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Thanksgiving On The Fly
By Rich Johnson

The sky was a clear, bright blue as we slipped out of the marina with air temperatures in the high 30’s; waters inside the bay in the very low 50’s and a wind chill of 28 degrees. We drifted along the estuary islands and coves behind Kennedy Airport while small schools of baitfish scattered the early morning chill and birds circled overhead of breaking stripers. We would see gentle swirls along the surface, almost trout-like in the gentleness of the slurp, as cold water was starting to slow down the body movements of bass and angler alike on this cold Thanksgiving week excursion. The action wasn’t as savage as bass or blues on the attack in September but there were still plenty of fish in the bays as there usually late in November.

While many New Yorkers were flying out of Kennedy Airport and many "out of towners" into New York in anticipation of the Thanksgiving holiday, today I was on the fly so to speak with Capt. John McMurray of "One More Cast" fly fishing charters in Queens. If the name sounds familiar to you it should, because John is the state director of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) for New York and is the chairman for setting up all the banquets we attend during the year for the CCA. John has been a charter captain now for a little over three (3) years after spending many years in the United States Coast Guard. John runs a 20-foot Sportcraft fishing platform with all the tools to make for an enjoyable day on the water, all within eyesight of the Manhattan Skyline and the thunderous Concorde everyday at 9 a.m.

On today’s trip we were skimming across the cold waters of Jamaica Bay at 35 to 40 knots, which dipped the wind chills below 20 degrees. Our first stop was the old pier behind Kennedy Airport, which is the first place stripers show every spring and seems to be their last holdout before heading out to the inlet to start their migration up the Hudson River or down the Jersey Shore to the Chesapeake Bay. Capt. John and One More Cast charters is an Orvis Fly Co. endorsed charter service so the tackle is top notch and we had spinning tackle along as well in case we found fish deep in the holes.

TACKLE. John’s flyrodding is done very comfortably with Orvis 9-weight outfits. Rod length is 9-foot and we used 350 and 550 grain sinking lines with a floating running section to get down to bass under the clouds of bait being pushed to the surface. Our leaders were six foot or so with the day’s pattern silversides or white/silver deceivers. However no matter what fly line you choose, keep spare spools with different, weight forward lines with you. In calm water, use a floating line when fishing shallow. In a breeze, switch over to intermediate sinking line to get a fly below the chop. A 350-grain sinking line to fish the deep channels that border flats. These three lines should cover most of your flyrodding chores. As for leaders, you can choose tapered leaders or use a straight 7-foot shot of Berkley Big Game line in 12 to 15-pound test.

FISH ON. We found the first flock of birds up tight against the piers and cutting the engine, Capt. John allowed the boat to glide effortlessly into the school like a stealth bomber undetected by fish radar. With fly rods in hand we braved the cold of the morning and worked our flies into the rolling bass and bait, keeping in mind to cast up drift so the lines would sink faster getting to the fish. It wasn’t long before the captain had a fish on and making quick work of it, John had a 28-inch striper in hand ready for a photo and releasing.

The fish were very finicky as they chased peanut bunker to start then switched over to spearing. John’s expertise saw this and we quickly changed patterns to comply with the stripers menu desire. A few casts later I felt the gentle jolt of a striper inhaling my fly and this too was quickly brought to the boat and released. After an hour or two of chasing bait and bass around the back of Jamaica Bay, we put a few fish in the boat then opted to head out to the Rockaway Inlet jetty only after making a quick pit stop for boat fuel and body fuel in the form of steaming hot coffee.

Feeling out toes and fingers again, we made it to the jetty and quickly found breaking stripers to cast flies to but these fish were really on the move so it was time to break out the spinning tackle and toss bucktails or diamond jigs to them. We immediately found success with John breaking off a very large fish boat side. As these schools of bass started to break up, we made several moves trying to keep up with them until the birds and fish disappeared. It was then John took me to where there are always fish, as guaranteed as fishing can get and that’s under the Verazanno Bridge.

Here we tossed small one and two-ounce diamond jigs, small bucktails and again the fly rod as we fished along the eastern abutment of the towering VZ Bridge in just 20-foot of water. We proceeded to catch bass after bass as schoolie stripers of 16 to 22 inches inhaled every offering we made to them for over an hour. It was non-stop action with the majestic backdrop of the bridge, the mighty Hudson River and the never-ending stream of tankers and cargo ships rolling under the VZ and into New York Harbor. As winds kicked up a fuss from the southwest, it was time for us to fly back to the marina, counting our blessings on the way and giving thanks for the opportunity we had to be successful anglers this late in the season and all within view of the most recognized backdrop in the world…New York.

If you would like to reach Capt. John McMurray and One More Cast charters you can call 718-945-2255. John sails very late into the season and starts early in the spring as well. Depending on weather patterns and water temps, John may sail a few more weeks. If you have any questions, you can reach Rich Johnson through our website at www.thefishingline.com.

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