Fishing is figuring out the little things. Every once in a while–maybe once a season if you’re lucky–something clicks that helps you understand how to catch stripers more consistently. This guide is not meant to give you that eureka moment outright (you need to figure these things out yourself), but it should give you a guide in how to find these moments.
These mini “eureka” moments begin to mix and overlap and eventually, they amalgamate to create some semblance of “oh yeah, I kind of know what I’m doing.” I can guarantee you that even the most successful striper guys and gals are still making these small realizations regardless of how long they’ve been pursuing fish in the Northeast.
A note: If you think of fishing as merely catching, this guide isn’t for you. The first step is to change your mindset to understand that figuring it all out is the fun part. Not meaning to sound like some old curmudgeon, but in our age of Insta and real-time reports and Canal Facebook groups, fishing can become easy. Frank Goncalves talked in our interview about the satisfaction of figuring it all out yourself. If someone tells him where the fish are, he’ll still probably fish that spot, but he won’t feel great about it. He says he’d rather fish a spot he figured out and get skunked than go to a spot that someone told him about and catch fish.
It’s an old adage but a good one: “I love it when a plan comes together.” It’s something I originally heard from a friend when he talked about deer hunting. We should always be learning; trying to piece together that grand puzzle. If you were to ever stop learning, it would be time to hang the rods up.
So, if you’re like me when I started, and you have trouble finding and catching bass consistently, I’m giving you the head start that I wish I had.
1. Get out early and stay out late
If you want to catch stripers, you need to lose sleep. What does the surgeon general recommend? 8 hours? Ha. Come on. You can sleep when you’re dead. There are stripers to catch.
You cannot catch bass consistently if you don’t fish when the sun isn’t up. The simplest and most scientific answer I can give you for this is that bass feed in low and transitioning light conditions. Also, less boat and fishing traffic means the stripers can get in shallow without being disturbed. I have caught almost all of my best fish in the hour or two before and after sunrise. You need to get out before the sun rises.
Even better, learn to fish at night. I don’t have to tell you that the big fish cruise into the shallows at night looking for an easy meal. This is especially true in the summer months.
2. Work Smarter not harder: Make your connections and use the internet
This tip is two pronged:
- You need to be a social angler
- You need to use the internet (social media, blogs, forums) to your advantage
Being social requires you to make connections. Chat up the person at the boat ramp or next to you in the surf or at the Canal. Talk to the tackle shop owner, but spend a little money of course. The anglers who see you out there putting the time in will be much more likely to give you a nugget of info. Make sure to always bring beer. And if they don’t help you? Screw ’em. Some people are miserable bastards.
Or, go the digital route. Join a fishing forum (like myfishingcapecod.com or stripersonline.com) and don’t just ask for information, but provide information, even if it doesn’t seem like important information to you.
IMPORTANT: Don’t list or ask for specific spots. This is called spot burning and it will get you burned at the proverbial stake.
Some of your best days fishing will be coming across cows feedings on stray pogies, herring, squid or mackerel. And the only way to get on these fish consistently will be to build your fishing network.
3. Study up on striper feeding patterns, figure out ONE spot
To be successful, you need to understand the big picture. You need to study the structure that stripers like to feed around, the types of baits they eat during the specific period of the season, and where in the water column they may be feeding.
When we say feeding patterns, we really mean patterns. Fish are animals and they do things for one specific reason: to eat. They feed in certain locations, tide stages and moon phases. This is the science portion of this. Keep a log. In the winter, study the tide charts for the following year. New Moon tides and big tides around the Full Moons will be periods to target. More moving water = more feeding fish.
Figure out the intricacies of your home waters and study them down to a single rock. Pick a spot that you know holds fish and figure it out. Fish it at all times in the moon and tide cycles. Believe me, this goes against number one, but there are spots that fish better during the day (a flat loaded with crabs, for example).
Think logically about that spot; about the geographical features and the prevalent bait around it. What draws bass there? Why would you find fish there at certain tide stages and not at others? To get these patterns locked down, you need to think of it as a science experiment, where fishing is your collection of data.
4. You need confidence. Get REALLY good at ONE thing
This goes hand in hand with number 3. The same way you should learn the ins and outs of your home waters, you need to get really good at one specific technique. I got really good at tube and worming when I first started out. This lead to an understanding of other techniques. Next, I learned how to swing bucktails and weighted soft plastics in the currents and rips along the deep channels, which I knew were there and held fish because of my many hours trolling the tube and worm.
When I figured out and pinpointed the areas where I knew there were larger fish, I learned to drop live macks on them. Getting really good at one technique in a few locations provides an excellent base of knowledge to build off of. It also builds confidence.
Having confidence in a location or technique is the number one predictor of success. You are much more likely to catch fish if you have the confidence to fish a certain tactic or location and know more likely than not you’re going to find fish.
5. Hire a guide or charter service
I swear this is not self serving at all. But seriously, I learned some great techniques and spots from charter services in my area. Hiring a good guide is the best investment you can make. These guys and gals spend an incredible amount of days on the water. They understand the patterns. They know when the bass are generally going to eat and what they’ll eat.
You should rethink the goal of a charter service the next time you hire one. The best charter captains and guides will answer questions if you ask. So ask questions! This is what you’re paying for. A charter shouldn’t consist of jigging wire for 6 hours and trying to fill the cooler with the most and biggest fillets possible.
Ask the captain why he or she chose the particular locations you’re fishing. Ask what the bass are feeding on, what lures to use, the pound test braid. Ask how they read the sonar. If you want to try a particular technique, ask the captain! They’ll tell you if it’s productive at that location or time of year. If any captain gives you a hard time about any of these questions when you bring them up, don’t rehire them. It’s simple. Use your time on the water with a professional to your advantage.
6. PUT. YOUR. TIME. IN. (BONUS)
You cannot catch a bass, or any other type of fish for that matter, if you sleep in. You need to spend time on the water. No matter how prepared you are, some days, it just won’t happen. This is fishing, not catching. Bad day on the water? Get out the next morning. I cannot stress how important it is to have a short memory.
Here’s a good and very unhealthy way to look at this. When you’re lying in bed after sleeping in, think about how you would feel if there were a big blitz that you missed. Because this happens all. the. time. Fish have tails. They swim. And most of our locations feature the here-one-tide-gone-the-next fishing style. The only way to ensure you’ll get into that lifetime blitz is being out there. Become a part of it, spinning or fly rod in hand.