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East River Striper Action
By Rich Johnson

My crew and I were planning and gathering equipment in the early morning chill of a very brisk December day, well before sunrise in the western shadow of Manhattan called Jersey City. Getting ready to shoot an episode of my television show in preparation for the new 2000 season, little did I know at the time I was going to have one of my finest fishing excursions of the 99’ season, surrounded by some of the world’s best known landmarks.

Our guide for the day’s shooting was Capt. Joe Shastay of NY Harbor Sportfishing Charters. Capt. Joe is a Jersey City native and lifetime resident who also works as a city fireman. Joe began his fishing career as a youngster on the docks and piers of Jersey City with his dad using a handline for local species like tomcod, catfish, snappers and stripers. Joe has transformed his knowledge of the local waters into a charter business that carries with it a very high performance record of success for his customers. I found Joe through good friend and world record holder Steve Sloan. Joe specializes in fishing the lower and upper bays of the Hudson River which consists of the areas from the Verrazano Bridge north to the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson and East rivers to Hell’s Gate.

On today’s trip, our plan was to work our way up the river on the incoming tide and hop scotch our way south on the outgoing tide. These tides and currents are very strong and trying to buck them by going the opposite direction can waste a lot of valuable fishing time. Surrounded by the concrete canyons of Manhattan, “fish on” was the cry heard over and over again as striped bass came over the rail at a torrid pace on Joe’s 25-foot center console, all in the shadow of the United Nations building on the East River. I was literally fishing right on top of the midtown tunnel!

We fished whole bloodworms on a variation of the 3X3 rig. The standard 3X3 is just a phrase for a rig that uses a 3-way swivel with 3-foot of line to the sinker and a 3-foot leader to the baited hook. We varied our rig from two foot off the bottom sinker to sometimes four-foot off the bottom, but the length of line to the baited hook remained constant. We drifted rigged bloodworms along the ridge and edges of the channel bottom, starting just a few yards south of Roosevelt Island in the East River to Uthant Island. This small island is named for the former head of the United Nations Uthant and holds on it channel marker 17.

As with other kinds of striper fishing, we have a chance at very large fish, so your East River Basstackle should reflect this in what you choose to do battle with. There are two schools of thought when fishing the river and how to chose your tackle. There are times where you can get river stripers to take small bucktails and shad baits and for this a seven-foot rod with a smaller conventional reel like a Penn 965 spooled with 14 or 17-pound Silver Tread line is perfect. You can use spinning gear when tossing smaller artificials like this as well and for plugging around the rock pile base of the Statue of Liberty. If you’re drifting bait like we did on our trip, we go heavier and use rods that will handle sinker weights up to 12 ounces. As mentioned earlier, the tides and current of the river are extreme and on a calm day you’ll be fishing with four to eight ounces of lead. Line in this case should be 25 to 40-pound test and of course a good quality line is what we used, again with a seven-foot rod do handle the daily chores.

As tugs and barges passed, seaplanes landed on the half-hour and the Circle Line Cruise ship’s passengers cheered our every catch. It’s amazing how much life these rivers have and how underutilized and underestimated the striped bass fishery is in these rivers. Capt. Joe told of 18-pound bluefish caught this far up the river with July & August the prime months for this action. On my trip, we caught 30 stripers to 31 inches and finished the day fishing right under the Statue of Liberty.

In all my years in New York, I had never been to the Statue before this day and she truly is magnificent, gigantic and an inspiration. Just to gaze up at her and know we have such freedom here in America and that we can fish in such splendor and enjoy the view of such landmarks was awe-inspiring. Closing our trip, I gazed back at the Manhattan skyline and wondered if all the people working in the World Trade Center towering over us, visiting the Statue, or working on world problems in the United Nations Building knew just how good the fishing was right outside their windows? If they did, I’m sure they would have changed places with me in a heartbeat, because I had a trip to remember for a lifetime!


Copyright May 6, 1995-2020 The Fishing Line

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