Cow Country: A Look at Monster Striper Hot Spots
by Frank Daignault
The places where trophy stripers hang out have long been known.
he notion of where the really big stripers live won't give the imagination any rest. If there is one thing striper fishers all lust over, it is that some yet undiscovered honey hole hides the lion's share of them. Nobody knows where that is, but most of us know where it has been.
Since the beginning of striper fishing's short history a number of hot spots have had a way of coming up over and over again, proving how little changes in the movements of our biggest bass.
Cuttyhunk, Cape Cod, Montauk, Block Island, and Fisher's Island all dominate the literature and history of the striper world. No one would dare challenge all that well documented history. Indeed, each of those aforementioned locations has given up at least one 70 pounder and commonly produces 50s and 60s annually. It is a forgone conclusion that angling is going to draw a season's monsters from these known producers. The unknown is merely a case of who and when.
To some degree the best fishing fulfills its own prophesy in that the highest level of striper pursuit takes place where big stripers live. Charter skippers and the better private high-liners tend to settle into and target big bass locations dictated by tradition. The best striper fishers are working the rips of Cuttyhunk because those hard driving currents have always held the best fish. Tell me that the old guard high liner charter skippers like Haig, Sabatowski, and Smith didn't know what they were doing. Long Island's best captains seem always to be coming up with a year's biggest bass guys like Bob Roccetta. Each season the Otter, a Connecticut charter boat, hauls its share of monsters. It is no accident, and good fishing teaches good fishing. I have been acquainted with private boaters who have haunted the Fishers Island honey holes for 40 years. After a while, the top rods are fishing the waters where it is more likely to happen. We know where the big bass summer, but that only goes part way toward making it easier.
Some places rarely offer up big bass. Those that do, say the New Jersey coast, only do so during a brief period of the spring or fall migration. Certain anomalies accepted, like the MacReynolds All-Tackle World Record taken in mid-summer, only act as a reminder that anything can happen even in places where we least expect them.
We only rarely hear about huge stripers in Maine or the Maritimes. Sure, there have been fifty-pounders documented that far north but not in the numbers found in the center of the Striper Coast. Once you get above the Cape, the number of "fifties" drops dramatically. This gives rise to the idea that our biggest fish might be slightly less migratory. However, we say that guardedly because this discussion is rife with risk and exception. All I'm doing here is relying upon the greatest numbers from the history of striper fishing, and way fewer cows are taken outside that south facing southern New England shore between New York City and Monomoy.
No one knows why big bass take up residence in a location. Your uncles will tell you that the bait is what lures and holds them. Yet, I fished with your uncles and they rarely knew more than the most cursory, self-evident wild card speculations about what, why, and when in the world of striper fishing. What is mentioned above about traditional hot spots fails to take into account that some years the bass will bypass a time-honored location entirely in favor of some dismal historical non-performer like Narragansett Bay or Boston Harbor. And I don't risk offending people who fish there because they would as soon have their spots played down in print anyway, another subject altogether.
By way of example, I have seen the Cape produce the best surfcasting in the Northwest Atlantic for two years following six years of horrible bass fishing where anglers had to rely upon bluefish to keep body and soul in some semblance of manic control. All Cape fishing, boat or surf, is not wild, Katy bar-the-door fishing the way it is sometimes related. Some years you would buy that expensive condo just for the fishing and others you would rue the day you went there. Nobody knows from one season to the other, even on the storied Cape. What we all seem to remember are the good years and that is a silly play upon the mind, nothing more. I also believe that the Cape will come back one of these seasons because all spots have their turn.
BIG FISH TIMING
In our New England waters, the striper season begins in April and ends in November, but that period when our Cow Country has the cows is way shorter. Don't expect anything worth mounting until June, but it gets real good real fast after that. November wall hangers are rare but those that you do catch in fall will be bigger than those in spring. The truth is that much of the fall is not the best fishing for the biggest fish. My annual study of big bass always shows fewer moby linesides caught during the second half of the season rather than the first. Fishers apparently have lost much of the enthusiasm that perked their spring fishing, hunting season interferes to some degree, and hurricane season ruins a lot of water and cancels many trips. The best fishing is in summer, blowing the squid stink off the notion that stripers dislike warm water. Your uncles are at it again.
For 50 years the lament that the seawater is too warm has served as an excuse for the bad fishing that wise old guard have come to accept as a part of the game. It might be among the list of excuses printed on the crying towel, but temperatures in the low 70s have never done anything to remove stripers from our waters. My own best stripers, seven over 50 pounds and uncounted hundreds in the 40s, were all taken between July and October, half when water was over 60 degrees and the other half when it was seventy. Cold water hurts striper fishing more than warm.
Two separate philosophies lock horns over what is the best way to fish for big bass, baits or artificials. The notion that meat will take more big fish than lures or that artificials will cover more water more efficiently play over each season like a song. If anything, it is the way anglers are used to fishing that determines results. Live lining is big with some boats where they swim a bunker, mackerel, or scup where stripers live. For others a plug or lure is favored. Still, there has never been any real determination about what is best. Big stripers are commonly taken on just about anything from a sea worm anchored to the bottom to that same worm trolled with a tube. All things from flies to four-pound shad or pollock work and some times nothing works.
Comparisons between shore and boat fishing indicate that boats enjoy a ten to one advantage. Catch statistics support this from as far back as I can remember where on a good year that produced 225 fish over fifty pounds, 25 came from the beach - or last season when less than five out of fifty had sand on them.
In this discussion we zero in on the legendary locations because they have a proven record of good monster fishing. Nevertheless, past history teaches that when it comes to big stripers it can happen anywhere. Fifty-pounders have recently been taken as far upstream on the Connecticut River as Enfield Dam in fresh water. In June of 1991 Steve Franco took a 75-pound trophy in heavily polluted New Haven harbor a scant 100 feet from shore. My wife, Joyce, beached a 42 pounder in the Warren River over 18 miles from the open Atlantic. My own first "fifty" was taken in Westport, Massachusetts over 40 years ago at a lack luster spot only a googan would fish. All these places never made the list of suitable locations in both the informal and recognized list of hot spots. But nobody ever told the stripers that.
Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Frank Daignault, All Rights Reserved
Frank Daignault is the author of Striper Surf, Twenty Years on the Cape, Striper Hot Spots, The Trophy Striper, Eastern Tides and Fly Fishing the Striper Surf.
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Articles by Frank Daignault