Pictured above: Drifting through the rip with either live bait or jigs is the most popular method for hooking up.
Find late-season striper success in the Cape May rips
Why are the Cape May rips one of my favorite places to fish, year in and year out? There’s just something about the excitement of drifting through the rough water of a rip, marking fish on the fishfinder, and watching every angler on the boat hook-up with a big striped bass. There are not many fisheries where action like this is a regular occurrence, but late in the year in the rips is one of them.
Finding the Sweet Spot
Proper boat positioning is integral to success in the Cape May rips. You could be fishing a mile-long rip, but the bass will be concentrated in the part of that rip that offers them the best place to ambush baitfish. Knowing what to look for when staring down the rip will greatly increase your catches.
You can tell a lot about the underwater sand humps that form the Cape May rips by reading the surface of the water. The rips are very easy to find as they create standing waves and swirling currents – rip lines – that indicate where they are located. Some of the shoals that form the Cape May rips tend to change from year to year, so last year’s numbers may not be as precise the following season. Look for inconsistencies and changes in the pattern of the rip lines as these often indicate underwater points and gullies that create natural funnels to attract feeding bass. Use your electronics to target the narrowest part of the funnel, where baitfish will be washed through by the tide, as this is where the stripers will be feeding.
Usually the bigger rips hold more stripers as they offer a better hunting scenario for striped bass. Bass can hide downcurrent of the large sandy humps, picking off baitfish swept over the top of the structure. The bigger rips have steeper edges and create the most turbulent water. These big rips are easy to locate, but approach with caution: several boats are capsized and swamped every year in the Cape May rips. Always try your best to point your bow through the rips. To keep your bow perpendicular to the rip line and to make short repeated drifts, never turn your engines off when fishing the rips.
In the Cape May rips, stripers are feeding primarily by sight, so it is imperative that you find clean water. It is possible to catch in dirty water, but you are better off moving on and finding cleaner water. The first, most upcurrent rip on a given shoal is always the least silted up, and therefore usually the most productive. This is often the only rip I will fish on any shoal.
Also, look for the birds. They’ll be where the bait is, and a congregation of birds often has fish under them. Sometimes the birds won’t even be directly on a rip, but if they are diving to feed on baitfish, it’s always worth a look.
Working the Rips
I have found that you will have more success doing quick drifts over the first rip and swinging back around than you will drifting through the whole set of rips. Sometimes this involves making very short drifts of less than a minute.
Anytime you are working the rips, make sure you are moving in the direction of the current and not in the direction of the wind. On windy days, you might have to “power drift” through the rip, using your engine to avoid being pushed off course by the wind.
Stemming the tide has become very popular in recent years, but this tactic has been used by successful Cape May rips fishermen for years. This technique involves keeping the boat positioned in the calmer water front of the rip while drifting along the rip line, allowing the anglers to drift their baits into the rip line and the deeper water behind the rip where the stripers are picking off their meals. For safety’s sake, do not try to stem the tide at a crowded rip where others are drifting through the rip.
Once you get the boat handling down, catching bass in the rips is relatively simple. The most effective baits are live spot and live eels fished on the bottom with just enough weight to keep them down. Using bucktail jigs and bouncing them over the rip is another effective method. Match the tackle to your preferred method of fishing. Lighter spinning gear can work with the bucktails, while heavier conventional gear may be best for drifting the eels or spot.
Use your Electronics
A good chartplotter and sounder are worth every penny. Learn how to use your sounder and know what you are looking at. Electronics don’t lie and will tell you what kind of bait is present and whether or not stripers are there. Some days I have marked fish, but had no bites. I stayed with the fish working the area until the fish turned on and started feeding. Knowing how to read your sounder will add to your success.
Discover The Cape May Rips
Explore the shoals off Cape May with C-Map’s detailed hi-resolution maps.
Mark productive spots on your chartplotter. Actually, don’t just mark the productive rips, label them. I have strings of waypoints made on rips and have labeled them as to whether they were an incoming tide or an outgoing tide spot. This cuts down on time spent looking for fish.
Making the Most of Slack Tide
The current starts to really slow about 30 to 45 minutes before the end of the tide and doesn’t begin to run for another 30 to 45 minutes after the slack. This presents more than an hour of downtime. In recent years many people have started trolling over the shoals with Mann’s Stretch plugs and umbrella rigs during slack tide. This has been somewhat effective, but I have found it to be unnecessary.
As the current starts to slow, I find that by power drifting through productive areas of the rip I’ve continued to hook-up with stripers. As the current comes to a halt, I will power drift back and forth over the rip in both directions until we no longer get any bites. This is where having saved the incoming and outgoing spots on your GPS comes in handy. Once the bites stop, I will move to the closest spot for the start of the next tide and power drift there, looking for marks on my sounder. I’ll continue to move around until I find fish. This way, there is no downtime, and I am already in position on the fish as sson as the next tide gets moving.