Category Archives: Striped Bass and Hybrid Bass Fishing

Striped Bass

The Scoop on Striped Bass

by Petty Officer 2nd Class Nate Littlejohn, U.S.C.G.
from the Fishing Wire

Fishing a bridge

Fishing a bridge

John Miller of Farmville, Va., tries his luck at striped bass fishing in the Lafayette River in Norfolk, Va., under the Hampton Boulevard Bridge. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Nate Littlejohn)

A cluster of small boats gather toward the end of an ebb tide on a dreary November evening in Norfolk, Virginia. Fishermen, clad in rain slickers, cast their lines toward pilings and retrieve them in silence. There’s no chatter among them – an entire day spent on the water exhausted their conversations. They’re focused on one thing – their target species, the Atlantic striped bass, though nobody’s landed one today. Suddenly, the song of a reel zings out over the rushing water as a striper is hooked and begins what might be the fight for its life. “Hooked up!” exclaims an angler, finally breaking the silence with words they all yearn to shout. The fish peels just enough line to make a beeline for a piling, wrapping the monofilament against the barnacles plastered to it like living razor blades. The line snaps, leaving the fisherman to grieve in the gloomy dusk.

For anglers across the U.S., the challenge of locating and landing stripers is what keeps them coming back for more.

“Striped bass are an elusive fish,” said Dwight Ocheltree, a striper fishing enthusiast and employee at Greg’s Bait Shack in Portsmouth, Virginia. His statement applies in more ways than one.

Striper fishermen know finding these fish isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s a patience game of waiting for them to show up or to start feeding. Then there’s the challenge of landing one after it’s been hooked.

“Stripers love structure,” said Ocheltree. “Bridges, pilings – places they can stay out of sight and ambush their prey. Fishing around structure takes skill that comes with experience. The first thing a hooked striper will do is try to retreat behind structure, and that means breaking the line if you aren’t prepared.”

Talking about fishing

Talking about fishing

According to Ocheltree, once a fisherman lands a striper for the first time, it’s then he or she who will be hooked.

“Once you land one, you’ll be back for more,” he said. “If you’ve been trying but aren’t catching any, keep at it. Keep plugging. You’re one cast away from the best day of your life!” Anglers hoping to catch “the big one” are drawn to waters off the Mid-Atlantic coast, where laws aimed at protecting the species are different that those close to shore.

Coast Guardsmen, charged with protecting living marine resources, enforce an important federal law designed to protect the Atlantic striped bass population.

“The Atlantic striped bass is managed through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, an interstate organization designed to ensure states along the eastern seaboard manage their shared fishery resources through cooperative stewardship,” said Patricia Bennett, deputy enforcement chief for the 5th Coast Guard District in Portsmouth. “It is illegal to possess or target the Atlantic striped bass in federal waters, which begin three miles from shore. In state waters – waters less than three miles from the coast – each state has its own laws designed to protect stripers. Even though the Coast Guard does not enforce those state laws, if we find a violation at the state level, we may notify state authorities.”

“The three-mile line is clearly marked on nautical charts,” said Master Chief Petty Officer Stephen Atchley, captain aboard Coast Guard Cutter Cochito out of Portsmouth. “With all the modern navigation equipment, it is every mariners responsibility to know where they are when they are on the water. That means knowing if you’re fishing in state or federal waters.”

“I’m a fisherman myself,” said Atchley. “I’ve fished my entire life. I want there to be fish for my family and for future generations.”

While striped bass fishermen are responsible for understanding and following both state and federal regulations, the majority of these anglers will never venture near the three mile mark, fishing closer to shore in rivers and bays.

“Some people think you need a boat to catch stripers,” said Ocheltree. “You don’t. You can catch striped bass from shore. In fact, that’s how many people prefer to fish them.”

One particular characteristic of the species helps make it the preferred target for so many. Stripers are anadromous – they’re born in fresh water, migrate to the ocean, then return to fresh water to spawn. This means anglers can catch them in rivers that run through cities – they’re a popular urban game fish. Their ability to acclimate and survive in entirely freshwater ecosystems led humans to introduce the species to completely landlocked lakes and ponds. Striped bass can be found throughout the country and are among the most targeted of all game fish.

November usually means striper season arrived here in the Mid-Atlantic. As water temperatures begin to decline, the action should increase. “If you want to catch a striper, you just have to go out and do it,” said Ocheltree. “Put in your time. Talk to other fishermen. Listen to the people at bait shops and at the boat ramps. Every year I learn something new from someone different.”

Catching Hybrids While Trying To Catch Bass At West Point

If someone told me the fishing would be worse at West Point for the Flint River tournament last Sunday than it had been two weeks before in the Sportsman Club tournament I would not have believed them. I could not believe it would get harder to catch a bass, but it was.

In eight hot hours of casting 13 members and guests of the club brought in nine keeper bass weighing about 15 pounds. There were no limits and eight people didn’t catch a keeper. Only four of the bass were largemouth.

Niles Murray had two nice largemouth weighing 7.32 pounds for first and the one that weighed 5.82 pounds was big fish. My four, three spots and one largemouth, weighing 4.47 pounds was second, Jack Ridgeway, Niles partner, had one largemouth weighing 3.46 pounds for third and Chuck Croft had a spot weighing 1.43 pounds for fourth. My partner Jordan McDonald had a spot weighing .95 pounds for fifth and that was it!

Jordan and I started on a bank where I have caught fish before, hoping a bass would be feeding at daylight. We tried a variety of baits and Jordan got one hit on a topwater plug but missed it. After about 45 minutes as we worked out to a hump off that bank Jordan spotted schooling fish hitting on top across the creek.

I told him they looked like hybrids and, based on where they were feeding over deep water, I was sure they were. But we went over there and sure enough Jordan caught several hybrids on a jerkbait and I missed a few on a topwater plug that was too big for them to eat. Then Jordan hooked a strong fish that fought for a long time before pulling off.

