Striped bass fishing is pretty unique if you think about it. What other fish species can be targeted in open water, up tight to the beachfront, in rivers, harbors, bays, canals, estuaries, rips, rock piles, shoals, and drop-offs as well as in a variety of other interesting environments. Without a doubt the striped bass is a very dynamic and opportunistic fish species.
Maybe this helps to explain why so many striped bass flock to Cape Cod each season. The Cape has just about every striped bass environment imaginable. Stripers can be found from the boulder strewn coastline of the Elizabeth Islands to the tidal flats of Brewster and virtually everywhere in between.
Some of the most unique Cape Cod striped bass fishing environments are places with extraordinary current. In particular I am envisioning areas where a strong tidal flow is squeezed through harbor openings, creeks, channels and island passageways. These types of areas present an interesting feeding opportunity for stripers and often attract big striped bass like clockwork.
Of course there are never any guarantees when it comes to striped bass. However bass do seem to behave with a reasonable amount of predictability when they settle into rips and areas with intense current-especially contrasted to how they behave in open water, structure-less zones.
In my experience the best fishing in current laden areas occurs around forms of structure. A deep hole or rocky peak jutting up from the ocean bottom is a good place to start. When the current is really cranking bass will settle down deep in a hole or behind a rocky peak. Picture it like a pedestrian using a building to block a stiff breeze. The stripers successfully get out of the current, and can still keep a keen eye out for any bait that may be tumbling by in the current.
3 way swivels come in super handy when fishing current laden areas.
Usually the key for fishing these types of spots is to get your bait or jig right along the bottom, in tight to the piece of structure. This can be accomplished in many different ways; however my favorite method is to 3-way live eels.
A 3-way swivel is a nifty little piece of terminal tackle that makes fishing rips and channels much easier. The main line is tied to one arm of the 3-way, a leader and hook to another, and a sinker to the third. Basically it’s the easiest way I know of to get a big eel straight to the bottom, even when the current is cooking.
The most crucial component of 3-waying eels is the angler’s ability to keep the eel right along the bottom, which is usually where the bass are. Unfortunately this is also where all the snags, weeds and rocks reside. It takes a little practice (and about 100 lost rigs!) but once you get a feel for it you can literally bounce the eel off the bottom and smack it directly into rocks without getting hung up.
In areas with a real swift current it’s not uncommon to use as much as 10 ounces of weight. A regular old bank sinker typically does the trick. Just be sure to tie the bank sinker to the 3-way using a Palomar knot and not an overhand or Trilene knot-to help prevent the knot from slipping.
The way you gauge how much weight to use is pretty simple. Try a drift using, say 4 ounces as an example. If during the drift you are having trouble detecting bottom and keeping your line near vertical then you most likely need more weight. If you can detect bottom easily and keep the line near vertical then 4 ounces or less is probably a pretty good weight. As the current increases and decreases it’s often best to add or lose weight accordingly.
If you are fishing a real dramatic rip, ledge or hole it may be necessary to constantly adjust the amount of line you keep out during the drift. As you drift up the front side of the rid, it makes sense to reel in some line. As you fall off the backside of the rip into deeper water, it’s usually best to drop the rig directly to the bottom of the hole.
Use as little weight as necessary to keep the line nearly vertical during the drift.
So to make a long story short, concentrate on always keeping the eel just above the bottom while keeping your line nearly vertical.
The most exciting part about catching big stripers using this method is the initial bite. Bass that are feeding in the current hit so much harder and with much more vigor than bass residing in open water. These guys absolutely crush the eel and can jerk the rod right out of your hands if you’re not paying attention.
I like to use circle hooks in these situations because it makes the hook setting process simple and easy. When the bass bites, I like to lower the rod tip and point it directly at the water. As hard as it is for me to resist setting the hook I try to allow the bass to get the line tight. This usually takes 1-3 seconds (although it feels like much longer!). Then you just start cranking and hand on-no need to set the hook.
Because this technique relies a lot on a fisherman’s ability to “feel” the bottom and “detect” bites, braided line is the most recommended line for the job. Distinguishing bites from bottom is a breeze with 40 or 50 pound Power Pro, because braided line has next to no stretch. Trying to hold bottom in heavy current with monofilament is much more challenging.
Surprisingly lead core line also performs well when it comes to 3-waying eels. So no worries if all you have on the boat are trolling setups. Lead core is colored differently every 10 yards, so it is very easy to gauge how much line you have out. Knowing how much line is in the water can help prevent getting snagged on the bottom.
Having the boat positioned in the right zone through a drift is also very important. You definitely don’t want to waste time on a poor drift route, especially when the bite is hot. Using your sonar be sure to mark the exact location of the fishy structure. Motor a bit up current of the structure and position the boat in a way that will bring the boat directly over the structure. Kick the engine into neutral, drop the eels to the bottom and drift on through.
I’d say the majority of bites usually come from fish that are sitting directly in the hole or behind the rip. However bites will often times come from fish positioned in front of the leading edge of the rip, on top of rip and even well behind the hole. The most important tip I can provide is to just be ready at all times, or you may lose a rod and reel over the side (which has happened to me on numerous occasions!).
In big current, most big bass will position themselves around and directly behind pieces of current-blocking structure.
I never catch many fish 3-waying rips during slack tide. Moving water does a great job of concentrating stripers around structure. When the tide slacks off, I think the fish leave the rips and holes and venture around a bit. Of course we have caught fish 3-waying during slack; however the fishing is almost always better when the tide is cranking.
As previously mentioned, expect to lose some rigs to the bottom-especially when you are just starting out with 3-waying. When you do get hung up on the bottom, consider immediately snapping the line instead of fiddling around in a powerful current and rip. If I get snagged on the bottom when the current is cooking, I’ll immediately wrap the line around the handle of a gaff and just hold on. Often times the entire rig will break free from the snag. If that doesn’t happen the line will quickly part. Usually the line snaps at the leader, which is obviously much better than simply cutting your line at the rod tip.
That’s about it as far as 3-waying eels is concerned! Stay tuned for an upcoming members post about some of the best Cape Cod fishing spots for 3-waying.
Tight lines and good luck live eel striped bass fishing this season. And of course if you find this article helpful, please take a second to share it on Facebook and Twitter using the buttons below.
I’m fortunate to have grown up on the beach, and I’ve been fishing since kindergarten. I have great family, friends and fishing experiences to be thankful for. Just being out there is enough-catching fish is just a bonus!