Early spring can be a fantastic time to do what I consider “spring training” for the upcoming striper season; that is, I hone my skills by targeting resident stripers that never left Long Island and are now becoming more active in the bays where they spent the winter. Often, the early-season bite takes place at end of the flood tide as hungry fish move deep into shallow-water bays. Once you find the fish, the action is usually consistent and is always fun.
I begin my search in the back bays by fishing an incoming, afternoon tide. The exposed bottom during the morning hours heats up and creates a thermocline as the tide rises, and this is where resident bass are more active. The water warms up first in shallower bay areas, so that’s where I focus. I begin by casting parallel to the shoreline and then fan-casting further away until I raise fish. Because stripers are cold-blooded, their activities are dictated by body temperature, which means the surrounding water temperature is very important.
The first lure out of my bag in the spring is a ¼-ounce jighead with a 4-inch, soft-plastic twister tail in white (which always seems to get their attention first), then I move on to yellow or chartreuse if the water is dirty. I also keep red-colored lures handy since they can be very productive as the fish become more active. Using a ¼-ounce jighead allows for the slow retrieve needed to tempt lethargic, early-season stripers.
After a stretch of three or more warm, sunny days, I switch to a ½-ounce jighead with a 4- or 5-inch twister tail. I switch between those sizes to see which the bass are most interested in that day. The next lure out of my bag is a 4-inch paddletail in white, followed by yellow or chartreuse. Again, I use a slow retrieve.
If I regularly raise fish on 4-inch paddletails, I then try 5-inchers in the same colors. Since the bass tend to rip through these lures, I keep cyanoacrylate glue on hand in case I need to put the shad bodies back together at night for the next day. (Note: Al Gag’s WhipIt Fish holds up the best.) Next, I try a ½- to ¾-ounce bucktail with and without a trailer. There have been days when bucktails significantly outfished everything else I tried.
When seeking spring stripers on plastic swimmers, I always start with a 7/8-ounce Daiwa SP Minnow in white, followed by chicken scratch, black-and-yellow, and lazer shiner. Once I catch several fish on this size lure, I go up to the 1-1/9-ounce SP Minnow in the same colors; sometimes, the bass prefer a larger-profile bait.
The 1-ounce Yo-Zuri Mag Darter catches bass all season long. The bronze color is my favorite, followed by white, yellow, and parrot. I have seen bass over 25 pounds fall for these plugs as early as the second week of April.
When you have had three or more sunny, warm days in a row, it’s time to try topwater plugs. I always carry two: a 1-ounce Super Strike Little Neck Popper in redhead/yellow and a 1-ounce Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper in red head/white. To my surprise, on Good Friday last April, they were slamming poppers at sunrise!
Tackle for Spring Stripers
In Long Island’s back bays, I use a 9-foot rod rated for up to 3-ounce lures or a 10-foot light-action rod, at times. I pair both of them with medium-sized spinning reels. Since I travel light in the spring, I use a small converted Aquaskinz bucktail bag as a 3-tube mini bag and crystal tubes with holes drilled in the bottom as my inserts. Occasionally, I use a 2-tube bag from Aquaskinz or Commando Surfcasting.
When will the spring striper migration reach Long Island?
Most seasons, the first migratory stripers reach Long Island by the first week in April, with the fish first spreading along the North Shore and western South Shore. As the month progresses, the bass continue to move east until they have the island surrounded, usually by the last week of April or the first week of May, depending on the water temperature.
Before then, however, resident stripers, which spent the winter deep in the bays, increase their activity beginning in March as the water temperatures bounce back from their late-winter lows.