasn't much room for a sampling before the midweek wind, rain and sleet conspired to keep both local waters and the anglers on them cold and raw.
To be sure, striper season opens weeks before the main body of linesiders migrating up the coast from Chesapeake Bay, the Hudson River and winter holding waters in the ocean off North Carolina arrives here. That means anglers are forced to target "resident" fish -- bass that stick it out locally through the colder months. These first fish are often caught on sandworm or clam baits in warming North Shore harbors, or in South Shore tidal creeks on small, soft-plastic swim baits and grubs. Such has been the case so far this spring with stripers to 12 pounds reported from Little Neck Bay, Hempstead Harbor, Connetquot River, Carmans River and the Quogue Canal.
Winter flounder season is also in gear, having opened at the start of April. As with the bass, cool waters have kept catches light, but that was expected as flounder stocks remain severely stressed. Still, a decision has been made this year to expand the season and give anglers an increased shot at taking home a few fillets for dinner if they can find the flatties. Current regulations restrict winter flounder catches to between April 1 and May 30, but new rules expected to be approved soon would keep the season open on a year-round basis while maintaining the current size and daily creel limits of 12 inches and two fish per angler.
Though some might roll their eyes at a year-round open season, fisheries managers came to the conclusion that the recreational impact on local stocks of the flatfish is negligible at this point and allowing anglers to keep a fish or two might encourage fishing participation at a point in the season when options are few. Most of the generally lackluster flounder catches reported have come from the Heckscher Flats in Great South Bay, Quogue Canal and Lloyd Harbor, with somewhat better scores noted in the far western reaches of Long Island Sound and Manhasset Bay.
It will be interesting to see how winter flounder catches pan out if the season is extended as expected. Though most local anglers expect a minimal bite, recent years have seen the season close just as the fish start to bunch up near inlet mouths before heading back out to sea. At Fire Island Inlet's Sore Thumb pocket and the channel waters due north of Moriches Inlet, for example, winter flounder action is often best during the last few days of the season. That's one reason some anglers believe an expanded year-round season might actually be too generous.
Remember, a freshwater fishing license is required to fish in Long Island's sweet waters, and you must add your name to the free NYS Recreational Marine Fishing Registry to probe any saltwater or brackish environs within the Empire State. You can do both, and view the most current fishing regulations on the NYS DEC website: dec.ny.gov/outdoor.