The Spring Push, the Annual Striped bass Migration
Winter months take a toll on the light tackle anglers in the Mid-Atlantic region. For the most determined individuals fishing opportunities are few and far between during this time of the year. Freezing temperatures, iced up boat ramps, and very few fish within reach slows the pursuit of striped bass to a halt. Tinkering with tackle, painting lead heads, boat shows, and trips to the local tackle shops only go so far to keep fisherman busy. As spring approaches water temperatures begin climb with more frequent spring warm fronts, south winds, and increased photoperiods. These environmental cues trigger the migratory striped bass to leave their winter grounds of the coastal waters off Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and the deeper, comfortable zones of the lower Chesapeake. This marks the beginning their annual spawning migration up the Chesapeake Bay and it’s tributaries. The Bay produces 70 to 90% of the migratory striped bass population; this influx of ocean running giants brings fish and anglers together for an incredible opportunity in Chesapeake.
Pre-spawn striped bass are focused on finding comfortable water temperatures and getting their chance to feeding on the millions of herring, shad, and bunker that have recently invaded the 200 mile long bay and it’s 150 creeks and rivers that drain into it. Early spring season tactics anglers should focus primary ledges and drop offs adjacent to the bay’s larger tributaries that receive the majority of the spring shad and herring runs. Efforts to remove dams blocking passage to upstream spawning grounds for the forage fish have been a blessing in the past few years. As water temperatures increase striped bass will push into the shallow flats and river mouths still feeding and staging for their upcoming spawning endeavors. Spawning generally starts around the 60 degree mark and large females lay on the surface joined by groups of smaller males. During this time its important to sit back, relax and enjoy the event trying not disturb the fish, sometimes you could see only several groups of spawners and other times when conditions are right anglers can observe miles of spawning fish by the thousands.
Fired up, excited anglers cashing in on sick leave and vacation days can now expect one of the most phenomenal bites of the year, the spring post-spawn bite. Unloading millions of eggs and burning up storage calories fish are on now looking to feed before their long coastal swim to the summer grounds of New England. Water temperatures are in the comfortable low to mid 60’s zone and the light tackle anglers can throw giant subsurface and topwater baits and find willing fish eat them. Rigged for a successful mission, deploying 7’ Heavy action spinning rods loaded with 40lb braid and a stout leader searching though smaller bays, tributaries consistently yield the trophies we were thinking about all winter!
Until the core temperature of the Bay rises to the upper 60’s in a few short weeks, these ocean run monsters will continue to call the Chesapeake Bay home.