So... another winter has come and gone, (hopefully). As the ground thaws and the back bays start to warm up into the high 40's and low 50's the elusive Morone saxatilis a.k.a Striped Bass begins to in habit these waters which were just frigid and bare weeks ago. This is the beginning of their yearly migration and its time to take your shot at landing one of these beautiful fish.
Thinking about trying your luck? Well you'll need the right gear to get the job done. Lets start off with the hardware you'll need from the beach, since at this time Marinas are not yet ready for the boats and most trailer boats don't have the shrink wrap off yet. A 8-9' medium to medium heavy rod capable of 1-3oz should be good enough to get you in on the action. Pair it with a spinning reel in the 3-4 range, load it up with 30lb braid and you have the weapon you'll need. Additionally you'll need a sand spike, waders and a bucket or chair (bait and wait) can be hard on the feet.¬†
In Like a Lion
March is usually the time when the locals and sharpies, start to wet a line, and more years than not you here of the first keeper being caught off the beach during the first week. You'll have to pay close attention to the weather during this time as it can be dramatically different from day to day. Be aware of NE winds as they can really make it difficult on the water. Other things to consider are high tide times, wind speed and direction, and sunrise and moon set times. I seem to do the best at first light when the high tide and the sun rise match.
So now you have a good weather day and the gear in the truck where do you go? To answer that lets think about whats happening in the water. The Bass are here now because the water temps have set off their migratory instincts. They are foraging and re fueling from their winter diets. So what does that tell us? It tells us that they are in warmer waters. The shallows, sand flats of the back bays and river mouths at this time of year are where the favored water temps are. Key areas to try range from Perth Amboy to Leonardo. Any mussel beds, clam beds, or creek mouths are usually a good starting point. Structure such as rock walls or jettys, and bridge legs can and will likely hold fish. Pick your spot by ease of access and don't rule out a last minute change. Often you may be fishing say in Cliffwood with nothing going on, when you'll¬† hear of a bite going on In Lawrence Harbor. You can literally see one spot from the other and can't understand how this is happening, but it does happen and happens often. So you'll want to be close enough to the truck to pack up and get to the bite while its still on.
The Last Supper
Only seems fitting as the title of this portion. The bait¬† you choose and style in which you present it are as key as any other topic we have discussed. Early spring bass are eating whats readily available at this time. In the areas where the fish are the offerings include; clams, blood worms, sand worms, and mussels. Most of which are available at your local bait shop. If you can't make it to a bait shop during the hours the are open or if they are sold out, Berkley Bloody worms, or gulp clams can work too. I prefer fresh clams this time of year. Now you have your bait its time to get it in the water. A 6/0-8/0 circle hook snelled on to a 3' piece of 30-50 lb mono or flouro carbon and a 2-4 oz chunk of lead will get it there. There are many readily available striped bass out there and all of which will work. I like to keep it simple a 8/0 circle hook on one end of a 3' 40lb flouro leader, and a barrel swivel at the other. Put a fish finder on your main line, tie your main line to your swivel and snap on a 3oz bank sinker. Now place the tip of the hook through the foot of the clam(the rubber like portion of the top of the bait) and pass the hook through the belly several times.
Let er' fly
Your now at your spot of choice, have your hook baited and your rod in hand, time to snap back the bale and and get that bait soaking.
Be gentle especially fishing clams you want as much of that belly to stay on the hook as possible. To do this I use a long swing over head cast. Start by bringing our rod tip back over your shoulder and let your clam almost touch the floor, take a look back to make sure there is no one behind you, and that your hooks not stuck on anything. (many times I have seen people get hooked, hit with a sinker, or the hook stuck on a bag or bucket resulting in a broken rod). If its all clear swing your rod forward with your arms as straight as possible, release the line as soon as you see your thumb. Don't whip the rod forward or your clam will be on the beach behind you.
Once the bait hits the bottom reel up the slack until you can feel your sinker holding the bottom and place the rod in the holder. Now its the waiting game.
Here it is the moment you've been waiting for, as you keep an eye on your top eye you see the flicker of the rod tip. Don't let excitement get the best of you. Running to the the rod haphazardly grabbing it out of the holder and immediately swinging for the fences will almost guarantee you've missed your opportunity. When you see the rod "go off" yes you'll want to get it in your hand quickly, but thats it just get it in your hand. Let the fish tell you what its doing, often the bass will inhale the bait and go but this is not always the case. Some days they are a little hesitant on taking the bait and decide to play around with it, you can feel this going on but resist the temptation to swing. When you feel a steady pull and can see your line stretched its time to set the hook.
Its all over but the shoutin'
You've done it all right and now have your first spring bass on the other end of the line. Take your time and enjoy the reward, keep constant pressure on the line and avoid pumping the rod. Any slack in the line at this point will give the fish a chance to spit the hook. Continue to reel the fish in and soon as you can see the dorsal (top) fin sticking out of the water hold the rod to your side and walk backwards to pull the fish on to the beach. Job well done, now its time to measure the fish take a few pictures and get it back in the water or in the cooler as fast as possible.
There are many other ways to catch spring bass than what I have written. I am sharing what has worked for me for many years, figure out what works best for you. The best thing you can do to increase your chances is listen to whats going on, either by talking to that guy you see in his truck where your fishing, or by this forum, or your local tackle shop. They other key to improving your odds is time. The more time you spend researching and planing will definitely increase your chances, but the most important is the time on the water.