Do 50-Pounders Still Matter?

With new regulations requiring large stripers to be released, is 50 pounds still the holy grail for surfcasters?

As most large striped bass ascend rivers to spawn this month, surf-fishermen eager to catch them are buzzing about the new striped bass regulations. As of this winter, a slot limit has come to the striper fishery.

Striper fishermen won’t be the first saltwater anglers faced with a slot limit. Most southeastern states have slot limits for red drum that allows fishermen to keep fish between 18 and 27 inches. Even New Jersey, with its infrequent red drum visitations, has such a limit. (In Rhode Island and Massachusetts, where a handful of large red drum were caught and kept in recent years, no slot limit exists.)

In Florida, snook between 27 and 34 inches may be kept, and only during two relatively short open seasons.

It seems to have worked for those species. Big red drum and large snook abound in parts of their range, and fishermen travel from around the world to catch them.

But will it work for stripers?

A Slot Limit vs. A Higher Minimum Size

Back in October, when a range of size limits were being explored for stripers, I wrote my letter to the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in support of a 1-fish bag limit and a 35-inch minimum size.

I had several reasons. First, I favored a limit that allowed stripers to spawn several times before “entering the fishery.” I also somewhat agreed with the fishermen who supported this option because it “worked before.” This referenced the downturn in the striper population in the 1980s, when the minimum size was incrementally increased to 36 inches to protect the female fish of the 1982 year-class until 95% of them had spawned at least once.

We can debate whether factors like river conditions and weather have the greatest impact on the success of a striped bass spawn in a given spring, but an option that would protect the large 2015 year-class until they are nearly 20 pounds appealed to me very much. I thought of the massive number of schoolies around the past few falls and imagined them returning in those same numbers year after year until our fall blitzes were once again made up of 15-pounders, not 15-inchers.

It wouldn’t be that simple, of course. According to the stock assessment, fish that died after being caught and released made up 48% of all stripers that died in 2017.  This was hard to swallow for catch-and-release striper fishermen. Some didn’t believe it and continued to place all the blame on commercial and catch-and-keep fishermen. But many accepted it and vowed to take better care of their stripers this season when letting them go.

The 35-inch minimum size was shut down in favor of the slot limit, but I’m not disappointed. I’m happy the larger stripers will be protected (from recreational interests, at least) once they grow out of the slot. I’m interested to see how (or if) it affects the quality of our striper fishing over the next few seasons. I’m also interested in how it will affect our striper fishing culture.

The 50-Pound Club

Since long before I ever cast into the surf, 50 pounds has been the mark for striper fishermen. It strikes the perfect balance of rare but attainable, and hundreds (if not thousands) of surf fishermen travel the Northeast spending money, straining relationships, and sacrificing sleep in the pursuit of a striper that size.

For a fisherman who pursues snook and redfish, there’s no “mark” comparable to the striper fisherman’s 50 pounds. Is this the result of the slot limits in place for those species? And, if yes, will 50 pounds still be the mark for stripers if it’s no longer legal to hang a striper that size from a tackle shop scale?

While I have caught and released all but a few mortally wounded stripers over the past two decades of targeting them, I still weighed large stripers on my Boga Grip. These portable scales are widely accepted as adequate measurement tools among anglers, but the hard facts about striped bass release mortality have made me question if that’s in the best interest of the fish. Even when harvesting large bass was legal, fishermen on social media were quick to condemn the photos of vertically held stripers. Many claimed that forcing a bass to support its full weight from the lower lip caused internal damage to the fish.

And, is the weight of a live striped bass even the best sign of its quality?

The Best Way to Measure Big Bass?

Live weights are highly variable due to a fish’s stomach contents at the time of the catch. I once had a high-40-pound striper upchuck a few full-sized scup as I was about to land it. Those big baitfish could have been the difference between a 50 and the 40 I recorded in my log instead.

OTW’s editor-in-chief, Kevin Blinkoff, is fond of saying that if we truly wanted to measure the quality of a catch, we’d weigh the fillets, since that’s the part we actually eat, and therefore hold the greatest value.  Of course, that’s problematic to the catch-and-release fishermen, and for stripers above a certain size, illegal under the current regulations.

Does that mean length is the true measure of success? Is 50 inches the new 50 pounds?  I don’t think so. I’ve seen 48-inchers weigh 51 pounds and 48-inchers weigh 35 pounds. These fish were not equal.

My impression has always been that once stripers reach a certain size, they stop adding inches and start adding pounds, so catching a heavier fish of the same length meant I’d outwitted an older, wiser fish, which made me feel like a superior fisherman. So, does that mean that age is the true measure of striper success? Should I be taking scale samples from my stripers and counting the rings to determine their ages?

