Big Water to Back Water-Saltwater Stripers

Having pursued this iconic species for over two decades, it never ceases to amaze me just how adaptable and versatile striped bass have become. In their wild natural state, Striped Bass are an anadromous species and spend much of their adult life feeding and migrating with seasonal water condition variance and food source availability. However, each year mature breeding class migrate to brackish and eventually freshwater-dominant rivers in order to spawn. The vast range of these fish and the multitude of environments have consequently become capable of adapting to, has made them a very dynamic species to pursue. Many anglers target striped bass during the migration in large, open water as they feed on schools of baitfish in broad daylight. Other anglers pursue them in the dark of night from shore while casting large baits from eddy to eddy as they dodge waves and heavy surf. Stripers could be holding behind large structure in deeper water that heavy weighted artificials or carefully placed live baits presented from the direction the fish are facing work best.

During many stages of the stripers dynamic migration, I’ve targeted them by each of these means. However, my favorite time to target these fish is post spawn. After the Atlantic bass population spawns, the body of fish pushes northeast into the coastal and brackish backwater of Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. During this time, the fish stage periodically from region to region and feed heavily on the North Atlantic’s rich bait sources in order to replenish valuable calories. And as long as the fickle New England weather allows, conditions can remain optimal for these fish to travel via deep water channels. The best part: During specific hours of light and tidal strength, these migrating fish will hunt and feed very aggressively.

As a guide, much of my daily routine consists of covering ground searching the edges of these deep-water channels and looking for points where geographical features will create current breaks or eddies. It’s these locations that vary directionally from tide to tide. When a specific bait source is nearby, the striped bass tend to stage out of the current and maintain a position to ambush. These fish use their large, overdeveloped tail and their pectoral fins to hold in the current and literally wait for a prey source that’s struggling against the tide to come to them. This feeding style is very similar to the tactics employed by large, feeding trout in a heavy current.

However, the current won’t act like a funnel for the bass at current breaks when the current isn’t running strong. Instead, the striped bass spread out into shallow water and mix their behavior up between resting near the bottom, sunning near the surface, and occasionally taking advantage of an opportunistic meal if it doesn’t require burning too many calories. While I’m sure these fish aren’t cognitively deciding just how many calories to consume in pursuit of a meal during a lesser or slack tide, anyone that has encountered them during this current phase would likely describe them as curious, but skittish. I tell my clients: with the right opportunity, a striped bass will eat 24 hours a day, but they’ll only truly “feed” for an hour of each tide each day. It seems that each day often during a specific strength of the tide these fish feel “right,” and it’s usually during the strongest phase of the tide… and near an abundant food source. Immediately, the switch is flipped and the striper’s aggression heightens to voracious intensity.

In my home waters of the Northeast, during the late spring, bass generally range from 20 to 50 pounds. When we have found that magic combination of tide, structure, food and biomass, I like to target these fish utilizing two methods: Easily my favorite, is to throw large stickbaits — like the Shimano Orca HD and Coltsniper Sinking Stick Bait in natural bait patterns working them in a two-count cadence with a micro pause in between each set. The strike will most likely occur during the pause, so be sure to fish these baits right to the boat or shoreline because many times the strike will occur right at your feet. It’s best to present baits and lures from an uptide direction, ideally across the fish’s line of sight so that they can position to intercept it.

To work these baits effectively, I like to use a Shimano Tranx 400 spooled with 30-pound test PowerPro Super8Slick V2, paired with newly designed G. Loomis IMX-PRO Blue 843C MF. This setup affords me extremely long, yet accurate casts, while also having the required backbone that ensures a solid hook-set every time. This tackle combination also tempers the power of the fish during their aggressive bursts or headshakes down tide.

To allow for the occasional use of live-bait integration, I prefer a Shimano Thunnus 6000 spinning reel spooled with the same line as my casting outfit. Matching this reel with the G. Loomis IMX-PRO Blue 843S provides the added benefit of an adjustable baitrunner drag when using large live baits. This allows even the most finicky of fish to run with the bait before I’ll flip the lever to engage the drag with a sure hookset.

Smaller bass will often migrate ahead of the breading-class fish and the gear can be appropriately scaled down to match them. Lighter action — yet powerful setups,like a Stradic 4000 Series spooled with 20-pound Super8Slick V2 paired with an IMX-PRO Blue 842S XF can be extremely fun, especially when casting subsurface lures, like the Coltsniper Jerkbait.

Regardless of the size striped bass that you’re able to target or the variety of water you fish it’s best to remember timing the tide is the ultimate key to success.

To work these baits effectively, I like use a Shimano Tranx 400 spooled with 30-pound test PowerPro Super8Slick V2, paired with newly designed G. Loomis IMX-PRO Blue 843C MF. This setup affords me extremely long, yet accurate casts, while having the required backbone that ensures a solid hook-set every time.