Shifting Striper Fishery Along The Elizabeths
This past season presented challenges in terms of consistently finding larger bass, continuing a trend that has developed over the last six to eight years. Unlike the early 2000s, when there were good concentrations of big fish almost everywhere on the Cape, it now seems that once the spring migration is done and we settle into dealing with “resident” fish, the fishing can be difficult in areas I thought would always produce.
While Woods Hole was one area that still produced well for me, the fishing along the Elizabeth Islands was not as consistent as I hoped. I used to go down to the Islands anytime from May to October and catch good numbers of larger fish during daylight hours on plugs and eels, but that hasn’t been the case for quite a while. The reason Woods Hole fished well was due to one main source of bait: squid. From adult squid in the spring to small, young-of-the-year squid in July and August, they made for good fishing once again this season. Middle Ground also fished well this spring and early summer, with some very good topwater action. I suspect the squid were thick due to all the sand eels in the area (which the fish also focused on in the absence of other bait).
The albie season was decent, and it was interesting that the action was best to the east, from Waquoit to Yarmouth, before they showed in any great numbers around Nobska, Woods Hole, and the Islands. One thing I observed this year was that more folks were blind-casting for albies, which has often produced the best action for me, but in my case, I continue to cast after the topwater activity quits in an area. This season, I saw people casting and hooking up in areas where there were no fish showing whatsoever, and they caught good numbers of fish when they located the schools.
I was surprised by the large number of very small bass that I saw this year. Based on what scientists and fisheries managers say, the stripers that spawned in the Chesapeake generally don’t start to migrate until they are about three years old, meaning they would be 16 to 20 inches. However, there were large numbers of schoolies in the 10- to 12-inch range that were either migrating from down south earlier or are being produced in waters closer to the Cape. The theory that localized spawning is going on has popped up again.
The overall lack of bluefish inshore also surprised me. I had only a couple of decent days around Popponesset and Cotuit this spring, and I heard that folks who typically fish commercially for blues in those areas had to move offshore around Horseshoe Shoal and even deeper water.
On the day before the recreational sea bass season opened, I encountered what I thought might be some good schools of blues in the Cotuit area. Instead, they were black sea bass crashing bait on the surface. Every hooked fish was followed by numerous others, including plenty of males that displayed brilliant spawning colors.
The Hot Striper Bites at the “Corners” of the Cape
Since I am fortunate to spend so much time on the water, I get to enjoy numerous days when the fishing is great. That said, Woods Hole was very good to me, to the point where I really didn’t fish Barnstable and Brewster after the first week in July. Though I don’t like fishing in crowds, there were so many schools of bass up around Provincetown that I would have been remiss if I hadn’t taken some of my favorite fly-rodders there. I had a few good trips to Billingsgate, but nothing consistent, and I made only a couple of trips to Monomoy this year, although one of them was fantastic, with bass all over topwater plugs, especially white pencil poppers.
Topwater Was Tops
My favorite method of fishing is using topwater lures. I am a huge fan of wooden plugs, especially pencil poppers, but I have come to rely more on plastic walk-the-dog plugs. Heddon Zara Spooks and the MirrOlure family of lures are very effective, but when it comes to value and productivity, I use the Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow. Like Zara Spooks and MirrOlures, the Rebel features internal rattles that draw fish in. The only caveat I have about it that hardware it comes with is sub-par, so make sure to replace the hook and split ring. It might take a bit of playing around to come up with the correct size VMC treble and split to maintain the action of the Jumpin’ Minnow, but it’s well worth the effort.
We also caught some nice fish using poppers on fly rods. Most New England flyrodders use a type of sinking line, but fishing Gurglers and foam poppers on floating lines produced some of the best bass and bluefish we caught all season.
Expect a Good Season for Schoolie Stripers
I don’t think we will see any appreciable increase in the number of big stripers in 2017, but the population of bass in the 16- to 30-inch range should remain strong. Protecting those that are just-legal size will be very important, since I think average recreational anglers have become frustrated over the last few years because they can’t catch stripers large enough to take home. There should be more of these fish next season, thereby increasing recreational harvest.