By Mike Christy
Striper fishing in New Hampshire's Piscataqua River begins in early May
with mostly schoolies being caught. The big cows are landed a little later and are most
plentiful in the fall.
Striped bass usually hang around until late September then migrate south for
another season. Although, some oldtimers have told stories of catching stripers through
the ice in Great Bay.
A wide variety of natural baits are used including sea worms, live eels,
mackerel, pollock and cut bait.
Most any artificial lure which mimics what bass are feeding on will usually
raise fish including poppers, swimmers and flys. At times, a pod of feeding bass will hit
anything thrown their way!
Fishing at night is the best be it from a boat, dock, bridge, jetty or
beach. The Piscataqua River is primarily a live bait fishery because of its depth,
although fly fishing is very popular for taking bass. Trophy sized fish of 40" and
greater are taken with both angling methods.
I've found that it is a hit and miss situation when
trying to find striped bass, forget about catching them! To be
successful at striper fishing you must experiment and go often, unless you live on a
channel where you can just toss out a fish head and sit back and relax. My guess is you'll
probably out fish the guy who is running up and down the river like a crazed wild man by
just sitting on the dock, but what fun is that?
Below you will find several techniques I use to catch striped bass... There are links
to photos of lures and a page dedicated to building your own live bait well like the
one I use. Its simple and effective on a low budget. My experience finds that
bass move around alot. They may or may not be at the same spot day after day, although
I've seen them in the same area for weeks. Just when I think I've figured them out, they
The entrance to Portsmouth Harbor has good structure
- Fish the out going tide, at night if possible.
- Don't fish on weekends, too much boat traffic.
- If the wind is blowing, might as well stay at home.
- Head up river on the incoming tide.
- Head down river on the outgoing tide.
- Get the bait down to where the fish are holding.
- Sharpen your hooks and bend the barbs down.
- No poppers till after July fourth.
- Use live bait in this order: worms, pollock, mackerel, eels
(first choice at nite)
- Match the lure to the size of the bait fish, small lures
can catch big fish.
- Fish fast water like tidal rips near structure.
- Fish slow water adjacent to fast like eddies, pools and
- Fish structure, big fish are lazy and will shield
themselves from the current.
- Troll with the current, use torpedo sinkers with spoons and
- Go often and experiment.
- When these suggestions fail, try the complete opposite!
The rip at Hick's Rocks produces many bass
There are many techniques used to catch stripers. Ive categorized three popular methods
below, all of which I use often to haul in keepers. (longer than 32" in N.H.,
40" in Maine!)
Using Live Bait :
Mackerel, pollock, eels and sea worms
Using Artificials : Swimmers, poppers ,plastics shads
Fishing Cut Bait : Drifting chunks and bottom
Using live bait is the ultimate tactic for catching
bass. Ive found that the key to drifting live bait for stripers is getting the bait down
to where the fish are. River pollock
are especially good at diving for the
bottom, but they learn quickly when there are bass below, then will swim to top where they
are useless. Ten to sixteen inch mackerel and pogies are excellent for live bait also. Rig
all of these baits just in front of the dorsal with a #7/0 long shank hook. Run to the top
of a tidal rip and drift back along a drop-off or reef.
A large live well, or
barrel with very good circulation and water exchange is needed to keep your baits frisky.
Know the limits of your live well, one too many baits can deep six all of them. And don't
put bleeders in your live well when catching bait. Freeze them and use them for
chum on your next trip. An old-fashioned meat grinder bought at a yard sale makes the
perfect chum-making device, just like grandma use to do!
The best all around striper bait I've used is
the Striper Worm. These are 12" to 16" big fat sand worms rigged with a
#5/0 hook and drifted in a tidal rip. If a striper is anywhere in the area he'll hit it,
no matter what they are keying on! Rig them by threading the hook down thru the mouth to
hide the hook, this lets them drift and sway naturally in the current.
I fish with the bail open and let the fish take a
yard or two of line before setting the hook. Don't let the bait ride to the top of the
water, add a small egg sinker if your boat is drifting slower than the bait. The key is to
let them drift as naturally as possible in the current.
12 to 16 inch live eels are excellent at night for
big bass. Rig them with a #7/0 short shanked hook up thru the lower jaw and out thru an
eye socket. You'll need a rag because they are slippery as heck. Keep them on ice and wack
them once on the side of the boat to calm them down and keep them from tying themselves in
knots. Drift them just like worms. I use tobacco colored hooks exclusively with eels.
