There are productive, fish-holding current rips within a short boat ride of every bay and harbor in New England, and there are a few basic techniques you can use to approach any rip, either from shore or on a boat.
Rips occur where an abrupt change in depth speeds up the current, forcing it to flow from a deep area to a shallow area. The change in depth will also deflect the current toward the surface, creating ripples that can grow into standing waves as the current increases. In many parts of New England, rips are caused by a shoal of built-up sand. A rocky reef, boulder field or jetty can also create the necessary sharp rise in bottom contour to give birth to a fish-holding rip.
On the upcurrent side of a rip, the water often looks smooth and settled as it accelerates over the structure before tumbling into a line of rough water. This rough water typically sets up just over the drop-off on the down current side of the structure. Gamefish will usually settle here, waiting for a baitfish to tumble over the edge of the structure.
Many fishermen make the mistake of thinking that a rip is a simple solid line that is uniform the entire way across, but rips are sometimes formed by a series of shoals that extend for a distance. While the activity of the water on the surface may appear uniform, there are deeper and shallower spots within the rip. Look for breaks in the rip line to find these shifts in depth; these are good places to start fishing in the rip.
Trolling a Rip: Whenever possible, troll with the current when working a rip. Gamefish usually face into the current, looking for food to come their way. In ideal conditions the current will swing your lures over the bar.
Trolling is one of the most popular ways to fish a rip for stripers and blues. The gear required to troll a rip effectively depends on its depth. For shallower rips, go with light tackle. Match a conventional boat rod and reel spooled with monofilament to the weight of the lures you like to troll. Some of the more popular trolled baits are parachute jigs, tube-and-worm rigs and umbrella rigs. Regardless of the bait you troll, the direction in which you troll it is the most important factor. Rips have a ton of current, and the bait is all moving with the current. Present your trolled rig in a similar manner. When bait is trolled against the current, the water resistance on the lure and the line will cause the bait to ride up the water column, sometimes all the way to the surface. This is generally not an effective way to fish the rip, although I see it all the time. Instead of fighting the current, use it to your advantage.
There are three effective ways to troll through a rip. The first and most obvious is to troll with the current directly through the rip, turn around, head up-current, and do it again. Your rigs will tumble in the current over the structure – the most natural way possible – but it can get tedious because you spend very little time actually fishing in the rip. If you have a series of rips to work through in zooming back to the beginning, trolling the current directly will work best. In addition, trolling directly through the rip is much more effective in deeper water. In shallow water, you’ll spook the fish by trolling over their heads and ruin the fishing for other boats in the area. In deeper rips that top off in 15 feet of water or more, you are much less likely to spook fish. Even though trolling with the current is work intensive, it often pays off.
Fishing Into a Rip: This technique works well on long, well-defined rips. Point the boat at a 45-degree angle into the down-current side of the rip. With the boat in gear, the current will negate the forward progress, and the boat will move along parallel to the rip. The angler should cast over and into the rip, letting the rig tumble through it back toward the boat.
My favorite method is to troll parallel to the rip, stemming the tide on the up-current side. If the current is moving fast enough, it was drag your baits across the rip even though the boat is on the other side of it. This ail keep the lures in the strike zone for the longest period of time. This method also keep site boat away from potentially dangerous currents or structures on major rips. The downside to this method is that the boat is beam-to the current direction, so it could be pretty bumpy, and you’ll have to be careful.
The third effective way to troll the rips is to zig-zag through them. Again, this only works if your boat is large enough to safely drift across the rip. Put your spread out and motor through the rips at 45-degree angles, back and forth. You can also troll parallel to the rip and allow the current to push you past it before turning into the current and crossing back over to the other side. If there are a number of other boats fishing the rip, be careful trolling parallel or zig-zagging the rip; use common courtesy and avoid crowding out other fishermen. There’s always another place to fish, and you can always come back to a spot when someone moves.
Casting A Rip
Trolling is a great method of fishing the rips, but casting with light tackle can be just as effective and a lot more fun. Despite what many people think, spinning rods do not need to be big to be effective in the rips. Ten- to fifteen-pound-test monofilament spooled on a reel with a good drag can be a very challenging and fun way to fight fish.
