Fishing for striped bass on the Hudson River in downtown Albany

ALBANY — For about five weeks each spring the action is hot and heavy around the state’s capital.

It’s not about politics, though. It’s about fishing – striped bass fishing.

Each spring, huge striped bass from the ocean make their way some 168 miles up the Hudson River to spawn, stopping at the federal dam in Troy. The fishing season for these huge fish kicks off April 1 and peak time usually starts around the end of April and continues up through Memorial Day and little beyond.

“It’s the opportunity to catch a fish of a lifetime in your backyard. You can literally catch a 50-pound fish here. You can’t find a fishery as good as this anywhere close,” said Ed Skorupski, of nearby Stillwater, just outside of Saratoga Springs. Skorupski said he gets out in his 17 1/5 Alumicraft boat “as often as I can this time of year.”

“I’m addicted,” he added.

This past weekend, Skorupski took out this reporter and George Franke, of Norwich, N.Y. , another outdoors writer, for a morning on the river, fishing along a stretch where the downtown Albany skyline was in view.

The outing, which began at 6 a.m. from a downtown marina. We caught most of our bait (live herring) using Sabiki rigs — a line with five, spaced hooks attached to a leader, fitted with artificial flies and phosphorescent beads.

The water was high and muddy. We saw lots of debris floating by. Regardless, we periodically spotted host of hash marks on Skorupski’s fish finder (“Those are stripers,” he said) and there several dozen boats out on the water. Everyone was out there for the same reason: hoping to hook a monster striped bass.

We started at 6 a.m. and called it a day at around 1:30. The day’s catch included a catfish measuring about 25 inches that I landed, and a massive, 35-inch striper reeled in by Franke. The striper was released immediately after it was measured and photographed. Franke said he plans to have a replica made of it for a trophy mount.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Skorupski, who said that high waters and cool temperatures this spring have contributed to a “terrible” season so far this spring. A few lunkers have been reeled in from boats in the 40- to 47-inch range. Some big fish have also been caught by shore fishermen using jigs, he added.

How long have you been fishing for stripers in the Hudson? How’d you get started?

“Since 2002. I grew up fishing the Batten Kill for trout each spring and did that until my knees got really bad and I couldn’t wade anymore. I then discovered this fishery and it provided a perfect substitute. I got addicted. I’m retired and still do some consulting work for the chemical industry. This time of year, though, I get out every day I can.”

The Sabiki rigs are really effective for catching herring to use as bait. What color works best?

“Yes, each hook has a little irradescent fly on it with a bead. They come in red and white and green and white. It depends on the water. Last week, the herring were biting on green and they wouldn’t touch red. Today, we’re catching them all on red.

What kind of rigs are we using today to catch a striper?

“Seven-foot, one -piece Ugly Stik rods (medium weight), Abu Garcia (bait casting) reels, 20-pound monofilament line with a 32 -36 inch fluorocarbon leader, a size 7 circle hook and a 3-ounce weight. Drifting allows you to cover a large area of the river and you’ll usually see more fish. However, if you can find a pod of fish that are schooled up and holding (usually behind a bridge pier or some other structure) you can anchor and literally catch one after another. “

Why use a circle hook?

“I use circle hooks because they reduce the mortality of caught fish. You’ll usually hook the fish on the top of the mouth or the corner. You have much less instances of gut-hooked fish.“

The Hudson River is affected by the tide up this far. How much does he water go up and down during the course of a day?

“About five feet.”

How do you know if you have a striper bite?

“It depends on the day (and the size of the fish). Sometimes they’ll just mosey along. Other times, you’ll get an absolute screamer and you can’t grab the rod fast enough.”

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