John Skinner is the author of Fishing the Bucktail and A Season on the Edge. He’s the creator of the fishing log software FishersLog. He’s a consistent producer of trophy striped bass and holds the current New York State false albacore record.
This is one of those times of the year when I keep a close eye on water temperature. As we're all aware, we had a mighty cold and snowy winter. I never think of this as necessarily affecting when substantial fishing will get underway, because unusually warm weather in early April can quickly erase the memory and impact of the winter months. As the preceding weeks have played out, we're left with a cold snowy winter followed by a cold early spring. There was a coating of sleet on the ground only a few days ago, and it's only been a couple of weeks since measurable snow. The result of all of this is unseasonable cold water right now. The water temperature as I wrote this on April 20 was 42 degrees at both the Central Sound and Montauk weather buoys. I don't need to look at archived data to say with confidence that those readings are very cold for this time of year. My experience is that I usually don't do well on stripers until the water hits about 50 degrees. I've done very little at all with them below 46 degrees. This all plays into how I proceed in these cold early goings. The relatively shallow bay waters warm faster than the ocean or sound waters feeding them and are usually a good place to start. The Smith's Point Bridge water temperature readings provided by LIShore illustrate very nicely how timing your trip can make the difference between catching a few bass and going hitless this time of year. Saturday's coldest water measured by the bridge instruments was 46 degrees at 11:24 a.m. This was on the upper half of incoming current as cold ocean water had been pumping into the bay for a few hours. On the lower half of the ebb the water temperature peaked at 51 degrees at 6:36 p.m. Those 5 degrees can make a huge difference in striper activity. The water was 5 degrees warmer in the evening because water that had covered shallow dark-bottomed muddy areas of the back bay responded quickly to the afternoon sunshine. As the tide receded, this warmer water was drawn from these back reaches and drained into the bay's main channels. Minnow style swimmers are one of my favorite lure classes to use in shallow areas early in the season. Many of my season "icebreaker" fish have been caught on these plugs retrieved slowly on or just beneath the water's surface. One of my favorites is the 6-inch Bomber. Fishing these on a bay trip in the evening into early night on an outgoing current is a good strategy for catching early spring stripers. Here's some Bomber video recorded last fall.