Try setting the boat up with the nose pointed into the rip and take it out of gear, letting the current pull the boat nose-first across the rip. While
this method isn’t great for fishing artificials, it’s a popular way to fish live or natural baits. When casting, look for a calm spot just before the rip line and aim to let the bait swing back into the rip on slack line. This will create the tumbling effect that stripers love. Once you’ve made it through the rip (or rips), head back to the other side and do it again. When you drift through the rips this way, everyone onboard can fish. No one needs to be at the helm, but obviously everyone needs to be watching for other boats and other dangers.
Casting to a Dangerous Rip: Some rips, such as those created by shallow reefs or rockpiles require that someone stays onto the helm at all times. Position the boat parallel to the rip and keep it in gear to hold ground. Cast into the leading edge of the rip and work your lure back with the current.
Another way to fish a rip with light tackle is to point the boat at a 45-degree angle into the down-current side of the rip. This way, when the boat is in gear, the current will negate the forward progress, and the boat will move along parallel to the rip. This works best on a smaller rip that isn’t too built up with rough water. It is also a way to fish a rip behind a large shelf or reef that is too shallow to be fished from the upcurrent side. The angler can cast over and into the rip, letting the rig tumble through it back toward the boat. As with trolling, this style of fishing can become difficult when other boats are fishing the rip.
The easiest way to fish a rip with light-tackle gear – and often the only way to fish a large or potentially dangerous rip – is to point the boat directly into the current and hold it in place on the up-current side of the rip. This requires one angler to stay at the helm, bumping the boat in and out of gear to keep the boat from being drawn into the rip. Anglers can cast right off the stern into the rip. This works very well on a walk-around-style boat or any boat with a large cockpit. Often, the lure or bait can be left sitting in the current without any reeling. The current will impart the action, and you can keep the bait right where you want it in the rip. Sometimes the challenge is in keeping the lure or bait down in the water column because the current will force the lure toward the surface. Dropping the bait back on slack line or using heavier lures is sometimes necessary to put the offering in front of the fish.
Fly Fishing Rips
For me, fly-fishing the rips is the most fun way to fish them. Shallow rips seem like they are made for the fly rod. You don’t need specialized flies to fish the rips, although for large ocean rips I like to use a big profile for big fish. Big squid flies are my favorites when squid are present. Mackerel and pogy flies do well when these baitfish are around, and you can never go wrong with a sand-eel fly. A little weight, such as lead eyes on the fly, will help it sink, which can be a huge advantage in fast water. For a leader I like to use a straight, 9-foot shot of 15-pound-test fluorocarbon. This turns over big flies and is fairly abrasion resistant, which is always helpful if there are rocks present. When it comes to rod and line size, I like a 9-foot, 9-weight with a 350-grain weight-forward, full-sinking line. I find the 9-weight to be just big enough to throw the big flies and heavy lines that I like. I’ll use an 8-weight occasionally, and sometimes a 10-weight, but never bigger than that. I know a lot of people who like to use 11- and 12-weight rods, but I really think this is overkill.
When fly-fishing from a boat, the casting distance isn’t as important as where you land your cast. The easiest way to fly-fish a rip is to get the stern of the boat near the rip line with the bow pointed into the current. Keep the boat in gear to hold position and cast the fly parallel to the rip, trying to land the fly in that calm area just ahead of the rip. Let the fly swing back into the confused water of the rip while making very slow strips, just enough to keep tension on the line. The weighted flies are really nice here because they will sink very quickly on their own. if the fly goes dead astern without a bite, slowly strip it back and try again. You can also strip it halfway back and then feather the line back out into the rip instead of recasting. When you hook up, take the boat out of gear and drift back through the rip so you won’t be fighting the engine and the fish. If it’s too rough to drift stern-first through the rip, turn the boat around slowly and drive through the rip. Be prepared for the fish to make a long, fast first run down-current. Don’t try to horse the fish. Let it take some backing; that’s what it’s there for.
Rips From Shore
Many current rips can be fished effectively from shore. Keep in mind that areas with enough current to create rips are inherently dangerous places to wade. If you are a shorebound angler, you must be very careful when setting foot in the wash and watch for strong currents and drop-offs. When fishing rips from the shore, it is best to start casting where the rip meets the shore. From this position, the angler can cast up-current and let the bait or fly drift across the rip naturally and tumble down the break, just as a baitfish would. This can make for very exciting strikes as the fish comes up and picks up your rig and turns to hightail it back to the depths.