Spring Striper Fishing on the Connecticut River

Grab your light-tackle gear and head upriver, where hungry bass are hot on the tails of herring and shad.

Cape Cod Canalstriped bass

Why do I love springtime fishing on the Connecticut River? Imagine drifting quietly through a calm, tree-lined stretch of shallow water, casting a topwater plug toward shore and rhythmically working it back toward your boat while a bald eagle watches from a treetop. The only sound is the quiet splish-splashing of the plug as it zigzags along the surface—left, right, left, right, left—and then suddenly the plug disappears in a small explosion of whitewater and the silence of the river is replaced by the noise of your spinning reel’s screaming drag. I have been fortunate to partake in this fishery for the last 14 years, and light tackle only adds to the excitement.

Stripers can be found throughout the 50 mile stretch of river from Hartford to the river’s mouth in Old Saybrook. The many sharp turns in the river create fast currents and deep drop-offs that are perfect habitat for stripers looking to ambush the migrating herring.
Stripers can be found throughout the 50 mile stretch of river from Hartford to the river’s mouth in Old Saybrook. The many sharp turns in the river create fast currents and deep drop-offs that are perfect habitat for stripers looking to ambush the migrating herring.

The Connecticut River is a very unique river system. The state itself takes its name from the river, which is an adaptation of an Algonquin word meaning “long tidal river.” As its name reflects, there is a tidal influence extending about 50 miles inland. The Connecticut River watershed extends all the way into Canada, so during the spring the river will often flood due to rain and snowmelt to the north. Stripers range from the mouth of the Connecticut up to the Holyoke Dam in Massachusetts. They can be found in the river year round, but the prime season begins in mid-May and extends into early June.

I typically fish the Middletown to Hartford stretch of the river. It is a very navigable section that is entirely fresh water. Large barges do travel this section because the channel averages around 20 feet deep; however, the channel does not necessarily run down the middle of the river and there are many shallow areas, so pay attention to the marker buoys. If you look at a chart, you will notice the river has a lot of turns that provide good current breaks. Some sections are sandy, others are rocky and some are a mud/silt mix. The shoreline is mostly wooded and picturesque, especially in the fall. This section of the river is diverse, and if the striped bass are not cooperating, you can target northern pike and largemouth bass in basically the same areas, with similar lures. As the water warms through mid-June, the striper fishing on the Connecticut River shifts toward the mouth, where there is greater influence from Long Island Sound, which delivers cool water and baitfish.

You can access the river and work your way north from public boat launches at the Baldwin Bridge in Old Saybrook, Salmon River in East Haddam, Haddam Meadows in Haddam, and Bissell Bridge in Hartford.

Follow The Baitfish

The key to the spring striper fishery is baitfish. American shad, alewives, and blueback herring are the three main baitfish that draw spring stripers up into the Connecticut River. They are all anadromous, meaning that they migrate from the ocean to fresh water to spawn. (Note that the possession of alewives and blueback herring, collectively known as river herring, is prohibited in Connecticut, as their numbers are in decline.) All of these baitfish tend to travel in schools, and the stripers that depend on them follow this food source. The stripers also work their way up-river in the spring. A large range of age classes will make the journey, with similar-sized stripers tending to travel together. Since the bait is constantly on the move, so are they.

Big baitfish draw big striped bass up into the Connecticut River every spring. The author caught and released this 46-inch striper in May 2012.
Big baitfish draw big striped bass up into the Connecticut River every spring. The author caught and released this 46-inch striper in May 2012.

Go Light

My favorite way to target these spring stripers is with spinning tackle on the light side. Most of the fishing is in shallow water, throwing relatively light lures, so it’s a great opportunity to enjoy battling bass of all sizes. I use what I like, and that’s Shimano Stradic reels in the 5000 size spooled with 30-pound-test Daiwa Samurai braid. I like the Daiwa Samurai because it has a smooth finish that makes it quiet to cast. (When fishing topwater lures, remember that the braid has much less stretch than monofilament, so you have to be careful not to yank the lure away from the fish on missed strikes.) The reels are matched with 7-foot St. Croix Avid series rods in either medium or medium-heavy weight sizes. You want to choose a rod that has a sensitive tip for fishing light lures but decent backbone to land large bass without unnecessarily prolonging the fight. The combo works great for tossing everything from unweighted soft-plastic baits up to larger swim baits, and I’ve had no problem landing stripers up to 46 inches.

