Best Baits for Saltwater Fishing in NYC

Saltwater fishing is one of the most exciting fishing experiences in NYC. Although there are many great spots for freshwater fishing around the city and the state, few compare to saltwater fishing for action,  variety, and the size of fish you can catch.

With many locations around NYC for saltwater fishing – piers, bridges, jetties, shore fishing, offshore in boats – you have hundreds of options when you want to head out fishing. This leaves figuring out your gear as a key part of saltwater fishing in NYC.

If you are more familiar with freshwater fishing or generally fish in another part of the country, there will be a few differences for saltwater fishing bait in NYC. Saltwater fish have different habitats and food sources than the fish that live in ponds, lakes, and rivers. Saltwater fishing in other areas of the country can also be slightly different based on the fish in the area.

This guide outlines all of the various types of bait you can use for saltwater fishing in NYC, from mainstream baits to the more unique, and what success you can expect with each. We will also

go over how to choose the right bait for your planned fishing trip. Whether you are new to saltwater fishing, new to fishing in NYC, or already a pro looking for new ideas to help you hook this season’s catch, read on to learn more about the baits that work best for saltwater fishing.

Types of Saltwater Fishing Bait

Many anglers find saltwater fish somewhat trickier to catch than freshwater fish. This is often because there are more factors in play. You have a wider area to fish in, and fish have more food options. Tides and currents can have a more marked effect, and many saltwater fish can be larger and more aggressive. While these challenges are a part of the thrill of saltwater fishing, they also make it even more important to use the correct bass bait

When it comes to saltwater fishing, live bait is almost always the best choice. Live bait most closely imitates the foods that saltwater fish naturally feed on and fishing with live bait gives you the advantage of attracting fish with a food item they are already familiar with. This increases your chances that fish will bite.

Natural bait also has a powerful smell to attract fish and realistic movement that artificial lures often fail to imitate.

To give you the added advantage in attracting saltwater fish in NYC, there are several types of natural bait, distinguished by being either living or previously living. Shellfish, fish, and squid, as well as some non-aquatic animals make up the majority of living saltwater fishing bait.

These various baits give you different options for catching fish as well as different options for keeping and using natural bait. Experienced fishermen will often have their own combo of preferred baits that they find work well for the fish they go after and can be kept on hand with their budget and storage solutions. If you are getting into saltwater fishing, you can use both established expertise and try a few different live bait options to see what works best for you.

Live Bait

The natural baits that are often most effective are actual living bait. This is bait that is still alive when you put it on the hook. The main benefit of this is that it will most closely match what fish eat since the majority of fish consume live prey.

Shellfish and invertebrates are ideal live bait because they are easy to store and hook and are attractive to fish. The best options for NYC fish specifically are:

  • Shrimp – Shrimp is the go to live saltwater bait for many anglers because it is cheap and easy to use. Shrimp also come in a wide range of sizes to make it possible to get the right size shrimp for the type of fish you are catching. To hook a live shrimp, you will insert the hook directly beneath the shrimp’s head. You can also insert the hook at the top and work it underneath the black spot to create the ideal bait for bottom fishing. For both methods, avoid putting the hook through the black spot which will instantly kill the shrimp.
  • Crabs – You can use a variety of crabs such as green crabs, fiddler crabs, and shedder crabs, all of which are readily available around NYC. If hooking a whole crab, insert the hook through the pointed part of the shell at the side of the crab’s body. This keeps the crab alive and moving. Hold the crab from behind as you hook it to avoid getting your fingers caught in the claws.
  • Bloodworms – Bloodworms are a popular bait. They let off a strong smell that fish can detect and are bright red in color to make them easy to see underwater. They will also move very temptingly in the water. If you are buying bloodworms, they are one of the more expensive live baits.

The other option for live bait is to use smaller fish that typically serve as prey. Often you can catch these at the beginning of your day of fishing and keep them alive throughout the day.

Methods for catching these baitfish Include sprinkling fish or chum on the surface of the water to attract many fish at once and then using a net to capture them. Another option for larger bait fish, such as mackerel, is to fish for them ahead of time with the correct bait and jig.

