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Spring Striped Bass migrations

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#1 RJ

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Posted January 14 2013 - 10:44 PM

I received a string of questions on the movement of striped bass thru New Jersey by jOk3r.as a PM. I asked his permission to put that and my answers to his questions our on the SOL Forums. If you disagree with my opinions on the movement of Striped Bass during the Spawning process and the Spring Migration, please lay out your opinions and facts to disagree with mine.

JOk3r Question 12 13 2013
Hi Bob,

I have a few questions for you if you don't mind with regards to the upcoming spring season. I have been dabbling in bass fishing for four years but only this past season have I caught the bug bad, going out 3-4 times a week to try to capture my witty opponent Mr. Linesider. In fact I just returned home from a wonderful seminar given by Mr. Alberto Knie and had the true privilege of being able to pick his brain for an hour after the talk. Yet one hour barely scratched the surface of all the questions I have... I can sit and talk about bass for days and days. This coming spring will be my first spring seriously attempting to catch large fish. I have been meaning to write to you for a while now with some questions.

Now my understanding of the spring movements and patterns are as follows:

March: Striped bass will move into the Raritan Bay and begin feeding in the warm mud flats as the water temperature increases and that these fish are best targeted with worms and clams while the water is still cool. What temperature do these fish begin to feed in earnest? And where exactly do these fish come from, the wintering grounds off of Virginia? Or do they move down from the Hudson? What tribes do these early season fish belong to?

In March, the only striped bass tribe you will encounter in Raritan Bay are Hudson River striped bass. It is too early for Chesapeake or Delaware River striped bass to begin migrating. They are busy getting ready to spawn. The northward migration from the Chesapeake will not begin until a spawning cycle has started in April. The Delaware River cycle doesn’t begin until late April or early May due to the water temperature and limited salinity. Some Hudson River striped bass are thought to winter over off the Capes of Virginia. When the CB SB start moving into CB to stage near their home rivers and creeks, There is a possibility that some HR SB wintering that far south will start to move northward to stage in Northern NJ near the Hudson River. Striped bass will feed aggressively in water temperatures above 45 degrees thru 65 degrees.

The exception are mature female SB, full of with eggs. Females will feed, at night or on overcast days. They are very light sensitive.

The HR SB begin to enter the HR in March. The HR SB contingent that winter’s over in the lower HR will wait until River Herring move past them. They will follow and feed on the early herring schools that begin to move into the Hudson in the month of March. Compared to the CB and HR Tribes, the Delaware River Tribe (DR Tribe) is many times smaller than the HR Tribe. The HR Tribe numbers are about 1/3 the size of the CB Tribe. The DR SB Tribe may only be 20% of the HR SB Tribe. The smaller size spawn is subject to time, space and temperature. The DR Tribe’s spawning grounds are only 40 miles long and restricted to the south western side of Delaware Bay, and the last few miles of the Delaware River below the Cmdr. Barry Bridge between NJ and Philadelphia. The DR SB Tribe size is restricted by this small area and the need for a strong Spring runoff of very cold, snow pac and chilled heavy spring rains. The run off from the Catskill Mtns. of NY and Pocono Mtns. of PA is what flushes that 40 or 50 mile curve along the shore of Delaware Bay to the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal south of New Castle, DE. with fresh water. No significant run off means a short spawning window and the possibility of ruined eggs caused by water with too much salinity. It may have happened last spring with the lack of snow in the mountains of PA and NY that reduced the volume flow to the Delaware River.

The Hudson River has a spawning range that is 140 miles long and at its narrowest, it is twice as wide ad the Delaware river is wide. Lots of room to spawn and grown in excellent conditions, compared to the short and restricted Delaware River spawning area.

The CB, HR and DR Tribes are the only ones that migrate long distances. The AS/RR Tribe (Albemarle Sound/Roanoke River Tribe) spends most of its life cycle inside Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds in North Carolina. Those AS/RR striped bass that do venture into the Atlantic and are seldom found north of Ocean City MD. All the tribes south of AS/RR migrate hardly at all.

April to Early May: Hudson River Tribe fish move up the Hudson River to begin spawning. It is my understanding that after spawning these fish exit the Hudson River and begin to move north into Long Island Sound where they will mark the start of the striper season in Montauk, and we will no longer catch an abundance of Hudson River Tribe bass in NJ. Is that a correct assumption?

