The Challenge of Fishing for Rockfish
The Challenge of Fishing for Rockfish
The rockfish (striped bass) is the trophy fish of the North¬east Coast. It is currently in serious trouble throughout its range due to habitat destruction, pollution, and over-fishing. The current restrictions placed on the catching and selling of this fish seem to be effective. The population in the Hudson and Delaware rivers has improved, but the overall picture in the Chesapeake Bay is still quite dismal.
No one can predict when we will have rockfish fishing again at the level we enjoyed from the late 1950s into the 1970s. Some don’t believe we will ever have the stocks back to that level, but others are more optimistic.
There are probably more articles and books written on the various techniques you can employ to catch a striped bass than about any other saltwater fish. One trait all good striper fishermen possess is persistence. They stay at it no matter the time of day, no matter the weather, and no matter what other social or business obligations fall by the wayside. Success with striped bass demands that type of dedication.
Unlike bluefish, rockfish do not seem to be constantly on a feeding binge. Their meal times are closely related to the tides, and fishing the tides is a key element to catching stripers.Another way in which rockfish differ from blues is in their close association with structure. Blues will hang around a particular structure for short periods of time, while a big striper may stay around the same jetty or rip for an entire season. So long as the water temperature is within their tolerance-54 to 77 degrees with a range of 60 to 70 degrees preferred-and the bait supply remains good, a rockfish is not likely to wander too far from home.Rockfish dine on a wide variety of foods such as bunker, mullet, spot, flounder, small blues, and weakfish, along with anything else that swims by their hiding place. They will also eat crabs, shrimp, lobster, clams, mussels, and squid.
They may not be too picky about what they eat, but you must put regular basis emphasize on putting the bait or lure where the rockfish can find it easily.
Rigging the eel requires a lead swimming lip, which is hooked through the head of the salted eel. A leader tied to the lip and passed through the body and out of the vent carries a second hook.Live eels are also worked, but the retrieve is even slower than with the rigged eel. The purpose of slowly bringing the eel back to the beach is twofold.
• You cover more ground where stripers may find your bait; second,
• A live eel will do irreparable damage to your line if allowed to swim freely about. Cranking them in keeps their noses pointed in the right direction.
Many striper fishermen prefer eels that are not too frisky. They may keep them in ice water or otherwise slow them down before putting them on hooks.Hooking is normally done through the lips or the eyes. When a bass picks up your eel you must let him run until the bait has been turned and swallowed. Strike too soon and you will put the bait out of his mouth. This procedure is true for most live baits, including bunker, herring, and spot.
Heavy leaders are seldom employed by live-bait rockfish fishermen. Bass have an uncanny ability to see a leader in the water and this will spook them away from the bait. Twenty-pound pink Ande line is the heaviest used in this type of fishing. It is tied directly to the hook-no snaps, swivels, or other hardware.
Worms are another favorite for using as rockfish bait. Along the Delaware Coast, bloodworms are used to catch most of fish. In New Jersey and points north the sandworm is also employed. Rockfish seem to prefer a big clump of worms on the hook with a nice long piece trailing away. This type of presentation can get pretty expensive but that’s what it takes to make a striper strike.Another favorite rockfish lure is the Atom Junior. This plug works in a slow side-to-side motion that seems to make rockfish go wild. When rigged with an eel skin it looks like a big swimming snake. The eel skin is pulled on over the back of the lure after the trailing treble hooks are removed. It is secured to the body of the plug with cord or rubber band and the hooks at the middle of the plug are left in place.Other well-known and effective striper lures include the Gibbs Bottle Plug, Darter, and Swimmer. The Creek Chub Pikie, Atom Striper Swiper, and the Danney plug have also taken their share of big bass.
While not a totally nocturnal pursuit, rockfish fishing is generally better after dark. This is especially true in the shallow waters of the surf where big fish feel exposed during the day. The ideal beach structure for striper fishing has a point, jetty, or sandbar extending offshore with an area of calm water on the down-tide side. Big-stripped bass will lie in this calmer water, waiting for bait to be washed past by the current. Plugs and bait must be placed exactly on target so that they will work past the striper’s nose as if they were struggling against the current. Doesn’t sound too hard until you try it on a dark night, standing waist deep in pounding surf with your hands stiff and numb from the cold. You can’t see where your plug is going, you can’t feel the line with your fingers, and you just had 5 gallons of ice water wash inside your waders. Believe it or not, rock fishermen think this is fun. They say taking a certain amount of abuse helps land a big rockfish.