The various types of bait fish that are attractants for saltwater fish in NYC include:

  • Mackerel
  • Killies
  • Spearing
  • Mullet
  • Herring
  • Eels

Since bait fish tend to be larger than other forms of natural bait, they are ideal for attracting larger fish. This means if you are focused on capturing trophy striped bass or fluke, live bait fish will reduce your bait usage and increase your chances of hooking the largest possible fish.

Cut Bait

When you prefer not to or cannot keep live bait with you through the day, you can still use natural prey in the form of cut bait. This is organic bait but it is already dead. Although it will not move in the same way that live bait would, cut bait will still have a strong smell that can attract fish from a distance.

You can cut up live bait you find yourself, or buy it. Cut bait often comes either fresh or frozen, and all three options – fresh, frozen, or DIY – will work similarly as saltwater fishing bait.

The best types of fish and shellfish to use as cut bait are:

  • Clams – Clams are an easy live bait. To use them, open the shell and dig the clam out. Let the clam dry on a rock until it is harder and less slippery. Then attach it to your hook and cast. The clams should be fresh for best results, so gather them just before fishing or keep them in a cooler.
  • Squid – You can hook an entire squid depending on both the size of the squid and the size of the fish you are going after. You can also cut squid into strips and hook each strip individually. Some anglers will recommend cutting squid as small as possible while still large enough to get it on the hook to prevent fish from nibbling at it without biting.
  • Bloodworms – In addition to live bait, you can also cut bloodworms up into multiple pieces if you are fishing for smaller fish or want to get more out of expensive bait.

In addition to adding live bait to your hook, you can also chum the water with cut bait, whether that is clams, squid, bloodworms, or cut up baitfish to attract a lot of fish to the surface. The intense smell of cut bait will attract fish to the surface where you can catch them with more specifically placed bait on your hook.

Favorite Baits of Local Fish Species

While natural bait is almost always the best option for saltwater fishing in NYC, it is still important to get the right bait for the right fish. All of the local species feed on different bait and you will need to coordinate the bait for the fish you intend to catch to be sure you either have what you need or will be able to find it while you are out fishing.

In general, the preferred baits for individual NYC saltwater species are as follows:

  • Cod – Cod bait is usually clams or other cut bait. Most cod bites will be near the bottom, but you may be able to put your bait on a jig and catch cod higher in the water column.
  • Striped Bass – Striped bass will go after a range of live bait and artificial lures. The best live bait includes shrimp, clams, crab, bloodworms, eels, herring, and mullet. Because stripers are often a trophy fish and impressive in size, bigger baits are a top choice for these fish.
  • Ling – Ling is a bottom feeder that predominantly bites on clams. They live around wrecks, rocky outcroppings, and underwater man made structures.
  • Blackfish/Tautog – Blackfish will take several kinds of bait, such as clams, crabs, sand bugs, and mussels. They live around rocky areas and wrecks, and will also fight back. For these reasons, it is not unusual to lose a few hooks and pieces of bait when fishing for tautog.
  • Porgy – Clam, squid, and bloodworms are the usual bait for porgy. These fish live in rocky areas and in wrecks, and will generally put up less of a fight than other fish, so you are less likely to lose your bait.
  • Fluke – Summer flounder go after moving bait, making bait fish the best option. If bait fish are not an option, then you should opt for bait that has extensive movement. Good options are killifish, spearing, and strips of squid, although you will also have luck with other small baitfish.
  • Mackerel – Mackerel fishing generally starts with chumming the water. From there, squid strips or other cut bait, or artificial lures, are good attractants for mackerel. Most mackerel in NYC are caught offshore in a boat.

Although the baits listed here are most similar to what these fish eat in the wild and will often yield success for local fishermen, there are many factors that can affect whether fish will go after them on any given day. The eating habits of fish change seasonally, with weather and temperature, and with currents and tides. Some days, the local saltwater species in NYC may not be eating at all or may be eating baits outside of the ones specified above.

With this in mind, it can sometimes be to your advantage to bring multiple baits and lures with you to give you the option to switch out if you need to find a more attractive bait on a particular day.

