By August, striped bass have been entrenched in their summer haunts since early July. They can be reliably located, though not always consistently caught.
Many fishermen hit pause on their striper season during the hottest days of August, waiting for the fall run to put the bass in a more cooperative mood. However, for charter captains with books full of clients hoping to catch the Northeast’s favorite fish, catching bass straight through the summer is a must.
With water temperatures at their seasonal peak this month, bass can be finicky and the feeding windows short, so we talked to four captains from Rhode Island to New Hampshire to learn how they bring bass to the boat during the Dog Days of August.
Go Tubing in Newport
Finding good late-summer fishing around Newport, Rhode Island, begins with finding the good water temperatures, says Captain Rob Taylor. While the bass hang on Newport’s ledges and reefs all summer long, when water temperatures hit their peak in late summer, they restrict their feeding to cooler-water periods, narrowing the good fishing windows.
This usually means the flood tide is better than the ebb, Taylor said. The upwelling caused by the incoming tide can drop the surface temperature from the 70s into the 60s, which puts stripers in feeding mood.
Rob likes the tube-and-worm rig for his late summer striper fishing. He uses a variety of sizes from 18 inches on up, tipping them with small soft plastics rather than seaworms. As for color, Rob sets out two and lets the fish decide.
Water clarity and conditions influence the day-to-day fishing, but keeping a close eye on the tubes to make sure they are free of weeds is essential. “There’s always a lot of seaweed in August,” Rob said, “and dirty tubes catch no fish.” Using lighter tackle to troll the tubes helps Rob see that they are running clean and fishing well. He trolls at around 2 to 3 knots, but varies the speed, slowing down and speeding up in an attempt to get following fish to react. Often, fish strike on the turns, when the outside tube speeds up and the inside tube slows down and sinks toward the bottom.
Taylor’s tube-trolling setup consists of a compact but powerful star drag reel spooled with 45-pound-test leadcore line. His favored rod is a Jigging World Nexus MH, which is light in the hand but has enough backbone to put the brakes on a rock-bound 40-pounder. A long leader of 80-pound-test fluoro finishes off the rig.
Locate the Bait off Cape Cod
The Monomoy Rips off Cape Cod are a reliable spot for good striper fishing from mid-June into July, but by August, the bigger fish tend to move out, reported Captain John Clothier. Ten years ago, fishermen could reliably follow these fish as they set up in 90 feet of water off Chatham, feasting on the clouds of sand eels there. However, sand eel numbers have fluctuated in recent seasons, and those big striper schools haven’t appeared as consistently off Chatham; instead, they seem to move a bit further up, off Nauset Beach, said Clothier. There are times when vertical jigging with diamond jigs and other sand-eel-imitating metals still work, but the past couple seasons, it’s been large schools of adult menhaden that drew stripers up along the back side of Cape Cod.
Clothier said snagging bunker and re-deploying them on circle hooks was a successful tactic in past years. The stripers seemed to hang close to the bunker schools, which moved around quite a bit. Also, the sheer number of menhaden meant that many schools were undisturbed by bass, so moving between pods of bunker was a must on some days.
What could change things for this coming August is the apparent resurgence of sand eels around the Cape. This led to a great early-summer bite for bluefin tuna south of Martha’s Vineyard and could bring back some of the vertical jigging that was so successful in years past.
When the tide is right, though, Clothier believes bass will arrive back in the Monomoy Rips to feed. He looks for the south-running tide to draw stripers back into the rips, even if just for short feeding windows. Once there, drifting live mackerel, casting soft plastics, or trolling with umbrella rigs or wire-line jigs should catch fish.
How the late-summer bite shapes up off Cape Cod will depend on which baitfish the stripers find, but you can count on them being somewhere between the Monomoy Rips and Nauset Beach. Don’t go without a mix of snag hooks, diamond jigs, topwaters, and soft plastics. Like rips and sandbars of the Outer Cape, the striper fishery there is ever-changing.
Bunker Down in Boston
The fish spread out around Boston Harbor in August, says Captain Brian Coombs. While the first half of his summer is spent covering ground in pursuit of big schools of bass hounding baitfish on the surface, his late-summer fishing is more structure oriented. Rather than a run-and-gun approach, Coombs grabs bunker and then takes them to shallow, rocky structure to “bump troll;” that is, kicking the boat in and out of gear to slowly move the bunker forward, covering ground and keeping the baitfish from running into the rocks.
Stealth is important to fooling Boston’s late-summer stripers, says Coombs. He uses 30-pound-test fluorocarbon, and when he has to use weight to get the bunker down, he keeps it to less than 2 ounces. Using more than that means the stripers will likely to feel it and drop the bait.
Coombs looks for structure adjacent to cool, deep water in close proximity to schools of bunker. Areas like that abound in Boston Harbor, with the Outer Islands being one of Coombs’ favorite haunts for finding end-of-summer stripers.
Float a Mack in New Hampshire
While water temperatures in southern New England will be approaching the 70s in August, the waters of New Hampshire and Maine are still downright cold, says Captain Peter Whelan. Big schools of large stripers move within range of Whelan’s home port of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, beginning in early July, and August is prime time for catching them.
Similar to Coombs, Whelan uses live bait around shallow structure for his late-summer stripers, but instead of bump-trolling bunker, he uses live mackerel under a float. Bobbers and striped bass fishing seem like an unusual combination, but for the shallow, rocky shorelines where stripers prowl in northern New England, it’s the perfect presentation.
Whelan suspends the mackerel under a Sea Striker Live Bait Float. While other local fishermen suspend the mackerel below balloons, Whelan says they are too big, and the bass will spit the bait after feeling the resistance. The pear-shaped 4-inch Styrofoam float he uses easily slips under the surface when a striper takes, giving the angler time to let the fish eat before reeling down to set the hook.
Whelan hooks the mackerel through the back, toward the tail, on a 5/0 Gamakatsu inline circle hook. This causes the bait to attempt to swim down, against the float, and this struggle attracts the attention of big stripers from a long way off.