Although striped bass will take artificial lures, the best way to hook into a truly big fish is by using natural bait. Stripers will take a variety of live offerings, from baitfish and eels to crustaceans and squid. Hook and present them as live bait or prepare and rig them as cut bait. Striped bass will eagerly attack these offerings.
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Live American eels make excellent striper bait. Long and slender, these fish begin their lives in saltwater and then migrate to freshwater to grow. At maturity, they return to saltwater to spawn. Eels are tough fish and stay alive as bait for a long time. They are also easy to keep on the hook. Because of their size, eels can easily be cast without being weighted. Slowly retrieve the eel along the bottom for best effect.
Sea herring also make good bait for striped bass. These fish can be hooked live for drift fishing or fished dead, rigged using a method known as plug cutting. In this method, the head of the fish is cut off at a diagonal. The body is then rigged with one hook trailing near the tail and another hook through the front of the spine. This makes the rig spin slowly, attracting stripers.
Menhaden, also known as bunker or pogy, congregate in very large schools near shore. Rarely growing larger than a pound in weight, these fish are perfect bait for striped bass. Many times, striper fisherman will catch menhaden on lightweight rods and reels, then immediately transfer the little fish to larger reels as bait for stripers.
Stripers love eating a type of fish called spot, a member of the drum family. They make a distinctive croaking or drumming sound with their swim bladder when distressed. These seasonal fish average 6 inches to 8 inches in length and can usually be caught offshore with a cast net between late spring and early fall. Rig a spot by hooking it through its upper lip.
When the mullet are running, they make excellent bait. Smaller-sized mullet, often called finger mullet, can frequently be caught in the shallows using a cast net. Because these fish school readily, they can be caught in large numbers. Be aware that bluefish also love mullet and may be quick to take your bait before stripers can get to it.
Several species of shad can also be used to fish for striped bass. These include gizzard shad, threadfin shad and shiners. Gizzard and threadfin shad can be caught using cast nets, and shiners are often available at local bait shops.
Crustaceans, Shellfish, Worms and Squid
Stripers also like many types of crustaceans and will take these as live bait regularly. Baits within this category include a variety of species of crab, shrimp and especially lobster. Clams, oysters and scallops also make good striper bait, as do both blood worms and sandworms. Squid, either whole or as cut bait, also works well.