So, How Was Your Striped Bass Season?

Striped Bass

Some good indications that things may be on an upswing, but it certainly isn’t time to loosen the reins

I hesitate to say it’s over, because for a lot of us along the striper coast, to say such a thing would be blasphemy! Yeah, “it ain’t over till it’s over,” but for sure, most of us are starting to wind things down. So I wanna ask readers… How was your striped bass fishing this year? Tell me/us by leaving a comment below.

Carl St. John with Striped Bass

Carl St. John with Striped Bass

Honestly, mine wasn’t terrible… Not nearly as bad as I had expected it to be based on the prior years. That’s mostly because of a real resurgence of schoolies. In fact, there were more schoolies around in the spring and then again this fall than I’ve seen in well over a decade. Reminded me at times of how the fishing was in the early 2000s, when the bay was just full of them. I mean hell, I had a handful of 40-50 fish days! Sure, just schoolies, but of course there were some larger fish mixed in. Good stuff if you are a light tackle/flyfishing guide. In other words the striped bass fishery wasn’t dominated by the meat crowd, if ya know what I mean (if you are reading this I expect that you do).

I’ve actually spent the last few days talking to anglers and guides from Maine to Virginia for an article I’m working on for one of the big print pubs. Almost everyone that spends A LOT of time on the water is saying something similar. At some points in the season they were/are consistently seeing loads of schoolies. Yes, as has been the case in the last several years, there have been some good but brief runs of larger fish here and there, for example the (expletive)-show in Jersey right now on the bunker schools, but such scenarios sure as hell aren’t happening with any consistency along the striper coast.

I mean, it all makes sense. According to young-of-the-year survey conducted annually in the Chesapeake Bay, 2011 was the one real good year-class we’ve had since 2003. The rest? Average to well below average. (Note: 2015 appears to be a good one also, but I’ll get to that later).

Because approximately 80% of the coastal striped bass stock originates in the Chesapeake Bay, this is significant, and because those fish seemed to have left the bay this year (generally it takes them 3 or 4 years) I’m pretty sure that’s what most of us are seeing now. And those bigger fish all those anglers in Jersey are beating on right now? Likely the last of the 2003 class.

Another thing I’d note are all the 5-to-10″ fish we had in Jamaica Bay this year. There were a ton! Given their size, I can only assume these are fish spawned in the Hudson this year (the second largest spawning estuary on the coast). Although the data isn’t available yet, I suspect that the Hudson had good young-of-the-year production this spring.

Yes, this resurrection of the schoolie fishery is awesome. I actually don’t feel like shooting myself after most striper trips this year. But what exactly does it mean for the coastal stock? Are we out of the weeds?

Striped Bass

Striped Bass

I certainly don’t think so. Re the above, I’m only really talking about a few weeks in the spring and fall. There wasn’t much before them, and I don’t really expect there to be much after them.

I mean, we’re talking about one abundant year class (the 2011s). Yes, there are other less-abundant year classes mixed in, which of course makes fishing on these small fish interesting, as you never know when a larger fish is gonna strike, but those larger fish sure as hell aren’t abundant.

Indeed, the 2015 year class appears to be a pretty good one. But, even if it’s as good as they say it is, we won’t see those fish for probably another 4 years. Still, this of course is great news for the future of the fishery. But it sure as hell isn’t a reason to reverse the cuts that were made last year with Addendum IV.

Unsurprisingly, at the ASMFC meeting a few weeks ago, the Bay states (Maryland and Virginia) made a play to do exactly this. If you recall, they were the ones who fought the 25% reduction the hardest, because apparently everyone in their states will suffer if they can’t kill a ton of striped bass.

Without getting too much into the weeds, I have to mention here that the push to loosen the regs was also based on a 2015 Assessment Update. This incorporated 2013 and 2014 data, and somehow showed that there was now a 49% chance that the stock would be overfished by this year, instead of the prior 86% estimation. Why the big drop, I’m still not clear on, but from what I understand it had to do with a different projection model more than anything else. Charlie Witek explains it in detail in his latest striped bass blog post.

Fortunately the push didn’t succeed. From what I hear, there was little support (save for, ehm, Jersey), but it wasn’t altogether defeated either. It was tabled, so it could and likely will come up again. Instead, a motion was passed to rush an assessment update after the 2015 season, so we can first understand what the impact of the Addendum IV cuts was.

Certainly there’s no harm in this. And I for one will be interested to see whether or not the new measures (specifically going from a two- to a one-fish bag limit in most states) succeeded in keeping fishing mortality below the target and, more importantly, whether the stock ended up becoming “overfished” this year. The results of such an update will likely change the dynamic of where we go from here.

