Striped Bass Fishing with Live Bait-Part II
Stripers are all about structure. Find the structure and you will find the bass. Boulder piles, wrecks and reefs are all magnets for these fish. I fish several well known reefs on the Connecticut side of Long Island Sound. A reef is nothing but a hill underwater. The relative height of the top of the reef doesn’t matter at all. I fish some areas that come up to as little as 10 feet of water and other days I can be in over 80 feet of water. Generally speaking, the steeper the hill the better. Reefs are the perfect ambush point and act as funnels, concentrating all the bait scattered across the entire water column and squeezing it into much skinnier water as it flows over the crest. As the tide flows up the hill, it carries bait to stripers that have taken up feeding stations near the crest of the peak. The crest of a reef can be 20 or 120 feet deep, it’s not the depth that matters as much as funnel it offers. The rip line marks the approximate crest of any reef.
Once you have located the top of the reef, watch the fish finder and motor uptide from the reef. You may not be marking any fish, even some of the high end sounders have a hard time seeing fish holding tight to structure. I try to start in water that is about 20 feet deeper than the crest. Take the boat out of gear, drop your rig to the bottom. Once you are in contact with the bottom, the most important thing you can do is to keep the eel in the “zone”. I consider the zone to be 3 to 6 feet off the bottom. Try to keep the line as vertical as possible, add more weight if necessary and then drift back towards the crest of the reef. As you drift along, you will develop a feel for the sinker hitting the rocky bottom as the boat moves up the reef. When you hit bottom, crank the reel handle a couple of turns. This keeps snags to a minimum and the eel in the zone. The steeper the reef, the more often you will come in contact with the bottom as you drift uphill.
Watch your fishfinder, GPS, or landmarks onshore, for reference points when you hook a fish, you’re going to want to make the exact same drift again. Where there is one striper there will be more. Repeat the same drift time and time again, keeping your bait in the zone as much as possible. If you are unfamiliar with an area, try “mapping” out the reef. Whenever you hook a fish or get a hit, enter a waypoint on your GPS. This will enable you after a couple of trips to look at the layout of the reef and see where the majority of the action is coming from. This method has really helped me to eliminate unproductive water and to maximize my time in the areas that are consistently holding fish. Also as you drift, keep a sharp eye on your fishfinder. Look for structure that is different from the rest of the area. Large boulders, piles or a sharp drop or rise in depth. Anything out of the ordinary will be a magnet for big stripers.
Although stripers will most often be found on the uphill side, sometimes they will be stationed right on the crest or even on the downhill side. You have to experiment to locate the fish. When the fish are holding on the downhill side, you must constantly adjust the depth of your eel by letting line out, contacting the bottom and reeling back up into the zone. In a fast rip, I will do this every 10 seconds or less. . The zone never changes…3 to 6 feet off the bottom.
Circle hooks have made everyone’s life easier, most importantly the striper’s. There are still a large number of non-believers out there but I promise you, they work! I have had a much better hook up ratio and the eels stay on the hook better. There is no hook set necessary with circle hooks, simply take the slack out of the rod by reeling up or gently lifting the rod tip. I have hooked many fish while the rod was in the holder. If there is a down side to using circle hooks, I haven’t seen it yet. I prefer a 5/0 or 6/0 circle hook when using eels for bait. With hickory shad, scup or menhaden I use a 8/0.