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Updated Sep 1, 2022 5:42 AM

Anglers in pursuit of striped bass face an almost overwhelming choice of lures to catch them. But, you only need a few lures to reliably catch stripers. In fact, you might be a bit underwhelmed if you look at the lures I carry when targeting stripers. I usually fish variations of just a handful of lure types that are well matched for the circumstances. I’m completely confident with that handful of lures because nearly fifty years of striper fishing experience has helped me narrow down the choices to my proven favorites. You can cut out the 50 years of trial and error by using my picks for the best baits for striped bass. If you’re just getting started or looking to add to your striper box, these best baits for striped bass are an excellent place to start.

Each of my top picks has an application where it shines and my lure choices for any given trip will depend on water conditions, whether it’s day or night, and whether I’m fishing from surf, kayak, or boat. I’ve picked some lures that are best used in specific situations like at night in rough surf, and others that I always have in my bag.

Best Bait for Striped Bass Overall/My Personal Favorite: S&S John Skinner Striped Bass Fixed Hook Bucktail

S&S Bucktails

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Key Features

  • Weight: ½ to 5 ounces
  • Smiling Bill Head
  • Hand tied
  • Mustad 34184DT Hook
  • Hackle feathers and full skirt for lifelike profile

Why It Made the Cut

Bucktails are the best bait for striped bass overall because they can be presented properly and are highly effective under all of these conditions from boat, surf, or kayak. 

Pros

  • Can be presented properly in all conditions and environments
  • Extremely productive
  • Design makes for solid hookups and few lost fish

Cons

  • Mediocre casting distance

Product Overview

There are many excellent bucktail manufacturers, and I chose the S&S brand bass bucktails because they are improved versions of what I tied for myself. My disclaimer is that I designed them, but they’re the product of years of experience catching striped bass on bucktails. Of particular importance is proper hair density and the addition of hackle feathers on the hook shank to fill out and lengthen the bucktail’s profile. S&S produces an exceptionally well-tied bucktail with high-quality hooks of the proper size in their U.S.-based workshop. 

Bucktails present a profile that matches many of the things stripers feed on. A bucktail of the correct weight and hair density can be made to swim properly in challenging conditions such as strong currents and turbulent surf. While there are numerous retrieve styles, if you can glide a bucktail near the bottom at a slow to moderate retrieve in the presence of stripers, you are likely to catch one. The biggest mistake I see beginning anglers make with bucktails is that they go too heavy. You don’t want to drag or bounce on the bottom, but swim above it. I tip my bucktails with 4- to 6-inch strips, such as Otter Tails and Fat Cow Jig Strips. The combination of a familiar profile and a natural presentation offers stripers what looks like an easy meal, often causing them to eat it. I find bucktails to be so effective for catching striped bass that I wrote a book on how to fish them. 

Honorable Mentions: MagicTail, Joe Baggs, Andrus

Best Daytime Surfcasting Lure: Savage Gear Panic Pencil Popper

Savage Gear

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Key Features

  • Length: 5 ¾ and 6 ½ inches
  • Weight 1 ¾ and 2 ¾ ounces
  • Thru-wire construction
  • Two 4X treble hooks
  • Wide array of colors

Why It Made the Cut

A pencil popper is one of the longest casting lures in a surfcaster’s arsenal, but its real power is that it can pull fish to the surface even if they’re not actively feeding. That’s why a pencil popper and specifically, the Savage Gear Panic Pencil, is my pick for the best daytime surfcasting lure. 

Pros

  • Long casting
  • Erratic surface thrashing entices fish, even in calm and clear water

Cons

  • Primarily a daytime lure

Product Overview

Lures catch fish through a combination of imitation and obfuscation. A properly worked pencil popper can interest fish in calm and clear water because it tears up the surface in such a way that the fish can’t tell that it’s nothing but a piece of plastic or wood. Pumping the rod while using a slow retrieve will get this lure up on the surface and dancing. As with any surface lure, you can use it to find active fish and don’t need the fish to eat it for the fish to give its presence away. A semi-interested boil behind a plug is extremely valuable intel when you’re trying to find good striper spots. 

Honorable Mentions: Dark Matter, Madd Mantis, Gibbs, Tsunami Talkin Popper

Best Striped Bass Bait for Night Fishing in Calm Water: Daiwa Floating Salt Pro Minnow Plug

Daiwa

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Key Features

  • Length: 5 1/8, 6, and 6 ¾ inches
  • Weight: ⅞ to 1 7/8-ounce 
  • Dives to 3 feet
  • Saltwater hooks
  • Internal weight transfer system
  • Large selection of colors

Why It Made the Cut

Minnow-shaped plugs imitate many of the baitfish stripers feed on and are highly effective. The Daiwa Salt Pro stands out because of its long casting distance and versatility.

