By Merrill Harper
and Mike Christy
The last place youd 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 thats 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
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
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
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 youre likely to find them most
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.
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
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
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