We tried some more humps near deep water without a bite. Then we went to the point where I had caught two good largemouth two weeks before. The baitfish were still there and fish were under them, just like before, and we got some bites, but all we caught was a six inch spot and a warmouth.

About 9:30 we went to a roadbed and fished it hard and caught a couple of short spots on jig head worms.
Right at 11:00 I caught a 13 inch spot and then landed a second one the same size in the very next cast. Although we stayed there for over an hour we didn’t get another bite.

Just after noon we went to another point where I had caught a spot two weeks before and I saw baitfish with fish holding under them in 18 feet of water. I got a hit on my drop shot worm under them and landed a keeper largemouth. As soon as I put it in the livewell I dropped my bait to the bottom, felt a fish start swimming with it, set the hook and broke my line.

I have no idea why it broke. Although I was using only eight pound test line the first fish had pulled drag without breaking it. On the second fish my line popped with almost no pressure. I may have nicked it while unhooking the first fish.

At 1:00, with an hour left to fish, we ran to a brush pile in deep water where we had seen fish two weeks before but had not been able to catch anything. We rode over it and saw a lot of fish holding on it on the depthfinder.

I put out a marker and as soon as Jordan’s dropshot hit bottom he caught his keeper. While he was putting it in the livewell I dropped my bait down and caught my fourth keeper. Although we stayed there until we had to go in at 2:00 we did not get another bite. That was frustrating because we could see the fish holding around the brush but they would not bite.

I can’t recommend a bass fishing trip to West Point right now, but if you want to catch some hybrids it would be a good choice. The big school we saw was in the mouth of Turner Creek, just behind the island in the mouth of it.

Be there at first light and they will hit small topwater plugs, jerk baits, spoons and crankbaits. After the sun gets up and they quit schooling on top they will suspend over the channel and you can jig for them with spoons or bucktails, or catch them on live bait. You should be able to spot them on a depthfinder holding about 20 feet deep.

Hybrids fight hard and most of them will be fairly small, around two pounds. But the one Jordan lost was much bigger and you will have some of them, too. I don’t eat many hybrids since they taste so strong, but some folks like them fried.

When I do cook them I put filets from a three or four pounder in a pan, cover them with bacon strips and onion rings and bake them for about 45 minutes. I do like them cooked that way. The bacon and onions give them a good flavor and takes the strong fishy taste out of them.

How Can I Catch White Bass?

A Cast to the Other Bass white bass

Overlooked and underappreciated, white bass are a blast

By Mitch Eeagan

You’d be hard-pressed to find an avid angler who doesn’t recognize bass as the most sought-after sport fish in North America. We all have our favorite fish, but statistics prove that bass are #1.

Overlooked and underappreciated, however, is a bass of a different color. Its DNA differs from the most popular, yet the species roams a majority of waterways throughout the lands. I’m talkin’ white bass…. And they are a blast to catch.

Mae Edlund and White Bass

Mae Edlund and White Bass

Eight-year-old Mae Edlund is all smiles during the Mississippi River white bass blitz! An H20 Precision Jig and minnow or B Fish N Tackle Pulse-R is like candy to these voracious pelagics!

White bass fans look forward to massive spring spawning runs in rivers that connect to the large natural lakes and reservoirs the fish call home during the rest of the year. But after the run, most anglers set their sights on other species.

So why are they summer’s Rodney Dangerfield, earning such little respect?

It can’t be their unwillingness to whack a vibrating or flashing lure. The fact is, white bass have voracious appetites, and once schools are located, the catching comes quite easy.

It’s certainly not what they lack during battle. White bass zig-zag and power-dive straight for the fathoms. And, by far, it’s not their poor table fare. On the contrary, white bass make for good eats if you ice ‘em right away or keep them in a well-aerated livewell – and then remove all the red-colored flesh when filleted.

More than likely, it’s simply because they aren’t easy to find come summertime. Just like their saltwater cousins, the striped bass, white bass turn pelagic. They don’t dwell near bottom or hug shoreline structure, making them more difficult to find. Instead, white bass rove high in the water column and create havoc with pods of nomadic baitfish.

Or maybe they’re simply not trendy enough to target. But that’s about to change.

When the lovin’ is over

Enter ardent angler Jim Edlund, who is far from troubled to speak in favor of targeting white bass. The Minnesota-based outdoor writer says he fishes white bass every chance he gets, and now coaches his daughters on how to catch them year-round; even well after the massive spawning migrations have ended.

“Springtime is primetime, typically when water temps are in that 50 to 60 degree range. Fish a day or two before, on, or immediate after a full moon and you’re really rocking. That’s when the spawn is in full-swing. It’s the perfect bite to get kids really excited about fishing. Not surprising, my kids are big fans of white bass,” says Edlund

Although spring can be easy pickings, Edlund says good electronics can help you find white bass the rest of the year.

“Despite all the pretty pictures of bridges and sunken boats you see in the advertising, what Side Imaging really does is minimize the amount of time it takes to find fish,” says Edlund. “I simply idle around river points, sandbars, feeder creeks and watch for white splotches of bait and fish on my SI screen. Once I see life, I scroll the cursor over the spot and boom, there’s the waypoint on my LakeMaster map. This lets me back off and idle into the spot from upwind with my Minn Kota and get the kids casting without spooking them.”

A fan of river fishing from a small, aluminum Lund that’s taken years of abuse, Edlund calls his system “high-tech, old-school.”

“To think that a guy can get Side Imaging, Down Imaging, mapping and 2D sonar for under $500 is awesome. Fishing with the Humminbird Helix SI GPS is like drinking Don Perignon on a Boone’s Farm budget.”

As Edlund nears the waypoints he marked on Side Imaging, he switches to split-screen view of 2D sonar and LakeMaster map, noting the depth marks start appearing, more than likely the same depth white bass will move into if the wind kicks up and waves roll over sunken islands or points adjacent to the deeper water.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped jigging walleyes on the Mississippi River to chase a school of white bass. I have buddies who just shake their heads. Then out comes the casting stick for as long as the whities will play along.

