Fishing Eelgrass Beds for Striped Bass
To the untrained eye, a long stretch of unbroken shoreline might look pretty unproductive. However, take that same shoreline and place it in front of someone who knows how to read the water—and is equipped with a pair of polarizing sunglasses—and all sorts of fish-holding hot spots begin to materialize.
When fishing shallow beachfronts in 5′ to 15′ of water, you can’t do wrong by targeting areas of dark bottom. The best type of dark bottom is created by eelgrass beds, which serves as a nursery and haven for many types of prey species. Eelgrass also allows predators to blend in better with their surroundings as they cruise for a meal. In short, eelgrass meadows act as life-filled oases in an otherwise barren, white bottom, which is why they deserve your attention.
As mentioned, polarizing sunglasses are useful for locating and fishing eelgrass beds, as they make the dark bottom stand out sharply by eliminating surface glare. Sunglasses also allow you to see the fish themselves cruising over the bottom.
Eelgrass beds are notable for attracting striped bass and bluefish, although false albacore, weakfish, tautog, scup, fluke and bonito also lurk around them. Fluke especially like to patrol the edges of eelgrass beds, waiting for a hapless prey to wander within striking distance.
Setting up to fish an eelgrass bed is pretty simple. The goal is to position the boat upcurrent or upwind of the grassy area and drift parallel to it. If you drift directly over the bed you’ll often end up spooking the fish you want to catch. Stay at least 50′ away from the grass and cast your lure along the transition zone where the grass meets sand. Pockets of sand surrounded by grass are also worthy of attention. The key is to make the lure look like a disoriented baitfish swimming along the edge of the dark, grassy area.
Flies and soft-plastic jerkbaits are 2 of the most effective type of lures to use around shallow eelgrass beds. The prey items found in and among eelgrass tend to be small, and include silversides, peanut bunker, sand eels, bay anchovies, crabs and grass shrimp. However, American eels also make their home in eelgrass, and no fish loves eels more than big stripers. Therefore, consider throwing live eels or large eel-imitating soft-plastics (e.g., Hogies, RonZ’s) if you suspect big fish are present.
Early in the season (May and June), squid like to hold over grassy areas, so be sure to pack some squid-imitating flies and plugs. Two of the best early-season lures are the pearl Bomber swimming plug and the Cordell pencil popper, both of which imitate squid.
As a general rule, lures and flies should be fished slowly along the edges of grass beds, especially in calm conditions. A slight chop created by winds of 5 to 10 knots is preferable, as it seems to get the fish riled up and eager to feed.
One last note when fishing eelgrass: If you make a drift without getting a follow or seeing a fish, move to another spot. Similarly, don’t bother fishing areas of grass that see a lot of boating traffic, as this tends to spook the fish.
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