The HR SB begin to move up the HR in early to mid March. Their spawning activity usually begins in the second to third week in May, and is done by the first week in June. They begin stacking up in their spawning area in March, April and early May. They stay there until they spawn in that 3 week period in May and June in 58 degree or higher water temperatues.

HR SB use 3 exits to leave the Hudson River after spawning. The Harlem River at “Spyten Divel,” The East River and straight down and thru NY Harbor and into the open Atlantic.

The Harlem River is the water that flows through the Bronx where it joins the East River at Randall’s Island. The East River that flows north between Manhattan and Brooklyn and the Main Channel of the Hudson River flowing into the Atlantic Ocean.

When a HR female SB spawns, she immediately begins moving down the Hudson to one of the three exits mentioned above. She can turn left into the Harlem River and swim across and down to the East River. Or swim down to the Battery at the bottom of Manhattan, and turn left and up in to the East River. Then move up the other side of Manhattan and past Roosevelt, Wards, Randall’s and Riker’s Islands and under the Throgs Neck Bridge in to Western Long Island Sound. I have no idea what percentage swims thru or around Manhattan Island and in to LI Sound. This rest of the post spawn, HR SB females age 8+ that do not use the City River Route’s to LI Sound, will spread out into Raritan Bay, down the Jersey Shore and move up the coast of Long Island and into the waters of RI and MA.

Note their age 4+ male escorts will not leave the spawning ground with the ladies. They will hang out waiting for another group of ladies to spawn. When all the girls are covered, some of them will remain in the upper end of the Hudson River and summer over till September and October. This group of males, will feed on the YOY (young of the year) shad, herring and possibly SB schools that move down river in the fall.

The YOY shad and herring may spend some time acclimating to pure salt water and then move out into the ocean. HR SB usually stay in the salty lower end nursery of the Hudson River until they move out into the Ocean during their 3rd Spring. HR SB that surive their first 5 months move down river when they are 6” long during their 1st Fall. By the 2nd Fall season they will be 10 to 12 “ long and by the 3rd Spring they will be 17 to 18” long and ready to move out into the Atlantic Ocean to begin growing into mature fish that will return when they are ready to spawn. HR SB males, age 4+ and females, age 6+ are considered mature enough to spawn. *

Note: A good percentage of female striped bass, ages 6 and 7, will return to the Hudson and follow schools of herring up river and hang out in the river until the older 8+ females spawn and then they will move south with their older sisters without spawning. Anglers in the lower Hudson, Raritan Bay and in the western end of Long Island may catch females with green eggs in late May or early June. These green egg females will absorb those non spawned eggs into their systems as protein, as they migrate north and east up the coast or out and south down the Jersey Shore or into Raritan Bay.

May to June: Chesapeake Bay Tribe fish have finished spawning and are following schools of adult bunker onto our shores. This is when blitz conditions can occur. These fish are generally large and hungry and represent the bulk of the large fish taken in the spring.

Actually it is April to early May when you will find spawned out CB SP females age 8+ munching on Bunker in NJ waters. They are following, Mossbunker north and east up the coast to New England. You might get shots a large bass in late April/early May, that are CB SB, but they won’t settle in for any length of time. To them, north and east and the movable feast of bunker keeps them moving up the coast and around Cape Cod and into the Gulf of Maine. You may have a longer shot at big HR SB from the last week in May thru all of June as they bulk up on Bunker in NJ and LI Waters after spawning.

July: Most of the Chesapeake fish have moved on from our shores and can be found in good numbers in Rhode Island, Montauk, Cape Cod, Block Island and the like.

Yes, the CB SB have moved on in May. No, they do not hang out in RI, Montauk , Block Island and the like.

CB SB move up the coast and around Cape Cod by two routes. A dense CB SB migration occurs thru the Cape Cod Canal and north of Cape Cod. And even larger contingent, moves east along LI and then hard east along the southern beaches of Cape Cod and around the tip of Cape Cod and north into the Gulf of Maine. This movement happens in May thru June.

How is my understanding so far?

Your timing is a tad off on the CB SP migration. I hope my time table adjustment sorts out the time and space movement of the different spawn times and its relation to the movement of striped bass up and down the coast between the CB SB and the HR SB for you.