Probably not.

The only thing I know for sure is that the striped bass fishery—and the culture surrounding it—is changing. I’m hopeful that these changes are for the better so that a few years down the road, we can all catch more big stripers, no matter how we measure them.

What are your thoughts on the new regulations? How will you be changing your approach to striped bass fishing this season? Let us know in the comments below.

46 on “Do 50-Pounders Still Matter?

  1. APEX

    Jimmy, your reasoning about letting them spawn once is flawed. Consider that the number of eggs a female striper produces increases with size and age.

    One model indicates that after a first spawn at about 5 years old, the number of eggs increases exponentially until around age 15. Simply put, a fifteen year old fish may produce as many eggs as 30 five year old fish.

    Estimates vary but mature stripers produce about 100,000 eggs per pound of fish. By this measure, a 28″ female would produce 1 million eggs and a 50 lb fish would produce 5 million eggs.

    Other research suggests that a relatively small number of large individuals account for the majority of eggs and successive spawning by large individuals is important particularly in years with poor spawning conditions.

    Either way, it is obvious that preserving the largest fish in the population will have a large impact on egg production.

    If a fish is properly handled, a length and girth measurement can be used to calculate a fairly accurate weight. As you point out, a scale is not necessarily as accurate as we think given how much a fish has in its stomach. A calculated weight based on length and girth may not be any better or worse but it is somewhat less intrusive and does not require hanging a cow by her lip.

    1. Charles Fortier

      I flyfish for stripers on circle hooks and have since the late nineties. After seeing the fishery grow and improve until 2005-7 it has declined steadily since. There are many factors that affect the fish population and I believe the new regulations are a start . I think we also have to address the issue of commercial baitfish harvest. If the new regs bring about how we approach the handling and treatment of our catch that will be a big plus. I was dismayed to see article on the poachers caught yesterday. Publish their names and prosecute them ,take their gear and banish them.

  2. Nick

    I think the new regulations will help..Many of the fish out there will enter and eventually exit the 28”-35” gauntlet…Say anywhere from 4-6 years they are in that size range…All other fish will have to be released healthily (hopefully!)

    I look at it like this…

    (surfcasters viewpoint)

    Some specific areas will see the greatest impact of these regulations because of the prevalence of big fish…A lot of these people that fish these big fish locations have little to no idea how to catch big fish outside of these locations…

    In essence, to catch a 28-35” is tougher than one might think, if thats the anglers goal.

    Only time will tell, but ultimately targeting 28-35 inch fish and leaving all the other will result in more bass being out there…thats the beauty of the slot limit…some will enter that gauntlet and ultimately make it out…

    Also, I like to think there are a lot of respectable anglers out there that follow the regulations and want to see the same results we are all looking for…

  3. Joe

    You are putting a bandaid on the big problem. We have trawlers netting schools of bunker with stripers being caught in the nets. I see photos of commercial fisher catching boat loads of spawning stripers just a week ago and selling them. We are being over run with seals in New England.

    1. peter okeefe

      Joe your comment is the ONLY real one..but with the large commercial payments to allow fishing in American waters by foreign boats it will be ignored. A few Americans with a rod and Reel are NEVER going to impact the atlantic ocean in almost anyway to effect amount of fish. Never mind what they sell..what they throw back dead or transport unseen can not be measured. smoke and mirrors and sadly most fishermen buy it and blame each other

      1. Walshski

        100% true that,whatta i kno,same story going on for years,with all species of fish,they /we never learn how to address it properly, not that i kno how either, we try this and try that, fish are getn wiped out of our oceans, and its not bcause of the guys/gals with the fishing poles….

      2. Alex D.

        Thank You!!!; look ; I’m no Marine Biologist, But It makes you want to ask what’s not being said when you have freshwater reservoirs (lake Texoma, lake Weiss, ) that not only has a stocking program, but a very health spawning population as well along places like the Arkansas river; You have to ask yourself , ” I know that the DEP in these states aren’t stocking 30, 40 or even 50 lb. and they have very liberal bag limits.. If you look at a man made impoundment like lake Murray; a 50,000 acre lake and have harvest rates of no more of 5 fish per day…no size limits, Here producing sizes of 15 to 20 lbs. You have to ask what is NOT affecting these fish that IS affecting fish along the East coast. ??? Commercial Trawlers , Growing Seal population ?? Again Thank You …

  4. Elwood

    73 years,you know how many times I I see these asses fly fishing for schools,

  5. David

    It’s difficult for fishermen in large boats to resuscitate large bass because of the the high free board. Many of the fish returned to the water without sufficient revival will likely die. Perhaps some non-essential and clever fisherman can create a tool that assists in the resuscitation process.. like a Boga on a stick..

