Tips provided by Eric “Slappy” Harrison
Jamaica Bay in Queens, New York is a prime kayaking spot. With good public access and a great fishery it is one of the “must fish” spots for kayakers in the Northeast. The fishery features striped bass, weakfish, bluefish, and fluke including trophy-sized examples of all those species.
The Jamaica Bay Kayak Fishing Classic, hosted by Captain Kayak of Sayville, NY, is a great way to get an introduction to fishing the bay. This tournament is the largest kayak tournament in the Northeast and it includes four days of fishing and camping. Some attend the tournament for the competition, but most attend for the camaraderie and great fishing.
The bay is full of many different kinds of bait, from the little stuff like shrimp and rain bait, up to the big stuff like menhaden. Snagging menhaden is an effective approach for many of the species in the bay, but getting bait can be unpredictable at times. There are many effective techniques for fishing the bay, but my top choice is soft plastics.
Hogy lures are a great option for all species in the bay; with lure sizes from small to large, it is easy to target all four of the primary species. I bring three or four rods with me and rig different size Hogys and different size jig heads. The variety allows me to switch tactics quickly when I find interesting structure or different schools of bait.
Jamaica Bay water tends to be murky and sometimes the currents are strong. In murky waters, bright colors are very effective, so it is no surprise that the favored color in the bay is bubblegum. Other bright colors like white work well too and early or late in the day I like to throw a big black or blamber Hogy for stripers.
The bay is sandy and has both flats and channels. The flats can be shallow and weedy but will often hold fish, especially on channel edges. The channels range from 30 to 60 feet in width in the outer channels to 8 to 15 feet around the flats. With a variety of water depths to fish, you will need a variety of jig heads to get your baits down.
Here are some strategies for targeting the four main species in the bay using Hogy Lures:
In the early morning, stripers will often be found up in the shallows and a bubble gum 10-inch Jiggin’ Hogy on a half-ounce head is hard to beat. Early morning fish tend to be more active and are easily excited by fast swimming baits. Swimming a jig quickly off the flats and letting it sink along the channel edge is very effective. As the day wears on, working a 10-inch Jiggin’ Hogy on a heavier jig head is the key to targeting the stripers that have moved deeper. Early or late in the day, I will often target the deeper areas with a 13-inch black or blamber Jiggin’ Hogy on a 1-ounce Barbarian jig; this is an effective technique for enticing larger fish. Sometimes the fish are on smaller bait and I will downsize to either a 7-inch Original or 6-inch Skinny Hogy with a lighter jig head to give me a slower sink.
There can be very large weakfish in the bay and 30 to 36-inch fish are not uncommon. Bubble gum is by far the preferred color for those targeting weakfish and baits like the 7 and 10-inch Jiggin’ Hogys fished on jig heads are very popular. Weakfish are often hooked while targeting stripers; they will hang in the same channels and are on the same bait as the bass. Weakfish prefer a retrieve with less twitching and jerking of the bait than I use for stripers. When I encounter a school of rain bait (big clouds of very small fish) I downsize to the 4-inch Skinny Hogys on small jig heads. Weakfish move up and down the water column, so bouncing a jig on the bottom or swimming a jig just below the surface can both be effective. Make sure you fish your lure all the way to the boat, I have had several large weakfish eat the jig right at the boat. Using a 10 or 13-inch Hogy is a good way to target larger fish.
I usually don’t target bluefish but there are enough in the bay that they are an incidental catch while targeting other species. They sometimes bite the tails off a jigged bait and their sharp hits can be unmistakable at times. When a blue bites the tail off a jig, let it fall to the bottom and then retrieve the lure along the bottom. Stripers will often hit a jig with a partial tail right after a bluefish bite off. Larger stripers are notorious for feeding under blues. One really fun tactic for bluefish is to take the 7-inch Hogy and rig it without weight, swimming the lure quickly across the surface so that it creates a big vee in the water – this will lead to some explosive strikes. Use at least a 50-pound test leader for blues, there are some very large fish in the bay and you will need some protection from the bite offs.
The traditional NY fluking method is to use a bucktail with a grub on it, but my preference is to use a jighead and either a 4 or 6-inch Skinny Hogy. Tipping the jig with squid or sea robin strips makes it even more effective. Don’t worry if you didn’t bring bait, jigging up a sea robin is pretty easy! Fluke are most common in the deeper channels where the current is strong, so you will need heads in the 1 to 2-ounce range. Bottom bouncing the channels in areas where there are mussel beds or humps or holes will produce well.