Anglers may know New York state best for its freshwater rivers and fishing holes, but city slickers need not travel beyond the bounds of the subway map for some serious saltwater action.
In fact, some of the best saltwater shore fishing in the country can be found in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, off the B and Q lines, experts said.
“We’re right here in the mouth of Jamaica Bay, and the bluefish and stripers are generally larger than what you’ll catch anywhere else,” said Ralph Giordano of Bernie’s Bait and Tackle.
Bernie’s has operated in the bay for about 65 years, and Giordano, 59, has worked there his whole life. He said the bay has always been a go-to spot, but he’s quick to highlight the fickleness of fishing.
A couple weeks ago, Sheepshead Bay anglers caught “a huge striped bass run” and fluke fishing has been off the charts. But that can all change in an instant, Giordano said, thanks to factors such as wind speed, water temperature, boat traffic and a dozen other factors.
And the clientele, Giordano said, is always changing too.
“There’s still some diehard fisherman around, but it’s a lot more of a recreational thing now,” Giordano said. “Years ago, people really wanted to go out and catch fish, but now it’s more about having a good time. I now have a very large freshwater business when years ago I didn’t even bother with it.”
City Island in the Bronx, another local hot spot, has seen a similar demographic shift. Pat Catalano owns Island Bait & Tackle — a City Island staple for almost 30 years — and said although his business has taken a hit, the quality of fishing is as good as ever.
“Giant Porgies came around the [Long Island] Sound this year, and they were huge,” Catalano said. “Sea bass came around a little later. We’ve also seen a lot of striper, bluefish and some Fluke.”
Ibis Baez works at Capitol Fishing Tackle Company in Manhattan and has fished all over New York City, including a stint on fishing boats based out of Sheepshead Bay. Baez said earlier-than-usual runs by striped bass and bluefish this year haven’t cut into the action at all.
“April 15 is the start for striped bass, but everything came in really early. Everyone has been catching fish everywhere, even people who aren’t as skilled,” Baez said. “Right now a lot of people are catching bluefish from 96th Street all the way to Battery Park.”
NYC’s bays and sounds may be bubbling with fish, but Baez, Catalano and Giordano will all concede: Saltwater shore fishin’ ain’t easy. The sheer time commitment, in addition to the loads of gear and tackle required, can discourage first-timers. Locals suggest starting out in freshwater. Most lakes and ponds in city parks are more accessible and allow catch-and-release fishing year-round.
“Freshwater can be a quick trip. I don’t have to spend as much time out,” said John Cheeseboro, 53, of Bensonhurst, as he cast his purple shad lure into Prospect Park Lake. “And there’s a lot more going on than just fishing. If I want to take a break, I can sit in the shade and just watch everything around me.”
For details on fishing licenses and regulations, visit nycgovparks.org/facilities/fishing.