Monday, March 25, 2013

New Fish or Holdovers?

A couple of weeks ago, someone told me about a good bunch of schoolies he had caught in the upper Bay.  He questioned whether I thought they were new fish or holdovers.  Judging by the date they were caught and where they were caught, my guess was that they were holdovers.
In the next few weeks more and more stripers will be caught as more and more fishermen try for them. So, how will you know whether you have caught a holdover or one of the new migrating fish?  You won't know for sure. However, here are a few hints that might give you a better answer:
*Most of the schoolies landed along the oceanfront will be new fish.  The holdovers are holed up way back in the backwaters and rivers.
*New fish tend to be "bright" perfect specimens.  Sometimes they have sea lice on them.
*The first arrivals will be small fish, generally 12-18 inches.  Most holdovers are hefty schoolies above 20 inches. A higher than normal percentage of holdovers have some type of skin disease.
*New fish love to feed in the warmest part of the daytime.  The holdovers still prefer nighttime feeding.
*New fish hit better on warm, sunny days; they seem to disappear in cold, windy weather.  Holdovers still love the nasty weather.
*New fish tend to be schooled up in big numbers.  I'm pretty sure that when you get your first one, many will follow. Fishing in some areas along the oceanfront will go from nothing to hundreds of fish caught in one day!
Whether you target holdovers or new fish, spring fishing is right around the corner.  A change in the weather and a warm spell should get things started.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Real Eye Opener

Winter striper fishing can best be described as inconsistent.  I've  lived that in my last five outings as I went fishless and hitless.  But, I also know from experience that persistence in this winter game of striper fishing can pay off.  I've also lived winter nights where there is a fish or a hit on every cast, even after I've gone fishless for five or more nights in a row.
Last night was one of those nights.  After my five fishless outings, I decided to make some changes and fish in a different spot.  You see, winter fish often pack up, and it is a matter of finding the Mother Lode.  I tried an area I rarely fish at this time of year.  In addition, I know that winter fish turn on in some of the nastiest weather imaginable.  It was that way last night with wind, cold,  snow blowing and slush everywhere. Hey, my kind of fishing weather.  For whatever the reason, and maybe it was pure luck, the fish were around in astounding numbers as I had a striper or a hit on just about every single cast in the two hours I fished.  While most of these fish were hefty schoolies, I did manage to hook into one small keeper.  It was a reminder that keeper bass can still be caught in the wintertime. So, last night will go down in the logbook as one of those terrific March outings that seem to be few and far between these days, a real eye opener!
Yes, persistence does pay off.

Monday, March 18, 2013

When Will it Start?

Trying to nail down the start of the striper action is tricky.  There are so many factors that influence their migration northward.  Certainly water temperature plays a big role and that's affected by our weather. Storminess, winds and the amount of daylight also factor in. However, stripers are  like the birds in that they have that natural instinct that tells them it's time to migrate northward, and that happens regardless of the weather or conditions.
I have logs from over 40 years of fishing. There are clear patterns that emerge from my record keeping.  Decades ago, the northward migration happened consistently around the third week in April.  However, in the last decade, that timeline has moved earlier in general, no doubt due to our warming weather.  Last year, one of the warmest winters and early springs on record, saw new fish arriving in late March.  By the first week in April, they seemed to be everywhere along the oceanfront and in the Bay.  I don't see that as happening this year, as we have had a very cold February and March and water temperatures seem to be where they should be at this time.
However, I am still sticking with a fairly early start to the season because that seems to be the trend in the last decade.  I'll start seriously looking for them in both the Bay and along the oceanfront about the first to second weeks in April.  If I had to bet on a date, I would say things should bust open about April 10. If the weather remains cold, add about 5 days; if the weather suddenly warms up way above normal, subtract about 5 days.  Regardless of the date, the start of the new season is right around the corner.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Walmart Specials....Plugs for $2.50!