Yet regardless of that outcome, I think we really just need to stay the course with striped bass. Because like a lot of us have been saying all along, it’s darn important that we keep some fish in the water. Allowing/encouraging people to kill more fish before the ink is even dry on Addendum IV is just stupid, right?

We are most certainly not on easy street with stripers. It’s a fact that the great majority of years in the last decade have shown average to below-average spawns. The anomalous 2011 year class doesn’t change that. Nor does the 2015 above-average one. I want you to keep in mind that we had the LOWEST young-of-the-year index in the history of the survey (which dates back to 1957) in 2012. When you average out the index over the last decade, it ain’t great. And it doesn’t compare with the decade before — the boom years — in which many of us built what we thought were sustainable business models around striped bass.

But things aren’t all doom and gloom either. As Charlie Witek points out in his post, that decade leading up to the last collapse saw average young-of-the-year indices way below what we’re seeing now. So no… Despite what some people are saying, I DON’T think we’re on the verge of another collapse. Nor are we back to where I think things should be. In other words, I don’t think we’re gonna see things get much worse in the near future, but I don’ think things will get much better either. And really, we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature and whether or not she gives us good conditions for young-of-the-year production in the coming years. Given the changing climate, that’s a real wild card.

One would think reasonable people/reasonable managers would understand this, and proceed with caution… The kind federal law requires. But they come under A LOT of pressure from the kill-more folks. And unfortunately, striped bass aren’t managed by the feds, and, well, some of those state managers aren’t what I’d consider to be reasonable. I mean hey, the ASMFC hasn’t exactly acted with precaution in mind in the past.

So really, I think it’s going to be up to us — the rank-and-file striped bass angler, the light tackle guys, the surfcasters… All of us who need a healthy and abundant stock to be successful — to push back on those Bay States when they try and increase the number of fish they can kill. Because without us, striped bass — and all the businesses up and down the coast who benefit from striped bass abundance — have no one.

Stay tuned.

About John McMurray

Capt. John McMurray is a full-time charter boat captain and president of ONE MORE CAST CHARTERS in Oceanside, NY. McMurray spent nine years on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and six years as a legislative proxy on the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, and is a founder and past president of the American Saltwater Guides Association.

47 comments on “So, How Was Your Striped Bass Season?

  1. We had an “ok” season on the Southern Maine coast. Large amounts of bait moved into Wells Harbor and held the schoolies most of our season. On the beach fronts we caught more fish over 40″ than we had the last couple of years. However we weren’t catching the numbers that we had in the past. Overall I was pleased with what I was seeing.

    • Southern RI saw lots of 20-24 inch fish in BI sound early spring and during fall migration. Massive blitzes in fall were good to see but numbers of bigger (28+) fish were way off 3 years ago.

      Also, Monomoy rips numbers were down comparative to several years back. Wondering if those Jersey bass are mainly Chesapeake stock or Hudson?

  2. The springtime fishery in the Peconics was ok, some quality fish mostly on bunker. Not the quantity of fish we usually see spread out across the general Peconic bay area.

    Montauk was pretty good from late June through mid September. Certainly some quality fish, mostly deeper water.

    The fall surfcasting season along the South fork sand beaches was horrible perhaps the worst ever. No real concentration of fish ever set up along the beaches. Some fish out on the outer bars. Seems like most fish moved west of Moriches and never looked back. Not sure if this was an abundance issue or just a pattern of bait or other conditions.

  3. In MA the season was slow to start after a cold winter. My worst May in years. Overall many fewer fish in the 30″ to 45″ range. More 45″+ fish. The big fish bite shut down eArly But the fall had the best schoolie fishing in years. 24″ to 26″ fish everywhere in big numbers. Next year those small fish will be barely legal, hopefully some will survive to be the larges of the future.

  4. Agree with this large class of schoolies around right now. These 22″-26″ fish were plentiful a few years ago when they were 18″-20″ so it seems like the majority of that class has marched onward..

    However we are missing a pretty big class of fish in general…40″ plus fish are a shadow of what they were a few years ago.

  5. Mine so bad I quit going. At Cape Cod spots where I used find big schools of good fish I got skunked or wound up with one or two. Not worth the $200 for gas. After mid July I concentrated on trout and perch. Thank God for albies.

