Spring Stripers: 5th Month Bonanza! - The Fisherman

Spring Stripers: 5th Month Bonanza!

2018 5 5th Month Bonanza Fish
Early-on, small soft plastics like the Cocahoe minnow fished on 1/2-ounce jigheads produce good numbers of fish.

The first migrating stripers likely have already arrived to the shores of southern New England, arriving sometime in mid-April most years. Expectations are running very high after last year’s glut of schoolies. They should provide anglers with lots of fast, spring action, and these early fish are made for light tackle. Pair that light gear with small, single-hook artificials, and you’ve got the recipe for early-season success.

Early-season striper fishing usually does not play out like later in the year. You often hear the expression, “Find the bait and you’ll find the fish.” While there is usually very little bait around in the early spring, you can still find loads of stripers. I have to think that the fish at this time of the season are grubbing for what little exists along the bottom; shrimp, sparse amounts of bait, worms, etc., all stuff that isn’t visible to the fisherman. This leads to a key component in success in the early going, and that is to work the bottom.

Down Deep

There are no better lures to do this with than jigs of all kinds. Bucktail jigs, jigheads threaded with plastic fish bodies, flukes, curly tails and even Storm shads are all good choices. Bucktail jigs are made more effective when adding plastic curly tails, and I have found that the most effective spring bucktail jigs are the small ones. You can either buy or make these yourself, and when I make my own I keep things simple: white heads, white bucktail and red thread. The bucktail jig is bounced along the bottom with the rod tip as it is slowly retrieved.

2018 5 5th Month Bonanza Big Catch
As the month of May progresses, and inshore waters begin to warm, a switch to topwater offerings begin to produce larger fish like this 30-inch fish.

Many fishermen these days opt for plastics threaded onto small jigheads (Go for 1/2 ounce.). Plastics are equally convenient and effective at the same time. Along my home waters of the Rhode Island oceanfront and inside Narragansett Bay, there is no better offering than a white, fan-tailed Cocahoe minnow (3- or 4-inch) threaded onto a 1/2-ounce jighead. These same jigs are equally as productive across all of southern New England and beyond. Working a Cocahoe is a no-brainer: make a cast, let it sink to the bottom and reel it back. You might want to give the rod tip a twitch every once in a while as the action on this lure comes from the tail that kicks with a back-and-forth motion on the retrieve, and spring stripers can’t seem to resist hitting this lure.

At times I opt for fluke bodies on the same small jigheads as the Cocahoes. Four-inch fluke bodies such as a Zoom fluke in a light color are also effective bottom catchers. The fluke has little action to it so you might want to work this like a bucktail jig with pulls of the rod tip on the retrieve to give the lure a darting action in the water.

Teasers can also be very effective at this time of year when paired up with a jig. I like to add a small shrimp fly teaser tied off at the top swivel of my 2-foot leader. That teaser along with the jig gives the fish two different looks. Don’t be surprised if you land two fish at the same time, a common occurrence in the spring when using teasers and jigs.

All of the above lures are best fished on light tackle; 7- or 8-foot rods paired with small saltwater spinning reels will do the job. In some instances I use monofilament line because the mono is a better choice with light lures that tend to cause wind knots in braid; 10- or 12-pound test mono should get the job done in the early going. I also might use braid on my 8-foot rod and usually use slightly heavier lures with braid. My choice in this scenario is 30-pound Power Pro.

2018 5 5th Month Bonanza Catch
Two teasers and a jig resulted in the triple-header for Jon Pickering, the author’s son. Shrimp fly teasers paired with jigs can be very effective in the spring surf.

Up on Top

The warming waters of late April through May bring more bait, more stripers, and eventually some keepers add into the mix. Everything is getting more active at this time, and small plugs along with surface lures become more effective.

When the warmer weather arrives, I like to hit what I call “skinny” water. These are shallow areas where the sun heats the water quickly. Shallow coves, low water (under 10 feet) bays, and even shallow coastal ponds are now the prime areas to catch stripers. Arriving stripers will seek these warmer waters for warmth and food.

In those skinny spots, whether I am fishing from a boat or shore, I tend to go with topwater offerings, but small is still better. Hard, small plugs like Rebel Jumpin’ Minnows, small spooks and even small poppers tend to lure fish and result in some explosive surface action. One suggestion is to bend the barbs on the treble hooks that come on these plugs, or even replace them altogether with single hooks. It makes for easier catch and release and tends to cause less harm to the smaller fish.

Plastics on jigheads will still work in this skinny water, but those same plastics in a larger size can be worked up on top. Plastics like Slug-Gos (7-1/2-inch model) or large flukes can be threaded onto curved worm hooks or baitholder hooks and twitched on the surface. These are super-effective offerings and will often catch fish when other lures won’t even get a look.

While spring is often a time to catch lots and lots of schoolies, be aware that keeper stripers will often hit when least expected. I generally catch my first keeper of the year in late April or early May, and it often comes when I am fishing for schoolies. Out of the blue, a large fish will hit in a spot that is loaded with schoolies. Be ready for it since a keeper will put your light tackle to the test with drag-screaming runs.

We have had better success catching keepers from the boat in the early going than we’ve had from the shore in recent years. In late April and early May, schools of larger stripers (24 to 34 inches) follow schools of migrating bay anchovies into Narragansett Bay. The larger fish often slurp up these small morsels in a subtle feeding event in early morning. Watch for birds diving and fish whirling on the surface. The stripers are fussy when they do this, and only small lures will get them to hit. Last year we ran into this in an area of upper Narragansett Bay in early May and scored well using 3-inch Cocahoes on half-ounce jigheads. The fish were a mix of large schoolies and small keepers. We’ve seen this same thing happen in late April in warm years as well.

This year should be a banner one for stripers in the early going. The start should be loaded with schoolies with occasional small keepers to follow. Take the approach of going light with the tackle and small with the lures, and you should have loads of action from the shore and boat.

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