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On these cool days, a stripers hot spot is Virginia Beach
Friday, Dec 07, 2007 - 12:06 AM Updated: 10:01 AM
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By ANDY THOMPSON
TIMES-DISPATCH COLUMNIST

Suddenly stripers are everywhere.

President Bush got things started on Oct. 20 when he designated the striped bass a protected game fish. Then, during the Thanksgiving weekend, an angler from Maryland reeled in a 49½-pound striper in the Chesapeake Bay during the Striped Bass World Championship. Tomorrow the Wal Mart FLW Striper Series will stop at Lynnhaven Marina in Virginia Beach for a tournament that will award the winning team $10,000, guaranteed, and as much as $30,000 based on bonuses.

But wait, there's more.

The December edition of Salt Water Sportsman magazine is filled with striper talk, including the tale of a fisherman who bagged 2007's biggest striped bass, a 67½-pound behemoth off Montauk, N.Y. To cap things off, the magazine lists the Virginia Beach area as the best place in the U.S. for striper fishing.

About the time I was digesting this the other day, sitting forlornly in front of the computer, my e-mail inbox blinked with a message.

Greg Christiansen, a friend, sent pictures and details from a striper trip with his two sons and charter fisherman Tommy "Matty J" Mattioli. The fishing was solid on a cold, windy day. Better still, he wanted to go out again.

This wasn't an offer I could pass up. We set the date to go out with Matty J Charters this coming Tuesday. Greg also invited another one of his co-workers, Geoff Murphy. Greg and Geoff are born fly fisherman and have far more experience than I do. It could get embarrassing out there with me struggling in the wind to get my casts anywhere near my target as Greg and Geoff haul in trophy stripers.

But then, while experience has its advantages, I'm not above cheating a little to gain my own. So I called up a couple of experts for advice. First, I sought out "Matty J," himself.

"You have two things happening now: You have your water temperature cooling, and you've got the bait leaving all the backwaters, the estuaries," the New York native said, explaining why this is prime time for stripers. "They're all leaving now and schooling, getting ready to go out of the bay."

In addition, he said, fish are coming down from the north as the water cools, and they're stopping and feeding in the mouth of the bay. Mattioli said the best water temperatures for striped bass are from 45 to 55 degrees.

He also had some insight into what I should be doing once we hit the water.

"I'm a big believer in covering the whole water column," he said. "Even if you see fish on top breaking the water, I like to start at the bottom because you'll get the bigger fish toward the bottom. If you're going to make a cast with a jig or a fly, eventually you're going to get to the surface if you start at the bottom."

My second call went to Dr. Julie Ball, the IGFA representative from Virginia Beach who holds multiple Line Class and All Tackle world records. She immediately gave me good news.

"Everybody wants the big ones, and it's a popular fishery because striped bass are so easy to catch and they're so stupid," she said with a laugh. "Anybody with any kind of experience at all can catch them, and they have a chance at catching a very large one."

Sounds like my kind of fish: dumb as a post, easy to catch and known to tip the scales. Ball said she expects to see many catches above 50 pounds in the next few weeks.

"It's starting to heat up around here pretty good now. This time of year, the big boys come down and they all stop off at the mouth of the bay before they head on to other places."

She's hearing that the biggest catches, at least so far, have been along the upper side of the bay near the Eastern Shore.

"People are drifting with eels and having very good luck," she said. "Now, they don't catch as many, but the ones they catch are definitely quality. I'm talking about fish that are bigger than 40 inches."

Nothing like pulling in a 40-inch striper to make your buddy's line go slack with envy. And by all accounts, there's no better place and time to make that happen than at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. One of America's best striped bass fisheries is right here in our own backyard.

Tuesday can't come soon enough.


Contact Andy Thompson at athompson@timesdispatch.com.

 

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