There are two other major factors that affect the migration of CB SP & HR SB. The water temperature north of Cape Cod is 5 to 8 degrees colder than the water temperature south of Cape Cod. The somewhat shallow inshore waters that are the norm from VA to Cape Cod change once you move north of Cape Cod. The inshore depth changes dramatically out at the end of Cape Cod. To the North and East, it is deeper and colder. Mossbunker don’t like the temperature drop and neither do HR Striped Bass.

HR SB inhabit the Atlantic Ocean,Long Island Sound and the waters of RI, south of Cape Cod. CB SB love the colder and bait rich waters north of Cape Cod. In June, July August and September, if you catch a striped bass south of Cape Cod, it will be either a Hudson River striped bass or a Delaware River Striped bass from NJ to MA. Some HR SB leak thru the Cape Cod Canal and stick close to the north facing beaches of Cape Cod. The vast majority of striped bass north of Cape Cod and on up into the Gulf of Maine will be Chesapeake Bay Striped Bass.

When the sand lance YOY explode out of the back bays and shallows in May and June the fishing at Monomoy Island south of Cape Cod and on the miles long, bright sand flats on the north side of Cape Cod signals a bait change. Bunker take a back seat on the menu for striped bass. HR SB’s cruising across the Monomoy Flats chomping on the abundance of sand eels.

On the northern side of Cape Cod the sand eel abundance changes the white sands to gold with their numbers. There are gin clear flats with tidal ranges between 6 and 9 feet that run for miles east and west along the north facing beaches of Cape Cod. CB SB dominate the predators in residence. Blue fish have not moved inshore in May and early June and Tuna are active in the deeper portions of CC Bay. Striped bass rule the inshore flats.

I live for flats fishing on the tidal flats of Cape Cod Bay. You can go out on the flats at the beginning of the incoming tide and get shots at 40 inch + single striped bass or pods of 5 or 6 30 inch striped bass as they move up on the flats using guzzles (lower, tidal lines than fill up and create highways for striped bass to move on to the flats). You can spot a pod of fish or a single big striped bass as it moves up the guzzle as far away as 120 feet. When that fish or pod commits to the guzzle you have staked out, you lay out a mole crab or baby flounder fly about 40 or 50 feet down the Guzzle and let it rest on the bottom. When that pod or target fish is within 8 to 10 feet of your fly, you very short strip the fly line, just enough to create a puff of sand. The striped bass will attack the spot and cover it with its mouth and inhale the fly explosively. When you see the flare of its red gills and the cloud of sand expelled thru the gills, you STRIP STRIKE that sucker and hang on. In 24 to 40 inches of water, the striped bass has nowhere to go but straight up. It is the greatest thrill in striped bass fishing. “Be still my heart.” What a ride! Good Times! Good Times! Oh yeah!

The tidal range on the north side of Cape Cod goes from 6 to 9 feed. From zero water to 3 or 4 feet over your head is a serious movement of water. If you hike out a mile or more on the Brewster Flats, be sure you move back toward shore before that 6 inch rise every 15 minutes doesn’t sneak around you and cut you off from the shore. Wear a inflatable PFD and carry a compass or a GPS. These big flats are subject to rolling walls of fog, even in the middle of the day. You are in sunshine one minute and then totally surrounded by fog you cannot see as much as 10 feet. Light spin tackle surf fishermen do the Flats Shuffle at Cape Cod as well. Be careful, bring a PFD, a compass and make sure your life insurance is paid up.

Another question that's been on my mind is baitfish: I don't know of any other baitfish that come to our shores in abundance in spring besides adult bunker. I have observed the past fall to see plenty of bay anchovy / rainfish, mullet, and peanut bunker making their mass exodus out of our bays. I am left wondering what other baitfish is included in bass diet during the springtime so I may best tailor my approaches, plug selection, and presentations.