Pack your Tackle Bag

When it comes to choosing lures, “matching the hatch” is not critical. In general, you want to replicate a good-sized baitfish. I bring a selection of lures in five categories that can cover the water column, including, of course, the surface!

Weighted Soft Baits

Adding a jighead to a soft-plastic lure is a way to get the lure to the bottom, if needed. Typically in this section of the river, the bottom is not all that far down, so you can use a lightweight jig; however, make sure the jig has a heavyweight hook that won’t straighten on a big bass. After much searching, I found a 3/8-ounce jighead with a 3X-strong 3/0 hook made by Bill Hurley Lures. I occasionally use a ¾-ounce jighead, but under most conditions the 3/8-ounce head suffices, especially when fished on low-diameter braid.

Crankbaits

I categorize as crankbaits all hard lures that dive. One of my favorites is similar to the lipless crankbaits popular for largemouth bass. It’s called the Gag’s Slammer, and it has a deep body that matches the profile of a herring. Unfortunately, it is not currently being manufactured. The other type of crankbait I carry are the long, thin minnow-type crankbaits, like the Bomber Magnum Long A, which is 7 inches long and runs about 3 feet deep. The thinner profile might not look like a herring but it’s easier to cast. I’ve found the best retrieve is one that is just fast enough to make the lure wobble.

Swimbaits

Swimbaits have become very popular with largemouth bass fishermen. If you are targeting stripers, many of the same techniques apply. My light gear limits the use of these oversized baits, so I stick to lighter swimbaits. Although, of the seemingly thousands of swimbaits out there, I particularly like the Jerry Rago 7-inch BV 3D Pro Inline swimbait, which weighs in at a fairly heavy 3 ounces. This lure does not get very deep, but it has a lifelike swimming action that closely matches a herring.

The scenic, tree-lined shores of the Connecticut River from Haddam north to Hartford look like typical largemouth bass waters. However, every May, these flats and shallows are invaded by big sea-run stripers.
The scenic, tree-lined shores of the Connecticut River from Haddam north to Hartford look like typical largemouth bass waters. However, every May, these flats and shallows are invaded by big sea-run stripers.

Unweighted Soft-Plastic Baits

There are many different styles and types, but as a general rule of thumb, stay in the 7- to 11-inch range, and use a hook that matches the lure. Lunker City’s Slug-Gos and Fin-S Fish, Hogys and Bill Hurley’s Striper Magnets can all be fished weightless on offset worm hooks. If you use the Lunker City 8/0 hook that comes with their lures, be sure to double-check the point regularly, as it can bend. As far as colors go, I keep it simple and fish white, gray and black for the most part, saving black for fishing at night. The key is to rig the lure so it will hang perfectly straight on the hook.

Topwater Plugs

Fishing topwater plugs is very popular and a lot of fun because you get the thrill of seeing the fish hitting the lure. Many times, just the excitement of seeing the fish attempt to eat the lure is enough to keep me entertained. I separate topwater plugs into two categories, with the first being the walkers. This is the “spook” style that zigzags back and forth in the water as you retrieve it, a motion commonly referred to as “walking the dog.” If you’re new to walking the dog, it is best to practice a little before you find yourself in the middle of a topwater bite. Rapala Skitter Walks and the old standard Heddon Zara Spook are two lures that fall into this category. The other style of topwaters are poppers or chuggers. These lures have cupped mouths, and they are fished with short sweeps of the rod to get them to splash. I like the Rapala Skitter Pop and the Yo-Zuri Hydro Pop.

Watch OTW’s Kevin Blinkoff and Eric Matland catch big stripers in the shallows at the mouth of the Connecticut River.

Use Shallow-Water Stealth

The lure you use is important, but when fishing for stripers in water less than 5 feet deep, what you do while fishing can be just as important. Stealth is important and often gets overlooked. Use the natural flow of the tide to set up a quiet drift. Time and time again, I see boaters come in too strong with their main motor. When approaching an area, move in slowly because in shallow water your wake can disrupt an area very easily. Use a trolling motor if you have one, or at least kill your engine well upcurrent of the area you intend to fish and drift down on it. As you drift, use your trolling motor only as necessary. I even turn my sonar off and only use the GPS function to ensure that the transducer’s pinging is not spooking fish. Lastly, be careful not to drop anything and do your best to keep an organized boat to avoid tripping over gear. The only loud noise you hear out on the river should be the sound of a big striper thrashing the surface after it makes a meal of your lure.

