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TIPS FOR SPRING STRIPERS

Posted 4/7/2011

Understanding How Water Temperatures Affect  Feeding Will Help You Catch More Striped Bass


The water might be cold and their metabolism is a bit on the sluggish side, but there are plenty of striped bass in Mid-Atlantic estuaries foraging for an easy meal right now. The key to catching them is finding the areas where they will concentrate on various tide stages, and then matching the bait or lures you use to their current level of activity. 

Early season stripers tend to be a mix of small-to midsize-fish with most in the 5-to 15-pound class. Many winter over in estuaries, and as the water temperature starts to rise with warming weather patterns, their feeding activity increases. Keep in mind that striped bass are cold-blooded, so the temperature of the surrounding water plays a big part in their activity level and metabolism. The colder the water, the slower metabolic rate and the less they have to eat to fuel their bodies. Understanding the relationship between water temperatures and feeding habits will help you determine the best baits or lure techniques to use.

The estuary complexes that comprise the three major breeding areas, and are home to the largest numbers of stripers this time of year, include the Chesapeake Bay and its many feeder rivers; the Delaware Bay and river complex; and the Hudson and the many estuaries adjacent to the river mouth including the Sandy Hook, Raritan and Jamaica Bays and those found along the shores of western Long Island Sound. Even New York Harbor is included in the Hudson complex, and in spring striped bass can be found around some of our nations most famous landmarks like the Statue of Liberty. 

The first bass caught each spring are usually taken by anglers fishing with sandworms or blood worms around the mouths of streams or rivers that flow into these bays or larger tidal rivers. Spring rains warm these areas, and that puts bass on the prowl.

Sea worms fished on a high-low rig armed with circle hooks and cork floats to keep the worms off the bottom work well. Use whole worms on each hook for an enticing wiggle in the current. Since the warmer water flowing out of the tidal rivers is what stirs the feeding activity, you must pay close attention to tides. Start fishing at high tide and fish through a good portion of the outgoing for the best chance at scoring that first striper of the year.


Fishing in open bay waters starts shortly after the first few fish of the year are caught on worms, and the most productive bait is fresh surf clams – the fresher the better. You want to find areas of the bay where the water is relatively shallow, but near deeper water that has a decent current flow when the tide is running. Anchor up-current of the actual flat, lump or drop off, and drop a chum pot filled with crushed clams over the side to create a scent trail for the fish to follow to your baits. A simple fish finder rig with just enough weight to hold bottom will do the trick. Be sure to use circle hooks because bass will swallow soft baits like clams quickly, and you are sure to catch a lot of fish that are under the legal size that must be released. 

About the same time the bay fishery is just heating up, some shallower tidal rivers will have concentrations of bass that are feeling the effects of the rapidly warming water. As their metabolism increases, they start hunting shorelines, shallow flats and channel edges for baitfish, and the action switches to small plastic shads, finesse plastic baits fished on light jig heads, and small swimming plugs no larger than five inches. The tackle is light spinning or baitcasting gear, whichever you are more comfortable with. Time your fishing for the last of the incoming tide and completely through the outgoing, and pay particular attention to shorelines with weeds, docks and small creeks that flow into the river. Baitfish will congregate in these areas, and bass will be cruising the banks looking for them. When you find bait, work the area hard. If your boat has an electric trolling motor, you can work these shallows quietly and more effectively than if you enter them with your outboard. 

The time for early season stripers is now so get your boat on the water and let the fun begin. Remember to be an ethical angler. Follow all rules and regulations in place for the state in which you fish. Be sure to work hard to release fish in good condition because chances are you’ll catch a bunch.