“The winter was nice, but the summer is hell”
Slowcore is not for everyone, but this is from one of my favorite bands back from the days at the University of Delaware, and this winter Low and Galaxie 500 have been on heavy rotation. I remember seeing them at the Middle East in Boston (the only time I was ever in Boston) back in 1997. I wasn’t even 21 yet so I must have snuck in because I still get carded to this day by people who themselves are barely enough to drink. But did anyone see the snow today? Is this the last of this part of winter? The water temperatures are still hovering in the 39-42 degree range so fishing for stripers may be a good few—warm—weeks off, but as I’ve found, the winter is always an excellent time to read, research, prepare, drink, and not-so-patiently await those early days of true Spring, for more reasons than one.
I’ve been digging around these last couple weeks trying to wade through several excellent posts/threads/presentations, two of which deal with the migration patterns of Hudson River striped bass, and the third of which argues the fallacies inherent in the fisheries management and conservation plans presented in the the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s report “A Vision for Managing America’s Saltwater Recreational Fisheries” (http://www.trcp.org/assets/pdf/Visioning-Report-fnl-web.pdf). This report was presented to legislators for informational purposes and as a guide as they reevaluate and consider reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act—the law that regulates marine fisheries in United States’ waters. The series of articles I’ve been reading are by Charlie Witek, and you can find them on his own site (here) and on the Surfcasters Journal blog. (By the way, if you really want some serious ways to spend the evening not fishing, subscribe to the Surfcaster’s Journal web magazine. It’ll keep you occupied for a good while.) I want to give equal time to each of the three things I’ve been following, so I’ll probably break up the post into several as some of this stuff is pretty dense and technical and it’s all a helluva lot of information.
The most casual of the three is a thread in the Long Island/NYC section of the Stripers Online web site. You can check the thread here. The thread is titled “Stripers and Spawning in New York” and it’s full of personal accounts, empirical evidentiary observations, conjecture, and outright speculation—just as you’d expect from a thread by fishermen stewing over a long, cold winter. There is a wealth of information (not all independently confirmed, but still makes for interesting reading) based on personal experience, and, for the history fan and journalist in me, some old newspaper clippings about the striped bass habits around New York City like this one from the New York Times, June 17, 1888:
There’s a couple important posters in this thread, one of whom is Captain Tom Mikoleski, who recently published a book called Bass Buff—A Striper Fishing Obsession Guide (disclosure, I haven’t read this book yet), which he excerpts w/r/t striper populations, spawning, and migration:
The important spawning estuaries on the east coast include the Chesapeake Bay and Hudson, Delaware, and Roanoke Rivers. In these estuaries, the conditions are similar and spawning occurs from March to May when water temperatures are between 58 to 64-degrees.
Female striper’s become sexually mature between ages 4 and 8, while males become mature between ages 2 and 3. It is believed that females give off a scent signaling their ripeness and this encourages the males to follow them up-river to the spawning grounds. Female bass seek out areas with current that help keep the eggs buoyant after release. When eggs are released in stagnant water, most fall to the bottom and suffocate in the silt.
When a male, or group of males, sense that a female is ready to release her eggs they will begin to prod and butt her belly. This pushes the spawning event to the surface and results in a commotion that southern anglers call a “rock fight”. When a female releases hers eggs, males swim through them releasing milt to fertilize the eggs.
Female striped bass become sexually mature when they reach between 21 to 31-inches in length, and weigh between 6 to 15-pounds. Females in this size range release about 500,000 eggs annually. Research over the last two decades has indicated that females in this size range are responsible for the majority of the egg production during the spawn. A huge striper of 40-pounds or larger produces more than 3,000,000 eggs when she spawns, but consistent spawning seasons are now behind her in this size range.
Even though big cows only spawn sporadically, I firmly believe we should try to release many of the larger sized striped bass we catch. These big fish have been running the coastal gauntlet for close to 20-years, and I feel in my heart that these impressive specimens have earned a “senior rank.” These big bass also carry genes for larger size, and when they do spawn this trait can be passed along to their offspring.
