Targeting Spring Striped Bass: River Repertoire

This spring schoolie inhaled a Dart Spin rigged on a 1/2-ounce leadhead jig.

While school stripers can be caught inside estuaries of southern New England through the winter, the action really begins to heat up in mid- to late-April, when so-called “fresh” fish arrive and mix with the holdovers. At this time, anglers fishing from small boats and kayaks, as well as from shore, can enjoy great fishing in areas protected from the wind. Text & Photos by Tom Richardson

Another bonus is that the fish tend to feed throughout the day, as long as the water is moving—not just at dawn and at night, as is often the case once the waters warm in late June. Indeed, a big reason stripers gravitate to the rivers each spring is that the water is closer to their comfort level.

 

In the early season (mid-April to mid-May), I seek out tidal rivers with deep bends and pools, and generally find the best action within a mile of the river mouth. The presence of herring also seems to make a difference—even though many of the fish are no bigger than a herring! That said, it is possible to hook keeper bass, especially later in the spring when the big migratory fish enter the rivers, looking for post-spawn herring as they drop out of fresh water.

Good spots to target within the river include deep holes, river bends, feeder-creek junctions, points, and drop-offs with good current flow. Always look for structure, such as rocks and pilings. I have done well on both the incoming and outgoing tides, although I prefer the latter, as the water flushing out of upstream areas is warmer.

Wading birds (such as these willet) and osprey add to the spring river-fishing experience.

Topwaters such as small poppers and stickbaits (eg, Zara Spook, Jumpin’ Minnow), as well as soft-plastics (eg. Slug-Go, Zoom Fluke), can draw strikes at this time, but I have found that subsurface baits are generally more productive. Some of my go-to spring river lures include the 5 1/2″ Crystal Minnow, Bomber Long-A, small paddletail shads (pearl or chartreuse), and especially the pearl Dart Spin rigged on a 1/2-ounce leadhead. The last two can be bounced off the bottom or retrieved either steadily or with short jerks of the rod. Trolling is a great way to locate a concentration of fish in the river, and can be just as effective from a kayak or skiff. Maintain a slow, steady pace, and be sure to check the lure every so often to see if has snagged any weeds. Once you hook a fish or get a strike, you can begin to cast lures.

In terms of tackle, I like a light, seven-foot spinning outfit filled with 20-pound-test braided line ending in a 2-3 foot, 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader. If there are a lot of rocks in the river, and bigger fish are present, I’ll scale up to 30- or 40-pound test fluorocarbon leader.

Kayaks allow you to access many parts of a river that shore anglers can’t reach. In many cases, I like to beach my kayak and fish from the bank, simply because I find it easier to cast and land a fish. Just make sure that you keep track of the water level, especially on a rising tide, as you don’t want your kayak floating away!

Lastly, be sure to play it safe when fishing in the spring. The water is very cold, the weather can change rapidly, and hypothermia can set in quickly if you happen to capsize. Always wear a PFD (in some states it’s required before Memorial Day) and fish with a companion if possible. If you have a phone, carry it on your person in a waterproof case or bag.