Kayak Fishing Jamaica Bay E-mail
Sunday, 08 November 2009 00:00

 Jamiaca Bay Map    

 Running a kayak fishing tournament in Jamaica Bay for the past 5 years has given me some valuable incite to this amazing fishery , lets face it, unleashing 350 kayak anglers on the bay provides plenty of feedback to where and how fish are being caught. This coupled with my own fishing experience in Jamaica Bay have given me a different perspective of the bay – a kayakers perspective.  There are not many places that fishing for 3 different species can peak all at the same time but this is what you have during the spring in Jamaica Bay.  This is why the Annual Jamaica Bay Charity Kayak Fishing Tournament is held at this time every year and why the previous years has seen some spectacular fishing for bass, blues and weakfish. The protected waters of the bay provide a true paradise to the kayak angler. Jamaica Bay Wild Life Refuge is a National Park with over 10,000 acres that are a true oasis only stones throw from Manhattan.

 

Kayak Fishing the Bay

           The great fishing that Jamaica Bay offers is no secret, but the kayak can give you a different perspective on this incredible resource.  When I first started exploring the bay with my kayak, I paid very close attention to where all the boats were fishing and made sure to get as far away from as possible. At this time of year you see most powerboats heading over to the deeper waters of the Boil, this area can hold plenty of bait and lots of action, but for the kayaker this is not the place to be, you want to you use your smaller vessel to find the places the boats cant get into.  Jamaica Bay is mostly dominated by shallow water, especially in the center where you will find many low lying islands, marshes and water depths of 1 to 10 feet. In the springtime these skinnier waters are where you’ll find warmer water, baitfish and ultimately game fish. Most of time you wont see any power boats in these areas and you will feel as if you are the only person fishing the bay.

         It is the dredging out of channels through these shallows that I believe has made the bay such an incredible fishery, without these “highways systems” the fish wouldn’t have the opportunity to get onto the shallows that we kayak fisherman enjoy exploring – I am usually never in favor of any process that disrupts or changes the natural structure of an environment but in this case I believe the dredged channels and the deep water that was created to gain land fill for JFK airport has made the bay a better fishery. Another widely accepted theory about why the bay offers such great fishing is that the two sewage treatment plants that release into the bay provide nutrient rich waters that attract more baitfish that in turn attract the higher part of the food chain.

          Come spring, the shallow water is where the action is and the kayak gives you a distinct advantage to explore these areas. Looking at marine maps or satellite photos of Jamaica Bay you will quickly see that it is made up of mostly shallow water with dredged out channels cutting paths through this array of marshlands. Having a depth finder on your kayak will really help you locate edges of the channels and will undoubtedly help you find fish.  Any exploration of the flats should happen on a rising tide, whether its bonefish, redfish or striped bass, the rising tide will see the fish push onto the flats looking for food and the shallow waters of Jamaica Bay are no different.  I like to fish in the 2’ to 4’ zone and if you can find these depths near the channels you can almost count on good action. Whenever I get to area that looks promising I begin to troll, if I hook up, I will work the area hard knowing that there is life there. Trolling a fly is a great tactic, especially in shallow water. While paddling in these shallows it is so important to really scan the water and look for any signs of life by way of waking, tailing, swirling or feeding fish. It has not happened in a couple years but one spring the water was so clear that we were seeing fish come up and hit our lures from 20 or 30 feet away – it was like fishing on a Bahamas flat! It is my understanding that the clarity of the bay has a lot to do with algae blooms and other delicate variables that do not always repeat themselves. For the most part the bay has a more of a greenish color and fair visibility. 

Jamaica Bay Bass

          As good as the fishing can be on the flats, some of my bigger fish have been taken in some of the deeper cuts and channels, water depths of 10’ to 20’ are sure to produce, you will have to usually contend with more bluefish in these areas and sometimes they can make it hard to get a presentation down to the bottom where most of the bass and weakfish can be found but if you spend enough time working these holes and drop-offs you will be rewarded with better fish.

