When the water temperature is just right it’s that time of the year for Striped Bass and knowing what to serve them up for dinner and how to call them in to eat it, is the object of this article on how to catch an angler’s most elusive species of predatory fish. But what do Striped Bass like to Eat
Striped Bass are opportunist feeders & eat a variety of baitfish like bunker, herring,& mackerel. They also target eels, clam, crabs, shrimp,& squid. Stripers can adapt to what is available, nearly everything they come across. They don’t eat continuously but will consume large meals at one time.
A Cow Striper Bass called here on the Northeast Coastline hunt in mudflats and clam beds, places where they don’t have to work hard for a meal, clam flats and mussel beds can provide lots of feed for eels and small minnows as well as crabs and clams, all food to a lazy hungry striper. Offshore bars on the Beach front provide similar opportunities for huge Stripers hunting for their meal.
What do Freshwater Striped Bass Eat
Live bait is a reliable way to catch Stripers in a freshwater river as they move up and down searching for food and spawning, they become quite adaptable to freshwater and the menu that freshwater can provide. Bass will take a number of live and fresh baits, including bunker, clams, eels, sandworms, herring, bloodworms, mackerel, and shad, bluegills, worms, crayfish, bucktails jigs, silver spoons, and sassy shad baits with the last being an excellent bait for freshwater fishing. The key here is Live and Fresh bait. They will hit on most live bait that is smaller than them in size.
3 to 6-inch shiners and Sand Eel (Striper Candy) are a favorite in Delaware where I’m from. Being landlocked there is less variety as there is when running in the ocean. As you know Eel can be expensive and need to be set on the hook properly so that they are free to move and stay alive for the longest duration of time. Eels can be a key to catching the big Bass especially in warmer water. They have what it takes for a picky Bass in fresh or saltwater.
They are hard to handle with their slippery skin and a penchant for getting wrapped up in your line. A favorite way of keeping them is to use ice in a bucket and drop them in it for a few minutes prior to getting them on the hook. When the Eels get cold they slow down and are much easier to handle. As soon as they hit the warmer water they spring to live and head for the bottom.
- Everyone is different but I prefer to hook the Eel through to put a hook through the mouth and then out just behind the gills. I have buddies who,
- as with float fishing think it is best to hook the sand Eel through the tail section. Here is a great video on preparing your rig with an
- Eel at another position for the hook just above the mouth section.
- Yet another is in the lower lip and out just above the upper lip with the idea that the Eel needs to stay alive as long as possible and stay on especially when your fishing under bridges or just above rocky bottoms, ledges and drop-offs.
What is the Best Bait for Striped Bass
Just like all anglers, they all have a favorite bait they can rely on and swear on. Most anglers will list bunker, properly called menhaden, as their top choice of live bait for striper. A close second is a herring but that can change up depending on many variables. It’s always the bait that the bait shop is out of that is the favorite bait that the Bass is hitting on just as in color that is being hit on. Because that changes it makes the Striper somewhat a complicated fish to master.
Softshell crabs are just one obvious bait that fish and tackle carry and run out of and just like Eels they are expensive to use. If you really want to make a striper day, you’ll fish with soft crabs that have shed their shell versus the hardshell variety, but both will work well. Using crabs to catch striped bass works best when fishing in areas known for hatching them, and therefore this bait often works better in the South than in northern waters.
Just like clams, bloodworms, sandworms, mullet, and croakers as long as these baits are found in the waters where you are fishing there is always a better chance. The most important thing to think about when using bait for stripers in the ocean is that they will eat what kind of fish is in the area where you are fishing and being opportunist will eat what is naturally abundant in that situation at that time. The key is Fresh Bait
A chunk of Bunker might be the exact food alone Striper is looking for or not looking for but decides for a split second that he wants it. It’s important to change up. I fish clam beds with clams and if I’m on the beach and the beach is littered with clam shells like what happens after a storm there is a likelihood that predator fish like the Bass are eating the clams that washed out during the storm and end up on the beach.
Best Lures For Striped Bass
There is a lot of controversy about color when it comes to fishing for Striped Bass. With Blue Fish, there is a definite correlation when it comes to color. Any Fish & Tackle Shop will tell you if you are using a Diamond Jig, what fish is biting on what color that day along with what size weight is holding that day in the ocean. Some Striper anglers believe it’s all about the menu and the location. With lures, there might be something to it because the Big Bass can be a bit finicky when it comes to eating. White is a good color because predatory fish laying low will see the white-colored bellies of a baitfish.
Bright colors are bright colors and well, just work better because of the contrast plain and simple. Just my opinion. There have been many studies that have been on how fish see color underwater and how colors work or are seen in different depths of fresh and saltwater. Most people believe that it’s more about the contrast of light more than the color underwater that fish may or may not see. Not that fish aren’t aware of color but the predatory fish may use the color for their advantage in hunting or simply be attracted to it. Meaning switch up
MyWaterEarth&Sky’s Can Fish See Colored Fishing Line Underwater is an article here in this site that explores that subject that can put some of those questions to the test. Water absorbs different wavelengths of color in stages the deeper you go, the less light & color you see. Color that is harder to see at certain depths along with time, season, clarity, algae, muddiness, & characteristics that exist where the fish is located determines if the fish can see the line.
Are striped Bass Bottom Feeders?
Stripers are very opportunistic feeders. They eat a wide variety of baitfish such as bunker, herring, and mackerel. They also eat shellfish like clams crabs shrimp and squid. They don’t eat all the time but when they do it’s normally a large meal. When they acclimate themselves to a new environment like a freshwater river, they will take their time and pick out what seems to be an appetizing meal. This is the reason that their bait range is a larger variety of bait food.