We tend to focus on Bunker, as it is the largest bait around. Striped bass begin to move in to the shallow bays when they sense activity by small baits moving out of the mud and swimming or scurrying across the warm shallows. Killies move first, then other small fin fish. Followed by baby crabs and the YOY of winter flounder and sand eels. Striped bass have extremely sensitive audio and lateral line movement sensors in their bodies. Read the opening chapters on striped bass in Rich Murphy’s book, Fly Fishing for Striped Bass. He lays out the audio and other senses that striped bass are enabled with to seek and find food in the dark of night or the murk of a roiled and dirty environment. Winter flounder spawn in the spring. Their offspring begin moving out of the coastal rivers and salt ponds in May of each year. Baby Flounder are a favorite bait, as are mature mole crabs in May and June.

The tiny mole crabs (sand bugs) you have seen in the surf edges of NoMoCo have held all the YOY Striped bass that were flushed out of the lower Hudson River by Storm Sandy! Those displaced baby striped bass are healthy, fat, bright and shiny as they gorged on buckets of mole crab spawn the size of the red eraser on the end of a No. 2 lead pencil

OK, I think I should stop for now... I appreciate any help and clarification you can offer. Thank you in advance for going through this wall of text.



Anytime Jay! You ask excellent questions.


#2 j0k3r

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Posted January 14 2013 - 11:06 PM

Thank you Bob for that lesson! There is a lot to ponder... it's certain I'll be asking you some more things after I process all this first. :)


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Posted January 15 2013 - 12:16 AM

Great read! Thank you for posting this.

#4 RnR

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Posted January 15 2013 - 1:01 PM

Outstanding read!!! Thank you for posting this! :clap: :)

Wishin' I was Fishin'

#5 bido

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Posted January 15 2013 - 2:31 PM

Good read. Two notes to consider:

I've caught the big post spawn bass in good numbers (not just strays) which I believe are Hudson stock as late as 7/14 as well.

I've always had trouble discerning the CB stock from the HR stock in the spring. There are times when it has begun in early May and continued right through early July...tough to tell who's new on the block vs. sticking around and fattening up the whole time on bunker. If the bait is here like it has been the CB fish would have no reason to keeping charging north to the Cape. You get those long racer bass earlier it seems which must be Chesapeake fish, leaner from their travels. Usually more slender heads as well I've seen. Then you seem to get those fat giant slobs later in the spring, like mid to late June. Those are the Hudson fish I've always believed.

"Where is my mind?  Waaaaay out in the water see it swimming?"

#6 Master Debaiter

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Posted January 15 2013 - 3:04 PM


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Posted January 15 2013 - 3:07 PM

Good post RJ! So much glorious information... :drool:

#8 fishless

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Posted January 15 2013 - 3:20 PM

Thanks RJ, thanks to you too Jay for prompting this thread in response. 

Loser of Lures.

#9 RJ

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Posted January 15 2013 - 3:33 PM

There is an overlap in mid May in MoCO Long Island, if the HR SB spawns a week to ten days early because of a warm spring and a light winter run off. CB SB spawn across a whole month and up to 5 weeks. They spawn earlier in the VA Rivers because the temperaature's there are not as chilly as the rivers that flow in from Baltimore on north to the Suquahanna Flats above Harve de Grace. That water is fed by the snow pac in southern NY State and all thru the Endless Mountians of NE PA. What desn't flow east to the Delaware River Flows west to the Susquahanna River. The Lackawanna, My favorite trout stream in PA flows from above Carbondale, down thru Dixson City and thru Scranton and dumps in to the Susquananna below Scranton.

Bido, have you ever caught any 30 inch fish with green eggs that late in the year?(Mid July?) I think the schoolie stripers caught along the south facing beaches of Cape Cod in late March/ early April are Hudson River fish that begin leaving the HR when the big HR SB start moving up the Hudson to spawn. They could be a mix of small HR & CB fish as well.

One of the really big differences between the CB SB and The HR SB is that the Hudson River is a single spawning river. The largest single river nursery in the world for striped bass, River Herring and American Shad. None of the rivers that flow into the CB are even a third as large as the Hudson River. The Hudson is almost a straight shot for it 160 mile tidal portion, and about 120 miles of the Hudson is fresh water tidal. It is the most consistent River in the Northeast. No barrier dams until it narrows into a mountain river north of Albany. Most of the rivers that flow into CB are shallow, twisting and meandering southern style rivers until they get near the coast. The CB Rivers are rich in their final flows loaded with lots of small fish friendly nursery water. And they are so numerous that their total out put in YOY numbers blows the HR SB source river away with their high productivity. The CB is polluted badly and that does not bode well for its fish, shellfish and crabs.

