I often think about what we do not know about our beloved Striped Bass. I can not hide it, i am completely mesmerized and obsessed with “America’s fish”. I always have been, and i am certainly not alone. I fish almost exclusively for them. There is much talk about overall stocks, which are not great. Science proves that. The Chesapeake numbers are abysmally low. Our Hudson stock, the Raritan Bay/Ny Bight fishery however is just simply thriving and fully exhilarating.
Or, is it?…. The fishing the last 3 springs and falls has been nothing short of incredible. There is no doubt about that. By boat or from the land, the sheer numbers, and numbers of trophy fish has increased. As a discerning fisherman, I would be a fool to not wonder if this is a true reading of “stocks” or are essentially “all” the fish just taking more regular residence in our bunker infested systems?
Our water is the cleanest I have ever seen. Clean water acts are definitely part of it, but Bunker filter feed and in turn clean up the water as well. There is no question the significant proliferation of Atlantic Menhaden has our waters cleaner and Striped Bass and Bluefin Tuna alike marauding our coast.
Just look at this fall, it is not even Halloween as I write this and it has been nothing short of epic. I wonder what is in store for us, as last year there was tremendous fishing into late December. A few commercial fishermen and scallopers I know swear to me the push of 40-50 lb fish we just saw in early October were fish hanging offshore. We all know stripers WINTER offshore but summer? Who knows…. I fished these fish, and noticed their feeding habits and methods of corralling the bunker from below were similar to offshore fish. Not one surface blowup, just pushing bunker from below and the middle of the school. A perfectly timed Nor’Easter and then a week of light west wind put those fish right on the beach, which is why we saw those fish we never see, earlier than we usually see fish of that size.
I wonder what else they do? Where else they travel, live, stage, etc. one of the coolest things about stripers is the various locales they inhabit. I catch them from basically freshwater to the saltiest ocean waters. I catch them in 10 inches of water and on up. I catch them on fly, spin, and conventional. Live bait, flies, plugs, plastics and the list goes on. What an iconic fish. I am sure the slot regulation has something to do with the increased numbers of sizable fish and just stripers in general, but to what degree?
I still see improper handling, promotion of the harvest of these fish for money, and just massive hysteria when the big girls are here. We all want to experience it, and it is beyond exciting watching a 40lb bass smash a topwater plug. However we need to think of the future, how much more fun it is to catch them than kill them. I eat fish, my father sold fish my whole life. I am now reserving my harvests to fish that get a little too zealous on my offering and will not survive release. If someone wants to take a striper home and enjoy it with their family or friends, that is a beautiful thing. I just wish everyone would slow down, take a minute and be stewards of their environment and fishery. It deserves that….
It is difficult to manage a fish that travels as far south as North Carolina and as far north as Canada. Regulations are rules. Ethical harvest, and handling are an ethos. It is a decision to take that picture double as quick as you used to, not tossing a fish back like a sack a’ potatoes, but reviving it properly so it can stand a chance. As more people take up the life changing sport of fishing, more people need to be educated. Then we can hopefully enjoy these magnificent fish for as long as we have on this earth.