What’s Biting on Long Island in April?

A spring saltwater fishing guide for Long Island.

Sweet April. The return of striped bass, spring togging, and getting out in the salt, braving the elements like a Northeast angler should. Looking back on April 2023, we had some really gorgeous weather to complement a fantastic opening week for striped bass. Holdovers came to life as the local waters warmed up, filling end to end with peanut and adult-sized bunker, grass shrimp, and other small forage. By mid-April, migratory fish trickled in from the Hudson and from running the gauntlet off the Jersey Shore into the New York Bight. 

The start of the month heralds the beginning of the spring blackfish season in both the New York Bight and Long Island Sound, providing a great opportunity to hone your hook-setting reflexes that have probably been dulled by winter. Boat and kayak anglers anchor over wrecks and reefs along the North and South shores, tipping jigs and rigs with shellfish baits for these deceptively strong fish. The new- school method for blackfish involves using light, sensitive spinning rods with braided line and thicker leader. The sensitive tip on a fast-action spinning rod makes detecting bites easier.

This keeper blackfish took a tog jig threaded with FishBites while fishing vertically from the kayak.

When fishing from shore, I prefer rigs over jigs unless I’m dropping straight down; jigs snag too easily with a scoped-out line, especially given the tendency for a blackfish to dart to the nearest jagged piece of structure once hooked. A bank sinker and a hook—that’s all you need for blackfishing from shore. 

The spring blackfish season is often overshadowed by the start of striped bass season. No fish is more revered in the Northeast saltwater scene than Morone saxatilis. Whether fishing from surf, kayak, or shore, we all eagerly anticipate the arrival of stripers in April.  That first fish dotted with sea lice puts an ear-to-ear smile on my face no matter what size it is. From the second to third week of April, I spend most of my fishing tucked into a corner of a North shore back bay in my kayak. In 2023, there was plenty of bait well into the first week of April that made for fast and satisfying striper fishing both from shore and on the water. Some bays were filled end to end with peanut bunker, and early morning blitzes were a common occurrence. I’m optimistic that we’ll be in for another epic opening week since this winter was similarly mild to last year.  I hope we’ll again see peanuts stacked up in the harbors, bringing a strong start to the season.

Great early spring striper lures include Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ in chartreuse for dirty back-bay water or pearl for any other scenario, Storm Wildeye shads in pearl white, which I think are one of the best peanut-bunker imitations available, and the unbeatable white bucktail.

Storm Wildeye shads are a great choice for spring stripers because they are a close match to the length and profile of peanut bunker.

In recent years, flutter spoons have become popular and are particularly effective around adult bunker pods on the South Shore, as are large spooks on topwater. When you’re really looking for that big, trophy-sized striper, though, throw a live bunker on a circle hook. Alternatively, and this one is for my kayak brethren, one of the most effective lures for targeting large fish is the tube and worm. I scarcely catch a fish under slot size on the tube. Whether the bigger stripers think it’s a giant sand eel, the mother of all sandworms, or maybe they just hate it and want to kill it, the tube gets the job done and effectively eliminates smaller fish for me. Because the tube works best trolled at a super-slow speed (1.5 knots or less, in my experience), kayakers have a distinct advantage, especially with a pedal kayak. That speed is all you need for the tube to swirl and do its thing, then drag it over a boulder pile and get ready for a Northeast sleigh ride. 

A tube-and-worm rig is a great way to get on the board with a big striper in the kayak.

Some anglers insist on tipping their tubes with live worm, either a bloodworm or sandworm.  However, I’ve had equal success using artificial cut bait like fish bites in clam, sandworm, or bloodworm flavor, and even varying success using a plain tube without a trailer. Another option is to fill the end of the tube with Procure scent, which eliminates the need for a trailer altogether while still adding some scent and flavor to entice a bite.

As the end of April approaches, weakfish will start to enter the mix with the stripers and even some early racer bluefish. Water temperatures reach the ideal range when striped bass feed most actively, and you can rejoice knowing that the best is yet to come. This month marks the beginning of another chapter in the greatest fishery on the planet.  

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