Ghost Stripers Avoid Detection

by Frank Daignault, Surfcasting Editor

Stripers are a migratory and highly nomadic species. True, there is a certain predictability in their arrivals and departures at both ends of the season. But all the months in between they will show up at one part of or another of the coast, often where rarely found; or, they will bypass a famous host area where they have gone with regularity for generations. Some observers will tell you that it relates to the availability of baitfish. Simplistic notions which seek to explain with unattainable precision why this place has bass and that one does not causes otherwise intelligent people to quarrel over the reasons like school boys. Dare we to generalize, it seems those with the most answers are the ones who know least about striper behavior and those things which influence it.

Big stripers come after dark if time, tide and conditions are right, but luck helps
Photo: FRANK DAIGNAULT

When there are no stripers it is said to be because there is no bait. When there is no bait, it is because the commercial boats -- the menhaden fleet -- took them all. When there are enough baitfish to walk the surface of the Atlantic upon their backs, there is too much bait which forces us to compete unfairly. Only rarely are there enough fish to suit the appetites of the sea's critics. Even then, most of the time when there are enough stripers to provide good fishing, few know it and those who do are not about to talk about it. People lament the relationship between bait and bass tirelessly when, in truth, they have not the foggiest notion about the availability of either. Thus, it becomes the greatest challenge to those who wish to competently observe to learn how little is known, how conjectural the whole thing is, how fraught with error are the observations of the so-called experts. If a lifetime of exposure to wildlife professionals on one hand, and wanabee tackle shop experts on the other has taught me anything, it is that there is a reverse correlation where those who know the most are prepared to say the least about why stripers are or are not in our fore.

Then there is the issue of exactly what is in our fore. Often the relationship between what is being said about the availability of stripers and one's true fishing opportunities frequently leave something to be desired. Many, but not all, local fishing reports, generated by an over-zealous outdoor reporter, paint a picture of suicidal linesides swimming through the first wave in great hordes. Sadly, many reporters, conscious of the exaggerations being foisted upon their readers, think that they are off the hook by wrapping quotes around the lies of bait and tackle shop proprietors. Apparently, they feel it is not their responsibility to rule upon what others say about the fishing even when they know it is not true. The shops want to keep the fishing enthusiasm pumped up and the reporters want copy for the "fishing report." Sadly, the result is a degradation in the value of the report and aspersions upon all other of the reporter's endeavors.

Even for the rest of us for some reason failure to know where the fish are, when only God really knows, carries some implied flaw in one's worth. Too often it is more important to lie than admit that you don't know where the striped bass are. But whatever the social considerations, the influence upon behavior proves that striped bass are important. What too many surfcasters seem to forget is that when a dream night happens -- great fish smashing through the side of a wave when no other person is in sight -- we are at last witnessing truth.