By nature, stripers are opportunistic feeders. They will use both structure and moving water to help them gain a distinct advantage when feeding on baitfish. This is especially true in the late summer and early fall when water temperatures are at their highest and resident bass are looking to expend as little energy as possible to secure a meal. Rivers, inlets, canals, and other fast-water areas will hold plenty of bass in early September, when the fish set up shop in the fast-moving currents, waiting for a meal to be swept past.
To be successful in this fishery, anglers must be proficient at handling their boat in fast-moving water. The objective is to give the fishermen on board a chance to make as many casts into the productive zone as possible. Keeping the boat in position is by far the most important factor in catching early fall stripers in fast water.
I have spent years fishing for bass in the Manasquan River and the Point Pleasant Canal in New Jersey. These two bodies of water are known for fast-moving water, big structure, and very tight spaces. Catching fish in these areas requires that the angler get the boat right onto the structure, whether the structure is a bridge, a rockpile, or a channel edge. Keep in mind that with this particular approach to bass fishing, you’ll need someone at the controls of the boat at all times, no matter what. This ensures safety of the boat and the anglers, as well as the expensive gear you have onboard.
My initial approach to the structure is a cautious one. Once we get close to the structure, I put the boat in idle and observe how and where the tide is moving. The first and most obvious observation any boater can make is whether the tide is going out or coming in. You want to set up on the down-tide side of the structure so that anglers will be working the lure back to the boat with the current.
Aside from the direction of the current, I determine how fast it’s moving. I will then evaluate the wind speed and direction to predict the path and speed of my drift near the structure.
If there is ever a case where we do have a wind-against-the-tide situation, and we can literally sit still with the current pushing us one way and the wind pushing us in the other way, I will “drift” near the structure, allowing my anglers to cast their artificials into the strike zone. This can be dangerous, especially when you are fishing near large structures, so the operator needs to be aware of the surroundings at all times. A sudden gust of wind can throw you right up on the bridge or rockpile, so stay at the controls regardless.
Nine times out of ten, however, I will elect to “power drift” near the structure. Power drifting involves running up to the structure from the down-current side and holding the boat in place. Don’t set up on the up-current side of the structure as you can be tossed right into the bridge or rockpile.
Once you get near the structure, slow your engine down to an idle and let your anglers begin fan-casting the area. You, the operator, should stem the current with the throttle while correcting the boat’s direction with the helm or rudder so that your anglers have a clear shot at casting at the structure. Your goal is to keep the boat stationary while the anglers cast and work their presentations from the structure, through the current, then back to the boat. Once you estimate how much throttle you need to keep the boat in place, bump it in and out of gear, keeping that boat in perfect position.
If you own a center-console, put your anglers in the bow so that they can cast to the structure and work the artificials back to the boat against the current, and run the boat from the helm amidships. If you run an express or walkaround boat, put your anglers in the stern, and again work the throttle and rudders from your helm position while the stern of the boat is facing into the current. Overall, you want to be able to bail out of danger immediately, and you also want to have your anglers in position to catch fish!
Different Structures, Different Approaches
In my home waters of the Manasquan River, we typically fish bridges that have multiple pilings and abutments. Some pilings or abutments hold fish, while others don’t. It pays to use the aforementioned approaches to work every piling or bridge abutment as individual structures. Don’t spend too much time working one, move the boat onto another so that you can find the feeding bass.
Other fast-water areas that hold bass, such as canals, rivers and inlets, feature a number of different structures including rips and submerged rocks, sandbars and shoals, as well as above-water rocks and jetties. Wherever you fish, the aforementioned boat-handling tactics will keep you and your anglers into the bass, once you find them. Getting your boat on top of fast-water stripers is one thing, the next trick is getting them to hit.
Catching Those Fast-Water Stripers
Since the bulk of early fall-run stripers will be between 20 and 30 inches, fishing around inlet and riverine structure is a light-tackle game. Along with the bass, you’ll also be hooking cocktail bluefish and the occasional weakfish. A medium spinning rod in the 7-foot range, coupled with a comparable spinning reel loaded with 30-pound-test braided line is all you need. Make sure you add a 6-foot topshot of 30-pound-test monofilament as a shock leader.
Typically, I cast soft-bodied artificials at our local bridges, like Sassy Shads, Storm Shads, BKDs or Bass Assassins. Bomber Long-As and any other slim-profile plugs will also work as long as the current isn’t running so hard that you have a difficult time getting the lure to swim.
I’ll instruct my anglers to cast the jig or plug right on top of the structure, and let the current work it back to the boat. I usually have one angler work the depths with a jig, allowing it to hop along the bottom, while another angler works the middle of the water column with a jig or a plug.
It usually only takes a few casts to determine if the bass are present. These fish hit the jigs and plugs hard and will put your light tackle to the test. These fish are frisky, and use the fast-moving current to their advantage, making for quite the battle!
Other Factors to Consider
Since you are fishing fast-moving water, you want to pick your times wisely to fish these areas. Times when boat traffic is at a peak, namely on the weekend or at midday, is not the time you want to be fishing these areas. Early mornings and evenings are much better choices since boat traffic is minimal at these times.
Avoid days where there is a lot of wind, and also avoid days where you know there will be extreme currents, around new moons and full moons. These areas of fast water become twice as dangerous when the tide is moving out much faster than usual, so wait until that current slows before you give this a go.
This fishery provides a fun, light-tackle option for small-boat anglers. Work these areas of moving water thoroughly, and try to cover every square inch of that structure so that no piling or rock is ignored. Use proper boat handling to keep you and the anglers on your boat in prime position to make casts at the structure to take advantage of the large numbers of resident bass around this time of year. By fishing these fast-water areas, you can jump start your fall fishing before the “fall run” even begins!