Stripers tricky but worth the wait
Striped bass are my favorite inshore fish, pushing into shallow waters where bluefish won’t go, chasing a wide variety of prey items, and able to grow over 60 pounds. They can also be one of the most challenging species to target, becoming very picky when there is an abundance of a preferred food source. If you don’t have a lure or bait that exactly “matches the hatch,” you’ll often cast to feeding fish that will have nothing to do with you.
The annual fall migration is prime time to head out looking for schools of fish and, potentially, catching some of the biggest stripers of the year. Unlike most of the season, fall stripers move into shallow water, allowing shore-based “surfcasters” and those of us with small boats unable to safely make the trip to Block Island ample opportunities. Several baitfish species, such as herring, menhaden, silversides, and mullet, are also making their fall run, pursued closely by stripers. If you can locate a school of “bait,” snag and liveline some, hold on tight and expect great things. In addition, the fall stripers will often push up into estuaries, such as Narrow River, the Great Salt Pond of Galilee, or Ninigret Pond where fly-fishing and light tackle are king and sight fishing is sometimes a possibility. While it’s hit-or-miss, once you locate fish, fall can offer incredible action, huge fish, and takes place near shore.
If you’re looking for fish for the table tautog offers one of the best meals around and are quite prolific during the fall months. Also called blackfish, they are dark in color, feed on shellfish, barnacles, and crabs, and tend to live on rocky structure or wrecks. To catch them, people usually bottom fish with a highlow rig, using hooks specifically designed for tautog, and halved green crabs as bait. You’ll need enough weight to hold bottom and, once cut in half, most people remove the legs and claw and thread the hook through the crab using the holes created from ripping off appendages. To locate fish, find a rocky shoreline or, if you’re fishing off a boat, rocky bottom or manmade riprap structures. Black seabass are also a possibility but, until Nov. 1, are closed to recreational fishing and must be released.
Tautog fishing is at its peak so bring along a few quarts of green crabs and search out the rocks if dinner is what you’re after. There are also a lot of big, hard-fighting bluefish around, especially in the Bay around Patience, Prudence, and Hope Islands. If you’re like me, though, keep a very sharp eye out for diving sea gulls or terns, schools of baitfish, or breaking fish, any of which could be your cue to enjoy some of the hottest striper fishing of the season!