  6. I have released stripers for the past thirty years. I fished the worm hatch in Charlestown Pond [Ninigret] for ten years all alone before it became one of RI’s premier spring time events. Two years ago, I went twice and caught nothing but babies. I have no desire to beat up on them. Last yearI only went once. I asked a few guides if they had seen any fish of size and upon receiving negative responces from all, I hung it up. I spent the entire summer and fall working on a project right on the coast at Quonnie. I never saw anyone catch a single striper.

  7. I fish in the NY/NJ area ranging from the back of JFK Airport, Rockaway Inlet to West Bank and Raritan Bay…I haven’t targeted striped bass in past years until this September. I’m more of a bottom fisherman for black Atlantic sea bass and tau tog. We had an excellent fall run that started in September and up to and including Novemeber 27th. Fish from September to November 1st all ranged from 19-26lbs with occasional schoolies in the 30″ range. Most of the fish the past 2-3 weeks have been schoolies with two rogue 30 & 35lb stripers caught on live bunker.

  8. Had an amazing year, myself. Southern Main, south of Saco bay. Great early season for schoolie bass on the fly fishing flats with many many sessions catching multiple fish per tides, and a killer year surfcasting and eeling at night. My best year for #’s of large fish and bested my personal records with multiple nights of 40″ fish. Not bad for southern maine sufcasting and fly fishing. Cant speak for boat fishing.

  9. Best spring in years on the outer cape.
    Tons of 35-42″ fish.
    Not a ton of monsters but all the 20-25lb bass you could catch for six weeks (from my kayak)
    Died off in the summer as usual but a big push of 24-30″ fish in the fall.

  10. We did pretty well out of CT this season. Bunker have been choking the river mouths all season. From April well into July I was able to find bass in the mid-30″ to low 40″ consistently, though they tended to turn off early on the weekends as they just got pounded. The reefs holding the fish seem to be much more limited than 5-6 years ago, and once word spread of a bite, the location usually only held up for a short time under the heavy pressure. I’ve been really excited about the numbers of schoolies this fall and last off the coast of RI and up into the mouth of the CT River right through October. The past two years have seen banner months in October. I pushed for the 1@32 and would like to see stripers receive game fish status. I’m almost entirely catch and release, keeping none for myself and encouraging all of my friends who wanted to keep a fish to make it a 28″-30″ fish. People debated whether the 1 fish limit would kill charters. Most of the guys I know had few problems with encouraging clients to limit keepers even before the change in regs. What kills charters is the prospect of spending $600-$800 for a day catching hoping to maybe catch a few fish. The other side of the population restoration strategy has to be cleaning up the primary spawning habitat in the upper Chesapeake. There is still a ton of work to be done. Keep up the great work John. I enjoy your posts! Tight Lines everyone!

  11. My year of surfcasting Block Island all summer was good as usual. Only thing that was consistently different from the other years was the amount of lower class teen fish. I would say 40% of all the fish I caught this season were in the 12-15 lb range.

  12. I have heavily fish the LBI area for the last 15 years. More fish This fall in the 32+ range on bunker. Just recently have schoolers on peanut bunker. No sandeels means fewer schoolies in my mind as there’s not much to forage then. I remember the days in the first half of the 2000s catching close to 100 fish fishing a FULL day.
    I would also say my state needs to get their act together. One fish only, no bonus tags and no over 43. Would like to see a slot limit similar to what is done with redfish.

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  13. Fish need more protection by way of enforcement. ( not more laws) There are still guys around BLock island taking 20-40 fish a night and selling them illegally. This is not anecdotal , there were arrest made this year.

  14. This was the worst year for numbers of 28-40″ bass I have seen in a decade. There were good days of big fish but numbers seem way down. I own a boat and fish a variety of areas on cape cod and southern New England. Areas that have historically held huge numbers of adult stripers were practically devoid of fish this year. The Chatham rips are a prime example. Montauk was utterly disappointing in the fall. I thought these were the 2 last strongholds of great striper fishing. I was wrong. Yes there was a pile of fish parked at the killing fields in Provincetown this spring, but that happens every year. Personally, I am deeply concerned about the obvious decline of the fishery. I am tired of the obvious lack of respect some revs, charters and commercials have towards the fishery. I am in favor of a moratorium to bring this fishery back to what it once was. Greed and greed- based management has run the fishery into the ground. It needs to stop.

