The 2022 Northeast Striped Bass Study is off and running.
While I haven’t been with the Northeast Striped Bass Study from the beginning in early 2019, I got my first taste of the excitement firsthand last fall when The Fisherman’s publisher and owner, Mike Caruso and I went on a trip to the Westhampton Beach area to find a needle in a haystack – or in literal words, a satellite tag in a seaweed stack.
That tag – fixed to a 44-inch striped bass named Hail Mary – was deployed on June 17 aboard Chuck Many’s Tyman off Romer Shoal in Raritan Bay. The fact that I found the tag from a fish caught by Lee Wakefield, who just so happens to be a friend of mine, makes the connection for me even more personal.
That particular tag that Mike (I give more of the credit to Mike because he actually found it) and I found was hitching a ride on Hail Mary for 95 days before it was dislodged. Once the tag started to ping back to the satellite, Roxanne Willmer from Gray Fishtag Research notified us of the general tag location on September 27th. That’s when I got the call from Mike to take a half-hour drive to the stretch of beach where the latest ping was coming from.
Hail Mary stayed true to her name because within 15 minutes the device was located. Which is also a testament to the accuracy of tracking capability of the satellite.
The study always interested me but it was this unbelievable recovery that truly made me a part of the study on a more personal level. Next up was getting on a boat and participating in the tagging portion of the study for myself.
Off To The Garden State
A new year had arrived and along with it was a set of new MiniPAT (pop-up satellite archival tags) devices to use for the 2022 study. I got the phone call that I would be participating in the first mission of the year which would take place on May 12th. Finally I was able to participate in the tagging action firsthand and meet all the people who made this possible. We rolled into town on the 11th and our destination was the Highlands area in New Jersey where we’d meet up with the crew from Gray Fishtag Research (GFR) along with various captains and representatives from sponsors such as Van Staal, PENN, Fin-Nor, Simrad, CAT Marine, American Fishing Wire and Seaguar.
During the captains meeting at Dave Glassberg’s soon-to-open Ross Brewing Co. in Belford, NJ – and whose boat I was also riding aboard for the tagging expedition – I finally got to meet Chuck Many for the first time who has been social media friends with me for quite some time now. Chuck’s has been involved in the study since almost the beginning and has been responsible for the tagging several of the fish in the study, including Hail Mary. We hit it off right away, sharing some of our recent catches with each other while vowing to fish together in the future.
After some bantering over drinks between all the participants, GFR president Bill Dobbelaer laid down the rules for the following day’s tagging. Following up what Bill had to say, GFR tagging director Roxanne Willmer gave a rundown on the tags being used for the day. Seven boats were participating in the tagging, all equipped with green streamer tags.
For those who are unaware, when a fish with a streamer tag is recaptured, the information on that tag can be sent in to find out where it was originally tagged. Not as advanced as the MiniPATs but it does add small pieces to the puzzle and also any angler can get involved and tag with the streamer tags themselves. Two boats were equipped with MiniPAT units and one boat was given an mrPSAT (mark record tag) to use that records only the tagged location and the detachment location.
Up early and off we were to Bahr’s Landing restaurant and marina where we met up with our boats, crew and captain. I couldn’t help but notice the historic fishing fleet all gassing up and heading out for the day as the marina is home to many commercial clammers. At the end of the dock all six of the boats participating in the tagging were lined up waiting for everyone to board. We were riding in style that day as I would be on Dave’s SeaVee equipped with triple Yamaha 300 HP outboards. On the boat I was joined by the familiar faces of New Jersey, Delaware Bay edition managing editor Jim Hutchinson, Jr. and Van Staal representative Craig Cantelmo.
Personally, I attempted to catch the candidate fish using the light tackle snap-jigging method that works excellent back on my home turf, but the setting was different and the fish were keyed in on live bunker. Dave showed up that day well prepared, knowing what works perfectly in his area with a livewell full of striper treats. What seemed like a short ride, which was probably much longer but was cut down due to the 900 horses on the back of the boat put us a little ways down the Shrewsbury River into some prime rips and drop-offs that have been holding prime candidates for tagging according to Dave. For those who are just joining us on the journey, we have set the bar at 38 inches as a minimum size for a satellite tagging candidate, large enough to carry the larger MiniPAT; green streamer tags on the other hand can be deployed on any size striper.
