Whether you call them the dog days or the summer doldrums, they generally signal a drop-off in the action on many fishing fronts, including striped bass fishing along the East Coast. The exciting spring migrations of April, May and early June are past and the autumn blitzes waiting in the wings are just a distant promise. Fishing in summer is different from fishing spring or fall. The same fish that made us look like heroes a few months back can make the best of us eat humble pie in summer.
It isn't just the hot weather that makes action seem slow; there are bona fide reasons for this annual phenomenon, and understanding them can lead to productive outings even during the hottest months. To catch bass at this time of year, rethink the requirements of your sport -- where, when and how. You must consider things like fish and bait movements, the striper's physiology and the effects of water temperature, light and even boat traffic.
Where to Go
The main stock of the East Coast stripers comes from the Chesapeake Bay. They winter close to the mouth of the bay and spawn in the bay in early spring before beginning their migration north. By late June, they are dispersed in their summer feeding grounds. The schools of sand eels, spearing, mullet and other baits which the bass pursued northward are now less concentrated, so your chances of encountering large concentrations of fish are smaller. Still, most of the larger fish will be feeding in the northern parts of their range, until the fall migration begins. If possible, target the waters around Cape Cod and Cape Ann of Massachusetts, the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, and the Rhode Island coast.
If you can't follow the fish, don't be discouraged. Remember that many locations within the striper's range have some year-round resident fish. Smaller populations winter over in estuaries all along the East Coast, not just the Chesapeake and the Hudson watersheds, and many of these don't migrate far when summer comes. In addition, a certain percentage of stripers will break away from the main migration and become seasonal residents near coastal communities along the mid-Atlantic and New England coasts.
For example, in addition to some permanent residents, New Jersey has a small percentage of summer residents that detach from the northward movement and provide sporadic warm-weather sport. Though most of these are juvenile fish and the numbers not the greatest, they can provide satisfactory sport through the summer. And there are always a few larger specimens that stay behind. I recall one mid-July night, a number of years ago, when a well-known New Jersey "jetty jockey" took seven fish totaling 140 pounds from the south jetty of Barnegat Inlet.
The waters around New York, along the south shore of Long Island and in the Sound have mixed stocks of Chesapeake fish and Hudson River fish, which don't migrate so far. This means that, generally speaking, from the Gotham area northward, summer bass fishing potential steadily improves. The waters around Montauk, Plum Island, Fishers Island, Gull Island and other locales east from Long Island may not offer the consistent action they do at other times, but possibilities certainly exist. In the brackish estuaries and freshwater southern rivers, fish generally drop back into the sounds after spring spawning. This holds true largely for the Carolinas, Virginia and Maryland coasts.