The Bay boasts tens of thousands of miles of shoreline, and the tidal tributaries host plenty of resident stripers doing their thing - chasing bait and beefing up. With recent water temperatures in the shallows hanging in from the mid-70s to low 80s, the time couldn’t be better to target these aggressive fighters.
Typically, the best times to head up to the banks are nearest dawn and dusk, as the daytime heat and shift in water temperature tend to push the fish back into deeper water. Tide also plays a factor in the percentage game of casts-versus-strikes. Often the most productive times are the last hour of the incoming tide through flood, and the first hour or two of the ebb. Stripers can be found around predominate points jutting out from the shore, around structure or rip rap, and where a leader or gut into the marsh/shoreline is flooded on high and loses its water moving to low. These spots create rips that hold and flush bait and give predators an ambush seat at the buffet table. Mummichog (mud minnows), bay anchovy, menhaden, and blue crabs can be found in these locales and sure to be waiting are the fish.
We’ve all heard, “Match the hatch!” Taking a good look at just what your local stock is eating is important, but often the presentation and action of a given lure in these situations is more important. Young stripers in the size range of 18”-24” when on the prowl will likely strike any number of minnow imitations if presented properly, and top water takes can’t be beat for the excitement factor.
The tackle can be light and simple, but make sure you have enough backbone in your rod to handle a good fighter and if you happen upon a 30”+ fish. The same waters hold red drum and specks that can pack a punch, too. My usual set up is a medium-action 6.5’ rod and spin cast reel spooled with 15 lb braid. Depending on water clarity, I may opt for 18” of 20 lb fluorocarbon leader, but typically I tie right onto the lure. These busters don’t tend to be leader shy. Go-to rigs are shallow diving/floating jerk baits, suspending shad cranks, and of course walk-the-dog style top water plugs. Throw in a few choice selections of soft plastics for the chance of specks and reds, but don’t count them out as finesse lures for shallow stripers.
On the approach to the bank I’ll really slow things down at 40 yards out, and work the castable sections of the bank to my front, left and right as I float in, using the current or wind to my advantage to gain a good position to work a section of shore (just like working a new section of freshwater for all you largemouth guys and gals). Keep a sharp eye out in still water on the leeward side of a point or edge for presence of bait being chased, dorsal fin breaks, and the telltale streak of a pursuing striper, and make a cast there for sure.
Try to place the lure as close to the bank or structure as possible, and make a few quick jerks to create the “I’m in trouble” bait dance. After a pause, start to work it for a foot or two out from the bank, and pause again. A few rapid little taps of the rod tip to create some nice surface disturbance should grab the attention of non-committal fish at this point, but don’t forget the pause. Be sure to work the lure all the way back until you pull it out of the water. Don’t make the mistake of thinking a sleeper couldn’t be on the follow. Just last week I lost a good fish (probably 28”+) right at the kayak because I didn’t follow through to the end. He went to strike just as I pulled up to cast. Another foot or two of work and he’d have been mine!
With Maryland having adopted a new minimum size of 20” for 2015 (previously 18”), the fun of breaking the 20” mark with these schools of younger fish just brings on a new challenge. You won’t be disappointed with releasing twenty or more undersized hard fighters to get to that mark! Don’t miss out on this fishery that can be found throughout the Chesapeake. And if you don’t have the chance before the summer heat slows things down, the action is sure to turn right back on as fall starts rolling in. Good luck and tight lines!