“Same goes for North Dakota’s Devils Lake. Take a break from walleyes and survey a few windswept shorelines with Side Imaging until we find fish; doesn’t take long. And they’re giants out there. They’re just too much fun to be ignored, especially with kids in the boat. My new plan is throwing Clousers at ‘em with a 4 or 5 weight fly rod. That should be a hoot!”

Overall, once white bass have spawned, they move out into the main lake and can be found in areas with a turbid layer over ultra-clear water. In reservoirs, both bait and bass are often found along the old river and creek channels. In natural lakes, white bass tend to hover over main-lake flats. It’s in these areas you may see baitfish leaping for their lives, indicating there are white bass below attacking the clan.

“Although electronics are great, always pay attention to what’s going on around you, like busting bait and surfacing fish. And watch where the birds are feeding on the water,” says Edlund.

Once it’s determined the bass are at the surface or just below, it’s time to cast into the chaos.

Fin-Wing Lure

Fin-Wing Lure

Fluttered deep or burned across the surface, the Fin-Wing is a nemesis to white bass

Gearing up

Lures and gear should be beefed up from what one might expect when catching fish that range from 1-4 pounds. Because white bass feed on shad and shiners, lures that match the size of the baitfish are best. Vibration and flash are key as well.

Soft jerkbaits with large paddle tails, such as 3.5-inch Castaic Jerky J Swim Series and Custom Jigs & Spins 3.25-inch Pulse-R Paddle Tail, rigged onto a jig head with a narrow shape like an H20 Precision Jig, or the Rapala Ultra-Light Rippin’ Rap are some of Edlund’s favorite baits to cast. He throws them with 10-pound-test superline and an 8-pound-test fluorocarbon leader on a fast-action medium-power St. Croix AVID-X spinning rod.

“I could use lighter gear, but I don’t like to baby ‘em. Plus, it’s a numbers thing; I want to boat the fish without any unnecessary ballet and get right back out to hot fish. Plus, these same river spots can produce some big ‘eyes, smallies, cats … when there’s a lot of bait getting slashed, your next fish could be anything,” says Edlund

Spinners are also a great choice for whities, with number-3 and -4 Mepps Aglia in-line spinners mainstays. Spoons with a wide wobble that can be fished both fast and slow and can be stopped and fluttered on the fall, such as a size-1 Fin-Wing or Custom Jigs & Spins Pro Series Slender Spoon, work wonders, too.

Cast, retrieve, repeat

Overlooked and underappreciated? That’s the white bass. Once located high in the water column, catching them is straightforward – just cast, retrieve and repeat. Once you land a few you’ll realize just why white bass should rank right up there with black and brown bass.

Jason Halfen with White Bass

Jason Halfen with White Bass

Jason Halfen with a chunky and spunky white bass snared on a Fin-Wing

Mitch Eeagan is a writer that lives off the land and water, who resides in the heart of the mosquito-filled cedar swamps of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

How Can I Get Ready for Spring Stripers?

Yamaha Tips: Get Ready for Spring Stripers
from The Fishing Wire

Use soft  natural baits

Use soft natural baits

Big stripers like this one may prefer soft natural baits early in the season, especially in murky water.

It’s been a brutal winter for most of the Mid-Atlantic States, with record low temperatures and an amazing amount of precipitation in the form of snow, sleet and freezing rain. Just what does that mean for spring striper fishing? If past experience is any indicator, fishing might get off to a slightly later start. The water will be a bit colder due to the spring snow melt, resulting in a rush of cold water pouring into the bays where the first bass of the year are usually encountered. All that extra fresh water will probably be carrying more silt, which could hinder water clarity and affect feeding preferences, but that can be accounted for with the right techniques.

A look back in our fishing log books reveals that striped bass fishing after cold winters has been as good if not better than during mild years. So if you haven’t gotten to it already, you better start getting the boat and tackle ready.

Extreme cold water temperatures in rivers and estuaries where small-to-midsize stripers reside can put them in near hibernation throughout much of the winter. When the first hints of spring make an appearance—the sun gets a little higher in the sky, the days get a little longer, air temperatures start to rise—the bass stir and start to get hungry. If you’re willing to brave the weather and get on the water, chances are you’ll be rewarded with some decent fishing action. But are you prepared? Have you gone through the spring commissioning process with your boat, outboard and trailer? Have you serviced your reels and filled them with fresh line? Do you have the gear you’ll need for early season tactics in your tackle box? If not, you have some catching up to do.

The following two techniques can be effective under the spring conditions you will probably encounter when fishing for stripers in the coming weeks, and we will follow those up with some tips on where you should look for them.

Use clams for spring stripers

Use clams for spring stripers

Clams and other natural offerings fished on a circle hook can be just the ticket to turn early spring stripers on.

One of the best ways to coax bass out of cold water is fishing with soft, natural baits like sandworms and fresh clams. This is especially true when the run-off from winter snows and spring rains keep bay temperatures cold and hamper water clarity. When this happens, bass will rely more on scavenging by using their sense of smell rather than on their ability to seek out baitfish visually. When striper metabolism is sluggish, soft baits are easier to digest, making them preferable when the water is colder. If the water temps are below 50 degrees or water clarity is poor, break out the clams, sandworms or bloodworms and go fishing.

These baits are fished on or very near the bottom, and light spinning or baitcasting outfits filled with 10- to 15-pound test line are more than ample tackle. The preferred bottom rig is a simple fish finder type, with a light bank sinker mated to a 24-inch fluorocarbon leader armed with a 4/0 or larger circle hook. Using circle hooks is important because stripers feeding on soft baits are likely to swallow the hook in the time it takes for you to realize they are mouthing the bait. Circle hooks almost always set in the corner of a fish’s mouth, making unhooking and releasing them easier for you with less potential to harm the fish. That reduces release mortality of young fish or any fish you catch over the bag limit. If you’re using worms, the addition of a small float between the hook and the sinker will help keep the bait off the bottom and attract more bites. Clams give off more scent and are easier for bass to locate and gulp down lying on the bottom. When clam fishing, bring along a chum basket and fill it with crushed clams, then suspend it on the bottom under the boat to disperse even more scent to attract bass from further away.

