The Best Bait for Striped Bass
Striped bass is one of the most popular fish to target on the East Coast. Big, hungry, and a great fighter, there’s a reason why these beautiful salt and freshwater specimens rank highly as local anglers’ favorite targets.
But while the striped bass has a voracious appetite and is very opportunistic, if you want to reel in a big catch or several, you need the right bait for every scenario.
The best bait for striped bass will depend on a few different factors, including what kind of food it likes, how to bait up your rod in different environments, and what time of year is best for attracting this popular fish.
If you’re fishing for striped bass, AKA stripers or rockfish, this guide is for you! We’ve listed every bait the striped bass prefers, as well as how to fish for them in different environments.
What Kind Of Bait Does A Striped Bass Like?
The striped bass’ healthy appetite means that it has a tendency to eat a wide variety of different baits. But that doesn’t mean you should just toss any old piece of chum into the water and hope for the best. Just like all bass, stripers have their favorite foods, and by using them strategically, you can increase your chances of hooking one.
Generally speaking, stripers will go for whatever bait they are already feeding on. But the most important point to note is that they want their bait as fresh as possible.
As natural hunters that often breed in busy, prey-dense areas, they already have live food options available, so matching their taste with fresh or as recently fresh as possible bait is one of the best ways to make sure they chomp down on your hook.
Some of the best options include:
- Bunker (menhaden)
Bunker, also known as menhaden or mossbunker, is widely considered the best bait to use for attracting striped bass. This small, tasty little fish is a popular menu item for bigger fish like the striped bass.
You can cut bunker up into small bits, drift them, or simply attach them onto a regular weighted rig. A tactic that many fishermen use is to chop off the bunker’s tail and drop the bait down into a school of fish, serving as an easy-to-spot chumming treat for surrounding bass.
Live bunker is ideal for catching striped bass, but a recently killed bunker will work just fine, so long as it is very fresh. Bass tend to like the heads, so don’t forget to add those onto your hook or even use them on their own as attractive bait for this feisty fish.
Worms are a pretty fail-safe bait choice for any fish, stripers included. In both saltwater and freshwater, fish are likely to head straight towards these nutritious little wrigglers.
You can use all types of worms as bait to attract striped bass: sandworms, bloodworms, or even nightcrawlers all do the trick. The only downside to using worms for bait is that many different types of fish like to eat them, so be prepared for more than just the striped bass to take a bite.
Fatty, oily, nutritious mackerel is a tasty treat for striped bass. It’s one of the most popular striped bass baits, and for good reason. Mackerel has a pungent scent, making them easy to track, they have thick flesh that holds together well on a hook, and just about every part of their anatomy makes great bait.
Frozen or fresh chunks of mackerel are likely to attract hungry striped bass and act as an irresistible bait that most of these fish won’t be able to resist.
While eels may not be the striped bass’ first choice for a meal, they will happily take it if food supplies are low and they encounter one unexpectedly. Pop a small eel onto a bobber or add them to lures for a simple, easy, and rather wriggly bait—perfect for drawing in the observant bass’ attention.
If you’re fishing in an area where eels are common, your chances of success are higher because the local bass have likely incorporated them into their main diet.
A lot of people also use eels as bait for striped bass because very few other fish will go for them, making them a clear beacon for striped bass that often results in success.
Clams are not a typical part of the striped bass’ diet, but that’s only because they lack the tools for opening those tight, hard shells. Without the obstacle of a shell in their way, most striped bass are delighted to see a freshly shelled clam in their path. It’s one of the best baits for bass.
A big perk to using clams is that their scent is incredibly strong and travels well in water. If a striped bass picks up on it, they’ll do what they can to locate it and claim it for themselves.
Stripers are greedy, and they’re not particularly smart. If you haven’t got any live bait around, a big, colorful lure scented with crab scent or squid juice can be just as effective for reeling in a big striped bass. Topwater lures, plastic worms, and bucktail jigs are popular options, as are trolling rigs such as tube lures. Lots of options here.
How To Attract Striped Bass In Different Fishing Environments
Striped bass are found all over the US, but most specifically from the outlet of the Mississippi River, down the Gulf of Mexico, all the way around to Nova Scotia in Canada.
Evidently, the striped bass is comfortable in a variety of environments, including various open-ocean migratories, rivers, and lakes along the way. This makes it one of the more populous and accessible species to fish for. However, different fishing areas produce striped bass that develops unique behaviors and tendencies, all of which are worth learning about if you’re serious about catching them.
From shore fishing to river fishing, there are plenty of different environments in which you might want to attract a striped bass. Here are some of the most common ones with tips for fishing striped bass in each.
- Shore fishing: The best way to catch a striped bass at shore is to wait until dawn or dusk. These fish like to hunt in low-light periods of the day and will be more receptive to your lures at these times.
If you want to catch a really big striper, opt for after-dusk when the light is really dark, and use bait that has a strong scent so that they can easily identify it.
- Boat fishing: Bunker dunks and clams are considered the best bait for boat fishing striped bass. Bunker heads are the most effective, and if you are anchored, clams will work well too.
Just after a big storm is a good time to fish from a boat because the bass knows that clams and other attractive food sources may have been whipped up from the water’s motion.
- Kayak fishing: If you’re fishing for bass from a kayak, it’s safer to use simple, easy bait that stripers like, such as lures or worms. This minimizes the amount of set-up needed, making it ideal for the limited space. You’ll also want to use longer, more flexible rods to make for easier reeling.
- Lake fishing: Freshwater stripers are popular fish to angle for because they can grow bigger than some saltwater varieties. Fishing for striped bass in a lake requires good topwater lures or simple bait like worms or crawlers that freshwater bass are likely to go for. The area you fish in depends on how far you can cast, so keep this in mind when baiting up.
- River fishing: Similar to lake fishing, river fishing can call for solid topwater lures and classical baits. However, due to the flow of water, there is more room to play with other bait types.
Mackerel, eels, and clams are not common food sources in rivers, so striped bass may be attracted to the unusual specimens. Chunks of bunker (again, particularly the heads) almost always attract striped bass, so if you’ve got those on hand, use them.
No matter where you are, striped bass are relatively unfussy eaters that will take most baits that resemble their regular meal type.
Best Time Of Year To Fish For Striped Bass
You can fish for stripers just about every month of the year, but they’re more likely to bite during the in-between seasons, like spring and fall. During these seasons, their natural food supplies are in flux, so they are even more opportunistic than usual. For the best results, aim to fish for striped bass through March-May and July-November.
Reliable Ways To Attract A Rockfish
Striped bass are one of the most popular and hungry fish around, making them incredibly fun to fish for. With a big appetite for diverse bait types and a proclivity for myriad water dwellings, it’s no surprise that striped bass is considered a favorite.
These fish like to eat just about everything: bunker, eels, clams, mackerel, worms, and will even go for lures under the right conditions. Now you know the best baits for striped bass, you can get out there, hit the water, and see what happens.