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September 21, 2007

31 Days of Stripers

31 great tips for targeting striped bass of the northeast coast


Give your gear a thorough inspection to make sure everything is in working order before the fall run begins. Check to see that line rollers turn smoothly and rod guides are nick-free. Replace the line on all reels and sharpen hooks to razor perfection.

The mouth of Maine's Saco and Kennebec Rivers are host to spectacular blitzes in early October as huge schools of peanut bunker enter the ocean and the bass begin their southern migration. Look for big concentrations of working gulls to lead you to the action, especially in the early morning. As the sun rises higher and the surface blitzes subside, work the bottom in 15 to 30 feet of water off the beaches and the steep edges of channels.

In new and full moons, it may be difficult to present your baits or lures deep enough to reach the fish during periods of peak current, especially in the rips and inlets. Instead, plan your outings around the top and bottom of the tide, when the current is moderate.

If you can get your hands on some fresh clam bellies, buy a few gallons, anchor upcurrent of a prime stretch of hard bottom in ten to 20 feet of water, and set up a chum line. After a few minutes, start drifting hook-bait clams back in the current, allowing them to settle in the current at the same speed as the chum. In heavy current or deep water, a small rubbercore sinker or a few split shot can be added to the line in order to get the clam down to the feeding stripers. A circle hook is best if you plan to release your fish, as stripers tend to swallow clams quickly.


Photo: John Keller/ Cliff Gardiner

If flyfishing is your game and you fish the waters of New England, pack patterns to imitate fall baitfish. Some winners are Peterson's Tinker Mack-erel (mackerel), the Blados Crease Fly (peanut bunker, above) and the Dave Skok Pollock Fly (harbor pollock).


Keep an eye out for birds, as they are generally a dead giveaway for feeding stripers.

If you happen upon a group of gulls sitting in the water or on the beach, don't ignore these seemingly lazy seabirds. They may know something you don't. It may be that the birds are taking a breather between blitzes, waiting for the fish to push bait to the surface. If boat fishing, give the area a thorough inspection with your depthsounder. Surf fishermen should work the area well before moving on.

Remember the eelskin plug? Well, this fish-catcher still works. Take a dead eel and nail it to a plank. Cut around its head with a razor and peel off the skin with pliers. Remove the hooks from a Danny-style swimming plug and slip on the eel skin, then secure it with a piece of wire. Cut holes for the belly hook(s) and reattach.

Ultra-deep-diving plugs such as the Mann's Stretch series are great for reaching deep-holding fish without having to use downriggers and wire line.

Fish them late in the season when the big fish are moving through and looking for a big meal. These baits will dive almost vertically and are designed to run at 25 feet on 17-pound-test line 150 feet from the boat.

If you can capture some live herring or bunker, try slow-trolling two of them with the aid of a downrigger or planer. By using a Cannon Quick Stacker release clip, you can stagger the baits at different depths to locate the hot zone. The Quick Stackers attach to the heavy downrigger cable or planer line so you set the baits at any depth. When a fish grabs the bait, the fishing line is released and the Stacker slides down the cable or planer line as it's being retrieved.

Tiny bay anchovies often serve as important fall forage for stripers, so pack plenty of small spoons and ¿¿ies that match these bite-sized baits. Let the lure sink below or work the edges of the tightly packed school.

If fishing a spoon, try letting it free-fall toward the bottom. With flies, a dead-drift is often best.


Massachusetts is right in the middle of the striper migration.

Boston Harbor can light up in early to mid-October as waves of migrating stripers move through the area, feasting on peanut bunker. Look for huge flocks of gulls to lead you to the action, which spills over to waters north and south of the city. Three- to five-inch flies, plugs, jigs and spoons will usually take fish when the bass are on or near the surface and foraging heavily on peanuts.

When schools of large menhaden or sea herring are present in the fall, a bunker spoon trolled deep on wire line along the outskirts of the schools can be your ticket to a trophy.

The technique is especially productive during slack tide, when the fish and bait tend to spread out, or when searching for a concentration of fish. Troll the giant spoons as slowly as possible (one to two knots) for best results.


Sam Talarico enjoys a nice striped bass caught on a fly.

Now is the time to visit Block Island, Rhode Island, for some of New England's best action with big stripers. Nearby Southwest Ledge and the island's rocky eastern shore hold big fish in October, and top techniques include deep-drifting live eels and trolling tube-and-worm combos on wire line in 15 to 35 feet of water. If fishing from shore, it's hard to beat live eels.

The numerous reefs scattered throughout Long Island Sound load up with bait and hungry stripers as the weather cools. Vertical jigging with four-ounce diamond jigs or drifting live eels over the rugged bottom are proven methods. Historic hot spots (from east to west) include Hatchett Reef, South West Ledge, Six Mile Reef, the TE Buoy, Townshend Ledge, Stratford Shoal, Budd Reef, Cable & Anchor Reef, Sound Reef and Execution Rocks.

