Stripers galore on the Hudson

A striped bass is taken near Kingston, N.Y. 

Some years ago in the month of May I was on the Hudson River in New York. With me was a friend who had never been striper fishing before — a big guy who stands 6-3 and weighs at least 250.

We were on the river at daybreak on a weekday. We started trolling along a lengthy flat when the water erupted all around.

For a good half-mile there were with bathtub-size boils everywhere. These turned out to be pods of male stripers chasing individual females.

The stripers were spawning at that very moment. Just about no one that I've spoken to over the years has actually seen striped bass spawning.

On this morning the stripers were so thick, and so frantic, that at one time I heard my friend, who was driving while I was setting the lines, let out an oomph. I turned around to see that he had put my large net in the water with his right hand while he drove with the left and had netted free-swimming stripers.

I grabbed the net before he lost it and together we pulled a sagging net full of four unhooked male stripers into the boat — about 40 to 50 pounds of fish — which then started thrashing and spewing milt all over us and the boat.

We scooped the fish up and threw them back. What a mess!

The spawning went on for maybe two hours and the fish were everywhere. When we landed a hooked fish, I went to net it and three unhooked male stripers swam into the net with the hooked one.

Today, when I tell this story to people, their eyes bug out and everyone finds it hard to believe. We still find it hard to believe ourselves.

We were so impressed with what we saw that the next morning the two of us returned to the same flat, with my wife and a video camera, but it was all over. The spawning was done, at least on that part of the river.

Lots of fish

The activity that we observed, and the fishing that many people have experienced in April and May on New York's Hudson River, supports the fact that there's a prodigious supply of stripers these days that migrate into that big waterway each spring to spawn. And that's just part of the Hudson fishing story.

The tidal Hudson River offers surprisingly solid and diverse fishing opportunities from the Tappan Zee Bridge spanning Haverstraw Bay to the dam at Troy.

The Hudson has enjoyed a water-quality comeback and a resurgence in top-rate angling that also makes it a prime place in the northeastern U.S. to fish for largemouth and smallmouth bass. It's also an awesome spring hotspot for stripers, despite marginal shore fishing opportunities and the fact that transient boating is hampered by insufficient access.

A million or so stripers migrate into the Hudson each year to spawn, traversing 154 miles from Manhattan to Troy. These fish generally begin moving up the river in March and by mid-April have reached Newburgh; by late April they have reached Kingston and beyond.

Spawning takes place when the water has warmed to the mid- to upper 50s, which is usually around mid- to late May. By mid-June, the main body of stripers has moved downstream and disperses in New York Harbor and along the coast.

Some fish, mostly small schoolies, remain in the river through the summer. Fish to more than 50 pounds have been caught in the river.

Prominent striper fishing areas include Croton Point, Storm King Mountain, Denning Point, Esopus Meadows, and the vicinity of Rondout, Esopus, and Catskill Creeks.

Very little casting is done, with most anglers drifting, anchoring or trolling. Tide changes are important, with most activity on a moving tide. The largest stripers regularly fall to bait; live herring, chunks of herring and live eels are mainstays for bigger fish.

Overshadowed by stripers lately are American shad. Hudson River shad were historically abundant and among the largest specimens on the East Coast.

Their numbers have fluctuated in recent times, and the expansiveness of the Hudson daunts would-be shad pursuers.

Some anglers have success with flies and darts that are fished behind boats anchored in mid-river on the downstream edge of shoals, flats and islands. The run peaks between late April and early June.

From late spring through fall, there's action for largemouth and smallmouth bass on the Hudson. All of the major creeks produce bass, as do portions of the main river from just south of Constitution Marsh near West Point to north of Coxsackie.

Cover, current and tide are interrelated here, and sometimes so is salt content. The Hudson is slightly brackish or completely freshwater somewhere around Cornwall Bay, although the exact location may vary.

Bass move and feed on tide changes, and fishing is usually best when the water is at peak movement rising or falling with a falling tide prime.

The average size of Hudson bass is fairly good, with 2-pounders common. This is in spite of heavy fishing pressure and largely due to the fact that virtually all bass are released.

Shoals, sandbars, islands and rockpiles are main river spots, with the focus on assorted structure in creeks.

The Hudson River has other species, as well. Crappie and trout are common in many creeks, and there are plenty of carp (some large) in the main river, as well as white catfish and white perch.

Sturgeon have historically been present but there's no sport fishery for them. Bluefish range into the saline parts of the lower river, and provide excitement when available.

But if you want to sample the best of the Hudson's striper fishing, now's the time.

For more information on angling, see Ken Schultz's Fishing Encyclopedia, available through www.kenschultz.com.