The Fence - The Fisherman

The Fence

2017 11 The Fence
As the New Jersey coast takes more of a southwesterly cut below Barnegat Inlet, many anglers in Atlantic and Cape May County find the majority of stripers continue their due south migration, forcing tight against “the fence” when trolling in the fall. Image courtesy of Navionics.

As striped bass migrate along the Atlantic Coast, many fish – often some of the biggest of the lot – will follow a north to south superhighway just inside the three-mile line. Many captains who regularly troll the inside edge of the federal demarcation line believe that it’s innate guidance in many of these big stripers, following a certain path that’s been followed year after year, by generations of trophy class stripers before them.

As many folks run and gun their way just outside the breakers in search of blitzing schools of stripers on bait, dedicated trollers from Sandy Hook down outside Delaware Bay all the way to Cape Henlopen will push their way to the very edge of the allowable striper fishing, what most refer to as The Fence.

Depending on where you are along the coast, the inside legal edge of The Fence could be from 55 to 70 feet up along the North Jersey coast in Monmouth County, and sometimes as shallow as 20 to 30 feet off the Atlantic County coast. Once that three-mile line meanders its way outside of Delaware Bay, anglers coming out of ports of Indian River or Lewes can expect depths of upwards of 60 feet again.

It’s critical to remember that striped fish outside of three miles from shore is a violation of federal law; not just possessing striped bass, but even targeting stripers in federal waters can earn you quite the fine. In many recent seasons big bass making their way down the line through Monmouth and Ocean County this month in New Jersey continue to track due south where that line follows the coastal configuration and turns southwest. Still, using your electronics to hit The Fence and deploying a spread to run north and south and back again can often put you in the most productive striper areas of the fall run (Yes, even though sometimes the grass is often greener on the other side!).

The Fence is primarily a troller’s game, and a steady flow of traffic can usually be found when the bass run is on. Something critically important to remember is that if the fleet is running an up and down route and turning together like a carousel, the guy who goes back and forth, crisscrossing the pattern is not very well regarded. Tony Maja bunker spoons on wire will get you the depth you need; keep a close eye on your fishfinder to see where the marks are and keep an ear on the VHF for advice on colors for the day.

If you’re trolling braid, keep an assortment of deep-diving plugs rated for depths of 15- to 30- or even 40-foot increments, including the new X-Rap Magnum from Rapala. Mojos to deployed along the inside of the three-mile line will also allow you to get your offerings to the deeper waters where marks appear on your screen.

While trolling spoons, plugs and giant bucktails is standard operating tactic at The Fence, a few sharpies have quietly taken to deploying baits along the striped bass superhighway when they sneak in amongst the fleet. With bass blowing up on bunker schools in spring and fall, sometimes castnetting a livewell full of live baits to bring out to the deeper waters can result in a score on the drift. Drift on a traditional fishfinder set-up with bait on or just above the bottom; and don’t discount the opportunity to jig up stripers here too by dropping a heavy Tsunami swim shad or fluttering jig to where you’re marking fish.

When you hear folks on the VHF say “I’m out at The Fence,” that only really narrows it down to about 150 miles of hot striper action from Sandy Hook to Fenwick Island. You can follow them all the way up and down, from north to south – just remember however that the federal exclusive economic zone or EEZ limits you as far east as 3 miles when fishing for striped bass. Fish the edge, but don’t go beyond; enforcement has been hinting at some very active enforcement this season!

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