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Jump to the Back for Early Spring Stripers
by Capt. Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

ith all the shows that have bombarded our senses in the last two months every angler that I know is now ready to put a bend in their rod. The time for watching, listening, and practicing are over and it’s now time to play the game once again as the March 1st opener is finally here. This means that it is now legal again to fish for stripers in our backbays and rivers, technically stated as west of the Corlies Demarcation Line.

But at this time of year in the early spring you can’t let your enthusiasm lead you to just anywhere or to fish in just anyway. There are specific locations and tactics that you need to know to be successful in this the first quarter of your new season. Here are ten tips for early spring success that you should include as part of your striper game plan.

  • If you are heading to the ocean side in the early spring you are heading in the wrong direction. Look to work the bay bays, estuaries, tidal rivers, creek mouths, and flats. These areas will warm much more quickly than the ocean due to their shallow nature and warm water run-off from spring rains that are draining into these areas. Mud flats in particularly will be very productive as their dark bottoms absorb the sun’s rays.
  • Look to target stripers as the first species to become active in the early spring. When water temperatures begin to approach 45 degrees stripers will hit bloodworms or clams that are fished dead-sticked style in the above mentioned areas. As temperatures approach 50-55 degrees striped bass will take artificials and flies.
    Best bet with these artificials will be to also work them near the bottom. For this reason concentrate on using grubs or soft plastics fished on 1/8 to 3/8 ounce jigheads. For flies fish them deep on 300-450 grain lines and don’t be afraid to dredge the bottom. Weighted flies such as clousers, jiggies, and half and half and halfs will help to get you down deep.
  • If there is a strong current present in the area that you are fly fishing try using Rio’s T-14 sinking head. This is a tungsten head that acts and feels more like a regular fly line since it doesn't have any lead in it. It will load and cast easily on a ten weight. Use a 28-30 ft head to the running line. For spinning or conventional gear it may be necessary to up your jigheads to ½ -1 oz.
  • For the warmest temperatures in the location that you are fishing look to fish the outgoing tide particularly if it occurs at the end of the day. By this time the sun’s rays will have warmed the water the most. Water temperatures can rise as much as five or six degrees by the end of the day. Combine this effect with warm water runoff and it stimulates bass to feed. Incoming tides in the early spring will bring in much colder ocean water and turn the bite off.
  • If you are fishing artificials a good indication to use to determine whether or not you have a chance at catching any striped bass in the area that you are fishing is to observe the anglers that are fishing bloodworms. If they are not catching fish then more than likely your chances are slim that you will catch fish. If they are than at least you know that stripers are in the area and are on the feed.
  • Some of the earliest baits to become present again in our back bays waters are spearing and other small baits such as killies. For this reason you will want to size down your artificial offerings to be in the one to four inch range.
  • Power plants, such as GPU’s at Oyster Creek in Forked River, are ideal locations to begin your spring fishing. The warm water discharges from these facilities produce a false environment in the bay that attracts bait and fish. Many holdover fish from the winter will also be present here.
  • Back bay waters or tidal creek mouths can often be discolored due to runoff from heavy spring rains. For this reason use brightly colored artificials or flies such as white, chartreuse, pearl, yellow, fluorescent oranges, pinks, or greens. These colors will reflect the most light and get the attention of stripers that may be in the area.
  • Besides mud flats other backwater structures are equally important to concentrate your efforts on. These areas are rip lines that develop around creek mouths, outflow pipes, or at the back of inlets as they turn around points of land. These rip lines will be most evident usually around mid-tide. You should concentrate on fishing the tail out sections of these rips. Spring bass will have a tendency to hang in these areas due to the slower water velocities present here when compared to the neck section of the rip. Bass do this to try to conserve energy while the water is colder in the early part of the season.
    Other structures include ledges and drop-offs that run along the sides of banks or flats. Bass will hang along these drop-offs and pin baits along their sides as they are swept through these areas on the changing tides. Work your artificial so that on your retrieve it comes up along the side of the drop-off. Make sure you don’t pull your artificial to quickly from the water as it gets closer to you. Many times strikes will occur right at your feet.
  • Use a non-slip mono loop knot to tie all your weighted flies to your leader. This loop will allow for more freedom of movement in your fly. When used in conjunction with a strip and pause type of retrieve your fly will stop and drop since there will not be any drag on it from the leader. The action quickly gets the attention of any bass that are on the prowl. You can also tie on your soft plastics this way if you do not want to add any terminal tackle such as a small snap.

You can expect a lot of small bass to make up the bulk of your early season catch but larger baits such as anadromous alewife and blueback herring will be arriving from mid March through May. We will also see our adult bunker coming off of their offshore spawn and entering into our back bay waters to feed on plankton during the same time.

When these bigger baits arrive you can expect much bigger bass to show up on the scene. End

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Captain Jim Freda

Capt. Jim FREDAEmail Captain Jim Freda

Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast, has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen, with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.

Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.

As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.

He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.

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Saltwater Fishing A Tactical Approach Fishing the NJ Coast