Tidal River Stripers

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Tidal River Stripers

by Capt. Terry Rand

Geoff English, Founder of SaltwaterFishing 24/7 with a nice CT River striper
Photo by: Author
As springtime arrives in the northeast, the landscape begins to come alive. Trees blossom, flowers bloom and the striped bass return to tidal river systems by the hordes. Warming water temps draw them in for a few reasons depending on the river system. In some rivers they return to spawn. In others, they are simply there to gorge themselves on the buffet of herring, shad and other river species that are so abundant at this time of year.

On the Connecticut River where I fish, alewife and blue back herring begin a spawning migration into the river in late April. Hot on their tails are striped bass ranging from 18 inches to over 50 inches in size. During low light hours the stripers chase the herring into shallow waters where it is harder for the smaller herring to elude the stripers. It is not uncommon to witness feeding frenzies on the surface with herring flipping every which way out of the water trying to flee from the stripers.

Years ago, the herring populations were abundant which allowed anglers to catch them and use them for live bait but moratoriums across the region forced anglers to resort to artificial lures. Most any lure matching the size and movement of a herring will catch fish. Popular choices are Bomber Long A’s, Lunker City Slug-O’s, Sebile Magic Swimmer’s and Yum Houdini Shads. Top water lures like the Gibbs Pencil Popper, Heddon Magnum Spook and the Rapala X-Walk are also regulars this time of the year.

A nice schoolie striper picked up while trolling a tube and worm bait.
Photo by: Author
Though herring are not allowed for live bait there are numerous other species that can also be used that the stripers will readily eat. Suckers, dace, and eels all make excellent bait and they are all native to the river. Yellow perch and sunfish will also catch large stripers. They will basically eat any fish species that will fit into their mouths!

The stripers will follow the herring up the river and its tributaries as far as they can go, often finding themselves in water only a foot or two deep. Once the herring finish their spawning routine they begin to drop back out of the river system back into the ocean. As the presence of herring in the river system begins to diminish and the water temperature continues to climb, the stripers also begin to migrate back to the cooler ocean waters.

River systems all across the northeast from Maine to New Jersey experience this same phenomenon every spring. It begins in the southern reaches first and then slowly moves its way north as the waters warm. If you haven’t gotten in on this game yet, make your move and warm up your springtime season with some very large fish in some very shallow water.  Good fishing! 

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