Striped Bass Tips - Dawn & Dusk
Every angler knows that the bite is typically best at dawn and dusk, also known as the “golden hours”, but few anglers really understand why. As a charter captain I cannot rely on just catching fish at dawn and dusk. I can’t just run a couple of 2 hour charters each day and except to be successful. I also don’t have the option to spend the remaining hours of the day trying to scratch together a decent catch. Many years ago I took the time to understand why dawn and dusk are so productive and then applied those lessons to the rest of the daylight hours.
Striped Bass Feeding Behavior
Striped bass are very opportunistic feeders. They eat a wide variety of bait fish such as bunker, herring, and mackerel. They also target eels, crabs, shrimp, and squid. Basically stripers eat nearly everything they come across. Because they can consume large meals, they do not need to eat continuously. They just need to wait for the right opportunity to come along. Some anglers equate this with some sort of fish intelligence or conscious decision making, but it is simply conditioning.
When striped bass enter a new environment, they rapidly acclimate to the feeding conditions to ensure the best chance of getting a good meal. A good example of this is the behavior shift that occurs when bluefish enter an area and attack bunker schools. After a day or two of that, most big stripers in the area will be found following the schools and picking up half-eaten bunker.
Why do bigger stripers feed so aggressively at dawn and dusk?
When the sun is low in the sky (dawn or dusk), sunlight penetrates through the water but not very deeply. This means that the baitfish swimming in the upper part of the column are more visible than the striped bass lurking beneath them. This creates a perfect feeding opportunity for any ambush predator. As the sun rises higher in the sky, the light penetrates more deeply and the bait have a better chance of spotting the predator. This type of conditioning has a significant effect in almost any location and represent the core conditioning for stripers.
Once you understand and accept this, you can adjust your techniques to effectively target big fish in bright sunlight!
Cloudy/rainy days further prove the point
Anglers who appreciate dawn and dusk, also appreciate overcast and rainy days, but do not get trapped into using your dawn/dusk techniques all day. The conditioning works more to determine WHEN striped bass feed as opposed to under WHAT conditions they feed. Stripers are still going to be more active at dawn and dusk, but the dawn feeding period will usually last longer. The dusk feeding period will also start earlier. Once those periods are over, their conditioning will typically take them to the same locations as on a sunny day. So don’t be afraid to move on to a new spot when the bite slows.
Shallow Water Striped Bass
Striped bass love shallow water even though they become less effective as the sun gets higher in the sky. They take advantage of the smaller water column, faster currents, more dissolved oxygen in the water (caused by wave action), and the prevalence of bottom dwelling baits (shrimp, crabs, etc.). They will often shift onto shallow flats after their initial feed, A chunk bait or a carefully presented live bait will get them interested. Flats are also very easy areas to scout. A slow drift along a flat with a couple of live bunker, and no activity means it’s time to move on.
Deep Water Striped Bass
When stripers have been feeding a deeper water and especially open water they will often retreat to deep structure or ledges as the light rises. They take advantage of faster currents, cooler water temps (which typically mean more dissolved oxygen), and the prevalence of bottom dwelling baits (shrimps, crabs, etc,). In short, these are very similar conditions to what can be found on the flats.
Striped bass won’t stray far from their primary food source. If there are bunker schools around and the bite seems to be slowing, head for the nearest bottom structure and consider anchoring. I typically will not anchor until I have thoroughly scanned the piece with my sonar. If you do not see a couple of reasonable marks, move on. If you do see some life, be sure to anchor just up-current of where you see the fish. Typically chunking with weight and flat-lining (no weight) will be most effective. If you are eel fishing, do not anchor, but plan a careful drift across the piece. Be prepared to repeat a few drifts, it may take some time to get the stripers interested.
Don’t Think Like a Fish!
Don’t bother apply some conscious rules to predict fish behavior. Instead, consider that the aspects of their environment that are currently conditioning them and take advantage of that. If the stripers have been feeding on a specific bait in a given location, and the bait suddenly disappears, that does not mean they are gone. In fact, they may still be in that location and even more willing to take your offering now that their primary source of food has moved on. At very least, be sure to give the location a try.
Feel free to share this article with your friends. Questions and comments are welcome on the Northeast Angling Facebook pageBy Capt Andy LoCascio - Host of Northeast Angling TV Share your comments on the Northeast Angling Facebook page