Part of the allure of the Striper is how incredibly diverse they are in their habitats, their migrations, and their palette. You can find Striped Bass in quite a few fisheries, even some landlocked freshwater lakes. Back bays, inlets, sod banks, deep in the ocean, in freshwater rivers all hold Striper. They cruise the beaches. They can be found out with tunas in 300 feet of water. From Maine to the Sacramento River Delta, to the mighty Chesapeake Bay or the Cape Cod Canal. Stripers are everywhere. They can be solitary or in huge wolf-packs. They are constantly moving and ultimately adaptable, the ultimate NOMAD. They will eat almost anything at any given time. Sand fleas (mole crabs) will find Stripers feeding literally at your feet on the beach. Sand Eels off the bars in the surf or in deep balls offshore are favorites. Eels, Clams Cabs, Herring, Atlantic Menhaden, Mackerel, Spearing, Bay Anchovies, Cinder Worms, Sand Worms, Blood Worms. Chunked or Live. That's just the start. The internet does not have the bandwidth to list everything Striped Bass will eat.
So fishing for them should be simple right? Seems like if they are everywhere and eat everything it should be like shooting Stripers in barrel, right? Not so fast.
The Key to Striped Bass fishing begins with the Spawn. You see Striped Bass are Anadromous. Which means they spawn in Freshwater once a year in the Spring. These waters were they breed in large numbers must be connected to the ocean, yet be freshwater or at least brackish. These waterways lead to major nurseries like the Sacramento River Delta, Chesapeake Bay (huge), Delaware River, Hudson River. To understand how to fish for Striper one must start in the Spring and the Pre-Spawn. When the water starts to warm and the diurnal light starts to lengthen the Bass will Stage at the tailwaters of these freshwater rivers and start to eat. The location and timing depends on temperatures and winter runoff and does not occur all at once.
As Spring progresses these fish move into the rivers heavy with eggs. They move many miles, some hundreds. This is why fisherman 50 miles from the ocean in an urban area like Trenton NJ can catch Trophy Bass in April in freshwater. They continue up river feeding the whole time, deposit their eggs and returning down river to the ocean.
And now they really start to move. Post Spawn Stripers are like a herd of cats. They do not sit still and they do not all do the same thing. Some stay in the freshwater rivers and give trout fisherman the shock of their lives while fishing with ultra light trout rods. Some stick around the confluence of the freshwater river and the ocean in the bays and sod banks. Most head out and move north to colder water. Especially the big ones. They migrate from as far south as Virginia Beach all the way to Maine. And they eat everything imaginable along the way.
And that is the key. They will key on whatever bait is prevalent along the way towards their summer haunts in New England. This is where the frustrating part comes in. If you do not have the right bait to match the hatch you can be standing in a bucket of Stripers and they will not hit. Many is the lament of the Surfcaster who is surrounded by 50lb Striped Bass slurping Cinder Worms at their feet all night and not a thing they throw will get touched. Similarly, when they are on small rainbait like anchovy thick as thieves bunched up in Wolf-Packs off the Montauk Lighthouse they will only hit a small profile lure no matter what you caught them on yesterday. And when they are on massive schools of giant Menhaden they wont hit anything smaller than a dinner plate.
Then they take up summer haunts in cooler waters. The largest Striped Bass biomass in the USA moves into the New England region. Pre and Post Spawn areas are largely abandoned and local anglers turn to other summer species, but the bite is wide open red hot all summer North of their wintering home. Then they do a 180 degree turn and the migration begins all over heading south. The Massachusetts fisherman wave goodbye around September and the massive biomass heads south and the Fall Run begins in the Mid Atlantic with good fishing all the way until the season closes on January 1 in many states.
And they eat everything they encounter all Spring Summer and Fall as they, like true NOMADS, stay on the move. So what type of tackle and methods are there to fish for Striped Bass? In this blog we will leave any kind of natural bait, live and cut, alone. We will focus on 4 basic profiles that make up the bulk of the most effective lures for targeting Stripers.
Let’s start with Swimming Plugs. Probably the oldest style lure and most common. Ever since Rapala released its iconic Original Swimmer in Balsa wood the fishing world has had a love affair with the long, thin, lipped swimmer. Stripers have proven extremely susceptible to them especially in the back bays and on beaches. They mimic a myriad of smaller inshore prey species. There are literally hundreds of Swimming Plugs out there, but the most effective for Striper share a few characteristics. Most are plastic, have rattles, float or suspend, and have a lip usually plastic.
