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Catching Stripers with Sea Clams: Striped Bass Fishing Techniques

Updated on September 22, 2014
Even small stripers are fun to catch!
Even small stripers are fun to catch!

When Lures and Plugs Aren't Working, Try Switching to Sea Clams

Catching Stripers with Sea Clams: Fishing for striped bass is challenging. There are times when the conditions seem right and the birds are working the baitfish, but the stripers will not hit on any of the plugs, lures, soft plastics, or even chunks of mackerel thrown their way.

It was during one of these maddening times when a kid at the local bait & tackle suggested trying clams. I've fished for striped bass and other local gamefish with many other types of bait, usually chunks of frozen mackerel, salted herring (lobster bait), sand worms and the occasional eel, but I hadn't considered using clams as bait for catching stripers.

The story would be better if my first cast with a piece of clam on the hook produced a keeper bass. It didn't. Neither did the second cast. But my luck did change and it wasn't long before I was hooking up with fish. And though none of the stripers caught that day where very large, I caught a several fish. When the clams were gone, none of the other plugs or lures could raise another hit.

Since then, I've caught a good number of striped bass by drifting clam bait when nothing else in the tackle box interested them. Here's a few tips for using clams to catch stripers.

Photos by the Author

Catching Stripers with Sea Clams

Frozen Clams by the Quart

Bait and tackle stores typically sell sea clams by the pint and by the quart, frozen in plastic containers. Keep the clams in the containers and frozen until you are ready to use them. A pint of clams thaws quickly, making it easy to separate a clam from the block as needed. Or rinse the frozen block of clams in water to help hasten the thawing process.

Depending on the size of the clams, bait your hook with a whole sea clam or cut large clams in half. I usually cut a clam in half by slicing through the center of the clam belly. Clam bellies are soft, and the hook tears easily through the bait. All too often, the bait flies off the hook during the cast or the clam is lost on the first light strike by a curious striper. To help keep the clam on the hook, I start with a #4 circle hook. Bait the hook by pushing the point of the hook through the belly of the clam. Turn the hook, and push point back through the tougher muscle. Turn the hook again, and push it back through the muscle to secure it to the hook.

Another trick for holding the bait on the hook is to make a clam sandwich with a piece of squid. Start by threading one end of a squid strip up and around the shank of the hook, then add the clam. Wrap the squid around the clam and then push the other end of squid strip on to the hook.

Clams work very well when drifted in slow to medium current, either from the shore or from a boat. A circle hook baited with a clam is a small and light, and is difficult to cast very far, even with the added weight from a sinker. A simple but effective clam rig consists of a #4 circle hook tied to a 36" section of leader material. Tie a barrel swivel between the other end of the leader and the end of the line to help prevent line twist.

Cast >>> Drift >>> Retrieve

Cast the baited hook upstream and into the current. Ideally, the sea clam and hook will drift down through the current and towards the bottom. Be alert for a strike, as a hungry bass typically attacks the bait as it drifts downward towards the bottom. I like to keep my index finger on the line, keeping the line taunt as the bait drifts along in the current. Strikes can be subtle, and I can often feel the light "tap tap tap" as the bass decides whether or not to take the bait. Keep the rod tip up and set the hook with the first good tug; stripers are quite adept at stripping clams without taking the hook.

If the current is too strong and the baited hook drifts quickly near the surface, try adding a small split-shot sinker or two to the leader about 18 inches above the circle hook. The goals is to add just enough weight to carry the bait downwards as it drifts through the current. If you add too much weight, the sea clam sinks to the bottom too quickly where it will be devoured by opportunistic crabs and skates.

The baited clam rig leaves a scent trail in the water as it drifts along. Striped bass have an excellent sense of smell, and even large stripers will aggressively attack a relatively small piece of sea clam as it drifts downward through the current.

What is your favorite method of fishing for Stripers?

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Catching Stripers with Clam Bait

Catching Stripers With Sea Clams: Summer of 2014

Largest striped bass far: 28 inches

June 14th: 7 stripers (18" to 24")

June 15th: 8 stripers (18" to 24")

June 21st: 7 stripers (22", 25")

June 22nd: 5 stripers (20" to 24")

July 2nd: 8 stripers (20" to 25"); 1 flounder

July 3rd: Hurricane Arthur: 1 striper (20")

July 11th: 6 stripers (22" to 25"); 1 on a Storm lure

August 3rd: 5 stripers (20" to 28")

August 4th: 4 stripers (18" to 22"); 2 on a Storm lure

August 7th: 1 striper (22")

August 8th: 4 stripers (22" to 25"); 1 on a Storm lure

Most big stripers are females. Releasing large fish helps to ensure future striper populations.

Another schoolie bass
Another schoolie bass

How to Catch & Release a Striped Bass

Catch and Release fishing helps to maintain a healthy striped bass fishery. Most trophy sized striped bass - fish measuring 50 inches or longer - are usually females. Known as cows, these large females lay many times more eggs than their smaller sisters and are essential to maintaining healthy populations of striped bass. Safely releasing large cows helps to ensure future generations of these spectacular fish for years to come.

Successful catch and release fishing begins with your fishing tackle. Circle hooks are very effective, and setting the hook properly usually results in catching the corners of the bass's mouth. Circle hooks are swallowed much less frequently than traditional hooks, saving unnecessary internal injury to the fish.

Remove the barbs from the treble hooks of lures and poppers. Treble hooks often cause deep wounds, and imbedded hooks require pliers and extra force to remove. Use a set of pliers to simply flatten the barb, or use a metal file to remove the barb quickly while sharpening the treble hooks. A barb is not necessary to hook and land a high percentage of aggressive striper hits; keep the line taunt and the rod tip high while playing and landing your fish.

Landing the fish quickly will help to keep the bass strong for a safe release. Grab the striped bass firmly by the lower jaw, and use your other hand to support the mid section of large fish while lifting and holding out of the water. Do not hold the fish by the gills.

Use a hook extractor or pliers to remove imbedded hooks. Grab the hook as close to the point as possible, while gently yet firmly twisting and backing out the hook. Pliers or an extractor provides extra leverage without putting additional pressure against the fish.

Return the fish to the water as quickly as possible, but releasing an exhausted and disoriented fish before it has time to recover is lethal. Hold the fish in the water by its tail while supporting the midsection, and within a few minutes, a healthy and uninjured fish will begin to regain its strength. Taking the time to allow a tired fish to recover fully before swimming off on its own will significantly increase its chances to survive and to fight again on another day.

A good day of fishing, followed by a spectacular sunset

Sunset over the South River
Sunset over the South River

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