Striped bass are predator fish that often feed heavily when favorable conditions develop for them to hunt forage. The number one factor that will turn on a striper bite is the movement of current. I can’t tell you how many times during the beginning of a current stage I’ll drift over schools of stripers, clearly marked on my fishfinder. Drift after drift, I’ll mark the fish, but no bites will occur. Clearly, the stripers are simply not ready to feed. Suddenly, like a flick of a switch, the stripers turn on and begin feeding heavily drift after drift.
This scenario often repeats all season long when I’m working the Montauk rips in search of striped bass. The bait can be there and the stripers on station, but they won’t bite until the current moves at just the right speed for them. It has been my experience the trigger that starts the bite is when the current drift speed reaches about 1.5 knots, and usually the bite will stay steady until the drift speed passes 3.5 knots. With this fast drift the bites don’t really stop, but it’s tougher to hook up on the accelerated drift. Often, once the current drops after peak current movement, the stripers become easier to hook.
Current vs Tide
Current is the horizontal movement of water. Tide is the vertical movement of water. The horizontal movement of water is much more important to boating anglers, whereas surfcasters trying to wade to a sand bar or rock, will feel vertical movement of water is more important to them. A knowledgeable angler should realize that a tide may be high at a given location, but the current could still be coming in for up to another hour and a half. Why is this important? Say you want to clam chum a certain inlet sand bar for stripers. You dutifully check a tide chart to fish the out-going tide. The chart reveals high tide for said inlet is 12:30 p.m. In my experience, one would not have any productive outgoing current at such a location until about 2:30 p.m. If you arrived at 12:30 p.m. hoping to fish that out-going current, you’ll be waiting about two hours for the current to start ebbing. That could mean two hours of no action. I don’t know about you, but I hate those dead periods.
Effect on Tides and Current
As we approach a full or new moon the gravitational pull of the moon to earth is greater, and this is what causes higher and lower tides. In New York waters the time it takes to go from high to low tide, or low to high tide, is about six hours. On moon tidal periods, aka spring tides, the time span from low to high, or high to low is the same. However, the current must push faster on moon tides in order to move the increased volume of water from tide to tide.
Moon tides occur approximately every 14 days. So, every two weeks we either have a new or full moon. In my opinion, as a boating angler, the full moon and new moon both produce better striper fishing, and it’s the increased current flow during these times that is the key to this success.
In my home waters of Montauk, my optimal times for striper fishing success are the two days before the moon and five days on the downside. My poorest striper trips of the season are always during the current stages that occur right smack in the middle of neap tides. That being said, in other areas on Long Island the “moons” may not always produce optimal conditions, but I don’t believe this poor fishing has anything to do with current strength. The biggest obstacles I faced when I roamed the West End Bays for stripers was caused by the higher tides on the summer moons. As a moon flood tide washed over marshes, the water filled with seaweed, and when the tide ebbed the water would become fouled with lots of weed. In the spring and fall, seaweed production is much less, so weed was rarely a problem. In fact, my favorite moons to fish stripers in south shore inlets, and bridges, was on the moon ebb tides that occurred from Halloween to Thanksgiving.
New Moon vs Full Moon
I often get the question; do I prefer to fish for stripers on the new moon or full moon? My answer is…both. I can’t stress enough that it’s the strength of the current during moon tides that causes stripers to feed more actively. This heavier feeding happens on both day and night tides, so the extra, or lack of moon light has little effect on striper fishing.
On the night of the new moon, the sky is very dark. Many anglers feel that a new moon night produces poor striper fishing because of “fire in the water,” caused by the bioluminescent generated by plankton being disturbed. Truthfully, I only notice “fire” during August and early September when area waters are at the warmest. Even so, I have had many good nights striper fishing with fire in the water when I could see bass “streaking green” in about 15 feet of water. One more note about the new moon: the nights leading up to and after the actual night of the new moon will have a sliver of moon providing some light, and it takes very little moon light to cancel out “fire” in the water.
The nights around the full moon definitely have more moon light than the nights of the new moon. On a personal side, I prefer these nights because I can see more easily while out on the water. That being said, throw in some cloud cover, and much of the light benefit of a full moon is lost.
I do notice that there are periodic times when the bite is slow around the full moon currents, but the bite often ignites once the moon begins to climb the Eastern sky. I see this happening time and time again, so it’s not a coincidence that a rising moon can ignite the bite.
A final thought before closing. It can be quite bright out on the water at night when in between moon tides. Believe me, one can see quite well out on the water when there is just a crescent moon in the night sky. So, if a good bite was just about moonlight, the bass fishing should be good under a crescent moon, but in my experience the striper fishing is usually poor because the current is soft, and the bass just never seem to turn on.