Hone in on catching picky stripers.
Just recently, I came across a bite of stripers that had me scratching my head until I could hone in on a specific technique that was working for them. While I’m not typically the fisherman that uses bait, I switched because nothing else at all was producing results. And even when using bait, I had to be specific about it.
I’ll describe the scenario and what I did to succeed.
The month of April saw an impressive bite of stripers on open water in my area. Essentially it was a bite of fish from schoolies to about 37 inches feeding around the bunker schools that moved into the bay. An array of different techniques, both plugging and bait worked. Some resorted to the snag-and-redeploy method, while others casted poppers or soft plastic lures. All these methods did work during the month.
Fast forward a bit, and those bunker schools started moving from the bays into the creeks and rivers. It was there that I came across fish that at first frustrated me. I discovered this by heading up one of these creeks one day, and I started working one of my favorite striper-finding plugs (Doc Spook) over a hole around 10 feet in depth. Standing on the bow of my boat and looking into the water with my polarized sunglasses, I could see four fish trailing behind the plug as I brought it closer to the boat. Another cast over the hole and similar results. I tried speeding up the retrieve, slowing it down, and even switching plugs and then to soft plastic lures. These fish didn’t want any of it! Frustrating, to say the least! There’s nothing more annoying than knowing fish are right in front of you, and you can’t get them to commit.
I then noticed some bunker flipping in a back cove, and while snagging bunker and using them for bait isn’t always something I like to do, I was just about out of options. Deep in my tackle bag, I found a snag that I probably haven’t used in over a year and casted it out. The bunker were not in a tight school, and snagging one did become a task in itself. After some effort, I was able to get that treble to connect with one and brought it to the boat. On my second rod, I had a 9/0 Gamakatsu circle hook. Carefully running the point through one nostril and out the other, I plopped that bunker over that hole. This time, literally within seconds, that bunker was right on the surface and panicking. This time the striper that followed my plug before had no doubts about the bunker. In under 30 seconds, that bunker was in the mouth of that striper, and I came tight with it by just reeling that circle hook right into the corner of that striper’s mouth. After a short fight, I let a 33-inch fish go.
The next evening I was able to get some bunker with the use of a cast net, and I had myself a half-dozen prime baits. I went back and set up on the anchor and proceeded to cast a bunker out, and right before it hit the water, I would grab the line, resulting in a plop similar to an eel hitting the water. I believe doing that brings in the interest of any striper in the area. Just as I suspected, each bait produced action from a striped bass. I eant 4 for 6 with stripers up to 35 inches. I even tried switching back to plugs during this and experienced similar results to my first day. The fish would not commit.
Taking it a step further, I even went back with some fresh chunked bunker at night, I would have been willing to put money on a positive result, but — nope. I didn’t get a single touch on the freshest possible chunks.
Also, after some time doing this, I realized that these bass wanted lively bunker that were struggling. The ones that were just about to die were ignored, so keeping baits in the best possible shape proved to be a key part of this.
My setup was straightforward. The rod was a St Croix 7-foot, 6-inch Rift spinning rod with a 5000 Shimano Stradic spooled up with 30-pound braid. I had a 5-foot, 40-pound leader directly connected to the braid and tied direct to an inline circle hook at the other end.
If you’re like me, meaning your prefer to fish with artificial lures, and you come across something like this, don’t be afraid to give it a shot. I went from catching nothing to some excellent fishing by discovering exactly what they wanted and making the switch.