Ramblings of a Catskill fly fisher

Striped-bass fishing in the Hudson River

Posted 5/3/23

Without going into a lot of detail, suffice it to say that striped bass, like other species of coastal, pelagic fishes,* suffered periodic, yet significant population declines.

The first decline …

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Ramblings of a Catskill fly fisher

Striped-bass fishing in the Hudson River


Without going into a lot of detail, suffice it to say that striped bass, like other species of coastal, pelagic fishes,* suffered periodic, yet significant population declines.

The first decline of which I was made aware occurred in the late 1970s and early ‘80s. That’s when striper populations all along the Atlantic coast crashed. The Hudson River was the exception.

Then in 1976, stripers we collected from the Hudson were found to contain PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in concentrations in excess of federal standards, so the species was deemed unsafe to eat. As a result, all commercial fishing in the Hudson was curtailed, and a moratorium on the consumption of striped bass was implemented by New York State. The commercial fishery for striped bass has never been re-opened in the Hudson.

In recent years, striper populations once again declined, this time because of overfishing. Tragically, data provided by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission revealed that about eight percent of the striped bass population is lost to hooking mortality associated with catch-and-release fishing.

That mortality is caused when stripers are hooked deep in the mouth or throat by bait fishermen using J-style hooks. J hooks are no longer legal and anglers are now required to use circle hooks instead.

Striped bass enter the Hudson in April and stay until mid-June. Spawning takes place between West Point, NY and Kingston, NY. Striper eggs are demersal, which means they sink without the movement of tides to keep them afloat.

It is during this annual spawning run that striper fishing in the Hudson reaches a fever pitch. Based on what I’ve learned, the Hudson has become a world-class fishery, with females caught from the river exceeding 40 pounds. Striper fishing is so good that several charters operate along the river. Fishing extends from the Mario Cuomo Memorial Bridge in Haverstraw Bay all the way to the dam at Troy, NY. That’s where tidal influence ends.

Stripers are most active when water temperatures range between 55 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. May is likely the best month for fishing.

Most anglers who fish for striped bass use bait. Cut herring or live herring are preferred.

Bass fishermen look for stripers, pushing bait fish at or near the surface. Bait is either cast to a likely spot and allowed to drift, or trolled behind a boat. Hot spots are off the mouths of the Rondout, Esopus and Catskill Creeks.

Since bait provides the best results, few striper anglers use lures or flies. Those two types of artificial bait work in other parts of the Atlantic fishery. In fact, I’ve read several articles about how fly fishermen have done very well using large flies off the coast of Maine. And I’m certain, based on my experience using a variety of Rapala crankbait, that those lures would definitely bring strikes from striped bass.

While I don’t know anyone who fly fishes the Hudson for striped bass, at some point I would like to try. A boat of course would be necessary, in order to locate feeding stripers and get into casting range—about 50 to 60 feet—with a fly rod. Getting that close might be a bit tricky. But I don’t believe that stripers are particularly difficult to catch. As a species that roams the open oceans and coastal rivers, they are subject to little angling pressure, and are therefore not leader shy. So casting a very large streamer fly into a pod of feeding stripers should definitely yield results.

Stripers are school fish, with large numbers of individuals in the same size range—with the exception of spawning females, which are much larger and less numerous. Fish exceeding 10 pounds are common.

So anyone deciding to fly fish for these large, strong fish needs to be prepared with stout tackle. I would opt for a 7- or 8-weight fly rod with a floating fly line, tipped with a short leader testing at least 15 pounds.

For flies, very large streamers that mimic herring—the favored food—would work best. And funny as it might sound, large poppers could also work, although casting large, air-resistant lures any distance with a fly rod would be quite a challenge.

The Hudson River striped season extends from April 1 until November 30. There is a slot limit, which means that only those stripers that range between 18 to 28 inches can be harvested. All others must be returned to the river. There is a one-fish-per-bag limit per angler per day.

While a freshwater fishing license is not required to fish the tidal portion of the Hudson, for anadromous** species like striped bass, anglers are required to comply with New York’s Recreational Marine Fishing Registry. That process can be completed online or at any town clerk’s office. Those folks who wish to fish for freshwater species like large- and smallmouth bass need a New York State freshwater fishing license.

By the time this piece appears in the River Reporter, striper season will be in full swing. So if you haven’t fished for these wonderful game fish, now is the time to gather your tackle and head for the Hudson!

*Pelagic fishes roam the coastal oceans and estuaries and feed near the surface.

**Anadromous fish migrate from salt water to fresh in order to spawn.

striped bass, Hudson River


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