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Fishing for Striped Bass: How to Catch Stripers by Drifting Bait

Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, the kitchen, the garden, and out fishing. Many of his projects are featured in his yard.

I caught this South River striper by drifting a chunk of herring

I caught this South River striper by drifting a chunk of herring

Fishing the Current with Light Tackle to Catch Stripers

One of my favorite places to fish for striped bass is right from our dock. Located on the South River and close to the ocean inlet, the current runs fast during the incoming and outgoing tides. Stripers flow into the river with the incoming tide, feeding on schools of baitfish, sand eels and small green crabs. While schoolie-size stripers offer most of the fishing action, larger fish also move with the tides. The current runs fast enough to require a fair amount of weight to hold the bait near the bottom with a traditional slip rig - which also drops the bait down within reach of the hordes of hungry crabs. So instead of weighting down the bait with a large sinker, I use a Cast-Drift-Retrieve technique on light tackle. Drifting bait through the currents is an easy yet very productive technique for catching striped bass.

Striped Bass Fishing Techniques: Cast-Drift-Retrieve

A nice schoolie striper caught from the dock

A nice schoolie striper caught from the dock

My favorite rod for catching striped bass is a 7' medium weight pole and spin caster reel, rigged with 20-lb test braided fishing line. To reduce line twist, I tie a stainless steel barrel swivel to the end of the braided fishing line, then use a snap ring to attach a stainless steel snap swivel to the barrel swivel. Then, I make a 24" leader from 20-lb test mono-filament line that is tied to a #4 circle hook, connecting the leader to the line with another snap swivel. When conditions allow, I do not use sinkers or any other tackle.

My bait of choice is fresh, salted herring that is often sold to lobsterman for baiting their pots. The oily herring creates scent trails as it drifts through the water that attracts the attention of the hungry bass. While fresh bait is preferred, frozen bait works too.

Bait the hook using a chunk of herring or mackerel, or pieces of clam. Cut larger baitfish in half or into thirds depending on the size of the fish. Depending on the depth and strength of the current, just the weight of the bait is often enough to cast and carry the hook down through the currents and down towards the feeding fish.

Cast upstream and then allow the bait to drift back downriver through the current. After casting out, leave the bail open, and the line will free-spool as the bait is carried along and downward with the current. Use your forefinger to control the line as it payouts during the drift.

Another South River schoolie striper

Another South River schoolie striper

Fine-Tuning the Drift

If the current carries the bait along too swiftly to sink, try adding a split shot or two near the top of the leader. If the bait still drifts by just under the surface, more weight is needed but add just a little at a time until the baits sinks properly. If you start catching crabs, there is too much weight and the bait is drifting too slowly along the bottom.

Ideally, the combination of bait and split shot (if needed) will carry the hook downward through the current and near the bottom for the better part of the drift. Striped bass usually hit the bait as it drifts downward near the bottom. By varying your casts—both in distance and angle of direction—you can thoroughly cover the target area before moving on to the next spot.

When a striped bass hits the bait, let the line free spool as the bass starts it run. Point the rod towards the fish, and then quickly snap the bail shut and set the hook. Play and land the fish quickly to allow a better recovery before releasing. Circle hooks result in more lip hook-ups than traditional hooks and are swallowed less often, which helps to minimize injuries when catch and release fishing.

Cast-Drift-Retrieve Fishing Tips

  • The Cast-Drift-Retrieve technique to catch striped bass works from a dock or shoreline, and also works well from an anchored or slowly drifting boat. This can allow you to drift bait into areas around piers and along rocky points where striped bass tend to congregate.
  • Match the weight of the bait and tackle to the depth of the water and the speed of the current. The goal is to use as little weight as possible, yet drift the bait down into the striper's strike one.
  • Clams, sand worms and squid can be effective baits for catching striped bass. The natural baits create a scent trail in the water that helps to attract hungry fish.

Striped Bass Feeding Frenzy -- Check It Out!

Catch & Release Fishing

Help Maintain a Healthy Striped Bass Fishery

Most trophy-sized striped bass—fish measuring 50 inches or longer—are females. Known as cows, these large females lay many times more eggs than their smaller sisters and are essential to maintaining healthy populations of striped bass. Safely releasing large cows helps to ensure future generations of these spectacular fish for many years to come.

Successful catch-and-release fishing begins with your fishing tackle. Circle hooks are very effective and setting the hook properly usually results in catching the corners of the bass's mouth. Circle hooks are swallowed much less frequently than traditional hooks, saving unnecessary internal injury to the fish. I also crimp the barbs closed with pliers, making it easier to remove hooks and reducing injury.

Landing the fish quickly will help to keep the bass strong for a safe release. Grab the striped bass firmly by the lower jaw, and use your other hand to support the midsection of a large fish while lifting and holding it out of the water. Do not hold the fish by the gills.

Use a hook extractor or pliers to remove imbedded hooks. Grab the hook as close to the point as possible, while gently yet firmly twisting and backing out the hook. Pliers or an extractor provide extra leverage without putting additional pressure against the fish.

Return the fish to the water as quickly as practical. But keep in mind that releasing an exhausted and disoriented fish before it has time to recover is lethal. Hold the fish in the water by its tail while supporting the midsection, and within a few minutes, a healthy and uninjured fish will begin to regain its strength. Taking the time to allow a tired fish to recover fully before swimming off on its own will significantly increase its chances of surviving and fighting again on another day.


A female Striped Bass weighing 15 lbs is about 8 years old and lays over 1,000,000 eggs every year!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Anthony Altorenna

Please Share Your Fishing Stories!

renewedfaith2day on May 13, 2013:

Down here in Texas, they drift using live shad. I am intrigued by your "light tackle" technique as folks up here tend to use heavier gear. However, the Strippers here are, for the most part, stocked in resevoirs. I often wonder if this affects their natural behavior. I intend on employing this New England style on my next outing for stripper. Our lakes are also overrun with hybrids that spawn with our native sand bass.

george williams 3 on March 03, 2013:

I fish the inlets too. Much better than the wasteland of the flat sandy beaches. Most of the time at least lol!

pawpaw911 on July 23, 2012:

Nicely done. I have never caught a big striped bass, but maybe some day. Very nicely done. Wish there were more catch and release fishermen.

anonymous on April 02, 2012:

Never did any great fishing! Maybe I should try casting a wider net! :))Thanks for the tips though! :)

anonymous on January 21, 2012:

Cast - drift - retrieve, and hopefully with a stripper attached....sounds like the perfect way to spend a day to me! I got 100% on your quiz...and this is 100% excellent and blessed!

timo5150 lm on January 13, 2012:

Always love fishing tips thanks

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