I won’t need a crystal ball to determine where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing on the morning of July 6, 2021. I figured that out months ago. Just after midnight, I’ll be wading onto a flat that borders a boulder field. Armed with a two-handed fly rod, I’ll be swinging a sand eel fly, targeting a large striper that will be cruising the shallows at the bottom of the tide.
Whatever the method—plugs, live bait, fly rod—if you’re a striper angler who’s serious about crossing paths with a cow, you too can take the guesswork out of when and where you should be fishing. To do it, all you need is a simple, ancient timekeeping tool: a calendar.
How to Make a Tide Calendar for Striper Fishing
I’ve been using a striper tide calendar for years. It’s the same concept as any other calendar or planner: you write things down to plan ahead and visualize your schedule. I start with a blank single-month calendar sheet for my template (there are numerous options online you can print out).
Next, I visit saltwatertides.com and find the location I want to fish. For me, location is most often determined by season and bait type. For example, I fish certain spots in April and May for stripers feeding on spawning herring; in May and June, I target completely different water for grass shrimp mating swarms; and June and July will find me in another state for sand eels. Saltwatertides.com gives me critical data like high and low tide times; tide height; sun and moon rise and set times; and percent of moon visible—which I like to note because I prefer the dark of the moon.
Let’s use my April calendar as an example. I choose the mark, an estuary with herring runs, and look up its tides. In this case, I want low tides so I can access certain sections. I find the first day with an after-dark low tide window, and write down the tide time. Then I do the same for the following consecutive dates (the tide will be about an hour later each night) until low tide falls around dawn. I may not fish every one of those days, but now I have specific options. A week or so of sub-optimal tides will follow (I leave those days blank) and then the cycle resumes.
I can find this data for days, weeks, or months in advance. If my family decides suddenly that we’re going to spend the next weekend on Cape Cod, I can easily make an ad hoc calendar for the spots I want to fish.
A striper calendar limits anxiety and creates comfort. I don’t fear that I’ll miss a good tide or a good moon, or worry that if I don’t plan ahead, life’s responsibilities will get in the way of fishing. And, I enjoy knowing I have multiple options to connect with big bass.
Use a Calendar to Record the Best Tides For Striper Fishing
Jerry Audet, one of southern New England’s best surfcasters, uses his striper calendar to not only manage his time, but also his sanity.
“A calendar really helps me plan when to take off work, or when I’m going to need to be up all night,” he says. “But it also helps me make good decisions when I’m in the heat of battle. And it prevents me from making bad ones. So when the season really gets crazy—for me, that’s mid-May to mid-July, then again from September through the middle of October—it keeps me on the straight and narrow. I don’t get confused as much, and I don’t miss things, which would be a huge problem without my planner.”
Audet, who only fishes at night, has the enviable problem of having a surplus of spots he loves to fish. “So, the problem becomes one of deciding where to be and when,” says Audet. A calendar helps him solve that puzzle. He uses it to prepare for best-case, “what if?” scenarios. “A calendar helps me figure out when there’s an integration of good conditions. In September, I might highlight five days of good tides—because if a storm comes during any of those tides, it’s an emergency, and I have to drop everything and go fishing.”
There’s no single right way to build a striper tide calendar. Audet’s is very tide and situation-driven. “I don’t really care about bait,” he says. “In the spring I’m thinking about migration routes and locations. My focus is on pinch points, corners, and outflows.”
Use a Tide Calendar to Target Different Striper Baits
Dan Wells, from the South Shore of Massachusetts, is another hard-core striper angler who uses both spin and fly gear. Wells prefers fishing at night (his online handle is “The Graveyard Shift”), and he tends to base his calendar on the presence of bait.
“My striper calendar starts May 1,” Wells says. “I fish primarily from Boston to the Cape Cod Canal. For me, May is all about herring. The herring runs continue into the first moon of June. That’s my best opportunity to target quality stripers in skinny water on a fly rod. I look at the main baitfish that will be driving the shore fishing. But I also think about when the main migration windows are going to happen.”
Wells is a big believer in keeping your calendar fluid to reflect ever-changing situations. “When you’re planning your calendar, you need to understand the main pattern that you’re going to work, and there may be an alternate signal that tells you when to abandon that pattern,” he says. “I’m a shore angler, but I watch the boat reports in late May and early June, and if the mackerel come in really strong inside Boston Harbor, it pulls a lot of the bigger fish out of the estuaries. So I might switch to some of the outer beaches and migratory lanes.”
Because Wells has family responsibilities, he prefers a night-to-early morning window, rather than dusk into night. A calendar helps him plan for certain events, such as the June sand shrimp bite. “I typically focus on low tides that coincide near dawn that give me access to flats. That way I can target tailing fish,” he says.
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Digital Calendars and Spreadsheets are the Most Helpful
Wells and Audet prefer an e-calendar; both use an Excel spreadsheet. Wells incorporates images from tides.mobilegeographics.com on his calendar. (The site uses a waveform graphic to illustrate the ebb and flood of the tides.) “It helps me determine what’s going on with the tide speed by the slope of the curve,” he says. “So I just snap a picture of the tide graphic, then post it into my spreadsheet.”
Finally, Audet notes that a striper tide calendar is not a stand-alone tool. “The calendar is good by itself, but you also need to have a log to go with it, because they build on each other.” A log, or journal, is a place to take notes from your outings. You’re creating a permanent, detailed record of key data: place, time, conditions, what worked, what didn’t, how many fish you caught, etc. For Audet, the beauty of a log is that you use it, “to evolve your calendar, and set your fishing priorities.” That means less time wasted and more bass caught.