Spring Run Stripers on the Hudson River

Herring and Stripers Collide on America’s Rhine

Hudson River Spring Run

Herring and Stripers Collide on America’s Rhine

Though April 1 is the opening day of striped bass season on the Hudson River, no fishing happens in the Catskills until the alewives show up. Within a month, the marinas will come alive with excited fishermen who have heard the news of the arrival of these silvery baitfish.

When the alewives—commonly called herring—do arrive, all of the river’s predators get in on the action. Ospreys dive-bomb them, blue herons spear them, and bald eagles swoop down to pluck them from the water. A few sunny, warm days in early to mid-April is usually enough to get the alewives moving in the river—and right behind them is the first wave of striped bass.

Bait fishing is best for targeting Hudson stripers.
Bait fishing is best for targeting Hudson stripers.

These first stripers are usually the smaller males that winter in the river, but that is not always the case. On April 17, 2012, I caught my biggest bass to date—a 47-incher that was full of eggs. I wasted no time getting a quick measurement and releasing the fish unharmed. I know my uncle, an old school striper fisherman, is rolling over in his grave, cursing me for talking about bass in inches, but since I was only taking a shakedown cruise, I had no scale on board. The current inland New York state record is 60 pounds and was caught on a bloodworm in Newburgh Bay on May 14, 2014.

Finding and Catching Feeding Stripers

By May, the Hudson River striper run is at its peak, with big numbers of bass spread throughout the 150 miles of murky water between New York Harbor and Albany. The bass could be anywhere in this stretch, and I mean anywhere. In the spring of 2014, I caught a 20-pound bass in front of a creek so small I could jump across it. Although the bass could be anywhere, history has shown that the biggest fish are caught between Wappinger Creek and Catskill. I fish in the heart of that stretch at Saugerties. This area is near three major tributaries—Rondout Creek in Kingston, Esopus Creek in Saugerties, and Catskill Creek in Catskill—all of which are major herring magnets.

The first key to catching Hudson River stripers is finding fish that are willing to feed. While you may find fish in the river channel, they are often moving or staging in preparation for the spawn, and are less interested in feeding. Feeding stripers move out of the channel and into the shallower water to chase herring.

The author occasionally uses floats to keep live herring in the strike zone.
The author occasionally uses floats to keep live herring in the strike zone.

Fishing for striped bass in the river is different than fishing for them in the ocean. Once they enter the river, the fish don’t orient to structure, they have limited visibility in the murky water, and spawning becomes their priority—and spawning fish don’t always eat.

The feeding times for Hudson River stripers seem random. I’ve caught plenty of fish at slack tide, especially big ones, but the best odds of hooking up happen when the tide is running. Which tide is more productive, however, is not clear. I will say that when a cold wind blows out of the north, fishing the outgoing tide will keep your boat straight and your lines tight, making it easier to detect bites, which will lead to more stripers.

There are several techniques that work well, but most of the time I use bait. The stripers in the river key in on the herring, so I make sure to “match the hatch” with a combination of cut bait and live herring. For the live baits, the livelier the better. Stripers are predators, and love to chase down a struggling herring.

Anchoring allows for the best presentation of live herring. I usually anchor just outside the river channel in the transitional zone. I hook the live herring through the back with a 6/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hook. Depending on the current speed, I use a 2- to 4-ounce sinker to keep the herring in the strike zone, and occasionally rig it under a large float. Stripers will often chase the herring to the surface, taking the bait in a big explosion of water.

Catching Herring

Catching the herring is an art in itself. The most widely used method netting them with a 4-foot by 4-foot scap net. Anglers lower the net and cast a swim bait along the shore to act as a “stoolie” to lure herring into the net. Mistaking the swimbait for another herring, the baitfish will follow the lure over the scap net, at which point the angler quickly pulls the net from the water. Scap nets can only be used in the main river, not the tributaries. This method is especially popular with shore fishermen.

Scap nets are a popular way to catch alewives for bait.
Scap nets are a popular way to catch alewives for bait.

In the tributaries, anglers can use Sabiki rigs to jig up the herring. Just be aware that Sabiki rigs come with six hooks, and anglers are allowed to use no more than five hooks at a time on New York waters, so be sure to snip off one hook before using a Sabiki rig.

