any striper fishers to whom I speak express concern for their chances of catching a truly big striper, say something over 35 pounds. Theirs is a frustration that comes from nights of landing endless short stripers. True, there is variety in their throwbacks because of the spread of year classes available to all of us. However, that spread does not go quite far enough back in history to include more opportunity for such moby stripers. The size barrier is likely the '82 year class.
The top bass in most striper clubs for 1998 was 36 to 38 pounds. That is why, for the majority of us, about the best we are likely to do in 2003 is around 40 to 42 pounds. We say around because, now that these fish have aged, they have taken on individual size characteristics so that two fish born at the same time could vary between 30 and 40 pounds; and at the high end, if one has been piggin' on sand eels, she may even be over 44 pounds. We cannot talk inches here, which is so much the practice these days, because true weight remains the most definitive means of size measurement. Never forget that bass of this age are all females. Moreover, this reminds us of the laws of longevity when each passing season leaves less of a year class behind. Back when there were a lot of big fish, it was possible to catch dozens of 40 pounders and never catch a 50. Similarly, I weighed 50s for others and myself but rarely any over 52 pounds. It is like anything else.
The opportunity for big bass has never been historically constant. I have vivid recollection of the numbers of 50-pound-plus stripers (roughly 18 to 25 years old) that used to be taken back when there was a moderate chance that it could happen. As documented by the R. J. Schaefer Salt Water Fishing Contest (which closed up shop in the mid 70s), the Striper Coast, Maryland to Maine, would yield from 100 to 250 such fish per season. For you primates who still walk the beach, about ten percent were caught from shore. Even among fifties, only one percent would exceed 60 pounds. And, seventies can be 50 years apart worldwide. Still, there are years -- reflecting what had not been born 18 to 25 years before -- when less than a dozen fifty pounders were brought in all season coastwide. Keep in mind that the strong tendency to think mostly in terms of Chesapeake striper reproduction is well based, because old studies tell us that 90 percent of our migratory bass came from the area. There is no reason to think that has changed much. Even so, rivers of origin for modern stripers remain largely unknown.
It becomes even more difficult to measure reproductive success when all rivers are setting records. There is simply a lot of fish. No doubt there have been years when the Hudson River gave up a great reproductive index while southern rivers had off seasons. Twenty or more years later, any big fish opportunities would be hitched to a different river of origin. Back in the early 80s, Rhode Island had a study that showed half of their commercial catch came from the Hudson. A couple of years ago, I counted five 50 plus fish caught in that state -- all taken from boats. Maybe -- but I really have no clue -- they were Hudson River fish born during the moratorium when there was little production elsewhere. The time was when we used to leave Cape Cod's school fish during mid-summer for Rhody's monsters; talk about a reversal of fortunes. Another wild card in the equation -- measurement of birth rates and size projections -- is the Delaware River that is contributing more and more bass each season.
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