The fabled fall striped bass run is not so much a mad dash for spawning grounds before winter sets in as it is a general and even somewhat leisurely migration to the south.
Moves into the spawning sites of the Hudson River and Chesapeake Bay and other estuary systems do not begin until water temperatures begin to rise again in the spring.
Stripers spend the winter in deep coastal waters, particularly Long Island Sound, but few, if any, of these winter stripers are caught.
It isn't for lack of trying. A sunny, seasonable day is excuse-enough for die-hard boating and beach-bound anglers to dust off some of winters cobwebs, but the stripers aren't likely as eager for action.
They'll most likely ignore anything that comes their way, no matter how tempting it looks, so it's easy to believe that 'the stripers are gone for the year." They're not.
Bass are "catchable" only when they're hungry and active. Ideal weather temperatures range from about 55 to 70 degrees. Since inshore temperatures rarely rise above 50-degrees in winter, Nor'east Saltwater anglers stand a good chance of catching cold and not much else.
Cold water means one very important thing to bass- Oxygen. The colder the water, the more oxygen it is able to retain which is why the coldest water of all - ice - floats. Stripers don't have to expend "breathing" energy, as much during the winter so there is less activity and less desire to feed.
Other cold-water factors also slow down a striper's overall metabolism, but being solo-thermal (cold blooded) means they do not have to enter the same sort of hibernated state we associate with mammals. Striped bass, indeed, continue to move and feed throughout the winter, but slowly.
A dramatic rise in water temperature, however, tricks bass into thinking it's spring again and it jolts them into feeding, not matter what the calendar says.
But where are you gong to find spring-like water in the dead of winter? A power plant outflow, and one of the hottest winter hot spots in the northeast is the Keyspan Northport Power Station on Long Islands North Shore. Here, water temperatures are consistently 10 to 20 degrees higher than the surrounding seawater, depending on the plant's output, and weather conditions. The power station is also located along a prime striped bass migration route to and from the Western Sound, and there are a number of underwater structures (sandbars, etc) to add to the attraction.
As hot water used to cools the plants fossil fuel generators exits to the Long Island Sound, it forms a warm "bay" at the mouth of the flow with springtime temperatures. If a breeze is out of the northwest, a warm water plume will extend along the beach, making this a prime area for winter surfcasters.
Wind direction can be critical because there is no beach access west of the power station. Surfcaster must park their car at Huntington Township's Crab Meadow Beach and trek west. A northwest wind pushes the flow against the beach and bass are likely to be active all along the hike.
Boating anglers from Long Island and Connecticut don't have to be as concerned about wind direction, but they must be aware that the beach should be considered treacherously shallow, no matter how high the tide. The best boating drop, in fact, is well off the power station at the foot of the "bay" where there's better chance of running into a school of migrating bass.
Several 30-pound class stripers have been caught in the Northport Flow over the years, but most of the action comes from the bass under 30 inches. The best tackle then is light surf or boat casting and jigger gear along with an arsenal of tins, spoons, buck tails, jigs and swimming lures. Raid the freshwater tackle box in order to match the small inshore winter baitfish.
No Nor'east Saltwater anglers should consider using bait with its proven higher mortality rate. New York's marine striped bass season is closed during the winter months and ALL BASS MUST BE RELEASED! While we're not prevented from trying our luck, we should in good conscience and respect for these game fish And always treat them with care!
All monofilament lines absorb a certain amount of water, grow limp and more castable, but high absorption line used in cold temperatures can turn stiff and brittle. Light lines absorb less water so don't spool heavier than 12 pound test, it will only add to the thrill if you lock on to a big one.
Lighter lines and the new braided lines are also best used near the power station where the current is strongest. Stripers are likely to hold deep in this water and wait for food to be swept along. Light line will get down to there feeding zone faster then a heavier, large diameter line that is too buoyant and more susceptible to being pushed along too quickly for any right-minded bass to take much notice.
Fly rodders also have a challenging opportunity fishing the flow from the beach or boat. Standard saltwater patterns in size from 4-to-1/0 weighted and tied with some extra flash to catch the low winter light all work well. It's worthwhile to bring along a spare spool of a fast-sinking line or shooting head to fish the strong stretch of the flow.
The current dredges a steep and deceptively steep trench at the outflow. Water turbulence obscures the bottom and wading can be dangerous. Two anglers were swept off the sandbar last year, avoiding disaster only by the near-miracle of a passing boat, but even a slight dunking can be serious business in cold weather.
Boating anglers aren't immune from a wet spray or cold hands, either. Dress accordingly with layered clothing topped by a waterproof, windproof shell. Neoprene gloves with all-important liners can also be a necessity even on a sunny day. Pack a thermos of hot coffee or soup. Leave the toddy 'til the body is in a warm, dry place. Alcohol only lowers the human body's resistance to cold.
Most of all, both surf and boat anglers should call it a day at the first sign of reddened or painful skin, no matter how good fishing the flow may be. The affected area can turn to a serious case of frostbite quickly in wind-chill conditions.
Smokestacks rising above a tranquil winter landscape probably aren't what folks had in mind when they spoke about progress with a gleam in their eyes so long ago. Lucky, at least, that the thermal pollution of a power plant can rapidly dissipate in a huge volume of seawater and lucky, too, when a not-too-pretty fact of modern life can also provide a tonic for these winter cabin fever blues.