Chuck’s boat, the Tyman, was in a close vicinity to us, and right away the fishfinder lit up as we traveled over the distinct rips that were showing themselves on the surface of the water. We set up our drift to allow the flood tide carry us back over the spots where we marked stripers. Bunker rigged on circle hooks went in the water and a short time afterwards, our live baits became very “nervous”—typically a sign of a predator close behind. Those live bunkers got popped on the surface of the water and after letting the striper carry away the bait for a few moments, Dave reeled down into the engulfed bunker perfectly setting the circle hook into the striper’s jaw. Our first 31-3/4-inch fish landed was short of the desired mark for a MiniPAT but it got the streamer tag treatment and we sent it back on its was for another angler to recapture and report down the road.
After repeating this process a few times, we lost the flood tide and soon afterwards the tide started to ebb. In the near distance away was Chuck’s boat and crew. All of the sudden we looked up at the sound of a cheer and saw the crew on Chuck’s boat high-fiving each other. Of course the only logical explanation was they found what they were looking for—a striper worthy of the MiniPAT. Named Pappy Jim, in honor of American Fishing Wire’s co-founder James F. Clark. The healthy 40-inch striper swam away strong after some quick details were recorded. In approximately three months, that MiniPSAT should detach from Pappy Jim, float up, and it will begin to transmit a ping to the satellite which will send a general location of the tag to GFR for the duration of its battery life.
If the tag is recaptured like previous ones, the data regained will be tenfold comparative to a MiniPAT that isn’t recaptured before the pings cease. This information is so important that GFR puts a $250 bounty on that tag when it starts to ping. Its locations are released by The Fisherman Magazine’s social media channels when the event occurs.
They call it fishing for a reason and well, all boats that day caught and tagged 75 stripers with the green streamer tags but that sole fish—Pappy Jim was the only one of the day that received a MiniPAT. The tag on our vessel was never deployed on the 12th. That third device, the mrPSAT, did get deployed on Capt. Frank Wagenhoffer’s Fin Chaser by Frank Garcia of Seaguar – the 40-inch striper was appropriately named Seaguar Striper.
Finishing The Job
One tag still had yet to be deployed after the 12th and who other than Chuck Many to do the job. It didn’t take long at all because just three days after the event on the 12th, Chuck and Bob Bowden aboard the Tyman tagged a 48-inch, 42-pound striper that was given the name Van Staal on the 15th of May. To Chuck’s surprise, the cow striper was already carrying a red streamer tag.
After recording the information from the red tag, it was sent off to Roxanne who after some further research said the fish that was satellite tagged on May 15 off Sandy Hook by Chuck and Bob was originally tagged with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on February 5, 2017. “It was one of 240 fish tagged that day and it was tagged offshore (25 miles) of Virginia,” Roxanne noted.
At the time of the initial tagging in 2017, the fish measured 40.6 inches; in the 1925 days that the large striper was swimming it nearly grew 8 inches. It was also concluded that the fish was originally tagged with the red streamer tag on Capt. Ryan Rogers boat the Midnight Sun. To add to the excitement, Chuck had been volunteering with the Virginia-based tagging program at the time and was on Capt. Ryan’s boat at some point during the 2017 tagging operation.
To think that the angler who initially caught and tagged the fish five years prior would cross paths with that fish roughly 250 miles north where he could tag it again is simply astounding. Talk about a small ocean!
Striped bass conservation is a rapidly growing movement and without Gray Fishtag Research, the many sponsors involved, or everyday anglers, it wouldn’t be possible. I had a brief conversation with Roxanne where she disclosed some astounding numbers that prove how far the movement has come in recent years. In 2019 only 33 striped bass were tagged using green streamer tags that are provided by GFR. In 2021 that number increased to over 1,200 stripers tagged making stripers the number one tagged species in the program.
To follow along and read more about the Northeast Striped Bass Tagging visit www.thefisherman.com/category/striped-bass-study.