Pros

  • Excellent prey imitation
  • Works day and night

Cons

  • Minnow plugs are relatively mediocre for casting distance

Product Overview

Daiwa SP Minnows cast well for this class of lure thanks to an internal weight transfer system built into the lure. It also handles turbulence and current better than other minnow plugs. The SP Minnow will cut through a stiff wind in your face, and given a deliberate steady retrieve, will plow through moderate surf turbulence while still swimming correctly. Its erratic action puts out vibrations that fish can locate in the dark and can’t resist at any time of day. 

Honorable Mentions: Cordell Red Fin, Bomber Long A, Yo-Zuri Inshore Minnow

Best Striped Bass Bait for Night Fishing in Rough Surf: Super Strike Little Neck Swimmer

Super Strike

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Key Features

  • Length: 6 inches
  • Weight: 2 3/8-ounce 
  • Two 3/0 treble hooks

Why It Made the Cut

Fishing rough surf at night can be extremely productive for striped bass and in those conditions it’s a tough choice between tying on a darter or bottle plug. But, the bottle wins for versatility and its superior casting distance. My pick for best bottle plug is the Super Strike Little Neck Swimmer because it casts great, has excellent action, and its plastic body lasts indefinitely—it even stands up to bluefish.

Pros

  • Good casting distance into the wind
  • Able to handle rough surf

Cons

  • Just OK for daytime 

Product Overview

Bottle plugs can cut through very significant wind, and with a few fast cranks, can be dug into rough seas. When a bottle plug is swimming correctly it pulsates the rod tip, giving valuable feedback to the angler that the plug is working correctly. Bottle plugs match the profiles of large baitfish and have a good reputation for catching quality stripers.

Honorable Mentions: Gibbs Casting Swimmer, North Bar Bottle Darter

Best Darter: Super Strike ZigZag

Super Strike

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Key Features

  • Length: 6 ⅝ inches
  • Weight 2 ⅜ ounces 
  • Two 3/0 treble hooks
  • Swims 2 to 3 feet deep

Why It Made the Cut 

Next to the bucktail, a darter might be the most productive lure for big surf caught stripers at night. The best darter is the Super Strike ZigZag because each one swims properly right out of the package. Also, because it’s plastic, it won’t waterlog or get damaged by bluefish.

Pros

  • Can be fished in the fastest rip currents 
  • Exceptionally productive

Cons

  • Poor daytime results

Product Overview

Despite choosing a bottle plug over a darter in the nighttime rough surf category, I’ve spent more time fishing a darter than a bottle after dark. I think I can say with confidence that darters have probably landed more big stripers for surfcasters at night than bottle plugs. 

But, darters take practice to use. When you fish a bottle plug you’ll feel a pulsation on the rod that signals it’s swimming correctly. With a darter, you’ll need what I call “darter faith” to have confidence that a darter is zig-zagging as intended. One tip for fishing a darter correctly is when you’re fishing it in current or moving water, dig it in with a few fast cranks to get it swimming. When there’s water pressure applied to the lip, it will dart back and forth in an inconsistent pattern that triggers stripers. 

Honorable Mentions: Northbar Montauk Darter, Gibbs Darter 

Best Needlefish: Super Strike Super N Fish 

Super Strike

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Key Features

  • Length: 5 ¼, 6 3/8, 7 ¼ inches
  • Weight: 1 to 3 ounces 
  • Imitates sandeels

Why It Made the Cut

Needlefish are already versatile lures, but the length and weight options of the Super Strike needles allows anglers to dial in just the right lure for the given conditions.

Pros

  • Excellent casting distance
  • Can handle rough water

Cons

  • Just OK for daytime

Product Overview

A needlefish plug appears to be little more than a stick, but pull it through water with some current or turbulence, and there’s just enough wobble to get stripers to commit. Needlefish lures have accounted for some of the largest fish caught on the striper coast. As with bucktails, there is a lot of variation in size and weight with these lures, allowing the angler to adapt to changing conditions.

Best Popper: Super Strike Little Neck Popper 

Super Strike

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Key Features

  • Length: 4 ¼, 5 ¼, 6 inches
  • Weight: 1 to 3 ¾ ounces
  • Types: Floating, sinking, and extra heavy sinking

Why It Made the Cut

Popping plugs are excellent search baits that draw fish to the surface. The best popper is the Super Strike Little Neck because its three lengths and eight weights translates to versatility in profile matching and handling wind and water conditions.

