The Atlantic striped bass (Morone saxatilis) is easily the most popular game fish sought after by anglers on Cape Cod, throughout New England and all the way down the eastern seaboard to the Carolinas. They are sizeable fish (average between 20-40 pounds), good fighters on the hook and excellent eating.
Stripers are migratory, moving south for the winter and north for the summer. They spawn in freshwater rivers and streams.
Unfortunately, the popularity of this fish has put a strain on the striped bass fishery up and down the Atlantic coast. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which manages the striper populations, has accepted the scientific estimates that say that stripers are overfished, and is examining some possible restrictions and limits on stripers.
Unlike other species, the biggest pressure on striped bass comes from recreational fishermen, who take far more fish every year than commercial fishing boats. In Massachusetts, for instance, the state has already instituted a limit of one fish per person, and a minimum length of 28 inches for keepers.
Where to fish
Stripers are unpredictable and ubiquitous. They can be found at depth out in the ocean, and they can be caught by surf casting close to shore. They feed morning, noon and night, and in all weather conditions.
In deeper waters, captains know to look for underwater terrain like rocks, reefs and wrecks, slopes and drop-offs. Stripers like moving water, which churns up their favorite baitfish, like eels. At night, they like to come in close to shore to feed. Stripers also prefer cooler water, which is why they go deep during the hot daytime.
Some of the most popular spots to find stripers include the waters around Martha’s Vineyard (there is an annual Striped Bass tournament there every autumn), the beaches of Cape Cod, in the Cape Cod Canal (best results during the spring and fall migrations), and down to Block Island. Some private boat captains like to follow the charter boats that head offshore every morning, believing that those captains know where the big ones are lurking.
What to use
Striped bass will take a number of live and fresh baits, including bunker, clams, eels, sandworms, herring, bloodworms, mackerel, and shad, bluegills, worms, crayfish, bucktail jigs, silver spoons, and sassy shad baits.
In most Cape Cod waters, anglers report excellent success using live eels. Others report good success with a tube-and-worm rig, using live sandworms.
Anglers fishing from boats should utilize a good fish-finder sonar to look for schools, which usually congregate around bottom debris of some kind. Slow trolling is a favorite method of fishing, dropping the bait to near the bottom.
Striped bass has white meat with a mild flavor and a medium texture. It is extremely versatile in that it can be pan-seared, grilled, steamed, poached, roasted, broiled, sautéed, and deep fried (including batter-frying). The flesh can also be eaten raw or pickled.