Challenges with Live Bait

While live bait is an effective option, it is not necessarily an easy one since most live bait will need to be kept alive (or if not alive, at least fresh). Clams, squid, worms, and cut bait can be valuable in this case because you can keep them in a cooler throughout the day, particularly if you start with frozen bait.

Live bait fish can be more difficult. You will need to maintain them in an environment that closely matches their natural one, a task which generally requires a baitwell that has plenty of oxygen and cool, circulating saltwater.

If fishing with shrimp on short trips, you can make your own baitwell with a bucket and battery-powered aerator. Fill the bucket with saltwater and watch the temperature throughout the day to be sure it is not heating up. Also be careful not to crowd the bucket.

Crabs will also stay alive in a bucket throughout the day. With blue crabs, you should use saltwater and an aerator. Fiddler crabs are a little easier and adding a rag or piece of cardboard soaked in saltwater to their bucket will keep them alive throughout the day.

Eels can also survive in a bucket with some seaweed for a day of fishing. You will need to add ice packs and a wet rag as well to lower the eels temperature and trigger a more dormant state to make them easier to hook.

For any longer trips or when you are fishing with herring, mackerel, menhaden, or other baitfish, a livewell is generally a necessity. These tanks continue to circulate saltwater and oxygenate the water. Investing in an insulated livewell is a good option if you will be saltwater fishing regularly.

Fishing boats in NYC will often have livewells built in, both for storing bait fish and catches. These baitwells are robust and one of the most dependable ways to keep bait alive for trips of any length. The baitwells store bait fish directly in the water so that you can pull them out and hook them as needed, making this the most convenient way to fish with live bait.

Where to Find Quality Saltwater Fishing Bait

Because fishing is so popular in NYC, there are many options for acquiring live bait before your saltwater fishing trip, with options for every budget and level of convenience.

Local Bait Shops

NYC has bait shops located throughout the city, often in proximity to popular saltwater fishing locations. Some of the leading neighborhoods include Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn and City Island in Queens, each with several shops to choose from.

Many of the shops will have live and frozen bait for saltwater fishing, as well as the additional equipment you may need to complete your fishing outfit.

Catch Your Bait

You may be able to find your own bait depending on what you are looking for and where you are located. The top locations and strategies for acquiring various live bait include:

  • Crabs – You can catch blue crabs with bait like a chicken wing and a net in a variety of places around NYC, including Brooklyn Bridge Park. For fiddler crabs that are common on muddy beaches, bury a bucket in the mud so that the rim of the bucket is level with the ground and add squid or fish tails. The crabs will fall into the bucket and be trapped.
  • Clams – In mud flats, watch for water shooting up out of a hole in the mud, which means there is a clam. Dig down until you find the clam.
  • Bloodworms – Bloodworms make their homes in mud flats near saltwater. Low tide is the best time to look for them. Check under rocks, and look for holes in the sand that could indicate bloodworms underneath. They are able to move quickly, which can make them difficult to catch, so prepare to move fast.
  • Bait Fish – You can use flake fish food or chum for catching bait fish. Most anglers will sprinkle the food onto the surface of the water and then use a net to capture several bait fish at once.

Remember that whatever fish or shellfish you catch, you will need the proper storage solution to keep it alive up until your fishing trip and then while you are out fishing.

Go On a Fishing Trip that Includes Bait

For the ultimate convenience while still getting high quality live bait, joining a fishing charter or a party fishing boat in NYC is the best option. Aboard a fishing boat like the Marilyn Jean, our crew provides clams, shrimp, and other live bait specific to the fish we are targeting that day.

The Marilyn Jean is also equipped with a livewell for keeping bait fish alive during the trip. The crew on the Marilyn Jean can also handle baiting your hook for you, preventing you from having your hands covered in slippery and smelly fluids from the live bait.

On a fishing boat, the crew may also take steps like chumming the water to help increase your chances of catching fish.

Make Your Own – Homemade Saltwater Fishing Baits

Anglers who are looking for a lower cost option for bait but do not want to find their own or worry about keeping it alive have some homemade options. Some anglers will swear by their DIY saltwater fishing baits.

