Where striped bass are found in abundance, they’re arguably the most sought after species. The allure of watching 40 plus-inch fish thrash the surface or hearing the sound of screaming drag has kept countless striper fishermen up all night in hot pursuit of that actionable moment. And when the action has died down, striped bass fishing remains a symbol that represents parts of local cultures, namely in New England: the native waters of the striped bass.
Striped Bass Baits
Striped bass are not picky eaters, they are very opportunistic in fact. Crabs, sand fleas, bloodworms, squid, clams, menhaden (bunker), shad, herring, mackerel, spot, perch, alewives, silversides, and eels are all on the menu. Live eels, spot, bunker, and herring will entice any larger striped bass to eat, but cutting fresh or frozen fish into chunks works well for striped bass of all sizes. Crabs, sand fleas, bloodworms, squid, and clams are optimized for smaller stripers. Diversifying your bait size and selection helps to increase your catch rate, especially if you use the two rod method we recommend for surf fishing with bait. Live or fresh bait is the best option, but frozen bait works well too if it’s the only available option.
Striped Bass Rigs
When using cut bait for striped bass, one of the most popular rigs is the fish finder rig. This rig can be found in the surf fishing kit attached with a circle hook between size 1/0 and 5/0. This rig is best used with 2-4 inch chunks of cut bait such as bunker, herring and mackerel. The fish finder rig kicks up the bait along the bottom, calling in fish with smelly thumps against the sand. To target smaller or finicky stripers with smaller bait, use a bottom rig. Bottoms rigs setup with smaller circle hooks between 2 to 1/0 is best for crabs, sand fleas, bloodworms, squid, or smaller clams. When using a bottom rig, try to be a little creative and use different baits on the top and bottom. Sometimes one bait will do better than the other. Casting out 2 surf rods with these 2 separate sized rigs and baits will diversify your presentation even further and improve your chances.
Fundamental Striped Bass Lures
Surfcasting is a popular method for fast-paced striper fishing. While you can improve your efficiency and focus on active fish, the technique of casting and retrieving lures for striped bass is advanced. We strongly recommend focusing on using natural bait for your first few trips. After you get a few stripers under your belt, you can graduate to lures. When you first start casting for stripers, focus on the classics like jigs and topwaters.
The most versatile lure to use for striped bass is arguably the jig & grub, which is quite possibly the best lure of all time. Jigs can be fished effectively just about anywhere in the water column. Our favorite setup for stripers is a 1/2 Oz red jig head with a 4″ white curl tail grub. Cast up-current and let the lure sink to the bottom while you bounce it on the bottom. This is easier said than done, but once the jig gets down-current of you, reel it in and do it again. After you feel you’ve fished the bottom enough times, start covering the middle of the water column. Cast it out and reel it in toward you with sudden pauses. Sometimes fishing faster and higher in the water column is all it takes to find the fish and get them to bite.
Topwater baits are some of the most exciting lures to use in fishing. They’re great for mimicking wounded bait fish and getting fish to strike During the warmer months when striped bass are on the prowl for schools of fish, topwater baits are a go-to lure. The most popular styles of topwater exhibit a zig-zag action on the surface called “walking-the-dog”. A topwater popper with a walk-the-dog style action in white and red is our favorite for striped bass. Keep in mind that bait fish do not need to be present for a topwater bait to work its magic. The erratic action of this surface lure is enough to entice stripers even when they’re not actively feeding. This aspect makes topwater baits a great choice to use and test different locations in search of fish.
All the surf fishing rigs, lures and tackle from this guide can be found in our Surf Fishing Kit
Where to Surf Fish for Striped Bass
The first thing you need to do is find out if striped bass as a species is present in your area. Find out if striped bass are in your area by visiting the fish catches on our where to boat and fish map. You can easily search your states fishing regulations on takemefishing.org.
Stripper Migratory Habits
Since striped bass are migratory and spawn in freshwater, their range is expansive and their presence will vary region by region depending on the time of year. Generally speaking, much of the population will spend winter in deeper water off-shore. Once the water begins to warm and gets to about the mid-50s(F), the stripers begin entering estuaries and work their way into rivers to spawn. This often coincides with the first blooms of the spring. These fish will be in freshwater rivers and the estuaries they flow into. When they finish their spawn, many schools of smaller stripers, known as “schoolies”, will leave the rivers and estuaries and migrate north along the coast into cooler areas where they stay for the hot summer months. Once the water temperature begins to cool in the fall, these fish will begin to migrate south and end up in their deeper winter grounds to wait out the cold winter months.
Focusing on the Surf
To target stripers along the surf, you should focus on the prime migratory times coming into and out of estuaries. In the beginning of spring, striped bass will cruise the surf feeding in preparation for spawn. In the fall, veracious schoolies and hungry post spawn fish will feed along the beach before they migrate to deeper water. The beginning of spring and the end of fall is just an overall great time to fish for the surf angler. Both seasons instigate the apex of feeding habits among striped bass and this occurs along the surf. However, you can fish for striped bass along the surf year round. There are always stragglers lagging in the migration and some areas have their own seasonality which renders striper surf fishing a year round affair.
How to Surf Fish for Striped Bass
The key element to catching striped bass in the surf is finding current and some type of structure that breaks the current. This could be in the form of a pier, jetty, point, island, rock, sandbar, bridge piling, abandoned ship, etc.—anything that forces the current to change direction or move around it. In tidal zones, what’s the major influential factor for creating current? The tides! The best way to fish the moving tides is to find a tide chart for your local area and find the times the tide is moving between the high and low. Plan ahead.
When to Fish Tides
If the changing tide happens to occur at dawn or dusk, even better! These are prime feeding times for striped bass. Some of the places that create the strongest of currents are inlets, canals, and places where streams or rivers flow into another body of water. Look for places in these areas that create a break in the current. Striped bass love to stay where the current breaks. They get to watch for food being swept by the current without actually having to swim against the current.
Here’s a different look below.
Reading the Current
In the rough illustration above, notice how the point, made of rocks, abruptly changes the direction of the current. The blue is the current and the green is the point that breaks the current. The orange dot is the fishing zone where the striped bass are most likely to be waiting to ambush schools of fish or squid that get swept along. If you fish a spot where the current breaks and aren’t seeing any action, first try switching your bait or lure. If that doesn’t work, you have two options: 1) Move to another location, or 2) Wait for stripers to show up. You’ll have to make a best-guess and go with it.
Again, striped bass is a heavily regulated species because of population declines. If you plan to fish for striped bass, make sure to look up your state’s regulations on the fishing season, size limits, hook styles, and baits.