  6. Tom C

    I think the new regs are a step in the right direction. A 50lb striper is still the holy grail to me, I’ve got close but haven’t cracked the 50lb mark yet. I would never keep a striper that big anyway, table fare your better off with what is legal in the slot right now and 1 is plenty. I remember when we couldn’t keep any so I’m grateful.

  7. Goody

    I’m from NY, but I had really liked the ME striper regs that the had for years. I do almost all of my surfcasting in Southern ME. The regs were a slot limit of 20 to 26 inches protected from 26 to 40 inches and a 1 fish limit. The only thing that I would have liked to have seen changed with these would have been making it a trophy tag, 1 per person per year for the over 40 inch fish instead of 1 per day.Almost all breeding age fish would be protected and that’s the best size to eat anyway.

    1. Jwfish

      Like David, concerned about the safe release of big Stripers. In last issue of On The Water even veterans Charley Soares and Mr. Cinto had to keep a big girl that was played to long and couldn’t be revived. Need a better option than watching her die.

  8. John

    Female fish over 36″ have bad eggs.
    It like trying to knock up a 48 or 49 yr old woman.
    Basic biology 101….
    Best breeders are 28-32.

    If you really want to help the release catch.
    Make law just like the tampon laws in Florida.

    You cannot take the fish out of the water.
    Just be in the water the whole time from hook removal to release and you can’t even take it out for a picture

    Schoolies included.

    Tarpon schoolies they they call juices.

    And look at the study university of W.V. did.

    Landlocked stripers over 28″
    80% that died swam off on a “perfect release”
    The bigger stripers sink when die not float.

    Plus another reason to use heavier gear to…
    Land the fish quicker for a better release, the fish won’t be as played out..
    For all you light gear guys..
    &
    Flyrods kills fish..

    1. Jeff

      The statement about fish over 36″ having bad eggs is completely false. Fish aren’t mammals and as such aren’t subject biological tendencies. There was at least 2 articles proving this wrong. Playing the slots in the fisherman explains it the best. There are other articles that are older that state eggs don’t get old. The spawn till they die.

  9. Joe

    I think anyone who weighs or measures a fish is just compensating for something… Throw her back or fillet her. It’s the fish that did the hard work to live that long, you just got lucky

  10. JB Lundgren

    Never thought I would say this but with the portable technology available to weigh fish today. Bring it in weigh it and let it go. Call taxidermy place and get a fiberglass mount. They last longer. If you are eating a 30lb plus striper you are either completely poor or have no appreciation for the taste of fish.

  11. John

    Lol i got a giggle out of these comments,which i went to directly.
    Thanks whoever wrote this, even though i lost interest after 2 paragraphs .?

  12. mark

    Who cares how much the fish weighs? Get over it. There are likely a lot of changes ahead for all of us, so quit wringing your hands over this little ego trip. Enjoy the fishing, but do it thoughtfully.

      1. mark

        Vince – how tall are you? You sound kinda short….

    1. John F

      100% agree with your comment. Unless you plan on eating the fish, do everything in your power to conserve the species. Take a picture and get the fish back in the water so it can reproduce. The only reason these regulations get put into place is to govern those who can’t control themselves.

  13. David S Worden

    Moratorium on Stripers period! No keeping any striper, do not take them out of the water, no weighing, no pictures, rules like they have for sturgeon in CT. When they rebound then we can resume and look at what harvest strategy works best. If you look at the survival curve for stripers, or any fish for that matter, there are many times more 18″ fish than the next highest year class. We should have 5 tags a year of 18″ and all bigger fish should be released.
    We should learn to prepare and eat dogfish like the English do (fish and chips). At least until they rebound.

  14. Marc Berard

    We all have to let go of our ego’s. Release big bass. They’re all females. Let them reproduce and we won’t have to have these conversations. Wouldn’t it be great to catch 20-30 pound bass in the surf again!!

  15. Logic1.0

    Hmm, I live in Maine and like the old slot limit except for having to throw back a dead fish that wasn’t in the slot range. Seems very unsportsmanlike to me to throw back a fish that is dead or dying. That being said the current rules don’t make much sense to me as the MA commercial fishermen can keep the stripers over 35”. Would have been so much simpler to say 1 fish/ day of 24” and over. That would allow fishermen in Maine a chance to catch a fish for dinner as most of the fish caught in Maine are schoolies (which is why we use to have a slot limit.) Anyway, my 2 cents won’t change anything but thank you for allowing this forum.

