Striped Bass is the East Coast’s favorite fish. There’s no competing with them. From salty sea dogs to family fishermen and their kids, everyone loves Stripers. They’re fun to target in a wide range of ways, which gives you a ton of options when you go to fill your bait box. Today, we’re breaking down the best bait for Striped Bass, and how and when to use it.
Striper Bait Basics
One of the most important things to consider when choosing bait is what the fish are already eating. Striped Bass spend most of their lives chasing something or other along coastlines and rivers. Use that to your advantage by using what the fish are currently feeding on.
Whatever bait you’re going for, make sure it’s good and fresh. Live bait should be lively and healthy. Dead bait should be as fresh as possible. A simple way to tell this is by looking at the eyes. If they’re clear and bright, the fish is fresh. Red eyes mean they’re getting old, while glazed-eyed fish aren’t going to be nearly as effective.
Lastly, a note on safe release. Non-offset circle hooks are a must for bait fishing, and are actually required by law in a lot of places. They reduce the risk of deep hooking the fish, giving them the best chance to survive after release. Considering the dwindling numbers of Stripers along the East Coast, we recommend always releasing Stripers in these waters.
Best Bait for Striped Bass
Bunker is hands-down the best bait for Striped Bass (we’ll lump in alewife here in freshwater, as you can use them in similar ways). Cast them on simple weighted rigs, drift them, or cut them up for chum. The simplest tactic is to chop the tail off and liveline it in a school. The fish will sink below the pack and become an irresistibly easy meal.
If you can’t get live bunker, dead bait is a good backup, as long as it’s fresh. Discard the tail and cut the rest into three pieces. The head is useful when other fish are about, as only Stripers really take it. The body cavity is full of mostly blood and viscera and makes the very best bait. The part leading down to the tail is all meat, and is good as bait or cut up for chum.
Eels aren’t the surefire Striper magnets that bunkers are, but they’re not far off. You can drift, troll, or cast them. Add them to lures or let them wriggle under a bobber. It’s tough to go wrong if you’re fishing somewhere where eels naturally live.
One real perk of fishing with eels is that most fish don’t go for them. Bluefish may take a bite, but smaller fish will generally avoid them. Another real bonus for land-based anglers is that they’re easy to keep alive as long as they stay cold and damp. The main downside to them is how squirmy and slimy they are!
Worms are some of the best bait for just about any fish. Freshwater or saltwater, you can’t go wrong. And with a fish like Striped Bass that lives in both, this doubles their usefulness. The freshwater crowd usually uses nightcrawlers. You can use them in the sea, too, but people tend to go for bloodworms or sandworms instead.
The main problem with worms is that, well, they’re so effective. Every fish in the food chain will want a piece of them. And bear in mind that blood and sandworms aren’t cheap! They work well, but if you’re not digging them up, you’d better be prepared to fork out for them.
Striped Bass can’t normally eat clams, as their mouths aren’t tough enough to break shells. They love them, though, and rarely turn down the chance of gobbling up broken ones. Anglers are happy to help by casting or chumming freshly-shelled clams. Removing the shell also makes them much easier to rig – win-win!
Clams are so effective because of the sheer amount of scent they give off. Stripers will sniff them out even in the murkiest waters. In fact, they’ll be looking for them. Clams work best in areas with lots of current and hard structure, where clams naturally get caught in the current and get smashed on rocks.
The northeasters among you were probably wondering when we’d mention mackerel. These oily fish are one of the best Striper baits out there, and they’re a staple of the Striped Bass scene from New York to New Brunswick.
You can liveline mackerel with devastating results, but most people buy them fresh or frozen and cut them up for chunk baits. You get plenty of cuts per fish thanks to their shape, and their oily meat sends a strong scent trail through the water. What’s more, their tough meat holds together well, making them perfect for casting through the surf.
Striped Bass are notoriously greedy, so it shouldn’t be surprising that lures work well on them. All kinds of lures work, and really deserve their own article. In fact, we already covered what we’d say are the best lures for Striped Bass in our article on topwater lures. From spooks to poppers to plugs, they’re a ton of fun and get some amazing results.
Topwater isn’t your only option, though. Soft plastic eels or worms are a cheap replacement for the real thing, and work almost as well. Bucktail and hard-bodied jigs are also great, and can be tipped with real bait for an irresistible combo. Then there are trolling rigs like tube lures and umbrella rigs. If you don’t like live bait, you’ve got plenty of options!
A World of Ways to Reel in a Rockfish
Stripers, Rockfish, Linesiders – whatever you call them, everyone agrees that they’re seriously fun to fish for. They grow big, fight hard, and inhale just about anything you throw at them. We’ve listed some of the best bait for Striped Bass. Now it’s time to put it to use. Get out there, hit the water, and start fighting fish!
What’s your go-to bait for Stripers? Do you usually use live bait, cut bait, or lures? Let us know your top tips and fishing stories in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!