Current Waters: Early Season Stripers
Capt. Carl Bois •
Current Waters is back for the 2023 season and the island is already humming with fishing anticipation. It’s that exciting time of year when there is a bit of a buzz as things start to get going. Now is the time to take a walk down to the docks and you can just feel the hope of late spring. Boats are going in and getting ready for things to start. From what we’ve seen so far, we’ve got another great fishing season at our doorstep.
The charter boats may not be taking clients out just yet, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t fish to be caught. The striped bass are already in with the first striper caught on May 3rd and the first keeper shortly after. It’s an optimistic start to the striper season. The mild winter and early spring temperatures seems to have jump started things. Hopefully that doesn’t mean the stripers leave earlier, but that remains to be seen. Let’s just be thankful for the fish at hand. Right now stripers can be found in the harbor, on the south shore, the north shore, and the west end of the island. A few mackerel were recently caught in the harbor. Many of the dedicated anglers who have been hitting the beach at dawn and dusk have been rewarded. Sometimes it’s with a fish, but more often it’s the peace and quiet of early season.
Really, at the beginning of the season, any species is a good reason to cast a line. Sometimes it’s the perfect excuse to be out early morning or late evening. You may be looking for a bite, but you get to witness the water’s edge in spring. The morning birdsong, a sunset from the beach. You may see a horseshow crab or 100 as their mating season begins. It’s all just part of the early summer show.
Even with the first stripers already caught, there is still time to register for Nantucket’s Sea Run Opener; a spring catch and release fishing tournament which celebrates the striper migration. As their website says, “This tournament is all about getting back outside and enjoying the best of what Nantucket has to offer while raising money for a local nonprofit organization.” Now in its eighth season, the Sea Run Opener offers tons of prizes with money raised going to the island non-profit of the winner’s choice. It’s only $25 to register and free for anglers under 18. Tournament Director Rafael Osona started the tournament as a way to bring anglers together and was inspired by the excitement surrounding the annual northbound migration of the striped bass. The tournament goes through June 1 so there is still time to join in the fun. You can register and read all the rules here.
The stripers may be on people’s minds, but don’t forget that black sea bass opens May 20th; delicious table fare and a great early-season fishery. It’s important to know what you’re allowed to keep. The regulations currently state the minimum size is 16.5 inches and the number of fish per angler is a limit of 4. Note that black sea bass are measured from the tip of the snout or jaw (mouth closed) to the farthest extremity of the tail, not including the tail filament.
It’s always a good rule of thumb at the start of each fishing season to check the regulations before heading out. The Massachusetts recreational fishing regulations can be found here (updated May 6th). New data and management targets mean some things change over the winter. You may have heard about the recent change in striper keeper size just instituted. On May 2, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Striped Bass Management Board voted to take emergency action to “support stock rebuilding” for stripers. The new regulations set up a slot limit of 28 to 31 inches for striped bass along the Atlantic coastline.
The slot size reduction won’t go into effect until July 2 after due process. People are being asked to do so voluntarily for now, but the process takes a bit longer. I’m a little worried that these new limits could end up doing more harm than good. I’m afraid that there will be a lot more catch and release fish landed in order for anglers to get to that target striper-keeper size, putting more pressure on the fishery. For the fishery’s sake, let’s all practice good catch and release techniques. The state is telling us that the catch and release mortality rate is 9 percent. Let’s do a better job than that and prove them wrong. Here are a few things to keep in mind that can make a big difference. Treble hooks are a thing of the past, please use in-line single hooks. Use appropriate size gear so the fish can be landed in a reasonable amount of time. We don’t want to tire them out any more than they already are. If you want a picture of your catch, be prepared with your phone or camera and make it quick, returning the fish to the water as soon as possible. Dragging a fish down the beach in the sand isn’t helpful either. The more thoughtful we are about getting those fish back in the water as soon as possible, the better the health of our fishery.
From a charter perspective, the boats are getting in the water and ready for clients. The spring season not only brings in the fish, but the flush of people as well. We’re catching up with repeat clients that have become friends over the years and we’re making plans for some summer fun. The Town Pier repairs over the winter are almost complete, the town has been spiffed up, and every tide brings more bait and life. It’s really just an amazing time of year on island. The spring ocean is like a powder day in a ski town. There is a certain vibe, a buzz in the air. We hope you can get out to enjoy it. And we’ll see you on the water.