The 2018 back bay and river run of stripers is well underway!
April 14, 2017, this was my fishing log entry – “Night. Fished the bridge at sunset again and absolutely lit up the schoolie bass from 8 to 22 inches long, landing about 15, and missing another 15 on short bites. Bite was from 7:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. then shut down. All the bass hit the 4-inch Storm shad.”
That kind of early spring striper action is exactly what knocks the rust off the winter doldrums! As April’s spring thaw warms up water temperatures, both resident and initial migratory shorty bass will colonize the backwaters and both bridge and pier structures will hold excellent light tackle opportunity to get the juices flowing.
Light Is Right
Once the water temps hit that magic 48-degree mark, it seems to spark the first bass to hit lures; once you get into the low 50s, all bets are off. Some of the bass you’ll encounter are super small rats of 8 to 12 inches, but generally average in the 18- to 24-inch range, with occasional keepers over 28 inches in the mix. You don’t need to be over-gunned in April. Go light. My outfit is generally a 6-1/2- to 7-foot medium, moderate action rod like a St. Croix TS66MH matched with a 4000 class Shimano Stradic reel spooled up with 30-pound Power Pro braid.
A 6-foot top shot of 15-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader tied to the braid via uni to uni knot is connected, then a loop knot to a size 3/8- to 3/4-ounce leadhead or sparsely-tied bucktail. On the jighead, lance on a 4- to 5-3/4-inch Fin-S fish, Zoom Super Fluke, Bass Assassin, or Berkeley Gulp! jerk shad. Hot colors include bubble gum pink, white, Arkansas shiner, or silver fleck. Other hot schoolie offerings include 3- to 4-inch Tsunami or Storm shads, as well as small crankbaits such as the Yo-Zuri crystal minnow or Rapala XRap. The key is to utilize small lures to scale down for the generally diminutive statured bass.
Many piers and bridges jut into and over the backwaters of central and south Jersey. Search out any causeway and you’ll have a spot to fish, but general hot spots include the Ocean City area structures like the 9th Street Bridge, Longport Pier, and toll bridge over Great Egg Inlet, as well as the Brigantine Bridge. In Central Jersey try the Route 37 Bridge in Barnegat Bay and the Route 35 Bridge over the Manasquan River. We could list every bridge and available parking spot in the Delaware and New Jersey region where you’re apt to find access to a good bite, but that would be unfair to the folks already on the bite!
Then again, don’t overlook docks either as deep-water slips will most definitely attract bass to hide under the planks and ambush baits, slipping in and out of the shadows. Hottest times to fish are dusk and dawn, but no doubt night time dark hour fishing is tops. Usually at sunrise and sunset you’ll get a 45-minute to hour flurry of action before it gets quiet again and slows to a pick. During the dark hours, the key is to find a well-lit bridge as the shadow lines provide a breaking point between where bass hide in the shadows and baitfish cruise the line between light and dark. Bass will hide in that break and jump out to attack spearing and rainfish schools that skirt that line.
Timing & Technique
If you spend enough time studying the water, you’ll be able to see fish popping and crashing in the shadow lines as they pounce on small baits. Listen for their pops and watch for swirling and boils. Once a bite gets started it usually runs hot for a little stretch of 30 to 45 minutes then will shut off again.
Work around the high tides of the full and new moons when there are flood tides. If drifting via boat, work by casting and bouncing along with the tide. Drift through bridge passes and cast back into the darkness. Let the lure sink, letting out enough line to compensate for the speed of your drift and work the bottom third to halfway up the water column. If you are just dragging your lure on the surface of the water on a fast drift, you’re out of the strike zone. You can also opt to anchor up; plant the anchor on the downtide side of a bridge, 30 yards outside the shadow lines (keep free of the structure, out of the main channels and remember to turn on your anchor light!)
Cast back uptide of the current past the break line, then allow the bait to bounce back to you along with the tide. Keep the line tight as it drifts back. Most hits will come once the lure enters the shadow line. Fishing by foot from a bridge or pier, fancast uptide at a 45-degree angle and let the lure drift through until it’s at 45 degrees on the other side drifting naturally through the current. Most of the time the strike zone will be in that clock-related 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. triangle of range.
It’s worth noting that April bridge bass bite with quick ferocity, but many times just grab the end of the soft bait and short hit with frustrating frequency. If you do get short bit, slow down the retrieve and most times the bass will come back on it with more aggression to plant the hook. Once hooked up, keep your drags set light enough for a bit of a battle, as shorty bass give up spirited runs and plenty of surface thrashing.
Checking back to all my April entries in my logs from last year, I had all-around pretty darn solid striper fishing around the bridges throughout the whole month. Many outings were only quick sunup or sundown half hour jaunts to catch the low light, but double digit catches were had in that quick window of time.
This month, be sure to scale down to the lighter tackle and make it a priority to get in on the early season striper bite.