The HR is a cleaner environment for young of the year fish. There are 208 different fish species in the HR and it has been classified as a Class A swimming water by NYS/DEC for more than a decade. The CB SB river sources are for the most part polutted by agri runoff and the densitity of the population surrounding it. Once you get above Westchester and Rockland Counties in NY, all the counties north of them are rural with out a dense industrial complex history. And the Hudson was the first River in the US to go to a Filtration System in every hamlet, village, town and City over 35+ years ago.

The CB fish migrate the farthest and the DR SB might be next in distance traveled from home river and back again. Because they have to come up the Jersey Coast and turn right a NY City, But they could be a tie because some of the HR SB have to swim down 160 miles to get to the Atlantic Ocean and that a left for Cape Cod. ;). The distance could very well be a tie. :D The more we know about Mr. Linesider, the more questions pop up. I caught my first one at Crawbucky Beach in Ossining, NY just south of where the Croton River empties into South Croton Bay in 1950 - 51. age 11. It has been fun ever since. The never ending story!


#10 bido

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Posted January 15 2013 - 7:38 PM

RJ- I don't keep any big fish so it would be tough to say if any of the fish in July in NJ have eggs, but I doubt they do. The largest schools of the big bass do seem to be in June, but there have been some real brutes later in the season in early July in past years, not so much the last 2-3 years though. I've been fishing the Suskie flats in recent years too. Those fish have eggs in early to mid April. Good posts.

"Where is my mind?  Waaaaay out in the water see it swimming?"

#11 RJ

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Posted January 15 2013 - 8:07 PM

The last big fish I kept is in the picture you see as my avatar. That was in the late 1990's. Hudson River, 125 miles north of NY City on a live lined Blueback Herring drifting a dropping tide between Coxasckie and Athens, NY. That fish hung over the bar of a now defunct cocktail launge in the Hudson River Valley and the picture was on the cover of the Hudson River and Beyond magazine, because the Publisher took a fancy to my screen saver, when he was spending a couple of days duck hunting with me in the Hudson Valley north of the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. I had no idea he lifted it off the computer until he handed me a stack of his magazines to give to my friends. Fame is fleeting and it is gone even quicker when you don't know it is going to happen. Part of the Ride, my friend. Take it as it comes and enjoy the good parts.


#12 Jon I

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Posted January 15 2013 - 8:18 PM

   Great read, thanks for posting!

#13 JettySlider

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Posted January 15 2013 - 9:26 PM

Hey RJ great read. A slight off topic question. What's your knowledge on the prevalence of those bacterial sores on the bass? I read the temperature correlation somewhere and the count they did on the Chesapeake Bay tribe. Is it more abundant with one tribe, within a school etc? I ask because I caught quite a few smaller ones with it and a 37 inch one covered in them. I read it eventually kills them as well?

#14 jadweega

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Posted January 15 2013 - 10:16 PM

Thanks RJ that is some very interesting information.

#15 RJ

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Posted January 15 2013 - 10:39 PM

Hey RJ great read. A slight off topic question. What's your knowledge on the prevalence of those bacterial sores on the bass? I read the temperature correlation somewhere and the count they did on the Chesapeake Bay tribe. Is it more abundant with one tribe, within a school etc? I ask because I caught quite a few smaller ones with it and a 37 inch one covered in them. I read it eventually kills them as well?

JS - the microbiasis sores are prevelant in the CB SB Tribe, due to a highly polluted environmmet. If the YOY (Young of the Year) surive three Springs and move out of their natal rivers and make it tothe clean Atlantic Ocean, they may have a chance for a long and productive life. One they hit pure open ocean water it arrests the growth of the skin dease. It hasn't been transferred to any of the other different DNA Striped Bass Tribes. There have been som "red sore's spotted on striped bass in LI Sound, but after examination by NYS/DEC Biologist, the sores we determined to be local ittitant sorced.

Right now, according to the latest survey, 70% of the YOY living in CB are affected with this skin affection. Alot of them are dying in the Bay before they can grow and leave the poluttion. It is a serious threat. Much higher than the anti=commercial elements would have you believe. JMHO!