Fishing Rocky Shorelines
March 11, 2011
Much of the New England coastline comprises rugged, exposed granite cliffs and ledges. This coastal topography is typically associated with the Maine and Cape Ann, Massachusetts, although it also exists around the Boston Harbor Islands, Newport and Fishers Island. A turbulent zone of water is created where ocean wells meet the rocks, churning up baitfish in the process. Striped bass are built for this environment. With their broad, powerful tails, they effortlessly patrol the area below the ceiling of frothy water stirred up by the wave action, looking to pick off injured and confused prey.
Catching fish in such places can be exciting—and sometimes dangerous—sport, especially if a swell is running. Never fish a shoreline solo unless you know the area well and are an experienced boat-handler. It’s best to have one person at the helm at all times, watching for any large waves that could get spell trouble. This helmsman should leave the engine running and be ready to throttle forward out of harm’s way. This setup will also let the angler concentrate on making precise casts without having to worry about approaching swells or rocks.
There are certain spots along a rocky shoreline that will hold more fish than others. For example, it’s always worth focusing on pockets, troughs or fissures. These places will concentrate the flow of water created by the waves. When a wave meets the rocks, water rushes into the cracks, sweeping baitfish along with the flow. When the wave recedes from the rocks, the outflow sucks the disoriented prey into deeper water, where the bass are waiting in ambush.
To fish this type of structure, timing and accuracy are everything. You should cast your lure or fly next to the rocks, or even onto the rocks, as the wave is about to recede, so that the lure or fly will be swept into deep water and left to tumble about. This is when stripers are most poised to strike.
If using light lures such as soft-plastics and flies, it’s important to keep the line taut so you can feel a strike. Even the slightest bump could be caused by a striper inhaling the lure, so be prepared to set the hook at any moment, either with a strip-strike or with a side sweep of the rod.
Another type of shoreline feature to look for is any place waves are channeled between 2 rocks. A deep hole often forms on either side of these narrow passages, and this is where you’ll find the bass. Again, it’s important to let the lure or fly tumble in the wash like a real baitfish when fishing these spots
If you’re using a fly or light soft-plastic lure (such as a Hogy, Fin-S-Fish or Slug-Go), letting the lure get tumbled about by the waves will often draw a strike. No need to impart any extra action, save for an occasional twitch. Just remember to keep tension on the line so you can feel the subtle strike.
Flies and soft-plastic lures are ideal for fishing rocky structure, as they can be cast close to or on the rocks without getting snagged and will undulate like a real baitfish caught in turbulent water.
Top soft-plastics include 4”, 6” and 7” Slug-Gos and Fin-S-Fish rigged on-ounce tin jigs or rigged Texas-style (weedless) on a worm hook. Check out the short video on how to rig a weedless soft-plastic lure, below.
Small RonZ lures and Hogies rigged on tin jigheads also work well when fishing the rocks. Allow these lures to settle slowly next to the rocks while giving them a slight twitch now and then.
In the fly department, try 2/0 to 4/0 Clouser Minnows and Deceivers. Long Snake flies that undulate in the water also work well.
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