Vet Craft Sport Fishing


FISHING THE CAPE MAY RIPS -
WHEN THE WATER IS DIRTY

by Captain Harvey Yenkinson


CLOUDY WATER

A fair number of trips to the rips will reveal dirty water which can at times resemble "chocolate soup." A great many days during the fall 1999 season had exactly these conditions. Unfortunately there is a large amount of silt brought down the tributaries of the Delaware River to the Delaware Bay and thence to the area of the junction of the Delaware Bay and the ocean onto the shoals there that we commonly refer to as "the rips". It should be noted that the rips refers to any of the turbulent areas created by the ebbing and flooding tides over the many shoals in this area. Unfortunately several charts show only Prissy Wick shoal as being "the rips" but this is just one of many shoals that have white water associated with them and the rips really encompass a several square mile area. The silt in the water is worse during windy weather, particularly westerly winds, and during periods of extremes in high and low tides brought on by full and new moons, and spring tides. Hopefully as better run off control is demanded by the D.E.P. this silt problem will be lessenned. It seemed this past year that it was actually rare to get clear water in the rips due to the above mentioned conditions.

If possible, it is preferred particularly if "sight fishing," which I'll explain shortly, to try to find water as clean as possible. This is not to say that stripers do not inhabit the cloudy water. If you talk to any fishermen who enjoy the sport of "chunking" for stripers in the areas of the bay north of the rips, they will all tell you of their successful days fishing in the chocolate soup conditions. In these conditions the fish follow the instinctual paths of their predecessors, using their ingrained navigational skills and their nose to follow the smell generated by their favorite bait, the menhaden (bunker). Interestingly some theorize that the absense of the odor created by the once generous supplies of bunker that at one time would enter the bay in their migration run, is being replaced by the smell of the many chunks of bunker that are thrown in by fisherman chunking. The scent trails travel out of the many fishing spots up the bay out to the mouth of the ocean on the outgoing tide drawing the stripers into the bay.


IN SEARCH OF CLEANER WATER

Most people that fish the rips are relying on the ability of the stripers to see the bait or lure you are using, hence the term "sight fishing." Stripers have large eyes and are quite good at capturing their prey at night. There is however quite a difference between clear water at night time and dirty water. At night, a dilated pupil and improved photoreptors in the back of the eye can aid greatly in the vision of all land and sea night hunters. Cloudy water, however, is actually tiny particles suspended in water, that not ever the keenest eye can see through. To compare this to human vision, on a clear day you can see many miles, but put yourself in a smokey room and your vision is drastically reduced by the suspended smoke particles, and gets near impossible to see as the smoke thickens. Another analogy would be too try to see deep into a forest when there are alot of trees blocking your vision. In another words, cloudy water with its suspended particles of silt creates a physical barrier to eyesight that greatly diminishes range of visibility. We ofter joke that you would have to hit the striper in the head with your eel for him to see it in chocolate soup conditions. Stripers too face this visual difficulty, but as they need to eat, they continue to hunt for food by relying on their other senses. Fishing the rips in dirty conditions

There are several means of finding cleaner water when the rips appear very dirty in general. One of the most obvious is to fish on the incoming tide rather than the outgoing starting on the offshore shoals and working your way inshore. Many days fishing on the outgoing tide, you can literally see the chocolate soup working its way out of the bay. And if sight fishing, the fishing will drastically decline with the loss of clarity in the water. The obvious solution in this case is to move further offshore as the tide moves out. For example, if you started on an inshore shoal like EPH, North, or Prissy Wick, you could move out to Somers or Middle, and later in the tide move out to Overfalls or the shoals beyond, remembering of course not to fish outside the three mile limit if you are going to retain any of your catch.

You will also note that the water is much dirtier on the shoals where the water is typically 15 to 25 feet, then it is between the shoals which is usually around 35 to 40 feet. The fishing is usually best at the intersection of the shallow and deep water which are the edges of the shoals that create the upwellings and white water that stripers love. In cloudy water conditions you can find the cleanest water at the first rip of the shoal, rather than the rips that occur as you continue to drift across the shoal. What I mean by this is that each shoal is actually a series of dropoffs and uprisings that cause several areas of rips. The first area where the deep water pours across the first shallow area of a shoal, will have the cleanest water as compared to the subsequent rips on that shoal. For example, if you are fishing Overfalls shoal on the incoming tide, the first rip on one part of the shoal is at 27128 / 42679, and will be cleaner than the subsequent shoals as you continue your inshore drift across the other rips.

If you still can't find clean enough water by that method then you can fish in between the shoals, which is generally slower but does occasionally produce. There is an area of mussel beds inbetween Prissy Wick and Somers that often produces in these conditions. The beds are located in the area of 27115 / 42696.

Another alternative is to head out towards the water that slopes to the main channel between A and B buoy at the mouth of the bay. Here the water drops off from 40 to 80 or more feet, and this area is rarely cloudy. Also there are usually a group of party boats fishing further south off Delaware, an area called the Reservoir which is another spot of clearer water.

Sometimes too, while the shoals on the Jersey side may be dirty, Brown Shoal across the bay may contain cleaner water as well.

One comment I should also mention to you is that the shoals aren't exactly where they are positioned on the charts, as they constantly shift with the Noreasters that churn up the rips. Don't despair if the chart says you should be in 20 feet of water and you find yourself in 40 feet!


STINK FISHING

When you are eeling in dirty water, you will have to get your eel pretty near a striper for him to be able to see such a creature. In limited visibility conditions you will need to make your bait larger ( a larger eel) or use a larger bait such as a live baitfish like a croaker, that you may have wisely brought along. Another method is to use a brightly colored bucktail such as two to four ounce yellow which is a good dirty water bucktail often with a rubber worm of white or yellow added to the hook. Other anglers will use a rattletrap lure or add a rattle to their lure to use the ability of fish to detect vibration in water, which is equivalent to our using our hearing.

The preferable method though in dirty water rip fishing is to start "stink fishing." It is known that the larger stripers love to eat bunker, and you best believe they are able to find these schools by the oily trail they leave behind. This is the key to "chunking" but such thinking can also aid the rip fisherman. It is a good idea to use a bucktail with a strip of fresh bunker (or herring in the spring) attached. Others have used squid scented with shedder oil, as crabs are another striper favorite. Another trick is use clams either on a bucktail or simply fished on a fish finder rig. Often the migrating stripers have been turned on to feeding off the clam shells tossed overboard and broken up by the offshore clammers, and as these schools migrate further south to the rips, their brains are searching for the same scent, so use this to your advantage.


OTHER AREAS TO FISH

If you decide not to fish the rips as you heard on the radio on the way out that the rips are dirty, there are plenty other areas to fish. Many boaters will "hang a left" and head up towards Wildwood. There you might fish on the Wildwood lump, up toward Hereford inlet or any other spot you locate fish on your fishfinder or by spotting birds circling over head or diving on the water. A bird called a gannet which you only see in the fall is a large white bird with a 3-4 foot wingspan with black tips on its wings, and when you see this bird diving or circling, you best believe there are stripers in the water beneathe it.

Another method is to fish clam baits on the spots where the clam boats have been working. Use caution however as the clammers are often working beyond the three mile limit, and keeping stripers in those areas is illegal. Last year a great number of fish 24-30 inches were plentiful in those areas and you could often catch and release 50 or more fish a day. It would be wise to use circle hooks, the one I prefer being the Gamakatsu 5/0 circle octopus, so you can safely release the undersize fish.

When the word is the rips are dirty, don't stay home as you can always catch fish by using these methods when the conditions are tough.