The water was flat, silvery calm and reflecting a full moon and tiny fins were breaking the surface everywhere. Somewhere under there was the elusive, feisty, and delicious striper, who was driving the pogies up to the surface.

Stripers, or striped bass (Morone saxatilis), are beautiful silver-sided fish with a white underbelly and olive-green to steel blue coloring on top. Their forked tails make them speedy swimmers and their long head and thrust-out lower jaw make them voracious eaters. They are known to eat anything that swims including each other. But, I prefer to eat them and, in Maine, to eat them, you have to catch them.

There’s no commercial fishery for stripers, though it is one of Maine’s most valuable sport fisheries estimated at over 3 million dollars between gear and tourism income. When people come to Maine to saltwater fish, they go for striper, and they pay a lot to find them – to charter a boat for a day can cost somewhere on the order of $600. And, you can only catch one per day – that’s a really expensive fish.

They are quite fun to catch, though, giving a good fight when you reel them in and presenting their beautiful silvery scales in sizes that can weigh up to 100 lbs. (those old geezers are somewhere around 40 years old).

The value of these fish stems from their rarity and the limit of sport fishing rather than a commercial fishery, but this was not always the case. The history of the striped bass fishery dates back to the early European settlers, who recorded great numbers spawning in coastal rivers.

In 1614, Capt. John Smith wrote, “the fish seemed so plentiful that one might walk ‘dryshod’ across their backs over the river.” Colonists used seine nets to capture thousands of fish at a time and salt them for storage over the winter. They were easy to capture in large numbers because they come in with the tide into the mouths of coastal rivers to reproduce and these narrow areas could be easily netted off to catch the fish trying to swim back out with the returning tide.

Striped bass are a kind of fish known as anadromous, which means they migrate between fresh and salt water. They reproduce, or spawn, in fresh water, so they need access to that habitat. In addition to large numbers being removed through netting, dams, development, and poor water quality in the following generations also reduced their population.

Fast forward a couple hundred years to 1984, and the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act put a moratorium on commercial fishing in many states to restore their population. Striped bass are native to the Atlantic coastline of North America from the St. Lawrence River into the Gulf of Mexico to approximately Louisiana, but you can only fish in state waters, which are 3 miles from shore.

Now, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, a multi-state authority that manages migratory species, monitors the population and requires states to meet certain benchmarks to maintain a healthy population. Each state has specific regulations.

In Maine, you can only keep one fish per day and it has to be bigger that 28 inches in total length. Those are the basics, though if you’re really setting out to fish, you need to check the official regulations with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, as there are further restrictions on areas like the Kennebec River, and on types of lures and bait that are allowed.

I was amazed to find out how much other information the DMR offered on these, as well as other recreationally fished species. For example, you can download a fact sheet on all the “sea run” fish including Atlantic salmon, sturgeon, shad, American eel, river herring, menhaden (pogies), and smelt. These are all anatropous fish that swim up into fresh water to spawn.

There’s a second sheet for groundfish species like halibut, pollock, haddock, winter flounder, bluefish, mackerel, tuna, black sea bass, redfish, cusk, wolffish and sharks.

There are individual information sheets for each species, as well, including great pictures for identification. There are also tide charts, maps of fishing areas and access points, lists of charter companies, and a guide to food safety for those consuming these species.

All of this information is available at www.maine.gov/saltwater or by calling the Maine Saltwater Recreational Fishing Registry at 633-9505. You can likely also pick up the quick reference sheets for sea run and groundfish at a local marina or view it in an information kiosk at a fishing access area.

So, even if you aren’t going to get out and fish for them, take a few minutes to learn more about these and other local saltwater fish by taking advantage of resources online. It is a fun way to learn more about what those ripples on the water are and what is happening beneath the surface.