Big Striper Strategies - Part II
By Doug Jowett

In the retail world the three watch words for success are - Location, Location, Location. Catching "Big" striped bass by design also means fishing the right locations. Where are the right locations? All eager striper anglers want that question answered. The answer is two fold - migration timing and healthy bait habitats. "Big" striped bass migrate for one reason - food and a lot of it.

During the early and late seasons, water temperature will play an important part in the location to fish. In the spring, ocean water temperatures are low. If the open ocean water temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, look for fish to be way up rivers and tidal estuaries where the water temperature may be as high as 60 degrees. Conversely, if the inside water temperatures rise above 65 degrees, start looking for fish to be holding in the cooler open ocean waters. Small striped bass will tolerate warmer water than the "Big" stripers you are looking for. Donít let inside feeding frenzies fool you into believing big fish are around if the water temperature is too warm.

Now, hereís the meat of the matter at hand. One of the most important factors in hooking "Big" striped bass by design and often. Become obsessed with catching "Big" striped bass. You must be on the water fishing when the big fish are about and conditions are optimum to catch them. You must ignore the temptation of hooking numbers of fish during heavy feeding periods. Condition yourself to think "Big" fish only. They may not linger in your area for many days. You must be fishing over "Big"striped bass to catch them!

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Be prepared to catch no fish at all! Thatís right - you must mentally be prepared to fish properly for "Big" stripers and that means you donít want to be catching those pesty, little schoolies. Forget all that fun of boating 50 to 100 fish on a fly each day. Itís difficult to ignore great numbers of fish you know full well can be caught one-after-the-other. But to catch "Big" striped bass by design, you must think "Big" fish not just fish. Itís been many times Iíve explained to a client wanting to catch a "Big" striper that we must ignore the obvious, easy fish to catch.

When the heavy feeding of small fish starts I always ask if the client wants to fish "Big" or have fun on the feeding school. One hundred percent of the time the angler elects to fish on the easy, smaller fish for a good time. You must sacrifice guaranteed fun if its "Big" stripers you want. Be aggressive in your attitude during false dawn periods, just before sunset, when its foggy and during periods of steady rain. Those are prime times to hook "Big" striped bass. The low-light conditions keep the larger fish feeding near the surface or within reach of sinking fly lines.

"Big" striped bass can be caught at all stages of tide and in varying degrees of light - even mid-day with a high sun. Surprising to many, my favorite time to concentrate on larger fish is during slack, low water. Thatís only about 45 minutes per tide, but its a great time to take big fish. My technique for slack, low tide is to set up a wind and/or current drift in a boat to a known striper holding area using a heavy sinking fly line like 425 grain Cortland Quick Descent lines with 3/0 to 6/0 bunker, rattle flies. The holding spot may be as small as 20 feet or less. I hold my cast until I know it will reach the honey-hole and sink with the current to the holding bass waiting for the tide change. I will continue the same drift up to 10 or more times before quitting it. At slack-low tide, your sinking line will go deeper because there is no current to hold the line up. Thatís key to reaching the "Big" fish holding deep.

For "Big" stripers, I donít "run and gun" in the boat chasing from one spot to another hoping to find fish quickly. I work an area for quite some time, knowing full well there are big fish about. You must tease them into striking. There are also spots where you must wait for the tide to develop to the liking of the fish. My clients call this a Kodak moment. We frustratingly wait for the tide to bring the fish to us. Some days we hit home runs and others we strike out. Thatís "Big" fish striper fishing!

Before noon, before the sun is at its highest, try fishing the shade. Yes, there is shade to be found at 10 or 11 A.M. Every big rock, ledge or coastal ridge will have a continuing shade area on the west side until noon. Many times, thatís where "Big" fish can be found on those bright days when you think its fruitless to even think about a big fish. Work that structure over and over again, believing there is a "Big" striper holding there. Give the "pool" a rest and return in ten minutes to try again. Too much activity will spook "Big" stripers, so resting a holding station may improve your chances of hooking the big fish resting there. If there are several boats working the same area, go to another spot; your chances of a big fish at the crowded area are slim.

Flats fishing for "Big" stripers is a stealthy activity. Everything you can do to be stealthful in your approach to a flat will help put the bigger fish on your hook. Skiff or wade fishing a flat dictates using long leaders, tying on precise flies, accurate fly presentations, wearing camouflage clothing and having keen eyesight (always use the best of polarized sunglasses). Donít be banging the side of a skiff or dropping things in the boat, shut off fish finders and donít anchor up. Cast only to the big fish you spot. Leave the smaller fish alone, they will only disturb the larger fish if they get hooked.

In all situations, it is advisable to vary your retrieve rate. Most of my "Big" striper hook-ups come from a fairly slow retrieve. Be very careful to keep in touch with your fly. Many times a fish will take the fly softly and if you arenít sensitive to the take, you will miss setting the hook.

Practice all the above, fish in good water and add a mighty big dose of luck and "Big" striped bass will be on your hook. The best piece of advise I can impart is to forget fishing for all those little fish and become a "Big" striper nut.

Captain Doug Jowett is a Master Maine Guide holding a USCG Captain License who charters striped bass anglers on the coast of Maine and Cape Cod. He has been writing outdoors columns and articles for over 20 years in regional and national publications including major outdoors magazines and has five books he has contributed to.

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