This Fish’n Canada episode had me (Pete Bowman) travelling to the nation’s beautiful east coast. I was hoping to lock horns with one of the most belligerent, muscle-bound, yet exotic and extremely gorgeous fish in the entire country: the Striped Bass.
Local fishing guide Steve Delaney and I are going to be hitting the St. John and Kennebecasis Rivers in the province of New Brunswick, an area that Steve feels is Canada’s #1 fishery for giant Stripers. I personally must agree, since Ang and I caught a couple of giants there in 2007.
A LOT OF RIVER
We had a lot of river to cover, including the Reversing Falls, the Quispamsis area, and what is now considered the most popular Striper area on the river, Gagetown to Fredericton.
It’s all a matter of intercepting the fish on their annual fall migration upriver where they will ultimately end up next spring in their spawning areas. They could be anywhere along the run.
We started our day at Reversing Falls, the entry point for Stripers from the Bay of Fundy—and a very intimidating, high-current area I might add.
This area is called the Reversing Falls because of the flow of water that’s created by the collision of the Bay of Fundy and the Saint John River. At low tide, the river empties into the bay causing a series of rapids and whirlpools. As tides rise, they slow the river current (this is called slack tide). The bay’s tides continue to rise, gradually reversing the flow of the river. Rapids form again, peaking at high tide.
Stripers move so quick in the fall that they could be in one location on a certain day and totally vanish the following day. And that’s exactly what happened to us at our first location.
Steve knew almost immediately that the fish had moved upriver, and it was up to us to follow—with the truck and trailer that is, because I wasn’t about to take on those rapids with the boat! If you’ve never seen them, then let me tell you: They are quite the intimidators.
Our next location was quite a distance upriver from our first, but I knew from experience (Ang’s and my first trip here had us catching a couple of real beauties) it’s a great area for big Stripers.
The hardest part of this whole ordeal is staying on top of the fish during this lengthy river migration. But the bonus is when you find ’em, they’re hungry and ready to scrap!
Once we hit Steve’s first area, it didn’t take long to get our first fish. I was throwing a big white swimbait with a jig head. On probably my second or third cast, on the initial drop, a great “Schoolie” Striper popped my bait with one of the best taps I’ve ever had. Although this fish was only five or six pounds, it fought like a demon! With the incoming tide (and with it being an ocean fish to begin with), I couldn’t believe the power of this fish.
If you have ever caught any saltwater fish, then you’ll know they are incredibly strong!
NEW BRUNSWICK STRIPED BASS MIGRATION (IN A NUTSHELL)
The St. John River Striped Bass spawning migration is an interesting one. Some of the fish start out during late summer to early fall in the Atlantic Ocean along the U.S. eastern seaboard, making their way to the St. John River mouth in the Bay of Fundy. They next travel upstream to the St. John and Kennebecasis Rivers. The fish that ultimately choose the St. John can continue upriver through Gagetown and all the way past the City of Fredericton to their first major blockade, the Mactaquac Dam. It’s a long, adventurous trek and proves yet again why nature always has a way of astounding us.
As an interesting sidebar to this, recent studies have shown that with rising water temperatures due to global warming, Striped Bass that used to spawn in areas like the Roanoke River in North Carolina, for example, have been forced to move north towards the Bay of Fundy seeking optimum water temperatures needed to complete a successful spawn.
This ability to adapt shows the complexity of these seemingly simple creatures we call fish.
Steve is one of those “techy” guys—a perfectionist if you will. Since he has a hard time finding and buying good Striper baits locally, he decided one day to make his own. As an example, on this day he suggested I switch from a pure white Bass sized swimbait (which I caught my first fish on), to a 9″ clear fleck jerkbait with a bright chartreuse belly, and the results were like night and day. That colour was on fire! I believe I caught three or four fish in five casts.
CHANGE OF LOCATION
On this portion of our Striper trip, Steve and I were fishing a tributary to the St. John River where a recent barbless hook law has been introduced for the protection of local Sturgeon; great for the fish, but also for upping the odds for stories of “the one that got away”. Or, in my case, the two or three that got away.
By using a stiff 8′ swimbait rod, coupled with heavy no-stretch braided line, keeping these giants hooked up wasn’t an easy chore! Especially while doing battle in flowing tidewater. Even with a good hookset and fighting the fish with what I felt was “pretty damned good technique”, I still lost fish. Let’s be honest, fish can dump a hook even when you think all things are perfect. But having a barbless hook gives the fish yet another advantage.
I’ve been to New Brunswick to go Striped Bass fishing a few times. Each of those trips has been an eye-opener to this overlooked species of fish. If you have never tried for or caught a Striper, then you owe it to yourself to make an attempt. Trust me on this: Once bitten, never shy again!
On this portion of my east coast trip, the crew and I stayed at the Days Inn Oromocto. Since I wasn’t sure where I would end up Striper fishing (being right in the migratory period), I chose Oromocto as a great central area. I could travel either up or downriver on the St. John, as well as the Kennebecasis, and hopefully intercept these transient fish. Oromocto is close to Gagetown, one of the current hotbeds of Striper fishing, and one I plan on fishing in the future.