Striped bass is a big fish, and as such, a favorite among fishermen. However, it migrates, just like many other fish species, and it can’t always be available for catching. But how does it migrate, why and when does it return?
Striped bass migrates because of the changing temperatures of the water. They migrate in schools, stopping by bays and rivers to spawn and moving up north as the summer comes along. They move back south around fall.
There are numerous factors that affect striped bass migration and more fun things to know about this popular fish. Especially so if you want to catch it, so, if you want to learn more, read on.
Striped Bass Migration: Everything You Need To know
The striped bass has several names like rockfish, rock, striper, or linesider. This is a big fish that can grow up to 100 pounds (45kg), although most striped bass fish don’t weigh that much.
The majority of the striped bass weighs around 50 pounds (22kg), and females, who are heavier, can go up to 70 pounds (31kg). The largest striped bass ever caught was found in 1896, and it weighed 124 pounds (56kg). They are usually 20 to 35 inches (50 to 90cm).
They have a long lifetime as well; they can live for 30 years. This fish is very popular in the U.S, and as such, it’s the state fish in South Carolina, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
Here’s a great video from On The Water Media where you can see how popular and fun to catch Striped Bass.
Video credit: On The Water Media
It’s generally found on the East Coast of the U.S., and it’s not the same as the Gulf of Mexico striped bass, which is called Gulf Coast striped bass. They are native to the Atlantic coastline, but they migrate. They can live both in saltwater and in freshwater, but they spawn in freshwater.
They have been introduced into the Pacific as well, and in many different areas like Russia, South Africa, Ecuador, Iran, etc. As a result of adaptation, you can find them in lakes and ponds, even though they spend most of their lives in saltwater.
The main areas of striped bass breeding are Cape Cod, Hudson River, Chesapeake Bay, and Delaware River. The largest breeding area is in the Chesapeake Bay.
You can find freshwater striped bass in the Colorado River, Lake Weiss, Lake Texoma, etc. These strains have been adapted to these conditions, and they can spend their lives there.
Some coastal striped bass schools can even venture out 100 miles into the continent and spawn there. They will spawn as temperatures rise up to 60°F. This generally happens during spring.
Their spawning process generally involves one sexually mature female and several sexually mature males. The eggs need to move while hatching, so they need water that moves, which is why they like rivers. Adult striped bass will eat herrings, alewife, etc.
There are some important distinctions to make here, so you know you’ve caught striped bass and not another species. For one, bass belongs to the Morone family, and it’s the largest of all sea bass.
However, it’s often mixed up with species that belong to sunfish varieties. These fish are often spotted bass and species like large and smallmouth.
What makes the bass different from other similar fishes is the fin, which splits into several portions, their silver color with the green on the back and their bellies white. When you find striped bass, there will be up to seven stripes on their sides.
You could also find a younger bass, which looks like a white bass. However, the important distinction is in the tooth patches. Open their mouth — if they have one tooth patch, then it’s a white bass, but it’s a young striped bass if they have two.
You can spot the difference even on the gills, as a white bass will have only one sharp area on them where a striped bass will have two.
The problem with striped bass is that their behavior always varies from one individual to the other. Some take longer to reach adulthood; some take less time. The same would be true of their migration while they travel where the temperature suits them and the areas they can spawn.
After spawning in appropriate areas, they tend to leave them and travel further north. If the bass isn’t mature yet, they will move on to the north without sticking around to spawn.
Females swim a lot faster than males. But still, males mature sooner, so they will already be in the process of migration for several years.
Different strains end up at various locations, depending on where they spawned. Some don’t go further than New Jersey, while some move further north.
Most will spend the summer months where it’s colder, but the winter around warmer areas. For example, one of their favorite autumn hangouts can be the Gulf of Maine.
During spring, though, they will venture out into their favorite spawning locations, so you might be lucky enough to catch them further inland during this process.
The water needs to be just right and have just enough movement for them to spawn. This generally happens around April or May. But by July, they will already move on to colder areas to avoid the heat of the summer.
