My fishing year is divided between striped bass and salmon. I fish for bass for about from late April to mid-May each year in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. Then I relocate to Sitka, Alaska to guide for king salmon (Chinook), coho salmon (coho), and halibut all summer. I arrive back in Massachusetts in September for two months of fishing the fall run of stripers.
Striped bass and king salmon are the premier inshore sport fish in their region. My home waters – for both species – are the crème de la crème. TheSitka area has one of the highest salt water catch rates for kings anywhere on the planet. Buzzards Bay and adjacent waters includes the famed haunts of Cuttyhunk Island and the Elizabeth Islands, along with countless productive estuaries and rocky points.
LOCATION: Striped bass are highly prized from North Carolina to Maine. King salmon are caught in salt water from central California to the Bering Sea. The Bay Area of California as well as the Coos Bay Area and Umpqua River system in central Oregon are the only places you’ll find kings and stripers overlapping. Stripers were transplanted into the Pacific from New Jersey bass via train car in the late 1800’s. Both fish have been transplanted into freshwater environments. Kings can be found in the Great Lakes and stripers are caught in large lakes and reservoirs across the country.
SIZE OF FISH: Both stripers and kings have a historical maximum size of roughly 125 pounds. Such monsters no longer exist for a variety of reasons. Trophy size on salt water for both species is nearly the same: 40 pounds gives you bragging rights, 50 pounds is fish of a lifetime territory, 60 pounds is rare air, and very few, like a handful of people, will ever see anything over 70. There are a few river systems that produce huge kings, like the Kenai. Stripers seem to have far less obvious genetic specificity – big stripers simply take a lot of years to get that way – something that’s hard to do in a heavily fished world. Because king salmon are caught almost exclusively as they are maturing, the average size is larger. Unlike with bass, you don’t catch schoolies when fishing the ocean for kings.
PROPER GEAR/TACKLE: Mooching gear for kings begins with top of the line G.Loomis rods ranging from 8’6” to 10’6” in length – your pick. At Angling Unlimited, we pair that with a Shimano Tekota 500 LC, which features a line counter so you know the depth of your gear all the time. We spool the reel with Berkley Big-Game 20 pound test in solar collector green. We use sliding weights from Metzler, Berkley Big-Game 30 or 40 pound test leader, and the world’s sharpest hooks from Gamagatsu. We also use circle hooks form Daiichi and Owner when catch and release is the priority. For bait, we use a plug-cut herring 99% of the time, but we’re developing a growing interest in artificial baits, specifically Berkley Gulp.
Striped bass tackle ranges from heavy 4/0 reels and stiff trolling rods when designed for wire line (boring) to fly rods and lighter spinning gear for casting to surface and shallow feeding fish (great sport). If you fish near rocks, you’ll have to make sure your gear – fly, spinning or conventional, has enough power to keep the stripers from taking you into the rocks and breaking you off.
FISHING TECHNIQUES/METHODS: Compared to striped bass, king salmon school much deeper. King schools usually show up from 30 feet down all the way to the bottom in 150 to 200 feet of water. You’re not going to get very many salt water opportunities to take kings near or on the surface. They are long shot on a fly in salt water. Salmon fishing can be broken down to three methods: mooching, jigging, and trolling with downriggers (boring).
On the other hand, striped bass often feed on top, making them great targets fly rods and spin fishermen casting surface lures. Striped bass are taken by wire line trolling (boring), chumming, live lining eels or baitfish, casting lures, or casting flies.
My methods of choice are mooching for kings and throwing flies at striped bass. If fly fishing isn’t your cup of tea, casting surface lures at bass is great sport.
King salmon have more endurance – no doubt. Stripers have plenty of pull in the beginning, but run out of gas sooner. When you hook a big bass on a fly near rocky structure, you need to put a lot of wood to the fish and keep the head up, or the fish will dive into the structure and break you off. Salmon occasionally run into the kelp, but typically fight out in the open water.
AT THE TABLE:
Both are excellent. Kings mostly have pink meat most of the time, but white kings are also possible. Kings have high oil content – very rich. Stripers are a wonderful white meat fish with enough oil to make them more forgiving to cook than halibut. I’ve served grilled king salmon and striped bass side by side. Though quite different, my guests generally eat and rave about both. If forced to pick one – I’d go with the king salmon. I’m glad I don’t have to make that choice. Because of the higher oil content, the smoking qualities of the king are far superior.
AND THE WINNER IS?
King salmon by a nose because they fight harder and I never tire of eating them smoked. That said, the striper’s willingness to crash surface lures and feed shallow enough so that I can catch them on a fly make them a very special fish. Why choose? Fish for both.