A study of reports of the striped bass spring migration from recent years suggests the fish don't necessarily follow a coast-hugging route north, as previously believed.
Jimmy Fee, of On The Water magazine, which collects catch reports along the East Coast, says it seems increasingly likely that large numbers of the fish are moving farther offshore as they come north.
This means when the fish do turn and come inshore in large schools, they seem to fishermen to be arriving discontinuously along the coast. This explains why we on Cape Cod may see big fish arriving at nearly the same time as fishermen in New York or Rhode Island.
This is a significant change over the earlier idea of how striped bass move north.
Here's how the thinking used to go: each spring through April and May, Cape Cod anglers would follow catch reports from further south, anticipating that striped bass were working their way along the coast northward from the Chesapeake Bay region. Since fish were believed to follow the coast, reports of big bass showing up in New Jersey, and then New York, suggested we would soon (within weeks) see them around Cape Cod, beginning south of the Elizabeth Islands.
And some fish do appear to follow this coastal migration pattern.
But other portions of the population, it now appears, are moving offshore beyond the 3-mile limit, where they "disappear" from fishermen and don't show up in catch reports. After a time, these offshore fish follow the bait inshore, showing up in seemingly unexpected places.
This would explain why Cape Cod Bay may see large numbers of big striped bass that quite apparently didn't pass through the Cape Cod Canal. It would also suggest that staking out spots along the migration route is not necessarily the key to catching the fish as they arrive.
Fee also says that tagging studies have shown that striped bass show "site fidelity" - meaning the same fish may come back to the same places year after year.
Steve Junker's interview with Jimmy Fee is posted in the audio below - give it a listen.