Once water temperatures have risen above 50 degrees and river herring and alewives start their move from the ocean into bays (and eventually into rivers and streams to spawn), try switching over to trolling with diving plugs. Several lure companies offer swimming plugs with long diving lips rated to run from 15 to 30 feet down. They are excellent lures for early season stripers and a lot of fun to use because they do not require heavy rods and reels with special line to get them deep and make them work.

Trolling these plugs can be done on a variety of light conventional rod and reel combinations, but be sure they are loaded with 30- to 50-pound test braided line. The thin braid allows these plugs to dive to their rated depth. Add a six-foot fluorocarbon leader and a snap for quick changing lures, and fish them from outrodder-type rod holders to keep them spread apart behind the boat. Be sure to keep your eyes on the depthfinder to locate schools of baitfish, and to watch for stripers. That way you can be sure you’re fishing in the right places and using plugs that are running at the depth the fish are holding. You should have plugs in a range of colors that run at a variety of depths.

Use light tackle

Use light tackle

Light tackle is adequate to handle even big stripers like this one when fishing natural bait.

If you are not familiar with where to hunt for early season stripers, here are a few tips that might help. Review charts of the estuary you’re planning to fish, and look for areas adjacent to where feeder streams and rivers enter the bay. Then look for areas of flats along channel edges, especially flats that get exposed to the most sun during the days as they will warm faster, and warmer is better this time of year. In a lot of cases, flats along shorelines with southern exposure will fit the bill because the sun is still in the southern sky and will strike those flats with the most direct light. You can find stripers in water depths from a few feet out to edges of channel drop offs in 20 to 30 feet.

Bottom fishing with soft baits will often be best on flats near drop offs. Anchor the boat up current of the drop, and set out a chum pot with clams or just cast your bait behind the boat and let the fish come to you. Time your fishing to coincide with the top of the incoming and first few hours of the outgoing tide, when bass will be most active. This way the current carries the scent of your baits to deeper water, and the fish will be working into the current for just that reason. Pay attention to tides when trolling with plugs, too. High tide stages will produce the most bites.

With spring upon us (even if it might not feel like it quite yet), it’s time to put down the winter projects, get the boat and gear loaded, and go fishing. The stripers are hungry and waiting, and fishing for them is a great way to shake off the bad case of cabin fever you’ve been suffering from this winter.

March Madness and Fishing

March Madness is here, but that means something totally different for fishermen. To us it means crappie are in the shallows spawning, bass are moving shallow and are much more active and being on the water can be downright comfortable after the miserable cold winter. And catching will be good for at least the next two months.

You can fill your limit of 30 crappie quickly most days by dabbling a minnow or jig around shoreline bushes or other wood cover. They can also be caught by trolling shallow stump flats and drop-offs. This is a great time to fill your freezer with these good tasting fish.

Bass are about as easy to catch as they get. You can catch them on crankbaits, spinnerbaits, worms and jigs. Go about half way back in a cove or small creek and start casting to any wood or rock cover in fairly shallow water and you will catch fish.

Stripers and hybrids are feeding better, too. They start running up rivers in area lakes and also congregate near the dam. They can be caught by trolling or jigging spoons or jigs over deep water, and you can often find gulls diving on fish feeding on or near the surface.

The fishing reports from Georgia lakes I post on my site each week reflect this good fishing. All say fishing is good right now, and they offer a variety of tips on what to fish on that specific lake, where to fish and what to expect. They will say the fishing is good until at least early June.

And my favorite way to fish is about to get right. I love to cast a topwater plug, and as soon as the water temperature hits 55 degrees I will start using a popper or buzzbait. It will be even better when the temperature goes above 60 degrees, but you may be surprised at the strikes you can get when it is still a little colder.

Yesterday the Flint River and Spalding County clubs had our youth/buddy tournament at Jackson and today the Sportsman Club is fishing our March tournament at Oconee. Then on Thursday I go to West Point for three days of practice and the FLW Top Six on the following Monday and Tuesday. I will miss fishing only three days out of 11 so I will get in almost enough time on the water.

Both the Flint River Bass Club and the Spalding County Sportsman Club are sending six man teams to the tournament so 12 of us will be there competing for individual and team prizes. I really enjoy fishing the Top Six each year and hope this is a good one.

Can I Catch Stripers In Cold Water?

Stripers–Cold Water Angling Option

By Frank Sargeant, Editor
from The Fishing Wire

If you’re brave enough to get out on the water anywhere north of Florida this month, you may have a bit of Inuit in your ancestry–or perhaps you fished from an ice shanty.

Stripers in cold water

Stripers in cold water

These landlocked stripers were caught next to bridge pilings in Lewis Smith Lake, an impoundment in North Alabama, an swimbaits. (Frank Sargeant photo)

Cold weather not only makes it almost impossible to endure sitting in a bass boat, it shocks the fish into a state that resembles suspended animation; they simply hang in the water near bottom, nose down, moving only enough to stay upright. They’ll come back to some semblance of normalcy after a few days of more temperate weather–but it will be the end of February before bassing returns to normal, even in Mid-South states like Tennessee and the Carolinas.

However, there are some species less affected by the cold. Top among them is striped bass, which actually thrive on cold water, and these may be the best target for the next month in many lakes around the country.

Stripers feed almost entirely on shad in open water and can be tough to find, but fortunately many lakes in winter have some “bird dogs” that make it easier. Sea gulls that winter from the Mason-Dixon Line southward keep a sharp eye out for shad being driven to the surface by stripers, and anywhere you see a flock of gulls diving–or even sitting on the water–it’s likely there are stripers below.

Striped bass are native to the TVA lakes that stretch across Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky, but numbers were strongest when they were heavily stocked years ago. Now, most found here are native-spawned; the long flow-way of the TVA rivers allows the eggs to hatch in years when there’s good rain. Tennessee is also continuing to stock upstream TVA lakes, and some of these fish, as well as their eggs, arrive in North Alabama’s TVA lakes as a result.

