Think it’s too early for migratory stripers? Think again! That’s the message Capt. Terry Nugent preaches each winter spring when he speaks to various angler groups and fishing shows in New England.

The early-run fish make ideal fly-rod targets. Photo/BoatingLocal

“You really want to be on a ‘codfishing timeline’ when it comes to intercepting stripers in southern New England,” Terry advises. “I mean, it really stinks to be messing around with your trailer bearings when word of a hot bite hits in early May.

Nugent and his crew have their gear prepped and their boat ready to go by mid-April. By May 1 they’re out looking for stripers in Buzzards Bay. Nugent usually encounters the first migratory schools of bass during the second week of May.

“You might hear some rumors of fresh fish in April, but these are usually winter-over fish that are dropping into warm-water areas that hold bait, such as rivers. They are not the true migratory waves of bass.”

Early May Kick-Off

“Around May 7 or 9, give or take a few days, we usually find the fish on top on an afternoon tide flowing west,” Nugent states. “The fish seem to enter Buzzards Bay on a west, or dropping, tide. On the slack or east tide they tend to hang out, marking time, from Bird Island and the West End of the Cape Cod Canal. The warmer water flowing out of the rivers like the Weweantic and Wareham Rivers seems to get them active near the surface. A dead tide at 3:00 in the afternoon is ideal.

Joe Nugent with a nice May striper. Photo/BoatingLocal

“The first waves of fish we encounter generally contain bigger bass. We often get days when we bag lots of 30”-plus fish. After that we typically get a window of slow days before the waves of smaller fish start moving through. For some reason I usually get a skunk trip around May 21, which is typically when the first wave has moved into and through the Canal and the next wave has yet to come through.

“There’s a big myth that these fish are sluggish because of the water temperature,” Nugent adds. “We routinely catch them on topwater plugs ripped across the surface, and manage to pull some big fish out of those schools.”

Diamond jigs work well when the fish sound. Photo/BoatingLocal

While the early-season action in Buzzards Bay can be spectacular, it’s short-lived, and frequently changes on a daily basis in terms of location and time of day. In other words, you need to keep your ear to the ground and be ready to launch your boat at a moment’s notice. This is the time of year to cash in those extra vacation days!

Finding the Fish

You may also need to search large sections of the bay to find the migratory schools. Some days the action can be concentrated off Mattapoisett, while other days it may be closer to the west end of the Canal or off West Falmouth.

Nugent relies heavily on his Raymarine radar to locate these early fish as they feed under big flocks of birds. The radar can prove especially useful on foggy or overcast days. CLICK HERE to learn how he goes about it: BoatingLocal: Using Radar to Find Birds (and Fish)

Best Lures, Gear

When the fish are feeding on top, Nugent often enjoys good success with the Ocean Lures SP popper, as well as Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows. A variety of soft-plastics, such as 6” to 7” RonZ jigs, Fin-S-Fish, Got Strypers and Hogies, also work well when twitched just below the surface.

Big soft-plastics twitched just below the surface can draw explosive strikes. Photo/BoatingLocal

When the fish go deep, you can use a depthsounder to find them and the bait concentrations. At this point, send down a 4-ounce diamond jig, curl-tail grub or a soft-plastic shad-type lure and jig it up and down.

Of course, flies work very well at this time, especially if the fish are keyed on small silversides. Small 1/0 to 2/0 Skok Mushies, Clouser Minnows and Deceivers in blue/white, olive/white and all-white work well. Gear up with a 9-weight or 8-weight rod loaded with intermediate line and a 20-pound-test fluorocarbon tippet.

Nugent’s tackle for early-season striper fishing includes a 6’ 6” to 7’ rod and midsize spinning reel like the Shimano Spheros 5000 or Penn 4500 loaded with 250 yards of 10-pound mono. No need to go too heavy on these fish, and the light gear is better for working smaller, lighter lures.

License Reminder

Don’t forget to buy your 2013 Massachusetts Saltwater Fishing License. Cost is $10 for residents and non-residents. To purchase a license online go to MASS Fish Hunt.

To book a trip with Riptide Charters, CLICK HERE.

RonZ jigs can be fished shallow or deep depending on where the fish are holding. Photo/BoatingLocal

Spring weather can be dicey—but the fish don't care! Photo/BoatingLocal

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