As I was racing to finalize the components of this issue, my New Jersey counterpart, Jim Hutchinson, Jr., sent me a very interesting article from the MV Times, a local newspaper headquartered on Martha’s Vineyard. The article detailed an ongoing survey of the striped bass inside Squibnocket Pond. Anglers have known for decades that Squibnocket Pond held a wintering population of stripers and the study aims to determine how the fish move within the pond complex, whether they swim out of the pond at all during the winter months and also how many of the tagged fish migrate versus how many stay. The 20 fish they fitted with acoustic tags early in November, will tell us a lot about what the bass inside the pond do, after the typical migration period has passed. A future goal of the project is centered around determining if this sequestered population of stripers spawns or even attempts to spawn inside the pond.
The article states that there are no documented year-round striper populations in Massachusetts, which is really only because no one has taken the time to document the ones that so many local anglers know about. The thing that makes the Squibnocket Pond population so interesting to me is that it is only periodically tidal; it’s the final destination for herring running in through Menemsha Pond and any stripers living there would have to first swim in through the inlet at Menemsha Creek, then travel across Menemsha Pond and finally navigate a shallow herring run that compresses down to a narrow culvert, before entering Squibnocket Pond; an inland journey of nearly 2.5 miles. That’s not a long run for a striped bass, (they run inland from the mouth of the Connecticut River at least as far as Holyoke, Massachusetts that’s more than 70 miles), but there must be something extra special up inside that pond to make them want to cross through that tiny creek to get there. And it begs the question, “how do they know?”
My holdover striper fishing experience highlights a few similarities between the places where I have found winter stripers. One that stands out is the presence of an active herring run, the other is steep drop-offs that fall to a minimum of 20 feet. The bathymetric map of Squibnocket Pond shows steep drop-offs all the way around the pond with a maximum depth of 23 feet. If I was a betting man, I’d say it was the herring that drew the fish in and the accommodations that made them stay. Widespread tagging data has shown that migratory fish imprint on certain areas and at certain times, tagged fish are often recovered in the same area where they were tagged and at the same general timeframe within the season. I will be the most interested to hear about their findings regarding spawning, but I think those results may be years in the future.
All this does raises the age-old question about satellite spawning populations outside the big three: Chesapeake Bay, the Delaware River and the Hudson River. Personally, I am certain that stripers spawn successfully in the Connecticut River, the evidence is too great to ignore: I’ve seen many photos of 4- to 8-inch stripers caught by perch fishermen and in cast nets intended for bunker from the river, and to me that’s hard, irrefutable evidence. I’d also say it’s quite likely that there are spawning fish in the Housatonic. Furthermore, I have personally caught stripers measuring 7 and 8 inches in Massachusetts, not far from another – relatively unknown – winter striped bass population. Fish of that size do not migrate. So where did they come from?
I’ll be keeping an eye on this study as the results are made public. If you’re interested in doing the same, start by reading the article at: www.mvtimes.com/2023/11/08/investigating-year-round-bass-population
And if you feel so inclined, send me an email and let me know what you think about all this and if you have evidence of stripers spawning in the Northeast, send that my way as well.