• Published:October 9, 2015
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The Northeast provides the ultimate striped bass habitat. The convergence of the warm Gulf Stream and the cool Labrador Current creates a uniquely fertile environment that sustains a large variety of baitfish both offshore and inshore. When you add the jagged northeast coastline, strong tides, scattered rocky bottoms, estuarine back-bays and river outlets, you end up with a super highway for hungry stripers.

With the exception of some year-round holdovers, striped bass are most heavily targeted during two major phases of their migratory movements -- the spring and fall.

In the spring, the bass have just finished spawning and begin migrating north to replenish some much needed calories by feeding on larger baitfish like herring, menhaden and squid. During this migration the striped bass tend to break off into smaller groups and push up into the shallow warmer waters of the back bays and estuarine environments where they can hunt and feed during the stronger phases of the tide. The fish cover a lot of ground, working specific structure points and breaks in the tide where they can ambush pods of bait. During this spring influx the fish are slightly low on gas and while they are feeding actively, they are a little more reserved.

When the warm days of summer come to a swift end, the winds begin to shift, the days become shorter and the nights grow colder. As if flipping a switch this change triggers an unprecedented chain of events. Hordes of bait, including herring, peanut menhaden, anchovies, butterfish and mackerel flood the inshore coastline in massive schools of what I like to call “meat clouds!”

The internal timers inside the stripers activate and they begin to vacate their summer spots and form large schools of their own. As they ready for the long journey south to the winter grounds they have one thing on their mind, food! This equation creates a much more intense scenario than the spring run and the waters become a feeding frenzy.

FALL TACTICS

Just because the fish are feeding hard in the fall does not me you can place a sock on a hook and get tight. It’s best to take a page out of the fly anglers handbook and focus on matching the hatch. The fall stripers key in on specific baits and will literally get tunnel vision and become oblivious to any other objects in their path.

Fancy paint jobs, sexy twitching, rattles, big eyes, it doesn’t matter. If your offering doesn’t match the appearance and or behavior of the forage at hand, you’ll be in for a short day on the water and a long night at the bar. Look at the bait the fish are feeding on in the surf or out into the water ahead of you and try to match the bait’s profile, colors or movements (or all three) for better results.

Targeting stripers will vary with time of day, technique and tide phase. As a casting, light-tackle enthusiast, I enjoy targeting these fish during the day during the harder phases of the tide. We’ll cast into the penned up bait and score multiple hook ups. When the tides weaken we change to a more leapfrog approach. We’ll motor up-sea of the action, take the boat out of gear and quietly drift directly into the path of our targets. We’ll get tight on as many as time allows, then motor back around the school in a wide arc so we don’t disrupt their movements or behavior.

GEAR UP

Spinning rods in the 12- to 20-pound class with a medium to medium-heavy action such as Shimano’s 7-foot Northeast Teramar Series, matched up with high-performance spinning reels like Shimano’s Saragosa, Stradic or Twinpower series reels in the 4000-5000 size work great. We spool up with 15- to 30-pound PowerPro and varying leaders of 15- to 30-pound fluorocarbon using an FG knot.

The terminal end of the fluoro is tied to a split-ring quick clip or directly to the lure via a Palomar knot. For lures we stock a variety to match the baitfish encountered ranging from bay anchovies and menhaden to sandeels. The solid producers range from detailed baits like the Shimano Waxwing and Diawa Salt Pro Minnow and Storm swim shads to some of the more simple but lethally effective baits that focus on profile and action like the 4- and 6-inch RonZ, white bucktails and soft plastics.

When the bass key in on larger baits near the surface, lures like the Gibbs Glider, the Strategic Angler MIKROS and the Shimano Orca work best. Again focus on matching your presentation to the food source and water conditions.

FINDING FISH

If the grounds get crowded and idiots start running through the schools of fish, it’s time to explore some other options. Pick up the binoculars and do a sweep of the horizon. Chances are it won’t take long for you to find another bust-up to divert your efforts to. If you can’t shake the googans or the surface bites seem to dissolve all together you can switch to option number two, by using the fishfinder to locate bass and target them deeper.

If the wind and tide are working together this is an ideal scenario to cruise around checking structure and the adjacent open water to locate concentrations of fish. I find its best to go over the bite zones and verify the marks a couple of times to be sure the fish are holding in that general area. Then motor up tide and set your drift so the boat moves directly over the top of the school.  Fish deep spots with jigs, diving lures or natural baits. Continue the drift until you stop marking, then move back over the submerged school and again, slightly up tide to repeat the approach.




DRIFT AND DROP


With the drift-and-drop approach most anglers immediately switch to a live bait offering and the American brown eel is the most readily available. The key with this strategy is to get your bait to the bottom using a three-way swivel or sliding fish-finder rig then quickly lift your bait up about a rods length off the bottom and hover it there. This positions your bait in the strike zone for any fish using subsurface cover to ambush prey. If the water column is loaded up, your poor eel will never make it to the sea floor. It will get smashed on the way down.

We like to use 15- to 30-pound class rods that are 7 to 7.5 feet with a fast tip to compensate for the up and down battle. The Shimano Teramar addresses this fishery with the TMSE70H, we also have started using custom rods designed by Crafty One Customs for targeting vertical bass using the new Black Widow 150-gram blank by Jigging World Corp. Lots of action with lots of lift. The Shimano Thunnus size 6000 to 8000 work well as they can quickly switch between lure casting and live-lining baits. These reels are spooled with 30-pound PowerPro for depth precision, but occasionally we’ll fill one with 20-pound mono for phases of the tide where braided line seems to be less effective than mono.

Regardless of line choice you’ll need to attach a weight to the line to get it down to the fish and a fluorocarbon leader will get more strikes. Attaching a rubber core inline sinker to the line will work as will an inline egg sinker on a swivel. We’ll also use a fish-finder rig to attach a bank sinker then a swivel and leader. All of these options will produce fish. Just use what you’re comfortable with. Our crew is less fond of unnecessary hardware so we actually use a Uni-to-Uni Knot knot to attach our leader to our fluoro, then trim all but one of the tag ends off. To that short tag end we tie a bank sinker using a series of crude half hitches.

At the terminal end of the leader we snell or use a Palomar knot to attach a 5/0 to 6/0 Gamakatsu Octopus J or circle hook. Then the eels are attached by placing the hook underneath the jaw and out between the eyes. Other options for live bait include scup herring, mackerel, shad and menhaden. Baits are best rigged via a bridle rig in front of the eyes or hooked just below the surface of the skin on the dorsal side of the fish just behind the eyes. Should the bass move higher in the water column or back to the surface for feeding, simply remove the weight from the rig and allow the baits to swim freely down tide to the strike zone.

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