First Stripers of 2014: When, Where, and How to Catch Them

I’m confident we will have a lot of stripers around sometime in the next two weeks. Those first arrivals will be schoolies, and they should be around in big numbers since they are abundant. Here’s the scoop on what’s to come:

When: I know from keeping logs over the last forty years that it can happen anytime from the first of April (Ya, I know there have been some years where it happens in late March) until about the third week in April. During warm years, it happens early; in cold years it happens later. You know what kind of winter we had, and we are getting that cold right into April. Expect a late start. If I were betting I would say around April 16, give or take a couple of days.

Where: The simple-minded will tell you that all the fish hug the shore, almost like a parade proceeding down a street. I can tell you from experience that is absolutely false. Yes, some migrating schools hug the shore while other schools of fish come inshore from way out. It’s really random. Sometimes the first ones are found along the oceanfront, but sometimes there are hordes of them way up in the warmer Bay days before a fish is caught along the oceanfront. Focus on low-water spots that heat up quickly on warm and sunny days. The ponds along the south shore, the jetties along the oceanfront, the rivers on the east side of the Bay, and the shallows of the upper Bay are all good places to find the first ones.

How: No need to stuff a surf bag with a lot of plugs at this time of year. For the first couple weeks, it will be jigs that will take the majority of fish. There are three hot jigs to stock in your bag. The plastic, fan-tailed Cocahoe (available at Quaker Lane Bait and Tackle) in a pearl or glow color mounted on a half-ounce jighead is hot along the oceanfront. The forked-tailed Zoom fluke in an albino color mounted on a small jighead is real hot in the Bay. Small bucktail jigs (under 1/2 oz.) spiced with curly tails are good second choices in both locations. If you want to get real fancy, set up a teaser rig with one of two shrimp fly teasers mounted ahead of your jig. Schoolies love to hit teasers at this time of year. All of this is fished on light tackle, maybe a seven- or eight-foot rod with a small spinning reel. Leave that ten-foot rod at home. Expect all the fish to be schoolies under 24 inches.