Striped bass -- often referred to as striper or rockfish -- inhabit coastal waters near the United States year-round, migrating into rivers and estuaries to spawn in April and May. The spring migration brings some of the best striper fishing in the world to areas like the Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast and the San Francisco Bay in the West. Wherever you choose to pursue stripers, bait choice is critical.
Baitfish for Striper Fishing
Stripers' diet consists primarily of smaller fish, and live bait is the most consistently productive option. Available baitfish vary by region, and menhaden, also known as bunker, are a favorite of many East Coast anglers, particularly in and around the Chesapeake Bay. You can catch three- to five-inch bunker using cast nets in shallow water throughout spring and summer. On the West Coast, many anglers target stripers with sardines and anchovies. Herring and alewives can be very effective for stripers in rivers, and shad work well in freshwater reservoirs where stripers have been stocked. You can rig live baitfish on a plain hook, or add a sinker to keep the bait closer to the bottom, where stripers often feed.
Worm and Clam Baits
Early in the spring, when coastal waters begin to warm up and the first stripers of the season appear, bloodworms are among the best baits. Similar to common night crawlers, bloodworms inhabit the muddy bottom of shallow bays, and they are often available in bait shops. Near-shore stripers often feed on clams when the surf stirs them up from the bottom. You can target these fish by hooking one or more clams -- removed from the shell -- on a dropper rig, which has a sinker on the bottom and one or more hooks tied to the line above. Surf fishermen also use small squid, shrimp and peeler crabs as striper bait.
Plugs and Crank Baits
Among artificials used for stripers, swimming lures made of plastic or wood are the most common. Usually referred to as crank baits or plugs, these lures are available in a wide range of sizes, shapes and colors to imitate various baitfish. Troll these lures behind a boat at low speeds to cover lots of water in search of stripers, or you can also cast and retrieve these swimmers in areas where stripers gather in schools. Lures around six inches long, in shades of white, silver and black, imitate most of the baitfish stripers commonly eat. Bring along at least one diving lure and one floating or shallow-running lure to cover various depths.
Other Artificial Options
A few other artificial lures can be very effective at tempting stripers. Soft plastic baits are a great option when stripers gather in specific areas like rock piles and river mouths. Usually much cheaper than crank baits and plugs, these baits are available in many varieties, including minnow imitations, plastic worms and scented baits. They work very well when stripers are less active and prefer a subtle, natural offering. Jigs and jigging spoons are effective for fishing straight down over fish-attracting structure, and bucktails are excellent for smaller stripers, which often group together in large schools.
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