Their spawning process starts when a female releases eggs near a male, and then the male releases milt, and the eggs get fertilized. At the beginning of their sexual maturity, a female will release around 400,000 eggs, which will increase as they age and gain more maturity.
For example, at the end of their life, a female might be able to produce around 4 million eggs.
Their eggs’ strength is in the numbers, so that’s why they lay so many eggs. When fertilized, the eggs will sink to the bottom, in which case they won’t hatch, or they will remain stuck in the current, and they will grow to become striped bass.
The eggs will hatch within three days into larvae, which will continue to be fed by the yolk sac. This will last for a short amount of time before the larvae start eating microorganisms in the water. This stage lasts for up to six weeks, but it can be shorter as well.
After that, they will start to look more like real fish, so they will begin to form groups. Now, these groups could have thousands of young striped bass. As time goes on, they will move closer to the sea.
Most of the young ones will stick to the offshore for their first autumn and cold season. Every year, they will move further, getting closer to the real migration from North Carolina to New England.
This will happen when they become sexually mature, but this process will last for more than three years. Some groups, however, will always stick to one area, moving just slightly. Some younger bass will even follow the adults through the entire migration process.
Why Does Striped Bass Migrate?
Bass migration mainly has to do with their temperature preference. They prefer cooler to mild waters, with temperatures ranging from 55 to 68° F (12 to 20℃).
They follow this temperature year-long. The two prominent migrations are the spring migration and fall migration. The migration is the best time for striped bass fishing.
Video credit: On The water
They move from Virginia and North Carolina and their deep waters to the north, where the water is cooler in the spring. They will make several stops along the way, mostly in the Hudson River, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Delaware River. As they spawn, they move on to cooler water, ending up in the New England waters.
They spend most of the summer in the north, where the water is just right for them, but as the fall comes along, those waters get too cool for them, and they move further south where the waters start cooling off.
This happens as many different small fish move south, so the stripers have a lot of food and plenty of time to get fatter for the winter. Their favorite food during this migration might be fish like silversides.
When they meet the pods of baitfish, they might stick around that area longer, so you can hunt them during that time. Of course, the best sign of a potential pod being around are the birds circling that area.
They will migrate until December when they will be around New Jersey. In January, they can be seen in Virginia waters. They will spend the majority of Winter in North Carolina waters.
In conclusion, these migrations’ main reasons are the hanging temperatures, as stripers look for that perfect middle ground between cool and medium. Their movement can be slightly affected by bait pods.
How Are Striped Bass Migrating?
Stripers have a long lifetime, so the way they migrate depends on their age. You will find young stripers closer to the shore in their first few years in rivers or bays. That’s where adult stripers come to breed and spawn so that most stripers will grow up.
They will prefer the temperatures around 45℉ (7℃). That’s when they feed, and they will be easy to catch during the spring. Fish them during the day in the shallower water.
They will move further into the ocean as the temperatures rise. Sometimes they can be caught during the night, but experienced fishermen should do this.
Adult stripers move because of the water temperature in schools. They follow the medium temperature and stop by in calmer areas to spawn and breed. However, the temperatures are not always the same at the same time every year.
For example, storms can affect temperatures, hurricanes, etc. So, the timing of their movement will change according to that. They might move earlier or later.
In the fall, they will look for baitfish, as they are trying to get fatter for the cold season, but they will stay around 100 yards (91m) away from the shore, as they will fear the light.
They will not be within the surf fishermen’s casting range, but you can easily catch them if you venture out on a boat. Always check if it’s legal to catch them when they are far out because it’s not legal to catch them when they are in certain zones.
When Are Striped Bass Returning?
Striped bass can live both in saltwater and freshwater. They spend their adulthood in saltwater, but they go to freshwaters to spawn. As mentioned, their main spawning spots are the Chesapeake Bay, the Hudson River, and Delaware Bay.
