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EARLY SEASON STRIPERS - BANK ON IT!

Now is the time to fish soft baits—both live and artificial—for a shot at those first striped bass of the spring season.
By Jim Hutchinson, Jr.
Tags: surf

One of the best things about early season striper fishing throughout the region is that the finest action typically occurs on bluebird days when it’s most comfortable to fish. Whether looking at early March action along the shores of the Delaware and back bays of New Jersey, or the mid- to late April bite in the Hudson River, when conditions are sunny and warm, the worm is definitely turning in the angler’s favor.

First off is the basic fact that darker colors absorb light where lighter colors reflect it; for this reason alone, shallow, muddy flats in particular often produce before the sandy beachfront. Brown, muddy bottom warms more quickly around the low tide as the days get longer, which in turn warms the surrounding water. Consider too that locations with more southern exposure get more of the day’s sunlight, and also benefit from southerlies pushing some of the warmer surface water closer to shore.

As the bay and river mud soaks up that spring sun, various species of worms and crustaceans will in-turn get more active, providing striped bass with softer, easier-to-catch baits, which is a primary reason why bloods, sands and even clams are super bait selections when water temps are still hovering at or below that 50-degree mark.

With worms, a simple hi-low rig will do the trick; about 2 to 3 feet of leader material tied beneath a barrel swivel and a pair of dropper loops spaced about 6 inches apart starting a few inches from the bottom loop (or duo-lock) where the sinker is attached. To each dropper attach a size 5/0 or 6/0 baitholder hook with the “barbs” along the hook shaft to hold the bait in place. Whole worm can be threaded directly onto each hook, mouth first, sliding the worm up the hook shaft until the point where you can pull the hook point out and the worm itself is held on the shaft with the “baitholder” points.

When casting bloodworms dangling from hooks, be careful so as not to “whip” the rod; trying to heave that rig will only cause your bait to break in half on the cast. Instead “toss” your rig more in line with a basketball hook shot. Remember, late winter and early spring action for the most part from the Delaware to the Mullica, on up along the Hudson River is typically based on bass coming in to the shallows to feed, so it’s not like you’re necessarily trying to hit the channel or cast beyond the second bar!

If finding bloodworms or sandworms proves difficult, there’s nothing wrong with fresh surf clam, even when fishing bays and rivers. Early season, I’ll typically cut a whole surf clam into two to three pieces, making sure to get the tough, foot meat of the clam included with each strip. With smaller bass often picking at baits, the small baitholder “J” hooks are preferable; simply tie the clam strips on with elastic thread to make them more durable and they will hold up to longer casts and remain in place during striper nibbles.

When the water warms up and stripers get more aggressive, forgo “J” hooks in place of circle hooks, and use whole clam rather than strips. Still, tying the clam along the shank (even as far as above the hook eye) allows you to cast farther if needed, especially when moving surfside. A dead-sticked circle hook and medium drag is also the easiest way to hook up in the late spring surf.

Funny thing is that while bloodworms are harvested in Maine and shipped south to New York and New Jersey tackle shops for spring stripers, few New Englanders (outside of the tube and worm) actually fish bloodworms for stripers. “Worms see less and less use up here every season as a primary bait,” said The Fisherman Magazine’s New England editor, Toby Lapinski, explaining it’s the same with clam. “Not saying it won't work up here, as I know it would, just that no one does it,” Toby added, saying most angler prefer to focus on just the jighead and rubber bait combo.

But typically as water temps climb into the mid 50’s (or when finding some of that “artificially” warm weather at power plant outflows throughout the northeast region), that’s when jigheads or bucktails with white Zooms or silverside BKDS, small Tsunami swim shads, and even small swimmers like the Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnow, Rapala X-Rap or Daiwa SP Minnow become more effective for the shore-bound and kayak angler.

While nothing is ever written in stone (they are after all fish), stripers typically start getting active on bloods and clams when water temps begin creeping over 45 degrees; at the “50” mark, they’re more apt to start chasing plugs and plastics. When local waters reach that magic 55- to 60-degree threshold, the hope is that spring has sprung and the striped bass action is what you could call in full swing.

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