April 21, 2005
The colder waters of early spring are prime times to use bait rigs for stripers. Here's how to use the proper rigs to present your baits correctly.
Now that spring is just around the corner, it's time for surfcasters and boating anglers alike to get out the gear and start looking for the king of the surf: striped bass. Striped bass fishing during the early spring season is by and large a bait-fisherman's time to shine.
Sure, the purist who chooses to use artificial baits will tell you that stripers can be caught on plugs, jigs and metals during the early season; however, the truth is for every striper you will catch on an artificial lure right now, you will probably catch 10 or more fish on bait. So, let's take a look at some of the baits that will pay off for you during the early season, including three of the better rigs for delivering these baits to early-season bass.
Unlike the fall when mullet, bunker, rainfish and other baitfish are abundant, the spring brine has a lot less to offer hungry striped bass in the way of forage. During the spring the principle forage that bass will feed on are sand worms, clams and mackerel. And each one of the rigs highlighted here will allow you to deliver these baits as effectively as possible. What bait you use is often dictated by the forage that is prevalent in the area you are fishing.
The Hi-Low Rig
If you are a beach fisherman in the early season, you are no stranger to the hi-low rig. This rig makes a good choice for use with sandworms, clams and cut baits such as mackerel and bunker. The rig is basically designed to present one of the baits close to the bottom and the other bait about 1 or 2 off the bottom.
The basic hi-low rig can be put together several ways; however, the most common way is to make a double loop on each end of a length of leader line, leaving a 6 to 12 inch length of line on each end on which you snell a hook. A swivel is placed on the top loop, which is then attached to your main line, while a sinker (pyramid for surf-fishing, and a bank sinker for boat fishing) is placed on the bottom loop.
Natural baits, like live eels, are especially effective for spring stripers that are fattening up after a long winter.
No matter how you put together your hi-low rig, one important consideration is the size of the hook you use. When using worms, a short- shank, bait-holder type hook in size 2, 1 or 1/0 will work best. If you choose to use clams or cut baits for bait, bait-holder hooks in sizes 1/0, 2/0 and 3/0 will give you the best results.
Some states have mandated the use of a circle hook when bait-fishing for striped bass, so consult your state's regulations on the use of hooks when bait-fishing.
In-line Sinker Drift Rig
One of the top ways of taking early season stripers from boats is by drifting different baits such as cut bunker, bunker heads, eels and worms. In recent years, a lot more anglers have also started drifting clams for stripers. The one thing most coastal areas have in common, especially in the northern portion of coast, is a healthy stock of surf clams. The abundance of this readily obtained bait has caused more and more serious striper fishermen to use clams during the early season.
When it comes to drifting baits for stripers, the use of conventional tackle and braided line has become the standard among most seasoned bass fishermen. There are two things that favor the use of conventional tackle spooled with braided line.
First, conventional reels employ a direct pull drag system where the line is pulled directly off the spool, instead of an offset drag system like most spinning reels use. This direct pull drag, and no-stretch line, offers a big advantage when using several rods that are held in rod holders to drift the baits. Second, the use of braided line gives the angler a better hook set because of its no-stretch characteristics. Its thin diameter also allows for a better drift with less line drag.
In-line drifting rigs can be put together in several different ways, the most common of which is to snell a hook to a length of leader and attach it directly to your main line via a swivel. Your next step is to attach an in-line wrap around a rubber-core sinker to the line above the swivel. A better way to set up your in-line rig is by changing the sinker to an in-line swivel (a slender sinker with a swivel at each end) or chain sinker. You can then attach you leader and hook directly to the sinker. This type of rig eliminates a lot of the line twist associated with drifting baits, especially when using live eels.
A third alternative for this type of rig is through the use of an egg sinker, which is placed on the main line above a swivel. Your leader and hook is then attached to the swivel. As with the previous rig, the size of the hook is dictated by the type of bait you are using.
Three-Way Swivel Rig
Some of the better striped bass fishing in the early spring is in the deeper channels of the bays and tidal rivers where the currents can be very strong. Taking bass from these faster moving currents requires a rig that will not only hold the bait tight to the bottom but will also allow it plenty of movement when drifting. Here, too, conventional tackle and braided line are a better choice for this type of fishing. In addition to the better drag system on conventional tackle and the advantages of braided line, the deeper water and faster currents you are fishing require the use of heavier sinkers.
Of the three rigs we have mentioned, the three-way swivel rig is the simplest to set up. All that is needed is a three-way swivel that is attached directly to your main line, a sinker snap that is attached to the three-way swivel to hold your sinker, and a hook snelled on a length of leader line.
For this type of rig you will want a longer leader (1 to 3 feet long), which will allow your baits to drift slightly off the bottom with a lot of action. The use of stiffer leader material is also recommenced, since the faster currents and deeper water can cause the leader to get twisted and tangled. The use of a stiffer leader will help keep the rig working properly.
Since eels are prime forage in the deeper waters of the channels, they also make excellent baits for spring stripers that are moving through these areas. A three-way swivel rig is an excellent way of getting the eels down to the bottom in a channel and keeping them there in the swifter currents.
When using eels, a good many seasoned anglers prefer to rig them with two hooks, so a hook can be set as soon as a bass takes the bait. This quick hook set allows for fewer gut-hooked bass.
Eels can be rigged through the use of an eel needle, which is a tool used to sew a length of leader line and a hook through the body of the eel. This hook is placed about three-quarters of the way down the length of the eel and out through the eel's mouth. A second hook is attached to the line and hooked through the eel's head or across its eyes. This allows the angler to drift the eel headfirst.
One last thought on the use of bait for stripers during the early season. Different stretches of the coast become active at different times in the spring. How soon a particular area comes into its prime is determined by where you are fishing and what the current weather patterns are during any given year.
The majority of the striped bass migrate up and down the Atlantic Coast; however, some areas along the coast have healthy resident bass populations. These stripers arrive at the upper reaches of their range a lot sooner than the migrating fish. So get out there and wet a line. You might be one of the first anglers in your area to land a big bass in the new season.