I was really looking forward to getting out on the water today to target some striped bass. My friend, Brad and I got an early start and we decided to make the trip to Sandy Hook and into the ocean to try to land a few stripers. We were successful in a very strange circumstance today - but successful nonetheless and I will be eating striped bass soon!
It was a perfect fishing morning and it looked like we were going to have a great day. We pulled up to a party boat that was anchored off the Hook and immediately we began to read signs of fish on the sonar. People on the boat were catching fish already and we saw many, many large stripers landed with an occasional smaller fish thrown back. They were using clams for bait and I only had a couple with me. We decided to drop jigs and throw artificial lures but the bass were so keyed in on the clams that they didn't even touch our lures. I eventually put some clam pieces on for bait but the fish were hanging so tight to that party boat that they didn't seem to have an interest in my baits. It was very frustrating for several hours like this.
We finally decided to pack it in and head for home and maybe try the river closer to home. As we were coming in, there was a pack of seagulls just sitting on the water - floating in one concentrated area. I drove closer to see that they were pecking at this striped bass that was floating near the surface. As we passed, I scooped it with my net and could see that this fish was very freshly dead. Not far away, we noticed another 'floater' and as we drove close to scoop this one up we saw that it was still alive and kicking. Interesting. Instead of catching fish we went into scavenger mode and just drove along scooping them up.
Let me explain what was happening. . . The party boat was full of people catching fish one after another. They use clams for bait and often times the striped bass will swallow the entire bait and hook into their belly. When you try to unhook a fish that is 'gut hooked' many times this fish will not survive. The process of trying to unhook the fish will tear up its gut or gills and the fish will die shortly after. On a party boat, if the fish is under 28 inches it is illegal to keep so they end up throwing these short fish back into the water. Most of them survive to eat another day but many of these gut hooked short fish end up dying. This is what we were finding - very recently dead fish thrown back by the party boat. Some of them were still alive and breathing but on the verge of death. We ended up scooping four bass and threw one back because the birds had already done a job and mangled it up a bit.
I took a risk keeping these fish because it is also illegal for me to keep a striper under 28 inches. But today I was a scavenger. These fish were dead or dying and there was nothing I could do to stop that from happening. So I made the most of a situation and as a result I will be eating striped bass for several days.