One of the the coolest things about the striped bass is the variety of their territory, starting with the backwaters: small creeks, brackish rivers, ponds, marshes and estuaries. On the other end of the spectrum, the stripers are more known for their habitat in rough surf and open ocean up and down the eastern seaboard. But the beginning of the season is all about the former. Bass thrive in headwaters, shallow mud flats, marshes, rivers and creeks in the early spring. Their movements are governed by the tidal movement, like a dance to the rhythm of the tides. Following the rising tide tides, bass move into waters inaccessible at low water in search of forage, relying on their inherent senses of tide cycles. Before the tides begin to recede, bass move out into safer, deeper waters where they won’t be stranded. Along the way, they wait for the prey to also follow the tides and get sucked out into the deeper water, ambushing easy meals in choke points and ‘fish highways’.
As such, the angler’s journey hunting the striper starts in these habitats. These locations are often most easily fished on foot, from shore. A lot of these areas are inaccessible by boat, or an outboard engine would surely spook any fish from the area. Stealth is the name of the game in more ways than one-both in making your presence unknown to the fish, and also potentially to cranky coastal homeowners in areas where public shore access is all but gone. The cover of darkness almost always produces a better bite-stripers and their prey would not venture into these waters during daytime out of fear of humans and attack from above from winged predators: Osprey, eagles and cormorants don’t hunt at night.
The menu for striped bass this time of year is expansive and bass aren’t picky, anything and everything will do. The choicest item on the menu is likely the alewife or blueback herring. Crabs, grass shrimp, sandwoms and silversides make a suitable appetizer. This is prime light tackle fishing: flies, small soft plastics, and swimmers of all varieties will produce. The smaller the bait the fish are keyed in on, the pickier the bass are. The hunt begins in urban/suburban areas. I’m amazed at the waters in which these fish cruise this time of year, often right under your nose.
This season has been no different. It’s been the best early spring I’ve observed since 2018. Perhaps the dry weather had something to do with it- the month of April recorded only 2.75 inches of rain, compared to an average of over 4 inches in the Nutmeg state. Temperate was a bit more typical, about .7 degrees below average. Perhaps the precipitation has caused a good bite, maybe a bit of luck, or maybe there are more or larger fish in our area this year due to the biomass stocks.
In either case, enjoy the fishing. But also the sights, smells, and wildlife that spring brings. It’s certainly not a competition, nor a race.