Developing a Strategy: The first step in developing your strategy is to fully understand the structure (or lack thereof) that you are casting to.
Open Water: “Open Water” is a pretty generic term and represents AT-LEAST 80% of targeting stripers by boat; to me, casting in open water means any situation where you are targeting/searching for fish that are not holding in physical structure such as rocky shorelines, jetties, or weed lines. Unlike rips, current seams, or other water “structure,” open water doesn’t necessarily provide highly visible and obvious places to fish. In open water, you might be blind casting or sight casting . You’ll often focus on the signs in the area, using your knowledge of the area while remaining astutely aware of any changes in conditions since the last time you fished there.
Structure: Striped bass are creatures of opportunity. Stripers, particularly big ones, will tend to hang out in areas that will hold a food chain or create some sort of disturbance where bait is easily ambushed. Rips, rocks, boulders, mussel beds, shorelines, and drop offs are all great places to target. The best part of fishing structure is that you need fewer signs to validate your choice to fish there. There is almost always a chance to find a striper in any of these habitats. The thing I like about trolling in or around structure is that these areas produce all season long.
Casting for striped in a boat can be broken into four scenarios: Assuming you know or think stripers are likely to be in the area you are fishing, here’s a few rule of thumbs I follow and how I break down casting in my mind.
1. Blind Casting
a). Top Water: Usually noisy lures that make a lot of commotion are the go-to lures in wide-open water. If fish are spread out, you’ll need to call them in. If stripers in this situation are keyed in on big baits, you’ll need to switch to big lures. Big and loud are the names of the game.
b). Mid-Level: If I am using sub-surface lures in open water, it is because I know the fish are in whatever depth range I am targeting. My favorite lures in this situation are weighted paddle tails like the Hogy Pro Tail Paddles. The great thing about this kind of paddle is that you can fish relatively close to the surface with a medium retrieve in a tip up position but you can fish much deeper using the “count” down method. Cast and let the lure sink to what you estimate to be the desired depth. Once there, maintain a slow retrieve to stay in that zone.
2. Sight Casting to Single Fish: For sight casting to a single fish, your presentation is everything. A lone fish is very easily spooked. I err on using a lure that will deliver a light or delicate entry into the water. Unweighted soft plastics such as the Hogy Originals rigged on an unweighted swimbait hook are ideal in this situation. The deeper the water, often the bigger the bait. That said, if bass are sipping on krill or worms, teeny is best. When site casting, always use light leaders.
3. Casting to Breaking Fish: If you are casting to breaking fish, it is worth finding your nerve and taking the extra time to approach the school carefully. Ideally, you identify the direction the school is heading and you get in front of it so that you can “lead” the fish. Being upwind will also help carry your lure from a greater distance, thereby not disturbing the fish by getting right on top of them. Positioning your boat upwind/uptide and to the side of the direction the fish are moving is best if you can manage it since that will allow you to drift towards the fish, but outside their visual reference – hopefully! If the fish pass by while you are hooked up, the best strategy is circle out and away from the school of fish, again taking time to properly position your boat. It’s tempting to lean on the throttle and fly after the fish, but the wake from a boat will not only spook the fish, but scatter the bait as well.
4. Working Structure: When you are working structure you’ll likely want to cast your lures close to the actual structure. If you are in shallow water, top water plugs and lightly weighted soft plastics are ideal. If you have tide, you can let the lures drift over the structure. If in deep-water water, you can utilize a countdown method.