Bass Magic – November in the Cape May Ripsby Paul Kerlinger
Although flounder, weakfish, and the summer fish are now gone, November and into December signal some of the best striped bass and bluefishing of the year.
Depending on how long the water temperature stays above about 48 degrees F, the bass fishing will remain good to excellent and bluefish blitzes can be spectacular.
For anyone who hasn’t experienced the Cape May Rips, a trip on one of the charter boats can be extremely rewarding. The run to the rips is a long one, although standing on a boat for 3 or 4 hours while a boat bucks and twists as it drifts through these often rough waters sometimes seems longer.
Fishing the rips means using live eels, or less frequently fresh clam or bucktails. Eels and clams are rigged with a lightweight sinker so they bounce just above the bottom. As the boat passes over a higher piece of bottom (like a little hill) get ready. Bass are usually hooked as they ambush prey species as the little fish move by on the tide.
A degree of patience is required, letting a few feet of line be taken from the reel prior to setting of the hook. Fish harvested in the Rips are rarely small fry. They are almost always more than 20 inches and every year 40 pounders are taken.
There are great sites for boaters, including some of the sloughs in Delaware Bay and some of rough ground in the Atlantic. Boaters can try some of the offshore lumps, which often hold good numbers of bass and blues. These are fished either by drifting eels or other bait, or by using artificials. Bucktails are often the most successful lures, more so at times if they are tipped with a bit of fish meat or squid. These lumps can also be the scenes (Note that some of these lumps are more than 3 miles from shore so fish landed out there cannot be harvested legally.)
While traveling to and from the lumps and rips, roaming schools of bass and blues are often encountered. Some are small, while others can be many acres across. Watch for birds and if they are working (diving into the water and eating fish), cast into the melee from a distance or drift quietly into the action. Poppers work, although if the fish are down deep, try bucktails or Hopkins or other steel lures.
While many veteran anglers like to drift through the rips, hoping for the bruiser-weights of fall, I sometimes like the more solitary experience of fishing from the beach and jetties.
One of the favorite ways of doing this in the late season is by using whole or partial fresh clams as bait. Another alternative is bunker chunks or other bait. The bait is simply thrown seaward and moved every few minutes.
Don’t give up on chucking plugs just because the water is getting warmer -- especially if bait are observed or gulls and gannets are diving into the water. Poppers and swimming plugs will still work under these conditions and it isn’t unusual for large bluefish to be running with the bass at this time of year. Steel and bucktails will also work at times. Just keep your eyes open for bird play and fish. On some occasions, you can literally see the bass or blues running the curls, almost like a surfer, but below the water.
One of my favorite pastimes in late autumn is to target the “little darlings” that gather around jetties and along sodbanks. You don’t have to fish for them at dawn or dusk or at night as earlier in the year because the water temperatures are warmer at midday and through the afternoon. Though the “little darlings” may not be large and cannot be taken home, they are underrated. Using a fly rod or a one-handed, lightweight spinning or bait casting rod with 8-10 pound line can be real fun. Bass in the 12-22 inch range are not uncommon around structure during this time of year and often respond to poppers, swimming plugs and jigs with rubber bait-tails. If the water is cold, move your lures more slowly.
Because these fish are our future harvest, release fish gently and treat them with kindness. Don’t squeeze them too hard or bang them around on the rocks or deck of the boat. Get them off the hook quickly and place them back into the water. Although it isn’t always necessary, it sometimes is good to move them back and forth in the water until they swim out of your hands. Treat them well and they will offer fun again next November and the November after that.
For the time of your life – jump on one of the boats featured on our charter boat page.
Paul Kerlinger has been fishing since he was 8 years old.
He's a dedicated salt water fly fisherman who enjoys nothing more than working a Cape May area sod bank or jetty.
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