A man fishing next to a waterfall on Long Island, New York

Striper Fishing 101

Learn to chase striped bass and begin enjoying the Atlantic Coast’s great pastime.

To recognize that it’s striper season in an Atlantic hotbed like Long Island, you don’t need to be an expert. Local anglers will let you know. The clues that it’s that time of year are not subtle: Beach parking lots stay packed after dark; trucks loaded with camper backs and multiple poles start to congregate at delis and tackle shops. When the stripers are running, it’s best to grab a rod and join in.

What makes the pursuit of striped bass so enticing? It’s a sport fish that’s accessible to just about every type of saltwater angler. Fishing for stripers doesn’t require owning an expensive offshore boat, just a willingness to learn. One outing can quickly create an obsession; the first time you feel the tug of a striper on the line, you’ll be hooked.

Know Thy Fish

Striped bass, also known as stripers, rockfish, or linesiders, depending on where you find yourself, are a migratory fish found predominantly in the Atlantic Ocean. They spend winters in the bays of the lower mid-Atlantic states, then, in spring, when temperatures start to rise, they head north, in search of nurseries to spawn and cooler waters to spend the summer off New England.

In the Mid-Atlantic and New York, they seek out shallow bays, where water warms first, offering plenty of food for their young fry. Most adults will continue pushing north into New England where they reside in cooler, deeper waters for the summer. When the fall arrives and the ocean starts to chill again, striped bass begin migrating back down south, following the coast of New England, passing by Long Island, and continuing on down the shore.

While smaller fish, often referred to as holdovers or schoolies, may reside in New England waters for longer durations, the majority of the action (especially for Long Island anglers) occurs during these spring and fall migrations commonly known as runs. The excitement cranks up a bit when it comes to higher numbers of striped bass, and the chance to hook up with some sizable catches, aka cows, that can be nabbed right from shore.

Where To Fish

During the fall run, most of these game fish follow their food source (smaller bait fish) right down the coast. This makes the beaches one of the most popular destinations to get after striped bass, and why surf-casting is popular in Long Island and the Mid-Atlantic.

Seek out surf: Another reason these muscular striped bass spend time in the surf: easy meals. Bait fish get washed around and disoriented in the pounding Atlantic breakers, then flushed through channels between sandbars. Going for a meal in the surf is like picking berries for the stripers.

Extend the shoreline: Because the striped bass are cruising just off the coast, near shore is also a superb way to fish for them during the spring and fall runs. You are hovering right over their migratory path. No need to power up a motorboat to reach fish within sight of the coast. However, this is a great opportunity for kayak anglers to extend just a small distance offshore to hook up with big fish for a ride around the same areas sought after by anglers burning through gas.

Find constrictions: Inlets make a fantastic place to go after striped bass as well. As predatory fish, striped bass seek out schools of bait fish, and opportune places to attack. A pinch point, like an inlet or river mouth, marks an entrance and exit from other bodies of water. These are often the places bait fish are migrating out of as well, and where stripers have their meals cornered.

Case inshore corridors: Inlets are also the path of travel for striped bass seeking spawning grounds in bays and rivers. The deep channels where fish travel through safely are easier for anglers to reach by casting a minimal distance. Inshore areas such as bays and rivers are another productive area for saltwater anglers to pursue striped bass. These are the nurseries of striped bass, and where young stripers fatten up to one day join the cows out at sea.

Follow the birds: One of the most stunning displays you’ll witness while fishing striped bass is the sight of them swarming a ball of bait. The water erupts with bait fish fleeing these predators. And usually larger marine animals, including whales, will flock to the feeding frenzy. This natural act also means you should get a hook in the water nearby, because blitzing stripers are bound to smash it. The biggest clue a blitz is heading your way? The otherwise pesky gulls that you spend most of your day chasing away from your bait. If a flock takes off over a concentrated section of water and begins diving for the ocean, get ready, because the action is going to be intense.

