Flat Chances With Giant Stripers

When a 30-pound striped bass inhales a jig in four feet of water, it figures out in no time at all that it has a predicament. It wants to dog deep, throwing headshakes and running for cover until it either pops the hook or gets wrenched back to the surface. But on Maryland's Susquehanna Flats, it's got no place to go but out. And considering that deep water isn't easy to find in this niche area of the northern Chesapeake Bay, the bass tend to go way, way out. On the Susquehanna Flats, you learn the importance of a full spool very quickly.Joe Cermele
The flats cover a vast expanse of area at the mouths of the Elk and Susquehanna River - both of which the stripers pour into to breed starting in early April. But before they go upriver and get busy, they need to feed. Enter the herring run. Both bass and herring cross paths on the flats, which average 4 to 10 feet deep. The result is a light-tackle anglers fantasy, where striper tails smack the surface and a popper fished on a light rod with a lot of backbone can produce strikes that will scare you so badly, you'll forget to set, forget to breathe, and then need to sit down for a while. These flats are one of a select few places where it's possible to stick a 50-plus-pound striper in four feet of water.Joe Cermele
But sometimes you've got to start small. The magic temperature mark for great action on artificial lures is 55 degrees, according to Captain Ed Robinson, who hosted my friend Darren Dorris and I on the flats. Any colder and you're more likely to hook small schooling males or nothing at all.Joe Cermele
This little bass was quick to slam a RonZ softtail in chartreuse, which happens to be a staple color on the flats as they can often be murky. However, most locals favor Bass Kandy Delights and Bass Assassin finesse fish measuring 6 to 9 inches. Soft baits rigged on a straight hook or jighead can produce enticing action, even with a subtle presentation. That's often the key to grabbing the attention of wary fish.Joe Cermele
Luckily for us, the warm sun kept cooking the shallows as the afternoon wore on. Just as Robinson predicted, once the water temperature jumped a few degrees, the cows decided it was chow time. He came tight to a fish close to the boat, but the striper didn't stay nearby for very long. With 10-pound braid spooled on an outfit most would use for largemouth, Robinson got taken for a long ride.Joe Cermele
After a 15-minute struggle, Robinson's striper comes to the boat.Joe Cermele
Because these stripers are in the area to breed, catch and release is mandatory on the flats, with the exception of a short period later in the spring where fish can be kept. With a belly full of roe, this bass needed to be released quickly. Robinson let me snap just a few quick shots of the 25-pounder before turning her loose.Joe Cermele
With fins flared, the bass gave Robinson a healthy splash before departing.Joe Cermele
Another rat grabs Dorris's jig just before he pulls it out of the water.Joe Cermele
With the water temperature hovering around 56 degrees, the bite stayed consistent for about two hours. Here's Robinson unhooking a 15-pounder for a fast release.Joe Cermele
When this bass pounced on Dorris's jig, we knew right away that he was into a brute. The striper took half the spool, ripping the soft tail off his lure in the process.Joe Cermele
Fighting these fish in such shallow water on light gear can be deceiving. Until they are out of the water, it's tough to gauge their exact size. We had the fish figured at 20 to 25 pounds. But once she was in the boat, there was no doubt she topped 30.Joe Cermele
As the tide switched and the sun began to drop behind the surrounding hills, the water got a little cooler - just enough to shut down the bite. It was a lesson in the importance of water temp for fooling large stripers, and an even bigger tutorial in besting cows with light tackle. Even though the fish finder was lit up with cows at eight feet, it seemed a outbreak of lockjaw plagued the area. We headed back to the ramp with insight to apply to our home waters back in New Jersey and wrists aching from the fights. If you've never seen a big bass boil in the shallows, get down to Maryland before the fish head back out to sea.Joe Cermele