Start your drift over a flat and let the tide pull
you over a ledge or some structure. Have
the bait in the water well before the drop off so it has time to head to the bottom. Alot
of fish may be patrolling an area, either a flat or a large tidal area, but some will be
snugged up against bridge abutments or hidden in depressions and holes.
Don't be afraid to get right up close to bridges and
drop a live bait right in the eddy
formed by the pilings. One of my favorite drifts takes me under a bridge then out to a
large open area with undulating humps and holes in about 20' of water. Medium to heavy
tackle is required for live baits.
Its hard to believe that a 20 pound fish would hang out in 3
feet of water, but they sometimes do. Drifting and casting towards rocky shallows with
large plugs is one way to catch them. Anywhere along the New England coast is prime
habitat. The fish I've caught in close like this often have bellies full of baby lobsters.
My experience is to use top water plugs
at low tide, they don't get hung up on the weeds, and swimmers at high
tide, they cover more water. Its best to have the tide running parallel to the coast. I
use a 8' medium spinning outfit with 17# test line, 50# mono leader and swivel.
Whenever I see waves crashing on rocks and forming a
good frothy sea, I'll always throw a popper right in the middle of it. Many times the fish
will hit it just seconds after it hits the water.
My latest favorite lures are soft plastic shads.
The blue and black and green and black mackerel patterns work well. I've caught more fish
with the 4" size than the 8", just cause that's the size of the bait in the
river. Another favorite is a 5" flashy mullet
which has neutral buoyancy and darts erratically when twitched. I've found the key to
catching fish with artificials is to match the size of your lure with the size of the bait
in the river.
Trolling 16 to 30 inch rubber surgical tubes
with #7/0 long shank hooks is effective for all sizes of stripers. Red is a popular color.
Tipping the hook with a sea worm is very effective! Troll as slow as you can, then slow
down some more. I place a bead chain tordedo sinker 3'-4' in front of this rig to get it
near the bottom.
Ive had great luck with the large Hopkins
spoons with the yellow feathers also. Troll both of these with the current. Make sure you
have at least a 3 oz in line torpedo sinker with bead chain 2 to 3 feet in front of the
lure. This will help get it down to where the fish are feeding.
Surf casting big plugs off the beach is one method
for catching stripers. I dont catch as many bass this way, but it is exciting when one
cooperates. Its a thrill just to see a bass come charging out of a transparent cresting
wave and take a swipe at your plug! Early morning during an outgoing or low tide is my
favorite time to climb over slippery rocks on the local beaches. I use large poppers in
all colors, but they must have a bucktail or feathers on the trailing treble hook. A fanny
pack makes a good tackle box during surf fishing.
Fishing live or cut bait in the shallows is
another way to hook up large bass. Fishing with a balloon attached to you line simply
takes place of those old-time plastic bobbers. The key is to anchor and have the wind or
current positioned so it pushes the bait away from the boat and towards the target area.
Drifting works too as long as the tide pulls the bait far enough away from the boat.
For drift fishing I use a #7/0 short shank hook with
5' of 50# mono leader attached to a single large swivel. A balloon is attached above the
swivel and adjusted for the depth. This technique is also popular for taking Bluefish out
at the Isles of Shoals. Setting out cut bait on balloons and chumming the water is
successful for taking many a blue.One of my standbys for chum is Figaro Cat Food, Tuna
flavor. Just punch a few holes in each side of the can and swish it in the water every few
minutes. Its great for attracting mackerel and pollock too when picking up bait. And if
you wait long enough, a striper will surely stop by, so keep a chunk drifting off the
stern just in case!
An unique method for bottom fishing is a modified fish-finder
rig. This rig is perfect when fishing rocky and craggy bottom and when you need to keep
your bait off the bottom. It is made of a in-line florescent egg float, a slider, a barrel
swivel, a pyramid sinker and a RUBBER BAND! The keys are:
- Use at least a 4oz pyramid sinker & 7/0 bronze hook
- Use a black fish finder (slider) so fish doesn't feel the sinker
- Attach a rubber band between slider & sinker (allows for sinker release when
- Use minimum 50lb mono leader material
- Use in-line Flo-Orange egg shaped float to keep crabs away from bait
- Use a high quality black barrel swivel without snaps
- Use Chunk Mackerel, it holds better than herring
- Fish with the bail open, clicker on or with a very light drag set
Another method for chunk fishing from
shore is using circle hooks. They are perfect for a catch and release fishery. Circle
hooks are designed not to hook the fish's gut or throat, but to hook their jaw bone as
they swim away. For this to work keep your bail closed and your drag set normal while the
rod is in it's holder. Ask your tackle dealer about circle hooks the next time you visit
him, the bass will thank you.