Boston Harbor striped bass on light tackle

Massachusetts Striped Bass Overview and Patterns

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Overview:

Striped bass is a revered sportfish that attracts anglers from all over the world. Luckily for anglers in the Massachusetts area, we’re in some of the prime striped bass waters! Between their plentiful numbers, the awesome fight, and the fact that stripers will aggressively feed on bait, plugs, lures, and flies – striped bass consume more anglers sleepless nights than most other species. Here’s what you need to know about striped bass, also commonly known as stripers). The current world record is a 54″ striped bass that weighed in at 81 lbs and 14 ozs, and was caught drifting an eel! The record before that was a 53″ fish weighing in at 78 lbs, and it was taken on a 5 1/2″ plug! That’s part of what makes stripers so fun, you don’t know if you will catch a 20″ or a 50″ at any time!

Most striped bass you see or catch in the Boston and Cape Cod area are migratory fish that come up from the Chesapeake bay (smaller numbers in the Hudson River and NC coasts as well). During the early spring, striped bass will perform two migrations. One migration up into freshwater rivers and estuaries to spawn, then another up to warmer water and food sources. These migrations also follow some of their big food source migrations, such as herring, mackerel, and menhaden (called pogies locally). Starting in early May, stripers will start to show up in the southern Cape Cod waters with smaller numbers making their way towards the Boston Harbor area. These are easily distinguishable from the sea lice they collect during their journey. Once the herring start to migrate out of their spawning groups in the rivers, the bigger stripers start to show up to feed. At this point it’s not uncommon to see many fish in the 30″ range feeding aggressively on herring and herring imitations.

By now the cape is starting to see a bunch of cows (40″+) showing up off around Provincetown. Many of these larger fish will stay offshore in deeper waters, but a good number of them come into the inshore areas for us to target them from the beaches or small boats. Once the mackerel arrive though, it’s now game on!

Mackerel are performing their own migration up the coast and stripers are hot on their heels. Anglers call mackerel “striper candy” for good reason, they love them! Live lining mackerel or mackerel plugs, such as the Daiwa SP Minnows are deadly during this time in the rocky areas around the Cape and Boston. Pogies will show up shortly afterwards and are a main staple in the diet for cows. At an average size of 15″ long and pretty thick, it takes fish in the 30″+ range to eat them usually. Big bait = big fish!

Most of the stripers doing their migration will settle in the NY, RI, and MA waters with smaller numbers continuing up north to NH and ME. It’s believed that some may even migrate as high as into Canadian waters around Nova Scotia. They definitely do catch stripers there, but who knows if they’re the same Chesapeake bay stripers we see so many of.

Outside of the migration there are holdovers (also called resident) that will spend their time year round in the Massachusetts area, usually in the larger rivers. The Bass River, Charles River, Mystic River, and Connecticut River have good numbers of holdovers that you can target year round.

Feeding:

Striped bass have really small teeth, almost like sandpaper. If you’ve ever been fishing for largemouth bass, they’re very similar. What this means is that they have to commit to eating their meal more aggressively than toothy fish that can take off chunks at a time. Stripers consume their food head first, especially in larger fish species like mackerel and pogies. What you will sometimes feel or witness, especially when the bait is larger, is the stripers will attempt to stun the bait temporarily so they can more easily consume them head first. This is done by sometimes grabbing the food sideways in their mouth and running a short distance with it then spitting it out to turn head on or especially in larger bait like pogies the striper will “tail slap” the baitfish. If you’ve ever seen a nervous baitfish swimming around on the surface and back towards the boat or shore, then a big swirl or pop, this is what’s happening. Be patient, the striped bass is coming back to eat it shortly!

Stripers have a varied diet, but in the Boston and Cape Cod areas it mostly consists of herring, sand eels, silversides, peanut bunker, mackerel, pogies, eels, crabs, and small lobsters. They’re opportunistic eaters and will eat almost anything put in front of them, so don’t be surprised if they hit something else too!

Targeting:

Important info:

  • Preferred water temp – 55-65 F
  • Season – All year (MA)
  • Minimum size to keep – 28″ measured from the tip of the snout (jaw) with the mouth closed to the furthest extremity of the tail
  • Per person limit – 1 fish
  • You can’t keep them alive or fillet them and keep fishing, dubbed “high grading”
  • Regulations found here

Striped bass prefer water temperatures to be in the 55-65 degree F range. Anything colder than 50 or warmer than 75, and they’ll likely be off somewhere else or not actively feeding. There are always exceptions, but that’s a good rule of thumb. Striped bass are also lazy hunters, especially when they get into the larger sizes. They will hang around structure in line with current areas where they can hide in the lesser current and wait for the stronger current to bring bait to them. Anywhere you see boulder fields that are near channels, ledges that have rips from the current, or variations to the sand on beaches will all be good places to look. If the water just looks different than anything around it, it’s worth casting into!

While stripers will hang close to structure, they’re not like largemouth bass where they will be right on top of it. They will move around and explore that area pretty actively. Next time you make your way to a Cabelas or Bass Pro Shops with a large aquarium with stripers (likely hybrid, but same holds true) and largemouth – watch and observe. The striped bass will swim around the sides or back of the tank much more with some just swimming all over the place. The largemouth will hang right on top of whatever structure is in the aquarium, sometimes so close they’re touching it!

Tight lines!

-Captain Nick