Striped Bass on a fishing line

The Right Rod for the Job

Where and how you intend to fish plays a large part in the type of rod you’ll choose for striped bass fishing. If you plan to fish from an ocean beach or rock jetty, you’ll want a surf rod—start with a length between 9-10 feet, which allows you to cast farther, and over the breaking waves of the beach. If you’re fishing from a pier and require less casting distance, you can get away with a shorter length. Also, if you’re fishing from a kayak or other boat, a shorter rod (around 7 feet) works well. Start with a medium action for a well-rounded rod that will work for various types of fishing.

To complete your combo, a spinning reel is a good choice for starters, popular and functional because they are simple to cast and retrieve. Seasoned anglers may prefer a baitcaster for its ability to increase casting distance with less resistance, and to haul in line quicker with a higher gear ratio. Baitcasters can have a steeper learning curve, though, for a newer angler.

Don’t overlook a fly-fishing combo, either. Fly anglers can fish for stripers from all places, whether it be sight-casting on a shallow bay, past the surf from atop a rock jetty, or standing in your kayak. Don’t knock the dust off of your trout stick though. If you want to fish for stripers on the fly, you’ll need a rod that can handle the weight of saltwater game, not to mention one that can cast in coastal wind (and resist corrosion).

Picking Bait and Lures

Depending on where (and when in the season) you fish, the stripers will be chowing down on different sea creatures in the food chain. Menhaden, also known as bunker, along with sand eels, herring, and surf clams are all popular delicacies for a striped bass. And if you’re fishing with bait, a fish finder setup is a popular choice. On this rig, the hook and sinker have some distance between each other, and the sinker sits on a slider. This gives the leader some freedom to fluctuate so striped bass can munch on your bait without feeling the weight of the rig, which might scare them off before you can set a hook.

With lures, there are a few essentials to first stock your tackle box. Consider lures that will work in various depths and situations you’ll be fishing for stripers. First off, a topwater option is the most visual and exciting scenario, and a pencil popper will work well to make a small wake and provide the surface disruption to attract these bass.

You’ll also want darters for below the surface, as well as metal jigs, and soft plastics with a shad tail. Once you’re set to work various water depths, a few bucktails can help complete your tackle options. Always check above your rod handle (where rod length, action, plus recommended line and lure weight is usually inscribed) to be sure you have properly weighted lures for your rod.

Dress the Part

The season for fishing striped bass tends to lean toward the colder shoulders of the year, and that means dressing appropriately. Though not required, surf casters regularly wear waders that work well for extended saltwater immersion and that have attached boots, or are compatible with wading boots or shoes, necessary for fishing from the surf or slick rocks. On jetties and especially rocky coastlines (like Montauk), boots with metal spikes or studs become even more essential. For surf fishing, a wading belt is also an important item that segments the upper and lower half of your waders, and keeps water from filling them if you take a wave pounding, or misstep off a sandbar.

Even when fishing from the comfort of a pier or motorized boat, dress for inclimate weather and cold water. Base layers made of a synthetic material or natural fiber like wool provide superior warmth plus safety when compared to cotton in wet, cold environments. Use a layering system, and top it off with a shell to keep spray rolling off and the wind from chilling you to the core.

Kayak anglers should dress for the water (not air) temperature with a personal floatation device (PFD) on at all times, and either a neoprene wetsuit or a waterproof-breathable drysuit when fishing for striped bass in the spring, late fall, or winter. Wetsuits are generally more cost-effective, but a drysuit provides more comfort and mobility (look for one with a neoprene neck gasket for more all-day comfort).

Learn From Local Legends

Anglers have been fishing for striped bass for as long as humans have shared a coast with them. For the sake of respecting the health of the species and enjoying the sport, it’s best not to reinvent it. Tackle shops and boat captains are an excellent resource, as are the regulars who have a few salty fish tales to share. From a beach or jetty, there are bound to be others out fishing the run. Pay attention to who does it consistently well and how they fish. Start a conversation and learn from experience.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.