THERE'S NO DOUBT about it right now. The big alewife and herring (we'll group them together as "herring") runs in our coastal tidal waters are in full tilt right now and with them a surprising amount of striped bass in various size-classes, with some of them big enough to attack the largest of the herring and alewives.
Although the herring have spawning on their minds, they can still be enticed to take a small fly or Sabiki-type rig and catching a "livey" is almost a sure bet that using it as live bait will get you some striper action. When the herring drop down from their spawn, they are really on the feed and are much more eager to take the fly or Sabiki rig and the stripers are still there waiting to eat herring.
A lot of anglers are not aware of the fact that you can apply for a recreational bait netting permit in New Hampshire. It used to be that gill netting was the most prominent way of catching a few herring for bait but cast netting is fast changing a lot of people's minds. Gill netting requires a boat to handle but cast netting can be done from shore, dock or bridge and with the new nets and accessories, isn't that hard to master. A small cast net in the four-to-six-foot diameter is a very effective method of catching a few live herring. And a five gallon bucket with an aerator will keep a few herring alive for a while on shore.
But fishing with live bait isn't the only answer to catching stripers this time of year. When the stripers are actively busting bait on the surface, as striper popper lure can be magic. Also a technique that seems to be only known to a very few is to dead-drift a floating stick bait (jointed ones work best) in the current, not providing any motion except for the natural small wiggle a jointed plug will make. Stripers often mistake lures fished this way for wounded or fresh-killed baitfish and will suck them up with a vigor.
The key to this technique is to do what is called high-sticking. You keep your rod tip up as high as you can to allow a dead drift without any pull from your fishing line. Keep as much line as you can off the water. But you also must tend the slack line enough to be able to set the hook when a fish takes the lure as they will spit it out quickly when they find out its fake.
Casting a large silver flutter spoon across and down current and letting it swing across the current will also bring stripers to hit. Try different speeds of retrieves as the spoon sweeps across stream, from a dead swing to various retrieve speeds and don't keep casting to the same location but work the water, looking for a fish that will respond to this approach.
Rubber shad, both with jig heads and with only a bare hook can also provide some good striper action. Most rig with the jig hook up through the back behind the shad's head but some who like to also dead-drift rubber shad will use a long baiting needle to thread their leader from the nose of the rubber shad out though the bait just in front of and blow the tail. If you put some tension on this kind of rigging it will impart a slow roll as it is either swinging with the current or slowly reeled in. The dead drift technique is actually the same as you would with the jointed stick bait."
Stripers are more apt to not reject the rubber shad baits as quickly as they do a hard bait so hook-ups seem to be easier.
This kind of fishing is good for the whole time that herring are involved in their spawn and quite a while during the post spawn period. During the post spawn it's a good idea to move down towards the estuary as the herring migrate.
Right now some of the tidal water-hot spots are the Lamprey River in Newmarket, the Cocheco River in Dover (especially in the Henry Law Park area) and the Salmon Falls River in Rollinsford and South Berwick, Maine.If you are fishing the Salmon Falls River know that New Hampshire and Maine laws both have to be observed, with the state line running down the middle of the river. In my opinion it's a smart move to stay on one side or the other to avoid a confrontation with law enforcement. New Hampshire rules allow two striped bass in possession with a 28 inch minimum size limit but only one of those may be 40 inches or more. The Maine rules in place have a slot limit so become familiar with the Maine regulations before fishing there. Write this down - you are allowed only one fish per day. Maine stripers must be between 16 and 26 inches in length or you can possess one striper of 40 inches or more in length. Seeing that stripers are regulated by federal laws as well, you are not allowed to have a limit of fish from both states! Your New Hampshire saltwater fishing license will cover you if you are fishing the Maine side but will not get you out of a jam for violating Maine's regulations.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.