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August 01, 2012

Nantucket Bass Ride

The shoals and reefs off this legendary island offer superb striped bass fishing action

If you want to catch a striped bass, you have lots of great destinations to choose from. Depending on the time of year, you can reliably expect to find the fish somewhere between Chesapeake Bay to the south and Maine to the north, so you can pick and choose your surroundings.

But fishing around Nantucket Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, has a unique appeal. You can make the argument that of all the great striper haunts, none have the rich history and allure of Nantucket. I’ve fished here several times in the past, and as with many other striper spots, you can find the fish in a wide variety of places. Stripers lie in the rocks along the shoreline or in sloughs just outside the surf line. They also take up residence on the numerous sand shoals found offshore, where they ambush the bait that gets swept across the bars by the moving tide.

The fish also hang out in deeper water over rocks, and by fishing these rocks with wire-line outfits, you can experience some of the most consistent and steady action to be found anywhere. I did just that on my last visit to Nantucket and had an awesome time catching one bass after another.

Fishing with the A Team
I teamed up with Capt. Bob DeCosta of Nantucket and Spider Andresen, a resident of neighboring Martha’s Vineyard. Andresen is a former publisher of Salt Water Sportsman and has been an icon in the New England saltwater fishing world for 40 years. DeCosta, Andresen and I met in Nantucket, to film an episode of our award-winning television series, Sport Fishing Television. I spent the afternoon before we fished watching DeCosta rig the wire lines we would use and got a chance to pick his brain regarding the philosophy behind his setup.

“We’re fishing jigs, and you have to get the jig down to where the fish are so they get a chance to look at it,” DeCosta said. “I spool the reel with 300 feet of wire, marked at 50-foot intervals with a piece of floss or a dab of paint. I attach the leader with either a wind-on swivel or an Albright knot, and I use from 3 to 25 feet of nylon monofilament, from 30- to 100-pound-test, all depending on water clarity.” DeCosta occasionally uses fluorocarbon leader when the water is super clear, but not often.

Jig Them Up
He prefers Andrus jigs from 1 ounce to 6 ounces, depending on the depth of water he’s fishing. “With the Andrus jigs, the hair doesn’t knot up like with some other jigs,” he explained. “With some jigs, you’re constantly having to comb them out to make them work right.”

DeCosta likes white and red-and-white jigs. “Some guys swear by neon-green jigs,” he said, “but I think they attract too many bluefish.” He added that you could easily make the jigs any color you like by buying white ones and then dying them at home with Rit dye. No matter what color the jig, he prefers to tip them with a
pork-rind “sweetener.”

We got a chance to test DeCosta’s theories the next morning off the eastern shore of Nantucket just offshore of Sankaty Head lighthouse, near the southeastern corner of the island. A submerged rock reef in about 30 to 40 feet of water popped up on the boat’s fish finder, and he ordered Andresen and me to toss our jigs overboard and pay out line until he told us to stop.

By deploying the right length of wire line, along with the proper-weight jig, you can get the lure down into the strike zone, just above the rocks where the stripers lurk. In fact, it’s common to occasionally bump the rocks with your jig as you troll, a sure sign that you’re in the right part of the water column.

Getting in the Zone
DeCosta set up a trolling pattern over the top of the reef as Andresen and I manned the rods. This isn’t passive trolling, where rods rest in a rod holder, awaiting a strike. This is participatory fishing at its best, as each angler must hold a rod and continually jig it in a broad sweeping motion.

These jigs are referred to as “parachute jigs” because the skirts are tied at an extreme angle to the hook shank in most cases, and by vigorously jigging them back and forth, or up and down, you move the skirts in a pulsating rhythm that fish find irresistible.

Andresen drew first blood when his rod suddenly arced over hard as a hefty fish seized the jig far below. “Got him on!” Andresen yelled, and soon a fat 34-inch striped bass broke the surface, to be greeted by an exuberant crew. After a few photos, the fish was released unharmed, and we resumed our jigging efforts.

Tired Arms/Happy Anglers
Over the next couple of hours, both Andresen and I caught and released fish, one after the other, until our arms ached from both jigging and winding in fish. All were of the approximate size of his first one, and the strike never ceased to startle me. The nonstretch nature of the wire line, combined with the strength of the strike itself, made me hold on to the rod with a firm grip, lest one of them take it from my hands and over the side.

We also caught a few fat bluefish mixed in the with stripers, and DeCosta told me that at certain times of the year, the toothy bluefish can get thick. “When they do, I’ll add 3 feet of 150- or 200-pound mono leader to keep them from biting off the jig,” he said.

After we caught and released our fill of the 34-inch variety of stripers, DeCosta suggested we switch gears and target some larger ones. “When the bass get over 40 inches, they get smarter,” he said. “For the bigger fish, you need to switch to live bait, either scup, herring or bunker.” After catching a livewell full of fat live scup just outside the Nantucket breakwater, we did exactly that.