Spring­time Li­nesiders


Saltwater Sportsman - - Table Of Contents / Features - By Nick Honachef­sky

Spring has sprung, and from Mary­land to Maine, stripers are on the move. The com­bi­na­tion of op­ti­mal wa­ter tem­per­a­tures and the north­bound mi­gra­tion of bunker is the driv­ing force.

Ded­i­cated bass hounds fol­low the striper run along the East Coast, in­ter­cept­ing the fish as they re­turn to their main spawn­ing grounds of the Ch­e­sa­peake Bay, Delaware River and Hud­son River, and en­ter var­i­ous smaller trib­u­taries and bays from the mid-at­lantic to New Eng­land. The most hard­core an­glers plan a road trip to chase the bass — from schoolies to 50-pound tro­phies — as the fish feast on bunker schools from March through early July.


Come spring, striped bass win­ter­ing in Vir­ginia and North Carolina wa­ters are primed to make their move north on the trail of mi­grat­ing bunker schools. In March and April, look no fur­ther than Ch­e­sa­peake Bay and Susque­hanna Flats. “Wher­ever the bunker go, the


bass fol­low,” states Capt. Drew Payne of Big Worm Char­ters in Ch­e­sa­peake Beach, Mary­land, who reg­u­larly works the bay wa­ters from Solomon’s Is­land to the Bay Bridge. “So find­ing the bait is the num­ber one pri­or­ity, even more im­por­tant than wa­ter tem­per­a­ture.”

Payne’s top tac­tic is to pull para­chute jigs off his own home­made planer boards built with a 2-by-12 piece of pres­sure-treated lum­ber. “The para­chute jig mim­ics the bunker pro­file, so I run a few 4to 12-ounce Spankin’ Stripers para­chute jigs in white with a pur­ple, black or green head,” says Payne. “You want to troll them at 2 to 3 knots and up in the wa­ter col­umn — 10 to 20 feet down, even when fishing depths of 50 to 100 feet in the chan­nel or 30 to 50 feet on the edges.”

His main rig con­sists of 65-pound braided line, a 25-foot sec­tion of 60-pound monofil­a­ment leader, and a para­chute jig tied with an im­proved clinch knot. “I don’t use any weight on the planer board or leader; the depth is con­trolled by the speed of the boat and the weight of the lure,” ex­plains Payne. Other pop­u­lar Ch­e­sa­peake-area tac­tics in­clude Mojo Ball trolling, buck­tail­ing, or live-lin­ing eels around the bridges. Gen­er­ally, by May 15 the main body of rock­fish (as stripers are called south of Delaware) in the bay are long gone, and the fish are head­ing north­ward into New Jer­sey and New York wa­ters.


From April through early June, the striper mi­gra­tion hugs the Jer­sey shore from Delaware Bay to Rar­i­tan Bay, then fil­ters out along the coast of Long Is­land out to “The End” of Mon­tauk, New York. Dif­fer­ent meth­ods are im­ple­mented in the metro area. Bunker spoons, live bunker, and shad bars are fa­vorites of boat­ing an­glers, while surf cast­ers run-and­gun, mim­ick­ing bunker, spear­ing and sand eels with Bomber plugs, Gibbs Pen­cil Pop­pers and Ava jigs.

In Jer­sey, live bunker reigns supreme, and “snag ’n’ drop” is the pre­ferred tac­tic. It en­tails cast­ing a 10/0 weighted tre­ble hook on a 50-pound leader and pulling it through bunker schools to snag a bait­fish and trans­fer it to a live-lin­ing rod, plac­ing an 8/0 cir­cle hook near the bunker’s dor­sal fin or through the nose be­fore send­ing it back out and leav­ing the reel in free-spool, wait­ing for a pickup.

And when bass are ag­gres­sive, boil­ing and crash­ing bunker schools, a top­wa­ter like a Yo-zuri Hy­dro Pop­per or Wil­liamson Sur­face Pro 180 stick­bait cast to the out­skirts of the bunker schools gar­ners bone-jar­ring strikes. A Storm Wild­eye Shad dropped be­low the school­ing bait­fish and jigged ver­ti­cally to mimic a flee­ing bunker also pro­duces. Mean­while, trollers drag No. 4 Tony Maja spoons on wire-line rods at 2 to 3 knots to tar­get the larger spec­i­mens of 30 to 50 pounds.

Once the stripers make it to Mon­tauk and Long Is­land shores, surf cast­ers are in their glory, fling­ing Yo-zuri Mag Darters, wooden swim­mers, and needle­fish lures to pluck stripers off the Mon­tauk rocks. Boat­ing an­glers bounc­ing 2- to 6-ounce buck­tails tipped with pork rinds through the swash­ing cur­rent of “The Rip” are also hand­somely re­warded.


The fin­ish line of the spring striper run sets up in June and early July in New Eng­land wa­ters from Block Is­land through Maine’s rocky shores, where an­glers vary tech­niques to ac­com­mo­date the lo­cal fla­vor, call­ing into ac­tion her­ring, mack­erel and ju­ve­nile had­dock, the preva­lent bait­fish in the re­gion.

“Bass al­ways seem to show up the se­cond week in May and leave by late June, but they some­times stay un­til the se­cond week of July,” says Capt. Terry Nu­gent, who trail­ers his boat to fol­low the striper mi­gra­tion through New Eng­land.

“The fish come up into Buz­zards Bay, through the Cape Cod Canal, then spread out like a shotgun blast in Cape Cod Bay, off Race Point, Nan­tucket, Martha’s Vine­yard and outer Cape Cod.”

Live-lin­ing mack­erel is the most com­mon way to catch bass in the area, but Nu­gent fo­cuses on work­ing the sur­face for ag­gres­sive strikes. “I use my radar to find birds, then move over to find the blitzes and toss top­wa­ters.” Nu­gent usu­ally works 2- to 4-ounce Hogy Pro Tails in green or white pearl to im­i­tate mack­erel and her­ring, and runs the soft bait across the sur­face to get a hit. “Schoolie bass up to 26 inches move in first, but when the larger brethren of 20- to 40-pounders fi­nally show, we switch to 10-inch Hogy Dou­blewide lures, or Musky Ma­nia Doc plugs, our lo­cal worst-kept se­cret,” says Nu­gent.

Other pop­u­lar tac­tics in the New Eng­land area in­clude tube and worm trolling, sand­worm­ing, and trolling large wooden swim­ming plugs. Come late June, the ma­jor­ity of bass schools will have moved up all the way into Maine’s Casco Bay and Saco Bay, where they spend the bulk of the sum­mer.

The pur­suit of striped bass can be a sim­ple re­cre­ational en­deavor for a week­ender or a dogged mis­sion for the die-hard striper hound. Wher­ever you fall within the spec­trum, now’s the time get in on the ac­tion along the At­lantic Coast to catch the fish of your dreams.

EARLY RUN: The mi­gra­tion gets un­der­way in March as wa­ter warms.

SPOON-FED: Bunker spoons, like the Tony Maja, re­main a mid-at­lantic fa­vorite for trolling.

SOFT SELL: An ex­cel­lent blitz bait, the Hogy Pro Tail Pad­dle mim­ics in­jured bait­fish.

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