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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
There are remarkable differences and some similarities between the spring and fall run of stripers in the Delaware Bay. In the spring, we will have two groups of stripers in our bay.

One is the resident population of fish. These are most sublegal size fish that nature has deemed too small to migrate due to predation problems for the species. Some legal size fish are also non migrators if they can find water bodies warm enough and food supplies adequate enough to sustain them through the winter.

Stripers will begin to enter our bay certainly by mid March. The migrators coming into the bay this time of year are the Delaware River spawners returning to their natal river where they were born. Icthyologists are not certain how fish find their way back to their river of birth but thoughts are that it has to do with earth magnetic fields, sun shadows, and/or chemical scents of the river. In any event, almost all of the big fish that come into our bay in March are our Delaware Bay stock of breeders. One way for scientists to assess the health of the bay breeding stock is to study the number of fish completing the spawning run.

The key to knowing where to fish for stripers in the spring rests in the biology of the species. I will refrain from mentioning specific spots as is the policy here on the barn, but speak in generalities.

Stripers are anadromous fish which means they live in salt water and move to fresh water to spawn. Stripers are classified in the fish realm as euryhaline which means their bodies can tolerate a variety of salinities. They are further classified as iteroparous which means they reproduce more then once (as opposed to fish like pacific salmon which are semelparous and reproduce once and die).

Is this terminology meaningless to us fishermen/women? I would suggest not. The fact that stripers are iteroparous dictates that if they are going to make a migratory run of over 100 miles, they are going to have to feed enough to keep their bodies in proper nutritional and reproductive status. And here lies the clue to finding them.............they need to eat! Some studies have shown that stripers like to migrate into an ebbing tide for 2-3 hours, then rest and feed as the current floods.

As we all know, the rather depleted herring and shad species enter the bay to perform the same migratory run, just preceding the stripers. They too must feed on their migratory run. These are an important forage species for stripers, but due to their diminished numbers, are probably no longer the primary forage for stripers.

Large schools of bunker enter the Delaware Bay every spring and were being caught in gill nets by local commercial bunker fishermen by midMarch last year. Schools of stripers are used to feeding on them and will often hone in upon them using pheromone scents.

So if stripers need to feed, where should we look for them?

Signs of diving gannets is certainly one clue. Snagging and redeploying bunker in this scenario is a very sucessful tactic. Drifting bunker baits or clam baits under diving birds is another tactic. Using artificials will work if the bay water is not too silted up. Bunker may show up in random areas as they migrate about the bay to their feeding grounds. Edges of channels, sloughs, lumps, etc. provide good opportunities for this reason. Also other food sources such as razor clams, mantis shrimp, immature fish species like ling, and young of year species inhabit these areas as well.

Another scenario is finding the warmer waters of the bay. Cold blooded fish like stripers will instinctively seek out warmer waters when subjected to the low 40 degree water common in the bay in March. Nature has taught them to seek out their own body comfort temperature range because their body systems function best. Also, fish have instinctively learned that their bait species will also be most prevalent in these warmer waters. Stripers will follow warm water filaments ebbing from up the bay on the outgoing tide.

In the shallows, a whole life system has emerged from the solar heating of the water. Silversides, grass shrimp, sand shrimp, mummichogs, bay anchovies, worm species like the polychaetes (sand worms, blood worms, clam worms) and the nematodes all become available for forage. Filter feeders like shad and herring often have their bellies packed with juvenile grass shrimp which have begun completing their own life cycle this time of year. Bunker too gorge on these tiny organisms as the filter the water for Phytoplankton and zooplankton plentiful in the more shallow waters. It is not unusual to find a striper's belly filled with 2-3 inch shrimp as well. Much forage exists for stripers in the shallow waters of our bay.
 

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This is a great read !!! Many points to remember this spring. You mentioned that mantis shrimp is often found in there diet as well. Has anyone had any luck with the gulp 3-4" product instead of bunker?:confused:
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Outstanding informative post Capt.Harv! I believe the time stripers enter, and exit, the bay is contingent on water temperature. Do you agree?
I think the timing of the migration is influenced by water temperatures. For example, some years, some stocks of stripers will overwinter in areas to our north if they can find warm enough waters and food of sufficient supply.

