Dick Pinney's Guidelines: Don't think of striper fishing in Great Bay
No doubt, the most inquiries we get from our readers have to do with the striped bass fishing, with Great Bay area bringing the most interest. That's probably because for all my lifetime, the striper fishing was known as Great Bay striper fishing. And that is kind of a bad title, as Great Bay itself provides only a small fraction of the actual fishing.
The first fish of the year pile up into the Piscataqua River and move right up into the tributaries of Great Bay, following the herring and alewife spawning runs. The herring and alewives are "striper candy" and are fed on almost universally for close to a couple of months, both on the alewife and herring pre-spawn and spawn period but also after they've spawned and are dropping back to the ocean.
Great Bay itself is nothing but a big mud and gravel pan that almost runs dry at low tide, with the channels to the tributaries - Squamscott (Exeter) River, Lamprey River and the Winnicut River. Only an occasional striper is caught in the Bay itself, except for those taken in the channel where they are sometimes concentrated. Another couple of important tributaries, the Chocheco River and the Salmon Falls River are actually both tributaries of the Piscataqua River while the Oyster River is a tributary of Little Bay.
Most of the late spring and summer fishing takes place not in Great Bay but in Little Bay which starts at Adam's Point in an area called Thurbur Straights. The lower end of Little Bay is at the Dover/Newington General Sullivan Bridge. On the downstream side of the bridge is actually the Piscataqua River.
So here's my important point. Don't think of striper fishing being in "Great Bay." Only for a short time in early spring the fishing is in the upper extremities of the tributaries, below the dams there. Then the stripers quickly move into Little Bay and the Piscataqua River to intercept the herring and alewives as they drop back from their spawn.
Mackerel come into the picture in early June and that attracts a lot of stripers to the lower Piscataqua River and out along the Maine and New Hampshire as well as the Massachusetts shorelines. It's been a recent revelation that stripers are now caught and sought after in the ocean depths down to 300 feet, but be cautioned that fishing for stripers outside the three mile state's waters, into federal waters, is not legal.
So where do we fish. We skip the early fishing below the dams as at our age it's no fun to fish from shore or clamber around docks and levies. We're boat people and start our fishing in Little Bay and the whole length of the Piscataqua, as well as the "Back Channel of the "Navy Yard" (in Maine - different regulations) and into the Piscataqua's Back Channel and Little Harbor. It all depends on where the concentration of fish are. Sometimes it takes most of a day, working all those areas to find any feeding stripers. And some days we never to find them.
Our stripers in moving water are almost universally set up in feeding lanes, waiting for their pray to be swept down current to them and these places usually have some kind of bottom structure that will allow the stripers to maintain their position without expending a lot of energy. They are so hooked on hiding among the rocks that in the South they are most often called "rockfish" or just "rocks."
These fish move their positions as the tides and currents shift. Because we have fished for them well over a half decade, we have a great collection of "where and when-places" but each year we'll also find fish where we'd never found them in prior years and often find our old favorites have dried up with few if any fish. It takes a lot of time and covering lots of territory to have consistent success. Those places and how to fish them are dear to my heart. Don't ask.
But we will tell you that unless we want to have some fun with our young-uns or people that want a lot of action catching mackerel for bait, we'll use artificial lures. Our favorites are our own built umbrella rigs, often called "niner" rigs but ours only feature five hook lures, rather than nine, a squid imitator called the "Hoochie Troll" or lure and bait combos such as the Santini Tube-n-Worm rig.
And when we do use live bait, such as mackerel, we do not use the balloon bobbers that are so prevalent in today's fishery but often instead of drift-fishing we'll troll.
Best boat launching facilities are at Elliot, Maine's Dead Duck Inn or Portsmouth's Peirce Island. Both are near where the fish are apt to be.
Get out there and get you some.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email himn at DoDuckInn@Aol.com.