How to Catch Monster Stripers

Catch more giant striped bass with a weekend game plan.

man holding giant new jersey striper
Have a Cow A New Jersey striper goes back into the salt.Bill Lindner

Early summer. You’re on a family getaway somewhere from Delaware to Cape Cod. You know the drill: kids covered in sand, overpriced dinners, miniature golf. But if you choose your sneak-away times carefully, you’ll have a shot at a 40-plus-pound striper from the beach with minimal effort.

While the spring migration is just wrapping up in the southern part of its range, you’ll be in the thick of it here. Follow this weekend plan to hook into a trophy, with the right lure, and actually land it.

Create Your Weekend Game Plan

Heading into the weekend with a game plan ups your chances of actually finding fish and connecting with a trophy. Without a plan, you’ll waste time on the wrong spots, throwing the wrong lures or bait.

Friday Evening

Spend some time before dinner walking the beach, looking for a trough in the surf. Watch the way the waves break; if a roller crests, breaks, then flattens again before rebreaking at your feet, you know it encountered deep ­water. That middle zone is the sweet spot. Mark it and go free up the next two mornings and evenings.

Saturday Predawn

Head to a bait shop for fresh bunker. Make sure the flesh is firm—when you push your finger into the bunker’s side, it shouldn’t leave an indentation—and the eyes aren’t sunken in. Store them in zip-seal bags in your cooler, because contact with freshwater will make the fish mushy. If bunker aren’t available, opt for the freshest seasonal big bait—surf clams, live eels, whole squid, or mackerel.

Saturday Morning

Return to your pre-­scouted trough and send out baits on fishfinder rigs, which allow your pyramid sinkers to slide on the line. Big bait catches big fish, so don’t be afraid to use an entire bunker or mackerel head or midsection.

Large circle hooks, such as a size 10/0, ensure better hookups when rods are left in sand spikes. Change baits every 20 minutes, and fish the entire morning tide. If you don’t connect by noon, go build sand castles with the kids.

Saturday Evening

Return to the trough just before dark and cast out a fresh bait. Spike the rod closer to the surfline, and while it soaks, use your second rod to work a black Bomber Long A through the deep spot. Just remember to look over your shoulder at the bait rod frequently; adding a strike-indicator bell or glow stick can be helpful.

Sunday

With time running out, don’t sit on baits again right away. Get up before the sun rises and cover as much water as possible with large lures such as pencil poppers and metal-lip swimmers. Focus on troughs and any breaks between sandbars. Keep a sharp eye out for diving birds or bait schools swimming close to the beach.

If you still come up empty, give some fresh baits one last soak in a likely trough from evening into the first few hours of dark. Statistically speaking, letting shoreline-cruising bass come to you is often a better bet than searching for them.

Bomber Long A
Essential Lure
Bomber Long A: Bring an extra rod to the beach, so while your bait soaks you can fire lures and work them through deep troughs in the surf.Cliff Gardiner & John Keller

Use The Favorite Lures of Striper Guides Everywhere

Like you this weekend, guides don’t have the time to throw all of the lures in their tackle box to figure out what’s working. Instead, they only throw what works to get their clients on to a trophy as soon as possible. You can do the same, by following their advice below.

Gene Quigley
quigley
Captain Gene QuigleyGene Quigley

Gene Quigley –– Manasquan, New Jersey

A fly and artificial specialist and guide of 16 years, Captain Quigley (shorecatch.com) has earned a reputation as a top guide on the Jersey Coast, putting clients on stripers up to 58 pounds.

Favorite Hardbait: Gag's Grabbers Mambo Minnow

  • Color: Yellow/Pearl
  • Size: 5 in.
  • Weight: 5/8 oz.

"The Mambo has a very unique wobble. It's extremely tight, which I think most accurately matches the movement of many baitfish. They also have great action no matter what speed you use on the retrieve. Something I've noticed that works really well with these lures is reeling very fast and stopping abruptly so the lure suspends. I often catch more bass when the lure hangs than I do during a steady retrieve."

