2004-09-24 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

By Elisa Hinken

Approximately six miles south of the Marine Parkway Bridge lies the famous Rockaway Reef. This thirty five foot deep reef is nationally and internationally known and was recently featured on ESPN Outdoors. The area is known for giant porgies, bluefish, sea bass and fluke taken by anglers who ride the waves in party boats, charter boats and personal boats. For me, the party boats are the best way to go when the seas are not flat.

How did this reef come about? Well, it is an artificial reef first conceived in the 1970’s by a charter boat captain who ran the party boat Rocket out of Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. This was one of the first artificial reefs in New York and the first in New York City. This idea was taken to the director of the Marine District of the State of New York. The threesome then ran with it to the Army Corps of Engineers and eventually the reef became a reality a few years later.

Originally sunk onto this site were countless pyramids of tires, which were lashed with chain to stay in place at bottom. The railroad bridge at Reynolds Channel in Island Park was demolished and all the cleaned concrete rubble was ultimately carted offshore and sunk on the site. What a wonderful example of recycling!

Once blackfish season reopens in October, most boats will be specializing in catching these rubber-lipped bundles of energy. Carry a bunch of green crabs with you for bait at that time. Blackfish (a/k/a tautog) spawn in the summer, thus the protection of a closed season.

Law does allow anglers to take a single ‘tog home with them; however, we sure don’t recommend fishing here specifically for blackfish, because you might catch your limit 10 minutes after starting.

Early in the year, around April, the reef is home to loads of ling, but in the summer, the water is simply too warm for them at such relatively shallow depths. So when you head back in October, when the water gets colder and you are also after blackfish, think ling too, please.

Both fish are coated with slime and are not exactly pretty to look at, but each makes for fine eating (I have been told). For me, it’s strictly fluke and flounder for eating. The tautog are sometimes called slipperies for good and obvious reasons but a ling can slime and slop with the best of them.

Best bait for sea bass, by far, is the tongue of a skimmer clam.

Also called sea clam, these are the biggest member of the bivalve family found in northern waters, and are often snuck into clam chowder when no one is looking.

Some of the clams measure as much as 6 to 8 inches across and can weigh as much as a pound or so in shell. If you are on a headboat or charter craft, all the bait you need will be supplied. With your own rig, make sure to buy at least a dozen skimmers per angler on board, or get ready to run out of bait quickly. Open the clam with one of those rounded and dull-bladed knives that are specifically designed to open clams and not your veins. Sea bass now have an 11½ -inch size limit (it was raised by NY DEC in mid-June) and you are allowed to keep 25.

They have long, wavy filaments dangling from their tails, which are also included in the measurement. Mature males have bluish noses and are often referred to as hump backs because their back does indeed hump up. They have large mouths for their size and take bait with vengeance. Not spectacular in fight, but aggressive biters, they are fun to catch for grownup and young alike.

At times, the bottom will crawl with porgies (scup) and these fish too have size and bag limits.

If porgies are the main occupant of the spot you are fishing on the reef, go with smaller hooks. Clam baits work well but a piece of bloodworm is better yet. They fight much better than sea bass but have relatively little mouths. A size 2 or even a smaller size 4 will work.

As the water warms up more in August, some tropical fish such as triggerfish will visit the reef.

Fish that swim higher in the water column will appear too, like banded rudderfish and blue runners. They fight great but are not among the best eating, by far. NY DEC raised the minimum size on porgies to 10 inches (it had been 9).

Fluke fishing season closed on September 6th this year. It was hard for anyone to catch and keep a legal size fish since the minimum size for a keeper is 18 inches. Back when I started seriously fishing for the flat fish, the minimum was 14 inches.

It is hurting the charter boat and party boat captains. Hopefully, the fluke will make a tremendous comeback and breed like those snappers and bluefish.

Since the bluefish have made their return this past spring, they stayed. I never caught bluefish in June or July until this year. Is this another effect of global warming?

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