Smaller ones will be the first to arrive up north, but they won’t stick around these spawning areas as they are immature and won’t spawn. Striped bass reaches adulthood and thus the spawning age at three years old when it comes to males, but the females mature much later, at 4 to 6 years of age.
The larger striped bass will come to spawn in the Chesapeake Bay around March, especially around the middle of the month, but this will depend on the temperatures of the water. They will arrive at the Delaware River around April, and then they will be at the Hudson River soon after that.
Different stocks move at different times and have different habits, but the Chesapeake area is the most visited one when it comes to spawning. This is where the newest striped bass comes from. Every year, the bass will come at different times, but you can expect them in the north around winter and early spring months.
In general, science hasn’t yet determined if they move according to a certain pattern or they move because of the environment — temperature, food availability, etc.
What Are The Different Techniques To Catch Striped Bass?
Striped bass is a popular fish among fishermen, and there are many ways that you can catch them. Of course, it takes a bit of learning to master successful techniques. Some of the most popular techniques are:
- Night fishing
- Surf fishing
- Fly fishing
Of course, depending on various elements, some of these techniques work better than others in certain situations.
Trolling is another great way to catch striped bass. Many fishermen recommend it as the best way to do it, but this depends on your preference.
Arguably, it could be an excellent way to catch them because you can cover more space at once and find the striped bass school. You can gauge the area where they are and the depth that they are at, so you can also control your lure.
Many fishermen will have multiple lures out, and this improves their odds of catching excellent specimens.
Striped bass loves the night — they love feeding during the dark, and they love that there’s no light. So, the nighttime may be the perfect time to catch them.
However, you may need a bit more experience — and courage — to do this. You’ll need a good source of light to help you navigate. You can also get a light that can be put into water and thus attract bait, which will attract the bass.
Use darker lure or bait and make sure that you stay safe at all times. Fishing during the night can be amazing, especially if it’s for striped bass.
Fly fishing is a good choice if you want to fish when the light is mild. This is usually in the late afternoon, close to the nighttime, and very early in the morning.
Striped bass is often wary of the light, so they don’t venture out that close to the shore during the hottest hours of the day. However, during those few hours of the early morning and early evening, they are more likely to search for food closer to the water surface.
This is when you can catch them through fly fishing. You might have a harder time catching these fish for other times in the day, so you will likely have to have more equipment that can go deeper into the water.
Bringing more rods could help you find the exact depth that they are at. In this case, the trick — and once you find them — is to pull the line quickly and thus make the bait resemble the fish more.
If you don’t have a way of getting to the open waters, you probably want to know how to catch these fish from the shore. The good news is that this is more than possible, and people in New York and New Jersey enjoy catching striped bass when they are around that area.
You should find good bait and test several of them so you can find out what they want to eat at that particular moment. Launching the line from the beach can also help you determine at which distance to aim.
You should also try fishing from piers or similar objects that go into the water, where it’s deeper since you will have a much easier time catching bass there.
Useful Tips for Catching Striped Bass
There are different techniques for catching striped bass. There are also useful tips that could help you reel them in. Here are some of them, and a great video that can help you see some of these tips in action:
Video credit: Surfcaster Journal
Use a Teaser
A teaser could be an excellent choice as something to add on to your lure when the stripers won’t bite. This can attract their attention quickly and help you catch them with more ease. This is especially true during the night. The teaser may weigh you down a bit when casting, but it may be worth a try.
Use the Murky Waters
Bass are also wary of catching lures when the water is clear. This makes them see better, and it’s not as simple to catch them. However, you can find some murkier water where your lure will do nothing but attract them.
You can time your casts as the waves break and catch bass. Lures that can stick to the surface are a good idea, but you should find ones that can go below the surface.
Another good tip for the dirty waters is to use a fluorocarbon leader and then cast it. You probably won’t have to do much about this, but instead, just let it sit around the area where the bass is.
They will quickly catch on, and you’ll have a cooler full of bass. Sometimes, the regular bait won’t work, so you have to go with another method.