Hudson River Anadromous River Herring regulations

Location Open Season Minimum Length Daily Possession Limit Manner of Taking
Main stem of the Hudson River from Lock 1 near Waterford, NY south to the George Washington Bridge March 15 through June 15 None 10 per angler,
OR
a maximum boat limit of 50 per day for a group of boat anglers, whichever is lower
Angling or by personal use nets
Hudson River Tributaries and Embayments, including Mohawk River (see Saratoga County Special Regulations for exception) March 15 through June 15 None 10 per angler,
OR
a maximum boat limit of 50 per day for a group of boat anglers, whichever is lower
Angling only

Personally, I enjoy catching herring with a light rod and reel. Its great fun for kids and gets everybody involved in the bait-catching process. However, it is less efficient if you are trying to be striper fishing at first light.

Shore Fishing

Shore fishing is very popular up and down the river. The herring spawn right along the shoreline, bringing big stripers within casting range of shore-bound anglers. Some of the biggest fish are caught from shore.

Let them Swim

Keep in mind that the stripers running the Hudson in springtime are there to spawn. They estimate that a 12-pound bass has 850,000 eggs, and the number of eggs increases as the fish grow larger. Take a photo and release the large stripers to complete their spawn and ensure a strong spring run in the Hudson for years to come.

39 on “Spring Run Stripers on the Hudson River

  1. Mark

    Capt George is the man. Been fishing with him for 5 years. Great guy, great fisherman. Always works hard to put you on the fish. Will always go the extra mile for you and that’s a plus.

  2. Capt.George Murphy

    What a nice surprise! just when I thought my 15 minutes of fame was over from my article last year.
    thanks Jimmy !

    1. Rodney Bronson

      Great article George. See you on the river soon! Fish on!!

    2. Jeff

      Best capt ive ever met is got to be Jimmy ( uncle ace ) as I would say hands down best fishermen I’ve met

  3. Jeff Helmuth

    Great summary article! Can’t wait till Friday to go fishing

  4. Ray Bresnahan

    Nice article, as a local striper fishermen I was reading this article in fear of some spot burns, but you did a great job of explaining what to look for in a spot as opposed to telling where specifically to go! I’d also add in that the river gets more and more crowded every year with fishermen. Please have respect out on the water and use some courtesy. If someone is already anchored, don’t anchor nearby and specifically off his stern. These stripers take some big runs and landing them is alot harder when someone’s anchor line is in the way! Good luck this year and stay safe.

  5. Pat Lopath

    Seriously? It is illegal to catch and/or use river herring as bait.

    1. Sylvia

      Pat, you must be out of state and do not know regulations in the Hudson.

      1. John

        You can take herring out of the river. Not the tributaries. For a scap net see: Johns Custom Nets on Craigslist hudson valley and catskill

    2. Chris

      Learn your regulations before you make a comment, Pat.. Live Linning river herring in the river is not illegal. You can’t take the river herring from the river to another body of water.

  6. Thomas

    Ray said it right. Be safe on the river.
    It’s almost time. The river looks good so far this year, no junk. Early ice out, low north snow pack. The fishing should be back this season.
    The slow / no bite of last year is hopefully behind us.
    We’ll give it our 2oth+ year shot and if the bass won’t come up we’re heading over to try the CT river for the first time. If that’s a bust here comes lake Ontario….fun, fun, fun

  7. Rick Barron

    In Massachusetts taking river herring is illegal and carries a stiff fine and possible arrest and confiscation of all fishing equipment and possibly your car if using it to transport bait in large numbers. The problem over the years has been overzealous fishermen netting the herring for lobster fishermen, commercial fishermen, recreational fishermen. Let’s face it nature knows what it’s doing in using live bait to catch live stripers. The question that arises is what role do humans play in the whole thing and will the herring numbers ever come back to support a larger biomass of striped bass. Back when the Mass. regs allowed one 36 inch striper there were a lot less fish but they were larger fish. You are a good man to release the females especially if carrying the future’s eggs. Tight Lines!!! Nice picture.

  8. Pat Lopath

    Ok, yes, out of state here, sorry… Seems very foreign to me to use a species as bait that has only recently been making a decent return.. but, apparently you can use them as bait on the Hudson if you catch them per the regs, or buy them appropriately. Didn’t see the regs table on the phone. Still, Fessik probably said it best…

    Wouldn’t have been the first time an article recommended use of illegal bait. A while back, an article on striper fishing in the Sound off CT recommended live-lining small 4-6inch porgies. I’m sure it would work, trouble, is, porgies must be 10in to keep, and using them as bait counts as keeping them.

