One fish completely captivates, inspires and dominates the lives of many East Coast anglers — the striped bass. Anyone afflicted with striper fever will tell you it’s no joke: Jobs are lost, relationships strained and appointments missed as sleepless days and nights are spent pursuing the big bass payoff. Striped bass go by many pet names along the Eastern Seaboard from North Carolina to Maine — stripers, linesiders, squid hounds, rockfish, ol’ pajamas — and the regional techniques that the locals rely on from north to south are just as varied. Five legendary striper haunts should be on your to-do list as bass push northward for the spring run. Here’s the perfect playbook to help plan out your spring striper road trip.
As the largest estuary in the United States, with over 150 different freshwater river systems emptying into it, Chesapeake Bay is where the majority of striped bass stocks spawn. Many rockfish winter a little bit south of here, off Virginia Beach and North Carolina, but the Chesapeake is the first spot to hit on their migration northward. As bass set up and enter the Susquehanna River to spawn, the shallow flats are the perfect place for them to gather the sun’s rays to warm up and gain energy. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, with 5,198 pilings, adds 17.6 miles of striper-magnet structure inside the bay. Rockfish pick off the mussels, clams, crabs and baitfish that hang around the pilings, while the structure provides ideal ambush cover.
Hot Spots: Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Virginia Beach coast, Susquehanna flats.
Top Techniques:_ Mojo balling, trolling plugs, live-lining spot or croaker.
Essentials: 50-pound fluorocarbon leader, Mann’s Stretch 30 plugs, Abu Garcia 7000i C3 Mag reel, warm clothes, crab-cake sandwich for lunch.
New Jersey Shore**
The spring run off New Jersey’s coast the last five years has been nothing less than legendary, with daily individual scores of 30-pounders a virtual guarantee and a 40-pound-plus fish almost a lock. Dozens of 50-pound or larger fish are boated every spring as large bunker schools amass, attracting the big bass and keeping them rooted. Jetty country, north of Manasquan Inlet, has been a main playground for lunker bass in recent years, though the stretch from Island Beach State Park down through Long Beach Island holds promise too. Bass pin bunker schools inside Raritan Bay, and Delaware Bay is the prime time spot to intercept bass spawning in the Delaware River. Tip to tip, Jersey rules.
Hot Spots: Asbury Park, Manasquan Inlet, Sandy Hook, Delaware Bay, Cape May rips.
Top Techniques:_ Live-lining bunker, jigging rubber shads 1, trolling bunker spoons 2 and shad umbrella rigs.
Essentials:_ Bunker snag rigs 3, cast net, 9/0 circle hooks, fluorocarbon leader 4, pork-roll sandwich for breakfast.
Montauk, New York**
Defined by it’s algae-covered glacial boulder-field coastline, Montauk, or The End, where Long Island juts into the Atlantic Ocean, attracts hordes of striper addicts clamoring for their striper fix. Swirling rip currents around the boulder fields magnetize plenty of forage and striper schools to the area, making it a solid attack point. Historically, Montauk has been a destination for serious striper fishermen to visit at least once in their career, so it’s affectionately known as The Mecca. This is a surf-caster’s paradise, as striper grounds are literally a cast away from anglers’ feet, though boats can come in close enough to hug the shore and fish the boulder structure as well.
Hot Spots: Browns, Lighthouse Rocks, Turtle Cove, Shagwong.
T_op Techniques:_ Surf-casting with needlefish 1, swimmers 2 and poppers 3; bucktailing.
Essentials: 1- to 4-ounce bucktails 4 tipped with pork rind, corkers, 11- to 12-foot surf rod, ZeeBaas 5 or Van Staal reel, waders, sure footing.
Block Island, Rhode Island**
This lonesome 30-square-mile island holds the distinction of producing some of the largest bass ever caught on rod and reel, including fish in recent years that have been upwards of the 77-pound mark. All around the cliff side of the island lie rock fields and swash points that generate swirly currents, disorienting sand eels and other baitfish. Strong tides and high-ground boulder fields covered with mussels define the south side near Southwest Ledge, while the northeast side is mostly sandy bottom. Squid and scup, which bring in the bass, are drawn to the area.
Hot Spots: Devil’s Bridge, New Harbor, Great Salt Pond, Southwest Ledge, North Rip.
Top Techniques: Eeling, bucktailing , trolling tube and worm rigs 1, live-lining squid and scup.
Essentials: Green, white or red pork rinds; 3- to 4-ounce bucktails 2; three-way swivel eel rigs.
Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Cape Cod — these are familiar playgrounds of the rich and famous, but they also attract silent and secretive striper hunters. The Massachusetts coast off Cape Cod draws bass in the same way it lures tourists — with the promise of cool waters in the summertime. This is the last prominent stop on the striper spring migration, though schools trickle up into Maine’s Casco Bay and even the Bar Harbor region. The storied out islands and their respective shallow flats, which make the Massachusetts cape famous, are like a striper oasis that schools of bass stick tight to during the summer months.
Hot Spots: Cape Cod, Race Point, Martha’s Vineyard, Cuttyhunk, Nantucket.
Top Techniques:_ Casting Hogy baits 1, trolling parachute jigs 2, sandworming.
Essentials: Hogy swimbaits; large, long sandworms; Samuel Adams beer for refreshment.