This is the second half of an article I wrote for On The Water magazine in the May 2001 issue of On The Water. See them at www.onthewater.com for a back issue.
THE RIPS OF MONOMOY - by Capt. Bruce Peters PART 2 To the west-southwest of Monomoy’s tip is Handkerchief Shoals. Starting at the beach tip, there are many individual small rips that spread in a general westerly direction for over 4 miles. Most of these are in shallower, sandier bottom than the rips at Bearse’s. The rip close to the island is known as Point Rip, located at 41 32 19 and 070 00 41 or 13897 and 43902. With the right combination of wind and tide this a very nasty place to be in a boat. Remember that any time the tide is against the wind the conditions are generally three to four times worse than they were when the tide is with the wind. I warn you, do not take any chances at Point rip ! The way it breaks right up against the beach at Monomoy Point gives no channel or safe passage to get through to the sound. When its nasty, its best to go around the shoal to the southwest at nun # 14. In my experience, it is at its worst when the tide comes from the west against a strong southeast wind. However, this spot is a fish magnet. Something about the way the rips form on the edge of Butlers hole and the proximity of deep water to shallow, always holds fish. Looking at a chart of Handkerchief shoals, you may notice to the north and a little west of Monomoy’s tip, a channel running north and south. This deeper water acts like a holding pen for the Stripers that feed on the shoals. Point Rip is usually the first spot the boats will try coming from Stage, Saquetucket and Whychmere. In fair weather, it is usually quite calm, and therefore attracts many small boats. Many of these boats are less experienced than boats with the confidence to go farther offshore, and will tend to crowd you if you are having some action. But since the area is so huge, you will have no trouble finding a rip off by yourself. The third and last area of the Monomoy rips is the Stonehorse Shoal area. It starts about 3/4’s of a mile SSE from the Monomoy tip, at 41 31 41 and 069 59 49 or 13895 and 43895. It runs in a southerly direction for over two miles. The spot closest to the point is the deeper of all the rips, at about 16 feet. Since it is so deep, the current makes it hard to feel the bottom with a rig that works on the shallower spots. You may have to experiment with more weight . I have caught large fluke here in addition to some very large stripers. To the east of the ledge that runs south of the “9” can, is a basin of 30 to 40 feet. Many times I have made very long drifts with bait through this basin for over 30 pound fish. The part of Stonehorse Shoal to the south is much shallower and forms a single long line for about a mile until it tails out at the southern end. There is has a few rips forming behind each other. I have had some great fishing here all by myself. It is around 8-10 feet deep at the high spots, and quite pebbly. The fish seem to move quite freely up and down the rip lines, occasionally dropping back or moving up to other rips. I think it has to do with the lack of structure here. Move around a lot here trying drifts at many places in the rip lines. I look at a rip the same way as one would look at a river or stream. When looking at the river, it is very easy to see how a log or a boulder changes the flow of water because you can see the eddies, swirls and back currents. Now imagine the same environment, only add more depth of water over it. This Is a “RIP”. Like the river, it too has structure that effects how the water flows over and around. Rips are nothing more than sandbars or structure shallower than the surrounding depth, with water flowing over them. Waves that form on the surface are indicators of what the underlying structure is like. The highest or shallowest part of the rip is usually where the current is the fastest. As you drift through the rip, look down its length on both sides. You will notice curves along its length, both concave (bowls) and convex (points). At the ends of these variations, the currents change velocity where it flows around and into deeper water. Predatory fish use these differences in current velocity to conserve energy and feed. Visualize a wind blowing up the face of a snowbank or a sand dune. As the wind leaves the upper part of the face, it deposits a plume of snow or sand on the other side. Think of the wind as a water current carrying bait or food instead of the sand or snow. It is now quite simple to imagine where the fish will be lying - out of the wind (current) as they wait for food to come to them.
