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I had the opportunity this past Sunday, December 9, to get away from all the troubles associated with Superstorm Sandy and go fishing. I did so with Brendan McCarthy of Urban Fly Guides (www.urbanflyguides.com). We met at Gateway Marina, just across from Floyd Bennett Field on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, at the civilized hour of 7 a.m. (one of the advantages of fishing in December in New York City is that you don’t have to get up at 4 a.m. to fish first light). The damage from the storm was apparent from the moment that we got in the boat. As we motored toward Rockaway Inlet, we saw houses that had been washed around like toys and what looked like exposed riverbeds where water had ripped across the peninsula. The water had some debris in it, but for the most part it was clear and quite fishable. In this regard, it is worth noting that the local fishing guides have suffered the effects of Sandy along with the local residents. Brendan informed me that he lost a full month of prime business as a result of the storm and that bookings remained down. Brendan spent the downtime volunteering in Red Hook, Breezy Point, and other impacted areas. He told me he had been back out on the water for the last few weeks, and the good news is that the storm has had little impact on the local striped bass fishery.
We motored out of Rockaway Inlet at around 7:30 and turned east in search of birds. Unfortunately the birds and bass slept in that morning. So, after 45 minutes or so of searching, we decided to try our hand at some blackfish (it was a relative’s birthday and Brendan was willing to indulge my desire to fish some bait in order to bring her home a few of these tasty fish). Unfortunately, the blackfish were not cooperative either. However, while we were anchored for blackfish, we got word that some 200-pound-class bluefin tuna had been sighted off the Hempstead reef the day before. One advantage of fishing with a guide who has spent 20 years fishing local waters is his access to local intelligence. Brendan has a bit of an addiction when it comes to bluefin tuna and I was more than willing to indulge that addiction. We spent an hour or so cruising about a mile offshore in search of birds and big fish, but other than a brief false alarm that turned out to be a pod of passing porpoises, we were unable to track down any tuna.
Finally, around 9:30, we got word that striped bass could be found at Shrewsbury Rocks off the New Jersey shore just south of Sea Bright. We worked our way around a parade of massive cargo ships in Reynolds Channel and headed south to the Jersey Shore. Upon arriving at Shrewsbury Rocks, it started to rain, the wind picked up, and the temperature dropped. The weather was miserable, but the fish finder was lit up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree. We had good action on small- to medium-sized bass for about an hour until we lost the tide. After another unsuccessful attempt to catch blackfish, we decided to head back toward Breezy Point. I have to admit that as we ran headlong into the ice-cold north wind and building waves, I was kind of hoping that we were going to turn into the inlet and call it an early day. Fortunately, Brendan was more interested in making sure that we caught fish than I was. In this regard, I should note that I have fished with Brendan for 10 years or so and a full day of fishing with him typically does not end until dark, unless you insist on giving up earlier, and sometimes even that won’t work. He has never expressed any concerns about how far we need to run or how much gas we have to burn to find fish, as is evidenced by our run from the Rockaways over to Shrewsbury Rocks and back. At any rate, on the way back to Breezy Point, we heard via text message that one of Brendan’s contacts had found striped bass just outside the inlet. The ocean off Breezy Point was in the lee of the wind, and the rain let up when we arrived. We enjoyed repeated drifts on flat seas (in weather that felt about 20 degrees warmer than it was off New Jersey), with fish on just about every other cast. Sinking lines and pretty much any fly seemed to do the trick. The fish were on the small side, but we still managed a few keeper-sized fish. The action was
steady until we packed it in around dark.
It will almost surely be too late for this year, but anyone planning a trip to New York City in the late fall or early winter should consider heading out for a day of fly fishing in the New York Bight. It’s a heck of a lot more fun than fighting the mobs to window shop on Fifth Avenue, and it just might save you from being forced to go to the Radio City Christmas Show or some other equally awful fate. The striped bass stick around longer than you might expect in this area, and the bluefin tuna show up with some regularity. Brendan typically operates well into December, and he will not waste your time or money if it is not worth heading out on a given day. My final piece of advice is to ask him about the flats fishing operation he runs in the spring out of the North Fork of Long Island. Thirty-plus-pound fish on a flat are quite a sight to behold. I will share some experiences I have had out there in a future report.