A guide to being in the right place at the right time when it comes time to score that trophy cow.
Trophy striped bass are the target of many impassioned anglers who ply the waters of the Striper Coast. This crazed pursuit of big bass is a fishing fever in the truest sense of the word, with the only cures being a bucking rod and a screaming drag. I’ve been obsessed with striped bass fishing since I was a young boy in the early ‘70s. My fever was created and fueled by the pages of this publication, then known as The Long Island Fisherman, and also from other classic outdoor publications such Salt Water Sportsman and Outdoor Life. It was through these words and pictures that I was able to set a path that eventually led me to having the skills needed to catch big stripers on a consistent basis.
In my experience, catching big stripers – those over 30pounds – is hardly ever easy. Stripers this size are hefty fish that possess lots of power, and these two qualities will test your tackle and fishing skills. That being said, I’ll admit there are times when hooking big stripers can seem to be “too easy,” but that is the exception. More often than not, stripers are cunning, tough to find, and a real challenge to get into the boat. I’ll readily admitthat stripers often drive me crazy with frustration. So much so that each season there are times I’ll mutter to myself, “I hate these friggin fish.” At the same time, I do love everything about striper fishing, and it’s this relationship dichotomyI have with stripers that will always keep my “fever” high.
Normally, stripers school together with fish in a similar size range. So, at times, the biggest skill one needs to catch trophy stripers is knowing when to be in the right place at the right time. Fortunately (or unfortunately), social media has taken much of the mystery out of the dogged pursuit of trophy striped bass. By making friends with fishermen up and down the coast on Facebook, one can easily follow the migration of big stripers.
According to some sources, about 70 percent of our big stripers come from the Chesapeake Bay strain of fish. The remaining 30 percent come from the likes of the Hudson River, Delaware River, and Connecticut River. The biggest striped bass are all females, and a great majority of mature females return to the tributaries of their birth each spring to spawn. Most of this activity takes place from late March to the end of May. Once a female spawns she heads from freshwater back to the ocean, bays and creeks and her mission in life changes from spawning to feeding. This is the spring migration that picks up steam in Western Long Island waters sometime in April. Areas such as Little Neck and Manhasset bays will be the first to see post spawn, feeding Hudson fish. Right about the same time South Shore areas such as Jamaica Bay, and ocean beaches from the Rockaways to Long Beach will also see big bass feeding on bunker schools by early May.
Just looking at the migration route of Chesapeake stripers it’s not a great leap of faith to believe most South Shore fish are from the Chesapeake Bay. However, this is not written in stone and some Chesapeake Bay stripers will travel through the New York Bight and enter Long Island Sound via the East River. In relation, some Hudson fish will come down river and enter the Sound, but some will also continue south and migrate along the south shore via Roamer Shoal and Ambrose Channel.
If you are a striper angler and want to get in on the early run of big stripers, the areas to concentrate your efforts on in the spring are around the bunker schools that can be found on both shores of Long Island’s West End into early June. Big bass like easy meals and they will stay on these bunker until the waters warm too much for their liking around mid-June. Both shores of middle and western Long Island should have a decent bite of big bass by mid to late June.
In recent years, the East End (Shinnecock to Montauk) hasnot seen any numbers of big bass arrive until July. I fish Montauk almost exclusively now, and watching this drawn out, plodding migration of stripers to my home waters is mind-numbingly slow to me. That being said, the East End is not devoid of stripersduring May and June, but the action is made up mostly of fish ranging from 26 to 34inches.
I used to catch some nice big bass in Montauk, especially on night tides, during mid-June, but the last few years this bite has been lacking. I think the main reason for the delayed arrival of big bass to the East End is because of the exploding bunker population on the West End. As mentioned earlier, big bass love feeding on these big baitfish, and the only reason bass will leave the easy pickings is when the water temperature becomes too warm for their liking. That being said, by the first full or new moon in July it’s game on for trophy stripers in Montauk and Orient points. The bulk of the migration will continue in the summer, with many big bass going all the way up the coast to the waters of Massachusetts and Maine. However, many schools of big stripers will stop their migrating and take up a summer residence in the cool, bait filled waters of Orient Point, Montauk, and Block Island.
The second moon (full or new) in September usually triggers the fall run of big bass. Montauk and Block Island waters will be the first to see a new influx of big bass in mid-September. Schools of East End resident big bass will now be bolstered with more big fish traveling south from points north. Of all the striper schools migrating pass the East End, the first to move west will always be the trophy sized bass, and by the first moon in October most trophy sized fish are there and gone from East End waters.
With stripers, the fall run is always about the bait. If bait schools migrate in close to both shores of Long Island, then surfcasters can get in on some good casting sessions with assorted sized stripers. If the bait migrates in deep water, then surfcasters will know mostly frustration while the boat anglers are able to bend rods by chasing big bass right out to the 3-mile limit if need be.
The last few years for most of Long Island, the fall migration now seems to peak in early November. Great diamond jigging action on big bass has recently occurred in early November from Moriches to Fire Island inlets. By mid-month, Fire Island to the Rockaways will see their best shots at big bass. If these are your home waters, I’d suggest fishing hard when fickle fall weather allows, because the big girls aren’t going to stick around long, and soon the big girls will flee New York waters for the warmer waters of New Jersey and points south.
So, one can see that the successful pursuit of big bass often means following an established set of migration patterns. In some areas trophy bass are only available for a short time, and if one wishes to cure the “fever,” I suggest fishing hard and often in the right spots at the right times.
Please remember when pursuing big bass to maintain your cool and respect your fellow anglers. After all, it is only a fish, and these fish belong to all. Never keep more fish than your limit, and even so, it’s not necessary to keep a big fish every time the law allows the keeping of one. Proper catch and release is the only way to keep the big bass population healthy. The pressure put on trophy stripers along the Striper Coast is excessive, and it’s up to all of us to do our part to help ensure the longtime health of the fishery.