Catching spring bass is a hoot!
It’s April and anglers are catching school striped bass in our rivers, bays and coves. The typical spring pattern is that resident striped bass are the first to get active and then migrating fish kick in shortly after.
Most believe all the fish we have caught up to this point are holdover stripers, meaning resident fish that did not migrate south for the winter. Mike Wade of Watch Hill Outfitters, Westerly, said, “Customers are catching holdover striped bass in the Pawcatuck Rover (Westerly).” Dave Henault of Ocean State Tackle, Providence said, “We have striped bass to 21” in One Hundred Area Cove, Barrington, with striped bass being caught in the Seekonk and Providence Rivers as well.” And, we have received reports of school bass being caught in East Greenwich Cove and Bay.
So how do you catch this spring striped bass, and in a week or two when migrating fish arrive, there’ll be an occasional keeper (28” or larger) mixed in. Fishing for school bass can be lots of fun using light tackle or on a fly rod. I spoke with three local experts and this is what they had to say about spring striped bass fishing.
Neil Hayes, manager of Quaker Lane Bait & Tackle said, “I like to use a light action rod seven to eight feet with 20 pound brand, 30 tops.” Capt. BJ Silvia of Flippin Out Charters said, “This time of year I like to have some very light tackle on board, ready to go so we can target school bass. I actually have a couple of freshwater rods on board.” Henault said, “From shore I use a seven or eight food rod with 20 pound braid and a medium action rod.”
My personal favorite in the early spring is to use lightweight rods and reels as they provide anglers with the most challenging fight. I have a couple of light Penn rods and reels ready to go with 15 to 20 pound braid. I much prefer fishing for bass this way as it keeps me and anglers on board active casting to these fish and when a bass smacks your lure and runs with it there’s nothing more exciting.
With an abundance of small fish around the past couple of years most experts expect that fishing for school bass up to just keeper size (28”) will be hot once again this year. This year I also have a couple of St. Croix Mojo light and medium inshore spinning rods ready to go paired with Shimano Stella reels. The Shimano Stella reels are spooled with 20 pound braid and 20 pound fluorocarbon leaders just like the Penn rigs.
Where to find the fish
Like most fish, finding spring striped bass is all about the bait. Much of the bait in the spring is herring, or Atlantic menhaden. So if you find the bait, the odds of finding the fish are dramatically improved.
An incoming tide is my preferred tide to fish. Casting around jetties, sandbars, holes, ledges or small pieces of structure has been successful. The idea is to cast into eddies, and just beyond them, that have been created by the incoming tide whirling around the structure. Often times we cast in front of the structure, or if a sandbar in the low water on top of it, and then pull the lure away from the structure. In this way your lure is acting much the same way a bait fish acts when it feeds around the structure.
Bait fish often get whipped around these areas and the bass are there to feed. Capt. BJ Silvia said, “One of my favorite spots is around Ohio Ledge in the East Passage. But to me honest, I look for the birds through my binoculars as the human can miss the birds easily.”
Hayes said, “Early in the season the West Wall of the Harbor of Refuge in South Kingstown is king. Matunuck Beach is great too as well as the jetties along our South County breachways.
Employ catch and release tactics
Striped bass are in trouble. The last stock assessment shows that they are being overfished and overfishing is occurring so the last thing conservation minded anglers want to do is to kill a lot of school bass before they get to spawn.
To decrease the mortality rate of striped bass after you release them, particularly the small school size bass you may catch, use inline hooks on lures. If your lure has treble hooks consider change them or snapping down (and off) the barbs on each of the hooks. In this was you will do minimum damage to a feisty fish. I also try not to muscle in these fish as their lips and mouths are small and weak. Just take it easy on them.
Other catch & release tactics include landing the fish quickly to minimize stress; avoid putting fish on deck and letting it flop around, keep it in the water as much as possible when removing hook; use gloves and wet your hand before handling the fish as dry hands remove the fish’s protective slime layer and leave it open to infection; gently remove the hook to minimize damage; return fish to water quickly and particularly with larger fish place them gently in the water in upright horizontal position. Move it back and forth in the water holding its tail to force water across its gills. Once the fish revives, allow it to swim away.
Capt. BJ Silvia said, “I like to use Shimano Coltsniper lures as well as soft plastic but also use 4” top water poppers that rattle and when fishing deeper water we use small metal jigs with inline hooks.” Hayes said, “White and chartreuse are good early spring colors for striped bass lures. Cocahoe soft plastic 3” to 4” lures are good. I like to use small swim shades too as well as small poppers.” Henault said, “I like to use small one once poppers, Cocahoe lures and Al Gag’s full line of soft plastic baits.”
In addition to above lures, I have caught 1,000s of spring bass on Yo Zuri Crystal Minnows. I like fishing them at various depths, you can easily target where they go, can through them far and find that ripping them through the water often gets the attention of striped bass. May favorite colors is silver.
Where’s the bite?
Freshwater fishing for trout remains strong a stocked ponds. Visit www.mass.gov/orgs/division-of-fisheries-and-wildlife for a list of stocked ponds and regulations in Massachusetts. And, for stocked ponds and regulations in Rhode Island visit www.dem.ri.gov. In Rhode Island anglers who catch a golden trout through April 29 can still receive a free golden trout pin. Take a picture of your catch and send it to email@example.com. Fishing for largemouth bass has been good too. East End Eddie Doherty said, “Angler Mike Deryck of Blackstone, MA caught his largest ever largemouth bass this week, a 7.1 pound fish. He caught the caught the largemouth using a White Chatterbait when fishing Lake Hiawatha in Blackstone.
Striped bass fishing is starting to come alive with resident hold over fish becoming active for the past couple of weeks in the Pawcatuck, Narrow, Providence and Seekonk Rivers as well as in Greenwich Cove and Bay. No reports of migrating fish arriving yet. Check out On-The-Water’s striper migration map at https://www.onthewater.com/striper-migration-map-april-19-2019.
Tautog bite is starting to build with some keepers being caught, but for the most part anglers who have targeted tautog say it is still a bit early as they are catching a lot of undersized fish. The minimum size for tautog is 16”, three fish/person/day.
Squid/summer flounder (fluke). Capt. Frank Blount of the Frances Fleet said, “We have heard some rumors about squid starting to show up on the offshore grounds. This is a good sign with how cold the water temperatures have been. The fluke should be right behind them. Once we get some solid reports of squid pushing in we will be starting the fluke season.”
Dave Monti holds a captain’s master license and a charter fishing license. He is a RISAA board member, a member of the RI Party & Charter Boat Association, the American Saltwater Guides Association and the RI Marine Fisheries Council. Follow Capt. Dave on twitter @CaptDaveMonti. He’ll be tweeting about ‘Where’s the bite’, fishing regulations, national fishing policy, and issues that impact the fish. Forward fishing news and photos to Capt. Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.noflukefishing.com.