Striped Bass and Tuna sit as 1 and 1A at the top of popular and targeted species in Massachusetts. With the tremendous variety of fish available, these two remain atop the list. The Striped Bass in particular has fueled the addiction and imaginations of so many young anglers who pass their love of fishing down from one generation on to the next.
As a child, I spent more time fishing for flounder, haddock, and mackerel than I did Striped Bass. I've probably caught more Scup with my father than I have Stripers. In my 20's and early 30's, I started fishing for them more and more. The number of techniques to target them and the huge variety of conditions and environments one can target them started to give me a sense of why so many consider them such a beloved fish. During my time fishing each season, Striped Bass Fishing is still in the minority of my overall fishing time. On any given trip I likely will try my hand at catching a Striped Bass for an hour or two, but on just about every trip, there is another species I target that takes up more of fishing time.
As perhaps many anglers have heard, the ASMFC, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Division, took what is being called, 'Emergency Action,' in enacting changes to the slot size allowable for the recreational harvest of Striped Bass. The announcement for the state of Massachusetts is below with a link to the website page itself below.
The concern over the stock and the harvest last year does not surprise me. In 2022, here locally near me, recreational anglers had a high concentration of striped bass available to them off Plymouth for a prolonged period of time and this same biomass of fish was fished hard by the commercial fleet as well. The 'Plymouth Pogy Party' as it was referenced in some circles in Massachusetts was perhaps a once in a lifetime fishing event. A similar concentrated biomass was seen near the Hudson River system, Raritan Bay, and Boston Harbor all with relatively easy access.
What is curious about the announcement, is timing. For some of the states impacted by this announcement south of Cape Cod, you are in the midst of your spring Striped Bass season. Adjusting to a new slot is perhaps challenging. What was known now, in May, that wasen't know at the end of last year? Could this all have been better organized in February? Perhaps it has to do with the collection or assessment of the final numbers and data from the previous year. Unclear to me. However, what is clear to me is that wholistically the Striped Bass needs to be looked at differently than any other fish. From the day these fish are born and large enough to be identified as Striped Bass, they are pursued by recreational and commercial anglers up and down the coast and in many cases have a 'price on their head.' It can be argued with intense energy whether the Striped Bass is more 'valuable' to the recreational economy or the commercial economy but what is clear is that these fish are under intense pressure. Whether you feel the stock is fine or the stock is stressed, I hope we can agree that the species needs to be managed differently than it is today.
As individuals, we can all take time to understand these pressures on the species and perhaps learn some best practices to protect the species for future generations. I, for one, take approximately 3-5 Striped Bass a year as harvest for my family and friends. Half of the fish I take in a given year are fish that are injured by taking a hook the wrong way and are within the legal slot size that I will bring home as its condition leads me to believe it won't make it, so I harvest it.
Here are some of the basic practices I take in my own Striped Bass fishing that I hope others find helpful.
LANDING STRIPED BASS AND CATCH AND RELEASE
The proper handling of Striped Bass seems to be the largest contributor to the mortality of the species. Handling striped bass on land or from a kayak or boat has evolved over time, and I believe that within the culture of fishing, many more people understand how to correctly handle these fish and try to better insure their survival. Below is a summary and a video from Ryans Collins of MyFishingCapeCod on the topic.
Scale your rod/reel and gear to the fish you are targeting and intend to catch.
Unhook, photograph and release fish in the water when possible.
Keeping fish out of water exposed to air for 10 seconds or less is best.
Reduce handling time and release fish as soon as possible. Revive fish only when they can not swim on their own.
If you have to bring fish out of the water, always hold fish with two hands and never hang fish vertically in the air. Support the belly of the fish and cover its anal region.
Consider landing fish on a boat with a long handled net. Fish brought into the boat should be unhooked as soon as possible and returned to the water as soon as possible.
When looking at the selection and use of hooks I enact the following practices:
For any artificial lure or plug, I use an inline hook on the tail of the hook. This includes any vertical or casting jig, topwater lure, etc.
Treble hooks are reserved for belly hooks on certain select artificial lure.
If possible i eliminate the belly hook entirely and fish only the rear hook. This helps protect the fish from lodging the second hook into its body during the fight and also helps protect the angler.
Crushing barbs on hooks in the spring when smaller fish are present is a good practice and I have to remind myself all the time to do it.
Live Bait hooks are Non-Offset Circle Hooks to comply with recently enacted mandates on the use of circle hooks.
The video above is courtesy of OTW magazine on the subject of replacing treble hooks with single hooks.
Above is an image showing the difference between Circle Hooks and J-hooks and offset versus non-offset circle hooks. Non-Offset circle hooks are the current standard for use with live or cut bait.
Below is an image and specification of the hooks used in Monomoy Tackle Circle Hook Rigs from VMC.
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