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Enhance catch and release skills

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We have a new, more conservative striped bass regulation this year because the striped bass stock is in trouble.  The 2020 regulation is one fish/person/day in the slot limit of 28” to < 35”. The last stock assessment shows that striped bass are 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. So if you plan to target string striped bass brush up on your catch & release skills.

National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data shows that 90 percent of the striped bass caught by anglers are released back into the water. This is good for conservation, however, NOAA urges anglers enhance their catch & release skills to decrease the mortality rate of striped bass after you release them. This is where the big conservation payoff will be.

Use the right gear and tackle

A single inline hook on lures is recommended. If your lure has treble hooks consider change them or snapping down the barbs on each of the hooks with a needle nose plier. 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.  Take it easy on them but bring them to the boat as quickly as possible to minimize fish exhaustion.

This year in Massachusetts circle hooks are required when targeting striped bass with bait and next year Rhode Island will likely have the same regulation place. Circle hooks tend to hook the fish on the lip, rather than hooking them in the gut or throat like ‘J’ hooks.

Other catch & release tactics include keeping fish in the water as much as possible when removing hook; use gloves and/or 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 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.

How and where to catch early spring school striped bass?

So how do you catch spring striped bass, and in a week or two when more migrating fish arrive, there’ll be an occasional keeper (28” to < 35”) mixed in. Fishing for school bass can be lots of fun using light tackle or on a fly rod.

Lighten up

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 along with a couple of  St. Croix Mojo light and medium inshore spinning rods  paired with Shimano Stella 4000 reels. The Shimano Stella reels are spooled with 20 pound braid and 20 pound fluorocarbon leaders just like the Penn rigs.

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 will be hot once again this year.
 
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 preference. 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 gets pushed up on the structure.  

Favorite lures

Capt. BJ Silvia said, “I like to use Shimano Coltsniper lures as well as soft plastic, 4” top water poppers that rattle and when fishing deeper water we use small metal jigs with inline hooks.” Dave Henault said, “I like to use small one once poppers, Cocahoe lures and Al Gag’s soft plastic baits.”  In addition to above lures, I have caught thousands of spring bass on Yo Zuri Crystal Minnows (silver). I like fishing them a various depths and find that ripping them through the water often gets the attention of striped bass. 

Where’s the bite?

Freshwater fishing for trout remains strong in stocked ponds. Lorraine Danti of Lucky Bait & Tackle, Warren said “Customers are catching trout in stocked ponds. Customer Ted Zack of Aquidneck Island Rod Builders caught two golden trout this week”.  Zack said, “What a way to start the day. First golden ever then another one on the next fish! Going on the smoker now.” 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. Fishing for largemouth bass has been good too. Environmental law enforcement personnel are making sure COVID-19 orders are being followed at ponds, lakes and waterways. Keep six foot social distancing, and no groups of more than five, and wear a mask or scarf when near others. State parks in Rhode Island are closed, so there is no parking.

Striped bass fishing continues to come alive with anglers catching school bass where there is bait (Atlantic menhaden and herring). East End Eddy Doherty, Cape Cod Canal fishing expert and author said, “My son-in-law was in a parking lot in Falmouth this week when he heard a thud behind him.  A 12” fish, an Atlantic menhaden was lying on the ground behind him, likely dropped by a seagull or osprey. It’s a sign from above, it’s raining fish!” Dave Pickering, expert striper fisherman and author (visit https://ristripedbass.blogspot.com/) said, “My son, Jon, got the first keeper in the family in this new year today from the kayak… he landed quite a few decent fish from 23 to 28 inches. I'm not surprised as we should see good numbers of fish in the size range he caught today based on the big numbers of schoolies around last year.”

Tautog bite is starting to build with some keepers being caught. Bait shops are open for online business, curbside and window business (some have limited store access). Some of them now have green crabs in stock for tautog fishing. Call in advance to make sure your bait shop is open.

Dave Monti is a charter captain, member of the American Saltwater Guides Association, RISAA, RIPCBA, serves as vice chair of the RIMFC and is a marketing communications practitioner. Forward fishing news & photos to dmontifish@verizon.net, visit www.noflukefishing.com or www.noflukefishing.blogspot.com.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.