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 worlds best known landmarks.
Our guide for the days 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 Hells Gate.
On todays 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 Joes 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 tackle 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 youre 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 youll 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 ships passengers cheered our
every catch. Its 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, Im sure they would have changed places with me
in a heartbeat, because I had a trip to remember for a lifetime!