10 Tips for a Trophy Striper
May 10, 2019
While there’s seemingly no end to the list of strategies concocted to fool big stripers—with new ones cropping up all the time—the fish themselves haven’t changed. That’s good news for anglers, because those tried-and-true striper-catching techniques invented by our fishing forbears remain viable in modern times. To make things easier, let’s simplify the game plan for finding and catching big bass on a consistent basis.
Text & photography by Tom Richardson
1. Go Big or Go Home
It has been said a million times, and for good reason: big bass like big baits. The largest bass are also the laziest, so they aren’t going to waste their energy chasing down a mouthful of bay anchovies. Rather, the only thing that’s going to get them off their aquatic couches is a super-sized meal that’s rich in fat. An adult menhaden (bunker), herring, or mackerel is the food they crave most, so find some big baitfish and you’ll be one step closer to glory.
2. Rock & Roll
Stripers like structure, be it a rock pile, ledge, bar, or single big boulder. That’s no secret, of course, but you need to narrow it down somewhat to find the honey hole. Look for areas with strong current, as they serve as good places for stripers to ambush critters that can’t fight the flow. Depth is also important. While you may find big bass in five to ten feet of water in May and June, you’ll have to move deeper as the season progresses. The exception are the waters north of Boston, where cooler temperatures often keep the bigger fish feeding in shallow spots through midsummer.
3. Slack Luster
Despite the fact that current plays a big role in locating prime striper structure, consider that some of the biggest bass on record have been taken during the small window of slack tide. The theory is that these monster fish find slack water the optimum time to patrol the rocky bottom around their lair without having to fight the current. It may also be why eels perform best on record-setting stripers.
4. Log Jam
The best fishermen keep detailed logbooks of their trips, as it helps them discern patterns that lead to repeated success. For example, if you happen to score a large fish at a certain rock pile, using a certain bait, at a certain time of year, in certain wind and tide conditions, chances are you’ll find fish again when all those elements realign. The only trick is that you have to put in your time to amass enough data in order to gain meaningful information—but that’s not such a bad thing, is it?
5. Night Birds & Early Birds
While plenty of big bass have been caught during the bright, mid-day hours, your bets of landing a lunker improve considerably at night or at first light. Stripers are primarily nocturnal feeders, especially once they settle into their summer haunts, so it’s no surprise that the majority of record-size bass have been taken after dark (usually around the new moon). False dawn another prime time to look for big bass, as it gives them a big advantage over baitfish such as menhaden and herring, as these baits are vulnerable to attack from the dark waters below and appear clearly against the backdrop of brighter sky. The take-home lesson: Whether you’re fishing from a boat or shore, be at your designated fishing hole just as the eastern sky is beginning to brighten.
6. Bust a Move
While the old chestnut “don’t leave fish to find fish” is sound advice, it doesn’t apply to the quest for a trophy bass. If you’re catching small fish in a certain spot, but have your sights set on a cow, it’s best to pull stakes and head for greener pastures. Bass typically school by size, so you’re not likely to find a 50-pounder hanging with a bunch of hyperactive schoolies. Plus, the more aggressive, smaller fish tend to out-compete the larger, slower lunkers.
7. Sick Leave
If you uncover a pocket of large bass, do everything you can to fish it hard. You may enjoy several days of outstanding fishing as long as the conditions remain stable. And you’ll surely kick yourself if you wait a week and find the spot empty upon your return.
8. Bring the Big Guns
Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. Unless you love risk, using featherweight gear to battle a 30-pound-plus fish is asking for trouble. If a big bass is your goal, bring your “A-team” tackle and make sure your line and leader are fresh and nick-free. Similarly, test all of your knots (twice), and give your hook point a touch-up with a file before making a cast.
9. Detail Oriented
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a big difference in fishing. Similar to checking your hooks, line, rods and reels, take the time to wash your hands of sunblock or insect repellent before handling a bait or lure. These products can ring the warning bell for suspicious stripers. Along the same lines, make sure you have a good-sized landing net onboard and keep it ready for action. After fighting a fish, check your leader for signs of wear and tear, or play it safe and tie on a new one.
10. Game Plan
Never randomly launch a trip and hope to catch a monster fish. Instead, take a look at tide charts, log books and weather conditions before launching. Create a game plan for the day based on your comfort range and the conditions—and stick with it. Be methodical. That way you won’t waste time in your search for a trophy.