Planning ahead, but also using all your resources and being flexible, is what makes the search for stripers so much fun. Weather reports, high and low tide times, sunrise or sunset, mid-day or mid-night, moon phases, water temperature, where to fish, the cost of gas, steel or fluorocarbon leaders, bait or lures, how did my fishing buddies make out over the past few days and how have I made out myself. These are just some of the things I consider when I am mapping out my daily plans for searching out saltwater stripers in my home waters of the Western Long Island Sound. I also keep a detailed fishing log so I can look back over my past few years of fishing to make it easier identifying patterns with tides, water temperatures, bait runs, etc.
These are important for safety of course, but they also let me know quite a few other important things as well. If the wind is blowing hard in any direction, my hopes of spotting bait at the surface by site are very low so I will need to depend on my fish-finder a lot more to try and find pods of bait that are not showing on the surface due to the rough conditions. Iíll also need to decide if I want to bring along some frozen bait just in case there is no bait to be found at all. The direction the wind is blowing is also important. If the wind is blowing from the land onto the water near my homeport, then I know I can tuck in close to shore along the mouth of my harbor where the wind and waves will not be too bad. On the other hand, if the wind is blowing off the water towards my home port, then Iím in for a sloppy day no matter where I decide to fish since the wind builds up the waves as it comes across the water so the shoreline outside my area harbors will be whipped up quite a bit. On those days I like to duck into some of my favorite hot spots inside the rivers, harbors and break walls along the New York / Connecticut border.
Although saltwater stripers in the Western Long Island Sound do respond better an hour before and after the tides turn, Iíve had many times when the fishing heated up right at the peak of high or low tide when the tide was completely slack. There are also many shoreline structures where tides play a very important part of determining when the striper fishing should be at its best. For example, at a cut between Tweedís Island (a small island just outside Greenwich Harbor, CT) and a rock outcropping which leads to a small saltwater pond behind the island, the stripers always come to that cut of water just before and after low tide since the bait is either being swept in or out of the cut at that time because the water is moving quite fast (we have an 8 foot tide in my area). But as the saying goes ďrules are made to be brokenĒ and I can tell you that there are many times when I decide to invest a little time in working an area for 30 minutes or so with a mixture of different types of lures as well as cut and live bait to see if anything works, and I've been surprised to have a nice striper hook up when it was supposedly the wrong tide or wrong lure for that spot. I donít spend a lot of time taking these long shots, but it's definitely paid off more than once and it allows me to make sure I cover a good amount of ground in a short amount of time.
Sunrise or Sunset, Mid-Day Or Mid-Night
Without a doubt, this is the most important factor to consider in my area when targeting stripers which has been proven over and over since well over 75% of the stripers caught here are caught in the first hour or two around sunrise, 20% at sunset and nighttime and only 5% during the late morning and afternoon daylight hours. This is not a guess on my part, it comes from my dad and I keeping a very detailed daily log of our own and our closest fishing buddyís striper fishing outings over a long, long time (4 years by me and over 40 years by my dad). It is also important to keep track of bait locations and the time of day they can be found since those patterns are also important for two reasons. The first is that since we do a lot of bait fishing for stripers (using live-lined and cut bunker) fresh bait is critical if we are going to get into any striper action. The second reason is also very obvious - where there is bait you will also have a better chance of finding stripers in that general area. Adjusting your schedule and fishing locations even slightly can have a major effect on finding bait and catching stripers. Although sunrise in summer in NY is around 5:30AM, the sky begins to get light at around 5AM. Since the bunker move into the harbors overnight and hide there in large pods as protection from stripers and bluefish overnight, at first light they tighten up into tight compact pods of many thousand fish and begin their daily move out of the harbors and into the deep open waters where they spend their time during the daylight hours.
Snagging bunker can either be an enjoyable and easy way to start your day - or the hardest and most frustrating part of your trip. By searching out those bunker pods in the harbors 15-30 minutes before and 15-30 minutes after the skies begin to get light, snagging them is fairly easy since they are in tight pods and there is very little other boat traffic around to scatter the pods. So my alarm is always set for 3:30AM so I end up on our boat with everything checked out, rigged and pulling away from the dock by 4:15AM, and within 15 minutes Iím snagging bait. Most times I have all the bait I need by 5AM. Leaving that early gets me on the bait at least 30-45 minutes before almost all the other boats in the area and I can also choose my first spot and set up fishing before almost all other striper fishermen in our area have even started looking for bait. Quite often I load up with extra bait because an hour or so later when I hear many other fishermen on the radio saying they can't find bait, Iíll call them over and share what I have. Those same fishermen are also kind enough to share their bait with me when I sometimes cannot find it or when it turns up in another harbor instead of mine. One other benefit of starting my striper fishing day so early is that most days Iíve packed it in and am back at the dock by 9AM with a solid 3-4 hours of fishing under my belt and have landed, weighed, measured, tagged and released my fair share of stripers!
