In the spring, water temperature is the main factor in determining when and where the first striper of the season will be caught. The water temperature will have to get to at least 44 degrees F.
The following discussion is centered on a particular part of New Jersey. However, similar places and conditions exist at various places along the striper migration route (for example - the shores of Raritan Bay), during the spring with similar results for the fishing; but maybe with timing shifted somewhat.
Graveling Point is a point on the northern shore of Great Bay, in NJ. Great Bay is fed by the Mullica River. There are shallow flats here, and there is a mud bottom. In the spring this is where the water warms up first. Every year the first striped bass of the season is caught here.
A few sunny days in March will warm the dark mud bottom in these shallows. The worms and other organisms will wake up and become active. As the tide moves in over these warm bottoms, the water will warm. As it recedes with the falling tide, it will be a few degrees warmer than when it came in. This warmer outgoing water, along with the new activity of its bottom dwellers, will attract the stripers. Under these conditions, the first striped bass of the season will be caught. The water temperature will have gotten to at least 44 degrees.
The bait will be bloodworms, Real or artificial Berkley Gulp, or clams, as there aren't many baitfish around this early in the spring. The first stripers won't be large. They will be schoolies and holdovers that remained in these or nearby locations through the winter.
Graveling point is located at the end of Radio Road in Mystic Island. Scott's Bait and Tackle shop is located on this same road. Each year this shop provides a $100 prize to the fisherman who catches the first keeper size striped bass of the season.
A short history showing when the first striper of the year was caught at Graveling Point is provide by the table below.
|2015||April 14||Jake Adair||28¼||Clams|
|2014||April 19||Dave Curry||Clams|
|2013||March 13th||Vincas Kudirca||29||Bloodworms|
|2012||March 8th||Jack Ross||30||Blodworms|
|2011||March 13th||Tim McGeary||29||Bloodworms|
|2010||March 16th||Ken Smith||28½||Bloodworms|
|2009||March 26th||Dan Williamson||28¼+|
|2008||March 26th||Lenny Sankarik||29¼+||Bloodworms|
|2007||March 14th||Mike Barlow||29||Berley Gulp Bloodworms|
|2006||March 5th||Randy Sloan||30|
|2005||March 29th||Lenny Sankarik||27|
Vincas Kudirca 2013
A little later, a herring run will occur in the Mullica River as "River Herring" go up the river and its feeder streams to spawn. Larger migrating striped bass now come into the river chasing after the herring and doing their own spawning. Fishermen will be catching the herring in some of the feeder streams and storing them in aerated containers. These fishermen then liveline the herring in the river, and catch some of the stripers. Note that there is presently a moratorium on catching river herring in some New England States.
When the stripers come down out of the river some will stay in the back bays for awhile, as the water will be warmer there.
Stripers will begin feeding actively along the ocean beaches when the water temperature reaches 50 degrees. There are not many baitfish along the beaches at this time of year, but there are plenty of clams. So the bait of choice for the surf fishermen is clams, but fresh bunker chunks also work well when you can get them.
Later in the spring, waves of larger striped bass that are migrating up the coast after spawning in the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays arrive along the NJ coast. These can also be caught using clams or bunker chunks.
Bunker Snagging Rigs
Link to larger image
However the real excitement occurs when the migrating stripers encounter schools
of live bunker that invade NJ waters at these same times. The boat fishermen have a blast, and if winds push the bunker close to the beach, the surf and jetty fishermen can catch large stripers also.
Snag and Drop, using bunker snagging rigs, is the most popular technique used by both boat and surf fishermaen at these times, however stripers are also caught throwing pencil poppers and swimming plugs.
A better way, used by most boat fishermen whose boats have live wells, is to snag a dozen or so bunker and put them in their live wells. Then live line these on separate rods, and using circle hooks to catch the stripers.
For the last couple of years the bunker schools have been large and numerous because of abundant plankton, resulting in some great striped bass fishing along the NJ coast in the late spring. The bunker hold the stripers, somewhat delaying their further migration north.
Team Jersey Shore - 2011
Photo credit -
On The Water Magazine
The On The Water Magazine runs a striped bass fishing tournament each year, called the Striper Cup, which covers the coast from NJ to Maine and runs from May through September. There are categories for both individuals and teams. For each of the last few years, a team from NJ has taken the early lead based on significant striped bass catches as the stripers pass by NJ in the spring. However the catches by the NJ team were usually eclipsed by catches by more northern teams later in the year.
2011 was different. Team Jersey Shore got an early lead in the spring, and held it throughout the year. In 2011, Team Jersey Shore won the Team division of the On The Water Magazine Striper Cup tournament.