How to Fish a Rip: Casting Techniques

Photo Tom Richardson

As all good fishermen know, rips are incredibly productive fishing spots. They are formed by current flowing over uneven bottom, which increases the current’s velocity and causes turbulence, both of which make baitfish more vulnerable to a variety of inshore predators, including striped bass, bluefish, bonito, false albacore and fluke.

To fish a rip, cast the lure parallel to the current or slightly upcurrent and let it drift back to the fish in the ripline.

Here in New England, rips can be formed by sandy shoals, reefs, ledges, channel edges and wrecks, but the key factor in rip productivity is the presence of baitfish. No bait, no fish. Simple as that.

You can fish a rip many different ways, including trolling and jigging, but one of the most exciting—and challenging—methods is casting lures and flies. To do this effectively and safely you’ll usually need at least 2 crewmembers, one to maneuver the boat while the other fishes.

Setting Up

Fishing a big rip in rough conditions can be a dicey proposition for novice boaters, so it’s best to practice your skills on smaller rips first. Rips fish best when the current is really, well, ripping, and tend to shut off as slack tide approaches. Your best bet is to arrive at slack tide and fish the rip as the current gathers steam.

Keep in mind that some rips fish better when the current is flowing in a particular direction. For example, many inlet rips are best fished on a dropping tide, when bait is being flushed out of the upstream areas.

Photo Tom Richardson

Positioning the Boat

When “setting up” to fish a rip, the helmsman must gauge the speed of the current and jockey the throttle to hold the boat ahead of the ripline. A good helmsman will be able to hold the boat stationary in the rip by countering the current with the boat’s power, allowing the angler to concentrate on casting.

Meanwhile, the angler should stand in the corner of the stern or bow, depending on wind direction and location of the fish. Cast slightly upcurrent or parallel to the flow of current and let the lure be swept back to where the fish are holding on the ripline (see illustration). It’s a lot like fishing a river, and it takes some practice.

The most exciting scenario is when fish are feeding in the first wave of the ripline. In this case, birds dipping and diving along a specific section of the rip, as well as the splashes of the fish themselves, will pinpoint the action. Sometimes it’s even possible to see squid and baitfish jumping out of the rip as they are attacked.

Scoring in this situation boils down to figuring out what the fish are eating and presenting a lure near the surface in a realistic fashion. If the fish are hungry and feeding aggressively, you need only twitch the lure slightly as it nears the ripline to draw a strike. Other times you may need to give it some more action. Experiment until you figure out what the fish want. Poppers and soft-plastic baits can work very well in this situation, and make for some exciting strikes.

Fishing Deep

Everyone’s happy when fish are feeding on the surface of a rip, hitting everything in sight. However, when they’re holding deep, things get a bit trickier. In this case you’ll often need to use a depthsounder or look for working birds to pinpoint the fish. You’ll also need to calculate the lure weight, current strength and how far ahead of the rip you’ll need to cast the lure—and how long to let it sink—for it to reach the level of the fish.

For example, in a deep rip (40 feet) you may need to use a 4- to 6-ounce lure to get down to the level of the fish. Plus, you’ll have to cast farther upcurrent and “count down” to figure out when the lure has reached the level of the fish. Of course, all of these calculations will need to be adjusted as the strength of the currents changes with the tide.

Selecting Tackle

When fishing a rip with fly gear, it’s important to factor in the drag created by the heavy fly line. In a swift current, the amount of drag can easily cause a light tippet to part when setting up on a fish. Use a much heavier leader than you normally would in light or no current, and remember that the fish will be less selective in the swifter water. When setting the hook, use very light pressure, as the resistance of the line and the force of the current will usually do the job for you.

No matter what kind of tackle you prefer, remember that rip fishing demands heavier gear because of the extreme current. Your rod, reel drag and line should be powerful enough to muscle a large fish out of the rip. If you can’t budge the fish, drift through the rip (if safe to do so) and fight it from the downcurrent side.

Speaking of safety, rip fishing can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, and it’s possible for the boat to broach if it turns broadside in a big rip. Always exercise caution and common sense when fishing a rip, and keep in mind that conditions will worsen as the current and wind increase. If you don’t feel comfortable in a particular rip, don’t fish it.

Rip Etiquette

As we mentioned in the article on rip trolling, it’s important to figure out how others are fishing a rip before you start casting. If the majority of boats are trolling or drifting eels through the rip when you arrive, they aren’t going to be wild about your setting up and casting in a specific spot.

Similarly, if you have established a position on the rip and are catching fish, there is no need to move for a late arrival who wants to troll through. Of course, if the guy’s in a 60-foot sportfisherman and is intent on running you over, that’s another matter.