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Jones Beach Pier Flatties
By Rich Johnson

With the arrival of the Irish and St. Patty’s Day this year, along with it’s splendor of emerald green, will see the flounder season open in New York. As many of our readers are aware, the DEC has instituted a winter flounder season of March 17 to June 30 and September 15 to November 30. The purpose of this article is to clue anglers in on one of the first laces I go to look for spring flatties, the Jones Beach Piers.

WHY PIERS? I like to fish piers in the spring because many of them are set over varying water depth, yet shallow enough where some of the party boats can’t get in tight enough to fish. Like most piers, the base of the pier may be shallower while the end is in deeper water.

Working over an area like this gives you the opportunity to explore water depth depending on the weather and the strength of the sun. Many times flounder, as they come out of the mud, look for the flats and the warmer water on them as a place to put the feed- bag on after the spring spawn. As the tide recedes, the warmer water goes with it and the flounder may retreat to deeper water. If the pier isn’t crowded, you can move with them picking at them as you go. On a bright sunny tide, I’ll fish results while those plying the planks at the deep end may not fare as well.

The comfort of the local pier cannot be denied either. Whether it’s the restrooms, a snack bar, the comfort of a cozy car or just the fact that you can fish from a lawn chair, pier fishing is fun and relaxing. The camaraderie of the local anglers also adds to the flavor of the local fishing scene. You see many anglers that you don’t normally keep in touch with over the winter and the stories of their holidays or vacations add to the chatter of the pier. Many fishermen become fishing buddies at the pier and there are several piers that will get it’s own crowd and clientele. This is also a chief source of local fishing knowledge and should not be overlooked when approaching a new location to fish.

JONES BEACH PIER. This group of four piers is among anglers favorites because of the central location and easy access via the parkway system. This pier is located between the Wantagh Parkway and Meadowbrook Parkway on the stretch which begins the east-west Ocean Parkway. There is a huge parking field (#10) with rest rooms, a bait station and snack bar. The area is part of the State Park System and is kept clean and orderly.

The main reason I and so many other fishermen school here in the spring, is it’s success rate. Last Fall, one of the only places to have a good spurt of flattie fishing on the western South Shore was the Jones Beach Piers. The same holds true each spring as well. This might have something to do with the close proximity to Jones Inlet and the clam, warmer backwaters of the State Channel that begins here. I say piers because there are a series of finger piers that make this pier system, of which you can choose your favorite honey hole.

PIER INFORMATION. The piers are open year round for fishing and there is no charge in the “off-season”. From Memorial Day to Labor Day there is a $4.00 charge (a parking fee) to park in the spacious lot, but that fee also gets you access to a picnic area, restrooms, concession stand and a bait/tackle shop. There is also pair of fish cleaning stations with running water to prepare your catch for the dinner table.

SPRING BAITS. The most common flounder bait should be the bloodworm. On the North Shore we would hear that sandworms are the preferred choice. When fishing for flounder in the spring, bring both! Fishing at this time of the year can be picky at times and it never hurt to carry a little of each. I tend to lean towards the bloodworms but I will make sure that I go prepared. Also, don’t overlook mussels and dyed clam in the spring. These are some of the preferred baits when party boats fishing, so it makes sense to bring along a few for the pier as well. Some of the larger flounder to come off these piers do tend to fall for mussel or clam bait.

CHUMMING. The use of chum when pier fishing is overlooked and just plain forgotten once folks step off a boat. This is a common mistake and should be seriously thought about, if you plan on having a good success ratio for the hours fished. The obvious advantage to chumming is that it brings fish with the tide. The other advantage to chumming off the pier is that we are fishing colder water in the spring and the crab activity is at a season low. This allows us to use the usual clam or mussel chum in the standard fashion without fear of calling every crab in the county to our baits. Some anglers may choose to spread cracked corn or rice, but I usually stick with mussel or clam chum dispersed from the chum pot tied off to the rail of the pier I’m fishing.

TACKLE. Standard light to medium light flounder tackle is the norm when pier fishing with spinning gear getting the nod over conventional tackle here for a couple of reasons. The first reason the spinning gear is my choice here is simply the fact that it allows me to explore more water more easily through casting. Whether it’s a cast to the edge of the state channel that runs through here, or a minor underhand toss up onto the flats, spinning gear is easier to cast.

The second and most important reason for spinning gear from the piers such as the ones at Jones Beach is that much of the spring pier flounder fishing is done with the rod leaned up against the railing. The tip of the rod is softer and more likely to pick up and detect that distinct little tap or twitch of the rod that signals a sluggish spring flattie has gently sipped in the bait. Paying attention to the rod tip is key when using this method of flounder fishing.

ITEMS TO BRING. When fishing the unpredictable weather of early spring, you should be prepared for what ails you. Unlike fishing the surf where you have to carry everything you need with you, the beauty of pier fishing is that you can store all of this in your car. Some of the items that I bring are a lawn chair, blanket, a thermos with a hot beverage, lunch, a bait bucket filled with extra tackle and a clean rag. A hat, glove (fingerless), two rods, knife, chum pot, bait and hooks round out the package. Remember to dress in layers so you can peel them as you go with the weather changes. Spring weather can change quickly or it can be a blessing, but you should be prepared for both.

GETTING THERE. To get to the Jones Beach Piers, take the Meadowbrook Parkway south past the Jones Beach Tolls and proceed onto what will become the Ocean Parkway. The signs at this point are bold and clear so you should have little trouble at all finding the piers. If you are coming from the east, come down the Wantagh Parkway, south to the circle in Jones Beach, head in a westerly direction and follow the signs. The action is there to be had and I hope that I see you there with a few spring flatties in your bucket

 

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