Fishing Rockpiles for Striped Bass
There is nothing quite so fishy as a bunch of boulders sitting all alone on a stretch of beach or sandy bottom. If you happen upon a collection of rocks, or even a single boulder, while investigating a new fishing area, take note of their location, as they will most certainly hold striped bass and bluefish during the season.
Stripers, of course, are the most likely species to hold around rocks, but blues will gather there as well. Rocks serve as magnets for crabs, squid and baitfish, which seek protection and food around the oasis-like structure.
I’ve found that shallow-water rockpiles tend to produce best in late spring and early summer, when the bass and blues are filtering through the inshore waters in pursuit of squid, herring and silversides. They often stick around in the warmer, shallow water for a few weeks prior to heading deeper for the rest of the season. In southeastern Massachusetts, where I primarily fish, this “inshore period” usually lasts from mid-May to mid-June, sometimes longer if enough bait is available to keep the bigger fish interested.
I have also found that a rising tide produces best along most beachfront areas. I try to fish these spots from midway through the rising tide until high tide. Once the tide changes, the fish often shut down.
While you can expect the fish to hold close to the rocks, sometimes they will stray into open water, especially when the wind is due west or variable.
Spend your time during low tide scouting out new rockpiles to fish. Sometimes a group of rocks that are high and dry at low tide will hold a bunch of fish when covered by water.
In terms of wind, I prefer a light breeze from the southwest or south when fishing beaches or rockpiles. Wind from these directions pushes the baitfish against the shore, where they naturally seek protection among the rocks. The stronger the wind, the more it seems to put the fish in a feeding mode, even though it makes things more difficult for the fisherman.
To fish the rocks, set up a drift well upwind of the structure and kill the engine. Once you drift within casting range, toss your lures as close to the shore or rocks as you can. My favorite lures for this type of fishing are soft-plastic white or pink Slug-Gos and Fin-S-Fish, rigged weightless and twitched slowly across of just under the surface. Poppers, flies and soft-plastics rigged on light jigheads also work well, of course. Remember that squid are high on the menu of stripers and blues at this time, which is why pencil poppers work very well in many spots.
Another overlooked “lure” when fishing shallow rocks is live eels. Eels will often take fish when nothing else will, even in water less than 5 feet. Use small eels if you can find them, and cast them into the structure as you would a lure. Retrieve them very slowly—just fast enough to keep them out of the rocks. Fishing live eels in this manner can tempt some very big fish from the rocks.
The big downside to fishing shallow rockpiles is the rocks themselves. It’s hard to concentrate on casting and fighting a fish while drifting ever closer to a beach or a minefield of nasty rocks. One way to avoid this is to drop anchor upwind of the structure, so you can fish it without distraction. Another is to use an electric trolling motor.
I have long sung the praises of trolling motors, as I find mine invaluable when fishing inshore structure. A trolling motor allows me to fish solo in the bow while zipping around large boulders. It may also spook the fish less (that’s debatable), but in my mind the biggest benefit is not having to worry about dashing to the helm to fire up the main engine when danger looms.
If you are fishing an isolated “island” of rocks surrounded by deep water, life gets a lot easier. In this situation, set up your drift to take you past either side of the rockpile, keeping as far away as your casting range will allow. Drift past one side, then the other. If you don’t get a follow or a strike on your first pass, move a bit closer and try again. However, in my experience it’s usually a waste of time to make more than 2 or 3 drifts past the same piece of structure; if the fish are there and in a feeding mood, you’ll know it!
While you can expect the fish to hold close to the rocks, sometimes they will stray into open water, especially when the wind is due west or variable. Always keep an eye out for terns in the vicinity of the rocks, as these birds often shadow the predators. Often just 1 or 2 terns dipping low to the water can lead you to the fish.