Striped Bass Fishing with Live Bait– Part I
Big stripers are caught every year up and down the East Coast on all kinds of tackle using all kinds of methods. However, if you want to maximize your chances for a striped bass over 40 inches, then live bait on a 3-way rig is the way to go. The most popular baits in the New England area are eels, hickory shad, scup and everyone’s favorite the menhaden AKA porgy or bunker. Live baits work well 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We’ll start fishing in earnest for stripers in May and continue till ice becomes a problem on the deck of the boat in late November. Day or night, it doesn’t matter. I’ve taken bass over 60 pounds at night and I’ve taken bass that big during broad daylight.
Once you have a location that holds fish, the rest is easy. It is the kind of fishing that with some simple instructions my grandmother could hook a fish…Landing it might be a different story.
A 3-way rig was the undoing of one of the heaviest bass ever landed, a 76-pounder caught on a reef at Montauk Point by Capt. Bob Rochetta. The fish is the second-heaviest striper ever recorded by the IGFA, passed only by a 78-pounder taken by Al McReynolds at a New Jersey jetty. The three-way rig was also used with great success to catch fish from 55 to 70 pounds in bass-filled waters like Plum Gut, The Sluiceway, Valiant Rock and Sugar Reef, to name a few.
For those that have never seen a 3 way rig it is simple, really. 3-waying gets its name from a 3-way swivel, the rig's starting point. One swivel obviously goes to your main line. The second is used for a dropper loop. A dropper loop is exactly what it sounds like, a piece of line with a loop tied in it that is used to attach a lead sinker. The sinker must be heavy enough to bounce on the bottom in a running tide. In some cases, this might mean as little as 4 to 6 ounces of lead, while other rips and reefs may require 16 to 20 ounces to keep your bait down in the strike zone throughout your drift. To the third eye, you tie on a 4 to 5 foot length of fluorocarbon leader material. The gauge of the leader is debatable, some use heavier line when they fish around hazards such as lobster pots. I prefer 50 lb., I believe it is a good balance between stealth and strength. There are days when the water is very clear that bass can be line shy. On days like that I will go as light as 30 lb fluoro. Terminal tackle is expensive these days, between Seaguar Fluorocarbon, Spro Swivels and Gamakatsu hooks your rig can cost a couple of dollars. A good way to avoid losing a lot of rigs on the bottom is to use a lighter line for your dropper loop than the leader. This way if you get stuck, you can snap the dropper loop, losing only your sinker and still get the rest of the rig and your bait back. For example, if my main line is 55, my leader is 50, then my dropper loop is usually 30 lb.
For a main line, I use nothing but braided line. Using braided line has a couple of huge advantages for this application. One is that a braided line’s smaller diameter will offer less resistance against a moving tide, allowing you to use less weight to keep the eel in the strike zone. Perhaps an even larger advantage is that braided lines offer very little line stretch. Typically with monofilament, you can up to 10% line stretch. If you think about that in 100 feet of water, you could possibly have up to 10 feet of line stretch before you are as tight to the fish as you’re going to be. With near zero stretch of braid, you feel everything that is going on and you get great hook sets. I can literally tell if I am fishing over a sand bottom, mussel bed or boulders due to the sensitivity of the line. I’ve used Fireline, Stren and Power Pro but my favorite is 55 LB Daiwa Saltiga Boat Braid. The advantage that Daiwa has over the others is that their braid is woven out of eight strands. Most other braids are four strands. Most braids out there feel as though they need to be fished before they are “broken in”, Daiwa is the most limp and smooth line I’ve ever handled.