During the spring, the migratory and spawning urge is initiated by the effect of increasing photoperiod and its effect on the pineal gland and the subsequent change in thryroid/sex hormones in the stripers body. I think you are quite correct though, that the timing of the spawning run and exit from the bay are related to water temperatures. In reality, though, the timing is not effecting by more then two weeks at a maximum. For example, stripers spawn in early to midMay every year, with variation less then 2 weeks. Time and rate of exit from the bay seems to have somewhat more variability then the spawning run.
 

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Nice reading
But I believe there are a lot of big striper in the entire tidal river all winter long. It's just when the water gets cold they don't bite and we think they are not there - but they are. People have pick up some nice fish at the warm water discharge points in winter.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Masterchief.........Your comment is of great interest. Certainly there was a large overwintering population in years past which required the regulations that we still fish under closing the bay after Dec 31. During the fall run we have a good striper bite usually till around Thanksgiving, but some years a little longer like it was this year. A large portion of these fish are Chespeake reared fish which eventually leave and move south. After that very few large fish are caught in the bay by the Cape May fleet except during periods when fish still moving south stop in the lower bay to feed temporarily.

What percentage of Delaware estuary fish remain and overwinter in the upper bay and tidal waters is not known. It is my suspicion that most of our Delaware tributary spawners do not overwinter in our area, but instead move south to overwinter, but I do not know this for certain.
 

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Thanks for the very informative post and I have a question about spring stripers

I have seen other fresh water species do the same thing in early spring when they move into warmer shallower water that meets their comfort levels like you pointed out about stripers. But I do have a question that has gone unanswered for many years now about the spring striper run on the Delaware Bay and would like your thoughts on this subject.

Back about 12-15 years ago we had some of the very best fishing for larger stripers in late May and early June on the Cape May Rips drifting large eels at night only. It was before the popularity of bunker chunking up the bay like we see these days. Every spring I used to look forward to this time period since that was when the biggest stripers of the entire year could be caught drifting large eels as every striper we every caught at night was over 20 lbs with many in the 30-45 lb class and a few pushing almost 50 lbs. It was kind of unique fishing as very few boats fished at night back then in the late spring and we would often have the whole rips to ourselves on many nights plus we released most of the stripers as many of the anglers that fished with us did not like eating stripers especially the bigger ones and this really held true on Black Drum as the worms scared the heck out of our customers. None of these fish had roe in them and we always figured they were all post spawn fish leaving the Delaware Bay and heading north for the summer and the Cape May Rips were a feeding station prior to entering the open ocean. Many of the larger stripers we caught at night were loaded with spike weakfish and we used to catch these spikes all night long over at Slaughter Beach, DE when Black Drum fishing just to add some excitement with a little piece of squid on small hooks and very light tackle while we were waiting for a drum bite.

Well this changed big time in just a few years as this whole late spring run of stripers collapsed and all the traditional locations on the Rips held nothing but sharks and more sharks. Could it be these fish no longer stop and feed at night on the Rips due to lack of spike weakfish and just head north to where the large bunker schools located in June up around Sandy Hook? I truly have wondered about this for quite a few years now and I respect your knowledge so much I thought I would ask you what your thoughts might be on this subject. One of the reasons I posted this was when we had the real good late spring night fishing for stripers we seemed to have had some of the coldest winters and springs that resulted in the bay warming up later than normal which may have contributed to seeing stripers all the way into the first two weeks of June.

Thank you for all the great information you have shared over the years and I always learn something new from your posts.
 

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Have y'all noticed the collapse of the herring, shad and weakfish stocks since the resurgeance of striped bass ? Just proves that it may be tough to raise forage fish and a massive population of predators in the same bay.....

All the farmers in Kansas know that you can't raise chickens and foxes on the same ranch......I hate to say it, but it's possible to have too many of one species present for the good of the whole system and you have to decide what it is you're trying to raise........

What the fish managers ignore is the carrring capicity of the ranch (an ecosystem). I.E with the loss of wetlands and degradation of water quality in the Delaware Bay ecosystem..... (just how much biomass can the system sustain? There's a limit to how many stripers that bay will sustain before ALL of the forage fish will be gone!)

When the fish managers stop focusing on one species at a time and begin to to focus on the carrying capacity of an area and the biomass present in that area, then some balance will begin to appear in the managemnt process... until then, you'll have collapse after collapse of one species after another.....and more bureaucrats trying to manage their little piece of the system with season, size and bag limits..... and ignoring the rest.......

