With the extremely low temperatures of late throughout much of the northeast, many striped bass anglers are content to wait for the spring migration to begin. But don’t think that just because it’s cold outside that the only people catching big stripers are the lucky anglers who winter in the Carolinas.
From New Jersey to South Carolina, winter striper fishing may be better than ever. The most productive areas are those closest to the winter homes of striped bass like the Hudson River in New York and New Jersey. In Virginia, it’s the Roanoke; further south it’s Cape Charles and Cape Hattaras. Though feeding may slow down when the water drops below 50 degrees, stripers can still be caught on the coldest days of the coldest winter – just don’t forget to bundle up before you start pounding the coastline for these wonderful sport fish.
One of the most popular tactics for targeting winter striped bass is to closely observe the feeding habits of fishing birds. Watch for gannets and gulls diving for herring and surface swirls. These schools of baitfish have been pushed to the surface, often by feeding stripers. For casting into bait balls, try tipping a heavy (4-ounce) jig with a Berkley Gulp! 7-inch Jerk Shad in a color that matches the pattern of the baitfish that the stripers are chasing. Cast into the bait ball and let sink to the bottom. The scent of the bait will disperse like a blood trail and tell the feeding stripers that it’s food. Once the bait is on the bottom, fish it slowly – bouncing it up and down – and allow the scent to disperse.
Another good way to target winter stripers is to grab the surf gear and find an area within casting distance that has decent structure. When fishing the shoreline, look for riprap and sandbars as they will hold large numbers of stripers and hybrids. Try tipping large jigs with Gulp! Peeler Crabs or cast a 3 1/2-ounce Berkley PowerBait Ready-to-Fish Eel. These Ready-to-Fish baits are great because they are already pre-rigged and ready to go: just tie them on and cast them around structure. Plus, with these high-powered artificial baits, you don’t have to spend big money every time you go out on bait that you might not get to use and you get all the fish-catching scent that you get with live bait.
The spring striped bass migration will be here before you know it, but in the meantime, don’t let some cold weather and wind keep you from pursuing your passion for fishing. There’s still fish to be caught, so dress warm and be prepared to tell all your friends what they’ve been missing.