  16. Ray

    Growing up in the 80’s and seeing all the pictures my dad and all my uncles had of big bass it was a dream for me to caught on and in the late 90’s I was able to enjoy this wonder fishery … I seen a summer in the late 90’s in the taunton river where a huge school of 50 pound class fish came in and people were able to see their dream come true …. put a whole moratorium across the whole eastern sea board and let this wonderful specie rebound so that 20 years from now in my 60’s .. me and everybody else will be able to enjoy them dreams again!!

  17. C

    If stressed because the water is too warm, the equipment is too light, or the current is too strong, and fought for too long, do we even know for sure that they will survive when released properly? You’re going to have fishermen striving for the 50 pounder and fisherman looking to catch a slot fish to take home and eat. Never mind the 85 pound record breaker, that record is safe for awhile, because nobody is going to believe you unless it’s put on an official scale, and that’s illegal. It sounds like catch and release kills. Catching and keeping the first one and stopping fishing afterwards kills because it doesn’t allow spawning. It sounds like a no win situation fishing for stripers, period. But I’m glad for the tighter regulations, any regulations to help them rebound.

  18. Lefty

    Hell ya, 50 lbers. matter! I have caught many bass over 40 lbs, several over 45 lbs, one 49 lber, but none of them were 50! It is the holy grail. I fish with a legendary guy out of Chatham and he has only caught 3 over 50. 50 lbs matters!

  19. Chuck

    Until fish traps and draggers are made to go out further won’t matter coast is littered with both not to mention people that release stripers from top of breachway or dock it’s amazing how many times they flip in the air most of time same people that claim to be best surf caster around…for every pound of fish she will lay 10,000 eggs out of ten thousand eggs two might make it to maturity …..backs in early ninetys we were one fish 36 in should have been same up n down east coast but wasn’t …. otw has article two guys from Jersey sixty six fish they should never be allowed to hold rod n reel again… ? how many stripers or other fish that run the coast get tossed over dead from draggers… and in Rhode Island you can almost drop you’re plug in any fish trap…hmmm…

  20. Chris Holleman

    Great Article! The slot limit in Florida has beem very successful for redfish. Those Giant Striper photos make me jealous.

  21. CT

    We are comparing apples and oranges when you compare red drum to striped bass. First does the red drum have any table value as does the bass? But that’s not my concern. I feel this legislation targets the most important group of fish to the bass future. The slot will be over fished to the point in a couple years you will see another moratorium. If there is a limited number of larger fish they will not be able to replenish on their own. Remember the 36 and 34 inch limits brought them back and should have stayed there. It seems that a drop to 28 put us back in trouble. Just an old man’s opinion….

  22. Keith Salisbury

    I would of liked to have seen one fish 28 inches and up . That’s it! No slot limit because you end up killing a fish to catch a fish .If you catch a fish that’s too small or too big and harm it in anyway face it it’s probably going to die.

    1. CC

      If you cant fish without killing the shorts you catch you shouldn’t be fishing at all

    2. Jason Godusky

      I’m a seasoned fisherman and I can honestly say the majority of my catch is within this new slot limit. You just need to do the research in the fishing areas you plan to fish before hand; no different than preparing for a hunt.

  23. Mark E.

    I think it’s BS and unfair to say fly fishing kills fish. Most fish my friends and I catch fly fishing are hardy schoolies, landed quickly, and released unharmed. Anytime we catch a big fish that take longer on a fly rod to land we take however long it takes to thoroughly revive them and make sure they swim away in good shape. We rarely, very rarely deep hook a striper on the fly, and have never gut hooked one. Most fly fisherman I meet are incredibly conservation minded. Boga grips used for weighing kill big fish, non circle hooks and bait that gut hook kill fish, not taking any time to revive larger fish kills fish. Reviving larger fish taken from a high free-board boat is a problem, especially in shark infested waters. I bought a device that is essentially a boga grip with a 3 foot extension handle that will solve this problem.

  24. Eric witkowski

    I love the new law, was tired of seeing charter boats slaughtering
    Cows , limiting out in ten minutes, and i get hundreds of 30s In the surf I let them all go. Charter boats do ur thing just let the cows go like tarpon in fl.

  25. Jason Godusky

    Much agree with a slot limit, but what has also worked on the southern east coast for Red Drum, Snook and other species, is giving one or two tags with the annual fishing license to keep the so called trophy fish of a life time; just like purchasing a doe tag during hunting. Just add $5 more for the trophy tag and a lot of revenue can be put back into the program as well as keeping people honest with keeping the everyday catch within the slot limit.

  26. Ken

    Chasing the 50 pounder. It’s a lifetime goal and a motivator for many avid striper fishermen/women. The new regulations are a dream killer. The impact of a annual 48″ trophy tag would have just about zero impact on the striper stock…

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