Dick Pinney's Guidelines: The most effective method of baiting for stripers
There's absolutely no doubt in my mind that using live mackerel, pollock, alewives or pogies for striper bait is the most effective method of catching not just numbers of fish but eventually some huge ones.
We've watched in wonderment at the extremely haphazard approach that many striper anglers take when trying to fill their bait tanks with the above fish, struggling to land a fish or two now and then while my fishing buddies and I are rapidly filling our bait tank. Friends, catching bait is not a haphazard thing and using your God-given brains will quickly change your approach to bait catching and reward you with more time to game-fish and less time to have to bait-catch.
Although mackerel are pelagic, which means that they are on the go and don't always concentrate on structure as schools of pollock are apt to do, they will hang on certain structure if that is where the small baitfish or other small marine animals in their food chain concentrate. So what we most often do is to watch our fishfinder/depthfinder for likely structure and signs of baitfish, mark the location on our GPS and then do controlled drifts over this structure, making a chum line by dragging a net bag full of frozen, ground up mackerel or whatever other baitfish we may have stored-up in our freezer.
We start to fish for the mackerel (and or pollock) with me usually fishing a cut-down Sabiki Rig. These rigs come with five to six hooked flies that the baitfish will take eagerly, but we've found that that number of flies is too many so we cut the rigs in half and use one half at a time.
You need to attach some weight to the bottom to get the Sabiki Rig down to the fish's level. Instead of using just a lead weight we'll use either a small silver colored Castmaster spoon without hooks (these flutter down and attract baitfish like crazy!) or a weighed mackerel jig.
My most of the time fishing buddy will rig out with a pair of mackerel jigs as for some unknown reason, the macks and pollock will prefer them to the Sabiki Rigs. So by using both techniques we'll find out what the rig for the day is going to be.
We need to get back to the use of chum. If you think that because others in the bait fleet are using chum that you don't need to use it, think again. Chum is like drug to the mackerel and pollock. We've had schools of mackerel so hooked into our chum line that you can just dip them with a small bait net. There's some days when chum works better than others but no day, unless we've planned poorly, that we don't use chum when trying to fill our bait tank.
When your chosen spot might run out of baitfish, then it's time to try to locate that school again. We often do this by slowly trolling, watching our fishfinder but also usually being able to catch a few macks or pollock and then start our drifting with chum, after marking the spot where we intercepted the schools.
Here's one tip. People often refer to the big red marker buoys put out by the U.S. Coast Guard as a place to catch your bait. A good example is the #2KR buoy off of the Piscataqua River. This marks a ledge (Kitts Rocks) that is dangerous to the huge ships coming into the harbor, but it is several yards off the actual ledge. Slowly motor around these areas and unless the ledge is breaking water, such as the Sister's Ledge off Kittery Point, you'll want to fish right around or in the case of the Kitts Rocks, right over the ledge. But beware of ledges that will either show at low tide or kick up dangerous surf. Do not fish over them or even around them when the surf is up.
A word about pollock. They are apt to gather where discharges from shoreside restaurants is done with the kitchen waste. Also they are very territorial and if you find them on a certain ledge at a certain time of the tide, chances are they'll be there the next time you're out fishing at the same time of tide, not necessarily the same time of day. Also know that time of day can be important, as the sun rises the schools of baitfish are apt to sink into deeper water. Also if the schools of baitfish are being chased by bluefish, they will not bite. Some use multiple treble hooks cast into the schools to snag them.
Make your catching of baitfish your purpose in life and your catch of gamefish will improve, dramatically.
Dick Pinney's column appears weekly in the New Hampshire Sunday News. Email him at DoDuckInn@aol.com.