Mike Giroux holds the striped bass he caught in the Nonesuch River in Scarborough on May 22. A fisherman of more than 20 years, Giroux releases every striper he catches, including this one. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Every summer, we try to get one, but have yet to be lucky enough to catch one of these delicious fish within the precise size range you’re allowed to keep. And it’s not like you can go out and buy them because there is no commercial fishery in Maine. For this reason (among many others) striped bass, or stripers, are a summer’s prize. They are strong and beautiful and also very delicious. 

Striped bass (Morone saxatalis) are also known as linesider, rockfish, or sea bass and are a member of the perch family. Their closest relative in nearshore Maine waters is the white perch. They are sleek and silvery with a darker top and whiter underbelly to hide them from predators above and below. Their signature dark stripes run along the sides of their long bodies. Their name gives away where they live:  saxatalis meaning “one who dwells among the rocks.” Stripers, though, can live in a variety of habitats and one of their defining features is that they change habitats repeatedly during their lives. 

Stripers are one of many “sea-run” fish that live off the coast of Maine. Like salmon and river herring, trout and sturgeon, striped bass travel from the ocean upstream to spawn in coastal rivers and estuaries. Because of this part of their life cycle, they are very strong. And that makes them fun to hook. They are very muscular and can latch onto the bait at the end of a hook with powerful jaws and thrusting tail and give a good battle to a fisherman trying to bring it to the surface.  

They not only travel from saltwater to fresh, but also travel up the coast. The biggest group of stripers reaches Maine at the beginning of June, just about when the annual rules are released for the recreational fishery. Their range extends as far south as the Carolinas where they spend time before the northern waters begin to warm. There’s a great animation of the annual migration of stripers up the coast and up into shallower inland waters at onthewater.com/striper-migration-map-march-26-2021 

Once they appear in Maine, they generally stick to shallow coastal waters and are most active when the light is low, early morning and and after sunset. That’s when you can listen to them breaking the surface as they surge after their prey: smaller fish that move in and out with the tide. There is a quiet communion possible for those who are observant in the hours when little else is making a sound.  

Once stripers begin to appear in Maine, recreational fishermen begin their pursuit. There is no commercial fishery in Maine, as I mentioned before, and recreational fishing is regulated by the Maine Department of Marine Resources. Fishing is limited to state waters within 3 miles from shore as well as up to the head of tide in rivers and each angler can keep one fish per day as long as it falls between 28-35 inches in total length. Additional rules apply to the Kennebec, Sheepscot and Androscoggin Rivers and all related tributaries. Regardless of where you fish, you have to register at Maine’s saltwater fishing registry (maine.gov/saltwater) where there is also loads more information about the different types of species you might encounter.  

I’m not much of an angler, but I love to watch fish of all kinds and stripers are a sporty powerful fish to watch once they make their way up to Maine. Perhaps this summer I’ll be lucky enough to hook one that I can keep — and eat.  

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