By: Gary Buchannan
Posted On: 2009-01-24
The Striped Bass, also known as just Striper or as Rockfish (south of New Jersey), has everything a game fish needs to be a champ—he's big, fights like a mad dog and hits your artificial lures with a wallop like few other salt-water fish. Also, he usually can be counted on for some unexpected trick that will leave you gasping—such as the Striper I once met (but didn't catch) that refused every lure cast to him and decided he wanted the one I'd left hanging over the side of the boat. He took it, along with the rod and reel it was tied to and the jacket that was lying across them. And then there was another Striper at a recent surf-casting tournament where the experts hadn't been able to catch anything over 22 pounds; he was caught by a small boy who was dunking a worm in the waves that washed the beach—and this Striper weighed 42 pounds!
Anglers on both coasts now can enjoy this species. The Atlantic was his native home until about 1880, when a few hundred infant fish were dumped into the water off California; now Pacific anglers catch as many as do those in the East—a total of several thousand tons each year! Sometimes it doesn't take as many Stripers to make a ton as you'd think. Their average weight is from 5 to 10 pounds but when the big "bull" Stripers are around, at 25 to 35 pounds apiece, the weight adds up fast. The world record on rod-and-reel was 5 feet long and weighed 73 pounds. The largest ever netted weighed over 125 pounds. There's another Striped Bass you might catch some day, smaller (average: 2 pounds) but just as full of fight. He's the fresh-water Striper! A number of years ago young salt-water Striped Bass were introduced into some southern fresh-water lakes and, miraculously, they not only survived but made themselves completely at home. You'll hear more about these fish as their popularity spreads. They look just like their salt-water ancestors except for being more colorful. The seacoast Striped Bass is generally a greenish- or brownish-black on back with silver or yellow-silver sides and a white belly. He gets his name from the 7 or 8 black stripes that line his sides from gills to tail and are his positive identification.
The Striper is a seasonal fish. The best periods for catching him are during spring and fall off the New England coast where Cuttyhunk Island and Martha's Vineyard are the hottest fishing spots; in early spring and late fall along the East Coast from New Jersey to Florida; from June to January along the Gulf Coast; and from June to October along most of the West Coast. At these times you're likely to find him anywhere close to shore—under docks, bridges, along the banks of tidal rivers, in the channels, and in the surf. Try every fishy-looking spot, especially a "rip" (the line of churning water where two tides meet), and the channels at low tide, and the sand bars and flats at high tide. A dock projecting into a boat channel is a good fishing spot. Use spin-casting tackle with regular spinning lures, plus a strip of pork rind for more action, and a 10-pound-test line if the fish average less than 5 pounds where you're fishing. Heavier fish will require heavier line and tackle. Or use your spinning rod for long casts with bait such as squid, crab, grass shrimp, cut herring, a small eel or minnow, or a hookful of sandworms or bloodworms. Place a spinner in front of the bait and retrieve it slowly.
Always watch for signs of feeding Bass—explosions of white water in the same spot, noisy birds diving at baitfish the Stripers have driven to the top, and the swirls of big fish. Stripers feed at all depths and frequently you can see them chasing small minnows just below the surface. An old-timer once gave me his secret formula for catching Stripers: "Fish for them everywhere, with everything, and keep doing it!" He wasn't joking. A cruising band of Striped Bass might show up anywhere and at any time. A hundred casts off a corner of a dock might be in vain, and the next cast will snag one of them.
Casting fresh-water Bass plugs will take Stripers, too. Use your regular casting tackle but be sure to wash off all the salt with fresh water after using it so it won't corrode. Use large deep-running plugs and spoons when the water is rough, surface plugs when it's smooth. Special heavy-duty tackle is required to cast large Striped Bass lures long distances into the surf. If you have a boat and an outboard motor, trolling fresh-water or salt-water Bass lures frequently is as effective as casting them.
But the old-timer I mentioned previously liked still-fishing. It didn't work him as hard as casting. Besides, he had a still-fishing gimmick that seemed to catch everything, including Stripers. To his bait-casting line he'd fasten a snelled hook (one with a short snell or leader tied to it) of about 4/0 size, which would be large enough to discourage little fish.
A few inches above this he'd add a small sinker, and about 6 inches above the sinker he'd fasten a big red-and-white bobber, or float. Then he'd bait the big hook with all the grass shrimp, sandworms or crabmeat it would hold, sometimes with a whole crab, and he'd cast out from the dock to let this contraption ride along with the tide. And he'd keep jerking it constantly. This made the big red-and-white bobber hop and splash along the surface, and every time it hopped it jigged the bait up and down like a fish that was trying to reach the bobber but couldn't quite make it. The first time I used this rig was in Long Island's Great South Bay, and in less than a half-hour a 6-pound Striper swallowed it—bobber and all!