Improving Your Odds When
Striper Fishing The Cape May Rips
by Captain Harvey Yenkinson
Did you ever notice that some fishermen are uniformly more successful at catching then others. Some fishermen whether on a party boat or their own boat will routinely outfish their counterparts because of the knowledge they have accumulated which enables them to apply techniques that will give them a greater chance of a successful venture. . Make your goal to never return without a striper when fishing the rips, and hopefully to average 10 fish per day. In this article I will share with you tips I have learned that have greatly improved my daily catch.
I list this first because this is probably the number one factor influencing your chances of success. Last year I wrote an article in The Fisherman magazine called "Chocolate soup stripers" (Sept 28, 2000-No. 39). This article basically spoke of methods to find clear water, why it is important, and what you can do if you fish in water clouded by silt. If there is one factor that can improve your odds of success more than any other, it would be finding an area of the rips where the water is clear. Rip fishing is basically a "sight fishing" game, where the stripers are finding your bait by seeing it. Several factors cause the water of the rips to become cloudy. Strong winds, particularly the strong west winds (NW, W, SW) tend to stir up the bottom and cloud the water. High tides associated with the full and new moons or spring tides cause extremes in tidal flow and also tend to cloud the water. Another factor is the outgoing tide, where a dirty Delaware Bay, empties into a clean ocean and clouds the water as the tidal waters enter the ocean. The solution to finding clean water to fish in is to try to work with the conditions of the day to find the clearest water. When the bay is dirty, keep moving out as the tide runs out, or start offshore, and work your way in on an incoming tide. During west winds and high tides, you tend to find cleaner water towards the Delaware side, sometimes on Brown Shoal (27196/42738), out towards A and B buoy (27141/42664) and an area not fished by many recreational fishermen- one mile South of Overfalls shoal where you will find cleaner water with multiple deeper water shoals. A great shoal in this area that does not show up on the charts is one I named after a friend, George's shoal, located at 27125/42662. Stay within the three mile limit though as you venture out this far.
Wind I would say is the second most important factor for two reasons. One I have mentioned above which is the effect of wind on clouding the water. The other is the speed and direction of the drift. With all bottom hugging ambush type creatures, whether stripers, flounder, or whatever, you need to drift in the direction of the current, not with the wind. Fish have to face head first into the current as they wait for bait to flow their way, drift in the wrong direction and your bait approaches them in a very unnatural and unproductive manner. Deep vee bottomed boats, heavy boats, and boat with low sail area (open your curtains if you need to) will tend to drift better with the current and less with the wind. Also you may want to fish a certain tide with a certain wind. For example, a strong north wind may not allow you to drift in the right direction with an incoming tide, but will be with you on an outgoing tide. The "catch 22" of drifting with the wind and tide, is that your drift may exceed 2 knots and reduce your chances of success, so fishing the early part of the tide is the best time in windy conditions. . Also if you fish close inshore, the land will help to block the effect of a North, Northwest, Northeast, or East wind. Basically do what ever you can to drift with the tide.
Workin The Rips
If you can get a day with light winds and good water clarity, you are just about home free as long as you work the rips correctly. As many folks are striper nuts like myself, thousands of fishermen on hundreds of boats will be working the rips on a weekend. Stripers are very noise conscious fish, and having a boat blast across the rip you are about to drift over, is like a death sentence. One way to avoid the crowds is to fish during the week. At my marina during the week there may be twenty to thirty boats in the parking lot, but on the weekends, there are hundreds. If you could have the rips to yourself on a calm day, you would probably catch thiry plus fish in a day. Well since that is not going to happen, and if you can't fish during the week, then at least try to work rips that crowds are not ganged up on. Prissy Wick can hold alot of fish but my idea of a good time is not watching to see if I am going to bang into somebody while drifting. Generally the further out you go,
the smaller will be the crowds. Midrange shoals like Somers and North Shoal are fished very little and can be quite productive. Overfalls is a very large shoal encompassing many series of long rips which spreads the boats out over a greater distance. Another way to avoid the crowds is to get out early. I love running out in the dark on a brisk November morning, getting my lines out as it is just getting light, getting my limit, and heading back while most boats are still coming out. Also stripers are basically low light feeders and bite more aggressively most days in lower light conditions.
