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Fishing Tips

SULLIVAN'S TIPS FOR RIVER STRIPERS

Posted 5/22/2009

Stripers are feeding in tidal rivers right now. Light tackle guide Terry Sullivan offers some tips to help you get in on the action.

As the sun warms shallow water flats and back coves on tidal rivers up and down the striper coast it presents fishing opportunities reminiscent of largemouth bass on early spring patterns. It's fishing best done from small boats that can get you into the skinny water without spooking wary linesiders.

The places to look are in rivers adjacent to major spawning areas. From south to north these can include rivers that feed Albemarle Sound; the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay and the Delaware River; rivers in Northern New Jersey and Connecticut in proximity to the lower Hudson River and Long Island Sound. As the days grow longer shallow flats will warm quickly and stripers will hunt them searching for an easy meal, which can result in some surprising catches of rockfish from as small as a few pounds to in excess of twenty.

I met Sullivan at a public ramp not far from Raritan Bay where he launched his 21' bay skiff, a saltwater version of a high performance bass boat with large casting platforms bow and stern. A bow-mounted trolling motor provides quiet mobility in the shallows where we would be using light tackle to throw plugs and soft plastic lures.

"This fishing is tide oriented," Sullivan explained. "Stripers will stage in areas adjacent to the flats and then move into the shallows with the rising tide to prowl," he said. "I like to start blind casting areas off the flats with minnow-shaped crankbaits that run no more than a couple feet down. If the fish are there they will move shallower to feed."

Sullivan started us off in an area of the river that widened into a large basin most of which was 5 to 7 feet deep. As he cruised with the trolling motor we casted around the boat to locate fish and it didn't take long before we had hooked, fought and released a couple of nice stripers. On light tackle they fought as hard as larger, ocean run fish. As the tide turned we began exploring coves with bulkheads, docks and sod banks off the main basin where the water was only a couple feet deep.

"Look for quiet coves with a southern exposure, they get more sun than the surrounding water," he advised. "If there's a creek or steam flowing in great. It can mean more forage and possibly herring running in to spawn in the freshwater, but don't overlook warm shallows without creeks. They can hold plenty of stripers, too."

Terry looks for little things like egrets stalking the shoreline for minnows. If they are there so are the baitfish the stripers are looking for. He keys in on structure like gravel points that warm quickly in the sun or areas of sod banks that can spell a quick meal for a hungry striper.

When searching for fish Sullivan will work quickly casting and retrieving 4" shallow crackbaits and soft swim shads. If one angler hooks up another should immediately cast to the same spot to see if there are more fish with it, frequently resulting in doubles. If he finds fish concentrated he will hold in the area and work it more slowly with jerkbaits, small poppers and plastics fished in a jerk and stop method.

This fishing can last through spawning season in some rivers and there are times when you will encounter much larger, stripers looking for a meal. Hook into a 20-pound plus bass on this tackle and you will be in for the fight of your life.

Captain Terry Sullivan fishes estuaries and tidal rivers from Barnegat Bay north to Raritan Bay on the Jersey coast from his bay skiff and guides clients to trophy stripers in the open ocean from his Yamaha powered Contender® center console. Check out his website at www.flatsrat.com, but remember the techniques he described work in hundreds of tidal rivers from North Carolina to Connecticut.