This brings me arround to equating the present fisheries management process with that of the communist economics The system doesn't work well because each agency/buearacrat manages it own piece (not very well because of the "peter principle").... That system ends up with overages, and lots of shortages..... just like our present fisheries management process......
 

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I have seen other fresh water species do the same thing in early spring when they move into warmer shallower water that meets their comfort levels like you pointed out about stripers. But I do have a question that has gone unanswered for many years now about the spring striper run on the Delaware Bay and would like your thoughts on this subject.

Back about 12-15 years ago we had some of the very best fishing for larger stripers in late May and early June on the Cape May Rips drifting large eels at night only. It was before the popularity of bunker chunking up the bay like we see these days. Every spring I used to look forward to this time period since that was when the biggest stripers of the entire year could be caught drifting large eels as every striper we every caught at night was over 20 lbs with many in the 30-45 lb class and a few pushing almost 50 lbs. It was kind of unique fishing as very few boats fished at night back then in the late spring and we would often have the whole rips to ourselves on many nights plus we released most of the stripers as many of the anglers that fished with us did not like eating stripers especially the bigger ones and this really held true on Black Drum as the worms scared the heck out of our customers. None of these fish had roe in them and we always figured they were all post spawn fish leaving the Delaware Bay and heading north for the summer and the Cape May Rips were a feeding station prior to entering the open ocean. Many of the larger stripers we caught at night were loaded with spike weakfish and we used to catch these spikes all night long over at Slaughter Beach, DE when Black Drum fishing just to add some excitement with a little piece of squid on small hooks and very light tackle while we were waiting for a drum bite.

Well this changed big time in just a few years as this whole late spring run of stripers collapsed and all the traditional locations on the Rips held nothing but sharks and more sharks. Could it be these fish no longer stop and feed at night on the Rips due to lack of spike weakfish and just head north to where the large bunker schools located in June up around Sandy Hook? I truly have wondered about this for quite a few years now and I respect your knowledge so much I thought I would ask you what your thoughts might be on this subject. One of the reasons I posted this was when we had the real good late spring night fishing for stripers we seemed to have had some of the coldest winters and springs that resulted in the bay warming up later than normal which may have contributed to seeing stripers all the way into the first two weeks of June.

Thank you for all the great information you have shared over the years and I always learn something new from your posts.
John, I know what you are saying about the rips. But and this is a big but. They every spring for the last few years have been crushing big bass right off of Cape May beach on clams! So for some reason those big bass are hugging tight to the beach. I've tried anchoring close enough to the beach that I could cast right up on it. NOTHING! But the guy's on the beach..Bent poles! Figure that one out, and we'll be in good shape!;)
 

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Capt Harv, this was an excellent read and spurred great discussion. I would just like to add that the bass seem to have become spolied with some of our brakish/fresh water delaware river tributaries. Quite a few times last yeah I was fishing for LMB on creeks/lakes that flow into the Big D and pulled in a Stripped Bass in July! Not huge but nice 20 inch bass. I didn't understand how they could tolerate the shallow warm water (less than 9 feet deep). Maybe they were post spawn bass just loading up on minnows, crayfish, bugs, and worms before the trip back out. 10-20 years ago I recall the striped bass bite in the big D to end in late may. I now see it going almost year long. The resident population seems larger and the spawners see to stick around longer. Just my 2 cents.

-Matt
 

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Capt Skip

I am well aware of the beach bite out front and just talked about this with a few of my local Cape May captain freinds the other day. I also know a few boats that tried to get in on this bite but just could not make it happen unless they were on the beach. A couple of the guys that mate for me caught some very nice fish and I may give it a try this spring myself. I used to fish from the surf for years with my dad at night for stripers when I lived up at Narragansett, RI and but we used big eels mostly at night and different than what we now see in our area. I gave away all my surf casting tackle when I got into the boat thing and my dad died and wish I had kept it now to give a shot this spring. Best of luck to everyone this coming season and again thank you Capt Harv for all the great information.

Skip on a side note: Heading back down to Morehead City, NC probably Sunday and not sure if we will try to run to the Bluefin bite up off Hatteras. It may be a little too far from MHC to the north but some of my freinds will be going on Saturday for Wahoo, maybe Yellowfins, Blackfins and some bottom fishing for sea bass which are abundant down there this time of year. What really surprised me is none of those stripers made it down as far a MHC this winter and I thought for sure they would with so much cold water to the north lately.
I apologize as I do not want to hijack Capt Harv's great post about spring stripes in any way.
 

