LAST FALL, as I was waiting for a friend to join me for an evening fishing for striped bass, I placed my fly rod against a tree and reflected on the changes in the local striper population in the four decades that I have fished for them.
When I started, a few stripers a year was my norm, and the angling effort on them was very low. Then, a few years ago, an angler told me he’d caught a large number of small stripers, so I went down to check it out for myself. I couldn’t cast a fly on the water without hooking a fish.
Every subsequent year they’ve grown bigger. Now the total numbers are growing each season, it seems, and the size varies, showing recruitment is successful and the population strong. Why this has happened is not completely understood, but a rapidly growing number of anglers in Eastern Canada are enjoying catching large stripers in salt water and river estuaries.
The stripers are fished in different locations in Eastern Canada and different environments and methods vary with locations and the conditions. It is an advantage to discover the fishing can be done from shore in most cases, so you don’t need a boat to enjoy and be successful. There is good opportunity in the Minas Basin, the Northumberland Strait and Atlantic coast rivers in Nova Scotia, the Miramichi and St. John rivers in New Brunswick, several estuaries in PEI, and brackish water in the Gaspé and St. Lawrence in Quebec.
The most popular method I see is cut bait—not rocket science. The equipment for this technique is a medium to heavy spinning rod, 8 to 10 feet, with a spinning reel to match—commonly called a surfcasting outfit. The line is 30- to 60-pound mono, but fluorocarbon and braided lines are popular as well. Hook sizes are 3/0 to 5/0 and the most popular is a saltwater bait hook octopus style, but circle hooks are becoming more popular because a great number of stripers have to be released. The circle style hooks in the corner of the mouth and makes release easier with low mortality.
The trick is to let the fish hook itself and not set the hook. The weight attached to the bottom ranges from 2 to 6 ounces depending upon what is required to hold the bait in the different currents and the changes as the tide raises and falls.
The next most popular outfit to fish stripers is a bait caster or spinning rod. The rod should be medium heavy 6 feet to 6 feet 6 inches long with a good quality reel and 15-pound test line. This outfit will handle medium-sized stripers with ease and finesse. Artificial baits (lures) are used, and the huge assortment available can be overwhelming. Determining what the forage is for stripers in the area you plan to fish should guide your choices.
It is also important to observe or find out where in the water column the fish are feeding. To keep it simple—top water, sub-surface and bottom. Once you have an idea you can choose from hard baits or plastics or rubber that will work in the area you wish to fish.
Go to a tackle shop or a friend who fishes stripers and ask for advice.
My personal preference is to fly fish. The rods I use are 9 feet to 9 feet 6 inches in length and 8- or 9-weight line and a 15-pound test level 9- to 12-foot leader. Effective flies are simple variations of forage fish imitations. Dark on top, white on bottom and sometimes with a lateral line. (If you are a trout fisherman, think black nosed dace pattern.) I use weighted flies to go deeper in the water column (cone heads or dumbbell weights). Unweighted flies for mid column, and crease flies or surface poppers to make a commotion on the top water.
At times it seems that alewives (gaspereau) are “striper candy” at all stages of their life cycle. Stripers feed on them when the gaspereau are going upriver to spawn, when they are spent after spawning and returning to the ocean, and when the juveniles leave the rivers and go to the ocean. Simple baits that imitate the alewife’s colour and size will work.
I heard my friend coming to the stretch of water we were fishing and I picked up my rod and tied on a two-inch imitation of a juvenile striper and started to cast to a seam on the water created by a pile of submerged rocks. Stateside they call stripers “rock fish” for a good reason. They like to lie in an edge or seam in the water by rocks and ambush prey from that position.
I kept casting and was tempted to move on but I sensed that I should stay. I felt I had hooked bottom and pulled to the side to release the line—and the bottom took off. I put pressure on the fish to no avail and hung on. Eventually the table turned and after a spirited fight I brought it to shore where we measured it and took a picture. It was 46.5 inches with an estimated weight of 35 to 40 pounds. We fished until dark and caught some great ones—all just minutes from home.