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Smells trigger memories, each one unexpected and explosive. Spring has always had an aroma, but somehow its nostalgic effect is not as far-reaching as a sniff of stagnant pond mud and green algae, which might as well be a ride in a time machine to the day when I was in third grade and ruined my new sneakers casting curly-tail worms to bass. My mother was not pleased. But that smell of salt marsh stunted by the cool night air, that unmistakable aroma of estuarine water — it brings me back to the ritual of my fishing life, each season a new beginning.

Working a lively spring rip for stripers.

Working a lively spring rip for stripers.

The arrival of spring is one of the things I love most about chasing striped bass. The season always brings hope. And it all begins with my nose. Those olfactory cues give way to early mornings and late nights as the season inches on, the fish getting bigger, the anticipation building. Thousands of other anglers have a circadian rhythm set to the striper’s tides and movements. When spring breaks and the striped bass return, the world speeds up, and eight months of intense concentration begin.

Fishermen are all the same. We can’t help but inhale a change in the air and process its meaning. Our instinct comes from repetition and the blinders of obsession directing us to the salt. Capt. TJ Karbowski of Clinton, Connecticut-based Rock & Roll Charters says he looks at water temperature and celestial influences to time the start of his season, too. “Bodies of fish usually make their moves on the moons,” he says. “If I see 52-degree water three or four days after a moon in May and I’m not out there, I feel like a caged animal that hasn’t eaten in a month.”

Anxiety about missing a good slug of fish dogs you for days. With each swing of the tide in the age of smartphones and instant information, the angler knows what he’s missed before he even kicks off the bedsheets.

Spring has arrived when your hands clasp a sure sign of the new season.

Spring has arrived when your hands clasp a sure sign of the new season.

Martha’s Vineyard angler Alex Friedman splits his time between his oyster farm and his tuna boat, and he gets a lump in his throat when seasonal markers, including tree frogs, foretell the arrival of a school of stripers. “When I hear the choruses of pinkletinks chirping in the trees during the longer evenings of early spring, my heart gets warm and my mind starts to race because I know those first bright schoolies will be there, down at the mouth of Tisbury Great Pond,” he says.

Instinct is strong in most of us who enjoy the outdoors. We human beings used to rely on seasonal rhythms and instincts that are hard-wired to our ancestral core. They tell us the time to hunt, harvest the crop, catch the fish. Perhaps it’s this lingering connection to our earlier days that brings a flame to the angler’s heart.

Winter is a time of forcibly shutting oneself down, but it’s also the season of preparation, at least here in New England. We stock up on lures. We tie rigs. We mend. We grease. We repair.

“I start my spring by reviewing my [fishing] logs from years past,” says hard-core New Jersey angler Tom Kosinski. “Around the middle of March, I start checking water temps. My magic number is 48 degrees. I have it narrowed down to three potential spots. When I get that first strike, I feel a strong sense of relief — the off-season preparations are over, and it’s time to catch fish.”

Waves of stripers push up the coast, including some trophies.

Waves of stripers push up the coast, including some trophies.

Tradition dictates this drive to be prepared. It feels like we’re doing it to carry the torch, to uphold tradition, for a perceived nod of approval from the ghosts who lighted the way.

Narragansett, Rhode Island, surf caster and striped bass sharpie Steve McKenna paused when I asked what the spring run has meant to him during his 40-plus years of fishing in New England. He leaned in and said, “Give me a good southwest wind in early April with the forsythia in full bloom, and I know the first fresh-run schoolies will make their appearance along the Rhode Island coastline. When I see that, I feel very happy because I know I will be striped bass fishing again.”

It is about smells and feelings and instincts and anxieties and patterns and cues from nature. We’re all searching for the same thing, and that thing is not just a fish. It’s a link in the chain of life connecting this year to all the years before it, one that is closed with first solid take of the spring. 



On the Run

Fall stirs the drive to chase long and hard after fleeing fish.

Brian Crowley with a 54-pound striper lashed across his “canal bike.”

Fishing for Striped Bass in the Cape Cod Canal

With strong currents and abundant bait, the Cape Cod Canal is a unique and productive spot for striped bass


The Fall Run

My mind was unconsciously running through the 20 other places I would no doubt have been better off standing.

Sunset is all the more reason to fish harder when you’re part of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.

Five-Week Bender

The Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby

Fishing reel

Playing for Keeps

A group of hard-fishing captains heads to the Cape each June for the spring striper run


The Shining Tides

An excerpt from a fictional story of a record striped bass and the Cape Cod community turned upside down by its appearance.

Cinder worm hatches mostly take place after dark, attracting night-owl anglers and stripers.

Magic Hatch

There’s nothing quite like fishing for striped bass as they dine on spawning cinder worms


Art of Deception

A unique striper plug made more than 60 years ago continues to excite collectors and anglers.

Anglers Journal_Bizzarro_44

Fall Run: Secret Spot

Nicknamed Bizarro Beach, this sandy stretch produces big fish. The why is still a mystery to the angler who discovered it.