  9. Eky

    Grandpa used small flounder but that was when flounder where plentiful

  10. Andy White

    Have had a great year fishing the walleye spawn on the Connecticut river over here in Vermont/New Hampshire. Started out in the boat in mid Febuary catching some of the springs largest males to date first (6#s+) with a few female toads (8#s)coming early in march. What I’m getting at is typically I’m fishing the peak of the spawn in early to mid April. As of yesterday we’re now only catching a few of the tail end stragglers! Optimal water temps have been nearly a month in advance compared to many previous years. So all that said I am curious how the Hudson is fairing as of late with this year’s mild winter. Are the water temps above normal for this time of year? Are the herring already crusading north? Have any of you die hards gotten “lucky” 2 days into this season? Planning on coming over to do some shore fishing soon. Not trying to rain on anyone’s parade! Willing to trade tactics or “on the water” expiriences, first hand, toad for toad! Fishing can be considerd a disease at a certain point!!!

  11. Frank

    Awesome read. Definitely a lot of useful info here. I have little experience with fishing striper. Last year was my first run. The fish were biting but finding the right location that isnt swamped by other fishermen was the hardest part. Are there “general” locations that you would recommend for a beginner? Would love to get my hands on a monster this year! Thanks for the help!

  12. Dennis Hubbs

    I am interested in a charter in prime Striped Bass season I am from upstate NY. Can I get info please?

    Thanks

      1. rich

        hi Gary, I was reading your post and have a question. This would be My first time trying to go catch the striper run in at Newburgh, but i seem to always miss it or not truely know when to go , not know anything about it with dates and all.
        When do you suggest is a great time to go that a beginner could possibly have luck. i am out of lake wallenpaulpack pa , an hr away from newburgh . Thanks so much and wish any advise you are willing to share. tight lines to you!!

      2. Mike Santoro

        I hav never caught a striper, I would love to hook one. I live in newburgh, ny. any spots or locations that i can try

  13. Funky call medina

    I usually fish in the Hudson River around DOBBS FERRY N.Y..I haven’t caught any big stripbass from shore,but can someone PLEASE help me out in finding where to fish from shore.I really want to catch a Monster Stripbass this year…Thanks to any one that can help!….a new b in need ALBE..

    1. Patrick

      Every year i fish for stripers last year me and my two children caught over 10 nice ones we usually fish in peekskill next to the nuclear plant at a place called china pier its a great place to fish also croton point park but we have also caught stripers at yonkers marina they are all over the river i find high tide i catch more fish i will be going soon so i will post any fish i catch if anyone has any questions feel free to ask me

      1. Rich

        Hello Patrick, When you you find it best to catch big stripers where you are and what is your technique? Bait? depth? i never fished the Hudson before and plan to try this year soon. Thanks

    2. Alex Chiascione

      follow me on instagram so we can go fishing sometime in dobbs @westchester_angler

  14. Henry

    Anyone have any experience fishing for Stripers in the area just north George Washington bridge? Inwood (in northern Manhattan) has a Dyckman pier near the tip of Manhattan. Any pointers for shore fishing? Any locations for board rental.

  15. Roger

    Newburg bay, water is very murkily, Herring are few and far between, waiting for a new school to move in.

  16. Rob

    Ok I’ll be the 1st to say it …….
    And I’ll Prepare to be beaten down
    Why would you fish a species on a spawning run that is proven to be on the decline !!!

    Seem our sportsman are selfish!

    Just putting it out there

    1. Trish V.

      Rob, most of us catch and release so they can continue their spawn. I have kept one the many years I have been fishing for them and that was last year. The rest, catch and release. The bigger the sow the the more eggs they release. 40lb female will lay between 4 and 6 million eggs so back she goes ?

  17. Cynthia

    I want to know how long is the spawn and why do we stop fishing for them ? Don’t they have to go back to the ocean ? Why do we not fish for them then?

  18. BILL OCONNOR

    Great story and photos.Please keep me informed about when is
    good time to get started,when fish are in river.I’m about 2 hrs away and will be unable to make up there after may 1st.due to commitment,but im sure I can have some fun mid April to end April..keep me in the loop.much appreciated.Thanks.Love fishing for them

  19. Ted C

    Capt. Brian McGowan is your go to guy in the Troy NY area. Fished with him for years and is always a great experience…

  20. John

    Has there been any studies on the survival rate of these big cows after a 30 minute battle

    1. Top-Knot II

      There is no need for a 30 min. retrieve for even a big cow.
      Don’t “play” the fish, get them in and released.
      We’re killing at least one fish for every ten released. Fact.
      We’re keeping about one in ten caught.
      The kill ratio is about 10 % for properly handled and released fish.

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