The point is to test things out before seeing what works. And what works for other fishermen around you may not work for you, so switch things up. This should also go for clear waters. Bombers are a good thing to try, but you can get any style of the plug and see what happens.
Fish During the Night
If you are fishing during the late day hours, you might have some bad luck with any lure you cast into the water. But, the fact is that bass doesn’t like staying close to the surface when it’s light outside.
So, waiting for a few hours, so it’s dark, might help you catch more fish than normal. Of course, some people don’t like to fish during the night, but it’s an excellent adventure, and you’ll probably get more luck this way.
Bass likes to hunt and feed during the night, so that’s when they will take any lure. Make sure that you stay safe, bring some lights, and enough emergency gear.
Get Real Bait
Artificial lures may be effective, but the best fish out there is all about the real thing. So, you probably won’t mind spending some time finding the right bait for these excellent fish. Especially the bigger specimens tend to like the real bait the best.
You can try all sorts of different bait to see what they want to eat that night. The real bait will attract them more easily than a lure, even though a colorful lure may better grab their attention in the dirty waters.
Be Quick When Retrieving
Striped bass is infamous for being really strong and pulling far. They struggle a lot, and they can tire you out before you know it. This commonly happens in ideal conditions when you can see through the calm waters.
To avoid it, you would have to be quicker than the bass or at least pull in quicker than you usually would.
The lure’s yanking motion can attract the bass and make it much easier to catch them without much struggle. Bass are predators, and they like to chase after something that seems to be running from them.
So, the speed will grab their attention, and they’ll be hooked soon after. They are really quick as well.
You can use artificial lures this way as well. Anything that can mimic the real deal is an excellent choice. For example, try red fins, Polaris, bombers, etc. They will have no problem catching your lure if you go a bit faster.
Play With the Colors of Your Lures
The color of your lure could be detrimental to your success. The thing is, different colors work in different settings, so you should experiment with that as well.
For example, if the water is very clear, and there are no waves disturbing the peace, the bass will be able to see an unnatural color of your lure in the water.
So, they might not go for it. However, they will not be threatened by some of the more natural colors, as you might see in the creatures that they actually eat.
These are the best solution if you want the bass to grab on quickly. As a bonus, the more realistic the lure looks, the better your chances of making a great catch.
If you’re fishing in the dark or if the water is dirty and murky, try out some of the more colorful bait you have in your collection. Anything that might catch the attention of the bass in the dark water is a great choice.
This can be yellow, orange, blue, green, pink, etc. Color combinations work as well, especially if you combine them with more natural colors.
Striped bass is a favorite fish among fishermen, and for a good reason — they are big, tasty, and a real challenge to catch. However, to catch them, you need to know a lot about their migratory patterns and where they are at certain times.
Keep in mind that striped bass will migrate according to the water’s temperature, which will largely affect where they will come and when.
So, rather than following their patterns, make sure that you understand the water temperatures in your area. Learn how to catch them properly and enjoy fishing for this wonderful fish.
Marine Ecology Progress Series: Estimating the food requirements of striped bass larvae Morone saxatilis: effects of light, turbidity, and turbulence
Taylor and Francis Online: Striped Bass Management in Lakes with Emphasis on Management Problems
Taylor and Francis Online: Standard Weights (Ws ) for Striped Bass, White Bass, and Hybrid Striped Bass
Science Direct: Physiological stress in striped bass: effect of acclimation temperature
American Fisheries Society: Striped Bass, Temperature, and Dissolved Oxygen: A Speculative Hypothesis for Environmental Risk
Sea Grant: Understanding the Origins and Growth Rates of Juvenile Striped Bass in Small Rivers and Coastal Bays, Part II [UPDATE]
University of Massachusetts Amherst: Movement Patterns and Catch-and-Release
Impacts of Striped Bass in a Tidal Coastal Embayment in Massachusetts
NC State University: Striped Bass
Virginia Institute Of Marine Science: Life History of Striped Bass
EDC: Striped Bass (Morone saxatilis)