Where to Fish and The Cost Of Gas
In the Western Long Island Sound, the majority of stripers caught are hooked up within 50 feet of the rocky shorelines of harbors and small islands in less than 10 feet of water (often in less than 4 feet of water). But it still amazes me to see so many other fishermen scratching their heads week after week wondering why they never seem to be able to land a single striper. These same fishermen also pass by my fishing buddies and I almost every morning and we hear them calling out on the radio asking where the bait is or where the stripers are and I canít even count how many times they have passed within 100 feet of our boat while our rods are bent over and the line is screaming out with a striper of 20 or more pounds peeling off line and they shout out ďhow are you doing?Ē or ďanything bitingĒ and we try our best to wave them over and call them on the radio to come fish alongside us, but they just push the throttle down since they think you have to go out ďin the middleĒ in the deep water to catch big fish. The Western Long Island Sound is about 6 miles wide and gets to 70+ feet deep 1/2 way across (which is 3 miles out) and those same fishermen can often be seen also traveling 10-15 miles east or west as well. My dad and I take our share of longer trips once in a while too, especially earlier in the season (in May or early June before the stripers and bait move in along our local shores) and we have a ton of fun trolling for them in 40-60 feet of water. But starting around the end of June and well into late November we shift our striper fishing to tight along our local shoreline. By doing this we also save a lot of running time and gas too, so we get more time to fish!
Steel or Fluorocarbon LeadersÖ Bait or Lures
8/0 Gamakatsu circle octopus hooks are what I use exclusively when fishing bait since I tag and release all my stripers and the circle hooks result in clean lip hooks well over 90% of the time. Whenever possible, I like to use fluorocarbon leaders even though the waters in our area are quite murky because I still think invisible leaders help me get more hook-ups. I use 40 or 50-pound test Sufix fluorocarbon leaders that are 24-36 long. I rig these up myself using 130-pound test SPRO barrel swivels. My reels are all spooled up with Sufix Braid or Sufix Tritanium-Plus copolymer lines. But when the bluefish start to mix in heavily with the stripers I shift over to wire leaders, which I also rig up with the same 8/0 Gamakatsu circle octopus hooks. When the bait is in the area Iíll set out 2 live-lined bunker and 2 cut bunker head chunks and as soon as those 4 baits are in the water Iíll also start to fan cast along the shoreline using a mix of 4-5-inch surface poppers (I like red head and white body the best) and 4-6-inch soft swim-baits (in the bunker pattern). In this way I have all my options covered. Although I must admit that it gets very interesting sometimes if I end up with multiple hook-ups and a few lines going in opposite directions, but that is always a good problem to have and it beats not getting any bites.
Here in the NY area, the only real down time we have for stripers between May and November is when the water temperatures get too high, which usually happens some time in August. As soon as the water gets up into the mid-70ís the striper fishing cools down a bit, but the bluefish action more than makes up for it and keeps us quite busy. Luckily these high water temperatures only last a few weeks and then the cool nights in early September start to kick in. This year the good news is that I'm headed to Hawaii for 2 weeks and have some marlin, short-nose spearfish and tuna fishing planned so by the time I get back it won't be long until the striper fishing comes alive again in our waters.
My Log Book
I review my logbook to see how my fishing buddies made out over the past few days and how I have made out myself. I also look back into the previous few years at the same week of the year to see what was happening. This has sometimes helped me decide to change my pattern of searching out bait and where and how I fish over the next few days and more than a few times it has been the difference between getting into solid, steady action instead of being skunked. Keeping an accurate detailed log book takes time, but I make it an enjoyable part of my day by filling it out every night and it brings a smile to my face since it helps me remember back to the fun I had that morning, earlier in the season and even back over the past few years. I also paste photos into the log book so when looking back through it those images get me even more charged up about heading out fishing the next morning.
What Does This All Mean?
When you add all this up, the lesson I have learned is that itís OK to try a rulebreaking approach for stripers every once in a while, but it is even more important to take full advantage of all the signs around us that most people miss or do not bother with. It has also helped me to clearly see that in my local waters, the time of day you fish for stripers is the most important factor by far. Not that all the other factors are not important, but time of day is by far the biggest factor in successful striper fishing in this area.
So Here Are My Top 4 Simple And Most Important Tips For Striper Fishing:
1. Keep a log book, update it with details every day you go fishing and be sure to review often.
2. Use all the information you can get your hands on but also try to figure out the most important one or two factors for your area and work your fishing plans around those key factors.
3. Learn to become a local expert by getting to know your local shoreline and hot spots instead of pushing the throttle all the way down every time you leave your dock. Sometimes fishing close to home is the smartest way to score.
4. Stay in touch frequently with your closest and most trusted fishing buddies by radio. Also share your bait, your techniques and a few of your favorite spots with them. Trust me, it will make your fishing more enjoyable and they will do the same for you when you need some help. I know, because I do this all the time and there have been many times when I was without bait or not hooking up and one of my fishing buddies called me over to join him where he was into a bite.
Speaking Of Fishing Buddies
Iíd like to mention one of them by name since he has been striper fishing the waters of the Western Long Island sound for a long time and is truly a local legend. His name is Bill Siegel, and not only has he been fishing alongside my dad Joe for over forty years and along my side for the past few years, heís also my good friend and he and my dad have taught me everything I know about striper fishing so far. So now Iím working on a few of my own new, special tricks and techniques that I'm testing out thoroughly and as soon as I figure out which ones work best you can rest assured that I'll let Bill and my dad know - and I promise to share them with you too.
Last but not least, always remember...
ďItís not the size of the fisherman in the fight, itís the size of the fight in the fisherman.Ē
Tight lines, Richard DeMarte