THE HOLDOVERS: Striped Bass Sheltering In Place

For some, it’s never too soon to fish.  For us all, it’s later than it’s ever been.

March 20, 2020: The first full day of spring came early. So did the bass. Here on Long Island, pursuit of stripers doesn’t get going until around Mother’s Day, ordinarily. But these are not ordinary times.

And these weren’t ordinary fish. I can’t reveal where it happened, but it wasn’t on the east end, though there have been a few reports of small fish in the back bays near Sag Harbor and even along the ocean surf near Jones Beach.  

And I cannot tell you who is our hero, but it certainly wasn’t me. What I can report is this morning, under warm overcast skies, just about the time the New York City commuter rush should’ve provided bumper-to-bumper background noise, three healthy striped bass tooted the horn of a Broadway trumpeter who’s been off the boards since the Great White Way went dark a week ago.

The largest fish was a 26-incher, two fingers short of a legit keeper. It hit the treble hook on his first cast with a Redfin swimming plug. Rubber shads, false minnows, even shiny metal lures glinting in the unseasonably warm morning sunshine failed to get the job done. But two more bass, a 22- and a 24-incher came up for the Redfin, before the rising-tide shut down the bite. Nearby, two kayakers and a fly fishing boat were on hand to witness the surfside action.

These fish are the holdovers. Striped bass sheltering in place, if you will. They’re 4 to five year old young adults that did not seek winter refuge offshore. They simply stuck around since last year.

Morone Saxatilis are anadromous, meaning they live in salt water but spawn in freshwater river estuaries, like those of the Chesapeake and the Hudson. Older stripers like those caught and released today, have an elaborate migration path–something we grounded humans have good reason to envy these days. They swim away from their cozy upstream spawning grounds in late spring, and travel to summer feeding locations all along the northeast Atlantic coast.  I usually encounter them in the waters near Montauk in the fall, when they start to bulk up for their return trip south to deepwater winter grounds around Cape Hatteras. Then, each spring, they start all over again. Beginning to long for that kind of mobility, are you? 

But some, like these holdover schoolies, simply never leave our local sheltered waters, especially with the recent milder winters.

Officially, striped bass season south of the George Washington Bridge doesn’t open until April 15.  But for some, like our angling horn player, it’s never too soon to fish. And in these strange and troubled times, who knows what will be what three weeks from now.

3 Responses to “THE HOLDOVERS: Striped Bass Sheltering In Place”

  1. Kathy says:

    Wow! Even the fish are quarantining themselves….
    Great article, Fred. Never too soon to fish… Love it!

  2. Fred Abatemarco says:

    The times we live in, Kathy. Stranger than fiction.

  3. Johanna says:

    Fred, this is well done. It conveys the uncertainty of these times in subtle ways, such as the fish and the fisherman being a little bit off kilter as they both sense something is just not quite right with the world.

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