When and How

The Striped Bass make their first showing in the Bay by mid-April depending on the water temperatures. It appears that the fish push into back or East end of the bay first and can be caught at some of farthest reaches of the bay.  The primary forage in April is grass shrimp that thrive in the marshes. You can usually tell if the fish are feeding on grass shrimp because they will make more of a slurping sound opposed to the crashing they make while on sand eels or white bait. I have seen plenty of herring and adult bunker in the spring and these larger baits will almost always have larger bass and blues on them but fish on larger bunker will be hard to fool with lures or flies and might require the real thing to entice them to eat. Most of the schools of bunker will more than likely be in the deeper water but occasionally will push onto the flats and this can be truly an amazing site. For the most part, I only use a couple different lures and find the fish are pretty hungry and cooperative. Some staples I carry are pink 6” Sluggo’s either fished weightless and weedless or with a lead head in deeper water. Another favorite are Storm Plastics in 5’ and 6”, just remember if the bluefish are around you could go through a lot of gear so be prepared. With the fly rod I like using larger pink Clousers and large popping flies. As we get into May the fish are more aggressive and will take poppers but my favorite is the walk-the-dog action of the 4 ½” Rebel Jumpin Minnow in bone white. The striper fishing will stay very strong throughout May, but early in the month the bigger bluefish will add to the fun. The blues will also sometimes push on to the flats and I have caught them up to 10 lbs in less than a 2’ of water, it is a blast watch them scream across the shallows after you hook em. After the first push of the bigger blues it is time for the invasion of cocktails to take over, these fish can make getting a presentation to the bass very hard but if you concentrate in the shallower waters (under 3’) you can up your odds of catching stripers. When fishing some of the deeper depths, say 10’ to 15’ you will want to get whatever you are using on the bottom and just bounce or twitch it. Working the middle of the water column will more than not yield hungry bluefish. Around the same time the smaller bluefish make their appearance, the weakfish will start to show, even though I have heard stories of them on the flats - I have never seen it and I have done best working the channel drop offs. A depth finder is crucial to finding weakies in the bay since they do concentrate on the ledges and drop-offs. A GPS is another piece of equipment that will pay off big time, I have been fishing the same weakfish hole for 6 years now and it has yet to let me down. Most of these weaks will be big; in fact Jamaica Bay has probably the largest anywhere! The kayak tournament has seen catches of over 16lbs, pretty big fish when you consider that the all-tackle record is only around 20lbs. The weakfish will stay strong right into June. In the past I have found the weakfish in depths of 10’ to 15’ feet and using  ½ to ¾  bucktail tipped with a pink Sluggo is deadly. The kayak fishing tournament has seen big stripers caught with everything from live lined adult bunker to 1” clousers. Another favorite of the kayak crowd has been a tube and worm set up which has taken its share of tournament winning fish over the years, the quietest of the kayak coupled with the presentation of the tube and the smell of the sandworm is deadly.  I have had some great fishing well into late June in the bay, but I think most of the action moves from the flats to the deeper waters near the airport. I did have some great flats fishing in late June and early July a couple years ago while fishing at sunup before the water got too warm. There are some places that when accessed by kayak are wadable and I have caught fish this way but stay on the mud flats as you are not encouraged to fish on the marsh banks, this can damage them and right now the bay is undergoing a marsh restoration that is important to the future of the eco-system. Want a testimony to how stealthy and quiet a kayak can be? I did a nighttime trip to the bay in late June; we were paddling in about a foot of water on a flat calm night when we started to spook fish that sometimes banged against the kayak in their effort to get out of the way – it can make your heart skip a beat when it happens

 Another Bass

The cycles are different each year but you can find fish in the bay from April to December but April to June are just great times to kayak fish as bait flourishes and fish are aggressive and pretty much in every part of the bay, including the places that a kayak can give you the edge. Come summer, you can still find schoolie bass and the blues will come and go. The fall can also lend some exciting action as the peanut bunker spawn in the basins and back bays and make there way out and if the blues and bass find them, the action can be wild. As with any fishery it is usually about the bait and I have seen about every kind imaginable there.

 

Where to Fish

Your exploration of the bay by kayak is only limited to how far you can paddle or pedal - and of course where you can launch. The area known as the Boil near the airport draws a lot of attention from the power-boaters, its deep waters always have action and I know plenty of kayak fishermen who do well live-lining or chunking bunker, in fact some of the winning fish from tournaments past have come from there, it is still not my favorite place to fish with a kayak as the boat traffic can be make it tough. I have done most of my fishing in the western part of the bay mostly because this is where the launches I know of are. I am sure there are many more “unofficial” places to launch a kayak but these are the locations that are designated kayak launch locations. Floyd Bennet Field has a small boat launch (old sea plane landing ramp) but you will need to buy the Gateway permit, which costs $50 for the year, for info on the car top permit call 718 338 3799.  From this launch if you head straight ahead to the island of Ruffle Bar, fishing the west side of the island will always yield bass and blues.  As you travel to the north of the island you will come across some great looking marshes, more times than not I have seen surface action activity from both bass and blues in this area. Heading North along the Pumpkin Patch Channel (north of Ruffle Bar) is a great area to find weakfish in 10’ to 15’ feet of water, you will see some light boat traffic in this area but never that crazy. Another popular launch is Beach Channel High School in the Rockaway’s. From this launch it’s only a short paddle North to Big Egg Marsh and the Little Egg Marsh and both are productive on the flood tides, if you can make your way over to the channel on the east side of the Ruffle Bar you can find bass by paying close attention to the edges of island where the channel steps up. In the past the North Channel Bridge (Cross Bay Blvd) parking area has been used as an unofficial launch site but now is a sanctioned and falls under the Gateway permit. This might be the launch location that can get you into best fishing without that far of a journey. From the West parking area you can access the Pumpkin Patch Channel and the adjacent flats that are always productive. From the East side of the parking area you can venture toward the airport and fish some of the marshes along the train tracks. Again, this area sees more powerboat traffic, especially on the weekends so pay attention if you plan on fishing away from the shallows. Another new kayak launch is the Carnarsie Pier,(Gateway Permit needed) a short paddle to Canarsie Island offers good action on the East side, but the flats to the back (west) of the island can yield some incredible shallow water action on the end of the incoming and the start of the outgoing tide.

Me with a big weakfish

An alternative for those who might not have the storage for a kayak and would like to have them ready to take out anytime is the Sebago Canoe and Kayak Club (718-241-3683), a non-profit organization that offer reasonable membership rates and operates out of Paerdegat Basin in Canarsie, Brooklyn. Always keep in mind during an exploration of  Jamaica Bay that conditions can change quickly and you need to make sure that you can make it back if the winds pick up – and they can. Always pay close attention to weather and wind forecasts so you can make the right choices about what areas of the bay to fish.

 

 

 

 

 

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