Photo: Blaine Anderson holding a striper that is estimated to weigh 74-pounds.
Every season, striper fishermen throughout the Northeast set out with the same goal — catch a new personal best. Raising the bar on one’s own biggest-ever bass is a never-ending pursuit and can be narrowed to specific circumstances. Biggest-ever striper on a lure, biggest-ever striper on the fly, biggest during the fall run, at night, in the backwaters; the number of personal-best categories is endless.
We polled a few dozen of the Northeast’s most dedicated striper fishermen and charter captains, asking for the stories and circumstances surrounding the largest stripers they (or their clients) boated. Each story contained kernels of wisdom that can help any striper fishermen shorten the learning curve.
I usually fish the Connecticut River through May, but the run had been unusually poor. With charters on the books, a couple of us decided to head outside to the salt to do some scouting. This was a full two and half weeks earlier than I had ever fished Long Island Sound. I had no idea if I could find bait, so I was ready for anything. We looked for bunker in all the likely spots, with no luck. I then began looking for scup. It took nearly an hour to find a few legal-sized baits, but we had enough for an attempt on the reefs.
This one-of-a-kind mount shows Captain Blaine Anderson’s two largest striper bass; a 64-pounder and a 57-inch estimated 74-pounder.
On the first drift, we had a couple of short hits—probably small fish. I moved the boat and made the next drift line 25-feet to the north of the first. It didn’t take long for the scup to get nervous and the dance was quickly followed by a solid thump, leading to a steady run down the reef. As soon as I engaged the reel, I could tell this was a different kind of fish because the first run took more than 100-yards of metered braid. We fired up the boat and followed in an attempt to decrease the angle of the line to prevent being cut off on the boulders below. After a few more runs of decreasing distance, I got my first look at the fish, a striped bass. I was stunned. The very first fish of my season was going to surpass 50-pounds. I turned it one last time and she popped up alongside the boat. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. She was definitely far larger than my previous personal best of 65-pounds.
We put my 60-pound Boga Grip on her, and the scale was instantly buried. With no tape on the boat, I measured the fish by cutting a piece of fluorocarbon for its length and another for the girth before getting her back in the water. We spent 20 minutes trying to revive the striper, but it was clear that she had exhausted herself in the fight despite our best attempts to help her survive. The measurements of this massive striped bass was a length of 57.5-inches and a girth of 32.25-inches. Based on the IGFA weight formula (girth x girth x length / 800), the fish weighed in at 74.75-pounds. She now hangs on the wall of my man cave in a one-of-a-kind mount paired with my 65-pounder.
Jesse and his boys, Pat and Joey, are regular clients who are exceptional fishermen. The year before, they had several fish over 40-pounds on flies, which is not easily done. Jesse had 48-and-44 pounders. When they booked with me at the Fly Fishing Show, Jesse said it was time to raise the bar. He was looking for a 50 on the fly—which is almost impossible. At this point, I figured I was playing with house money after the success we’d had in the past. Most of my early-summer bass trips are in the afternoons to late evenings when the fish are more active up top (thanks to less boat traffic and the change of light). We got out around noon and planned to scout until the bass started to show because the bright and hot conditions were not ideal striper weather.
Captain Jason Dapra of Blitz Bound Charters put his client, Jesse, on a 54-pound fly rod striper.
Almost at once, we saw a disturbance on the water a few hundred yards away. We motored up and found a huge school of stripers tearing through a bunker school. I immediately got out the teasing rod and the boys got their flies in the water. After an hour, we had landed three fish in the 40s and broken an 11-weight. When the fish went down, we made a little move and went back to work, trying to single out fish that were spread out and working on smaller schools of bunker. Jesse’s buddy, Pat, got tight to a big one on the bow. While Pat was playing the fish, Jesse kept blind-casting from the stern, and his fly got hammered. The boys battled for 20-minutes and eventually brought in a 46-pound fish for Pat and a 54-pounder for Jesse; 100-pounds of stripers on the boat!
Sean Ross | Fishing with Captain Brian Patterson | Patterson Guide Service
Capt. Patterson and I launched just before sunset. The serenity of the water as dusk approached and the sight of other boats heading in for the day were already much-needed breaks in my normal routine. After traveling for what seemed like an eternity and well into darkness, Brian found his spot to begin fishing. “Why didn’t we fish the miles of water we just passed over?” was my thought, but I trusted the captain.