These are options for making baut at home that is more transportable and still contains all the ingredients necessary to attract local saltwater species:

  • Pork Rinds – Some anglers find that pork rinds work extremely well for catching bass and fluke. It is affordable and easy to use as it stays on the hook well. Dyeing your pork rind different colors can be helpful with different species of fish.
  • Homemade Saltwater Chum – Ideal for catching baitfish, you can make a chum mixture by adding one can of sardines, one box of instant mashed potatoes, and two teaspoons of menhaden oil. Mix everything together and use saltwater if you need to make the mixture thinner. Throw the bait into the water where bait fish are and wait for them to start biting.

Another option you may want to try if you have live bait that you want to last for the season is salting your bait. Salting cures fish to preserve them without the need for refrigeration. Salted fish are also firmer and stay on the hook better.

You can salt shrimp, squid, clams, and fish, although you will want to chunk anything larger than about 5 inches before salting. Place kosher salt on the bottom of a container to a height that is twice as tall as your bait. Lay the bait on the salt, and then add another layer of salt. Small pieces of bait like shrimp will only take a day or two to cure. Whole fish can take up to several weeks. When the fish is cured, you can store it in plastic bags until you are ready to use it.

When looking for other interesting bait solutions, anglers use a wide range of materials. As with live bait, your results with homemade and DIY bait can vary and it will be worth trying different strategies until you find one that seems to work best for your needs.

Artificial Bait and Lures for Saltwater Fishing in New York

Artificial lures are more often a go to solution for NYC freshwater fish, and the results of saltwater fishing with lures can be more hit or miss. For success with this method, it is beneficial to be extremely familiar with the fish you want to catch and the type of bait they regularly eat. This will help you choose a lure that is tempting to your particular saltwater fish species.

Luers offer several benefits for saltwater fishing. Although the initial cost of buying lures can be more expensive, they can save money in the long run since you are not continuously needing to buy, catch, or make new bait and instead will only be replacing lures as needed. Lures are also ideal if you will be catching and releasing since the fish is less likely to swallow the hook.

With the right technique, many anglers find they have similar success or better with artificial bait for saltwater fishing. Some fishermen find artificial baits to be more fun and provide a more active role in the fishing experience since they do not move on their own as live bait would. Instead, you will have to perfect your technique, bouncing or carefully working through the water in order to successfully attract your day’s catch, which offers an additional challenge.

When you plan to fish in the waters around NYC, the most valuable lures to have in your tackle box include:

  • Metal Jigs – Metal lures are the most valuable saltwater fishing lures to have in your tackle box. Metal jigs usually have an iridescent coating to imitate a baitfish. As you work them through the water, vertical jigs, which are long and narrow, are best for deepwater fishing as they bounce along the bottom. Slightly wider metal jigs will work better for casting in surf fishing or from a jetty or pier.
  • Poppers – Also called topwater lures, poppers bounce along the water to get fish near the surface. These lures are best for catching fish around dawn and dusk when they are eating. A torpedo shaped topwater lure works well with the “walking the dog” technique that will be particularly attractive to saltwater fish. White is a good color to start out with for topwater lures if you do not already have a few.
  • Spoon Fishing Lures – Spoon lures are attractive to saltwater fish. These lures have a narrow top and get wider near the bottom like a spoon. This shape causes the lure to move about like a fish would and is best for mimicking small bait by either bouncing it on the bottom or working it back after casting. There are many options for spoon fishing lures, but for saltwater fishing you can never go wrong with the basic gold spoon.
  • Lead Headed Jig – These are a great option for saltwater fishing. The top part of the jig is lead, often painted with bright colors to imitate fish, crustaceans, and other bait. Depending on where your fish are, you can use a narrower lead jig to sink quickly or one with a wider head for fishing higher in the water column. Most jigs will also consist of a tail. Rubber is one option but the favorite option for saltwater fishing is the bucktail, which is made of deer hair to create attractive movement for several species of fish.
  • Soft Plastic Lures – Soft plastic lures are readily available and in many sizes, shapes, and colors. They are meant to imitate different varieties of bait. The variety makes it possible to find the right type for your style of fishing. Our kind of swimbait is made of lead surrounded by soft plastic for bottom fishing, which works well for saltwater fishing. Some of the other top varieties to attract for NYC saltwater fishing are fluke and prawns. The paddletail is another versatile option that imitates a majority of live bait.