Pajama Plugs Metal-Lipped Swimmer
pajama
Pajama Plugs Metal-Lipped SwimmerPajama

Favorite Topwater: Pajama Plugs Metal-Lip Swimmer

  • Color: White
  • Size: 7 in.

"Lots of metal-lip swimmers only perform well in calm water or when there's a chop, but the Pajamas have great action in all conditions. Fished correctly, a metal-lip will draw bass up from deeper water. Anglers move in on a blitz and are in such a hurry, they cast and retrieve this style of lure too fast. You have to have patience with metal-lips. You need a slow retrieve to achieve the right action on the surface. Too quick and all they do is spin."

Favorite Soft Plastic: Hogy

  • Color: White
  • Size: 10 in.

"Hogy Lures are hand-poured and nothing in the world moves like one in the water. I use them a lot because they match all kinds of forage from eels to large bunker. Hogy makes a double-hook rig that you can buy with their baits and I prefer it. The hooks are heavy-gauge, so they add just enough weight to keep the lure tracking an inch or two under the surface. You don't want this type of bait skipping on top."

Favorite Jig: AVA 47 Diamond Jig

  • Color: Silver, undressed hook
  • Size: 5 in.
  • Weight: 3 oz.

"Diamond jigs are absolutely one of the most versatile lures out there when the fish go deep. I prefer a plain hook without a tube. The size 47 gets down to the bottom really quickly and mimics everything from sand eels to peanut bunker. Rather than letting the lure hit bottom and start jigging up and down, I'll tell my clients to let it hit, then crank as fast as they can. When the lure reaches midway up the water column, I'll say drop it back down. We call this speed-jigging, and it often produces more reaction strikes from bigger bass."

Captain Randy Saliga
saliga
Captain Randy SaligaRandy Saliga

Randy Saliga –– Lake Murray, South Carolina

Randy Saliga has called Lake Murray his home water since 1986 and now runs over 120 trips per season in pursuit of stripers. Fish weighing over 30 pounds are not uncommon for this pro.

Favorite Hardbait: Rebel Spoonbill Minnow

  • Color: Silver/blue
  • Size: 4 ½ in.
  • Weight: ½ oz.

"Whether trolling or casting, I've always found these lures very easy to work. They have a consistent action that has always produced for me. When you're trolling a diving lure with multiple treble hooks, stripers are going to set themselves. Sometimes clients insist on setting the hook anyway, which is okay, but you can't over do it or you're more likely to pull the hooks."

Favorite Topwater: Heddon Zara Spook Puppy

  • Color: Clear
  • Size: 3 in.

"I know clear seems like an odd color, but the stripers react very well to it early in the morning or on cloudy days. Our topwater action is typically best during low light conditions. I think the trick to catching fish on Spooks is maximizing their time in the water. There's no need to rush a retrieve, especially since you want the lure to look injured. I have my clients cast out, turn only one half-crank and twitch. This will keep the lure working properly and it will stay in the zone longer."

Favorite Soft Plastic: Slug-Go

  • Color: Chartreuse
  • Size: 4 in.

"I really like these lures for working around hydrilla. It's hard to fish heavy cover like that with other lures, so soft plastic jerk baits are my choice when the bass are in the weeds. Anglers think soft jerk baits require a slow finesse, but I find that the faster the retrieve the better. This is especially true in heavy cover. I'll work them fast right over the hydrilla or along the edge. The lure will draw the fish out and they just slam it."

Blakemore Road Runner Bucktail
blakemoreBT
Blakemore Road Runner BucktailBlakemore

Favorite Jig: Blakemore Roadrunner Bucktail

  • Color: Chartreuse/White
  • Weight: ½ oz.

"By far, Road Runners are my top producer. Their versatility for fishing all kinds of water and with all kinds of methods from trolling to jigging is unmatched. If I'm jigging a Road Runner, I'll usually tip them with a soft plastic grub or ribbon tail worm for added action, but when I drop I'll reel one or two cranks and stop. The stop gives the bass a chance to catch up, and that's usually when the grab it."

