September is a special time in New England because all our fisheries are on fire. It is like the grand finale of a fireworks show; the fishing explodes, then cold weather hits and it’s all over. In early September big stripers are getting together to head south, heavily feeding as they go. Getting on good bites for big fish is as much about timing as it is about knowing where to fish. These bigger fish leave their mid-season haunts and spend more time looking for larger than average baitfish to fuel their long migration.
I’ve had so many great nights striper fishing in September, but there is one that stands out in my memory. It was a great night because my plan came together despite really bad weather, and I was able to use the tough conditions to stay on some quality fish.
I fish odd hours, partly because of my day job, partly because of my family, and mostly because I like to fish when big bass are on the prowl which is typically at night. Targeting stripers during the day can be very effective, but day time fish are often picky unless they are chasing baitfish. Big stripers tend to be efficient feeders; the bigger fish optimize their feeding opportunities so that they spend the least effort to get the most calories. Big stripers have great night vision and tend to be much more active after dark when they can more easily ambush bait fish as well as find lobsters and crabs.
Early September in 2011 we had a good influx of decent size bass with many fish in the 15 to 25 pound range and a good possibility of finding a much larger fish. The weather hadn’t been very good and some spots were unfishable due to big waves and the wind direction. I had a few days off and I planned on getting out as much as I could, but the weather forecast wasn’t in my favor.
My plan was to hit a big, fast moving rip. This night the tide wasn’t particularly big by Boston standards with a tide change around 9.5’ at midnight. Big stripers aren’t always fond of giant tides; bigger tides mean more moving water and more calories expended while fighting the current. The big fish conserve their energy and will often sit back when currents are strongest and feed when the current is slow. Because the tide shift was not big, I knew that there was a good chance that big fish would be on the prowl.
I hit the water a little after 9 pm; the spot that I wanted to target is best the last 2 hours of the incoming, so I would be able to fish it during the peak time. As soon as I was rigged and ready to go, I hit the water, pedaling as fast as I could. I was glad to be fishing alone, as a runner and sometimes biker I like to go fast in my Hobie, and it is nice not to have to wait for anyone to catch up. All alone in the dark, I covered the mile to my spot pretty quickly!
A few casts in I hit that magical 2 hours before the tide period and the stripers turned on. At first it was the smaller, low 30” fish eating my plastic, but soon I picked up a couple 38”-39” fish. I was into some solid fish and a decent bite, boating about eight fish before the tide slacked. I had anticipated catching fish over the 40” mark, but hadn’t been able to break it despite boating a couple 39” fish.
As the tide slacked, the wind took over and I had to pedal constantly just to stay in one spot, if I was in a paddle kayak, my night would have ended here, but I was waiting for the tide to turn. Around Boston, slack water doesn’t last for long, even our small tides are big and slack water usually doesn’t last for more than 30 minutes. Stripers shift their spots as the tide changes, they face the current and when the current changes direction, they choose the best spot to hang.
I spent the time during the tide change looking around and getting a bit frustrated by the wind. There was no hiding from it and the wind was shifting a little more to the east which would put it at an angle to the outgoing tide. I knew that the wind wouldn’t kick up big waves, but it would make it difficult to stay in the best spots.
As the tide started to roll, I found a pocket of low 30” bass and caught a few before they moved along. As I was looking for more, a boater pulled up to me and complained about how slow the fishing was. I didn’t mention to him that I had boated close to a dozen fish already (wink)! Boaters can have a tough time in the rips, they either troll through the rips which spooks fish or they motor up to the top of the rip and drift through it very quickly. I use my pedals to hang in the sweet spot of the rip and the kayaks don’t really spook the fish. Because of this I find that kayakers often land many more fish than boaters in these difficult spots.
By now the wind had cranked up a few more knots, it was blowing close to 20 and the current was going full blast. It was after 1 am and I was tired, I had caught more than a dozen legal sized stripers, but I hadn’t caught the bigger fish above 40” that I had expected. The wind was making it hard for me to stay on the spot, but I planned to stay just one more hour to see if the big fish would turn on.
And then it happened. The wind dropped to just the right speed and was actually holding me in the exact spot that I wanted to be in. I cast my 13” Hogy across the current and felt it hit bottom in about 15’ of water. The current was running hard, so I barely cranked as I swam the lure just above the bottom. This hit was unmistakable and I soon had another upper 30” fish at the boat. A couple casts later I had a bit more solid hookup, this fish took off down current towing me against the wind with ease. A few minutes later I pulled a 43” striper to the side of my Revolution; we had a short chat and she swam off no worse for the fight.
Even though it was now 2 am, I wasn’t quite ready to go. I liked the way the wind and current had set up and the last fish gave me confidence that bigger fish were on the prowl. I got back to my spot and let the wind push me into a pocket in the current; I threw a long cross current cast a bit upstream and let the big plastic settle to the bottom. The tide was running so strong that I didn’t even need to reel; I started bouncing the jig in the current and allowing it to swing to the current edge. There is a certain feeling when a big striper eats big bait, they are vacuum feeders and have a very large mouth, when they suck in a big bait in one gulp, it is a very powerful hit. That was the type of hit I got! I reeled down into the fish quickly and came very tight to what was obviously a large fish.
The braid was running hard off the reel and I could see by my GPS that I was getting pulled over 3 mph! The fish pulled me out into the fastest part of the current and was swimming directly down current. This was a solid fish and the direction that it headed took it away from all snags and rocks, I was fighting it over sandy bottom. After ten minutes I was a long way from where I had hooked up and I still hadn’t seen the fish.
Stripers are good but not great fighters. They will put up a good effort, but once you roll them on their sides, they are done and usually easy to land. This fish was staying upright and not turning on its side despite a long battle. It was so dark I couldn’t see the fish at all during the fight; it surfaced several times and threw quite a bit of water with its tail, so I knew it was pretty big. Finally she turned on her side, but the wind made it difficult to get her the last few feet to the boat. I was finally able to reach out and grab her jaw— the jaw filled my hand!
It was a good size fish at 48” and over 40 pounds; not my biggest, but one of my most memorable. Catching her was a satisfying end to a tough night of fishing, the weather made everything I did more difficult, but I stuck to my plans and fished the spots that I wanted to. I worked the spot over as well as I could give the conditions and finally got the payoff I was looking for.
She posed for a few pictures with me, then I held her in the water next to the kayak to regain her power. By the time I was ready to release her, I was about a mile down current from where I hooked her. I held her by the jaw and slowly pedaled along letting the water flow over her gills. It didn’t take long before she was swimming along with me, finally with a big headshake and a splash of her tail she was gone.
By now it was after 2 am and I was beat from 5 hours of fishing hard and pedaling against the wind and current. It was time to head in. The pedal home was with the wind at my back, but after ending the night the way I did, I think I would have been comfortable pedaling up wind all the way to the car!