Best Bait for Striped Bass and How to Use It

Jan 3, 2024 | 6 minute read Comments
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Reading Time: 6 minutes

Striped Bass is the East Coast’s favorite fish. There’s just no competing with them. From salty sea dogs to family fishermen and their kids, everyone loves Stripers. They’re fun to target in a wide range of ways, which gives you a ton of options when you go to fill your bait box. Today, we’re breaking down the best bait for Striped Bass, and how and when to use it.

Striper Bait Basics

A photo of an angler wearing a cap and a pair of sunglasses while standing on a charter boat and holding Striped Bass on a sunny but cold day

One of the most important things to consider when choosing bait is what the fish are already eating. Striped Bass spend most of their lives chasing something or other along coastlines and rivers. Use that to your advantage by using what the fish are currently feeding on.

Whatever bait you’re going for, make sure it’s good and fresh. Live bait should be lively and healthy. Dead bait should be as fresh as possible. A simple way to tell this is by looking at the eyes. If they’re clear and bright, the fish is fresh. Red eyes mean they’re getting old, while glazed-eyed fish aren’t going to be nearly as effective.

Lastly, a note on safe release. Non-offset circle hooks are a must for bait fishing and are actually required by law in a lot of places. They reduce the risk of deep hooking the fish, giving them the best chance to survive after release. Considering the dwindling numbers of Stripers along the East Coast, we recommend always releasing Stripers in these waters.

Best Bait for Striped Bass

Now’s the time to dive deep into what makes these fish bite. There are numerous options for bait that Striped Bass are favorable to – both live and artificial. Let’s check them out…

Live Bait

Bunker (Menhaden)

A Bunker or Menhaden, the best bait for Striped Bass placed on the wet sand on the beach ready to be used for fishing

Bunker is hands-down the best bait for Striped Bass (we’ll lump in alewife here in freshwater, as you can use them in similar ways). Cast them on simple weighted rigs, drift them, or cut them up for chum. The simplest tactic is to chop the tail off and liveline it in a school. The fish will sink below the pack and become an irresistibly easy meal. 

If you can’t get live bunker, dead bait is a good backup, as long as it’s fresh. Discard the tail and cut the rest into three pieces. The head is useful when other fish are about, as only Stripers really take it. The body cavity is full of mostly blood and viscera and makes the very best bait. The part leading down to the tail is all meat and is good as bait or cut up for chum.

Eels

An photo of an eel swimming among the rocks near the bottom surrounded with underwater vegetation

Eels aren’t the surefire Striper magnets that bunkers are, but they’re not far off. You can drift, troll, or cast them. Add them to lures or let them wriggle under a bobber. It’s tough to go wrong if you’re fishing somewhere where eels naturally live.

One real perk of fishing with eels is that most fish don’t go for them. Bluefish may take a bite, but smaller fish will generally avoid them. Another real bonus for land-based anglers is that they’re easy to keep alive as long as they stay cold and damp. The main downside to them is how squirmy and slimy they are!

Worms

Lots of live sandworms in a bucket of saltwater

Worms are some of the best bait for just about any fish. Freshwater or saltwater, you can’t go wrong. And with a fish like Striped Bass that lives in both, this doubles their usefulness. The freshwater crowd usually uses nightcrawlers. You can use them in the sea, too, but people tend to go for bloodworms or sandworms instead.

The main problem with worms is that, well, they’re so effective. Every fish in the food chain will want a piece of them. And bear in mind that blood and sandworms aren’t cheap! They work well, but if you’re not digging them up, you’d better be prepared to fork out for them.

Clams

A pile of cut up clams on a board, prepared for use as chum

Striped Bass can’t normally eat clams, as their mouths aren’t tough enough to break shells. They love them, though, and rarely turn down the chance of gobbling up broken ones. Anglers are happy to help by casting or chumming freshly-shelled clams. Removing the shell also makes them much easier to rig – win-win!

Clams are so effective because of the sheer amount of scent they give off. Stripers will sniff them out even in the murkiest waters. In fact, they’ll be looking for them. Clams work best in areas with lots of current and hard structure, where clams naturally get caught in the current and get smashed on rocks.

Mackerel

A close-up of live Mackerel held up in one hand above water with shoreline and houses in the background

The northeasters among you were probably wondering when we’d mention mackerel. These oily fish are among the best Striper baits out there, and they’re a staple of the Striped Bass scene from New York to New Brunswick. 

You can liveline mackerel with devastating results, but most people buy them fresh or frozen and cut them up for chunk baits. You get plenty of cuts per fish thanks to their shape, and their oily meat sends a strong scent trail through the water. What’s more, their tough meat holds together well, making them perfect for casting through the surf.

Squid

Using squid around the 2–5-inch mark is perfect for Striped Bass. They’re softer and easier for Bass to get down and the fish simply can’t resist the taste. You may find it difficult to find squid on your own, and most bait shops don’t sell them live. The best bet is to buy some frozen squid at a bait shop or a local grocery store.

Artificial Lures

A red and green topwater lure being dragged across the water in an attempt to attract a fish on a bright day

Topwater Lures 

Topwater lures are great for Striped Bass, especially in early morning or sunset conditions. You just need to “walk the dog” as you jerk your pole, causing a zig-zag motion of your bait along the surface of the water. You’ll hear a little clicking sound as your bait maneuvers around. The best part about using a topwater is that the fish will break through the surface to eat it, creating a heart-racing moment. 