On my last post I talked about small plugs and how they can be effective at times when small bait is around.  Well, yesterday I got a call from my friend Dennis who told me about a big sale of small plugs in the Walmart on Post Rd. in Warwick.  So, I went down to check it out.
They had boxes and boxes of saltwater plugs on sale for an incredible $2.50.  Most of these plugs sell for $5 to $7 in most online stores and tackle shops. I bought plugs such as Rebel Jumpin Minnows, four inch Bombers, 3 inch Creek Chub poppers, and Cotton Cordell Red Fins of various sizes (straightback and jointed).  See photo of some of the plugs I bought. These are all terrific small bait imitators and will work well in the Bay and along the oceanfront using light tackle.
While I am posting about adding small plugs to your surfbag, keep in mind that a balance is important when stocking up on artificials.  In the fall I have as many large plugs as I do small plugs in my bag.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Smaller Can Be Better

My advice is to keep a balance in your plug bag between small plugs and big plugs.  Yes, sometimes smaller can be better.  Most surf fishermen make the mistake of only stocking big plugs, especially big swimmers (I'm talking plastic and wooden swimmers of 6 inches or more).  Many fishermen think big plugs will catch big fish.  That thinking works out well when big bait, such as menhaden, mackerel, herring and mullet are around. Remember that you are trying to imitate the bait that stripers are eating when you snap on an artificial.  What happens when you have small bait around such as bay anchovies and peanut bunker that measure only three or four inches in length? Only a small plug will imitate that baitfish.  Last fall I saw this played out many times along the oceanfront.  There were days with tons of bay anchovies around along with calm and clear water.  On one day in particular, my son Ben was nailing one keeper bass after another (up to 35 inches) on 4 inch Bombers.  These fish were super fussy and that was all they would hit. A lot of frustrated fishermen who had only large plugs in their bags went fishless. 
This is the first late winter ever that I have been catching more wintering over fish on small swimmers than on jigs.  Plugs like the 4 inch suspending Rapala X Raps have been  hot and I suspect they will be hot once the new fish arrive.  Don't be fooled into thinking these small plugs will only catch small fish.  Take a look at the right of a picture I took a couple of weeks ago of a large winter fish that was caught on an X Rap.
 So my strong advice is to stock up on small swimmers (4 inches or less).  They are hot when the small bait comes around. And, yes, they will catch keeper fish.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

NE Saltwater Fishing Show....March 8-10

The largest saltwater fishing show in the northeast is coming to the RI Convention Center in Providence from March 8-10 (this weekend).  It is sponsored by the RISAA (Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers' Association).  I have been to this show many times in the past, and I can tell you it is terrific.  It has everything you ever wanted to know or see regarding saltwater boat fishing as well as shore fishing.  There are tackle dealers selling their goods at great prices, plug makers selling their creations, boat captains talking charters, boat displays, big name rod and reel companies displaying their products, electronics on display, clothing sales and continuous seminars by experts. Check out the show's website, for more information.
RISAA is the show's sponsor.  I will also tell you that by supporting the show, you support RISAA.  This group has been at the forefront of many big decisions on every aspect of saltwater fishing here in this state from regulations to access.  They have truly been the voice of the saltwater fisherman here in RI.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Striper Predictions...You Just Don't Know!

I'm reading lots of striper predictions for the coming year.  Most paint a picture of gloom and doom. Predictions are what fishermen and fisheries management people write about and talk about when not much is going on in the wintertime.
I used to be a guy that took these predictions seriously.  I don't anymore.  Last year lots of  writers and so called experts were predicting a big downturn in striper numbers.  It turned out to be a good year here in RI.  In fact, I landed more stripers last year than I did the two previous years combined.  And, there were good numbers of fish in all categories from schoolies up to keepers. Not bad for a year in which there was supposed to be a big decline here in RI. I also just read a story in the Fisherman magazine by Dave Anderson that talked about the great year they had in the Cape Cod Canal, a real hotspot in recent years that has had big numbers of fish.
Here in RI we have a unique situation.  We get our stripers from different places and even from some places we don't even know anything about.  One main place that we get them from is the Chesapeake Bay. If you believe the Young of the Year Index from the Chesapeake Bay, the count of newly hatched fish, it says that the number of stripers are in decline due to poor spawning in the last five years.  To make matters worse, a high percentage of the Chesapeake fish are infected with the Myco bacteria. This is where the gloom and doom forecasts are coming from.  However, we also get a lot of our fish from the Hudson River.  There the spawning has been decent in the last few years, providing an abundance of fish that migrate to southern New England waters.  And, I'm also convinced that many of the rivers and bays from Connecticut southward to Carolinas probably have some spawning fish, but we know very little about these places or the numbers of fish they produce.
This winter I landed several stripers in the Bay that were a mere 8 inches long.  Where did these wintering over fish come from?  You are not going to tell me they migrated in the spring (had to be only 4-5 inches long then) from far away places.  I suspect they came from someplace nearby like maybe the CT rivers or even a RI river system.  We just don't know.
So, what's going to happen this year.  I don't know and I don't think anyone else knows either. It's just a matter of getting out there and fishing and hoping it all works out well.