Trolling a Rip Line

This boat is stemming the current to fish a particular section of a rip off Monomoy.

Rips are productive fishing spots for two main reasons: structure and current. From bonito to bluefins, striped bass to fluke, you’ll find all manner of predators along a rip as long as there’s a ready source of food.

Rips are formed when current flows over uneven bottom, creating a line of choppy, turbulent water that makes baitfish more vulnerable to attack. Illustration by Tom Richardson

Rips are formed by current flowing over a shoal, ledge, reef or wreck. This bottom structure often provides a zone of calmer water where species such as striped bass and fluke can wait for weak or injured baitfish to be swept past by the current. Of course, sometimes there is so much food in the rip that the fish don’t bother hiding near the bottom; blues, bass, bonito, and false albacore often “stack up” throughout the water column or feed near the surface, where they can be seen chasing bait in the first wave of the rip line. In this case, light-tackle anglers can score big by casting flies and surface lures. More on this in another article.

Respect Thy Rip

A word of caution: If you’re new to rip-line fishing, it’s a good idea to practice your approach on smaller inshore rips. Big “ocean rips” like the ones off Cape Cod, Nantucket or the tip of Long Island can be dangerous places to fish, especially when a swell is running or strong winds are opposing a stiff current.

Also, be sure you know what is lurking below the surface of the rip. If the rip is formed by a sandy shoal in 20 feet of water, you shouldn’t have a problem drifting through it. However, if it’s formed by a collection of giant boulders that rise to within a foot of the surface, you’d better pay attention to your boat position or hope your engine doesn’t die.

Some rips can be very long, making it difficult to decide where to start looking for fish. One way to search the rip is to troll along it until you hook up. Another is to look for a concentration of bait along the rip, either by watching for working birds or by monitoring your depthsounder. Once you find the fish, be sure to mark the spot on your plotter, as it’s sure to hold more fish.

You can clearly see the rip line “making up” over this sandy shoal.

Trolling Tips

Rips can be fished in several ways, including casting, trolling and vertical jigging. Trolling parachute jigs, swimming plugs, tube lures and umbrella rigs on wire line is one of the most popular and highly effective techniques, especially during the mid-day hours.

Working a rip with trolling gear may seem simple, but it demands skillful boat-handling and a working knowledge of how much line to let out given the strength of the current, the water depth and the type of lure being used. In many cases, you’ll need to present the lure close to the bottom, which is why wire and lead core line is often used in rip fishing. The skipper must use the engine to keep the boat upcurrent of the rip line while he slowly “crabs” along parallel to the rip, allowing the lure to swing through the zone of turbulent water. Sometimes the fish will be tight to the rip line, while other times they may be several feet behind the shoal or reef. To find the precise “strike zone,” you may have to let out more line or bring the boat closer or farther from the rip.

If the fish are busting bait on the surface, the rip can be fished with lighter spin and fly gear. Again, this is usually a two-man job, where one person holds the boat in position while the other casts to the fish. In this situation, lures such as metal spoons, soft-plastics, topwaters and more can be used with success.

When a fish is hooked, the helmsman should turn slowly upcurrent to help pull the fish out of the rip then maintain position ahead of the rip as the fish is fought to the boat. If the current makes it too difficult to bring in the fish, the skipper can back off the throttle and drift through the rip—but only if it’s safe to do so. In any case, the angler must keep a tight line at all times to prevent the hook from dropping out of the fish’s jaw. Once on the downcurrent side of the rip, it should be easy to bring in the fish.

Jigs do a great job of getting deep in strong current and imitating a variety of striper prey.

Rip Etiquette

Before trolling a rip, take a few moments to observe the other boats. Note that some of the more popular rips in New England (e.g., Billingsgate Shoal off Cape Cod or the Watch Hill Reef off Rhode Island) can be quite crowded, especially during peak season, and the “regulars” take a dim view of newcomers who don’t practice proper etiquette. Watch the other boats and see how they are working the rip. If they are trolling, wait for an opening and then join the conga line of trollers as seamlessly as possible. If the other anglers on the rip are using a different technique, such as drifting baits or fly fishing, pick another spot to troll.