In telling how I fish these rips, if I only was to describe what I use, there would be a world of very productive methods that would be left out. In addition, I am sure that a reader or two has a personal technique that I haven’t mentioned, but I am just going to stick with what I know to work, based on my experience. Personally, I prefer light tackle. I use no more than 14 pound test, on a 8 foot medium action spinning rod with a good quality reel. Based on the comments I have received, my clients enjoy the light gear as well. I also like bait, either freshly dead or alive. I feel it is critical to let the bait drift in as natural a fashion as possible. Like the trout fisherman with his dry flies the bait should be presented without excessive drag. Usually when the tide slows, the bite slows considerably. That is the time when a moving bait will out fish a drifted one. Trolled umbrella rigs will work well at this time as well as wire and a lead head jig. I have used wire and jigs, I have never used an umbrella rig. I have seen many using umbrella rigs in the rips and have watched them take many fish. I’ve watched many of those taken thrown back as too short. In my experience, those same fish could be caught with a single hook and a bait with more fun. Wire and lead head jigs are a proven method that has worked for many years. This method must be done correctly though to take fish of any size or consistently. The jig must be worked with the tide, NOT against it. I have seen many boats jigging furiously against the tide using monofilament or wire to no avail. As the tide accelerates to maximum current I find it quite awkward to see a boat trolling against a 3 or 4 knot tide, barely making headway, with an umbrella rig or jig splashing on the surface. It is important to understand the fish are either on or near the bottom and the jig must also be there to catch fish. To do this effectively, the jig is worked with the tide at a very slow pace or with the boat out of gear. Most will “bump” the boat in and out of gear as they drift with the tide just enough to keep the bow heading forward. When you get past the spot, reel up the wire and run back up tide, turn the boat around, run the wire out , slow down or take the boat out of gear and jig again with the tide as the boat drifts down naturally. While jigging, the bottom should be felt through the wire as the jig bumps and rips its way along. When a bass hits it you will know it as the wire has no give to it. Individuals have variations to the setup , but basically it is 300 feet of stainless single strand wire of 40 -60 pound test tied directly to a buck tail jig of 2-5 ounces. The jigs vary in color with reds and pinks good Monomoy area colors. About halfway between slack and maximum current, is when the fish start to bite. It also seems that, as the tide slows towards slack from maximum current is when the fish really turn on. It is as though the fish sense that soon the dinner table will be cleared and they had better get while the getting is good. This aggressive feeding period may only last a short while, so one must be ready with proper mind set and with backup gear. As I approach the rip I watch the surface action of the waves to tell me how the current is working over the bar. I watch the skies for hovering gulls and terns to see if there is bait moving in the rip. I watch boats that have just gone through to see if they did catch on that drift or did not. If they did not, is it because of their method or bait, or is it because the fish moved ? My rods are in the holders with the weight and bait positioned for immediate and accurate casts as soon as the boat is positioned. I have a backup bait on the rail ready in case I cast a one off in my excitement. I set my boat to enter the rip bow first, to minimize both the noise of the waves slapping the sides of the boat, and the pitching and rolling. I will sometimes shut the engine off, especially at times of low water and calm sunny conditions. Once the boat is positioned to drift exactly through the spot in the rip I want, I take it out of gear and cast a line to each side of the boat parallel to the main rip line. I will then look to see if the boat is still positioned and drifting into the rip correctly. If not, I will bump it into forward to ensure a bow first entry into the waves. To be able to properly set the hook, one must be able to feel the bottom. As the weight drifts up the slope of the rip, small stones and cobbles cause light tapping to be felt. Upon reaching the top and then the downside, the tapping stops as the weight loses contact with the bottom. If there is not enough weight to match the current and the direction of the cast, there develops a belly in the line restricting the sensitivity as well. I use heavier weights when the tides runs strong and lighter ones when the current slows. Using a 12-15 pound test line I will start with 1/2 ounce. If the current is running light I will try 3/8 oz, if running strong I will use 3/4 ounce. If using a heavier line of 20 lb test, I would use weights ranging from 1/2 to 11/2 ounce. My rig consists of an free sliding egg sinker on the running line, to which I tie a black swivel. This keeps the weight from sliding to the hook. I tie on three feet of 40 lb test leader to which I snell a 4/0 or 5/0 octopus style hook. The heavier leader is to help handle the fish next to the boat. I use black hooks for live eels and silver hooks for sand eels or squid. Using sand eels and squid, I have had nearly zero hooking mortalities with this setup. Unfortunately there is an occasional deep hooked fish with the black (live) eels. As a result I have been using less and less every year. I have found the stripers prefer the sand eels anyway. The sand eel is hooked through the eyes and allowed to hang straight on the hook. Live eels are hooked through the point of the lower jaw and up and out one eye. To grab hold of the live slimy eel, I have found a green 3M scrub pad indispensable. I carry spares in case one washes overboard. I hook the whole squid in the tail once, if it is doubled over and hooked again it doesn’t fish as well. The squid works best if it is fresh and small in size. It does work if it is chunked, try some with the skin pulled off. I know there are guys using live and chunked pogys or menhaden, very successfully. They usually take bigger fish than I do, fishing the same water in the same methods. For those of you that would rather fish a fly, sand eel and squid patterns are the mainstay. I feel it is important to match the bait in the water to the size of the fly. Occasionally there will be balls of menhaden fry just outside the breakers. There always seems to be wind at the rips. Lines should be weighted forward or of the steady sink variety to be able to get depth quickly in the fast moving currents. Some boats will let the line drift back into the rip, stripping steadily as the boat holds position against the tide. Occasionally while fishing the Monomoy rips you will witness the blitz that we all dream of. The best ones I have seen always seem to involve squid and coincide with a maximum current at times of low light. I have seen squid and stripers bulging and slurping, swirling and dancing through ink stained water many times at the Bearse’s rip. The fish will bite any dark reddish, orange, brownish, and black pattern of fly, rubber, plastic and natural bait at any depth at this magical time. One day you too may witness this exiting and inspiring spectacle, but only if you spend enough time there, on the Rips of Monomoy.