Striper caught in cold water

Striper caught in cold water

Stripers can sometimes be located on sonar in winter hanging close to bait schools: Lower a heavy jig down to them and this can be the result. (Frank Sargeant photo)

Stripers, as distinguished from white bass, have a longer and more streamlined body shape, and grow to much larger sizes–over 50 pounds on occasion, and the world record for the landlocked strain, caught from the Black Warrior River last February, is a stunning 69 pounds, 9 ounces! Caught by James Bramlett, that 45.5 inch fish is unlikely ever to be bested; it appears to have lived in the warm water outflow of the Gorgas Steam Plant where it was able to stuff itself on swarms of shad and other baitfish prowling there to keep warm. It was built like a basketball with fins.

Stripers of 15 to 20 pounds are not that uncommon, and the average size is 7 to 10 pounds, big enough to give most freshwater anglers the fight of their lives.

Fishing live shad or shad-type lures under the sea gulls is one of the best ways to locate these fish in winter. You may have to visit several gull flocks before you find one with active stripers below, but running main channels near dams or in larger bays will eventually put you on the fish. A check of the sonar can confirm bait and stripers below–these large fish have a very obvious signature on the screen.

Stripers are great eating if cleaned properly, far better than largemouths, which most conservation-minded anglers release anyway these days.

Stripers have snow-white flesh that’s much like that of a saltwater grouper–just peel away the skin, cut out the red line and the rib cage and the boneless fillet is ready to be grilled, baked or broiled.

(A side-note–the largest stripers have higher concentrations of mercury than recommended for consumption, as with most long-lived fish. Those under 10 pounds have no issues in most lakes, however.)

Do Women Like Saltwater Fishing?

Introducing Women to Saltwater Fishing
from The Fishing Wire

So your wife, girlfriend or daughter wants to try fishing? How you handle her initial experience can make all the difference.

“Daddy, take me fishing,” are four words any fishing father loves to hear from his son, but it has become a more common refrain from daughters-and it’s just as welcomed. In fact, it’s not just daughters showing a greater interest in the sport, but women across the spectrum. That’s a great thing! While fishing is still a male-dominated sport, there has been a steady increase in the number of women fishing alongside men, and a new breed of distaff anglers who get out there and do it on their own.

Everyone likes to catch stripers

Everyone likes to catch stripers

Tangling with a big striper takes skills for success, and both men and women need a bit of instruction before they hook up the first time on a fish this size.

How you manage any newcomer’s introduction to fishing will have an effect on their perception of the sport and their desire to become more involved. With that in mind, there is no one better to consult on this subject than Betty Bauman, founder and CEO of Ladies Let’s Go Fishing (LLFG).

Betty started fishing as a child and shares a deep love of the sport. Throughout her fishing experiences, she has moved from cane poles and ponds to saltwater. The knowledge and skill she has acquired along the way, combined with her winning marketing skills and outgoing personality, have helped her share her passion for fishing with other women interested in getting started in the sport. Her award-winning seminar series, which she affectionately calls the “no-yelling school of fishing,” has successfully introduced over 5,000 women to saltwater fishing.

“As an experienced angler, the first thing you have to realize is that fishing is not simple,” said Bauman. “You can’t just throw someone into a fishing situation without first spending time talking, demonstrating and providing them the opportunity to practice a little.”

There is nothing more frustrating than putting a rod and reel in the hands of someone who has never fished before, expecting them to be able to use it on the water. For an experienced angler, the tools of the trade might be old hat. But for someone who has never fished before, something as simple as operating a reel or feeling a bite can be challenging. If you don’t alleviate the potential for frustration from the beginning, novice anglers simply won’t have a good time. And if he or she doesn’t enjoy the initial experience, chances are unlikely you will gain a new fishing buddy.

Teach someone to fish

Teach someone to fish

Saltwater fishing is a different ballgame from freshwater, requiring bigger boats, motors and tackle-but it’s at least equally fascinating with a good teacher or two.
Betty explained that it’s important for the experienced angler to become a teacher. Stop and think about why you go fishing and convey that message as clearly as you can.

“You have to explain the whole world of magic that emerges when you’re fishing, and do your best to paint a picture of that magic before she sets foot on a boat,” she advised.

Tell her about the fish you plan to catch, and show her pictures of them. Tell her about the habitat they live in, what they eat, and how you plan to fish for them. Let her know there is so much more to fishing than the act of fishing itself. There will be opportunities to commune with a wide range of sea life; birds, porpoises, sea turtles and hundreds of species of fish, while you’re out on the water. It broadens the experience and takes some of the emphasis off catching fish.

Spend a little time explaining the various techniques: trolling, casting, jigging, bottom fishing. Don’t just show her a lure or a bait rig and tell her this is what we are going to use. Explain how it works and how to use it. She won’t remember everything – no one can. (You didn’t in the beginning either.) But that’s not important first time out; it’s just a good way of showing her that fishing, like any sport, isn’t as easy as it might look. It requires some education and experience to become proficient.

The time for instruction is before you actually get on the boat to go fishing. Teach her about the tackle you plan on using for her first on-water experience, and let her handle it. Show her how to operate the reel, and explain how it works in conjunction with the rod, not just as a casting tool, but as a fish fighting tool. Explain the principle of the drag system and how it comes into play to prevent the line from breaking when a large fish is hooked.

Anyone would be proud of this striper

Anyone would be proud of this striper

Giant stripers like this one don’t come along every day, but when they do, any angler can truly appreciate them.

If you’re using spinning tackle, explain the importance of not reeling when a fish is pulling line off the reel. Teach her how to use the rod to lift and retrieve when fighting a fish. If she will be casting on her first outing, show her how so she understands the basic principles. You should include a practice session with you standing by as her mentor ready with words of encouragement and suggestions on how she can improve when she is doing something wrong. No matter what happens stay cool, keep positive and make the learning experience as pleasant as you possibly can. According to Betty the two most important words to use at times like these, no matter what happens, are “It’s OK.”