Pros

  • Casts far
  • Surface splashing entices fish, even in calm and clear water

Cons

  • Primarily a daytime lure

Product Overview

Standard surface poppers are usually in my surf bag, right next to pencil poppers. They share many of the qualities of pencils, such as being long lasting and able to pull stripers to the surface. But, they can move more water due to their large cupped face. I prefer the Super Strike Little Neck Popper because it’s made of plastic, which means it won’t get water logged and stands up to toothy bluefish. It also has high quality hardware that doesn’t need to be swapped out. 

Honorable Mentions: Gibbs Polaris, Tsunami Surface Blaster

Best Spook: Musky Mania Doc

Musky Mania Tackle

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Key Features

  • Length: 7 and 9 inches
  • Weight 2 3/4, 3 1/4 ounces
  • Plastic body

Why It Made the Cut

When the bite gets tough, stripers will hit a spook when they won’t touch other lures, and the best spook for stripers is the Musky Mania Doc. 

Pros

  • Zig-zag glide mesmerizes stripers
  • Rattles for added attraction
  • Durable

Cons

  • Relatively poor casting distance
  • Not great in rough conditions

Product Overview 

This is a lure that can catch stripers when nothing else will, which might be surprising because the original spooks were designed for largemouth bass. Spooks are particularly effective in calm water when they are retrieved slowly with rhythmic pulls on the rod that get the plug making wide back and forth darts and leaving a wake on the surface. These lures are most popular with New England striper anglers, but they work anywhere hungry stripers swim. 

Honorable Mentions: Dark Matter Astro Spook, Jigging World Spook

Best Metal Lip Swimmer: Gibbs Danny Surface Swimmer

Gibbs Lures

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Key Features

  • Length: 4.5, 6, and 7.5 inches
  • Weight 1 1/2, 2 1/4, and 3 ½ ounces
  • Tunable by bending the line tie

Why It Made the Cut

The Gibbs Danny Surface swimmer has a seductive action and large profile that triggers big stripers, which is why it’s my choice for best metal lip swimmer. 

Pros

  • Excellent when stripers are feeding on large bait fish 
  • Works day and night

Cons

  • Relatively poor casting distance
  • Not great in rough conditions

Product Overview

As with the spook, these are not great casting lures, but the seductive action is irresistible to stripers. These are particularly effective when the bass are feeding on larger baits such as adult bunker, snappers, or herring. They’re simple to use too. Just retrieve slowly, and the plug will do the rest. You can also try a sporadic twitch of the rod that makes the bait skitter and splash to trigger a strike. There are many great metal lip swimmers on the market, but my go to is the Danny Surface Swimmer because Gibbs makes high quality baits that always swim great out of the package, nice finishes, and quality components.

Honorable Mention: Tsunami Timber Flat Nose Swimmer

Best Metal Lure: Tsunami Diamond Jig

Tsunami

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Key Features

  • Weights: ½ to 16 ounces
  • Colors: Chrome, Gold, Glow
  • Erratic fall

Why It Made the Cut

You need a diamond jig in your tackle box because no lure casts farther, and they come in a wide range of weights, making them ideal for boat anglers fishing varied depths and current strengths.

Pros

  • Unmatched casting distance
  • Gets to the bottom fast
  • Great sandeel imitator
  • Can handle the roughest water

Cons

  • For surfcasters, if casting distance isn’t an issue, there are usually better choices

Product Overview

Few lures are more simplistic than a diamond jig. They’re just a diamond-shaped piece of lead with a reflective coating and a single hook. But, they’re also one of the most popular saltwater lures. They are ideal boat fishing lures because they can be fished very effectively in deep rips. Popular boat presentations include yo-yoing and squidding. Yo-yoing is where you repeatedly sweep the rod skyward and let the jig fall, usually near the bottom. Squidding involves dropping the jig to the bottom and retrieving it quickly through the water column. When stripers feed on sandeels, diamond jigs probably account for the bulk of the stripers caught. But, I’ll usually only use diamond jigs for surf fishing when the fish are out of reach of other lures. 

Best Soft Plastic: Tsunami Swim Shad 

Tsunami

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Key Features

  • Lengths: 3 to 9 inches
  • Weights: 3/8 to 6 1/4 ounces
  • Pre rigged
  • Paddle tail

Why It Made the Cut

Few lures can imitate a baitfish better than an internally weighted soft plastic swim shad. Tsunami offers nine different size and weight combinations that make this a lure as versatile as a bucktail.