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  15. Well here’s my take. I’m still learning. But as the years go by its gotten better for me. I am yet to get on them in the spring run. All thru year I catch small ones. I know they are all new spawns. From all over the upper bay. From spill ways to tidal creeks. I find tons around the 10 inch range. My best times have been the fall. This year it started for me in September. I had some amazing days. It averaged from 20 to 30 fish. Between 20 to 27 inches mostly. I’ve been reading a lot on them and trying to figure out their patterns. I have my lil schedule when I know they will be around. I hit my spots and usually it starts at first cast. It will last for at least 2 hours of fish after fish. Then they back out and leave. If I get to spot and don’t get a hit in around 20 to 30 mins I leave and search other spots. I work my way around the back bays and tidal creeks and river all up here in the upper bay. I’ve learnt that if they don’t hit in those 20 to 30 mins they aren’t there and probably won’t show up for another few hours after the tide changes. I don’t waste my time I move on and look for them. And as I move I do find them somewhere else. This year was phenomenal for me and I’m still catching them here and there. They are scattered right now for me. And all have been on lures. As far as the keepers I’ve only got 2 of those but I’m not complaining. I love to fish and when I catch 20 to 30 in less than 2 hours one after the other is a rush look for them they are out there

  16. I fish mostly western Ct. Spring was slow to start. The bass that appear after the herring were scarce. The bass that usually show on the late spring bunker pods were scarce. Managed a couple fish per trip into the beginning of july. Mostly just over keeper size. Summer was a dead zone. Late summer we had tons of bait and a lot of big blues but very few bass mixed in. The larger bass that usually push through in the fall were scarce just like spring. Finally a lot of schoolies pushed through and are still here preparing to winter over. I haven’t really bothered with them. Overall a pretty lame season.

  17. The spring run was off the hook I couldnt tell you how many 35lb and over I put in the boat. I had two true 50lb fish and maybe a third.The problum here was the mortaily rate, limit or no limit most of these fish where killed. BIG PROBLUM no enforcement !!!.These are our breeders big problum.Where were the small fish 5lb to 15 lb very few around. Not many local fish around. (NY BRIGHT) As for the fall run it shaped up to be OK at best. There were some big fish around not like the spring. there were more fish from the 5 to the 15lb class though. It still not anywhere it should be. If this fishery is not watch closely it will collapse again !!!. PS: ALL BIG FISH WHERE RELEASED !!

  18. I think the slot limit is too much shouldn’t matter what size we catch of the big cows or baby carrying females in spring…look at the blue crab harvest this season for Maryland, was a pretty bad year and that’s because imagine how many of these little crustaceans the big ones are eating, not to mention the weakfish population which is getting eaten as soon as they are born in the bay

  19. Maybe for those of you fishing from a boat had a slightly better year this year compared to last but for the surfcasters it was like the dead sea once again. I remember back only 7 + years ago I would always catch stripers just about every night I went out and I went out a lot. Since that time each passing year has gone from bad to worse. If I said 2015 was like the dead sea for those of us that fish the surf it would be an understatement. I have almost given up on fishing the surf the past 4 years and have become an accomplished guitar player instead. Pretty good if you like listening to electric blues and metal, bad for those like me that at one time considered myself a diehard surf rat. To go out multiple nights and walk back to the car without catching a single fish is just disheartening and I don’t see it getting better anytime soon.

  20. Forgot to add above the fall fishing has also been on a major decline. My friends and I would launch our kayaks in the ocean surf from October thru December and would hit large schools of migrating and catch tons of them on fly rods. The past 3 years we haven’t even bothered launching from the surf. The stripers are nowhere to be found when only a few years back you could’ve launched from any southshore beach from Long Beach to Montauk Point, Long Island and find migrating fish. Back then we used to call it quits sometime between Christmas and New Years Day after catching a bunch of fish on that given day. We’ve already called it quits this year just not worth it anymore.

  21. Great season all around. Saw a lot more stripes than blue this year. Fished from Moriches to Montauk and Orient to St. James. A lot of quality fish. Broke my personal record twice. 30# and than 40#. Spring was great and the fall was even better on both shores. All fish from the surf. A lot more guys out this year which is good and bad to see i guess. A lot of smaller fish around also which is a good sign. The amount of bait in the bays ocean and sound was unreal. Some great days and nights. This was a season to remember. Looking forward to spring 16

  22. Great season all around. Saw a lot more stripes than blue this year. Fished from Moriches to Montauk and Orient to St. James. A lot of quality fish. Broke my personal record twice. 30# and than 40#. Spring was great and the fall was even better on both shores. All fish from the surf. A lot more guys out this year which is good and bad to see i guess. A lot of smaller fish around also which is a good sign. The amount of bait in the bays ocean and sound was unreal. Some great days and nights. This was a season to remember. Looking forward to spring 16All my fish were released this year. Nothing like watching a 40 swim away

  23. This entire season was a disappointment.
    Fewer juvenile than in any year in the creeks and backwaters.
    The large schools that normally inhabit the shallows in spring and early summer were not there.
    Smaller groups and generally smaller fish with the occasional larger fish.
    The fall run has been almost non existent for the past four years and we have only one wave of fish coming through instead of many throughout the season.
    I can go on but out on the east end of long island we need some help before it’s too late.
    We can’t hang out hat on just one year class when we used to have multiple year classes that we could fish to.
    It’s a mistake to think the 2011 class is the savior…it’s not it’s one good year, we need multiple good or at least decent years.
    Things need to be done before we forget what it was like before the moratorium.

