Surf Casting: Striped Bass
From March to December, I fish for striped bass on the New Jersey coast. While I have an assortment of lures such as metal lip swimmers, bucktails, pencil poppers, and soft plastics, none of these work as consistently as using fresh bait.
Striped bass are omnivorous. If it swims and they can fit it in their mouth, they will likely eat it. An examination of stomach contents over time shows a variety of different fish species like menhaden (a.k.a bunker), sea herring, river herring, shad, eels, winter flounder, summer flounder, sun dials (a smaller type of flounder a.k.a windowpane), porgy, blackfish, snapper bluefish, weakfish, and surprisingly sea robin. They are not selective when it comes to feeding but tend to gravitate towards bait that are readily available.
For example, if there are winter flounder on migration out of the New Jersey inlets in May, and big adult bunker are coming into the area, striped bass will likely chase the bunker as they are schooled together in very large numbers and easier to catch then rooting around for flounder in the sand.
Stripers will chase all kinds of smaller baitfish as well. The feed on killies, sandeels, spearing, scad, tinker mackeral, and squid. Again, if they can fit it in their mouths and it's edible, they will eat it.
Along with this extensive list of fish species, striped bass will eat sandworms, bloodworms, tapeworms, clams, crabs (especially soft shells/shedders) and sand fleas. It may be harder to naturally acquire some of these baits, but most of them can be bought at local bait and tackle shops.
So as a fisherman what do you do? How do you know what to use? Well many veteran fisherman keep fishing logs. Over the years they trend with the different baitfish come into our New Jersey waters and match their approach towards them. If you are a relatively new to surf fishing for striped bass, there three baits, all fished on hi-lo surf rigs, that I highly recommend. If you are not familiar with the hi-lo rig, many tackle shops will help you find just the right one. These are surf clams, worms, and bunker.
Saltwater Fishing: Trophy Striped Bass
Without question, surf clams are my favorite striped bass bait. They will catch stripers all year round. In discussing surf clams, I'm referring to clams that are heavy and the size of an adult's hand. Why do surf clams work? For one thing they are readily available on all of our beaches. just walk around any beach after a storm and you'll see shells everywhere. Secondly, in rough surf conditions they are often smashed against rocks, jetties, and each other. This violent action causes them to split open. The striped bass come along and literally have a buffet of clams on the half shell waiting for them.
If you want to use clams, I highly recommend taking a strip of clam and wrapping it around the hook several times to create a clump. If the clam slips, you can always use elastic thread to tie it on.
Bunker for Bait
Worms are fantastic for striped bass, especially in the spring. I list worms second to surf clams since they often attract smaller, non-keeper size, fish. With the New Jersey limit at 28 inches, I can get a lot of action on worm baits, but they are often just below this size limit.
What type of worms do you use? The most readily available worms from tackle shops are bloodworms and sandworms. Bloods are much more expensive, almost a dollar a worm. So for a dozen, you are looking at upwards of twelve dollars. They do work though so for some it is worth it. Bloodworms stay on the hook and bleed out with a lot of scent. For me, they are just a bit expensive, especially when surf clams are much cheaper.
Sandworms are cheaper and will work as well. Like the bloodworms they will attract many smaller size fish, but will take the occasional keeper or two. Sands have a tendency to break off easily so it is one should use a long shank bait holder hook to keep them stretched out. For both types of worms, you want to feed the hook through the worms mouth and through a large portion of the body. If you are adventurous and have several hours you can dig for your own worms at low tide in any bay area. It's back-breaking work, but you can get a few.
Menhaden are more often called bunker in our New Jersey coast. They are a type of herring that striped bass love and chase up and down the Atlantic coast. I put bunker third as it is often a longer waiting game when fishing with this bait. The one reward is that bunker often brings much larger fish to your line. Using large chunks or the head will attract trophy size striped bass looking for an easy meal.
When I fish with bunker, I change my hi-lo rig to just a high rig with a large single hook. This does a couple of things. First, it helps with my casting range. Using bunker requires using the appropriate surf fishing rods and reels often rated as medium to heavy, and holding up to ten ounces of casting weight. Trying to cast with a lower rated rod will simply snap it in half. You also don't want to catch a trophy fish on a light rod. You'll never get it on the beach.
The best way to cut your bunker bait is simply to use chunks. When fishing for striped bass with bunker, discard the tail. Striped bass eat fish head first, unless they are chasing much smaller fish like spearing or sandeels. The best part of the bunker to use for trophy size stripers is the head. Again, this is a waiting game and many times you will need a lot of bunker bait as bluefish will readily rip the bait off. It can be frustrating, but rewards are literally immense. Late spring and early summer are the best time to use bunker as the bunker migrate into our waters at that time.
There are many tips and techniques you can use for catching striped bass. If you want to consistently catch them, use bait. The three I recommend are surf clams, worms, and bunker. Good luck. Bend a rod.
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