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I am well aware of the beach bite out front and just talked about this with a few of my local Cape May captain freinds the other day. I also know a few boats that tried to get in on this bite but just could not make it happen unless they were on the beach. A couple of the guys that mate for me caught some very nice fish and I may give it a try this spring myself. I used to fish from the surf for years with my dad at night for stripers when I lived up at Narragansett, RI and but we used big eels mostly at night and different than what we now see in our area. I gave away all my surf casting tackle when I got into the boat thing and my dad died and wish I had kept it now to give a shot this spring. Best of luck to everyone this coming season and again thank you Capt Harv for all the great information.

Skip on a side note: Heading back down to Morehead City, NC probably Sunday and not sure if we will try to run to the Bluefin bite up off Hatteras. It may be a little too far from MHC to the north but some of my freinds will be going on Saturday for Wahoo, maybe Yellowfins, Blackfins and some bottom fishing for sea bass which are abundant down there this time of year. What really surprised me is none of those stripers made it down as far a MHC this winter and I thought for sure they would with so much cold water to the north lately.
I apologize as I do not want to hijack Capt Harv's great post about spring stripes in any way.
I have friends fishing down out of OI tomorrow for the BF's. I think they were taking a flat of sardines with them too, just to see if they would eat them. one would think they are the same fish as at the lobster claw.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Capt John...........Before I respond to you, I want to thank you for all of the fine information you share with all of us too.

I think the answer to your question has several facets. One reason for the decline in the spring fishery in the Delaware Bay in general is that the Delaware Bay spawning stock is in a state of decline as is the overall spawning stock biomass (SSB) of our striper population. Also, I believe the health of the Cape May rips has deteriorated due to the silting effect created by beach replenishment projects. The mussel beds that used to abound in the rips no longer seem to be present.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you spoke of the lack of the large schools of weakies that we used to have in our bay in the spring. Striped bass expend an enormous amount of energy to make their migratory runs and need to stay in constant contact with their bait sources. Not only do we not have the young of the year (YOY) weakies in the lower bay, we also do not have the mass of the herring and shad species exiting the bay that we used to, due to a decline in those forage species.

It always used to amaze me how successful eels were at night. Can you imagine trying to see eels in the water at night. I believe stripers pick up the scent of the eels and use that scent to get in close enough range to see them. I think the same effect was present with the schools of weakies that brought the big fish in to feed. All fish release scents........pheromones from the slime on their surfaces, and scents from their excrements. Stripers feed into the current to find their bait species in this manner. Without the scents of massive schools of these types forage fish, they are less likely to show up in that area.

The bite in late May and early June was a combination of Delaware estuary spawned fish and Chesapeake reared fish that are working their way north. There is still a large enough population of Chesapeake spawners that we would still have a good spring rip fishery if the bait profile was large enough to keep them feeding in the rips.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
hesa.fishguy........Thank you for your very excellent reply. Your comments on predator-prey relationships are very astute. It took a long time for nature to establish the proper balances between prey and predators and also between competing predators. Probably long before humans became involved, our species had fluctuations due to climate change, disease, and weather patterns, but never the fluctuations we cause now.

Our fishery management programs leave alot to be desired. Much frustration exists in some very competent people who are trying to get our fisheries in proper balance. The march on Washington next week is about the lack of flexibility in the Magnuson reauthorization. Our river herring species mix with ocean herring once they leave our bays and have been overfished by netters. Omega protein down in Virginia harvests an unhealty amount of bunker, a very important forage species. Weakfish were allowed to decline due to some massive overfishing that went on unchecked. Many factors are preventing them from rebuilding. Spiny dogfish are at unprecedented numbers.

Beside predator/prey imbalances, we also have predator/predator imbalances. Ecosystem management is something NMFS should put as a top priority but doesn't fund those programs.
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
Capt Skip......I too heard about the beach striper bite this past spring using both clams and bunker. I also heard about guys fishing close to our beach and snagging bunker and recasting to the schools. As you know, both stripers and baitfish tend to migrate inshore at night and it is my understanding that the best bite was at night and very early in the AM. I predict that this spring you will figure out the pattern and put your anglers on the fish as you always do.
 
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