Fly Fishing for Hudson River Striped Bass

The Secret Season (Nighthawking Stripers)

Imagine the moon hanging like a powdered jelly doughnut in an ink black sky, and the ambiance of a quite firefly accented pool on a small creek whose surface is filled with countless small splashes. While this plethora of activity is going on at about intervals of 3-5 minutes you will either hear or see the huge splash of a striper breaking the water at various visual and audio locations some close enough, right at your feet, to give you a start. It's a big adrenaline rush to observe this action which has probably been going on for millennia, even if you don't hook up.

There is about a six week season available to fly fishermen in New York that is all but ignored by the vast majority of adherents of the long wand. Those intrepid souls, who at this time of the year, busy themselves casting flies upon the rivers and kills of the Catskills. Let's keep it that way. If you are one of them read no further tradition has you anchored squarely in a ritualistic observance. However if chasing hatchery stock trucks and pretending that that it is on par with your brethren wading on the Big Hole, the Yellowstone or the Kootenai is getting to be a bit long in the tooth, let's get on with it.

At a temperature of about 40 degrees schools of anadromous bait fish gather at the mouth of the Hudson in preparation for their spawning run. These fish, known as alewives, green backs (Alosa pseudoharengus), blue backs (Alosa aestivalis) and in aggregate as "river herring" are the impetuses for the secret fishery. As the water warms further, the schools ascend en masse up the Hudson over the still torpid schools of striped bass who in nature's annual cue are still awaiting a temperature of closer to 50 degrees to awaken from their long winters nap. In the vanguard are the alewives and these are the proverbial fish to, in fly fisherman's parlance, "match the hatch". Streamer patterns from 5-8-inches will suffice, though the actual alewives themselves are closer to a foot long.

All fly fisherman that are familiar with the broad Hudson as they cross the George Washington or Tappan Zee on their way to rivulets of the Catskills, will dismiss it as too large to adequately fish with a fly rod, and for the most part they are right. Yet, just as the once aqua incognito of the Atlantic has now become a venue to fly fishers with the advancements of knowledge and equipment so now has the Hudson begun to unlock her secrets. Perhaps this knowledge was just lost and forgotten during the last 200 years when the Hudson became the cloaca maxima to the Industrial Revolution. The key ingredients to the secret fishery are these:

One, alewives need fast, clean, rocky bottomed tributary streams to spawn in. This fact traditionally concentrated particularly the alewives into all the Hudson tributaries. They will travel upstream to spawn with each fish, in an effort similar to shad, attempting to advantageously deposit their eggs as far upstream as possible, they are stopped only at the first barrier to migration. Large dredged tributaries diffuse your opportunities; small wadeable tributaries are your targets.Two, stripers on their own spawning run will feed on alewives, but the stripers stay deep in the dark safety of main channel of the Hudson (ask any bait fisherman using chunk herring), that is until nightfall, when darkness spreads security over all waters.

Three, most small tributaries to the Hudson have a bar at their mouth; here is where the spring freshets drop their bed loads. At low tides there may be only a foot of water over a bar, no survival instinct hard wired striper is going to risk passing a bar at low tide no matter how alluring the alewives are. So they will wait for a high tide at night.

Four, alewives begin their mating ritual at the top of the water column. A female hangs suspended just below the surface surrounded by a cadre of males who rub against her inducing the female to eventually dive for the bottom and release her eggs, followed closely by the males and their milt.

Interested fly fishermen will have to do their footwork, homework, and research. Not every tributary is pristine enough or undamaged by human activity to still have a good run of river herring. Herring like salmon return to their home streams to spawn following the scent of their natal waters, pollution, power plant intakes, over harvesting, incidental by catch and probably predation have devastated herring runs in New England and to some extent also in the Hudson. This is not a "fish and tell" where to go article.

Your preliminary activity is to see if there are herring present, at all, and this will involve first scouting out your target creek in daylight at both high and low tides, and then at night when the herring are apt to be there in abundance. Remember tidal waters are held in the public trust for the people of the state of NY so finding an access where you are not trespassing across private lands may require a trip to the public record office or access by walking upstream from the Hudson itself. The Hudson can have a high tide of 5.5 feet (i.e. over the top of most heads not to mention waders) and that can go higher with a either a blow in tide and or a high tributary flow, know your tides. While you are at this activity you might as well volunteer your gathered information with Amy Bloomfield for the NYS Herring monitoring program visit the website (on the link provided) and share the info, herring need all the help they can get.

As far as fly fishing paraphernalia for this fishery, the essentials are, a good headlamp, felt soled waders, for rods you can get by with a freshwater rod, at least a 6wt., with a very good disc drag reel, a weight forward floating line and a straight 25lb. test leader (I have caught a 33 inch striper on the six but be for-warned, your arm will be a limp noodle by the time you land the striper) I've since upgraded to a 7wt. I've used either a regular fly fishing vest or an over the shoulder pack for flies and leader material. So get out there and do some night hawking for stripers and help the herring fishery to boot.

The Bloemhof Dam Nature Reserve

The Bloemhof Dam is one of the largest dams in South Africa, covering an area of some 25 000 ha and reaching over 100 km upstream from the dam wall. The reserve is a 12 000 ha conservancy in open Kalahari scrub, thorn-veldt country, offering the visitor a combination of game viewing on the reserve or fishing at one of the most popular angling sites in South Africa. The reserve hosts large herds of springbok, black wildebeest, eland and gemsbok. Over 250 species of birds have been recorded at the reserve including some rare waterfowl on the dam.