Stripers will often retreat to deep structure or ledges as the light rises. They take advantage of faster currents, cooler water temps (which typically mean more dissolved oxygen), and the prevalence of bottom-dwelling baits (clams, shrimps, crabs, etc,). In short, these are very similar conditions to what can be found on the flats. They will also stay close to their last meal source. If there are bunker schools around and the bite seems to be slowing, anchor near a bottom structure and wait if the bait is there the Bass will eventually be there too.
If you do pick up the activity of baitfish in an area then anchor just up-current where you spotted the baitfish. Fish bottom and higher levels. If you are eel fishing, do not anchor, but plan a careful drift across the piece. Be prepared to repeat a few drifts, it may take some time to get the stripers interested and them to notice the meal.
Don’t think if you are catching on Eels that the Bass won’t change their menu cause they will. When offered something new to them that will interest them they will try something different.
In more cases than not, Stripers are more sporadic in the day and will go deeper when the sun is higher in the sky. So going farther down only makes sense. The darker it is they make the move towards shallower water hunting their dinner. Study the structures in that location when fishing in the surf and you’ll know where to cast as it gets somewhat darker.
Striper Topwater Lures
Working lures for Stiper is mostly based on recommendation and season. So when Eels are naturally heavily populated in the water then the lures turn to Eel shaped colored and if that changes then the shad shaped and colors and depth of water. This will work when the shad or herring is the natural bait found in the waters you are fishing in. When Stripers are on schools of baitfish using a plug can be a very exciting way to catch Bass on topwater.
There are poppers that make a lot of noise and throw up a lot of water which separates them from the rest of the bunker and can make a Stripper excited, to say the least. Some plugs throw a lot of water and also rattles, which helps the bass locate the lure since in many cases, the water is murky it’s not so much about the color any color will produce, and a solid cadence with an occasional pause entices strikes from bass working for a bunker school.
As easy to please as Stripers sometimes are its been my experience and most of my buddies that these dang fish are finicky as well. Poppers that are noisy and make a lot of rackets can make the difference between skunking and catching a finicky fish that bites more on curiosity than hunger. Use Poppers especially when the action is low and food can be plentiful where you are fishing. If the experience of using a few different colored lures brings you only some exercise then you just got a little healthier.
If the lure brings out a giant Bass then you just got a trophy and a story a meal on the grill and a little healthier. So if the water calms use them. Or throw some Diamond Jig with some color worms over the breakers a few times and cover the water that way.
Fish Finder Rigs
I do most of my bass fishing from Island State Park just outside Seaside New Jersey and even though I have been asked numerous times to fish the Delaware River where I’m originally from, and where the odds of landing a Big Bass are very good, especially when they are spawning in the spring, I can’t get myself to do it. To me, there is nothing like pulling a big fish through the surf on a beach. Nothing can compare. I know people that have never been fishing before and have landed huge Stripers by dropping their line overboard and cracking a beer.
It takes a special talent to read structures on a beach and find a lone striper hiding behind a sand bar hunting smaller fish. Learning this is a talent and takes patience. It also takes the right tackle and how to use that tackle because it’s all part of the sport called Surf Fishing.
In New Jersey, there are a few rigs we use but by far the most popular and reliable for Surf Fishing is called Fish Finder Rigs. The weight using heavy Pyramid Sinker in the front of the rig holds your presentation near the bottom, resisting against the current. There was one lesson I learned from fishing here in New Jersey was that using live bait was that it was easy to lose your bait off the surf from small crabs and other garbage that lay on the bottom of the surf close to the beach and that you needed to cover some area with your line so that it presents itself and wouldn’t bury itself in the sand. For species right off the surf here in Jersey like Drum, Blues and all-time favorite Striped Bass folks here use the Fish Finder Rigs.
The Fish Finder Rigs are sold everywhere within a 10-mile radius of the shore at every Tackle Shop and even online. They are good for a variety of fish even Flounder or Shark and can hold heavy currents and cover bigger areas without losing control of your line. They are built with:
- For average size 20-40 ” species-5/0 Circle Hook, 18″ Steel Leader #40 Lb., 8 MM Dia. Red Bead, Size 5 Sinker Slide, 3 Oz. Pyramid Sinker
- For Bigger species 40-+ species -8/0 Circle Hook, 36″ Steel Leader #80 Lb., 8MM Dia. Red Bead, Size 6 Sinker Slide, 6 Oz. Pyramid Sinker.
The Fish Finder Rig is made to use with cut size baits like a bunker, mullet, and squid all fresh and also available up and down the East Coast. Live bait is not recommended because of the roughness of the surf. Also, the water along the coast is full of aquatic life that will pick your bait; If that the case raises the bait up a few inches by raising the rig up off the ocean floor pegging afloat. Most people want to avoid the Skate, Sand Shark, and other trash fish that will take up your time and energy during that special time when the water is most active.
Absolutely use a Fish Finder Rig and the right size leader and circle hook for success on any coastal surf, especially here in New Jersey. Thanks to Taylor Tackle for the great image.
Get that bait whatever it is and stay deeper because of this where your best chance of bringing home your dream Bass is. Add more weight to keep your line and bait deep holding current. Bait your hook for the monster Striper, not his little brother. If your hitting Bluefish check for damaged rigs and always check and recheck your bait. keep clams tied to your circle hook with elastic string.
Don’t let your bait sit out without checking it. To catch that cow Bass you need bait on your hook! Good Luck this season!