Experiencing Miramichi Stripers in a Kayak
The Miramichi River system was once known only for a world-renowned Atlantic Salmon fishery, but the decline of that fish globally has caused much consternation and even economic difficulties for the region. Today, although Atlantic Salmon may be fished, throughout NB, NS, and PEI they must be released unharmed by anglers. The decline of the fishery by over 90% over the past decade has been studied and this is one of the conservation efforts to hope to see them return to the numbers once experienced. Now however, the Miramichi River is becoming renowned for a large population of another species: striped bass. They have an annual “Striper Cup” fishing tournament, people come from all over the region to fish stripers, and they are getting attention from some of the country’s fishing shows including Fish’n Canada who said that the fishing there was “crazy.” Host Peter Bowman said it was because of the “Sheer numbers, and visually watching the fish in the river. You see ten thousand fish a day here in the river, and it just blows your mind.”
On the second week of May, 2016 we were hearing rumours of hot striped bass fishing in the Miramichi river so we decided that needed to make the journey North. Three of us gathered our kayaks together, and after a quick stop for supplies at an outdoor store, we were off to Miramichi, NB.
Striped bass are fish that are loved by anglers for their aggression and fight, and are a great tasting fish. Interestingly, it seems like only yesterday that striped bass were listed as “threatened” in many areas of the Atlantic, and some of the conservation measures remain in the Miramichi area. In the 1990s according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the amount of spawning striped bass in the Miramichi River ranged from 3,000 to 5,000 fish. In 2013 they estimated the spawning population at 255,000 spawners. The Northwest Miramichi River is currently the only known spawning location for striped bass in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. Because of this single spawning location (and high fishing mortality rate), despite the rebound, they are listed as a species of “special concern” and require certain conservation measures.
Fishing them in the Miramichi River means you can only use a single hook, barbs need to be pinched, and if using bait barbless circle hooks are required. Because we mostly fish catch and release, we always pinch the barbs anyways so it didn’t cause us any issues. We would be chasing them during the spring retention period, meaning we would each be able to retain a single striped bass between 50 and 65cm. Outside that range all the other fish would have to be released as safely and quickly as possible.
Striped bass are targeted throughout the entire eastern seaboard by the time they reach our waters. They are entering the Miramichi River system (among others) to feed and to spawn before they largely head back out to sea. Although much larger stripers are caught in other areas of the province and tide/ocean fishing, for someone in a kayak, targeting them in the rivers offers a challenge and a level of excitement that is perhaps unparalleled.
The day was cold and started off with some steady, light rain, keeping the numbers of boats and anglers down in the river. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant and lingered a bit hoping for the rain to slow. Being kayak anglers, keeping the number of boats down certainly helped since enormous numbers of boats bring a lot of wake with them that can present challenges for us. It wasn’t long once we were in the water that we had our first striped bass of the day, caught by yours truly. We thought we were having very good luck in the first hour as the three of us totaled around 25 fish. After that the fishing seemed to completely die off and the next hour brought only a fish or two. We decided to head to a different area of the river where a friend texted they were having crazy success. We started paddling to the area while trolling along and about 10 minutes into our trek across the river, we all had fish on. We decided to stick in the area for a few minutes to try our luck and we were about to discover that the earlier fishing success would pale in comparison to the rest of the day.
For the next several hours we had almost non-stop fishing success. Nearly every cast was hit by a striped bass, and several of us had streaks of over 20 straight casts catching a bass every time! The fishing action was quite simply ridiculous, and we dragged in one striper after another. The majority of the fish were schoolies around 16-18 inches in length but they offered a good tussle in a kayak. We also each caught numerous fish in the “keeper” range, and a few that were too large to keep! Each one of us had the “biggest fish of the day” at one point or another, only to be topped by another. Craig caught the first big striper at 25.5” in length, followed by myself, only to be topped eventually by my brother. Craig even pulled in a half-dozen on his fly rod in the kayak... not an easy accomplishment!
My biggest striper of the afternoon was a thick 28.5” fish that was a great deal of work to maneuver into range in my kayak and when I saw the sheer size I was worried about losing it. Pictures were taken and the fish was sent on its way again, and the fish kept on biting! One of the final fish of the day was the largest, as my brother topped my big striper with one 30” long of his own. Bringing in an energetic striped bass of that size in a kayak is a tremendous rush!
We all caught so many fish that it was difficult to keep track of. Earlier in the day when the fishing was slower it was easier to count 10-15-20 etc. but as the numbers mounted we started counting streaks instead. I had a streak of 20 consecutive casts retrieving a striper, and my brother as usual topped me by getting to 23. By our calculations the three of us combined topped over 250 striped bass in less than 5 hours of fishing (and the majority of them in the last 3). It was simply the best fishing day of each of our lives. By the end of the day we were soaked, tired, smelling of stripers, but you couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces!
There are other places in the region where you can catch larger stripers, but there is perhaps nowhere else with the sheer numbers and fishing action/excitement. Admittedly the striper fishery in Miramichi is not always that hot, and locating the schools of fish is part of the challenge (and fun) but if you haven’t tried striped bass fishing in the Miramichi… it’s well worth the journey! Trying them in a kayak is highly recommended…
For more information about the recreational striped bass fishery in the Gulf of St. Lawrence Region, check out the DFO “Frequently Asked Questions” section here. The regulations relative to the multi-year management plan (ending in 2016) are found here.
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