Soft Plastics Paired with Jig Heads

Soft plastics are another popular artificial bait option for Striped Bass, especially when paired with jig heads. The idea is to get a lure that imitates a real creature that Stripers eat. Look for some that may resemble eels, crabs, shrimp, small fish, etc. When you place these in their direction… well, just one glance and they’ll be chasing your bait.

Jigs

A photo of a Striped Bass with a hard-boddied jig in its mouth

Jigs are another successful option. These baits go beneath the surface and make lots of movement and noise, attracting nearby Stripers. They may also shine or glimmer a bit as the plastic skirts dance around.

Spoons

Similar to topwater lures and jigs, spoons also entice Striped Bass thanks to their shine, movement, and noise. These can be casted and reeled in quickly, which is a reason why a lot of anglers enjoy using them. Treble hooks are in place to also give further chances at a successful hook set.

A World of Ways to Reel in a Rockfish

A photo of an angler posing with Striped Bass and holding it with both hands while sitting in a charter boat

Stripers, Rockfish, Linesiders – whatever you call them, everyone agrees that they’re seriously fun to fish for. They grow big, fight hard, and inhale just about anything you throw at them. We’ve listed some of the best bait for Striped Bass. Now it’s time to put it to use. Get out there, hit the water, and start fighting fish!

What’s your go-to bait for Stripers?  Do you usually use live bait, cut bait, or lures? Let us know your top tips and fishing stories in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

This article was written with help from Caitlyn Gatrell who provided invaluable insight into all the different baits and lures anglers can use for Striped Bass.

Comments (16)

George

Jan 25, 2024

My dad taught us 50 years ago about slow retiveing a redfin at night.
Or live and rigged eels.
He’s 86 know and we still use both to great effect.

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    Tanya

    Jan 26, 2024

    Thank you for sharing your story with us George. It’s always good to hear from our fellow anglers, especially when the have a long family tradition of fishing Tight lines!

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Joe

Feb 27, 2023

The number one can’t miss stripper fishing in Boston Harbor is tube and worm. I have been trolling tube and worms for over thirty years and I have never gone home without catching at least one or more fish. But like any fishing technique you have to know how to troll them. The two most important things to focus on is trolling speed and the way the tube moves in the water. Once you master those you will never go home without catching fish again.

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    Marko

    Feb 28, 2023

    Hi Joe,

    Thanks for getting in touch, that’s great advice! It’s always great to hear from anglers who really know their fisheries.

    I hope you enjoyed the article.

    Tight lines,

    Marko

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kevin

Feb 26, 2023

I fish fresh water for Stripers, and I like to throw a Walleye assassin in salt and pepper on a 3/8 oz black nickle chartreuse lead head. I troll them on Umbrella rigs, cast them in boils, vertical jig them, and cast them in shallow water when the Stripers have Shad in the shallows. So many ways to use them😊

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    Marko

    Feb 27, 2023

    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for getting in touch! That’s great stuff, you’ll definitely give other anglers reading this a few ideas 🙂

    I hope you enjoyed the article!

    Tight lines,

    Marko

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Dennys perez

Aug 12, 2022

It’s the middle of August what’s a recommendation for stripper bait at this time ?

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    Andriana

    Aug 15, 2022

    Hello Dennys,

    Thanks for the question. When it comes to choosing the best bait for Stripers in August, it all depends on where you’re fishing and what the Bass are currently feeding on in the body of water you’re fishing on.

    In general, you can’t go wrong with live bait – shad, herring, and manhaden (also known as bunker, alewives, and pogies) are irresistible to Stripers. You can also try your luck with bloodworms and sandworms, live eels, and even cut clams.

    I’d recommend talking to local fishermen or going to a nearby tackle shop – the local insight is always the best.

    I hope you have a blast fishing for Stripers, Dennys.

    All the best!

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    Brian

    Oct 17, 2022

    Chicken liver!

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    Wayne Stauffer

    Apr 7, 2024

    I have caught them on chicken liver when I was finishing for catfish in the Delaware river.

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Laurie MacDonald

Jul 14, 2022

I fish them with flies on the surface . It’s the only way I could consider.

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Reid

Jun 6, 2022

Chicken liver works great……

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    Marko

    Jun 7, 2022

    Hi Reid,

    Thanks for getting in touch. Chicken liver is definitely good Striper bait, they seem to love the smell!

    Hope you enjoyed the article.

    Tight lines,

    Marko

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Steve M

May 2, 2022

Great article. How do get/find the bunker fish? Is it caught in the open? What type of rig? Or can it be purchased?

Thanks.

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    Marko

    May 2, 2022

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for getting in touch! You can usually find bunker in boat basins and marinas where there’s deeper water. The best way to catch them is with a net. Of course, you can always check if any of the bait shops in your area have them in stock.

    Hope the info helps!

    Tight lines,

    Marko

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Will Wiant

Apr 29, 2022

I have been fishing Stripers in the Salt for over 40 years. Everyone of these baits will work, and I have used them all, though living in Ma I swear by sand eels. I just love to fish with them. I have some really good footage of a 40 lber inhaling a live eel.

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