Stripers…

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If there is any truth to this proverb, I might spend a lot of time on this good earth. It helps when I total up the time I have spent in the last 10 years chasing striped bass. I’ve not gotten a fly in front of them yet; up to this point it’s been purely a hardware thing. But it’s become an important fall ritual to head south to the New Jersey shore, shed fly tackle for a bit, and get up real early in the cold to toss 5 to 7 ounces of metal and end the day with sore arms just from casting and jigging. It’s an act that is akin to a freshwater fly fisherman kicking back and dunking a worm if for nothing else than to return to his roots.

I started fishing for stripers in the mid-2000’s. My first catch was a spring bass – drifting clams on the bottom from a party boat – in this case the Doris Mae out of Barnegat Light, NJ. In 2008 I won the pool on Miss Barnegat Light on a glorious and relatively warm November day…

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…and it was one of “those” days – one of those please don’t let this end types of days. Every angler has at least a few of them. And this one was right up there with the best I’ve ever had. The fishing was as good as it could ever get according to many veterans on the boat. The captain reported a “blacked-out” fish-finder, so thick were the fish. Indeed, it was a battle just getting the jig down to the bass. Big “gator” blues swarmed mid-way in the water column, chomping anything that dared invade their space. I had caught well over 20 blues and two keeper stripers as the day wound to an end, and then hooked something that didn’t move a lot. After a few minutes, it started to move – and this time a lot – and I knew this was a very good fish. The captain kept the boat out after the 2 pm deadline to head back to the dock just to let me bring it to the gaff.

2009 was a bust, 2010 was a miss as I just never got down to the Jersey shore that year, and in 2011, a feisty lady named “Sandy” came up the coast and completely ruined the striper fishing season and also almost sunk Long Beach Island and much of the Jersey shore in the process.

2012 was another miss, so come early fall 2013, I really had an itching for some striper fishing…

My timing was not the best, once again. The season started off hit and miss and remained that way through an early December close. It’s hard to know exactly why, but the reasons the locals offered up included warmer than ideal water at the start of the season. The fish were certainly there – at times many of the party boat captains reported marking lots of fish that just didn’t want to bite. Bait was incredibly plentiful too leading some to surmise that, like a blizzard hatch on a river, there was just too much competition for a few jigs to match. And there were the boats – hundreds of them in some areas – and oft times they can put the fish down.

Despite all of this, I managed to do OK. Conditions were often cold and windy but dressing right and jigging generally kept the cold away. On one trip I was hooking one blue after another, including a giant that ended up being a release at the gaff. The mate knocked the hook off and almost got knocked out himself when 5 ounces of metal came flying up and hit him square in the chest. I decided to take another trip on the following day with #1 son in tow. The brutal wind of the day before had died but the fish didn’t show the entire day, save a small blue caught by another angler and a nice striper that I caught on a flutter jig.

Lonely, pool-winning striper...

Lonely, pool-winning striper…

A few weeks later I went out again with #1 son, hoping we could strike it right and get into the kind of banner day I had experienced in 2008…

#1 son and I as we headed out Barnegat Inlet.

#1 son and I as we headed out Barnegat Inlet.

We got got up way too early in the dark of a bitterly cold morning that barely cracked 20 degrees. My son was a trooper, never complaining once about the weather. We got to the boat and picked a bow spot, then retreated to the warmth of the main cabin, a welcome refuge throughout that cold day. After getting underway at daybreak, the captain spent what seemed like a lot of time searching, and then finally running north to Seaside Heights. There were birds about – in some cases acres of them. They hovered and dove, wheeled and climbed. They are always a good sign of bait and usually the fish are not far below.

Eventually we settled off the Seaside Heights boardwalk and began to fish. The fall jigging game is a matter of getting metal to the bottom and then working the jig up off the bottom. Sometimes an erratic jigging motion is best, other times the fish want it retrieved up as fast as one can reel. The biggest bass are said to be lazy, hanging deep below, sucking up the scraps of bait that drop down from any bluefish feeding above.

The fishing that day was a lot of work and a true test of patience. The bite was very slow to start. Some anglers were hooking dogfish and even a few fluke. The captain continued searching and stripers started to trickle in, most of them “shorts” at first. But as the day went on we started to see some keepers come over the rail.

I found good success, catching 4 nice shorts and finally hooking up solid as we drifted off Manasquan Inlet…

Manasquan Inlet, looking seward...

Manasquan Inlet, looking seaward…

I had picked up the “snap” to my jigging, casting out, letting the jig fall, then retrieving the jig with a quick sweep upward followed by a quick retrieve.  My flutter jig, a local pattern in “sand eel” finish from West Creek Bait and Tackle, was too much for this big fellow to refuse…

Jersey stripes...

Jersey stripes…

I had another bass about as big follow the jig up and take a short swipe at it right at the boat. But that was to be it. The day wound down and soon we were headed in. I felt bad that #1 son had not had any success, but he seemed happy that we came home with fish and pool money. And that one bass made for five good meals for a family and a big pot of delicious chowder.

I’ll continue to make this traditional trip as long as I can stand. I hope to get a shot at a striper with the long rod and fly, but being far away from the salt makes it difficult. One needs to really be in tune with the area, the fish, the weather, and the trends, to be good. I suppose it’s much like the guys from New Jersey who make a few trips on the Delaware for trout. It’s hard to truly figure out the fishing when you’re not a local. But as long as all of that time doesn’t count against my total, it’s all good. There could be worse ways to spend a few hours…

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2 Responses to “Stripers…”

  1. Bob Stanton Says:

    Those are some beautiful fish, Bob. And hey, you’ve jogged my memory a bit I think – isn’t ” #1 son” a Charlie Chan reference? I used to love those movies when I was a kid.

    • stflyfisher Says:

      Thanks Bob. You are too kind! You know, I’m not sure where I picked that up from, but you may be right. Possibly the subject of another post…

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