To recognize that it’s striper season in an Atlantic hotbed like Long Island, you don’t need to be an expert. Local anglers will let you know. The clues that it’s that time of year are not subtle: Beach parking lots stay packed after dark; trucks loaded with camper backs and multiple poles start to congregate at delis and tackle shops. When the stripers are running, it’s best to grab a rod and join in.
What makes the pursuit of striped bass so enticing? It’s a sport fish that’s accessible to just about every type of saltwater angler. Fishing for stripers doesn’t require owning an expensive offshore boat, just a willingness to learn. One outing can quickly create an obsession; the first time you feel the tug of a striper on the line, you’ll be hooked.
Know Thy Fish
Striped bass, also known as stripers, rockfish, or linesiders, depending on where you find yourself, are a migratory fish found predominantly in the Atlantic Ocean. They spend winters in the bays of the lower mid-Atlantic states, then, in spring, when temperatures start to rise, they head north, in search of nurseries to spawn and cooler waters to spend the summer off New England.
In the Mid-Atlantic and New York, they seek out shallow bays, where water warms first, offering plenty of food for their young fry. Most adults will continue pushing north into New England where they reside in cooler, deeper waters for the summer. When the fall arrives and the ocean starts to chill again, striped bass begin migrating back down south, following the coast of New England, passing by Long Island, and continuing on down the shore.
While smaller fish, often referred to as holdovers or schoolies, may reside in New England waters for longer durations, the majority of the action (especially for Long Island anglers) occurs during these spring and fall migrations commonly known as runs. The excitement cranks up a bit when it comes to higher numbers of striped bass, and the chance to hook up with some sizable catches, aka cows, that can be nabbed right from shore.
Where To Fish
During the fall run, most of these game fish follow their food source (smaller bait fish) right down the coast. This makes the beaches one of the most popular destinations to get after striped bass, and why surf-casting is popular in Long Island and the Mid-Atlantic.
Seek out surf: Another reason these muscular striped bass spend time in the surf: easy meals. Bait fish get washed around and disoriented in the pounding Atlantic breakers, then flushed through channels between sandbars. Going for a meal in the surf is like picking berries for the stripers.
Extend the shoreline: Because the striped bass are cruising just off the coast, near shore is also a superb way to fish for them during the spring and fall runs. You are hovering right over their migratory path. No need to power up a motorboat to reach fish within sight of the coast. However, this is a great opportunity for kayak anglers to extend just a small distance offshore to hook up with big fish for a ride around the same areas sought after by anglers burning through gas.
Find constrictions: Inlets make a fantastic place to go after striped bass as well. As predatory fish, striped bass seek out schools of bait fish, and opportune places to attack. A pinch point, like an inlet or river mouth, marks an entrance and exit from other bodies of water. These are often the places bait fish are migrating out of as well, and where stripers have their meals cornered.
Case inshore corridors: Inlets are also the path of travel for striped bass seeking spawning grounds in bays and rivers. The deep channels where fish travel through safely are easier for anglers to reach by casting a minimal distance. Inshore areas such as bays and rivers are another productive area for saltwater anglers to pursue striped bass. These are the nurseries of striped bass, and where young stripers fatten up to one day join the cows out at sea.
Follow the birds: One of the most stunning displays you’ll witness while fishing striped bass is the sight of them swarming a ball of bait. The water erupts with bait fish fleeing these predators. And usually larger marine animals, including whales, will flock to the feeding frenzy. This natural act also means you should get a hook in the water nearby, because blitzing stripers are bound to smash it. The biggest clue a blitz is heading your way? The otherwise pesky gulls that you spend most of your day chasing away from your bait. If a flock takes off over a concentrated section of water and begins diving for the ocean, get ready, because the action is going to be intense.