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Striped Bass Fishing around Swapmscott, MA

If you’ve read any of my travel blogs, you’re familiar with my mission to fish all 50 states before I turn 50.  If this is your first encounter with my travel blogs, tap this link for the background of the 50 before 50 mission.  Because there’s only so much time in a year to put in work here in the Buffalo Niagara Region AND travel to a few fishy destinations, I rarely repeat a state I’ve visited in the past – that’ll happen when the mission is complete.  However, after fishing out of Martha’s Vineyard, MA; Mystic, CT; and Narragansett, RI in years past – I walked away from those trips feeling like I needed to come back to New England.

As she often does, Mother Nature had something to say on my previous trips to New England.  On the Martha’s Vineyard, MA trip – it rained, the wind blew, and sporadic thunderstorms caused problems.  We were hoping to get into some striped bass but connected to some bluefish instead.  Good times with an awesome guide but we just didn’t get the experience I was hoping for due to Mother Nature’s crappy temperament.  Plus, we were there in July – not a great time for striped bass there and Martha’s Vineyard was a zoo with tourists.

On the first trip to CT and RI, wind/huge seas caused problems.  I got out one day in CT in borderline unsafe conditions and caught a schoolie striper on a “Doc” – my first of the species.  It was small and I fought it in some big rollers, so it was difficult to fully appreciate what the animal was capable of.  I returned to RI the following year and hit the “worm hatch” perfectly – it was awesome – we caught great numbers of fish, but they were on the small side.

Although those “worm eaters” were schoolies, the way they hit a bait as well as their power impressed the hell out of me.  I’m not particularly fond of coastal fishing, or ocean fishing in general for that matter – I prefer lakes, rivers, and streams – freshwater stuff.  However, the aggression and power of those schoolies left me feeling like I had to return to the region to get into a big one…and it’s haunted me ever since.

On Trophy Hunting

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a trophy hunter – I’m all about the experience of connecting to the environment and trying to get a sense of what’s going on.  Naturally, I want to catch fish, but that nearly always happens because I hire guides when I travel to new places, so I’m not worried about it.  The trust and confidence I place in a guide leaves me open to observe what’s going on around me without the stress of finding fish on my own.  Plus, guides tend to know where the fish are and I’m kinda skilled at fishing so catching is a high probability.

On all my destination/travel trips, my goal is to catch at least one – regardless of size.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer to catch a large specimen of the target species, but I’m never disappointed if I don’t – I just want to see the creature up close.  My thoughts on “getting a big one” are as follows – it’s a desire in the background but it doesn’t dominate my consciousness.  I fish a lot and will continue to do so until I can’t hold a rod anymore.  At some point, trophies will emerge (I’ve held quite a few) – by volume/time on the water.  Hunting for/specifically pursuing trophies only adds anxiety/stress to the experience…for me.

A lot of folks want trophies – it’s what drives their pursuit.  I’m not knocking that desire/objective but as I mentioned above, it’s not my approach because it takes away from my experience.  So…you’re probably wondering how/why catching a big striped bass started haunting my thoughts.  Simply put – the mature/adult/big stripers are a different animal.  Schoolies are the children – I wanted to see an adult up close.

You can make a strong case that I’m infected with the trophy bug and was doing a good job subduing it until I encountered a striped bass.  Still, I’ve travelled all over the country and caught fish everywhere I’ve been.  Few of those fish would count as trophies so why would a catching a “big” striped bass plague me?  Here’s a close parallel for those that are familiar with coastal fishing – I’ve caught many tailing redfish on grassy flats during high tides.  However, I’ve never caught an adult or big bull drum – just the puppies that live back in the estuaries.  I’ve seen how big those mature redfish get and I’ve heard how hard they fight, but I don’t have a burning desire to catch one.  Well, I kinda do – but I’m not going out of my way to make that happen until my 50-state mission is complete and even then, who knows.  So why stripers?  Simply put – I don’t know – it just happened, and I had to see it though.

The Latest Trip to New England

I’ve mentioned this in more than a few “Observations from the Water” but it’s worth repeating here for context – every year, I take a vacation during the first couple weeks of June.  After fishing around the Buffalo Niagara Region near daily from mid-March through the end of May, it’s important for me to take a breather to avoid burnout.  However, there are problems with taking a break during the first couple weeks of June.

One problem with travelling at the beginning of June is that in most states, kids are fresh out of school so lots of folks are travelling.  Travel costs can be exorbitant, and many places are crowded.  Second, many western destinations are a gamble in the beginning of June due to snowmelt/flooding/high water.  The ideal destination for me during that period is within driving distance (for me, that means less than 8 hours) and, more importantly, there’s a “hot bite” – some fishy phenomenon where the action is consistently good.

My friends Mike, Chuck, and Kyle have been making at least one annual pilgrimage to Massachusetts and Connecticut for some time now – usually in June, July, or September.  Back when Instagram was first gaining traction, they connected with a few guys from the area and discovered that New England anglers are as hardcore as us Great Lakes guys.  So, my buddies started going to New England to fish for striped bass when the action was best, and their New England friends would come here when the steelhead fishing was best.  That dynamic endures to this day.

Over the past couple of years, my buddies have been encouraging me to join them on these trips to New England, but the timing was never right.  Another complication is fact that Kyle and Chuck both became fathers over the past year, so they haven’t been able to fish much/I haven’t spent much time with them lately.  This year, all of us made it a priority to make the trip and it worked out very well – I’ll let the pictures tell it.  

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Conclusion

It was a successful trip by all counts.  As in all trips, we experienced minor amounts of friction but were able to overcome and make some magic happen.  I can’t thank the bros enough for inviting me on this one – they wanted me to get a big striped bass more than I wanted it for myself and put me in position to make it happen more than a couple times.  

Fishing the annual striper migration is something I can see myself doing yearly – particularly during that early June window.  The timing is perfect for me, the target species is impressive by all counts, and the logistics are simple.  What other ingredients do you need for an enjoyable trip?

It felt good fishing with the bros again.  As I mentioned above, life has been getting in the way of us spending time together as a crew.  Making memories with close friends and/or family is the most important part of my travels.  Chuck, Kyle, and Mike had all kinds of stories about previous trips – I’m looking forward to being able to contribute to the tales in the future.  I also re-learned the following lesson: when life starts getting so busy that opportunities to get on the water with friends become fleeting, it’s increasingly important to be bold and pick dates to get together.  I’m optimistic we’ll be able to keep it up…maybe even expand the crew over time.

 

Here are some notes on the logistics for Striped Bass Fishing in New England:

  • Do some research on the timing of the striper migration – check out this link for more information
  • I’m not a fan of going to crowded places – especially on vacation – I prefer staying in small hamlets with little to no traffic. However, the cities on the New England coast are the oldest in the country with a lot to do and see so there’s a little something for everyone from the Chesapeake Bay to the coast of Maine – both on and off the water.  On this past trip, we based out of Swampscott, MA.  It was a nice community with lots of shops and restaurants (plus a 24-hour CVS that ended up being important after getting off the water around 1:30AM).  The Boston, MA traffic sucked but that was only a minor inconvenience.
  • Fishing the New England coast is expensive. Operating costs for charter captains are crazy and the cost of living in the region is very high.  Those factors make their way into the cost of a trip.  To minimize costs, go there as a crew so you can split it up.
  • Nearly all the coastal communities in New England have a stable of charter captains – do your research and choose wisely.
  • Most of the folks reading this are from the Buffalo Niagara region so this point is for you – the drive time typically won’t exceed 7.5 hours. Get on 90, set the cruise to 75mph, and coast – you’ll get there before too long.