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Where are the Big Bass
50 Pound Stripers: Where are they?
It is rare in this century for someone to catch a 50-pound striped bass
So, I got excited when multiple catches of 50-plus-pound stripers began
showing up in reports from weighing stations and on tournament
For example, last year only five 50-pounders were caught among the more
than 2,000 competitors in the five-month On The Water Magazine Striper
Cup Tournament. This year, with two of the better fishing weeks yet to
go, 16 stripers weighing 50 pounds or more have been entered. A quarter
of those were over 55 pounds, and one was just shy of 60 pounds.
Is this the promised regeneration of the East Coast striper stock
depleted 40 years ago by high kill rates practiced among fishermen? Or
is it just a fluke?
Well, just like almost everything else about fishing, a survey yesterday
of people in the know came up with more than one explanation.
Part of the explanation is that the On The Water Tournament has grown in
popularity in its second year in existence. More than 3,000 people have
registered stripers caught from New Jersey to Maine in the tournament
designed to bring the Northeast coast fishing community together to
celebrate the striped bass.
"It's been great. Our tournament has grown a lot. There are more
participants all along the coast," magazine editor and former tournament
director Kevin Blinkoff said about the spike in 50-pounders.
"But I also think there were a lot of bigger fish in Rhode Island this
spring, particularly in Narragansett Bay, that helped the 50-pound
category. There were also bigger menhaden around this year than in
recent years and the bigger fish came in for them."
Also helping to boost participation and sizes caught, Blinkoff said, "is
the fact that there also has been great fishable weather this year
compared to last year."
The tournament is a revival of the popular R.J. Schaefer Brewing Co.
Striper Cup that captured striped bass anglers from 1947 to 1976.
Replicating the Schaefer tradition, the magazine established "pounder
clubs" for bass of 30 pounds or more, and awards pins for each 10-pound
increment of weight. Silver pins are awarded for the 50-pound category.
There have been no winners of the 60-pound gold pin.
Rhode Island fisherman Raymond Jobin leads the tournament with his
59.75-pound striper boated on Aug. 14, reportedly near the Southwest
ledge off Block Island. Jobin also earned a silver pin on July 7 with a
"There have been bigger fish caught this year," said Jim Gray, owner of
Gray's Boat Yard in Westerly, R.I. "You are not going to hear about the
60-pounders because they are being caught by the commercial guys and
they don't want other boats moving in on their spots."
Gray, among others, said the abundance of 50-pounders is an indication
that the striped bass management plan put in place in the 1980s is
"Nobody wants to hear about the management plan part of it, but it seems
like it is beginning to produce results now," Gray said. "It's good for
everybody, especially if you're the one holding the rod when a
Millville author and legendary trophy striper fisherman Frank Daignault
said yesterday that it's a little too early to be reaping the benefits
of the management plan. The 70-year-old Daignault, who has published six
books on striper fishing, keeps track of 50-pounders that are caught
using published reports and other accounts. Although not as precise as a
striper registry would be, Daignault's analysis is one of few that
"The trend is definitely up, but it will be at least three years before
you see a big jump," Daignault said. "A lot of people exaggerate and a
lot don't report their catches, so I figure it balances out."
Daignault uses a system much like the one used by educators to predict
enrollment trends: He added the number of years it takes to produce a
50-pound striper (21) to the biggest year class of stripers. The 1986
year class of stripers was very low, Daignault said.
The trophy fisherman's records show that the 50-pound class of stripers
peaked in 1967 at 225, then plummeted from there. The most recent upward
trend began in 2002, when Daignault recorded 25 trophy stripers, up from
18 reported in 2001. According to his numbers, there were more than 60
in 2003, 53 in 2004, 46 in 2005, and 70 in 2006. By Daignault's count,
39 stripers weighing 50 or more pounds have been caught so far this
year, a number on track to produce a total about the same as last year.
"No one can predict where these groups of big fish will appear,"
Daignault noted. "Where they appear changes constantly. We (Cape Cod)
haven't had big bass in years."
The lion's share of the trophy fish move about between Montauk, N.Y.,
and Monomoy Island, Cuttyhunk Island and Block Island, according to
Daignault. He said he last connected with a fish over 50 pounds in 1969.
Boylston fisherman David Butler, who fishes for stripers mostly in Cape
Cod Bay, said yesterday that there have been more fish around this year
than last, but they haven't necessarily been larger. Butler and
teammates of the Sandwich Basin Yacht
Club team are currently in sixth place in the On The Water Tournament.
Butler contributed two stripers toward the team's score, one of 39
pounds and another of 33.4 pounds.
"This spring, we had big fish, much bigger than in years past. And there
were a lot more fish," said Capt. Rich Wood of Nelson's Bait & Tackle
Shop in Provincetown. Wood is a charter captain who fishes mostly off
Race Point and Wood End.
Because sand eels are the prevalent bait in the area, the stripers tend
to be smaller than in areas such as Rhode Island, where stripers have
access to large menhaden.
"There's nothing like a ton of menhaden to grow the fish," Wood said.
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