After a period of no luck, I noticed my rod starting to bend. “Brian, I may have something or be hung up,” I said as he sprang into action. “No, that’s a fish! And it looks to be big!”
Hiring a guide provides not only a chance at the biggest bass of your life, but a crash course on how to break your personal best on your own. Sean Ross caught this big fish with Captain Brian Patterson off the coast of Rhode Island.
I started reeling, not knowing if the heavy pull was normal or just felt that way because of the current. Several minutes later, the fish made an appearance. No, it wasn’t a piece of driftwood. By Brian’s light shining on a white slab, it appeared to be a striper. I watched him work at a hectic but deliberately careful pace to land the fish. After getting it into the boat, Brian exclaimed, “Dude! That’s the biggest fish any of my clients have ever caught!”
After weighing and measuring the fish at 54.5 inches, we took a few pictures. As the sun rose, I honestly think he was more excited about the catch than even I was.
My clients had caught lots of quality fish over the previous two weeks. I then had a trip with a father and his two teenage sons, and it was the first time one of the sons had been striper fishing. His first few fish were mid-20-pounders, which was impressive for a first-timer.
Learning your home waters inside and out will pay dividends with large stripers. This 55-pounder caught with Captain Mike Roy (left) was the culmination of years of experience learning the conditions and locations that produce big fish.
As it got darker, we moved to an area where I’d previously caught some nice-sized specimens. That same son hooked into a big fish that broke the surface and made a few nice runs. I knew it was big, but I didn’t know it was going to be the largest bass I had ever decked on my boat. For years, I have been awfully close to cracking the 50-pound mark, with several 47s, 48s, 49s, and a 49.5. I enjoy chasing a 50-pounder, and for this quest, I had to be 100-percent certain this fish eclipsed that mark.
Fishing around the new-and-full moon offers the best opportunity to catch a trophy striper.
As my teenage first-timer brought the fish to the boat, I reached down to grab it with a death grip. I couldn’t tell that it was much bigger than many of my previous large bass until I pulled her over the gunwale, and I saw that it was different – its head and shoulders were massive. I quickly held it up on my Boga Grip, and watched as the scale stopped at 55-pounds.
As I revived the bass, I admired her head, shoulders, and tail before she kicked off. I took a minute to process everything that had just happened and felt a sense of a lifelong accomplishment. When I reflected on the fish again later that night, I was actually happy that it had taken me so many years to finally break the magic mark, and it happened in my home waters.
A return fly client and passionate fly-tyer John Bentley booked a couple November dates months in advance. When the time came, we were weathered out. Though I had a full schedule, we agreed that I would give him a call if any dates opened up. About a week later, a body of big fish showed up. November 8, 2018, was a great day, and when I was washing up, I got a call from my client for Nov. 11 and 12, who had to cancel because of work obligations. This was perfect for John since he needed to fish for two consecutive days to make the most of his 6-hour drive from Western Pennsylvania to Long Beach Island.
On day one, we fished hard. We got out at zero-dark-thirty and ran to where I’d caught the fish. We marked lots of bunker down deep, so I knew it was the place to keep our focus. It took a while, but we eventually got our first fish at 7:30 a.m., but then things scattered. We ended up getting two more during the day’s trip, and all of the fish were in the 20-to-30 pound class. Unfortunately, the conditions didn’t allow for fly-casting. We caught the fish by bouncing big swim shads and slow-trolling large wooden plugs. It was fun, but not what John was after. He wanted to fool a quality bass with a fly that he had tied and presented.
On day two, we left the trolling gear at the dock. I knew my day wasn’t going to be easy because we were strictly fly-fishing all day. We started out early again and this time, we broke the ice right away when I put John on some stripers at sunrise. As the sun got higher and more boats crowded in, I knew things would get more difficult. The bite was slow, so I took a run to where we’d fished the day before, but there was nothing – no marks, no birds, no life. I decided to keep running.
John Bentley left the conventional gear at the dock on a trip with Captain Greg Cudnik, and he was rewarded with this big fly rod striper.