The three-way Mojo Rig is a popular setup for trophy stripers off Virginia in the late fall, but remains largely unknown in areas to the north. It's very effective for reaching big fish in very deep water when large baitfish, such as herring and bunker, are primary forage. The proper way to fish a Mojo is to bounce it along the bottom by trolling at two to three knots. Because of the extremely heavy jig on this rig, stout trolling gear is necessary.


Having the boat at the ready gives anglers better chances to fish spots with big bass.

Keeping your boat rigged and ready to roll is a good idea during the fall. You might even consider leaving it trailered once the bite heats up so that you can be more mobile. This allows you to try new locations and follow the fish as other new hot spots develop along the coast. A caveat: It's critical to give your trailer a thorough inspection before hitting the road. Be sure to check the bearing-grease level, tire pressure, safety chains, brakes and lights. Also, make sure that you have the appropriate repair tools and spare parts in your tow vehicle.

The harvest moon period has historically produced some of the best fishing for big bass at night off such hallowed striper spots as Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Block Island and Montauk. Don't miss out on this prime time.

At the southern end of Plum Island in northeastern Massachusetts, savvy surf casters have been hurling parachute jigs tipped with long pork-rind trailers to produce big bass in the fall. These traditional wire-line lures work just as well in the surf. The trick is to make the jig's "reverse skirt" pulsate by using short, quick rod pumps. Popular colors include white, red and yellow. Time casts to go over and drop behind breaking waves.

As juvenile herring and bunker exit the bays and estuaries in the fall, they set the stage for some incredible backwater action that is easy for shore-bound anglers to enjoy.

An outgoing tide after dark often produces best, although you can also score during the day.

Pay particular attention to river bends and feeder-creek junctions, as well as the outer edges of shoreline pockets where bait can accumulate. Deep holes and channels hold the bigger fish, and may require the use of deep-sinking ¿¿y lines or heavy jigs.


Surf anglers should be watchful of their footing as offshore storms can create big swells.

Fall nor'easters make for rough-and-tumble fishing conditions, but often spark spectacular beach and jetty action. Play it safe and you could score some big fish.

Old-style lures such as the Creek Chub Giant Pikie are still effective in the surf. The slow-wiggling action these lures exhibit as they move through the water makes them irresistible to big stripers.

A popular setup along the beaches of Cape Cod is the dropper rig. At night, a black Bomber Long-A or similar swimming plug is employed as the "anchor," with a black, soft-plastic Red Gill sand eel imitation rigged on a short dropper loop tied in the leader. The swimmer provides enough weight for casting, and also looks like a baitfish trying to eat the smaller lure, which some believe triggers a competitive-attack instinct from stripers.

When bluefish are blitzing close to shore, use heavier, bucktail-style lures to get below the frenzy, where large striped bass often lurk and feed on baitfish injured in the melee above.


Photo: John Keller/ Cliff Gardiner

Nighttime can be the best time to take a trophy striper in the fall, especially from the beaches and jetties. Black is generally the best color for night fishing, and top plugs include needlefish (above) or darters, Danny-style swimmers and shallow-swimming plugs. Fish them slowly for best results.


Handle with care.

Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay provides excellent action, especially inside the rivers and protected coves at dawn, dusk and after dark. Good spots are Warwick Cove, Greenwich Bay, the Warren River, Hull Cove and the Providence River.

A chunk of mackerel or menhaden (bunker) fished from the beach can be deadly on big fall stripers, day or night. Make sure to use the freshest bait you can get your hands on and fish it in the deep troughs between bars. Heads tend to yield the best results, so avoid using tail sections.


SWS's Al Ristori (left) and Jack Noll hoist a pair of trophy stripers caught off Montauk.

The action off Montauk Point, Long Island, in late October can be downright scary at times, with massive blitzes occurring throughout the day. Every angler owes himself a trip to this fishing mecca in the fall, when you're likely to encounter bluefish, stripers and false albacore in the same day.

During an all-out blitz when the stripers are rolling through a school of tightly packed bait, try letting your lure or ¿¿y sink well below the surface before beginning the retrieve. By doing so, your offering is much more likely to stand out and draw the attention of a hungry striper. The same can be accomplished by fishing the outskirts of the activity, so your lure swims alone through open water.


Anglers can challenge themselves with stripers on light tackle.

The rips off Cape May, New Jersey, come alive with bass starting in October. Here, the standard boat-fishing techniques include drifting live eels or bouncing a one- to two-ounce bucktail jig sweetened with a strip of squid over the sandy shoals.


Photo: John Keller/ Cliff Gardiner

From Maine to New Jersey, peanut bunker serve as prime forage for stripers of all sizes in October, so be sure to stock up on lures that match these three- to four-inch-long baitfish. Top choices include the four-inch Tsunami Swim Shad (Golden Bunker pattern) and the four-inch Storm Wildeye Shad (Bunker pattern, above).

It's hard to beat live eels when it comes to targeting big fish in the fall, especially at night. When fishing in less than 15 feet of water in light to moderate current, try letting the eel seek bottom without additional weight, which can rob the bait of its natural wriggling action. In deeper water or in strong current, an egg sinker can be placed on the main line above a barrel swivel to get the eel down. Adjust the size of the sinker as conditions change, but always strive to use the least amount of weight possible.