The largest fish usually come on natural bait, but one of the spectacular features of this fishery is the willingness of these stripers to hit artificials and flies. For the two days I spent with Crescitelli, we threw nothing but artificials - small diamond jigs, plugs, plastic-tailed jigs and streamer flies - and they all produced stripers right around the 35-inch mark. While there are bigger fish to be had, these are nothing to overlook - stripers scaling from 15 on up to 25 pounds are plenty sporty on light tackle.
The preferred method is to stay on the move, and finding the birds is the ticket. When the bass were messing up the bait, birds tipped off the action, but it was often fast-moving and we had to be ready to follow the fish or find another active school.
Because striper fishing is not allowed in federal waters - beyond three miles from shore - our hunting was limited. Within those bounds, in 20 to 50 feet of water, we found continuous action as long as the water temperature remained above 50 degrees. When we hit cooler water, the action fell off. Likewise, when the tide turned in the mid-afternoon and began coming in, the cooler water from offshore made the fish tougher to find, and the action slowed.
With the range of artificials we fished, the stripers demanded a lure that only somewhat mimicked their natural forage, and that's about as picky as they got. Jigs cast far and then worked back deep produced consistently, and streamer flies, such as Lefty's Deceiver or anything that looked fishy, cast on 400-grain 10-weight sinking lines seemed to trump even the lures.
It takes a bit of cooperation, but two anglers who remain aware of each other can easily fly-cast from the bow of a center console. The technique is simple: Cast far, let the line sink, then strip steadily to activate the fly while keeping it deep for as long as possible. When the fish are on, you'd have a tough time finding better action anywhere for fly-rod and light-tackle stripers.
Gathering Up Livies
Menhaden, locally referred to as bunker, are the live bait of choice for striper fishermen working the mouth of the Hudson and Raritan Bay and the nearshore waters of New York and New Jersey. Beginning in April, bunker concentrate in dense schools and can be easily cast-netted. A 10-foot cast net (20-foot diameter) works best, but the baits are thick enough that any size net will do the job. Old Orchard Lighthouse, in Great Kills Harbor on the east side of Staten Island, is a favorite bait-gathering spot for those in the know; last year the bunker were thick at Romer Shoals, 2 12 miles north of Sandy Hook. Wherever you find them bunched up, you should be able to fill a livewell with one throw of the net or collect enough with a snatch hook in very little time if cast-netting is not part of your skill set. Look for rippling on the surface of the water or giant red blotches on the fish-finder screen, fill up the livewell and head on out.