Most Striped Bass who come in contact with surf fishermen along the “striper coast” migrate both in the spring and the fall. In the spring, these fish journey to the north (along the northeast coast) following the bait. In the fall they return south in preparation for the coming winter . These migration patterns create a lot of anticipation with anglers. Regardless of which season, surf fishermen get very excited about the possibilities of having encounters with this beautiful species. When a Striper hits a well-placed lure, the feeling is like meeting an old friend who had moved away. We welcome them with open arms when we meet them on our beaches, inlets, and bays.
Adding to the anticipation, when Stripers migrate, they arrive suddenly. One day they’re
not there, the next they are plentifully thick in the surf. Day or night it is hard to anticipate their exact arrival, and before you know it, they’re off, on their way to visit farther coasts. When they’re gone, we think of them often, and we look forward to the next “visit”. We can’t help but wonder when next we’ll see our “old friends”. But how much do we really value the encounter? What do we really know about these “old friends”- these Striped Bass- that bring so much joy to the anglers who target them?
To get a better understanding of the life and times of migratory Striped Bass along the northeast coast, we must go back to the beginning, back to where and when they are born. During the late winter and early spring months, mature Striped Bass will move in from the ocean to the tributaries of the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays, the Hudson River and other waters along the Striper Coast. When springtime water temperatures begin to rise, these fish will breed in these freshwater areas. Female Striped Bass begin breeding at age 4. However, they do not reach their sexual maturity until age of 8 or older.
Male Striped Bass reach sexual maturity at a faster rate, becoming mature at age 2 or 3. Once the breeding migratory fish complete the spawning process, they move out of the tributaries returning to the Ocean to begin their northward migration along the eastern seaboard. They travel as far north as Nova Scotia. Most migrating Striped Bass spend the summer and early fall off the coast of New England. When it comes to juvenile stripers, they can begin to migrate as young as 2 years old, perhaps even a bit younger, although most don’t begin their first migration until the age of 3, remaining in the river tributaries where they were spawned.
As late fall approaches, water temperatures cool in the north triggering the migration to their winter homes off the North Carolina and Virginia Capes. This sudden migration is also known as the fall run- an event or period of time that really gets surfcasters’ blood
pumping and minds in serious fishing mode.
When it comes to the feeding habits of Striped Bass, it is essential for surfcasters to understand and familiarize themselves with these habits in order to have better production when targeting these fish. Striped Bass eat a wide variety of larger baits like bunker, mackerel and Herring. They also gorge themselves on crabs, shrimp, squid, and, one of their favorites, eels. Striped Bass are opportunistic feeders that consume large meals. Because of this, they do not continually eat like other species of fish. Finding the best opportunity for you as a surfcaster has to coincide with the Striped Bass looking for an opportunity to feed- especially when it comes to catching larger fish. Large striped bass will look for the easiest meal available as they look to exert the least amount of energy.
One example to look for would be Striped Bass trailing a school of blitzing bluefish chowing down and ripping up schools of bunker while moving along the beach. Look for it and you will note that Striped Bass often follow close behind such schools of blitzing fish, cleaning up the scraps left behind. As an angler observing this phenomenon and you will benefit by knowing to trail the blitzing Blues rather than throw right into the middle of the feeding frenzy, as many anglers are tempted to do.
Knowledge of feeding habits also leads to an understanding of the importance of time of day. Time of day will help you understand when Stripers are most active, which will then lead to increasing success catching these fish. Striped Bass tend to be nocturnal feeders (especially the larger ones). Night time is the right time when you are targeting these fish especially in the hot days of summer. During the evening hours the surface
water temps cool slightly and the beach crowds and boating activities that crowded the shores during the day, dissipate, thereby giving bass the opportunity to move into shore undisturbed to grab an easy meal. It will also give you a great opportunity to hook up!
In the end, it is our friends who help us through the days of anticipation and take advantage of the sudden arrival of other friends. This happens no matter the reason and no matter the season. We have pictures of our friends, so why not take pictures of these special “old friends” by our beaches, inlets, or bays so you make memories that will last a lifetime- and provide some remembrance of the time of the visit. Finally, remember to be kind to these special friends- practice catch and release when you can, especially with the larger breeding fish. This will insure that more of these old friends continue to visit us in the future. Live The Passion! Tightlines!
Bernie Hoyt lives in Aquebogue, Long Island. He has 30 years of experience fishing the Long Island surf where he is a NYS Certified Fishing Guide. He is well known for his informative seminars at saltwater shows up and down the Atlantic seaboard. He offers trips for all ages throughout the outer beaches and inlets of Long Island, as well as the Cape Cod Canal, Cuttyhunk, and other Striper locations in the northeast. He is a pro-team member for S&S Bucktails, ODM RODS, and Eposeidon.com. You can contact Bernie on Facebook through Bernie Bass Surfcasting Services, on Instagram @Bernie_bass and through his website at www.Berniebass.com