One reason that striped bass, also known as rockfish, are fun to fish for, is that they can be caught almost anyway that you can think of. They can be caught from pier, boat, or shore, day or night, in the ocean or all the way up fresh water tributaries. They can be caught casting with various tackle types including fly rods. A variety of artificial lures and natural bait (dead or alive ) can be used. Chumming and chunking are effective. They can be caught while drifting, at anchor, or while trolling.
A popular way to fish for them, in the Chesapeake Bay area, is by trolling with wire line. Here we will discuss trolling without using wire.
An important rule of thumb for striped bass is to go slow. A good trolling speed to start at, is as slow as your boat can go. As long as you are making any headway at all, you are probably going fast enough. Some boats just will not go slow enough. These boats may need to be placed in and out of gear to be effective. Another rule, is that striped bass like structure. This can be something obvious like the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel or something less obvious like an underwater ledge or hump. These are the areas you need to work. A flock of working birds is also an indication of a good area to try.
Tackle selection will be based on a variety of factors. These will include types of baits used, size of fish, and type of structure. Pulling a small bucktail through surface feeding schoolies can be done with light tackle. Pulling large plugs or working bridge pilings will require heavier gear. For most trolling, tackle will be in the 20-50 pound class.
Striped bass can be caught anywhere in the water column, from top to bottom. Near the bottom, is where most large fish are caught and most consistent catches made. A popular trolling rig that works this area is the same as that used by wire liners. It consists of a three-way swivel attached to your main line. A 2-4 foot line goes from your swivel to a sinker. Another line, 10-25 feet, goes to your bait. Sinker size will depend on water depth, current, boat speed, and boat traffic. Sinkers up to 28 ounces may be used in deep, fast water and where boat traffic is heavy so that you don’t have to have as much line out to bounce along the bottom. Other times, an eight ounce sinker may be enough. Many different lures can be used. By far and away, the most popular is the bucktail jig. White is the most popular color. Yellow, chartreuse, and black are also used. The jigs should be on the light side, 1/4-1/2 oz. I like my jigs to have fairly large hooks, 7/0-8/0. Some type of trailer is put on the hook. Popular colors are the same as those for bucktails. Pork rind and curly tailed plastic grubs are the most often used. Other plastic shapes can be used such as worms, shad bodies, and eels. Strips of cut bait and small natural eels can also be used. The leader going to your lure has to be heavy enough to do the job plus consideration has to be given to the fact that you will have to hand line this leader in. Small diameter line is hard to hold, monofilament of 50lb test or greater is easier to get a grip on. The line going to your sinker can be lighter. Most people will use a lighter line for the sinker so that if the sinker snags, only the sinker is lost. Of course, the sinker may be the most expensive part your rig. This rig can be worked in an active manner. Rod in hand, the angler keeps out just enough line to keep the sinker bouncing on the bottom. A passive approach also can be used. Place the rod in the rod holder, with the clicker on, let the sinker free-spool to the bottom while the boat is moving at trolling speed. When the sinker hits bottom, place the reel in gear. After a couple of minutes, free-spool it again until the sinker again hits bottom. Engage the reel and troll with the rod in the rod holder. The amount of line out may need to be adjusted as water depth changes.
A variety of baits can be used, in place of the bucktail. One popular big fish bait is the spoon. Truly large bunker spoons can be used to target monster striped bass. Large Pet, 3 1/2 Drone, and Crippled Alewife spoons are also popular. Shallow diving plugs, like the Bomber Long A, can work very well. Rigged rubber eels are another popular choice. My favorite big fish bait is a natural eel rigged like a rubber eel.
A simpler set up is to have your line go to an in-line sinker. Your bait is then attached to the sinker with a 10-15 foot leader. This set up is often used to work the middle depths of the water column. Baits can be bucktails, parachute jigs, diving plugs, or spoons.
The simplest way to troll for stripers is to have your lure attached directly to your line. If you are using light tackle, a short leader can be used between your main line and the bait. If you run into a school of surface feeding fish and cannot get a bite, a small, plain, white bucktail dragged through them often does the trick. Usually these will be school stripers feeding on small bait, which the bucktail imitates well. Small Hopkin’s spoons also work well in this situation. Another bait that can be pulled without a separate weight is the plastic shad body attached to a jig head. Various sizes can be used. The 9 inch shad with a heavy jig head (12 or more ounces ) is a good big bass bait. A variety of lipped diving plugs are used. Different lures can be chosen based on the depth of the water and the fish. The most popular in this area are the Mann’s Stretch series. The Stretch 25+ and 30+ are the most often used. The first thing I do with a new Stretch 25+ is to replace the hooks with stronger, larger trebles. I troll two of these lures at a time, letting one out farther than the other. When I turn, I do so to the side with the most line out. This keeps the lines from crossing. I run these lures from flat line release clips. This helps the lures to dive deeper and helps to keep them down as I’m bouncing them off the bottom. The Stretch 30+ creates so much drag that I don’t use the release clips with these. These lures work very well when large stripers school in the ocean waters off of Virginia Beach. Try different colors until you find the one that’s hot.