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LungingGigi.gif (32801 bytes)Deep Water
Salmon Stripers

By Merrill Harper
and Mike Christy 

The last place you’d expect to find striped bass would be in over 100 feet of relatively structureless water that has no rips or other fishy looking characteristics. But that’s exactly where they have been caught lately off the coast of Maine and New Hampshire. These summertime bass are acting like salmon, chasing bait near the surface in deep water. The bait is mackerel and they can sometimes be thick.

The technique used to catch these deep water cruisers involves attracting schools of mackerel with chum, setting out a few live baits on balloons, then sitting back and lazily drifting along with the tide. A perfect summertime pursuit.

Finding Mackerel

The first hurdle in this venture is to find schools of mackerel. These bait fish tend to run high in the water column, often only 10 or so feet down. This makes them hard to mark on a fishfinder, as the transducer cone is still narrow that close to the surface. It doesn't help either that they can be skittish of engine noise which scatters them away from the cone.

When mackerel are near the surface it's usually better to drift in the current with a chum bag over the side and let them come to you. More on chumming later in this article.

An absolute killer technique for finding mackerel is to look for a debris line along the surface of the water. This is where bits of weed, pollen, wood, junk etc. have collected to form a distinct line on the surface. This line marks the location of a vertical temperature wall that has somewhat warmer water on one side and colder on the other. This line also distinguishes where two different currents meet and stalemate each other causing any floating debris to collect along its border. These areas are mackerel magnets and should always be investigated.

One technique used in finding bait in the summer is studying marine charts for deep water holes relative to the surrounding bottom. An area marked at 80 to 90 feet of depth adjacent to depths of 110 for example are worth investigating. Bottom structure need not be present. Work an area such as this for an hour, and if no results, move on to the next. Keeping records such as LON/LAT coordinates and water temperature may help in pin pointing summertime bait patterns.


The key to this operation is constant chumming which attracts and keeps the school of mackerel near the boat. Eventually striped bass and bluefish will show up, either by following the chum slick themselves, or by following the bait school.

Chum can be bought or made. Tackle shops sell quart size containers, and the old stand by, tuna cat food (this author suggests  Figaro brand),  works as well.

One method for making chum is to grind up frozen mackerel with an old fashion meat grinder. It can be sweetened by adding some pogie or herring oil. This fishy concoction is packed in plastic cool whip containers then placed in the freezer. When fishing, a block of chum is placed in a nylon laundry bag tied to a transom cleat and allowed to thaw. Jiggling the bag every so often releases small amounts of chum and oil into the current.

Additionally, any kind of oily fish mixed with oatmeal and saltwater makes great slurry for throwing over the side.

Catching Mackerel and Pollock

Some of the absolute best mackerel producers are the "Sabiki" style multi hook bait rigs made by Mustad, Owner and Hyabusa. These rigs can fill a bait barrel quickly and are easy to use. Simply attach a 3-4 oz. weight or 1/2 oz. diamond jig to the terminal snap and jig them at various depths until you hook up. When one fish is hooked reel up slowly. This will prevent the first one from getting slack and more importantly allows time for more macs to get hooked while on the way up. Mackerel can be found anywhere from 30 ft. to 120 ft. of water, so if one depth doesn't work make a move and start again. Mackerel are great roamers so you’re likely to find them most anywhere.

If mackerel are scarce, pollock make a great second choice. Pollock schools can be located with a fishfinder before fishing. They are usually near a rocky bottom in a tight cluster in 25-60 ft. of water. Just cruise along at 5-6 mph and watch the fishfinder until a school is under the boat. Start jigging using the same rigs and techniques mentioned above. When pollock are reluctant to hit a jig, try drifting a small piece of bait on a #8 hook in your chum slick This search and fish method can be more productive for pollock than trying to chum a school to the boat.

LungingJapser.gif (36942 bytes)The Party Begins!

Once you have a chum slick going, have a school of mackerel circling your boat and have filled your live well, the party begins. And like all parties, you need balloons to make the occasion festive. But the balloons in this case are used for bobbers.

Attaching a balloon to your line 6 feet above the hook will help you control and float the bait away from the boat. When fishing several baits it helps with visualizing where each is located and what their status is. If one balloon stops bobbing or swimming, you know you've probably been cut off by a bluefish. On the other hand, if one becomes very active and begins to swim in earnest, I strongly suggest picking that rod up, and prepare yourself for a good time.

One of the disadvantages of balloons that many anglers have found is that they twist the line. This can be overcome. Instead of tying the balloon direct to your main line try tying it to a small section of line (about 12") and tie on a ball bearing barrel swivel to the other end. Before tying your main line to your leader run your main line through the barrel swivel attached to the balloon. Now attach a bobber stop (a section of rubber band works well) the distance up your main line that you desire.This distance will be the approximate depth your bait will run at. The balloon/swivel setup will slide up the mainline until it hits the bobber stop and stop there. Any spinning/twisting of the balloon will be absorbed and eliminated by the short piece of line it's tied to and the ball bearing swivel.The section of rubber band will slide through your rod guides and allow you to bring the fish all the way in.

Global Positioning System

A GPS could very well be your single most valuable piece of equipment for this type of fishing. Trying to use visual references to get you back on that hump or hole where you hit them earlier just doesn't work.With a GPS you can head straight to any number of entered in spots (waypoints) with  superb accuracy. You can enter in the LAT/LON numbers of a good looking spot on the chart right at home and when you hit the water, head directly to that spot. Another extremely valuable feature of a GPS is the ability to exchange locations (#ers) with friends. Consider the advantage of getting a phone call from a friend the night before heading out and he says "we slammed 'em today on a hump 2 miles off of York, here's the numbers for ya". Add to all this the safety factor of having a GPS and the fact that the prices have come way down and it's apparent that if you don't have one yet you should certainly get one as soon as possible.

LungingBass.jpg (26883 bytes)Special Regulations

If you head offshore for stripers be advised that it is illegal to possess any stripers if you are further than 3 miles from shore. This is a federal law and applies everywhere. We are fortunate that this line extends three miles past the farthest land mass, which in our case is the Isles of Shoals. There are also laws to consider on the state level. Maine and New Hampshire waters are distinguished on the charts and you should only be in possession of fish that are legal for the waters you are in. The same types of situations exist on other states borders.


The striped bass is a predatory animal near the top of the food chain. It reserves precious energy until the moment is right to move in for the kill. Intelligent, wary, strong and handsome, the striped bass presents a challenge to any seasoned angler. It only makes sense that they are found not far from an easy meal like a school of mackerel. The mature bass know this all too well, which is probably why they have been around longer than some of us have been wetting a line.

When the dog days of summer start to kick in, and the striper fishing slows to a crawl, consider searching for schools of deep-water mackerel. You just may find yourself in the middle of the best striper fishing of the season.

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