Devil's Bridge / Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
By Capt. Tom Migdalski
Based out of Falmouth, Massachusetts, Capt. Eric Stapelfeld has fished the waters off Cape Cod for more than 26 years. Running his custom 27-foot Conch from May through October, he specializes in trophy striped bass and lands 40-inch stripers almost daily; in fact, he guarantees a large bass or he'll give you another trip.
Stapelfeld manufactures his own Hairball Lures and has been the subject of numerous saltwater-fishing articles. Call 617-755-1847, or visit hairballcharters.com.
Martha's Vineyard, a 90-square-mile island off the south coast of Cape Cod, not only serves as a summer getaway for the wealthy but also as an excellent striped bass location. The spectacular Gay Head cliffs highlight the northwest corner of the island. Emanating from below the cliffs and protruding a mile along the bottom of Vineyard Sound lies a stretch of prime striper habitat called Devil's Bridge - Stapelfeld's go-to bass hot spot.
"The fertile waters of Vineyard Sound dump over a beautiful shelf of boulder fields," Stapelfeld says, "which attracts tons of forage like sand eels, squid, herring and mackerel. The area is my favorite spot because it draws bass from May through October."
Devil's Bridge holds fish the longest of any location off Cape Cod partly because it's an "outlying post," one of the most exposed structures to the striper migration. The submerged spit starts at the shore as a field of large boulders and tapers to a point with 60 feet of water on either side. Nearby, it shoals to 18- to 35-foot depths with lots of humps and lumps.
Strong 3 to 4 mph currents course over the structure, creating a beautiful rip line on both tides. But Stapelfeld doesn't always fish the rip lines, and often targets what he terms "non-rip lines" - areas where water moves over boulder clusters without showing any indication on the surface. He finds his specific hot spots with electronics and then closely guards their coordinates.
During his six-month season, Stapelfeld jigs, trolls a tube-and-worm combination, or casts the boulder fields. But his favorite and most dependable method of plying the waters of Devil's Bridge is bait-chunking with bunker.
"Using fresh bait is absolutely key," he says. "I obtain it fresh daily and immediately ice it. Bunker goes soft fast in warm weather, and the ice preserves its quality."
After loading up, Stapelfeld runs to one of several known spots on Devil's Bridge and takes great care in properly positioning his boat. "You have to be right on the structure," he says. "If the wind or tide pushes you a bit and your baits swing off the reef, you're done. Many anglers don't understand the importance and technique of proper boat positioning. We can be crushing the stripers, and the guys anchored right next to us aren't catching anything."
Stapelfeld anchors about 50 feet uptide of his intended structure so his chum and baits land just ahead of the rocks where the bass stage and gobble prey. "If the wind comes up in a different direction or the tide changes," he says, "repositioning the craft becomes critical, and many fishermen don't go to the effort of making the proper adjustments, such as hauling and resetting the anchor."
Stapelfeld uses bunker body pieces and heads as bait, with or without weights, depending on the conditions. At the same time, he maintains a steady chum stream of small bunker pieces.
He uses 8/0 or 9/0 live-bait hooks, which he ties to 8 to 10 feet of 50-pound fluorocarbon leader. He attaches the leader to 60- to 80-pound braided main line with an Albright knot.
For dead sticking - leaving the rod in the holder with a weighted bait on the bottom - Stapelfeld prefers a 6-foot rod. Once he has a pickup, he emphasizes not setting the hook. "There's a specific technique to hooking these fish," he says. "If you set the hook hard, you'll just pull the bait out of the fish's mouth. Instead, wait until you feel the weight of the fish, and then start reeling. The bass usually get hooked in the mouth as they turn to run. Then you have a fight on your hands."
About the Author: As a freelance outdoor writer and photographer, Capt. Tom Migdalski's work has appeared in many publications. He's the author of two saltwater books: Fishing Diamond Jigs and Bucktails and Fishing Long Island Sound. Tom is the director of outdoor education and club sports at Yale University, and spends much of his free time fishing Long Island Sound.