Comings & Goings: The Striper Playbook - The Fisherman

Comings & Goings: The Striper Playbook

2019 4 The Striper Playbook Fish
The small fish will arrive first, but by June keepers will flood the Striper Coast.

A look at the timing, with related issues, of striper arrivals and departures for a New England season ahead.

Striper fishing readers, if they are anything like me, usually tend to rush the striper season. That said, there are reliable issues in the timing upon which we can pretty much count. Don’t burn yourself out fishing too early when there is not a lineside within a thousand miles of here.

First Blood

The first migratory bass will come to two reliable areas during the first week in April: Matunuck, Rhode Island and South Cape Beach often referred to as Popponesset in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Look for water temperatures above 50 degrees. Just when in April this takes place can vary by as much as three weeks from year to year, but it will happen. We have seen the arrival anywhere from the first week of April to the 25th, depending upon the lateness of spring and the severity of winter. For years we greeted these fish and we made a point of noting the arrival days.

All the same, these are small bass, which today, few, if any, are worth bothering to pursue. They have always been around perch size, pre-spawners, and were rarely big enough to keep even when the size requirement was 16 inches—28 inches? Forget it. Not possible until much later.

Keepers

Around mid-May it is possible to catch a keeper bass, but the longer one waits the better one’s chances are for a 28-inch fish. Of course these are generalizations and an exception is possible. What with warming taking place in our northwest Atlantic, I think arrival dates have been moving up. Still, keep in mind that at these sizes fish from the south are delayed by spawning.

Another factor that draws linesides is estuarine water temperatures as well as bait that frequents these backwaters. Early arrivals tend to bee-line to the bays and back ponds, apparently to avoid the open beaches until later. That first week in May, while the fish are on the small side, you can release a lot of fish in the estuaries, but don’t expect anything huge, not yet.

Now Play for Keeps

In late May, say around Memorial Day weekend, the 15- or 20-pounders get here. Sure, there will always be exceptions, up or down in size. Nevertheless, this discussion only addresses generalizations. So, just because your uncle took a 45-pounder one time on May 25, the experience does not make it a suitable expectation this early. In the old Schaefer Contest, which required a bass to weigh 15 pounds, the first “point fish” were landed around May 18 most years, but it took another week for them to be taken in viable numbers. Memorial Day weekend was the first big producer. Red Top in Buzzards Bay had a prize for the first Cape Cod Canal-caught 20-pounder, and it was usually landed between May 20 and 25, give or take. I would not yet expect many 40-pounders, if any. Maine size differentials follow those of Southern New England. However, that happens roughly two weeks later than Cape Cod. There are a lot of stripers yet seemingly less big bass.

Fifty-pounders

Having counted “fifties” for these pages the last 20 years I have been privileged to recognize trends in their pursuit. By late April the first such fish are caught in New Jersey and the Hudson River, but there are no bass of that size taken east of Montauk, New York until well into June. Such moby stripers are hard enough to come by without dealing with zero chances; not until well into June, the later the better.

When I was an official weigh master for the Schaefer Contest I hoisted a lot of big bass to the scales and never weighed one in June. Boat anglers begin catching them then but not in great numbers. The lion’s share in our New England waters start coming in July, a month when even I have caught them.

2019 4 The Striper Playbook Catch
Maine stripers, the last to migrate into New England waters, are caught later.

Baseless Speculation (BS)

All my life I have been hearing about water being too warm for big bass. For 40 years we have split our time between Cape Cod and Rhode Island beaches with Rhody water temperatures as high as 72 degrees. Boats have clobbered fifties and better at Block Island for years where water is as tepid as bath water. August is a big month on the Block. Water is never too warm mid-summer for 50-pounders. Every aspect of striper behavior is exaggerated or addressed as fake conversation piece.

Linestorms Rage

Changing seasons unleash continuous line-storms and hurricanes in September that create a lot of storm fishing. Saltwater angling loses a lot of time to inclement weather. Some years, just when the water calms down enough for fishing, another tempest hits to screw things up again. Weeds, silty surf, scary breakers, dangerous in rocky locations like Narragansett and Newport ruin the fishing and often cause boats to be taken out of the water just when the migration is about to happen. Catch your fish in July.

Season’s End

The fall migration is famous for some of the wildest fishing of the year. Some nights it seems like everything in the northwest Atlantic is coming down the beach. It is the one time of year when the fish outnumber and outclass the fishermen. It also drips with baseless speculation. Here are some: “They already went by,” or “When they did go by they were too far out,” or “Without bait there is nothing to hold them,” or “The water is too cold,” or “too hot,” or “It’s hunting season.” It goes on and on.

Simply put, anglers quit fishing too soon. They think it’s over because they went dry the night before. They seem to forget that going dry can happen any night. Hauled out boats, cold weather, exacerbated by night fishing, all imply an atmosphere of gamefish departure that is more a state of mind than what is really happening.

Many years ago, before I went back to hunting, we blitzed a mixed-bag of bass, blues, and weakfish with an occasional cod on Thanksgiving weekend. On clear nights, when you can see the lights of Montauk from the South Shore, we are compelled to remember that they are still fishing there. For years I fished Charlestown after New York deer hunting ended in late November. Of course with rod and reel commercial fishing highly reduced these days, why would a sane angler fish nights in a blizzard? But the fish are still there.

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