Spring Striped Bass
While the fall run of striped bass generally gets more attention, most veteran anglers know that spring bass fishing around Cape May can be very satisfying.
As early as mid-March, the action can heat up, although with cold fronts coming through and gusty winds, fishing is generally spotty. Once water temps pass the 50-52 F mark, the bite becomes more consistent and dependable. Finding warmer water in the back bays, up the Delaware Bay, and elsewhere pays off.
Many of the early season fish are shorts, with 13-22" fish predominating. Some larger fish can be mixed in, especially for those willing to put in some time and try various baits.
The best early catches generally come from up the Delaware Bay. Drifting the shallow waters near the mouths of tidal creeks often pays off.
The shallows generally warm up faster than deeper water and fish can be found in about 4-5 feet of water. The cove near the mouth of Dennis Creek and other creeks are consistent producers. Sunny days and outgoing tides are often best because warmer water from the creeks floods the flats, raising water temperatures. On some days, large fish can be seen in these areas rolling and actively feeding. These fish are generally chasing herring, which are making their annual spawning runs up local creeks and rivers.
I first learned about the virtues of spring bass by fishing the shallow waters of the Hudson River below Croton Point. This expansive flat was perfect for drifting with a canoe and throwing 6" Rebel floating plugs. The bass weren't big, but you could catch lots of them. (Back then the limit was only 16".)
Similarly, back bay fishing in places where water warms during the daytime on a high tide are best. The actual fishing is best as the tide drops and warm water from the shallows spills into the deeper waterways. The warmer spots turn the bass on, especially if the bait has shown up. Again, this can be hit or miss, with those anglers who watch water temps and using the right bait scoring best.
Catching spring bass is not that much different from catching bass in the fall. Bait is used more often than artificial's and clam, herring, bunker, and blood worms are the most popular, with clam and worms catching the most fish. For boat anglers, drifting or anchoring up with bait can be done in many places.
Up the Delaware Bay and in the Rips can pay off. Some anglers also use bucktail jigs, often with some sort of bait strip (herring, mackerel, or even clam) trailing behind. As with most cool water fishing, working baits and artificial's slowly is the key. Boat catches can sometimes amount to dozens of fish caught, with a few keepers. This is not unlike what happens in the fall, and is sometimes better than fall in terms of numbers of fish caught.
Various charter and party boats for years have relied on this lesser known fishing phenomenon (see ). From March through May, these boats make it easy to catch up with bass and their many years of experience take the guess work out of the equation. The photos that accompany this article show some of bass caught in spring aboard Cape May charter and party boats.
Shore-based anglers can often take bass using clam or blood worms. The former baits are generally fished on or just above the bottom on fish-finder type rigs. Places like Poverty Beach in Cape May consistently yield fish in spring. For worm floaters, the rig of choice is a float or bobber, with a worm on a 1/0 or 2/0 hook trailed three feet below it. Fishing worms within about 25 feet of jetties like those in Cape May Point can pay off. Simply wait till your bobber disappears and tighten your line. Using circle-type hooks minimizes the chances of gut hooking your catch and makes it much easier to release short fish, unharmed.
Another place for early season stripers is along the salt marsh sod banks. Bait generally works best, until late-April and early May when flies and other artificial's become more effective. Fishing the sod banks. is an art and it requires learning water depths, currents, and tides. Bass often lie just outside creek mouths and feed as warmer water spills into the deeper channels. That moving water brings them food and your bait or lure.
Drifting a worm or a clam can pay off, as can throwing a buck tail or rubber bait-tail and working them slowly in the current. Those same fish can also be found feeding at the edges of the marsh grass, during the high tide where the water comes up over the sod bank. I've taken fish on flies in less than 2 feet of water in late spring. Most important about sod bank. fishing is safety. There are many holes and steep drop offs along the banks of channels and tidal creeks. Taking one step too far can put you in deep water that moves very quickly. In low light conditions, take extreme care and exercise caution. Just as you would explore the bottom off a beach at low tide to see where fish might be at high tide, you can explore the sod banks. at low tide to learn where you can and can't walk at high tide.
Although blitzes, involving schools of marauding bass chasing bait aren't that common in spring, they do occur, but usually on a smaller scale. In late-April a couple of years ago, such a "blitz" occurred off Poverty Beach and near the Cape May jetties. Boaters and shore-based anglers both got in on the action. Those bass were chasing some sort of bait fish, so I managed to hook up on a Clouser-minnow type fly. Surf anglers were also catching, mostly on clams. That blitz was not as cohesive as some
By May, expect more action on artificial's Fly anglers will connect more consistently on Clouser-minnows and other flies, with chartreuse and white or pink and white working best. Fishing deep generally works better, although later in May and at night bass will prowl the shallower waters and feed nearer the surface. Various plugs and buck tail jigs (with plastic or "flavored" worms) also start to work better. Poppers don't tend to work as well in spring as they do in summer and into fall.
As with other seasons, night fishing also can be excellent, although it is not as good with cool water (below 50 F). Once the water temps climb above 50-52 F, the night fishing gets better. By late May and June, night is often better than daytime fishing. Night fishing with plugs, flies, and bait all can work.
So, if you are impatient to catch bass, you don't have to wait until the fall runs to get in on some good action. Taking time to learn about water temperature, tide, and water depths can help you to understand how fish react to these variables. Once you understand the relationships and plan your fishing, you can join the ranks of those anglers who regularly take bass in spring.
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