Once the eggs are fertilized they hatch within 29 to 80-hours. Newly hatched striped bass larvae live off their egg yolk sacks for 5-days while their bodies develop. When this period is over they begin feeding on zooplankton that consists of microscopic crustaceans and insect larvae. If the right organisms are not available for food during this critical time of their development, many of the fry will die. The fry feed voraciously, and before long they will take on the shape and markings of adult stripers. Most young of the year striped bass will stay within the river of their birth until 2-years of age and approximately 14-inches in length before joining the annual migration.
After spawning, most of the Chesapeake stripers will head north to spend a good part of the year in the waters of the mid Atlantic and New England states. The Hudson fish travel a little less, as they are rarely found south of New Jersey, or north of Massachusetts. Traditionally, by the second spring moon period in June, the big stripers are on station in various fishing hot spots up and down the striper coast.
He also wrote in a later post: In addition, it has also been discovered rather recently that cold wet springs are better that warm and dry. Also, as I wrote in Bass Buff-A Striper Fishing Obsession Guide, one successful spawn, if protected properly, can offer big dividends for the population of striped bass further down the line. The 1982 year class was the one that basically brought the fishery roaring back in the 90’s. I know there has been a lot of doom and gloom about the striped bass stock, but they have proved over and over again, if we give them a reasonable shot, bass/nature has a funny way of making things right. The basic problem recently is that we are removing stripers faster from the population than they are able to replace through their spawning because recent spawns have been below the average. Text bolded by me, but so far we’re doing pretty well on a “cold, wet” early Spring.
Another poster to read carefully, for more than just purposes of divining through grammatical and spelling errors, is a fellow called RJ. This guy obviously has no shortage of information about striper spawning habits in the NY area, though I haven’t figured out what exactly he does or what qualification, if any, he has, other than living and experiencing life on the water for over 50 years. His posts can be hard to read, but somewhere in there, he knows his stuff such that even striped bass guide Bill Wetzel at one point commends him for his wealth of knowledge. He has an excellent post here (linked for brevity) on the normal progression of striped bass migrating into, and spawning in, the Hudson River. He also has several quality posts here, here, and here.
One of my favorite excerpts from his many posts:
I’ve witnessed 3 early morning spawning events on the flats between Coxsackie and Athens NY. The weather was a drizzling rain coming from low clouds with light or no wind at all. All three began just past high tide. I like to drift with a dropping tide while live lining herring starting just before sunrise. I was drifting south of Coxsackie looking for feeding bass. I spotted a single large swirl and then splashes on the flat next to the ships channel. The first time it took me a while to understand what was happening. The next two times I immediately dropped anchor and reeled in my offerings. Spawning striped bass are not interested in anything but the act of procreation. If you are lucky enough to be part of this act, shut your engine down and anchor up of just drift with the tide. The stripers will not get out of your way and your prop will kill them if you don’t shut it down.
Dive into the thread and skip the bickering. There’s a lot of really interesting information in there among the personal opinions and spelling errors and absolutely worth a read. That’s about enough for me for tonight. I will try to get summaries of the other two articles I’ve been reading in the next week or so. How is everyone prepping for the upcoming season (one that technically opened a couple weeks ago)? I finally bought another plug bag to replace the P.O.S. Aquaskinz medium bag I’ve been tearing apart for the last couple years, and so far I’m pretty satisfied with it. I tried to pick up the Commando Scout 4-tube bag but could never get an answer on their availability from the guy after multiple attempts. I didn’t want to spend $300 on a custom bag either, so I ended up with the Mak Angler 3-tube bag. A little smaller than my last few, but with plenty of pocket space and it’s made out of that Dacron shit—the hook resistant sail cloth. I wish it had more slots for bucktails and tins, but that’s why they sell a separate bucktail/tin pouch (for $80) I guess. I’ll worry about that if I need to worry about it, but so far I’m pretty happy to toss the AS bag in the garbage where it belongs. (To their credit, their higher end bags—the Hunter Pro series—from what I’ve seen, are pretty good quality.) Here’s to warmer days in the next few weeks.