Tips For Catching Stripers
In The Cape May Rips
by Captain Harvey Yenkinson
Striper fishing begins in earnest in mid October and continues into January. The biggest problem facing us striper fever nuts is the wind. For those who trailer their boats, you need to have access to the marine weather forecast to know if the trip is worthwhile. There are several sources of present and future weather information and you should utilize as many as possible to make your determination. If you are computer literate, you can access the weather (past, present, and future), directly at the Delaware Bay buoy. You can reach this at www.nws.fsu.edu, click on marine observations, then type in 44009 which is the buoy number of the Delaware Bay buoy. You will find all kinds of info on wave height, swell height, wind direction, etc. as well as the marine forecast.
Another source of info is the weather channel on cable. You can watch the fronts move across the country. As the fronts approach there is generally a southeast wind, which will generally move counterclockwise from south to southwest to west and finally northwest which is the predominant wind pattern during much of striper season. The closer the isobars you see on the screen the stronger the wind will be.
Another good source of info is to call one of the tackle shops in the cape may area, which generally are open by 5 AM, and ask them what the captains are reporting as far as sea conditions so far today.
A more primitive but reliable way is to look up at the trees when you wake up in the morning. If the winds are gusty at home, you best believe they are worse at the shore. It can however be calm at home and quite windy in Cape May. Also when the wind doesn't let up at night, this is also another bad sign. If you arrive at the shore and you can see the ocean, and it looks like elephants walking in a line at the horizon, this is another bad sign.
The biggest deterrent to stiper fishing is undoubtably the winds. Both the direction and speed are important. Some winds which are terrible for offshore fishing can be fine for striper fishing. The reasons the wind is so important are several. The most obvious is that the stronger the wind and the longer the wind has been blowing, the rougher the water, which can make fishing cold and uncomfortable. More importantly actually is that the wind will dirty the water, for example a strong northwest wind will turn the Delaware Bay into a sea of chocolate soup. While stripers will bite in dirty water, the reduced visibility reduces your catch percentage. The most important problem with the wind is that it can cause your drift to be against the tide. As in flounder fishing, you will catch many more fish if you drift with the tide instead of the wind. Fish have to face into the current as they wait for bait to come their way, and if you drift against the tide your eel is presented unnaturally and your catch numbers will come down. Some boats, due to their construction, drift better with the tide then others. Generally heavier boats, with little sail area (freeboard above water line, plus curtains), are more likely to drift with the current. You can reduce wind effect on your own boat by rolling up the curtains (if you can stand the cold) and sitting down! As the tide changes direction, the sea conditions can change dramatically. For example, a fifteen knot northwest wind will roughen the seas on the incoming tide, but flatten out on the ebbing tide.
A wind of twenty knots or greater from any direction is very rarely a productive day, and I personally have fished in such conditions and caught fish, but you better be on a thirty foot boat or have a good stomach. If you look at your chart of Cape May, you will see that the land blocks winds from the northwest, north, northeast, and east. So, for example you can have a fairly comfortable day with a fifteen knot northwest wind if you fish within a mile of the shoreline. If you try to fish middle or overfalls shoal, you will be in for quite a rough day. A northeast wind, which is terrible offshore, can be a great striper fishing day. A fifteen to twenty knot southwest wind is not good as there is no land to hide behind.
Which Shoal To Fish
Well if you have decided the weather is okay, you need to know where to go which is always the big question on any fishing trip. Your best bet is to get as much information as you can. The internet won't help much except occasionally at the fbn saltwater chat room (type in keyword: FBN, then follow the links to the room). Somedays the wind will determine if you can fish only the inshore shoals. When you stop in the tackle shop to get your eels don't hesitate to ask where they would recommend. I think nobody really knows which shoals will be the most productive on any given day, but keep the following facts in mind. Try to fish reasonable clean water, moving offshore if the inshore water is very dirty or your bait is constantly fouled with grass. Try to fish a shoal or part of a shoal that other boats are not working. I generally start inshore on the high tide and work my way out as the tide flows out of the bay. As the tide turns and starts to run in, I work my way back inshore. If you spend enough time on the water you will learn that each shoal has a series of rips associated with it. Some parts of some shoals like the southeast part of Prissy Wick on an incoming tide, is a great spot, but you need to make a drift over one rip, then move the boat around for a second drift. Other shoals like middle and particularly overfalls are very conducive to half mile drifts, so if you don't like to constantly move your boat, these may be more to your liking
Fishing The Shoals
The boats that are coming in with ten plus fish per day compared to the boats with one or two fish per day, have learned how to work the rips. Striper fishing is in no way a haphazard affair. You can't just shut off your engines in the middle of a fleet and expect to start hauling them in. I would suggest to you to make a chart of good starting points ( in td#'s or Lat/ Lon) for an outgoing and income tide for each shoal. It has taken me several years to make mine and I am always refining it, as I find better drifts. Each shoal will have several good drift profiles. One of the great challenges of striper fishing is to locate where the fish are most likely to reside. You want to drift over the sharpest bottom change on each individual rip that you drift over. When you drift over a rip you want to hit the part of the rip with the most white water (be wary of prissy wick rips though unless you know the area and your boat can handle it). Also it is best to hit the pocket of water which looks like a "V" on the rip line. With some trial and error, you can find starting points, that will take you over many such areas on a long drift. Be certain to save your drift starting point in you loran (gps), so that you can repeat the same drift profile if you have a successful drift.
You also need to work a series of rips that other boats have not been running over on the last several drifts. You will generally only get a few drifts over one area, before the fish shut down. If you go by an area and see boats with fish on, try to line up your boat on a drift parallel to theirs but not over the exact same area. Can you imagine what it looks like to a school of stripers when 50 eels from a party boat come zooming by. You aren't likely to catch any fish with your few eels coming on their heels. Your most productive days are when you can find rips to work that other boats have not used yet. Weekdays are much more productive then weekends for this reason. I have caught my limit many times on weekday mornings by getting out at first light, hitting a good set of rips, catching three to four fish per drift, and being back to the dock by the time everybody else is just heading out.
Also when working your set of rips, it is extremely important to circle your boat around the rip at a reasonably slow speed, and begin your drift over the same area if you caught fish, or move down 50 feet and start the next parallel drift. Never, never move your boat back across the same area you intend to drift over. Be courteous to your fellow fishermen as you move your boat on the shoal you are working, and from shoal to shoal.
Enjoy the striper fishing in the Cape May rips, one of the best fisheries around. Support the Jersey Coast Anglers Association and the Recreational Fishing Alliance which fight to keep striper fishing a recreational activity.