Spring in Virginia is a fisherman’s paradise. For some, it’s largemouth bass on the beds, for some it is brook trout in the mountains; for me it has always been striped bass on their annual spawning run. If you have never given it a chance, there are several things to consider while fishing for striped bass in rivers.
While birds are tell-tale signs of feeding striped bass in the bay, there is no blatant giveaway of where the fish are holding in moving waters. There are two main things to consider when looking for these fish in freshwater: current and structure. Certain pieces of structure only hold fish at certain times, so understanding the impact of current and tidal movement is key to being consistently successful.
Flats are a good place to look for fish. A couple come to mind that I do well on year to year. Understanding how to fish a flat for these fish is essential. Bait that moves onto a flat seeking warmth must leave as the tides pulls the water off. I will usually fish the downstream drop off as this is happening. Right where it drops, there will usually be rockfish holding looking for wayward baitfish. This is usually a daytime technique. Flats can also be effectively fished during low light conditions, such as around dawn or dusk. Stripers will move up on the flats to gorge themselves. Throwing topwater on a moving tides can be extremely effective. Suspending hard baits and streamer flies will work very consistently as well.
Rocks and bridge pilings are also essential pieces of structure when pursuing river stripers. Fish will hold around them waiting to attack bait being swept with the tide or current. It will not always be on the downstream side; during incoming tides, the water will move upstream around certain pieces of structure.
One thing most river striper structure is going to have is access to deep water. Look for the above areas in close proximity to deep water and you will undoubtedly find striped bass. Unlike stripers in the bay, these fish hardly ever get keyed in on one specific baitfish. There is such a plethora of bait in the rivers during the spring that these rockfish will be eating white perch, shad, herring, and the countless forage fish native to the rivers.
Finding the fish is most of the work in tidal rivers, and hopefully this will assist in your being able to do so. What you decide to throw at them is up to you.