Topwater Striper Fishing: How to Work the Boulders
Apr 10, 2019 | 6 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 6 minutes

The islands of the northeastern US are heaven for topwater Striper fishing. Long Island, Block Island, and the islands off Cape Cod have some of the best Striped Bass action out there. And it’s not just Stripers – the topwater Bluefish bite’s outstanding, too.

What makes these spots special? One word: boulders. In this short guide, we’ll take a look at what makes boulder fields such a great place for working topwater lures. You’ll also find some tips on how to get the most out this epic fishery.

A calm coastline with a rocky beach and boulders sticking out of the water

A beautiful day for fishing off Martha’s Vineyard, MA.

Why fish the boulder fields?

Boulder fields are a dream hunting ground for Stripers and Bluefish. The crashing waves pump the water with oxygen and the rugged structure holds plenty of seaweed. This attracts a ton of baitfish, which rest and feed in sheltered pockets. And where there’s bait, there are Stripers. Lots of big, mean Striped Bass waiting to ambush prey in the currents and whirlpools.

Navigating these waters isn’t for beginners. You can easily run into the rocks so you need to keep your head on a swivel even when there’s a fish on your line. The rewards can be well worth the effort, though. You can fish both tides and a variety of currents, giving you plenty of options. You can also find some absolute monsters if you know how to work the waters properly.

How to Read the Bottom

To get the most out of a spot, it’s important to see it at both high and low tide. Take a look at the lay of the land. Is it flat and gradual? Steep and rocky? You can expect the same underwater. In general, Striped Bass and Bluefish both like rugged structure. Look for areas with steep drops and big rocks, that’s where the biggest fish hide.

An angler holding a Striped Bass on a boat with the shore behind him

Sharp slopes and large rocks above the water means good structure and big Rockfish below

Be on the lookout for currents and “nervous” water. This shows there’s structure below. Polarized sunglasses are a must when fishing here – not because of the sun, but because they’ll let you see the rocks more clearly. Obviously, you want to keep one eye on your sounder as you scan the bottom.

How to Work the Waters

The best fishing is in no more than 20 feet of water. You’re looking for the largest boulder in a group. That’s where the biggest, most aggressive Stripers will set up shop. Start by working the deeper edge of the field, casting into shallower water and moving closer with every drift. Keep an eye out for points and pockets where weak fish might hide – predators will be doing the same thing.

The currents can get pretty fast over the boulder fields. If you’re drifting too quickly, use your trolling motor or push pole to slow you down. You can even run the engine in deeper water – the fish won’t mind it as long as there’s plenty of wave noise.

A happy angler in a yellow top holding a Striped Bass

Stripers can spook in the shallows, but they don’t mind a bit of noise in deeper spots.

Once you find a promising spot, circle round so you’re fishing the windward face. The topwater currents will be stronger here, creating whirlpools around the base that Stripers and Blues love to hunt in. After your first hook-up, you’ll love hunting here, too.

How to Tempt Trophies to the Top

So you’ve found your spot. Now it’s time to draw out the fish! Cast your line beyond the boulder and pull your lure across it. How you retrieve is key, and depends on whether you’re going after Bluefish or Stripers.

Big Blues like rapid retrieves with plenty of noise. If they’re striking short, pause for a second then carry on fast and steady. Often as not, you’ll get a second or even third strike on the same retrieve.

An angler holding a Bluefish with its mouth open and a popper fishing lure hanging out of its mouth.

Large, noisy poppers are like candy to big Bluefish

Stripers are the opposite. They like slow, jerky retrieves, the king of which is the classic “walk the dog.” This involves zig-zagging your lure back towards you, snapping the rod up and down to twitch your bait back towards you. If it’s not working, try pausing or changing speed to entice those lazy Linesiders.

When you get a strike, make sure you set the hook hard to punch through their tough mouths. Then it’s a case of getting the fish clear of the rocks as quickly as possible. You may even want to move the boat away if the fish is putting up a serious fight.

What to Pack for Perfect Topwater Striper Fishing

Bringing in big fish is about more than just technique. Packing the right rods, reels, and lures is key. Go for a medium-heavy spinning rod with plenty of play in the tip. You’ll need a matched spinning reel with 30-40 lb braided line and a fluorocarbon leader to match.

Angler with a spinning rod in his mouth holding a large Striped Bass on a topwater striper fishing trip

Spinning rod, check. Poppers, check. Big fish, check!

When it comes to lures, spooks are an obvious choice when “walking the dog”. You should also pack some standard poppers, as well as plugs if you want to try for Bluefish. White lures work better in the day, while darker colors are best in low light – as is the bite in general. Whatever you use, removing the front hook makes life a lot easier if you’re planning to release the fish.

Here’s something you may not have thought about packing: a kayak. Having a kayak or a paddleboard with you lets you get deeper into the shallows than you can on a boat. You can only do this on calm days, but if the forecast is fine, bringing a board or a kayak gives you even more options.

How to Stay Safe While Fishing the Boulders

With so much structure and such unusual currents, boulder fields can be tricky if you don’t take precautions. Always keep an eye on your drift, even if you’re on the catch of a lifetime. You can easily run up on the rocks if you’re not paying attention.

Using your electronics to track and repeat safe drifts makes things a lot easier. Keep your anchor to hand in case you start drifting too quickly. If the weather’s rough, you may want to keep your engine running the whole time, with the tilt nice and high to avoid big rocks.

Coastline with waves breaking onto large mossy boulders

The northeastern coastline is beautiful, but it can get choppy even on a clear day.

Forgive us for stating the obvious, but don’t fish alone. Ideally, you should have someone who knows the waters with you. If not, do your groundwork well and you shouldn’t run into any trouble. Make sure you leave a float plan with someone back home, though. Just in case.

If you’re getting out on a kayak, always stay in sight of your buddy on the boat. Pack the standard safety kit – PFD, zip-locked phone, water, and a walkie-talkie so you don’t have to shout. Most importantly: however you’re fishing, don’t forget to have fun!

Did our tips help you land a trophy? Anything you’d do differently? Let us know your topwater Striper fishing tips below – we’re always looking to up our game!

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Comments (4)
  • Striper Guy

    Dec 9, 2018

    It’s crazy how diverse Stripers can be. Here on inland lakes, most people think of them as open water schooling fish, but at certain times, we can catch them shallow around structure like rocks also!

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      Albert

      Dec 10, 2018

      Hi Striper Guy, absolutely – Striped Bass are one of those fish that seems to show up everywhere once in a while. Thanks for your comment, I’m glad you liked the article!

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  • Steele Honda

    Jun 14, 2019

    Thanks for pointing out that in general, Striped Bass and Bluefish both like rugged structure. My husband is thinking about trying to fish for striper when we go on our next family vacation because its something that he’s always wanted to try. I think since they are in more rugged areas on might be smart for him to go with a guide both so he can find them easier and have a better chance of catching one and so he can stay safe.

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      Albert

      Jun 17, 2019

      Hi Steele,

      It’s never a bad idea to fish with a guide, especially when you’re new to an area.

      As you say, it’s an especially good idea when going after Stripers and Bluefish, because of the tricky waters they like to hang out in.

      I hope your husband has a great trip!

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