October is the time when locals start to reclaim the beach from summer tourists. For many people, the end of summer also means the start of fall fishing.
Believe it or not, one of the top places to fish in the northeast is on the edge of New York City, in and near the waters of Lower New York Bay, Raritan Bay, and Sandy Hook Bay, and nearby Atlantic Ocean. Contrary to widely held images of dim, dead waters, these tidal waters support a great variety of life.
As fall migration of birds, insects, fish and other wildlife begin, you can discover a whole new natural world a short distance from the busy and bustling sidewalks of downtown Manhattan. The beaches downstream from New York City and along the city's southern coastline offer a chance to fish in sight of towering skyscrapers including the rising Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan, and historic landmarks like the parachute jump at Coney Island or the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the oldest working lighthouse in America.
It all starts late in the summer or early autumn. Something deep inside many fish tell them it's time to leave the bay and migrate hundreds of miles , sometimes more than 600 miles to warmer southern waters. It's believed that these impressive aquatic migrations are triggered by changes in daylight and water temperature.
Many Striped Bass for example have a favored temperature range between 55° F to 68° F. To stay within this temperature range, most stripers need to migrate. In the fall, migrating Striped Bass head south to the deeper waters off the Virginia and North Carolina coasts, where they spend the winter. Many Bluefish migrate southward to offshore waters between Cape Hatteras and Florida.
Not only are big fish, like Stripers and Blues, migrating in large schools, but they are traveling together with scores of baitfish, in effect their food that will fuel a great underwater migration. Large schools of spearing, bay anchovies, mullet, and herring are migrating out of the bay. As a result, sensational feeding binges by bigger fish can happen any time along the beach. Known as "blitzes," these special surf scenes are feeding frenzies. Small fish pop out of the water to escape being eaten by a bigger fish.
The blues or stripers blitz the water to fuel the energy they need to migrate long distances southward. As they swim, the fish burn a lot of energy. The stripers and blues become anxious to fatten up, and when they meet up with the large schools of prevailing baitfish, blitzes can occur all along the coast.
Coastal storms seem to be really active for blitzes. When the ocean is churned up by brisk north winds and rough weather, migrating fish can become really active. Stripers and blues seem to love the highly oxygenated whitewaters and hard-pulling currents that push thousands of tiny baitfish into the shallows whey they have trouble swimming in the rough, unsettled water. Not so for strong stripers or blues that come to feed.
It's a whole another world out here along the edge of New York City. The predator-prey relationship is alive and well in one of the most urban coastlines in the world. Who would have thought so?
At one moment your alone on a beach at dawn, catching a long, fat Striped Bass or Bluefish, then overhead a jumbo jet is racing across the sky to land at nearby JFK airport or a big oil tanker is steaming in the ocean about ready to enter New York Harbor. It's like no other place. Mother Nature mingles with Wall Street.
This is what makes fall truly a wonderful time to fish for the vast variety of fish to catch.
With good luck, week to week, even day to day, the fall fishing around Lower New York Bay is a special treat to enjoy.
Take full advantage of the opportunity to get out on the water and test your skills against just about every aquatic species, but please be mindful and respect the rules and limitations on the amount of fish to catch. In New Jersey, please check out the NJ Fish and Wildlife website:http://www.state.nj.us/dep/fgw/saltwater.htm. In New York, please check out the state's Department of Environmental Conservation website: http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7894.html
Also, please be mindful of the health risks of eating fish in urban waters. Check out this website on health advice on eating fish you catch: http://www.health.ny.gov/environmental/outdoors/fish/health_advisories/
For more information, pictures and year-round sightings of wildlife in or near Sandy Hook Bay, please check out my blog entitled, Nature on the Edge of New York City at http://natureontheedgenyc.blogspot.com/
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