Hey there my fellow fishing enthusiasts and welcome to my post covering my 5 best bait options for catching Striped Bass this year. Now I have to admit to being a traditional bait user for most of my fishing life as I like to find a good spot and then see what I can attract. Of course there is maybe not the excitement of attracting and working a fish as there is with lures, however it can be just as much fun for sure.
However, when it comes to Striped Bass and their feeding habits, there are other aspects to it such as how they find their food as well matching the bait to the location and presenting it in a manner that will make it attractive to them as well.
So let’s check out some good live bait options for Striped Bass below …
What is Livebait?
For the purposes of this post I am going to give the name live bait to anything that is, or has at some point been alive (often referred to as ‘natural bait’). This means that it can actually be alive (often kept in a live bait well for example), fresh but dead or even frozen. This is opposed to lures, which are artificial creations designed to mimic live bait.
Obviously the type you choose will vary based on local conditions however when it comes to using live bait, I would stick to the following two rules:
- Use local bait if possible – Striped Bass are generally found in open saltwater areas such as beaches and estuaries however they do venture into freshwater lakes and rivers to spawn meaning there can be a variation on what is available to them within their local habitats.
- They move fast – This is a species that spends a lot of time on or around the surface hence tend to feed on baitfish so something along these lines is always a good choice.
- Go to a local bait shop – In most cases, the local bait shop will sell bait that is good for local conditions. If in doubt, ask the shop keeper or a local.
That said, as with most species, Striped Bass are opportunistic when it comes to their eating habits meaning they will eat just about anything dead or alive such as Clams, sea worms, fish fillets and anything else they can find as well.
- You can match exactly to what fish eat naturally
- Generally easy to use
- Often cheaper than lures
- Most fish will take a bait
- You can cast and let the bait sit in the water (i.e. no need to cast and retrieve)
- Bait is great for kids (meaning they can at least catch something)
- It is smelly and gets all over your clothes, tackle box and everything else take with you
- Will deteriorate in the sun
- Fish tend to swallow the hook more with bait (making catch and release more difficult)
- You can lose a lot more to smaller or vermin species
- Bait can come off hook easier in faster moving water
- You need to make more tools with you such as a knife and cutting board
My recommended live bait options for Striped Bass
Based on my own experience and research, let’s have a look at the main 5 options I have listed above in more detail:
Also known Pogies, Alewives or Menhaden, Bunker can be considered the bait fish of choice when it comes to chasing massive Stripers in most saltwater waterways. If you are looking for them live, search for them milling on the surface in any river or harbor – usually around sunrise. From there you can get them with a good live bait net or even jigging a run of small bait hooks.
When fishing, the best method with these is to simply hook it through the nostrils with a largish hook (around 7/0 – 9/0) and let it swim unweighted. Alternatively, should you be fishing in an area where the fish are a little deeper, try a dropper or paternoster rig to keep the live bait a little closer to the bottom.
Should the Bunkers not be readily available, American Shad is another species native to North America. These are ocean based however as the waters warm inland, they return to freshwater rivers to breed – which allows you to use them to follow the Stripers as they head up there as well.
Full-grown Shad are a good catching and table fish in their own right however as they school as juveniles, they make good livebait for Striped Bass (and Largemouth if they are around) in the months covering Spring and Summer as above. And look, if they are around, you could substitute Herring, Whitebait or Pilchards here instead as well.
Set the line as per Bunkers above.
Live Eels are another popular bait for Striped Bass as they are strong and will stay alive from quite a while when on the hook. They are great for chasing Stripers in inlets whilst drifting with a Carolina Rig. Their only issue is that they can twist around when on the hook which can cause tangles in the line.
If you are planning to use live eels however, you will need to actually ‘fish’ for them first using a standard running sinker rig with a small hook (1/0 or 2/0) and night crawlers or sea worms as bait.
Sea Worms can be a fantastic bait for many saltwater species and a very popular option for Striped Bass as well. They will work with just about any rig and work best when chasing them on the bottom rather than the surface. Sea worms are threaded onto the entire hook with the excess left hanging over the front. Anther advantage here is that they freeze extremely well and do not appear to lose their attractiveness to your prey.
As with Eels above, catching sea worms is a pastime that takes some practice to get right. You will generally need a mesh bag (we use panty hose ourselves) filled with old bait, fish frames or even cat food that is then drags along the beach at the waterline.
As the worms smell the scent from the bags, they will stick their heads out of the sand ready for you to grab them – this is the bit that takes practice, but once you get it, it really is good fun.
And finally, the last on this list is Mullet. Mullet is another option that is popular for most saltwater fishing options due to the fact that they form a massive part of the natural diet of Striped Bass in a good number of locations. Small bait fish sized Mullet (we call them Poddy Mullet) are the perfect size as a bait fish and can be set as per Bunkers above.
Alternatively, Mullet fillets are another great option as they are super strong (meaning they will stay on the hook longer) as well as being rather oily and smelly – which attracts the fish. Mullet fillets work well when fishing on both the beach, or if drifting from a boat in an inlet.
What should you be looking for?
As you look to source and use your own live bait, below are some things that you may want to consider when using bait for Striped Bass:
Where the fish are – We have touched on this above however the type of bait you choose can depend on where you are trying to catch your fish. For example if you are working in shallow waters, then eels, mullet fillets or even crabs or crayfish would work well. Keep in mind here that unlike lures, you are generally not casting and retrieving a bait so you will need to match your bait to the species that are found in that area.
Weight requirements – Bait weight, usually determined by the size or amount of bait you use, is important for a number of reasons including:
- Heavier baits can be cast a little further – this may include rigging with a sinker.
- Heavier baits will anchor and drag on the bottom more effectively (which is good if you are in a kayak or on a boat).
- Lighter weights are easier to jig and ‘flick’ around.
- Lighter baits will float better than their heavier counterparts – which is where small baitfish will work.
Again, do your research into the environment that you are fishing in. If you are working in shallower waters, then a light weighted bait will work very well. Heaver options may be needed in deeper areas however they will ‘catch’ on the bottom a lot more often and fall off if you are drifting.
Rod specifications – The next consideration (and a very important one) is to ensure that any bait size you use fits within the specification details of your fishing rod for Striped Bass. In some cases, rod specs include a tackle weight which is the highest designated weight that the rod can handle.
In most cases, however, you are going to be looking at this from the power rating of the rod. This is effectively a measure of how ‘bendy’ it is. Light power rods bend with little force and heavy ones need a lot of pressure to bend. So, in short:
- Light – very bendy – even whippy – will bend a lot with even the smallest fish. Use these for light baits only.
- Medium – needs a bit more pressure to bend – In general, this is a good measure for all-round use with light to medium-weighted baits for Striped Bass fishing.
- Heavy – takes a lot to make it bend – I would probably avoid these for Striped Bass fishing unless you are working in particularly deep water.
In general, the main rule of thumb when it comes to using bait is to match your hook to its size. As Striped Bass have big mouths I would err on the side of a larger hook as well meaning you will avoid getting caught up with smaller species.
Stick to a 5/0 to 9/0 hook with a bait size to match with the hook set through the snout on a running sinker or running float rig.
Local knowledge – As mentioned a number of times in this post, when I discuss live bait options for any fishing type, I always say to check with the locals to see what is found in the local system. The idea behind this is that you want to match your bait to what it is that the fish eat naturally.
And there it is – my post covering the best bait for Striped Bass to munch on this year. I hope it has been helpful and as usual, please let me know of your experiences with them.
Also, please do not hesitate to comment below if you have any questions, concerns, corrections, or would like me to check anything else out for you.
Until next time