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Spring Fishing

Traffic alert: spring stripers

Schoolies and sometimes larger fish can be found this time of year up rivers and close to shore

Traffic alert: spring stripers

Schoolies and sometimes larger fish can be found this time of year up rivers and close to shore

If you ever wanted to go striper fishing, you don’t need to wait until the heart of the season. Thousands of bass, many of them schoolies, along with a number of larger fish are pushing into many of the rivers and bays all along the Northeast. These spots are close to home for many and are handy to the dock or ramp if our fickle weather clouds over.

A small boat is fine for this type of fishing be it Mt.HopeBay near Tiverton, R.I., to the many rivers and bays in southern New Jersey. Two fishermen or a father and son can have a great Saturday of casting along the shoreline with light rods, often catching all manner of small stripers on any type of small lure.

Spinning rods and small reels holding 8- to 12-pound mono line or some of the super braid lines in 10- to 20-pound test are ideal for the job at hand. Simple white bucktails from 1/2- to 1-ounce work fine as do the newer plastic shads or just a plain lead head of the same size with a 4-inch plastic worm on it. All will fool the hungry bass.

Places to start casting are many, such as a rocky shore or deep area by a stone dock. The small arm of a river that forms a cove is worth a look at high tide, sometimes the fish given away by birds picking up scraps of baitfish driven to the top by the feeding bass. In years past, my friend Capt. Charley Soares and I would find that exact situation casting along the shore by the Mt.HopeBridge just east of RogerWilliamsCollege in Rhode Island.

Any place an island, however small, breaks the river current is another location worth casting. Work both the up- and downstream ends of the island with your lures, but always be on the lookout for boulders just below the surface. If a small stream enters the river or bay you have more opportunities to catch stripers, casting to the mouth of the creek as it empties into the bigger body of water.

Old pilings provide structure around which bass look for forage, be it crabs or small baitfish. Some of these places may not be in pristine surroundings, but many hold striped bass.

Outlets of power plants, when the station is running, produce warmer water and baitfish that bass key in on, and you sometimes find the first small blues of the year in the outflow.

Please keep in mind some of the places are so far upriver they require a freshwater license to legally fish. Such hotspots include the ultra-productive Thames River in Southeastern Connecticut — north of the Gold Star Bridge that connects Groton to New London — all the way up to the Shetucket River past Norwich.

In time these bass start to move down the same river they ascended. As the spring wears on, begin checking locations around the river mouth where it empties into the ocean, bay or sound. During those times it might pay to have a heavier rod rigged with larger lure, looking for the hookup with the first 15-pounder of the season. Instead of tossing a small bucktail, try an 8-inch plastic worm on a lead head, 7- to 9-inch Slug-Go or 6-inch plastic shad around whatever structure you have to work with. Several of my sources for fishing news relate stories of bigger fish grabbing a lure on an 8-pound schoolie rod only to easily break the line on a sharp rock and making the caster aware bigger bass have arrived in his or her home waters.

Increasing one’s options

This is also the time of year to consider making the first night trip, when the rivers are usually quiet and traffic-free even on some “warmer” evening in the second half of May. Anglers can work the same shoreline structure or anchor up, perhaps near the outlet of a stream or small bay into the river.

Using two rods per angler, fish a chunk of frozen mackerel, bunker or ocean herring on one rod on the bottom and toss a lure with the other. In the past, the bait of choice at this time was a chunk of river herring, but conservation measures have put that type herring off limits in many New England states.

Bring extra clothes, whether the trip is day or night. The weather along the water will usually be a lot cooler especially inland. A balmy spring afternoon 30 miles to the north or west will not likely be the conditions you find at the launch ramp. The air inland might be in the 70s, but waters along the shore are still in the low to mid-50s.

Anglers who have access to a bigger boat will soon be asking around about fish moving through on their spring migration, stopping at places like the Shrewsbury Rocks off northern New Jersey or The Race off eastern Connecticut. The latter spot can be absolutely full of stripers at times that are suckers for a diamond jig dropped to the bottom and reeled upward about a third of the way to the surface. The aggressive bluefish aren’t around yet, so any hits will be from the princely bass. At times at the end of the current or slack water, the bass sometimes push bait to the top, providing lucky anglers with casting opportunities instead of catching them in the deep water west of Valiant Shoal.

A careful check of the weather might provide a great trip in the late afternoon after brisk morning winds subside. A quick call to a fishing partner is often all that’s needed if your boat is gassed and ready to go. I can remember many days when my friend Dr. Frank Bush and I left the MysticRiver after lunch to enjoy some wonderful fishing on an afternoon ebb tide in The Race, skipping the morning due to a chilly wind left over from the previous day’s weather. The same could be said for those in smaller boats waiting for a window along a river or tidal bay.

Our striper season has picked up steam from the early days of the first small ones. It’s now time to be out of the house for sure, looking around in a variety of spots thanks to a migration in full swing. Mother Nature provides us with great opportunities if you have a boat in the water or at the ready.

Tim Coleman has been fishing New England waters for more than 30 years. He was managing editor of The Fisherman magazine’s New England edition until 2001, and is now a freelance writer based in Rhode Island.