Species Profile: Striped Bass
Massachusetts Saltwater Fishing
Striped bass is our most sought-after species, providing great sport through catch and release fishing and great eating when you catch a “keeper”. Striped bass is one of the largest fish available to the nearshore angler. Fish range from 1 pound to over 60 pounds.
Location: Whole coast surf, inshore bars, reefs, tide-rips, bays, and estuaries.
Season: Mid April-October
Baits and Lures: Seaworms, eels, squid, herring; jigs, plugs, spinners, spoons.
Methods and Tackle: Casting from shore, boat-trolling; light to heavy tackle.
Mass. Saltwater Fishing Derby Minimum Weight: 35 lb.
The most iconic and important fish for recreational anglers in Massachusetts is without a doubt the striped bass. Whether fishing from shore or a boat, these fish are readily available in a wide range of sizes for all anglers. It doesn’t matter if you’re throwing eels, soaking bait, or casting lures… the striped bass will bite and you will have a blast catching them!
Striped bass range from the St. Lawrence River in Canada to the St. John’s River in Florida; however the stock is managed from Maine through North Carolina. Most striped bass spend their adult lives in coastal estuaries or the open ocean. Sexually mature fish move upstream into freshwater rivers to spawn during spring months in areas of the Mid-Atlantic including Chesapeake Bay and the Hudson River. The larvae and juveniles remain in coastal areas for two to four years before joining the migratory population in the ocean.
The migration of striped bass from their Southern range into our Massachusetts coastal waters begins in late spring and early summer. The first fish to show up in areas of Buzzards Bay and Cape Cod are the “schoolie” bass. These are fish that are not recreationally legal in size but tend to aggregate in large numbers and are a lot of fun to catch and release after a long New England winter. These small bass continue moving north along coastal Massachusetts waters, with schools of larger, keeper bass (28+ inches in length) following shortly after. Striped bass remain in Massachusetts coastal waters until the fall months when they begin their migration back south for the winter.
The main reason these fish travel such distances to spend their summers on our coast is food. Striped bass are here to eat and they will target a wide variety of bait including mackerel, river herring, sea herring, sand lance (sand eels), menhaden, lobsters, crabs, and more! If you can match the food that they are targeting you’ll have a much better chance of getting them to take your bait.
If you’re fishing for striped bass be sure to outfit yourself with the proper gear, including a rod and reel that can handle the bigger fish if you happen to hook into one. This will allow you to bring the fish in to shore or the boat relatively quickly and in better shape for survival if it is going to be released. The use of a circle hook will keep the fish from being mortally injured by the hook as they almost always are caught in the lip or corner of the mouth. Circle hooks are easily used with both live and dead bait.
If you are going to keep a striped bass to eat, be sure to bleed the fish soon after catching it and get it on ice right away. Doing so will keep the flesh firm and make it easier to prepare later on. It is recommended that you remove the darker strip of meat when you filet, as this cut can have a very strong flavor that many people do not enjoy. Striped bass is a versatile meat and can be prepared in many different ways, from frying to poaching, baking and grilling. Finally, don’t forget to collect the “cheeks” from the head, which rival a sea scallop in taste and tenderness!
So grab your rod, some bait, a few packs of circle hooks, and your saltwater fishing permit and get out there to catch the mighty striped bass!