While roaming around, I got a call from a friend who’d found small bunker pods with a couple of fish on them. He was eight miles away, and as I headed in that direction, I passed a big fleet of boats trolling. I had been listening to them on the radio all morning and they had picked up only an occasional fish, so I ran out and around them.
A mile or two away from the fleet, we spotted birds dancing low to the water. Slowing down, we quickly read a few good boomerang marks on the sounder. A few minutes later, there was some scattered bunker and activity on the surface.
John was rigged up and ready to present his big musky fly to the fish, but, of course, it wasn’t that easy. He was getting follows, but nothing would commit. He decided to change to a different fly that pushed more water.
Seconds later, there was a big boil 15-yards off the port side of the boat. I yelled “Nine o’clock – good fish on top!” John put the bushy, bucktail stacked fly right in there. The fish saw it and followed toward the boat. My first thought was, “Come on! Another follower.” However, this one committed and put up a great fight.
I was 23 years old and testing out my new rod with Billy Silvia on his boat. I missed two fish back to back, so when the third one hit, I was swinging, but felt like I was snagged! I’ll never forget that first run – it seemed to go on forever.
Captain Rob Taylor had missed two fish in a row before swinging for the fences and hooking into this 58-pounder.
I had the pleasure of introducing my Aussie friend and well-known giant trevally fisherman, Ben Jones, to American bass fishing, starting with some Rhode Island striped bass. The bite happened to be on the day he arrived, so I dragged the poor guy right off the plane and we went straight out in the middle of the night.
Captain Jack Sprengel (left) with Ben Jones, showing off a fish of a lifetime.
It turned out to be the right play because less than an hour into the trip, after Ben had already released 25-to-mid-40 pound fish, Ben insisted I pick up a rod and fish alongside him. On the first drift, I hooked up and got absolutely worked. A solid fight later on a Shimano Thunnus 6000 spooled with 20-pound-test PowerPro, we were pleasantly surprised by a monster striped bass. We measured her on a release ruler, and she used the entire length—past the word “huge.” After snapping photos, Ben had the honor of releasing her, and she swam away without any groggy hesitation. The big girls are tough to revive sometimes, and for that reason, I prefer not to remove them from the water.
Immediately following that fish, Ben landed and released another bass in the mid-to-high 40s before we called it a night.
Based on many fish I have weighed in over the years, I estimated that monster bass was in the mid-to-upper 60’s. However, with her genetics, if she had been full of eggs and bait, she might have come in heavier. Bass are remarkable fish once they get over 50-inches. As ego-driven anglers, we can get caught up in those pounds. I’ve caught bass that were 52-inches and weighed 46-pounds, and I’ve caught ones that were only 49-inches but weighed 53-pounds. Regardless of what that monster would have been on a scale, she was the largest bass I have landed to date. The crew, company, and experience made it all that much more memorable.
The biggest bass taken on my boat came from the Delaware Bay in November 2010 on a bunker chunk. I included four rods in the spread; two with heads and two with chunks, two close to the boat, and two as far as I could lob a “grenade cast.” The fish ate a chunk. It was the first bite of the day and Robby Jiacopello was on the rod.
From the 2000s to early 2010s, one of those places was Delaware Bay in November. Robby Jiacopello caught this jumbo D-Bay bass on a chunk with Captain Scott Newhall.
During those years, the bays a few miles from my home were loaded with bass up to 30-pounds, but Delaware Bay seemed to hold all the big cows, 40-pounds and up, making it the place to go for anglers hoping to set a new record for themselves.
Going into this trip, we had two options: stay in the bay and plug teen-size bass or roll the dice and run out into the ocean to look for larger, post-spawn Chesapeake fish migrating north. Ryan Durkin and Steve Notte wanted to test their luck and search for a couple of big bites on topwater plugs.
The wind was light and variable, with bluebird skies and seas of less than 1-foot. These conditions made it perfect to search for wolfpacks of stripers pushing along the Jersey coast. We started working the 60-foot contour line, looking for any sign of life in the area. After a couple of hours of searching, we eventually ran into small groups of bass cruising and singling out adult bunker. It was go-time. Both Ryan and Steve began casting a 9-inch Musky Mania Doc, and as they fan-casted, out of nowhere a bass appeared, hot on Steve’s plug. After the fish blew the plug 2-feet into the air several times, Steve finally got the Mustad KVD trebles dog-boned across the bass’s mouth.
