July 05, 2006
I've fished our local waters since I was old enough to hold a rod and dug my first clam out of the shallows in Great South Bay when I was only four years old.
Now, I delight in teaching my two little girls to appreciate the bounty that our island has to offer and to respect all of its creatures (my six year-old is already a devout catch and release fan who kisses each fish before gently returning it to the water.)
However, Long Island is a mecca for fishing and serious anglers look forward to getting that big fish now and then. Here it happens to be striped bass and I learned early on that knowing as much as possible about the targeted fish would be extremely important. So, my first piece of advice is to know the fish that you are after. This week, I'll profile the wonderful striped bass.
Striped bass can be found along the Atlantic coastline from Canada to Florida and it's truly a coastal fish. It spreads its range into ocean waters, bays, sounds and rivers. The saltwater variety we encounter spawn from about the middle of February in the southern waters to about late July off the northernmost parts of its migration. Stripers from the North Carolina coast and Chesapeake Bay undertake coastal migrations as well as spawning migrations. Early spring finds them off our Long Island coastline, while their return to warmer waters, known here as the fall run, occurs from October to late November or early December.
Striped bass begin active feeding when our water temperatures begin to rise into the low fifties. The ones that migrate here arrive by early summer and those found in truly southern locations south of North Carolina are believed to be a different strain of species than the ones we catch.
At the moment, the fish that were a part of the spring run are now in strong evidence anywhere from the New York Bight through the Long Island Sound, along our twin forks, into our bays and within easy reach of Montauk. Later on in the season, during the fall run, monster stripers begin to look for deeper, cooler water as they need the oxygen that is less present in water temperatures that exceed 72 degrees (this is the reason we find them now in places like the Race and the Gut; where the constant movement of fast-moving water oxygenates the habitat).
Stripers feed on a variety of fish and invertebrates and they can actually be rather selective in what they choose to eat. The species was once so plentiful that†it was used as†field fertilizer by the early colonists to our shores. Action by†Congress as early as 1942 resulted in the formation of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to coordinate their management and ensure their protection from excessive fishing.
Catching them is a combined endeavor of putting all the right elements together. If you can figure out what they are eating at a given moment, this will put you one step closer to success. They like sand eels, peanut bunker, herring, crabs and worms, to name just a few of their selections. During active feeding, almost any live bait will work.
Popping plugs or some other type of top-water lure at dawn and dusk seem to get good results, while tins like Hopkins or Castmasters work better for me†during daylight hours. My biggest stripers have been hooked on bucktails with live eels or a squid strip dangling off the tip of the hook.
Trolling with†tube worms works well for some of my angling buddies who suggest trolling very slowly and being ready for instant action. Some chunk bait, but it's not a bad idea for surf anglers who want to stir up the action by slicing up a bunker and tossing pieces out into the surf which is effective sometimes. Messy always!
Everyone has his or her rod preference, so it's really a matter of choice. I find that a six to eight foot rod does the job in both high surf and from a boat. It's best to talk to a lot of anglers as well as local bait and tackle shopkeepers if you need help in selecting a rod. Or simply book a party or charter boat and let the captain and mate take care of everything. There are numerous, high-success rate boats on both the North and South Forks with professional captains who have the experience to put you on the fish. I personally recommend Capt. Sloan Gurney who owns and operates Black Rock Charters. This man truly is the bass whisperer and you'll be hard pressed to find a better mate than Rick.
In case you are interested, the world record for a rod and reel striped bass still holds at 78 1/2 pounds. This amazing fish was taken by a serious angler off a jetty in Atlantic City on September 21, 1982. It was a night bite catch that measured more than 53 inches in length and the fisherman worked the catch for a few hours during a bad nor'easter storm. Strangely enough, just prior the getting the big one, he'd just reeled in a 15.9 pound weakfish.†Talk about luck!
Stripers feed on a variety of fish and invertebrates and they can actually be rather selective in what they choose to eat.