Work the rip by shutting off your engines up current of the intended area, leave yourself enough time to get your lines out, and quietly drift over the most productive looking spot of the rip. Look for the pockets, the points, and the turbulent areas to try to drift over. The less "rippy" areas are less likely to hold fish, but can be productive if the other boats have hit the better areas too many times.
One technique used by the charter boats, particularly at night, is a technique called "hugging the rip," where the boats keep the engines running, holding the boat twenty feet up current of the rip and having the patrons drift their baits back into the rip. The process is repeated as the captain manuevers the boat sideways along the rip.
Another factor to remember is to fish during periods of tidal movment of water as striper fishing is poor during slack tide periods. Many fisherman confuse tidal change with time of high or low tide. For example, say high tide is 6 AM, if you are in the rips you will find the tide is still running in till approximately 7:30 AM , the time of slack tide. Slack tide will generally last an hour or hour and a half, when the tide will change and shift direction. The reason high tide does not coincide with slack tide, is that the flow of water into the area is less than the flow of water exiting the area, and the height of the water is actually dropping. If you have limited amount of time to fish, try to fish the periods of horizontal (tidal) water movement.
While most folks fish eels in the rips, there are even a few things you can do with eels to make them more appealing. One trick is to apply black paint to the inside of your bait bucket. This will keep the eels, creatures with the ability to color change to their surroundings, looking as dark as possible to make them more visible against the lightly colored sandy bottom. Also many folks put eels on and fish the same eel all day long, sometimes unknowingly fishing with dead eels. While you can catch with dead eels on occasion, a lively eel is a much better bait. If you hold up your line and the tail does not curve up, the eel is dead. Also many folks fish for stripers with tuna type hooks which are large in diameter, damage the eel, and cause the eels to be less lively and die earlier. Also any hook not dark in color is also a bad idea. I personally use Gamakatsu 5/0 octupus or circle hooks because they are strong and thin.
It is commonly asked if you should use fluorocarbon leader. Many people fish with heavy mono leader and catch plenty fish, but I would say, will you catch less fish by using fluorocarbon, certainly not, and this is one more factor to tilt odds in your favor. Besides the visibility factor, the condition of your leader is also important. I basically like to change leaders at least everyday, and replace any damaged leader immediately. If you remove hooks from stripers with pliers, you may unknowingly damage a leader or the hook and lose your next large fish. I would encourage you to remove deeply hooked fish with your fingers by slipping your index finger through the gills, forward of the gill rakers, turning the hook around on the tip of your finger and pushing it out the mouth. If done properly the hook dislodges easily, the fish isn't harmed, and as a bonus, your leader is unscathed. Also temperred hooks like Gamakatsu will break if they are torqued with a pliers. A good catch of any species can be improved by not losing any fish you hook up to a broken hook or leader.
I would encourage you to take a pack of clams along, as some days the stripers in the rips have been feeding on the clam beds north of the area and their noses are looking for that scent and somedays clams will outfish eels.
My basic set up is four baited rods with and a fifth used for jigging. I personally use Shimano baitrunners with six foot Master graphite rods. The two rods in close have a two ounce in line sinker with a four foot 30 pound fluorocarbon leader, one baited with clam, one with eel. My third and fourth rods in the stern rod holders have a half ounce egg sinker, followed by a small swivel, a six foot fluorocarbon leader, and eels on both. I have found the lighter sinker and longer leader make for a lively eel, that on many days outfishes the other rods. Once these four rods are deployed, on the fifth rod, I use a B2Squid jig from Cabellas to jig over each rip as I drift across the shoal I am working. Somedays jigs work better than live bait. Bucktails, rattletraps,crippled herring, Hopkins shorties, or numerous others also work some days using vertical jigging methods or can be cast several times into the head of the rip as you drift by.
Make your goal never to come back to the dock without a striper in the box. Fish clean water, drift with the current, avoid the crowds, work the rips properly, have a good bait presentation, and if all else fails, do what a friend of mine does, just stay out till you get one!