By Nick Honachefsky
CAPE MAY, N.J. — Sure, the name sounds a bit funny, but the fishing isn’t.
Down in south Jersey, off the very tip of Cape May, something not-so-funny is going on for all the eels and menhaden in the region of Prissywick Shoals: they’re getting mercilessly whacked, beaten and devoured by hordes of jumbo-size striped bass.
The Prissywick Shoals make up part of the infamous Cape May Rips region, and Prissywick’s range is a stretch of volatile underwater humps and bumps that cover a roughly 3-mile area just off the Cape May Lighthouse.
These shoals are constantly shifting their sands with every tide and must be navigated with caution.
The depth can run anywhere from 25 feet on a high tide to an extremely skinny 2 feet on a dead low tide.
In other words, unless capsizing is your thing, you had better exercise eagle-eyed caution when drifting over this churning, rippy area.
Play the tides
The beginning of the incoming and outgoing tides can generate standing waves that can swamp a small vessel, but the finer point of these drastically shifting sands is that they create new, bass-friendly structures consisting of sandy ledges and humps where bass can hide.
In spring and fall, the reward for fishing there is some truly lunker-size striped bass.
The rolling underwater hills hold bass on each side during the tide phases as they wait in ambush on the incoming and outgoing tides to suck down bait.
Whether it’s a high or low tide, incoming or outgoing, the backsides of the humps will hold pods of hungry bass.
Eels are the predominant bait used here, but if you have live herring or bunker, you also hold a winning hand.
Fishing the shoals
Boaters drift over the bumps with the tide and employ a variety of tactics to conjure up a few stripers.
Bouncing 2 to 3-ounce white bucktails tipped with mackerel strips or 7-inch Fin-S Fish in mackerel and rainbow trout colorations will usually illicit a strike.
The most popular and productive method, however, is drifting an eel on a fishfinder rig consisting of a sinker slide, an 80-pound barrel swivel, a 4-foot piece of 60-pound fluorocarbon leader and a 6/0 Gamakatsu octopus hook lanced through the jaw and then through one eye of the eel.
The sinker weight depends on how much it takes for the angler to be able to feel the sinker dragging on the bottom and over the humps until it hits bottom again — on average, at the beginning or end of the tide switch, a 3 to 4-ounce weight is sufficient.
This is the key to fishing Prissywick: always be bouncing the bottom. If you’re not, you are simply drag-trolling that bait through the upper water column where the bass are not home.
Heating up now
The bite goes on for big bass starting in mid- to late April, and will usually last into the second week of June.
To prove its worth, just last year I drifted Prissywick with a few bums and in roughly one hour we limited out on stripers to 34 pounds (one of which broke my rod in half on the take, no joke).
Prissywick Shoals coordinates
Loran: 27120.0 / 42710.0
GPS: 38 54.00 / 74.57.00
Jim’s Bait & Tackle (609-884-3900)
Hand’s Bait & Tackle (609-884-3744)
By Nick Honachefsky