On this day, Captain Rob Radlof opted to bypass big schools of smaller stripers to search for small wolfpacks of giant bass, like this one caught by Ryan Durkin.
With the bass at the boat, we knew right away that this was going to be a fish of a lifetime. Steve raised his personal best at 49-pounds on the dot, breaking his earlier best by almost 30-pounds. After a quick photo, we released the fish and got back in the game since the window for sight-fishing large bass in deep water typically doesn’t last long.
Back on the hunt, it was Ryan’s turn as we rolled up on a 3-pack of fish pushing water. He fired a cast, leading the fish, and with a couple quick twitches, we all watched the largest of the group turn and inhale the plug. This bass pulled the Boga down to 47-pounds and was quickly released to rejoin its buddies. With conditions deteriorating, we pulled a few more fish out of the mix and then had to head back to the barn.
Over the years, there have been countless bites from big fish in large schools blitzing along the New Jersey coast. It’s not often that you can creep up on a small group of fish tailing, feed them a topwater plug, then watch the entire hunt go down second by second.
I was tasked by Chris Shoplock, a Daiwa Reels rep, to take their head reel designer, Takeshi Nagayama, out to try the new Daiwa BG reels and Proteus rods. I did not choose the day because I felt it was too close to the full moon and we were getting a late start, but I’m game for anything, so we left the dock and headed out.
I always ask my guests or clients the sizes of their personal bests. Takeshi said his was 31-pounds, which was certainly respectable for an angler from Japan who doesn’t get to fish stripers much. We hit a spot that has been a go-to for me over the last 30 years. It’s small and productive, though not when there are any other boats there. I was in luck, and it was empty.
Captain Frank Crescitelli with a trophy striper.
This location is a great spot for topwater plugs, but not for large fish. We got several fish and one 30-pounder, just one pound short of Takeshi’s best. Soon after we released the fish, I got a call from a buddy that his charter was over and he was leaving behind busting bass. Well, you know the rule, “Don’t leave fish…,” but I wanted to get Takeshi his biggest-ever striper, so I took the chance.
We found a larger bunker school and dropped in a couple of live baits. Shoplock had brought another friend as well as Takeshi, and they hooked up, landing huge bass. I then put them at the back of the boat and Takeshi up front with a Guides Secret Pencil Popper. While I was explaining that this plug didn’t need a ton of work like other pencils and that I like to make big pauses, he got a hit—a massive explosion throwing the plug out of the water. He landed bass after bass, well over a dozen, and most were over 40-pounds; the pencils out-fished the live bait 4-to-1. We kept following the schools of bunker and worked the edges with the plugs. The pencil’s big splash and pause got attention, whereas the bunker, unless they were hooked in the belly, did not send out such a big distress signal.
I have seen many days when only a pencil catches fish. There is just something about the slashing action that fish can’t resist, but in 43 years of fishing and 22 years of guiding, that was the best “Big Fish Day” I ever had.
A charter ended up canceling on me last minute, so I took out a new deckhand to teach him how to chunk for striped bass. We had a falling tide and the wind had laid down—perfect conditions. We started chunking two rods in 60-feet of water and anchored up around 5:30 p.m. It was a little slow, and then suddenly my sonar filled up with bunker and stripers, and the reel started screaming; it did not stop for three hours! We had a dozen fish that night, including the biggest-ever taken on my boat.
Captain Stu Patterson located bunker schools in open Long Island Sound and found his personal best striper hounding those baitfish.
Over the last several years I have been working with an organization called The Fishing Academy. We take kids fishing, usually on Wednesdays, in Boston Harbor.
On this day, I had five smiling 10-to-12-year-olds looking forward to catching their first keeper stripers. I love fishing with kids – they are great on the boat and often learn much faster than adults.
A crew of happy young fishermen with a beautiful striper after learning the ropes of fishing for big bass around schools of bunker from Captain Brian Coombs.
