Blog post design by Ryan Collins
In the spring, timing and location are key factors. As the magic 50 to 55 degree water temperature reaches Cape Cod, so do the migratory fish.
Places along the Cape's southside and inside Buzzard's Bay usually see the first schoolies (and then the first bigger fish) before places like Race Point in Provincetown.
I've written this quick blog post to help you understand the factors which can affect the migration, and when striped bass arrive on Cape Cod.
The 4 Places Cape Cod Bass Come From
As the water warms and baitfish become more present, the holdover fish on Cape Cod will leave the backwater areas where they spent most of the winter, to explore the open bays and coastlines.
This will give anglers an opportunity to catch holdover stripers before the main biomass of migratory fish return.
This past weekend Ryan Collins and Jason Mazzola encountered some great holdover striper action (you can read about that trip by clicking here). These small stripers probably spent the winter somewhere on Cape Cod.
However, the warming of local waters does not in itself mean that we will see migratory fish move in from the south.
As anglers we always seem to focus on water temperatures off Cape Cod when trying to predict the arrival of the first migratory stripers. That is important, but it is only part of the equation.
Most of the bass we see on Cape Cod come from four main sources:
- Chesapeake Bay
- Hudson River
- Delaware River
- Winter holdovers already on Cape Cod
When trying to predict the run of migratory fish, the first water temperatures to take note of are those in the ocean area just outside of the Chesapeake Bay. Keep in mind that the main biomass of bass spend the winter hanging out in the deeper water off shore of the Chesapeake.
As the inshore waters warm, the bass stage just outside the Chesapeake's south east end and wait for the the Bay's water to warm into the 50's. At this point the 4+ year old females and 3+ year old males start moving into the bay, towards the rivers of their birth to start the spawning process.
Chesapeake Bay Stripers
The younger fish which do not participate in the spawn, start their journey north right away, progressing as water temperature and food availability are to their liking. This is why we see the small bass first.
Small stripers like this one caught by Lauren of MFCC, usually start to arrive on Cape Cod during late April. This particular bass was caught after last year's MFCC Breakfast. Be sure to register online for this year's breakfast if you have not done so already.
I always thought that it was because they were faster swimmers, however the real reason is that while the larger fish are swimming into the bays and rivers to spawn, the smaller fish are swimming north. These smaller bass have about a two week to a month head start on the larger fish, depending on where they start from.
So we also need to pay attention to water temperature and weather conditions in coastal Virginia, because colder than usual conditions could delay the movement of these small fish up the coast.
Hudson & Delaware River Stripers
Even if only Cape Cod holdovers and Chesapeake Bay fish were the ones that make up our summer population of Striped Bass, then explaining how the migration works would still be fairly complicated.
However, another, albeit smaller population of striped bass holds in the deeper waters in the upper mid Atlantic bight.
Some of these fish spawn in the Delaware River and other waterways such as the Thames, but most of these fish spawn in the tributaries of the Hudson. These fish undergo the same process as the Chesapeake Bay stripers, with the larger fish spawning and the smaller fish immediately moving north up the coast.
The geographical location of the different holding and spawning areas impacts the timing and the distance these fish need to swim to reach our area. This all effects when we see fish, whether they are migratory or holdovers, as well as the size of the stripers we see.
So to summarize, the first bass reported this spring on Cape Cod will most likely be holdover fish. Holdovers are usually small in size, but as Ryan Collins has demonstrated, there are some 25+ pound holdover stripers around.
Ryan Collins with a big Cape Cod holdover striper he caught last March.
The Virginian migratory schoolies will head north first because the water that far south warms the quickest, but the schoolies coming from outside the Hudson have less distance to travel.
So if we have a warm Spring in the Northeast we may see larger fish from the Hudson, mixed in with schoolies arriving from the Chesapeake.
The Last Bass To Arrive
The last striped bass to arrive are the really big girls coming from Virginia, although there is anecdotal evidence that most don't come all the way to us on the Cape. Just about all of the 60+ pound fish caught in recent years have come from the triangle shaped area between Fisher Island, Block Island, and Montauk.
So it is not as simple as saying that schoolies arrive on Cape Cod in early May and the "keepers" arrive two weeks later. This is especially true with recent revelations that there are populations of striped bass in Nova Scotia and the rivers of Maine. Whether these bass migrate north or south (or just stay put) is still a bit of a mystery.
In conclusion, the stripers we catch on Cape Cod come from many different places, and this influences when they arrive on Cape Cod. I don't know about you, but I'm just hoping to put a bend in the rod as soon as possible!
What do you think?
Let me know by commenting below.
Dex has been fishing since 1963, and has been a member of My Fishing Cape Cod since 2013. He and his dog Gracie can be found exploring and fishing anywhere from Block Island, to the Canal, to Chatham. You can learn more about Dex by clicking here.