Monday, February 19, 2018

Meadowlands Flats for Striped Bass

Here's a story published in New Jersey Federated Sportsmen's News last year. Most of us won't go fishing places I happen to write about, but I'm a firm believer in familiarity breeding better than contempt. I know most Americans are secret romantics at heart, who appreciate faraway unknown places. They like keeping secrets, such as that one about their heart's desire, and yet, we're all in this together, and while each of us is every bit as separate from anyone else as united, moving by his or her own motives and not others', platforms such as this blog serve both purposes. Hundreds of visitors come on every week, and while this shows we're doing the same thing and reading some of the same posts, each visitor, for the most part, has no knowledge of any other visitor, except for any change noticed in share numbers or the total visitation figure displayed aside the first post before he or she might scroll down.

I believe it's important to remember that no matter how much we know, and how familiar we become with our surrounding world, we will never get even close to knowing everything, and as familiar as anyone might become with the Meadowland's flats, for example, every new moment means a new place, it's only "what it is" by name.

So I may as well write, since without a name, there's nowhere to go

Matt Litton Photo

Meadowlands Flats for Striped Bass

By Bruce Edward Litton

          The Meadowlands are more than an immense landfill. They now not only thrive with striped bass and forage species fed upon. With the dumps inactive since about 1980, most parts of this ancient marsh may offer anglers glimpses of its enduring character as an environment worth time spent to catch a few of these bass. DeKorte Park in Lyndhurst is one of these places. The wild grass-covered hills actually hide heaps of trash, but tons of stuff potentially reminding anyone of most 20th century decades has taken its last rites never to be seen again.

          From late March into June, a few fishermen score big on school stripers as large as 11 pounds or more. Flats serve an excellent early season starting point. Mostly very shallow, they warm fast. During a March or April heat wave, falling tide pulls out warmed water from upper flats above a set of flats below. Stripers congregate in the currents produced by pipes emptying the upper flats into lower.

          Artificially constructed from original marsh, the flats make for a simple fishing approach. Cordoned off from one another by lengthy dikes with trails and fishing access all along them, a great deal of acreage is simplified by these pipe spillways and one large sluiceway with flow under a bridge. These spots are striper magnets. Without them, it seems very doubtful bass would bother swimming up here from the Hackensack River. At low tide, most of the lower flat that gets fished is exposed mud with huge Atlantic white cedar stumps from the 19th century accenting the age-old character of the marshland at large. Channels leading to the spillways and sluice become perfectly evident, holding the only water remaining.

            Each one of the eight pipe flows can hold bass, but everyone seems to agree that the outflow closest to the Meadowlands Environmental Center building is hot. I’ve also witnessed white perch caught here. Simply exit the parking lot towards the first flat visible to the right of the building facing you. That corner with the outflow looks humble but can be loaded with bass. An angler who has fished these waters for years spoke to me of once catching a dozen keeper-size stripers on a blistering cold day in March when tide approached its lowest. The first corner was “nothing but a shallow creek, and I pulled one bass after the other out of it!” The outflow at the far corner of the dike proceeding from the first corner is good, also.

          It seems to pump straight into deep open water, but if you let a swimbait sink or work a jerkbait down too deep, getting snagged will change your mind about that. Beginning a retrieve when a swimbait hits water is best by keeping the rod tip high and turning that crank. Another angler told me a big bass hit his floating Rapala out among stumps, a bass so big it never stopped running before eight-pound test mono parted.

           From that far corner, a 10-minute walk—half a mile or so—takes you to the walk bridge over a sluice. Here the mouth of the upper flat has the deepest water of all the acreage, about 35 feet. A big hole unlike any other spot. As tide falls, water moves through this sluice with great force because of the uneven water levels between flats. That water is deep under the bridge and typically too fast to fish. But immediately past the bridge portal edges and eddies develop. A great deal of possibility exists for working a lure through these current variations. The water is not as deep emptying onto the lower flat, and bass sometimes pack these flows. The depths here compared to other spots especially call for weighted swimbaits.

          Especially early on, nothing seems to beat a paddletail swimbait in all the spots. I once ran out of paddletails (stumps voracious) and settled for straight tailed swimbaits, only to experience the bite stop dead. Even with fairly cold water a moderate retrieve proves most effective. Bass associated with these currents satisfy an interest in feeding, so assume they’re active and willing to react. By retrieving a paddletail along a current edge, either steadily or by pulls and twitches, it’s not important and not advisable to keep close contact with bottom. The one exception is the bridge sluiceway, where I let a swimbait poke along bottom sometimes.

          I’ve done best with white and pearl 3/8ths to ¾ ounce. A medium-power rod suffices, but an eight-foot spinning rod ideal for casting lures in the fall surf gets better casting distance with thin diameter quality braid line. And the heftier rod is good insurance against the disaster of a big striper on a rod suitable for largemouths. Currents at the sluice reach way out onto the flat, so you’ll feel the advantage of long casts.

          As water warms, lure choices increase. Jerkbaits and even topwaters become appealing as erratic action approximates increased activity. Fish current edges and eddies especially, but always check strong current. We’ve caught bass in direct current early in the season also. Experimenting with retrieves might result in hitting a nerve regular action just doesn’t excite. Nature is less regular and lawful than schoolbooks may lead us to believe. The willing takers sometimes seem to deviate from any norm. One striper may react first, and then others may sort of fall into line, so stay aware of retrieve cadence so you can run a rhythm by bass again, if it works once. It may be impossible to tell if a bass reacts because of feeding impulse, or because lure action provokes aggression, even if other bass start doing the same, but if it feels as if you’re provoking aggression, you’re getting the better of bass, so take note. While everything that swims has a constant intent to survive, most everything swimming doesn’t survive long, so irony gets the best of some intentions. Bass not only sense motions signaling something in the water seemingly trying to escape that fate all creatures meet in the end. They fall to us by trying to smash something odd to them as if they have the power…but you’ve just hooked up!

          Not always does an early warm spell with a falling evening tide provoke a bite. Early in April one year, I experienced what I thought a perfect combination of sun, 87-degree temperature and falling late afternoon/evening tide. I almost succumbed to believing in an inevitable big score, but putting hope in check saved face. I had one hit. Although the best bet early on involves warm water ebb, our best fishing in April has occurred under overcast skies with light rain during mid-afternoon ebb. And catches happen in those blustery cold conditions as well.

            Remember. Anyone who wants to experience the Meadowlands by striper fishing has time ahead yet. Once water warms in May, early and late in the day becomes the rule that may be broken during overcast or rainy weather. By June, if it gets too hot, think of alternatives, because this is a cool-water fishery with just a touch of warmth to it.


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