Each spring, the large river systems of the Northeast are inundated with marine striped bass as they make their way upstream during spawning. Stripers are anadromous and spawn in freshwater before returning to saltwater and continuing their journey up the East Coast. For landlocked anglers this is a real treat as it gives them the chance to get tangled up with this powerful and prized game fish. And knowing how to catch striped bass with live bait is the name of the game if you want to catch the biggest stripers in the system.
While stripers are certainly the focus, they’re not the only fish making their way to freshwater to spawn. River herring also travel upstream and are usually the first to arrive. Where legal, there is no more efficient way to catch stripers than using the same bait they are following. However, regulations vary between river systems and it is important to check local regulations before entering the water.
Recommended Striper Fishing Gear
Up and down the East Coast, striper anglers should use circle hooks, as they allow for easy release of fish without damaging them when bait fishing. This is important to remember when selecting striper fishing tackle. You can find circle hooks at BassPro.com.
The larger spinning reels in the 5000 to 7000 size class possess the line capacity to handle long runs. Some anglers prefer conventional baitcaster reels for the added drag and extra power needed to pull big fish out of the current. Reels must be wound with high quality braid, not less than 50lbs. No matter the style of reel, bait clickers will alert anglers to a run when multiple lines are used. Additionally, bait clickers allow a fish to move freely with the bait.
When it comes to rod selection, anglers should stick to shorter, medium, and heavier models with fast actions. Rods 7 feet or shorter provide better leverage for big fish in strong currents. Some companies make rods specifically for striper fishing, for example the Ugly Stick MH 7ft Striper.
To achieve a proper set of hooks, extreme patience helps. Once the clicker of the bait is activated, it is important that the fish is allowed to hold a run before hooking the reel. Once the gear is engaged, the fast action of the rod comes into play as it ‘loads’ into the rod holder, perfectly hooking the fish in the corner of the mouth. If the rod is lifted too soon it can come loose and cause you to lose your fish.
See more Striper fishing tackle at BassPro.com.
Catch bait for stripers
The most common method of catching bait is a traditional Sabiki rig, which is nothing more than a series of small, shiny flies on a length of line with a weight attached to the bottom. The trick is to use enough weight to make bottom contact while staying vertical. After marking a school of bait on the fish finder, it is relatively common to catch multiple baits with a single drop of the rig. While it is possible to locate these shoals in the main channel of the river, it is easier to find them in the shallows or in currents. Be aware of where there are large schools of bait, as stripers will not be far behind.
While a large hatchery is needed to store large quantities of bait, a bucket of river water is sufficient to keep some herring alive for extended periods of time. Often the action is so constant that while one angler fights one fish, the others work hard to secure bait for the next fish.
Best Striped Bass Fishing Rigs
Anglers often drag live bait or anchor and bottom fish.
When drifting, the rig is essentially a standard Carolina rig. A barrel swivel connects the main line to a strong fluorocarbon leader, not less than 50 lbs. A barrel plumb bob sits above the swivel, separated by a cord to protect the knot. The size of the weight depends on the current levels and the depth lines are marked.
At anchor, anglers often use a “fish finder” rig, using a lead slider instead of a barrel sinker. The sinker slider allows the angler to drop the bait over the side of the boat and open the reel to let it out downstream. This is critical as large herring are difficult to cast. A bench or pyramid-style plumb bob clips onto the slider.
A 7/0 circle hook is perfect for most sizes of herring. It is highly recommended to tie the leader to the hook with a snell knot, as it gives anglers a straight line pull towards the fish, resulting in more secure hooks. To hook the bait, insert the circle hook through one nostril, keeping the baitfish alive and providing enough space for the exposed hook.
The best artificial lures for striped bass
Live or chunk herring is by far the easiest way to spend a great day on the water. However, artificial tactics can be successful and are a great way to pick up extra fish when the boat is drifting over an active school.
Often in these spring conditions, the visibility of the water is far from crystal clear. Don’t be afraid of loud, flashy colors. Also, when selecting jig trailers, make sure they emit a lot of vibration.
Examples of artificial lures for stripers would include the following:
Best Locations for River Stripers
In addition to the obvious of fishing around the most concentrated bait schools, bridges, breakwater banks, and woodpiles all contain fish. However, the most productive areas tend to be on shallow flats adjacent to turns that are too internal to the main river channel. Herring often accumulate on these flats to escape strong currents. Stripers will navigate the edges of these floors to feed, then use the quick access to deep water for cover.
Start the day by setting drift baits to identify productive locations. Once the active fish are located, it is time to anchor and bottom fish the area. Focus on areas with multiple large schools of herring and drift between them. Start in the deepest water possible and then move shallower with each pass. If the fish are not found after you have covered all the depths, it is time to move on.
I am incredibly fortunate to be connected to such a talented father and son team of stripper fans from the Fort Plain, New York area. They are extremely detail oriented anglers and pride themselves on bringing big fish to the boat.
On the first day of our most recent trip, we immediately anchored in a historically good spot. In a matter of minutes, we doubled up on fish in the 40-inch class. The action stayed red hot for the rest of the day, until we got completely tired and couldn’t catch the bait.
The next morning, we did it again, and this time there were several boats around our production area from the day before. However, by staying as close to the edge of a shallow feeding plane as possible, we were able to pick up right where we left off. Boats that were a bit deeper or shallower than us were not having as much success.
All size classes of stripers will be present in these river systems during the spring run. However, larger fish are likely to stick to specific locations. Effective modeling of these larger fish will be the difference between having a slow day or catching dozens of stripers in the 40-50 inch class!
Tips for Handling Striped Bass
Many stripers caught in these situations are part of vitally important spawning classes and must be treated with extreme care. Consider keeping the fish in the water throughout the unhooking and measuring process. If you plan to remove a fish from the water for a quick photograph, fish tongs and an extra hand should be used to help control and safely support the fish’s body weight.
If you love catching big fish and love the all out fight of a big fish in the current then you owe it to yourself to experience stripe fishing like this. It’s an amazing fight with absolute trophy fish.