New England’s rips can provide some of the East Coast’s most insane Striper fishing. Picture this; you’re in a boat, birds are screaming, and the only thing that separates you and the calm water above the shoal from the churned-up chop behind the rip is a standing wave and a wall of angry Striped Bass. While these hectic days can get a little sketchy, especially in a small boat, (ie. 14’ Boston Whaler; a story for another time) they are a blast to fish and are routinely some of the best trips of the year.
What are Rips?
Rips are formed when current rushes over a reef, sandbar, or shoal often in open water, creating a distinct line separating calmer and nastier water. During spring and early summer, rips get loaded up with squid and hungry Striped Bass, creating some truly epic fishing. Although my favorite time to fish them is this spring and early summer area, rips hold fish all season long and are consistent and productive places to throw the long rod for Stripers.
How to Fly Fish Rips
Rods, Reels, and Line:
When it comes to fishing for Stripers in any current, but especially the heavy current of rips, you definitely want a fast action rod with a solid backbone. This means I almost always go with my favorite 9 or 10 wts. These rods are heavy enough to throw some larger flies and have more than enough power to wrestle a strong fish out of heavy current. For reels, any good saltwater reel will do just fine. You definitely don’t need a specific reel for rip fishing, so as long as the reel you have paired with your 9 or 10 wt rod has a strong drag and plenty of backing, you should be just fine. (For more on saltwater fly reel check out this article) As far as lines go, I mainly use an intermediate line because it keeps my fly just below the surface. I like this because it keeps my fly fully submerged, which gives flies like squid patterns better action and helps with hookup rates. An intermediate line also keeps the fly high enough in the water column that the eats are still very visual, which is by far one of my favorite aspects of fishing rips. If the surface action isn’t too crazy on a given day, or you want to try to target specifically larger fish, a full-sink line might be worth a try. This will help get your fly down to the dropoff of the rip where the giants will post up and feed. This by all means doesn’t mean cow bass won’t feed in the surface rip, but whenever targeting big bass having a full sink line ready to go is never a bad idea.
As I said before, my favorite time to fish rips is when the squid run is cranking at full throttle, so my go-to flies for fishing rips are squid patterns. My two favorite squid flies are the Red Can Squid or similar EP Flex Calamari, and Mud Dog flies’ “Squid Fly”. The Red Can Squid is a large, synthetic squid pattern that was designed for and tested in the rips off Martha’s Vineyard, but it gets the job done everywhere. This is a larger profiled fly with oversized eyes, which is an important feature in a good squid fly. At least on the Cape and Islands, which are my home waters, the larger squid we see in our rips are on the pink side of the squid color spectrum, so I like to have my Red Can Squids in a pink or orange color. The Mud Dog Squid Fly is a smaller bug than the RCS, and just as effective. The smaller squid we have on Cape are more white, so I like to have these flies in white instead of pink and orange (but I’m positive the other colors get the job done as well). While this fly also has a super-fishy profile and great action, my favorite aspect of this fly is its durability. This pattern is actually bombproof, I’ve caught so many fish on one of these flies that the hook (and a good hook too) bent before the materials showed any sign of wear. This fly lasted at least 30 solid, angry stripers before it started to tire out.
Even when the squid aren’t around in full force, these squid patterns will produce, but it also isn’t a bad idea to bring some generic baitfish patterns like Clousers and Deceivers along with you when you hit a rip.
While a few rips can be fished from shore, the vast majority of them are only accessible by boat. This means that the most important aspect in finding success in rips is boat positioning. You want to get as close as you can to where the fish are feeding without putting them down, and the added factor of standing waves and nasty chop makes it even more important to know what you’re doing and to not mess up.
The main way of positioning your boat while fly fishing a rip is to stay up current of the rip itself in the flat water and cast on an angle down current, letting your fly swing down into the money zone. This means you will need one person to be in control of the boat at all times as you are constantly adjusting your positioning so you stay above the rip, but still close enough that your fly can get down into the waves.
The other way to fish a rip with a fly rod is to have your boat drift through the rip from the flat water up current to the choppier water down current. This method allows you to focus on getting your fly into the sweet spot without the luxury of having an extra person to control the boat. I would only recommend this tactic if you are fishing out of a larger boat or the chop isn’t too rough as you will be drifting into the nastier water over and over again. Rips are no joke and it is definitely possible for a smaller boat to be swallowed up by the standing waves, so always be cautious when you are fishing them. Even if you use the first method of keeping your boat above the, you will probably end up having to navigate the rough water because any solid-sized Striper when hooked will run down current and will likely not be interested in swimming back up. This means you will have to chase after the fish a little bit. Whatever you do, DO NOT go through the standing waves sideways or stern-first. Always, always, always approach a standing wave, or any decent wave for that matter, head-on. Most of the time the waves aren’t that bad, but it’s good practice for when they are, and some real damage actually could be done.
Rips really are a unique fishery, and fishing them is definitely a lot of fun. While they can get a little dangerous, as long as you think things out and don’t try anything crazy you should be fine. During the peak season, especially in places like the Cape and Islands, the rips can get pretty crowded, so make sure you are respectful of other anglers’ space, even when they aren’t always back. So, find a rip and give these tips a try, you might just find yourself some pretty epic action!