It was late October and I was fishing in the sixth annual Cape May Kayak Fishing Jamboree, hosted by the Kayak Fishing Store to raise funds for the New Jersey chapter of Heroes on the Water. I was entered in the striped bass calcutta, and since I’d won it the previous year, I hoped to make a respectable showing again.
It was my first trip in my new Wilderness Systems ATAK, and I planned on testing it with a lot of paddling. I was on the water before sunrise, but failed to get any interest in poppers and walking baits. As the sun rose higher in the sky, I decided it was time to get down and dirty and do some trolling. Within 10 minutes of my first run down a steep bank against the tide, I almost had my rod ripped out of the rod holder by a 28.5-inch bass. While not a monster, it was long enough to win the striper calcutta and earn me bragging rights for another year!
Everyone loves catching backwater stripers on surface baits. There is nothing like seeing a hungry bass shatter the calm, back-bay waters in pursuit of a topwater plug. Unfortunately, conditions are not always right for this type of fishing. Walking baits and poppers work best in calmer conditions and during periods of low light like dawn or dusk, and even when conditions seem perfect, sometimes stripers just won’t rise to a topwater lure. When the sun is high or the bass refuse to rise to the surface, trolling along the sod banks is the key to hooking up.
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Many different lures can be effectively trolled, but my go-to baits are long, soft-plastic stickbaits and tube-and-worm rigs. Both of these can be trolled from right up against the sod banks to along the bottom in deeper parts of the bays. Both are relatively weedless, and rarely snag on the chunks of sod bank that have fallen into the water.
Soft-plastic stickbaits like the Original Hogy or the Bass Kandy Delight are a great imitation of back-bay baitfish, and are an excellent trolling lure from the kayak. I’ve used a few different colors, but have had most of my luck with bone white and amber. I rig them on a swimming tin or with a weighted swimbait hook. The goal is to present the lure just off the bottom, close to the sod bank wall, where stripers use pieces of the sod bank as ambush points.
The tube and worm rig catches stripers under tough conditions when the bass don’t seem interested in anything else. My rig for the back bays consists of a keel weight, a 3-foot leader of 40- or 50-pound-test fluorocarbon, and a 15-inch, wine-colored tube tipped with a piece of bloodworm. I’ve tipped the hook with Berkley Gulp sandworms, but real bloodworms seem to be more effective.
I use the lightest weight possible on my keel, usually just a half-ounce for the shallow back bays where I troll. I want to feel the bottom every so often, but don’t want the rig to drag.
It’s important to put a nice twist in the tube, and this is best done wrapping it around your forearm. A tube with the correct amount of twist will corkscrew beautifully through the water.
I do my back-bay trolling with baitcasting outfits loaded with 20- to 30-pound-test PowerPro braided line. The thin diameter and decreased water resistance of the braid helps get the lures down while trolling. I use 7-foot rods in order to keep the lures away from the kayak.
I set out between 50 and 75 feet of line before placing the rod in a rod holder mounted to the front of my kayak. Having the rod in front of me makes it easier to keep an eye on what the lure is doing, allowing me to react more quickly if it fouls or picks up weeds. While many fishermen troll with two or more rods, I prefer to concentrate on one.
I am careful not to set my drag too tight. A bass could easily rip the rod out of a rod holder if the drag is too tight, and a big striper could pull a rod holder right off a kayak or bust an expensive rod!
I get bites when trolling both with and against the tide, so I vary my speed until I discover what speed the bass are looking for that day.
I’ve heard anglers say that trolling is boring, but when a bass nearly rips the rod holder off your kayak and takes you on a sleigh ride through the back bays, boring is the last word that comes to mind!