There are a lot of striped bass rumors going around. I have heard everything from a moratorium to banning surf fishing for striped bass. Let’s see if I can calm some of you down. I do not see in any way a moratorium being put in place. There are several reasons for that. One, there are way too many bass around for a shut down. Two, a moratorium would also prohibit catch and release. Finally, a moratorium would put a lot of people out of business. There is a lot of finger pointing going on among different “user” groups. Nobody is going to be shut out.
There are two things that need to happen. First, we must protect the breeding stock. The stock is in decline but keep in mind we are nowhere near the fragile state of striped bass that occurred in the ’80s. Second, according to scientific numbers half of all striped bass that are released from recreational fisherman end up dead. To be honest I believe that number is too high. However, if that’s what the numbers say then the council (ASFMC) must try to reduce the mortality rate. So, here is how I see things playing out. In order to protect the breeding stock, we may see a slot fish. Almost all female bass are sexually mature by the age of 8. An 8 year-old bass is a 32” fish. If we want to protect the breeders then we may see a one fish limit in-between 24”-32”. Some people believe that we will see a one fish limit at 32” and above. Personally, I think it makes no sense. If you can take a fish 32” and above that doesn’t help protect the breeding stock. Way too many big fish have been removed from the gene pool already. When it comes to reducing the mortality rate on released fish there are a few things that they (ASFMC) can implement. There is a good chance that circle hooks will be mandatory when using natural baits (bunker, eels, clams, etc...). There is a slight chance that treble hooks are banned. In order to fish for sharks, you need to watch a video to receive a special endorsement as part of your HMS permit. They (ASFMC) may require you to watch a video on the basics of releasing striped bass. There is also a possibility that you will not be able to take a fish over 40” out for the water for a photo. This is a rule that they implemented in the South when it comes to tarpon. Let’s not panic too much, there is still plenty of bass to be caught. However, I think it’s important to get ahead of the downward trend that pertains to declining female bass biomass.
Hopefully, I haven’t depressed you too much because the bass are here. I spend a lot of time fishing the back bays during the spring. Even though the bay has warmed up the back bays continue to hold a ton of bait. Along the entire South Shore, you will find canals, creeks and rivers that are loaded with bunker. Trust me when I tell you that these bunker aren’t alone. You may not find bluefish but striped bass have no problem entering these sometimes very shallow areas. From what I have experienced it’s more like fresh water fishing than it is saltwater fishing. I may cast 200-300 times just to get a single bite. Sometimes it’s very difficult trying to entice a bite when you are competing against a river filled with live bunker. It may sound crazy to stand there and cast a lure over and over but I find it very peaceful. When you do hook up it becomes that much more enjoyable because of how hard you worked for it. I use two lures while fishing these skinny water areas. I love using a Danny Plug. Nothing is more exciting as you watch a big striper come up and inhale the plug. The other lure I use is a 6 inch pearl colored Tsunami Swim Shad. Don’t allow this lure to drag along the bottom. Many of these shallow water estuaries are filled with a bottom made of muck. Once it hits the muck you don’t stand a chance catching a bass on that cast. So keep the swim shad clean.
I love fishing for big bluefish. It’s awesome watching these big early spring bluefish smash top water poppers. I know I have mentioned this before but just in case you missed it. I fish my bluefish poppers with one single hook that hangs off the end of the popper. I have no desire to eat them so I want to release them in great shape. Along with the fact it’s much safer for you not having a bunch of treble hooks flying around. Last may I witnessed something that I had never seen before. I came across 1000’s of bluefish tailing in 3-4 feet of water. It actually looked as if they were feeding on something in the sand/mud. I thought that maybe they were spawning until I came home and read that bluefish spawn far out in the ocean. The only way you could hook up was to cast you popper directly in front of them, almost hitting them in the head. This went on for a few days. So if you are out looking for big blues in the bay make sure you don’t overlook shallow water. When it comes to big blues in the spring if you find one you are more than likely going to find a lot more.
It looks like our fluke regulations will be the same as last year. That means NY anglers will see a 4 fish bag limit at 19”, with an open season from May 4th through September 30th. When the season opens and you are within reach of the Great South Bay follow the State Boat Channel west and fish the areas around Cedar Island. It’s not the widest of areas but you find enough room to put together some bountiful drifts. You will know you are in the right spot when you locate the Captree Party boat fleet.
I hate to write this but the last few years the big spring time weakfish just haven’t shown up in numbers. It’s a mystery, to say the least. What has become so puzzling is the fact that the population of summer weakfish has seen great numbers. Why aren’t these fish returning once they get larger? Well, it’s a new year and we can always hope for a good run of spring weakfish. Keep things simple. Even if you are targeting big fish use small artificial baits. Fish them about 2 to 3 feet off the bottom.