Captain Bill Carey
carey
Captain Bill CareyBill Carey

Bill Carey –– Lake Texoma, Texas

Since 1983, Bill Carey has been guiding for, writing about, and hosting TV shows on the stripers of famed Lake Texoma. Carey's outfit averages about 350 trips per year.

Favorite Hardbait: Rat-L-Trap

  • Color: Chrome
  • Weight: 1 oz.

"Striped bass have a very long lateral line that is designed to pick up vibration. Rat-L-Traps produce a lot of rhythm and sound that the fish home in on. When I retrieve a Rat-L-Trap, I'll reel three cranks and quickly sweep the rod. After the sweep I pause and let the lure float up a little. Bam! There's your strike."

Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper
pencil
Cotton Cordell Pencil PopperCotton Cordell

Favorite Topwater: Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper

  • Color: Chrome/Blue Back
  • Size: 6 in.
  • Weight: 1 oz.

"In Texas you can throw topwater for stripers eight months a year. These lures are loud and work well blind-casting against the banks early in the morning. If the action is furious and you're releasing fish fast, you can also grab these lures without getting hooked because they're so long and the first treble hook sits far back. I always tell my clients, when a fish takes a pencil down, don't strike. Wait for the rod to load on it's own. If you try to whack the fish, you'll have a big lure with two big treble hooks flying at your head.".

Favorite Soft Plastic: Mister Twister Sassy Shad

  • Color: Luminescent
  • Size: 4 in.
  • Weight: ½ oz. jighead

"I like these shads for the simple reason that our water is often off-color. White has great visibility and the kicking tail ups the vibration level. You always want to cast a shad into the wind to ensure it will reach your target depth. When you retrieve, you never want slack in the line. Always reel fast enough to keep contact. "

Favorite Jig: Blakemore Roadrunner Bucktail

  • Color: White
  • Weight: 1 oz.

"These jigs produce our biggest stripers that hold on deeper structure December through March. They've always been a favorite since you can reel steady or vertically jig them. I seem to catch even more stripers on these jigs if I tip them. Gizzard shad make up 92% of the stripers' diet in Lake Texoma, so I'll add a soft-plastic grub to these jigs in white with a chartreuse tail to match the forage colors."

Captain Bill McBurney
mcburney
Captain Bill McBurneyBill McBurney

Bill McBurney –– Lake Powell, Arizona

The second licensed captain ever to charter on Lake Powell, McBurney has led clients to numerous stripers over 30 pounds, for over 30 years, and specializes in all methods from trolling to fly fishing.

Favorite Hardbait: Storm Deep Thunder

  • Color: Mullet
  • Size: 6 in.
  • Weight: 2 oz.

"These lures dive to 30 feet and troll well at pretty much all speeds. They're my favorite during pre-spawn in the spring when we need to cover lots of water looking for big females that haven't joined the males on the staging points yet. I always keep a small can of quick-drying orange spray paint in my tackle box to quickly add some color to the belly of my hardbaits. Carp are a pretty big forage for Lake Powell stripers, and that orange belly makes the lures more accurately represent them. It also adds that much more color and flash for stronger visibility."

Favorite Topwater: Heddon Zara Spook

  • Color: Black Shiner
  • Size: 4 in.

"Zaras have always produced well on Lake Powell. I think the steady cadence you can achieve at any speed makes them very versatile, and the Black Shiner, which is a chrome color can't miss as far as matching the bait. When stripers are up on top, they rarely refuse a Zara."

Favorite Jig: Gitzit Tube

  • Color: Pumpkin
  • Size: 3 in.

"Tube jigs catch lots of fish because you can vary the amount of weight you use to make them work in almost any situation. Likewise, you can let them sit still or work them quickly. They adapt well. The green pumpkin color seems to draw strikes in many water conditions and matches both crayfish and juvenile carp colors in Powell."

Favorite Soft Plastic: Yamamoto Grub

  • Color: White
  • Size: 4 in.

