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The Early Bird Catches the Fish

by Aaron Jasper

Are you having trouble catching early-summer striped bass? Expert angler and tier Aaron Jasper tells us how to locate the fish and gives us the flies to catch them.

Fishing for early-season striped bass is a mystery for the majority of shore-bound anglers up and down the East Coast. With a little knowledge about geography, currents, the predominant bait-fish, and water temperature, enjoying catches of these wonderful game fish is easier than you might think.

In the late spring and early summer, striped bass migrate from their winter sanctuaries. Some fish spend the winter in tidal estuaries, but others go beyond the three-mile ocean line. In the late spring, they begin migrating as water temperatures warm and the photoperiod—the amount of daylight—increases.

During this early-season migration, the fish do not move as they do in the fall; there are no epic blitzes and fast fishing. The late-spring and early-summer migration builds slowly, but being in the right place at the right time can lead to some of the best fishing of your life.

The Importance of Geography and Water Temperature

Talking about the correct geography and fishing might sound overly simplistic. But so often, even in our everyday lives, we overlook the simplest things that can make the biggest differences.

Look at Google Earth maps of the eastern United States from North Carolina to Maine, and you’ll discover rivers and shallow water everywhere. Striped bass move into these places first. The bottoms of these shallow areas are generally a mixture of mud and sand. This allows the water to heat up quickly, which attracts both striped bass and baitfish.

I often hear fly fishermen say that late spring and early summer are a bait fisherman’s game, and I laugh. As soon as striped bass and baitfish are present, it’s everyone’s game. The real problem is that too many fly fishermen attempt to catch stripers in water that is much too deep, and they fail not because they lack the skill or don’t have the right tackle. They’re simply fishing in the wrong spots.

In late spring and early summer, look for striped bass in water that is about waist deep. That is where the water cracks the magical 50-degree Fahrenheit mark and the bass come in large schools to feed.

Once you find the right water at the correct temperature, you must have confidence that the fish will be there. Dump the “autumn blitz” mind-set; early-season fishing is much different. Don’t expect to see birds diving and schools of fish exploding in feeding frenzies at the surface. In the early season, it’s simply not that easy to find the fish. But, when you do locate the stripers, it can be as easy as fishing in the fall, and the best part is that there won’t be hordes of people on either side of you.

Look for Flowing Water

Just like trout living in a stream, striped bass love currents. Currents bring food to them. In late spring and early summer, look for stripers at nearly every inlet, estuary, river, and tidal outflow from North Carolina to Maine. The only difference is timing when you’ll find the fish.

In North Carolina, this takes place much earlier than it does in Maine. Keep in mind the “lay of the land” when fishing during the early season. The water in the shallows will move at some point, and that is where tides come into play.

During the late spring and early summer, an outgoing tide is usually the most productive. Since the water being warmed is generally farther inshore, look for spots where the tide flows out to meet the colder ocean or bay water. The ideal positions are where a shallow bay empties into a colder body of water. In New York, Jamaica Bay is a prime example of such a location. All along New Jersey’s Raritan Bay, the shoreline contains more tidal inflows than you could count and is an early-season hot spot. Both these excellent fisheries are located within sight of New York City.

The Connecticut, northern Long Island, and Rhode Island coastlines are filled with numerous saltwater ponds, as well as rivers and large bays. All these smaller bodies of water flow into Long Island Sound. Look for the first bass of the season where the warmer flowing water meets the colder water in the sound. When these scenarios set up correctly, striped bass will be closer to shore and easier for fly fishermen to access than at any other time of year.

More on Water Temperature

As we have discussed, look for early-season stripers where the water in large tidal flats warms in the sun. Water temperature is more important when angling for striped bass than when trout fishing.

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