If she is not familiar with the boat and how to fish from it, there is that much more to explain. You can also explain how to control a fish at boatside, whether it is to be netted, gaffed or released. Tell her why a lot of fish are released either voluntarily or because of regulations. And be sure to cover the importance of wearing appropriate clothing so she is comfortable for her first fishing experience. Clothing will vary depending on where you are fishing and the time of year, but it is an important topic. Be sure she brings sunglasses and sunscreen, and if there is any chance she might have a predilection for seasickness, simple over-the-counter remedies are cheap insurance for a nice day on the water.

Plan her first fishing experience to appeal to her, not you. Pick a target species that is abundant, easy to find and requires simple skills to catch. Consider keeping the time on the water brief instead of forcing her to get up at sunrise and drag herself back after a ten-hour day on the water.

The most important thing for any newcomer to the sport isn’t catching a big fish or great quantities of fish, it’s catching a fish – period. For that reason, you might consider a morning or afternoon of bottom fishing with simple bait rigs that don’t require a lot of casting. Pick a nice day, anchor on a productive spot, bait her hook, have her drop it to the bottom. Explain what a bite feels like and how to set the hook when she feels one. All she has to do is catch a fish or two, and you’re well on your way to fulfilling all her initial expectations of fishing. From there it’s a matter of moving forward at a pace that is comfortable for her, and seeing how her interest grows. You might be surprised when she starts asking you to teach her more and mentions trying different types of fishing for different species of fish. After all, it is the most addictive of sports whether you’re a man, woman or child.

If you’d like to learn more about Betty Bauman and her educational seminars for women go to www.ladiesletsgofishing.com.

Why Do Sport and Commercial Fishermen Differ On Striped Bass Management?

Sport, commercial fishermen differ over striped bass options

Decline in population raises concerns over how much and how quickly to reduce the harvest.

By Karl Blankenship, Editor
Bay Journal
www.bayjournal.com
from The Fishing Wire

Striped Bass

Striped Bass

The striped bass population along the East Coast has been declining in the last decade. (Dave Harp)

For years, striped bass were a textbook example of successful fishery management.

After a dramatic population crash in the early 1980s, a painful harvest moratorium was put in place. As hoped, the population rebounded. By 1995, it was declared “recovered” – and even then the population continued to climb.

By the early 2000s, commercial fishermen and recreational anglers were seeing more large striped bass than at any time in recent memory.

Fast forward another decade, to 2014, and the picture is starkly different. The spawning population is at about the same level it was in 1995, when it was declared recovered, but instead of trending upward, it’s been declining for a decade.

It is expected to drop below the “recovered” threshold level next year.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which regulates the management of migratory fish species and includes representatives from all East Coast states, is weighing options that range from a 25 percent harvest reduction next year to phasing in a smaller, 7 percent annual reduction over three years – or even doing nothing at all.

“This is the premier fisheries management success story,” said John M. R. Bull, commissioner of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. “I don’t think anybody wants to jeopardize that success.”

But, views about what the ASMFC should do to maintain that success when it meets in late October – and even the seriousness of the current situation – vary widely.

Some groups representing recreational anglers are leading the charge for aggressive, and quick, action.

Tony Friedrich, executive director of the Coastal Conservation Association in Maryland, said he supports a 25 percent reduction, but only because the ASMFC’s options don’t include a greater cut.

The fish “are in a lot of trouble,” he said, citing angler surveys showing that interactions with fish – basically how often they catch a striped bass – have fallen 75 percent since 2006.

“If you talk to a lot of people on the East Coast, they are up in arms,” Friedrich said. “They want to go a step beyond 25 percent.”

In comments to the ASMFC, the group Stripers Forever contends “the signs of diminishing abundance have been ignored for years.” It calls for a 25 percent harvest reduction effective next year, but said even that is “too little too late.”

On the other hand, Billy Rice, a commercial fisherman who has worked 46 years on the Potomac River and Maryland tributaries, said striped bass will soon become more abundant in the Bay as a result of a strong reproduction in 2011. Fish born that year will soon reach legal size in the Chesapeake, and shortly thereafter along the coast.

“We need to keep a close eye on it, but I wouldn’t even come close to calling it a crisis,” said Rice, who is a member of both the Potomac River Fishery Commission and an advisory panel to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Absorbing a 25 percent reduction in a single year, he said, “would virtually cripple our commercial fishing industry.”

Rice contends that, given time, striped bass will bounce back, and that it’s not realistic to think that any stock can be consistently maintained at record-high levels. “Fish naturally go through cycles, no matter how well you manage them,” he said. “We are not going to stop the natural cycle that has been going on since the beginning of time.”

The different perspectives reflect, in part, longstanding tension between recreational and commercial interests, which compete for the same fish.

Commercial fishermen, equipped with large boats, nets and often decades of individual and community knowledge, are efficient. They typically can catch their given quota despite competition from recreational anglers, as long as the stock is at a healthy level.

Recreational fishermen do best when fish are very abundant. The fish are more easily found, and the commercial quota typically takes a smaller portion of the available population. As the population declines, recreational anglers with fishing lines are less efficient than watermen with nets, and have a harder time finding fish – even if the stock is still considered to be at a sustainable level.

“When abundance is down, the recreational anglers are the ones whose catch is going to go down the most,” said Bill Goldsborough, director of fisheries for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “By the same token, when abundance is up, their catch goes up the most. The recreational catch is tied very closely to abundance.”

That’s reflected in ASMFC figures which show spikes in recreational harvests when the striped bass population hit its peak in the early 2000s. In fact, the estimated dead discards from the recreational fishery along the coast – those fish that are caught and released, but die anyway (about 9 percent of the released fish) – exceeded the entire commercial catch as recently as 2006.

As abundance has declined, though, the commercial catch – which is based on a quota and therefore fluctuates less from year to year – has overtaken the recreational catch in the Bay and in some other states that have a commercial striped bass fishery.