Nomad’s Shikari (means hunter) is a perfect example of a Swimming Plug. While it is plastic it has a feature not found on standard Swimming Plugs. It is through-wired, meaning the body is built around a strong single wire connecting the line tie, the hook hangers and the rear hook. Many is the trophy that was lost due to the inherent weakness in a hollow floating plastic swimming plug. Plus, the Shikar boasts Tungsten weight transfer system that allow for distance casting so crucial to land based angling. Nomad Design also recommends it Maverick lure that is technically a Swimming Plug but of a design no other manufacture offers for Striped Bass. The inshore Maverick with the PATENTED AUTO TUNE SYSTEM has a wobble and profile that back bay and pre spawn bass seem to really love.
Next is the awesomely fun Topwater Plug. Some fish and Topwater Strikes go together like peanut butter and jelly. The heart stopping explosion from a Striped Bass is no exception. Some of Stripers favorite baits like Bunker are encountered on top. These Bunker get to 10-14 inches and are not small. Bass like to ‘rake’ or ‘hit’ their intended victim with their gill plates or their tails to stun it and then in the same movement swirl around and inhale the bait. This is why you see giant Horse Bunker flying high into the air during a ‘blitz’. This is also why you ‘bow to the cow’ meaning you do not strike when you see the hit. When you see a topwater Striper hit, lower your rod and wait. Trying to do this is very hard due to the excitement of the strike. There are two main types of Topwater Plugs. Poppers and Pencils. Poppers have a large cupped head and pops and throws water and attract attention from any top predator.
Nomad’s Chug Norris built for savage Pelagic Trophy fish are more than a match for any Striper ever born. The Pencil looks like a bowling pin. The angler needs to impart the side-to-side action commonly known as ‘walking the dog’. These types of plugs are by far the most exciting to fish.
Nomad’s Dartwing is a classic example of Pencil plug and the side-to-side motion drives stripers crazy. Of all plugs the Pencil is where you must ‘bow to the cow’. If large Bunker schools are around or its early morning or early evening you should also give these a try. Remember, don’t attempt to set that hook on the blowup!
Trolling Lures are without a doubt the most effective way to target Striped Bass. As mentioned Stripers are true Nomads and are always on the move. Every once in a while they pull off the migration freeway and hit a rest stop like the beaches, inlets, sod banks and bays for a quick rest or to follow bait inland. But they spend most of their time on that highway. Nomad, arguably the Market Leader in Trolling Lures, has several offerings that Stripers enjoy best. Basically a large body Swimming Plug with a large lip to get the bait down deep, a good trolling lure can run deep and straight and at varying speeds. When the morning top water bite dwindles you will see boats start to target deeper water and troll covering large amounts of water and looking for an underwater highway traffic jam of Striper. Similarly, when there seems to be no bite and you are looking at dead sea, trolling often saves the day.
Nomad’s DTX lures are perfect for targeting Striper. Because of the PATENETED AUTO TUNE SYSTEM the DTX can be trolled perfectly straight, get to varying depths, and preferred trolling speeds for Striper are less than half of what the mighty DTX is capable of reaching. Recently Nomad released the DTX145 Shallow which is made for a slower troll, wider wobble, and stays higher in the water column. Very good for shallow bays during the spawn, great for Kayakers, and for when Bass are not migrating on the lower end of the water column. While the strike is unseen, the fact is that you will get more fish trolling than with any other presentation.
Finally, we get to Jigging & Vibing for Striped Bass. Just like there is a perfect time for Topwater Plugs, there are times when Striper are not on the Migration Highway and are not shallow, but deep feeding on Sand Eels, Herring, and other bait fish that congregate in bunches well below the surface. Sand Eels in the Fall are a perfect example. Many people’s first experience Striper fishing was with the venerable AVA Diamond Jigs. Jigs have come a long way. Led by companies like Nomad Design jigging lures have come a long way.
Slow Pitch, Speed Jigs and other metals complete with Assist Hooks were born to target pelagic species, but Striper Sharpies have quietly discovered jigs like Nomad’s famous Streaker Jig and the Buffalo Jig get attacked when presented in the right circumstances. Vibes are a new frontier for Striper as the lure is very new to the USA and totally unique.
Nomad’s Vertrex Vibe is a stand alone bait not offered by any other manufacture in the USA. And Striped Bass absolutely tomahawk them. The entire Spring 2022 was filled with pictures of anglers taking Striper on vibes. Shallow, off the beach, pre and post Spawn and out deep during the migration, the vibing action of the Vertrex is something the fish simply cannot ignore. We predict a Vibe will be in every serious Striper anglers bag or box going forward.
So there you have it. This is a very small section of a very large puzzle. A nomadic fish that has a home everywhere, eats anything, and is always up for a fight should be easy to figure out. But in fact they are a giant puzzle, a Rubics cube of fish, that has to be figured out every time you target them. From day to day and even hour to hour. Nomad has the tools to target these fish and we hope you give them a try. Feel free to reach out with Striped Bass Stories or Tips & Techniques we would love to hear from you! Tight Lines!