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THE RACE

By far the largest tidal entrance of eastern Long Island Sound, the Race is located northeast of Little Gull Island and southwest of Fishers Island in New York waters.
By Capt. Tom Migdalski
THE RACE

This huge rip is legendary for its unforgiving bottom, ferocious currents and large waves, due to a depth that upsurges from over 300 feet to fewer than 30 feet in spots.

As the tide bottlenecks between the islands and upwells over the extensive reef, the structure creates large pockets that concentrate baitfish. Multitudes of foraging bluefish and striped bass hold near the bottom in the comparatively sheltered water ahead of the reef where their energy expenditure is less and food abundant.

For many reasons, anchoring in the Race is foolish and may have catastrophic results. Drifting is not only safer, but it’s also needed to keep pace with your current-swept lure, otherwise maintaining bottom here is impossible.

Seasoned skippers leave their motor idling so they can quickly power up-tide before drifting into the rip-line breakers. Even on a windless day, an 18-footer is the minimum size needed to challenge the rip and handle its cresting waves as well as the wakes of large vessels.

Reaching bottom during peak current is challenging with an opposing breeze, which holds your boat back against the current; add a moon tide to the mix and even a 24-ounce lead sinker is futile. So compare the marine forecast with a tide table before planning a trip.

The Race is commonly fished with diamond or bucktail jigs. To use diamond jigs, run uptide of the rip line while watching your depthfinder. At the point where the steep decline reaches about 180 feet, throw the engine into neutral and quickly free-spool your 8- to 12-ounce jig to the bottom. The jig shouldn’t rest on the ledge even momentarily because your drifting boat and the drag on the line create a diagonal pull that will immediately snag the hook. Immediately engage the reel and take 10 rapid turns up, then quickly drop it back down.

Continue this speed jigging process until you approach the rip line, typically in about 70 to 90 feet of water, and then motor back up-current to your original starting place, which might now be a ¼ mile or more away. Note and repeat the location of productive drifts by triangulation, electronics or simply following the fleet.

The other popular technique is to fish a 1- to 2-ounce bucktail jig with an 8/0 hook adorned with a strip of pork rind rigged off a sturdy three-way swivel. Run 4 feet of 80-pound mono leader from the swivel to the bucktail. On the other swivel-eye tie 18 inches of 30-pound mono to a “sacrificial” 10- to 20-ounce sinker. This way, if the lead hangs bottom the lighter mono will part first, thereby minimizing tackle loss.

To fish a bucktail, again run well uptide of the rip line, free-spool your rig to the bottom, feel the sinker hit, and immediately take a few turns up to avoid getting hung. As the bottom raises so should your terminal tackle. However, with the current at peak, it’s often necessary to repeatedly let line out as you lose the bottom despite the shallowing depth. Anytime you feel a bump, swing your rod tip up to either clear the bottom or set the hook on a fish. The trick is to fish as close to the bottom as possible without snagging.

Although braided line is more expensive than monofilament, the Race is best attacked with 40- to 50-pound braid, which has better feel, less drag and no stretch. Pros fill their 3/0 to 4/0 conventional reels with 50-pound mono and then top-shot it with 150 yards of braid. Ideal Race rods are 6 ½- to 7-foot with a medium-heavy, fast action.

If all this sounds too daunting for you or your boat, just hop on one of the many party boats that fish the Race daily.

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