The great sport fish, the striped bass, is making its way up the eastern seaboard, and the buzz with local anglers is palatable. Most stripers that come to Massachusetts Bay wintered in Chesapeake Bay with its rich estuaries and moderate temperatures. Each spring they begin their journey north in search of food. They're due.
The food of choice around here are herring. Three herring spawning brooks feed the North River and are aptly named the First Herring Brook (in Scituate), the Second Herring Brook (in Norwell, where my father had a trap line behind his house as a kid), and the Third Herring Brook, the boundary separating Norwell and Hanover. Over the past several years, the North and South Rivers Watershed Association has led an effort to remove dams from these brooks. Dams had powered mills back in the day, but lost their economic usefulness decades ago. Their removal has paid off big in the resurgence of herring stock. Even native trout, gold standard habitat seekers, have returned to these brooks.
Resurgent herring bring more than striped bass. The North River is alive with cormorants and ducks, egrets and great blue herons, and osprey and eagles. Every fisherman knows, here there are water fowl, there are fish.
The herring count in 2019 has been epic. Stop at the Third Herring Brook where River Street (Norwell) becomes Broadway (Hanover), through a pair of polarized glasses be amazed at the number of herring making their way up-stream. This food supply is why Stripers like the North River and nearby ocean.
Today (early May) in Massachusetts Bay the water temperatures are getting to the high 40’s, so the migrating fish aren’t be far behind. Edgartown water is now at 50 degrees (in early May); Plymouth and Mattapoisett are at 49. These temperatures are a few weeks late this year with all the rain and cloud cover (often the first fish arrive the third week in April). But they're where the fish are comfortable enough to begin feeding here.
A lot of fishing is done alone, or with a single fishing buddy. I personally like the alone time. But fishing can be a great community event, such as the annual NSRWA fishing tournament, happening in just a few weeks, the weekend of June 7-9. That linked page will also describes many best fishing practices.
The overall striper population is under pressure on the East coast. Overfishing and loss of spawning habitat in the Chesapeake are two commonly cited reasons. With recreational anglers taking 75% of the fish (commercial fishermen taking the rest), a careful harvest is in everyone’s best interests.
Studies estimate a 9% mortality rate by recreational fishermen of caught and released striped bass . What can a recreational angler do to keep more fish alive?
- Know the regulations. This year in Massachusetts the fish must be 28” long to keep; you may possess only one. If you do keep a fish, filet, ice, and eat is as soon as possible. On the grill with a just a little mayo and fresh chopped dill is my favorite.
- Retrieve quickly: don’t wait till the fish is so exhausted that it will die when you unhook and release it.
- Skilled anglers remove multiple treble hooks from lures leaving only tail hooks to avoid fouling and facilitate hook removal. You’ll still catch fish that bite, but you’ll always remove one hook faster than two, increasing the fish’s chance of survival.
- Return the fish to water as quickly as possible. This fish has just fought for its life and needs oxygen which it won't get above water. If your landed fish is listless, help it get water through its gills by gently pushing it back and forth through the water. If successful, the fish will gain consciousness and take off. You'll know.
- This last one can be hard: release the monsters, like this holdover I caught last May Female stripers are the bigger fish, and they carry thousands of eggs. Let the really big ones go. The meat isn't as good, or as healthy, either.
Respect the water and the habitat. Most fishermen are great stewards of our natural resources: that’s why we’re out there in all kinds of weather at all times of the day. Retrieve debris including all your own line and we’ll all continue to enjoy the great outdoors, and with any luck, even catch a fish or two.