"I use quite a few different soft plastics, but if we're talking about a go-to, it's hard to beat a white grub. When all else fails, stripers will hit this lure. If fish are higher in the water column, I've even pulled them just under the surface to draw strike. I've alway got some white grubs on board."

stripper on pencil popper
Make a Splash: The popper smacks and spits water as it’s retrieved.Vic Kulihin

How to Work a Pencil Popper Like a Pro

As Texas guide Bill Carey believes, pencil poppers are one of the most effective lures. Since they mimic large baitfish, such as menhaden or shad, their splashing on the surface can draw in fish better than any other lure. But unlike standard short-body poppers, pencils take a little more than a nudge of the rod tip to make a joyful noise. Follow these steps to whip a pencil like a striped bass sharpie.

1. RIP IT

Pencil poppers are rear-weighted and will travel a mile. Using a 10- to 12-foot soft-action surf rod, cast the popper as far as it will go. The greater the distance, the more time the popper’s loud splashing sound has to draw in fish.

2. GRIP IT

Bend your knees slightly and tuck the butt of the surf rod between your thighs. With your non-reeling hand, grab the rod blank 6 to 10 inches above the first guide. This might feel awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it.

3. WHIP IT

Reel quickly as you whip the rod. The harder the rod flexes, the more forcefully the lure smacks and spits water. If a fish strikes, this hand and thigh position also puts the power at the center of your body for a solid hook set.

Stop Losing Fish and Start Landing Every Striper That Strikes

Now that you know when to get on the water, and what lures work best, you need to know how to actually land fish once they strike. We bet you know the heartache of dropping a huge striped bass. Truth is, it’s often your own fault. From proper prep work to fight techniques to end-game insurance, these tips from a pro will keep you from feeling that sting ever again.

Mike Allen, of Cherokee Lake, Tennessee, is a veteran guide who specializes in trolling for 50-plus-pound bass in both still and moving water. He shared the three biggest problems an angler has to overcome to land a proper trophy, and gave us a solution to solve each one.

striped bass fishing, fishing, stripers, bass fishing,
Mike AllenBill Lindner

1. Working the Pump

“When a rod gets hit on the troll, many anglers’ natural reaction is to grab it and set the hook,” says Allen (striper​slayers.com). “Stripers are powerful fish, and setting is the fastest way to break the line or pull the hook. Pumping lets slack into the line, which can cause the hook to come loose, and it also widens the hole in the fish’s mouth.”

THE FIX: Straighten Up
"After a striper takes, all you need to do is lift the rod straight up out of the holder and keep it there until the fish is landed. I want to see the tip high and a nice arc in the rod. With big stripers, you have to let the rod fight the fish. When that striper eats, the rod will already be bent. The fish will already be hooked."

2. Peeling Off

“Big stripers are going to do their best to get back to the bank after you hook them. Considering those banks are often full of snags and logjams, if it does get back there, it’s gone. Too often, anglers will rely on the drag to stop the fish. It just doesn’t work. Even with a good reel and the drag locked down tight, it won’t slow a true trophy striped bass.”

THE FIX: Start a Thumb War
"When you're dealing with a 40-plus-pound fish, you often have no choice but to thumb the spool to keep that striper from reaching the bank. You've got to stop it dead. Many anglers are afraid to do that, because it goes against what they know. I use heavy reels and quality rods and spool with 60-pound monofilament on moving water. If you're confident in your gear and it's set up correctly, you'll stop the fish."

stripers, striped bass, big bass,
When you’re dealing with a 40-plus-pound fish, you often have no choice but to thumb the spool to keep that striper from reaching the bank.Bill Lindner

3. Loose Ends

“Most big stripers are lost right at the boat. People think they have them beat, but then the fish sees the boat and takes another very hard run. When you’ve only got 10 or so feet of line out with a drag that’s locked down, monofilament’s stretch won’t save you. Something’s got to give, and usually it’s the hook pulling out.”

THE FIX: Readjust for the Run
"Even if your drag setting got you through the entire fight and the fish never required thumbing, the game changes when the bass gets close. You have to remember to readjust your drag setting before the fish sees the boat. Loosening the tension a fair amount will compensate for that final shot of energy, letting the fish rip off line during that last powerful run."