from The Fishing Wire
It’s been a long winter followed by an unseasonably cold spring that has been keeping water temperatures down. These cooler temperatures have many eager striped bass fishermen suffering from a case of dampened enthusiasm. Instead of lamenting the cool days of spring, try breaking out of the doldrums with some clams.
Striped bass, like all fish, are affected by the temperature of the water that surrounds them. Cold temperatures keep a striper’s metabolic rate low. They move slower, burn fewer calories and therefore they don’t need to eat as much. They tend to gravitate toward foraging rather than actively hunting live prey, and their shortened feeding forays are very tide-dependent. When foraging, they show a preference for food sources that require less effort to digest, what veteran striper fishermen often call “soft baits.” The number one soft bait you can offer stripers in cold water, and one that will continue to produce even as water temperatures rise, is clams. A nice hunk of fresh-shucked clam on a circle hook fished on the bottom in a prime tidal area will catch early stripers – and lots of them.
Northeast striper authority, Gary Caputi, has years of experience fishing inside waters for early season stripers. Here’s what he had to say.
“Depending on weather and how fast the water temperature starts to rise, clams can produce as early as March in some areas and still be going strong well into May. This gives you almost a three-month window when clams are a top producing bait,” said Caputi. “Early season fishing starts with smaller, non-migratory bass, the ones that winter over in the waters near where they were spawned in the Mid-Atlantic. That means the estuaries surrounding the Delaware and Hudson Rivers are all prime
locations for this technique.
“In the case of the Delaware Bay, clams can produce both striped bass and bonus black drum, which move into the bay system each spring and feed on the shallow flats adjacent to channel edges. The technique is not difficult, but you will need a chum pot, which in this case is a weighted wire mesh container that gets filled with crushed clams and dropped to the bottom under your boat to attract stripers to your baited hooks. Use a good supply of clams, either whole surf clams or fresh shucked in containers, but avoid frozen as they simply do not put out that strong scent that really gets a striper’s attention,” advised Caputi.
The fun part of this type of fishing, according to Caputi, is that the angler can use very light tackle and still enjoy the fight of these smaller, but very feisty stripers. Light spinning rods or baitcasting gear is all it takes. Rigging up to fish with clams is simple.
Slip your running line through a sinker slide, also called a fishfinder rig, and then tie on a small barrel swivel to prevent the hook from sliding all the way back to the sinker. Next tie a three-foot leader of 20-or 30-pound fluorocarbon leader material to the swivel, and snell a 7/0 light-wire circle hook onto the other end. Add a one- or two-ounce bank sinker to the sinker slide, and you’re done.
“Next you have to pick some good places to fish and determine the tides for each,” Caputi said. “Tides are very important as the bass will use them as feeding windows, and they will feed most heavily on the outgoing tide when warmer water will be spilling out of the shallows.
“Just a degree or two increase in temperature is all it takes to spark a strong feeding reaction. Pick places in relatively shallow water adjacent to channels, and anchor the boat so it is still well up on the flats with the current flowing under the boat toward the deeper water. Once you’re anchored, fill the chum pot with crushed clams, shells and all. You can do this by crushing a few clams in a bucket with a piece of wood. I keep an old baseball bat handy for this purpose, but a short length of 2×4 works fine, too.”
After the chum pot is on the bottom with the line tied to a spring line cleat, it’s time to bait up. Grab a good hunk of clam, preferably with some of the belly attached, and thread it onto the circle hook. Then cast it a short distance behind the boat so that bass attracted by the chum pot will find your hook-bait first. Twenty feet back is a good distance and an easy cast for anyone. Then just settle in and wait as the tide brings the scent of your chum and baits over the channel edge. Remember, if they smell it they will come.
“You can keep a couple of rods in the rod holders in the back of the boat or hold them, but be sure to pay attention to them at all times,” said Caputi. “The bites will come in several ways. The easiest to see is when a bass grabs the bait and moves away from the boat. All you have to do is let the line come tight and lift the rod. The circle hook will do the rest.
But when one picks up the clam and keeps swimming towards the boat, the strike is harder to detect. You might see the line between the rod tip and the water go slack for just a moment or the rod tip might twitch. Pick it up and start reeling to come tight to the fish, and keep reeling until the rod tip dips and the hook wraps around the fish’s jaw. Remember, when fishing circle hooks never jerk the rod tip to set the hook. Circle hooks will hook bass around the mouth opening and not in the gills or stomach if they swallow the bait. That makes live release of short fish, or the ones you don’t keep, easier on you and the fish. A release today represents a fish you might catch another time when it is bigger.”
So if the water stays cold, break out the clams and get in on some great early season striper fishing. And be sure to bring the kids because this is fishing everyone can enjoy!