Captain Matthew DeBacco runs light-tackle striped bass charters out of Rocky Hill, Connecticut during the month of May. He can be reached at DeBacco@cox.net.

23 on “Spring Striper Fishing on the Connecticut River

  1. rich

    Hello I was curious to get some information on your striper season charter. I live in albany ny and my father amd I faithfully striper fish the hudson river every year but these past few years have declined in the amount of fish and size of fish we catch and next year were hoping to come down and fish the connecticut river but would like to charter first before just launching our boat and not nowing the water way at all. Thank you for your time and i look forward to hearing from you.

    Rich

    1. Captain Matt

      Hi Rich-

      My e-mail address is at the end of the article, contact me at that account and I can help you out. Sorry to hear about the decline in numbers of fish in your area over the last few years.

      -Capt. Matt

      1. dan rakvica

        Could you please send me charter prices for spring striper fishing near the mouth of the Connecticut river

  2. shawn kingsley

    Hey cap, I am very interested in booking a charter with u. How would I go about doing that? Thx Shawn kingsley. Cell # 413-455-4836

  3. Ryan

    I bass and trout fish a lot. I want to start striper fishing. I will be fishing from the coast of the river. What is everything I will need?

    Thanks. Email:ryansnowboard123@gmail.com

  4. Gerry C

    Hi cpt. If you have a guy who doesnt have anyone to go with and wants to split the cost please email me. My friends don’t fish ty .Gerry

  5. Tim

    I’m headed out your way to work for 3 weeks in Hartford starting on the 25th… I would be interested in hire a charter if my hours work out right. Also anywhere you would suggest I could shore fish? Thanks, nice article!

  6. Captain Matt

    My e-mail is at the end of the article, so please contact me with questions or comments you may have.

    Thanks,

    -Capt. Matt

  7. Ken Poitras

    i appreciate your striper fishing tips, i have been a tout fisherman my whole life, i am 53. This year i tried giving the Stipers a go on the t river and was lucky enough to get 2 keepers. i was just wondering how much longer do you think the fish will be up in the Hartford area before the baifish are gone. i got mine on a top water popper and to say the least catching these fish made me forget all about trout fishing. i am hooked on catching these beautiful fish, the fight they five is an adrenaline rush. The night after i caught my first keeper i was up all night “counting fish” lol so what i am asking is, is it too late to find them in the Hartford area this year? Happy fishing and thanks for any advice you can give me. Ken Poitras

  8. Mia Aglieco

    Hi capt. Debacco,
    Great article. Love the many details about the spring striper, glad to be educated on this much important information. Happy fishing! Mia

  9. snevets

    hoi hoi captian debacbac

    thats a nice one

    your loving student
    larry

  10. Matthew Roberts

    Any good spots to striper fish off the shore on the Ct River? I don’t have a boat so I am at the mercy of the land!

  11. Joan Mosquera

    Good morning captain, was wondering if you got any available hartes for today and the price range I’m trying to go with two other friends so In total three people.

  12. rich

    thanks for the spring time fishing video and tips see ya on the water.

  13. Evan

    Hello I am interested in some striper fishing and looking for some more info and tested. Thanks!

  14. Roman Niazyan

    Hi, I plan on fishing the connecticut river for stripers next week from shore. never been before and would love some info, tips, good locations to go, lures/bait to use. any info helps. thank you!

  15. Michael Dynia

    Looking to try a charter with light tackle on the CT river

  16. Art Marino

    I fish from shore in East Haddam ,I had a boat but because of my illnesses I had to sell it.So my question is how is it to fish from shore and what should I be using for bait and equipment.

  17. John williams

    I have a 12 foot aluminum boat with a 10 horse Johnson Would that boat be big enough to handle the currents in the Connecticut River around Montauk. To do some Striper fishing In the spring.

  18. Gerard Doiron

    I live in Granby CT. I want to fish the CT River sometime 2nd and 3rd week in June. I want to fish the river only. Light tackle for Stripers, Pike, Bass, Carp Catfish, Shad if still around etc. IT would be a party of two from Windsor down South of Rocky Hill. Half or whole day, one or two days. We have tackle but are open to use boat tackle if available.

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