Some artificial baits, especially soft plastic ones, are scented to help draw in fish. These baits will generally come in a container that has scented liquid, and it is important to continue to store them in that container when not in use. Anglers will also store homemade baits like pork rinds in containers for scented baits to help make them more attractive.

How to Choose the Right Bait

As we have outlined, you have a large number of choices for live bait and artificial lures for saltwater fishing in NYC. Knowing which one to use on a given trip is often the greater challenge.

Saltwater fish can be picky about what they eat and any changing conditions will only make it more difficult to choose the correct bait for your fish. While some lures seem to produce good results more often than not, choosing the right fish based on all the various conditions will increase your chances significantly. This part of the process can involve extensive research and often some trial and error of your own.

If you would rather get out on the water without the need for extensive research beforehand, the best option is to leave the bait to the professionals and join the Marilyn Jean which sails year round from Sheepshead Bay. Our captain and crew have extensive up to date knowledge about local fish populations. We know where fish have been feeding, the times that they are most active, and what baits they have been going for lately. With our knowledge and high quality baits included in the cost of your ticket, you will have everything you need for a successful catch.

But if you are heading out on your own for saltwater fishing in NYC, these guidelines are valuable for helping you identify which bait will bring the best results.

Most importantly, you need to know the habits of your fish, including its primary food source and how it likes to hunt. Research from local anglers who are familiar with fishing in NYC can also be valuable since their input is often more accurate for your specific fishing experience.

Once you know your fish well, you can start the process of choosing your bait using the following considerations:

  • Mimic the Target Fish’s Prey – If you are using live bait, the best results will almost always come from using the prey the fish you want to hook regularly eats. If that is not a possibility, try to pick baits or lures that closely match your fish’s usual prey, appearance, movement, and smell.
  • Get the Size Right – The next step is to pay attention to the size. Choose bait size that corresponds with the size of fish you anticipate catching, in terms of the average size of that fish, the relevant seasonal size, and the range of the bite. Small fish will avoid bait that is too large, and with too small of a bait, you may attract a variety of other fish you have no interest in catching.
  • Consider the Season – Weather and temperature play a big role in how active fish are. On colder days, fish will be more lethargic and not as likely to go after highly active baits. On warmer days, both fish and bait will be active, making those days a good time to use your live bait fish or lures with high movement.
  • Select the Right Color for the Weather – On a cloudy day, the water will be darker and you will want a darker colored bait that blends in. On clear days, use white colored baits and brighter lures to stand out in the clear waters.

Even with these factors, you should also remember that choosing a bait is not an exact science. Having every factor right may still not yield the results you want. Additionally, techniques our other anglers swear by may not work for you. Patience and knowing your fish are likely to produce the best results when saltwater fishing in NYC.

Know the NYC Fishing Regulations

In terms of what bait you can use for saltwater fishing around NYC, there are a few regulations to be aware of. You can use any bait you like for the most part, and there are currently no rules for methods for acquiring baitfish.

There are DEC regulations for shellfish if you will be digging for clams or mussels. For hard clams, you are limited to 100 clams per day and each clam must be at least 1 inch long across the hinge. Soft clams are limited to 1 ⁄ 2 bushel catch per day and they must be greater than 1 and ½ inch wide. For both types of clams, mechanical digging methods are not allowed.

There are also many regulations for bait fish in freshwater fishing, including fishing in the Hudson River. If you are searching for saltwater species in the Hudson River or want to try out live bait for freshwater fishing in NYC, you need to be familiar with the regulations before you begin.

These rules include the correct procedure for catching baitfish. If you do catch your own, they need to be used in the waters where you caught them. If purchasing baitfish, they need to be certified according to the DEC standards.

Saltwater Fishing in NYC

Whether you are casting your line from shore or sailing aboard the Marilyn Jean, you can expect one of the greatest fishing experiences in NYC as long as you can get the bait right. Fortunately, with a little effort and research – and maybe advice from other NYC anglers or your local bait shop – figuring out the best bait for saltwater fishing is easy to accomplish and you will be able to take full advantage of the saltwater fishing options in NYC.