What do striped bass eat? Best baits to use

When talking about Striped Bass (Morone saxatilus), it is important to keep in mind that, even though Science still considers them one species, there are two distinct varieties: The anadromous, inshore Stripped Bass, and the land-locked, freshwater Striped Bass, also known as a Striper, or Rockfish. They have very different culinary preferences.

Land-locked Striped Bass came into being soon after completion of the dams across the Santee and Cooper rivers in South Carolina. Built as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt New Deal, and completed in 1942, these dams created Lake Moultrie, and Lake Marion reservoirs. They also trapped populations of Striped Bass in the lakes, cutting off their migration route back to the sea. It was discovered shortly, that not only were they surviving, they were flourishing. It wasn’t long before they were stocked in large reservoirs across the US, and even crossed with their close cousins, the White Bass, to create the sterile Hybrid Bass, slightly smaller, but able to tolerate warmer water. Sport-Fishing was revolutionized with the greatest Wildlife Management success story ever. They integrated smoothly with the other predatory species, and are valuable for their ability to control populations of Threadfin, and Gizzard Shad. They don’t really compete with other species such as Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, because they inhabit different habitats, preferring the depths, and open water. They like their food larger than most other predators, and so control shad that have grown too big for all but the largest bass and catfish.

Marine Striped Bass have a much more varied diet than their freshwater counterparts. They regularly dine on baitfish such as alewives, flounder, herring, menhaden, Sand Lances, Hake, Tommy-Cods, smelts, silversides, and are especially fond of eels, squid, crabs, clams, mussels and lobsters. They travel outside the surfs, through bayous, inshore waters, reefs, sandbars and estuaries in huge schools, in search of prey. Although they are caught during the day, they are equally active at night in mid-summer. They are one of the most sought-after species for surf-fishing. Some of the best live baits are live eels, pogies, and mackerel, fished just off the bottom along rocks, jetties and sandy flats. When using lures, umbrella rigs work well trolled along shorelines. One of the best swimming lures is the Bomber series. Best colors are yellow during the day, and black at night. Striped Bass also hit topwater lures. The Stillwater Smack-It, Gibbs Pencil Popper, and Knucklehead are good choices. Needlefish Lures are very productive when Striped Bass are hitting eels and Sand Lances. Kastmaster and Daredevil spoons in larger sizes are good choices in open water. Mepps even makes some large spinners that Striped Bass find appealing at times. Striped Bass even hit flies such as the Deceiver, Clouser Deep Minnow, Eels, the Double Bunny, and Puglisi-style offerings. But the all-time best lures are the soft plastic baits in fish, and eel shapes, like the Sassy Shad, Real Minnow, Cabela’s Hootchie Kootchie, Berkley Gulp Alive Sandworms and Pogies, and Tsunami’s Holographic Squids.

Freshwater Stripers, on the other hand, dine almost exclusvely on the various species of shad. There are three species of shad that stripers live on, but only two, the Threadfin, and Gizzard Shad are important. The Short-Nosed shad is very rare, and not a major part of their diet. Threadfin and Gizzard shad are very similar in appearance. Gizzard Shads have a more blunt nose, and the Threadfin has a yellowish-colored tail. Both species have a blue-gray back and greenish-silvery sides, with a black spot behind the gills. And both species have a thread-like last ray on their dorsal fins. Both travel in large schools, eating plankton, and being eaten by just about every predator in fresh water. In most lakes, they are the main forage fish. They are very abundant below tailraces. Shad are easily seined with throw-nets, but are difficult to keep alive for very long. Dead shad can be rigged on a jighead and fished like a lure, or trolled. Lures are the best way to catch Stripers, but you need to keep a few things in mind. Unlike their anadromous relatives, they are super-finicky about size. They like their food big, and if they are eating 4″ shad at the time, a 3″ lure will be ignored, as will a 5″ one. The exception is when they have a school of shad cornered at the surface, and they are caught up in a feeding-frenzy. Then they will strike anything moving through the school. Some of the best lures for Stripers are soft plastic baits like the Sassy Shad, and Gulp Shad. Crankbaits in shad colors are particularly effective. Good choices are the Shad-Rap, Bagley Killer B’s, and similar lures. Good topwater lures include the Zara Spook, Creek Chub, Heddon Torpedo, and Pop R. Even spinners, such as large Roostertails, Blue Fox Vibrax, Mepps Comet, and Giant Killers, as well as spoons and slabs are consistent producers. Lures can be cast into schools of feeding Stripers, or, much like in saltwater, trolled with, or without planer boards, or umbrella rigs.

Whatever you use, Striped Bass are a worthy quarry for any angler.


Dan Eggertsen is a fellow bass fishing enthusiast to the point of obsession. :) He's been providing solid advice on bass fishing since 2004.

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