  24. Eastern-Mid Long Island. Boat & Surf

    Spring-Summer nice fish on bunker and clam along the surf into July. I wish I got to fish it more but I can only afford to be obsessively fishing for 4 months of the year and I choose the Fall.

    Fall- Out east we had a few nice fish in the rips at Montauk in September- early October. The schoolie- 30″ bass blitzes we usually see with the False Albacore were non existent. The FA were the most abundant and vicious I have ever seen.
    Surfcasting east of Moriches was a grind in the early fall but there was a shot at a 28″ fish a night as the season went on, no sustained bite though.
    On the boat out of Fire Island Inlet I had a decent late October- December. Big fish on bunker, 30lbs fish were around, 20lbs were more abundent. I only had rolling bass in the ocean a few days and it was only for a tide. I still haven’t seen the schoolies but i have heard reports of them moving through so I’m sure I just missed them.

    Overall I was happy with the season. The slow and steady stream of calm cooling weather seemed to provide a nice trickle of fish that rewarded the die hards. I think one thing that is a constant with the people I talk to and the comments above is BUNKER. The conservation of bunker numbers has been so beneficial. I caught a lot of nice bluefish and bass this year and I’ve never seen so much whale and porpoise in our waters.

    Lets keep protecting Bass and Bunker. Lets see how great the fishing could be! Without this sport a lot of us would be in a bad place and I’m ready to help in any way that could be beneficial to the future of our fisheries.

  25. Usually start catching keeper sized fish around the first week of April in the local herring runs. I’m in Southeast CT.this year there WERE no herring runs in most places. As a consequence the fishing Really didn’t get going in the rivers until around the second week of may. The bunker on the other hand showed up big time and I had a few weeks of really good fishing around that time. Around the 4th of July the water gets a little too warm and the near shore fishing pretty much died out for me as it has the last few years. I use this time to take care of all the things I neglect all spring. Then right back at it balls to the wall for the fall Albie run which was pretty good this year. After the tuna moved through he bass fishing heated back up and stayed good past halloween. I have friends who are still catching schoolis now but those are the ones that winter over. Qll in all had a real good year. The bunker came back big time. But the herring runs were empty so it makes me wonder if they all got scooped up instead???? Same with hickory shad. Usually the rivers are silly with them, this year they just weren’t around.

  26. It was the best Striper fishing in yrs,in the N.Y. Bight . Spring was slow in Jamaica Bay. Late Spring was insane in Raritan. The good bite was on & off, but mostly on. I generally go out 2-3 pet week and big fish (30# & up) became the norm this year. Even in August which is never good , we had 30# fish almost every nite. The bite slowed down in Sept. But picked up again in October it was lights out stupid fishing. Last year was horrible this year great. That being said ,I hope they keep the tighter regs now on place

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  27. I mostly catch and release with a fly rod! Much harder than plunking! I would like to see a single hook only, no bait, no trolling. LOL – That would bring the fish back!

  28. My year had very mixed results. For the most part of the surfcasting year I am out fishing at least 3 times a week with many weeks out 5-7 days/nights. I have the addiction bad. On Long Island we had a very strong showing of peanut bunker which held some fish in the summer and into the fall. We had virtually no sand eels which meant that fall fishing tended to be hit or miss – if you found the peanuts or the adult bunker you had a decent chance of finding some fish – if you didn’t you got skunked. Montauk was not worth the drive – for the second or third year in a row the fall run was little more than a crawl. The spring was pretty decent with a personal best thrown into the mix. All in all I would say that this was a fair year. Yes, there were some pockets of fish that provided a nice fall for some anglers but by no means was this an Island-wide occurrence.

    I am encouraged by the 2011 year class and the reported strong 2015 year class. You can bet your lunch that we will see increased efforts to reverse the harvest reductions that were put in place this past year. The only way to guarantee that the money making portion of the rec sector and the comm sectors don’t experience an economic hardship in the future is to ensure a robust and abundant fishery.

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