STRIPED BASS are probably northern New England's most sought after saltwater gamefish, but as the season matures and the spring striper blitzes become just a memory, where and when do you find enough large, keeper-sized stripers to make a good day of fishing?
It's not so easy as saying the answer is blowing in the winds, but it's pretty close. Chances are these fish are to be found in the mid-range depths of the open ocean, probably feeding on the schools of mackerel that find these areas good feeding and refuge places.
And mackerel seem to be key to having a good day's fishing, as they need to be caught and turned into ground chum in significant numbers to provide an opportunity to have an unforgettable day out to sea.
A good idea is to plan on a productive out-to-sea striper trip by finding and catching a mess of mackerel to be used as both chum and also your starting-off bait for striper fishing. And that can be a considerable challenge if the schools of macs are being pushed around by marauding schools of bluefish. The macs will go off the feed but can be caught by snagging, at least in enough numbers to put together ten or more pounds of ground chum. The more chum you can put up and freeze, the better your chances at having a kick-butt striper day.
With frozen ground mackerel chum in hand, pick a day when the forecast is for light winds and if you're lucky, a day with some scattered clouds. Don't pick a day when there's a cold front moving in as those days are disastrous for good striper action.
Key is to anchor up on some ocean bottom structure in the 80-to-150-foot depth range. Have your bait tank or floating bait cage ready to go and with a bag of frozen chum overboard, get out your mackerel gear in an attempt to round up some live mackerel for bait. As soon as you hook your first mackerel hook it on to your chosen striper rig with enough weight to drop it down in the 20-foot range, and now you're fishing for stripers. As you continue to catch live mackerel set out some more live macs under balloon bobbers, suspending the bait from 10-to-20-feet under the bobbers. But continue to try to fill your bait tank or live cage with mackerel, to provide more chum if necessary or also to use as live bait.
You need to chum hard, as the key to this type of fishing is to attract the big schools of mackerel and the stripers (and hopefully not bluefish) will come. So it's not a sit-back-and-wait day. It's a work-hard and chum-hard day but can produce some world class striper action.
Enemy number one are bluefish. Schools of blues can rush into your chumline and cut all of your live baits in half, as quick as you can say that. And stripers will pay no attention to dead half mackerel floating under a balloon.
If you don't mind switching gears and trying for a few bluefish, hook on some of the bit-up mackerel down in the 40-to-50-foot range and hope for the best. If not, a good thing to do is to stop all chumming and rest the area for a half hour or so. Then start up again.Enemy number two are dogfish. On a foggy or very cloudy day, beware.
Dogfish will show up in your chum and really destroy all of your baits. We haven't seen this done but we know of some very productive offshore striper anglers that will use polarized sun glasses and put out their live macs close to the shady side of the boat and will pull them out when the dogfish arrive but keep on chumming until a striper arrives and drop the bait down right in front of them. This procedure is done on a short line without the use of a bobber and takes a lot of concent
ration - but it works.So get out your ocean charts and look for likely spots to try this very effective mid-summer striper approach. It works.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.