The initial proposal for requiring the use of non-offset and non-stainless steel circle hooks when fishing with bait for striped bass left many anglers scratching their heads, especially after an October meeting when ASMFC representatives voted 15 to one to prohibit any states from gear or user exemptions. The original intent of the regulation was to reduce the mortality of striped bass caught using techniques where fish had a reasonable chance of ingesting the bait, resulting in a deeply hooked fish that had little chance of survival. Using live baits like eels and bunker, chunk baits like bunker, herring and mackerel, and baits like clams and worms were obvious causes of concern. That made sense and would have received overwhelming support from the angling community, but as initially proposed, the regulation would have also banned techniques such as eel skin plugs, rigged eels, bucktails dressed with pork rind, and tube and worm rigs. None of these methods fit the intent of the regulations since striped bass caught by these methods are rarely, if ever, hooked anywhere but inside the mouth. In 60 years of targeting striped bass, I have never had a bass ingest a bucktail, skin plug or a rigged eel, making restricting the use of these techniques contrary to the intent of the regulation.
A public comment period through March 8 gave anglers an opportunity to share their views concerning the proposed regulations and apparently the ASMFC Striped Bass Board took the comments to heart, redefining the definition of bait and excluding baits used in conjunction with an artificial lure. At a meeting earlier this month, the Board voted 11 to 2 to revise the regulations to read: Circle hooks are required for striped bass with bait, which is defined as any marine or aquatic organism live or dead, whole or parts thereof. This shall not apply to any artificial lure with bait attached. The Board also addressed the issue of incidental catch, voting 12 to 2 that any striped bass caught incidentally while targeting other species with a J-hook, must be released.
Since the announcement of the new regulations, we continue to get questions about using the snag and drop technique when targeting stripers and some anglers seem more intent on trying to circumvent the regulation than abide by it. Clearly it is illegal and the argument that you are targeting bluefish holds no water. Bluefish are the bane of those snagging and dropping for stripers. Unless you are fishing a wire leader, which is frowned upon when targeting stripers, you are likely to be bit off every time a bluefish takes your bait. Here in New York, you still have the ability to gather bait by snagging, but in some states, like Virginia, snagging is banned entirely. Be grateful you can still snag a bait supply but don’t abuse the intent of the regulation. Any striper hooked while in the act of snagging bunker must be released, even if it falls within the legal size limit. Better yet, learn to throw a cast net for gathering a supply of live baits. The baits will be in much better shape, and one toss of a cast net can often fill your bait needs for the day.
Concerning striped bass regulations, they remain the same as last season, with a one fish daily bag limit, and a slot limit of 28 to 35 inches. That means any fish under 28 inches or over 35 inches must be returned as quickly and safely as possible, yet there still remain questions concerning the slot limit. I recently received an email that members of a local fishing club were debating whether fish of 35-1/4 or 35-1/2 were legal to keep since they still fell into the 35-inch range. The simple answer is if it is “over” 35 inches it must go back. Striped bass season runs from April 1 through November 30 on the Hudson River above the GW Bridge, and April 15 through December 15 in all other waters.