Strategies for Casting to Striped Bass on Boulders and Reefs
Notes: Out of all the striper casting scenarios, I feel like casting over or around submerged structure is the most “angling” of the techniques. It’s certainly the most like hunting in the sense that you need to study the tides and the winds and how they relate to the structure you are “working,” the same way you would in order to understand any other pattern in nature. Determining the best time to fish a certain piece of structure is critical to success since fish will only hang there during certain stages of the tide. It’s around structure that you will occasionally find the largest “cost” since they are essentially lazy and will use structure and current to bring dinner to them, rather than chasing it all over the ocean like the rambunctious schoolies do.
When: Stripers use structure as it supports a whole food chain, thus serving as a buffet of sorts or it provides them the opportunity to ambush unsuspecting baitfish as they get pushed by the current. Eighty-five percent of the fish you catch in or around structure will be during the peak portions of the tides but the other 15% caught at slack tide might be your biggest! The ideal timing for slack tide structure fishing is at sunrise or sunset, or low light days in the spring or fall. Most spots fish best at higher water stages of the tide, but not always; the best anglers know the most obvious times to catch fish, but they also have learned, through experience, that there are productive exceptions to the rules that everyone else follows.
Go-To Lures: I tend to go bigger around structure. In calm conditions I might star with a top water lure such as unweighted softbait, a popper of a “walk the dog” style lure to make some commotion. On a windier day, I might start with a swimming plug or a paddle tail soft-bait for greater visibility. In either event, I start with top-water and work my way down toward the bottom. Once I have worked the water column and have determined that larger lures aren’t producing, if the area just seems too fishy to leave, I’ll downsize and finish the spot with small softbaits.
Method and Approach: I’m very tactical when fishing structure. I pay attention to EVERYTHING. A bunch of birds sitting on rocks watching tells me that something just happened (which means it might happen again) or the birds think something is about to happen based on their past experience. If fishing a rocky shoreline, I prefer an ONSHORE wind as opposed to an OFFSHORE wind; the former will tend to drive bait towards the shore rather than away. ONSHORE winds also tend to produce more waves, or the kind of “white wave” that bass, especially larger ones, prefer. That said, remember that safety should be your first priority; take a few moments to study what is going on, and if there is any doubt in your mind that it looks too dicey to fish, despite the possibility of encountering fish, even big ones, DON’T TRY IT. In rough conditions, I always make sure to have someone at the helm who is watching the water and looking for that one rogue wave, ready to get out of there at a moment’s notice. If tide is moving over structure, the smaller fish will be up front and on top and often the larger fish will be a little deeper and farther back into the structure.
There are two ways to fish structure. The one that most anglers seem to prefer (and count me among them) is to drift by or near the structure and cast lures around, by and over it, while some folks will anchor at the structure and cast to it.
If choosing to anchor, the angler will drop the “hook” uptide of the structure and pay out enough line so that can fish the rocks or other structure effectively. This is method is great because it allows the angler to focus just on the fishing and not on positioning the boat to keep it out of danger. The only downside is that it’s a bit of a process to reposition the boat or move. In my opinion, kayakers would be best served by anchoring around structure.
One piece of advice regarding courtesy on the water: if you arrive at a piece of structure or water that other anglers are fishing by drifting and then running uptide to reposition and make another drift, then waiting for them to go by before moving in and tossing out your anchor, thereby cutting them off from fishing it again, is, as the British say, “Bad form” and it won’t win you any friends.