Pros

  • Very realistic appearance and swimming action
  • Versatile

Cons

  • Bluefish and other toothy predators can destroy them

Product Overview

Few lures can imitate a baitfish better than a soft plastic swim shad. Just drag it through the water, and it will swim like a real fish. You can use a steady retrieve, jig them, or vary your retrieve to elicit a bite. The key is choosing the right length and weight to match the size of the predominant forage and the depth the stripers are feeding. The Tsunami Swim Shad’s versatility and ease of use make it my top choice for a soft plastic lure.

Honorable Mentions: Storm Swim Shad, Lunker City Slug-Go

Best Trolling Lure: Hogy Perfect Tube

Hogy

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Why It Made the Cut

These lures have an almost magical ability to get big stripers to hit any time of the day. From shallow kayak trolling, to boat fishing over deeper structure with the aid of egg or drail weights, these lures trigger hits. Real worms are not necessary, as I’ve used Berkley Gulp worms on the ends of my tubes for many years with great success. 

Key Features

  • Lengths: 16, 19, and 24 inches
  • Colors: Black, wine, and bubblegum
  • Mustad Hoodlum Stinger Hook

Pros

  • Phenomenal productivity
  • Can troll in as little as 5 feet of water

Cons

  • Gets bit by interference fish such as porgies and sea bass

Product Overview

You can catch big stripers with a tube and worm in a few feet of water in the spring or 20 or more feet in the heat of summer. It’s rare to find a lure that can cover so much of the water column with a perfect presentation, but the Hogy Perfect Tube does it. I troll these weightless in my kayak in 6 to 10 feet of water, but can easily move out to 25 feet with the addition of a one-ounce egg sinker. Deeper water can be fished with heavier sinkers. The key to catching fish on a tube and worm is to troll them slowly. I aim to troll these lures at around 2 mph, adjusted for the current speed.

FAQs

Q: What baits do striped bass eat? 

Maybe the better question is, “What won’t they eat?” Despite all of the mystique surrounding stripers, they are scavengers. When I used to keep an occasional striper, I would always examine stomach contents, and I’ve found just about every kind of fish and crustacean in their environment. I even found a red and white ball-point pen in the stomach of a 28-pound striper. The only thing I’ve not found in a striper’s stomach is another striper. I did however encounter a big dead striper with a smaller striper stuck in its throat. 

Q: How do I target large stripers? 

I think the most direct route to a big striper is a live or rigged eel fished at night. There’s a saying that goes “What’s the difference between a striper caught on an eel and one caught on a lure?” Answer: About 20 pounds. Eels do a superb job of attracting large bass and culling large bass from schools of predominantly small ones.

Q: Are worms good bait? 

If fish size doesn’t matter, worms are a phenomenal striper bait. If my life depended on catching a striped bass, I’d fish with sandworms after dark. The standard bottom rig has a small cigar float to keep the worms a couple of feet off the bottom. That’s not to say that they won’t work in the daytime, but you’ll likely encounter more interference fish. 

How to Choose the Best Bait for Striped Bass

The best advice I could give to a new striper angler would be to purchase a few proven lures, and go from there. 

A good start for a surfcaster would be to get bucktails in weights ranging from ¾ to 2 ounces, along with the strips mentioned in the bucktail section. If you’re going to fish inlets, you might need some 3-ounce bucktails depending on depth and current. You’ll also want a couple of pencil poppers in the 2-ounce range. Add a couple of floating 6-inch Daiwa SP Minnows. If you’re going to fish moderate to rough surf at night, include a bottle plug and 6-inch sinking needlefish. To round out your surf casting kit, include a few Kastmaster lures in the 1-2-ounce range. I mention these over diamond jigs because they can be worked shallower. 

This striper fell for the author’s favorite lure, the bucktail. John Skinner

If you’re a boat angler you’ll want the same lures, but instead of the Kastmaster, go with diamond jigs of the appropriate weight for where you’re fishing. These will likely be in the 2-6-ounce range. 

With all of these bass lures, keeping it simple with natural colors and white is always a good choice. It’s also vital that you become a regular customer of a well-respected tackle shop close to where you intend to fish. These are the local experts and in almost all cases will help you enthusiastically. 

Final Thoughts

My approach to lure selection is to stick to what I have confidence in, because that eliminates one variable in the equation of catching fish. There are so many other things to think about, such as whether the tide is right, or the water quality is OK, or if the fish are actually present. Only after I’ve established all of that will I experiment with anything new, and even that will likely be just a subtle change on what’s already working. New anglers, or experienced anglers on a new fishery, are faced with the challenge of building that initial confidence in their lures. If your target is striped bass, I’m confident that my suggestions for best bait for striped bass will get you to a place where you’re anticipating a hit on the next cast because you believe in your lure selection.