After a short bit of instruction, we ran out to our first spot, a dredged-out channel edge that had been holding huge amounts of bunker and jumbo bass. The first kid up was the biggest one with the most fishing experience. He could cast like a champ and quickly snagged a bunker. I hold him to hold on to the rod and never let it go—the look on his face was priceless. Within seconds, the rod was doubled over, and my man was holding on for dear life. I quickly instructed him on how to fight a big fish and told all the boys to pay attention. After a few minutes, a beastly 45-inch fish was in the net, a personal best for the kid and a memory he will never forget.
After a couple of pictures, I then showed them how to properly release fish. From that point on, the boys all had turns on big fish, one after the other. Within an hour, we were like a well-oiled machine, with every kid having a specific job. Net man, camera man, lookout, rod man – they all worked as a team.
It was a miserable, rainy, crappy day, but my client and his family of five, visiting from Singapore, donned sets of Grundens foul-weather gear and we departed Pamet Harbor. Due to the recent presence of bunker schools, I made a long run in my 33 Invincible to chase them down the ocean side of the Cape, an effort that was strongly rewarded with several very large fish.
It was a challenging start to the day, with dense fog and thunderstorms moving through the area, so we started our fishing close to port, but were not finding any action.
The tube and worm may be a weird-looking lure, but there’s no disputing its effectiveness on large stripers. Captain Chris Elser displays a Long Island Sound monster that fell to the tube and worm.
In the afternoon, we headed to a very shallow rock structure where we decided to stick it out until we had to head back for weigh-in by 3:30 pm. It was nearing slack tide, so we began trolling our tubes parallel to structure in a north-to-south pattern in about 8-to-10 feet of water. One of the guys hooked into what would be our only slot fish of the day at about 30-inches in length. We needed one more of this size (or slightly larger) to have a shot at placing in the event, but that did not happen because about three passes later, I hooked into a fish that took me deep into the backing. After a lengthy battle, I pulled the fish boatside. I measured it at well over 50-inches, with a girth over 30-inches. After carefully holding the giant bass upright with the boat in gear, we put her back in the water. She kicked off strong and headed right back to her favorite rock.
I was fishing with longtime client Bob Tatum and his son. We left the dock at 5 a.m., with a wind blowing southeast at a steady 20-knots. We were on my 23, so it was a bit nautical once we crossed the southwest corner tideline. We found a decent bite about four other boats in the area and had a few fish up to 30-pounds, all feeding on big sand eels. We then made what was to be the last drift before moving to calmer waters. The seas were a solid 4-feet, and the sonar lit up with good marks. Bob made a cast down-tide, let the 6-inch Slug-Go sink, and immediately came tight. The fish peeled off half the spool of 30-pound braid before stopping her first run. I got the boat moving toward it as Bob gained some line until we were straight up and down on her.
This fish stayed tight to the bottom and slowly swam up-tide for about 50-yards while we kept pace. She then made a second run down-tide, again back to mid-spool. I gave chase with the boat, Bob gained it all back, and then we saw the fish’s silhouette in what were now 6-foot seas behind the boat. Bob muttered, “Did you see it?” I was speechless, and just nodded.
When sand eels are around, big stripers regularly eat small lures. This giant Block Island bass hit a 6-inch Slug-Go on a trip with Captain Chris Willi.
I had guided for 20 years at that point and had never been nervous about landing a fish, but this time I was jittery. I was nervous because the seas were big and getting bigger; I was nervous because this fish had been on 20-pound fluoro for 15 minutes; and I was nervous because the net would be useless. The last 15-yards of line were the most difficult to gain because of the sea conditions. I was in slow reverse, stemming the drift, while Bob gained the last few feet. I leaned over the rail and grabbed the leader, and the fish took our breath away. Its bucket of a mouth was wide open for my first-hand grab, then my other hand. The Slug-Go was hooked deep in its top lip, left of center. As I hung there for a second, latched to the biggest striper I’ve ever seen, Bob’s first words were, “We’ve got to let her go healthy.”
As he and his son got the camera ready I put the fish on the 60-pound Boga Grip ad it bottomed out with the fish’s tail still on the deck. Bob sat on the rail with his fish, and I snapped a couple of photos. He swung the beast over the side and sat there with her in the water, all of us still in awe. It wasn’t more than five seconds before she thrashed and spun off his hand, swimming straight for the bottom.