So, for recreational fisheries, the situation can look bleak – but the stock itself is not in peril, Goldsborough said.

“From a biology standpoint, I think we are OK,” he said. “We do need to tighten the belt and ensure that we turn that trajectory back up for the spawning stock biomass. I don’t think it is a crisis, but there definitely is a need to act..”

The more difficult question, said Goldsborough, who is also a member of the ASMFC, is weighing management impacts on commercial and recreational sectors.

“It is really the age-old issue for fisheries management, and that is resolving the difference between managing for commercial fishing objectives and managing for recreational fishing objectives in a shared stock,” he said.

The reason for the decline in striped bass abundance over the last decade, scientists say, has been a series of years with poor reproduction.

In the 13-year span from 1993 through 2005, reproduction was at or above the long-term average 10 times, including the three best years on record in 1993, 1996 and 2001, as measured by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Young-of-Year index. The Chesapeake Bay is where the vast majority of striped bass found along the East Coast are spawned.

But reproduction has been below average in six of eight years since then, including some of the poorest years since the 1980s.

Successful reproduction typically requires two things: lots of eggs produced by females and weather conditions that promote the survival of their young.

Because they can’t control the weather, fishery managers try to keep the abundance of adult female fish high with the hope that when the spawning fish mesh with the right conditions, they will produce a large “year class” of young fish. With striped bass, above-average year classes have been particularly important for overall abundance.

The spawning stock biomass peaked at around 170 million pounds a decade ago, and dropped to an estimated 128 million pounds last year, just 1 million pounds above the minimum threshold of 127 million pounds set by ASMFC. It is on a trajectory to fall below that threshold next year.

But the significance of crossing that threshold is less clear. In fishery management, such thresholds are typically a biologically established minimum. Falling below that number risks a stock crash.

In the case of striped bass, the spawning stock biomass is not set at a danger level. Rather, it is set at its 1995 level, when the stock was declared recovered by ASMFC. It is about 12 times higher than the population’s low point in the early 1980s.

“We don’t feel the population is at a biological risk,” said Tom O’Connell, fisheries director with the Maryland DNR. “Yes, it is lower than stakeholders want, and lower than managers want. But it is not at a biological risk.”

The higher threshold, fishery managers say, reflects the fact that striped bass are considered a marquee species both in the Bay and along the coast.

As a result, O’Connell and some other fishery managers say, the question is not whether something should be done, but rather how much – and how quickly.

While reproduction in most recent years has been low, the 2011 year class was the fourth strongest since Maryland’s Young-of-Year index began in 1956. Those fish will soon reach catchable size – 18 inches – in the Bay, and will shortly thereafter migrate to coastal waters where they typically need to be larger before they can be caught.

“If we did nothing, but we kept fishing mortality at the current level, we would probably see that population come back up, but it may take three, four, five, six years,” O’Connell said.

“We should react, because the management plan and the stakeholders prefer that this species be at a higher abundance level,” he said. But, he added, “we don’t have to react in one year.”

Some recreational anglers, like Friedrich, worry that delaying or spreading out cuts only delays the potential comeback. Friedrich also contended that managers are putting too much stock on the 2011 year class which, he said “are about to go into the meat grinder” as they hit legal catch sizes in the Bay and along the coast.

“That 2011 class is where all the fishing pressure is going to fall,” he said. “It may be the most pressured year class in history.”

But sharp, single-year cutbacks would hit the commercial fishery hard, particularly in the Bay: Maryland and Virginia have the highest commercial quotas of East Coast states.

“In one year, that would be devastating,” said Bull, the VMRC commissioner. “I believe that it is very important, for the commercial fishery here in Virginia, to phase in the impact.”

Fishery managers from the Bay states also contend that new regulations could unfairly hit the Chesapeake.

After spawning, the Bay serves as a nursery for striped bass before they migrate to the coast. Fishery managers say females – which make up the spawning stock – leave the Bay earlier than males, so most of the Bay catch consists of male fish. Sharply reducing the catch on those males does little to boost spawning stock biomass, they say.

For years, harvest levels for striped bass in the Chesapeake were set separately from those along the coast. That was reflected in 2013, fishery managers said, when catch limits in the Bay were 14 percent below those in 2012, reflecting a decline in larger fish in the Bay.

But after a recent stock assessment, the ASMFC failed to set a Bay specific target, citing a lack of adequate information, even as it acknowledged differences between the Bay and coastal stocks.

If the Chesapeake is subjected to the same across-the-board reduction as the rest of the coast, managers say, it will not only hurt the fishing industry, but provide little benefit to the spawning stock.

“It is really misleading to the public to think that this level of reduction in the Chesapeake Bay is going to rebuild the female spawning stock biomass, because our fishery is predominantly males outside the spring trophy season,” O’Connell said.

Karl Blankenship

Karl Blankenship

About Karl Blankenship
Karl Blankenship is editor of the Bay Journal and Executive Director of Chesapeake Media Service. He has served as editor of the Bay Journal since its inception in 1991.

Fall Fishing At Its Best

Fishing West Point with Ed Sheppard a few years ago reminded me again why fall fishing can’t be beat. We had a beautiful day with bright sun, clear calm water, bank trees beginning to show some color and air temperatures in the upper 70’s. To make it even better, we didn’t see a dozen other boats on the lake.

Although Ed was showing me some holes for a Georgia Outdoor News article, we stumbled on something that might interest you. While in the back of Turkey Creek above the boat ramp, a big school of hybrids surfaced around a small island. They stayed on top for almost an hour, feeding on the schools of shad that were everywhere.

Ed caught a couple on a Rat-L-Trap while I stubbornly casted a spinnerbait and bumped it on the bottom, trying to find a big largemouth feeding under the hybrids. I didn’t have any light equipment and I needed a big largemouth for a picture. I didn’t get one.

If you go to West Point, carry an ultralight and tie on a quarter ounce jig. White or yellow should be good. You probably can catch hybrid after hybrid weighing a pound to a pound and a half. They will give you a super fight on light tackle.

