Going Tidal: Starting Gate Stripers - The Fisherman

Going Tidal: Starting Gate Stripers

The author offers his advice for location scouting for getting into striper action in New Jersey rivers and bays.

March “Bass Madness” gets underway again along the sod banks and sedges in the Garden State.

The starting gun has fired and striper hounds across the state have bass on their minds. With such a mild winter, there could very well be bass hanging in the ocean waters to target, but historically, it’s the tidal rivers and bay systems that will see the first bent rods.

Myriad backwaters will be rife with striper activity, but more important than actual location is how to go about timing, technique and tactic to score.

NJ Bays & Rivers

Thousands of miles of bays, river and back creeks line the shorelines of the Jersey Coast and stripers will be awaiting your first cast in many of them. Larger rivers like the Hudson and Delaware rivers will see the first migratory fish moving up to spawn out and any body of water they cross to get into those rivers is fair game. You want to intercept them on the way. The smaller back rivers have also been spots where resident stripers have held over the winter months; many times you’ll be able to differentiate them from the silvery ocean run stripers by the almost bronze like colorization.

Most times, the key to success in any river or bay spot you pick is to capitalize on times of warmer waters which means a few points to pay attention to, the sun and the tide in particular. Shallow mud bay flats will warm up faster on times surrounding low tide and generally the outgoing waters will usher out warmer waters from the back rivers whereas incoming tides generally push in the colder ocean water. An ideal situation would have a mid-outgoing tide with the sun high in the sky for the past two days and you have a stretch of days where the air stays above the freezing mark.

Look for spots where water temperatures rise above 48 degrees. A tidal swing could run as much as 6 or 7 degree warming change on the outgoing tides as water sitting on flooded sod banks warms up in the sunshine and spills out. Anytime you find water in the 50s is a good bet you will find feeding bass. That goes for both boat and shoreline anglers.

Worm Your Way In

Without a doubt, worming reigns supreme at the start of the March backwater striper season as those particular baits are what have been sustaining the population through the winter. Bloodworms, sandworms and tapeworms all root down inside the hard packed mudflats and sedge banks, poking out and undulating in the water currents as bass pick them off. One of the top rigs to use when worming is the slide rig, consisting of a fishfinder slide tied above the barrel swivel, then a 24-inch 30-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader, to which a size 3/0 to 5/0 Octopus inline circle hook is snelled on.

Take on worm and thread it onto the hook as far up the shank as it will go, then leave the rest dangling off. Then take another worm or two hook it through the head, then wrap it around the rest of the hook and pierce the last bit back onto the hook. Take a bit of elastic thread and make a few wraps with it to secure the “worm ball” on the hook. That bait should stay on the hook for many casts and even through a few fish being caught on it.

Be sure to douse the worm ball with FinEssence shedder crab oil every time you reel in to recast. You can also opt to use fresh clams or even fresh bunker chunks, but be sure to up your game and utilize the FinEssence oils or any other of your favorite fish attracting scents. It makes a huge difference when fish are feeding on scent based offerings in the early season.

Remember that circle hooks are required when using natural baits like bloodworm, a favorite food stuff when targeting March stripers.

Low And Slow

Converse to standard thinking, early season stripers aren’t just moving sluggishly and jumping only on baits sitting on the bay floor. Lures of certain varieties elicit aggressive strikes from bass if cast at the right place and the right time. White is the early color of choice by far. Small 3-inch Storm or Tsunami shads cast out and retrieved just above the bottom will get whacked. I’ve found that in the darker river systems with more cloudy water, white Yo-Zuri Mag Darters pulled slowly just under the surface show up in contrast and get some swings and misses and eventually a hookset. Bass will many times, tap at the lure or miss it on the first attempt as they are not in full energy mode just yet.

Be patient with your retrieve and keep working an area if you get a few bumps. Eventually, the lure will find its mark. Last spring, I didn’t even cast a baited rod in the backwaters, but simply used shads and mag darters to have 30 fish days. It’s not only daytime, but night time that will produce.

While deadsticked worm rigs are the most popular spring offering for stripers, small plugs and plastics worked low and slow will also take their fair share of March stripers, especially considering our mild winter.

Where To Start?

Every year it seems as if the same batch of street ends and town beaches get the same big crowds that produce another banner catch of spring bass.  We’ve covered them in The Fisherman Magazine a number of times over the past 50 years, and they’re favorites on various social media pages.  But in terms of charting your personal piece of striper turf through the months of March and April, here’s how I would go about it.

As per coastwide regulations to ensure healthier release, non-offset circle hooks must be used with targeting striped bass with bait (bait being defined as any marine or aquatic organism live or dead, whole or parts thereof.) This regulation does not apply to artificial lures with bait attached. Striped bass caught using an unapproved method of take must be returned to the water immediately, without unnecessary injury

In New Jersey, the striped bass limit is one fish from 28 inches in length to less than 38 inches.  Keep in mind that from April 1 through May 31 no person may take, attempt to take, or have in possession any striped bass from the Delaware River and its tributaries from the upstream side of the Calhoun St. Bridge downstream to and including the Salem River and its tributaries.

For Delaware anglers, there’s a one fish bag limit and size range of 28 to 35 inches, except in Delaware Bay, River and its tributaries from July 1 through August 31  during which time angler limit is one fish from 20 to 25 inches during ‘summer slot’ season. There is no harvest permitted from Delaware spawning grounds from April 1 through May 31.

New York’s coastal regulations including the New York side of Raritan Bay is one fish per person, a 28- to 35-inch slot striper, starting April 15 and running through December 15.  In the Hudson River north of the George Washington Bridge, it’s one fish per person from 18 to 28 inches, open April 1 through November 30.

First, I’d look to the creeks that flow into the Raritan Bay, Barnegat Bay, Great Bay, Great Egg Harbor or Cape May Harbor and start looking at the tidal times, sunshine and moon phases. Check the tide charts in The Fisherman and adjust accordingly to the high tide hours and the outflowing tide by calculating the times the tide begins to move again in your respective areas of the backwaters you plan to fish.  For instance, if the Manasquan Inlet high tide is posted as 6 a.m., I know that in the Manasquan River back up past the Route 70 bridge there is a 1- to 1.5-hour difference for dead high; in that case I would be fishing around 8 to 8:30 a.m. out back.

I would look for moments of an outgoing tide along sod banks as the full and new moon tides will get warmed up in the shallow flooding to warm up and then target the areas in flats that lead into channel edges where bass will stage to feed as waters warm. I’m always prepared with a bait rod rigged with a worm rig to deadstick, then also wade out and cast into the channels with artificials to get any feeding bass on the prowl.

Just remember, your success is not determined on a certain “hot spot” or internet reports. It’s about you putting in the time to figure out when the bass will feed, which you will hopefully have figured out from this article. The payoff is going to your favorite back bay spot and putting in the time to realize the results.

Of course, look to The Fisherman for the weekly reports as to what’s being caught and where to determine where you want to spend your time. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Have at it!



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