Shad were on top everywhere we fished late in the afternoon. Check backs of creeks as well as open water. Watch for schools on top the last couple of hours of light. They are easy to spot if there is no wind. With or without wind, keep your gas motor off and listen. You can often get the direction of a school by hearing them when the hybrids start hitting. When you find a school, ease up to them and don’t spook them. If they go down, wait a while and they will probably return.

We also enjoyed watching a couple of osprey diving and picking up shad off the top. They would fly back to a tree, eat the shad and return for another. These majestic brown and white birds are firmly re-established in our state. When I was growing up, there were not any to watch. They add to a day’s fishing.

Are Clams Good Bait for Spring Stripers?

Big Apple Stripers and the Manhattan Cup

New York City. Just the name conjures up images of the Empire State Building, Lincoln Center, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty– and great fishing for striped bass. Well, maybe the fishing reference is a little strange to some. The Big Apple might be the city that never sleeps, but it is also surrounded by water that comprises one of the major spawning and nursery areas for the equally iconic Atlantic striped bass. The Hudson River, East River, Harlem River, Western Long Island Sound, Raritan Bay, Jamaica Bay and the New York Bight make up a lot of water, and no one knows it better than Capt. Frank Crescitelli of Finchaser Charters, based out of Mansion Marina on Staten Island. We caught up with Crescitelli for a little early-season striped bass fishing in Raritan Bay aboard his Yamaha-powered 32-foot Regulator® in late April.

Menhaden

Menhaden

Menhaden are a favorite baitfish for New York stripers throughout warm weather, but this year exceptionally cold water has slowed the baitfish bite and made clams a better offering.

“It’s been a long, cold winter,” Crescitelli commented, “and the bay waters are still a bit cold so we’re going to be ready to do whatever it takes to catch a few bass. I’ve got fresh clams, and there are pods of menhaden right here in Great Kills Harbor. We’ll stop and catch some live bait before we go looking for stripers.”

In a more typical year, stripers would have already been in residence in big numbers because they come to this area to stage for a 75-mile run up the Hudson River to spawn in fresh water. Unfortunately, this has been anything but a typical year. The winter was very cold with lots of snow, and March and April have been much cooler and wetter than usual. Once the water temperature rises into the mid-50s, the bite will be on with good striper fishing straight through the end of June.

In the meantime, Crescitelli demonstrated some techniques that work well in the spring, and promised to share a little about the Fisherman’s Conservation Association, an organization he helped found and now helps run. He also told us about his pride and joy, the Manhattan Cup, a prestigious charity striper tournament now entering its sixteenth year.

We left Great Kills Harbor and headed west back toward the headwaters of Raritan Bay. “When the water is cold, shallow areas with dark mud bottom warm up quicker,” Crescitelli advised. “That’s if the sun decides to make an appearance. When you get a little outgoing tide after a sunny day and the water temperature jumps a degree or two, the fish turn on.”

He worked flats adjacent to channel edges where the tide creates rips, and also fished around some rock structure using the live menhaden as bait. He marked a few fish and had a couple of run offs on the big baitfish, but it became apparent the cold water had the fish playing with the bait, but not eating it.

“There’s a fine line between bass slurping down a live menhaden or just picking it up, running a little, maybe scaling it, and then dropping it,” Crescitelli said. “The deciding factor is usually water temperature. If it’s just a couple degrees too cold, you may want to take a shot with clams.”

Striper caught on a clam  bait

Striper caught on a clam bait

This striper grabbed a clam bait fished on bottom in the Raritan Reach area.

He moved to a different flat near the edge of Raritan Reach Channel and settled back on the anchor. Crescitelli recommended light outfits rigged with fish-finder rigs, sinkers and smaller circle hooks. We baited them with whole, fresh-shucked surf clams. He also started chumming, tossing cut up clams into the water to get a good scent trail going to lead the bass in to the baits. He said serious clam fishermen will put a bunch of broken up clams, shell and all, in a large chum pot and suspend it under the boat.

“Clam fishing isn’t my favorite,” he said. “I’d rather fish with live baits, plugs or fly rods, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do to catch fish and when the water is cold, bass eat clams when pretty much all else fails.”

While we waited for the bass to make an appearance, Frank told us about the FCA (Fishermen’s Conservation Association), an organization he helped to start. It’s a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the “Conservation Triad” access, habitat, and smart fisheries management. Financial support provided by FCA directly benefits the marine waters of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, with a special emphasis on introducing inner city kids to fishing through a program called “Hooked for a Lifetime.” FCA is also working to attain gamefish status for striped bass in New York State waters.

22 pound Spring Striper

22 pound Spring Striper

This spring bass went about 22 pounds-and soon went back over the side to head for the spawning areas upriver.

“The FCA was started by a small group of former CCA members who wanted an organization that could take on local projects without having to deal with the national bureaucracy,” Crescitelli said. “The kind of stuff we could point at and say, ‘we did that.’ Besides purely conservation and fisheries-based initiatives, we take great pride in our ‘Hooked for a Lifetime’ program. Last year we took 200 kids out for a day of fishing. Each one was given a rod, reel and tackle box, plus a basic fishing instruction manual at the end of the day. We took them to local fishing piers that they can return to on their own, and hopefully instilled in them the wonder we have for the sport and the environment. Last year there were two groups, one comprised of low-income inner city kids. The other group was all kids with autism who have a harder time getting involved in sports that require a lot of interaction with other people. Fishing is something they can learn and enjoy in small groups or individually, and it seems to be quite beneficial for many of them.”

“FISH ON!” Crescitelli shouted as one of the rods bent over under the pull of a nice striper. His friend Tom was on it in a flash working the fish expertly as it took off a good bit of line on the first run. A few minutes later, Crescitelli was netting a fat 22-pound bass. He removed the circle hook from the corner of its mouth, held it up for a few quick pictures, held it in the water to revive, and away it swam. No doubt it would be heading up the Hudson in a few short weeks to spawn.