What more can you say about eels? They’re readily available; they take fish in the surf, rips and rocks from Maine to North Carolina; and they are simple to store and keep alive. Best of all, stripers can’t seem to resist them, and nothing works better at night. Indeed, the majority of state and IGFA record fish have been taken on eels fished at night. While many anglers score well by fishing eels in deep water (30’ plus) on heavy 3-way or fishfinder rigs, try lobbing them unweighted into shallow (10’-15’) rocky areas without additional weight. The live eels will instinctively head for the bottom—right where the fish are waiting.
2: Diamond Jig
Diamond jigs are about as basic a lure as you can get, but they remain remarkably effective, especially when big bass are holding in deep water with strong current. These long, shiny lures imitate a variety of prey items, including herring, butterfish, menhaden and squid. In addition, their streamlined shape and weight allow them to reach bottom quickly in strong current, which is key when fishing deep (30’-plus) shoals, wrecks, pinnacles or rock piles. One of the best ways to fish a diamond jig is to free-spool it to the bottom then lift the rod tip sharply to make the jig dart several feet toward the surface. Lower the rod to let the jig flutter back to the bottom and repeat. Be ready to set the hook as the jig free-falls, as this is when a striper is most likely to inhale the lure. Many diamond jigs come rigged with treble hooks, but re-rigging with single hooks will often help you hook, and land, more fish.
Mackerel are top baits for big stripers from Cape Cod through southern Maine. Live tinker mackerel are terrific, but the little “tack” macks—about the size of your index finger—can be even deadlier. Rig them on 3’ of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader and a 5/0 Octopus hook (for the tinkers) or a 4/0 Octopus (for the tacks). Hook the bait upward through the upper jaw and toss it into the surf along the rocks, or fish it under a foam float in quiet bays or rivers. A great way to fish mackerel is to live-line them, with or without a float, around exposed rocks or subsurface ledges washed by ocean swells. The big bass lurk under the ceiling of whitewater at the base of the rocks, waiting to pick off confused or injured baitfish, and a live mack tossed into this “kill zone” doesn’t stand a chance.
4: Parachute Jig
The parachute jig has probably produced more stripers than any other wire-line lure. At first blush it doesn’t look like any kind of baitfish a bass would be interested in, until you consider how it performs underwater. Unlike most other lures fished on wire, the parachute should be jigged for the best results. This makes the “reverse” skirt flare as the jig darts through the water, imitating a large baitfish or squid. The best way to achieve this action is to hold the rod upside-down, with the tip pointed at the water, and make sharp, sweeping motions, almost like using a broom. White, pink and chartreuse parachutes are particularly effective in areas where adult menhaden, herring, shad and squid are present, while darker patterns (black, purple) often work well over rocky reefs inhabited by scup, sea bass, cunner and the like. Another great thing about parachutes is that they can be trolled very deep, up to 40’ or 50’ without additional weight. A final note on fishing parachutes: Always add a long strip of pork rind to the hook.
Live or dead, it’s hard to beat a fresh bunker (pogy) when targeting big bass. Top guides go to great lengths to obtain and preserve these baits if they can’t catch them right before a trip. A brine solution helps preserve the slime coating and natural color of the dead bait, which can make a big difference in getting a lazy cow to eat. Live menhaden can be slow-trolled or drifted by hooking them crosswise through the nose or just ahead of the dorsal fin. Treble hooks (4/0-5/0), circle hooks (8/0) and single Octopus (6/0-7/0) hooks all work well. As for chunking, bunker heads are tops, with chunks cut from the mid-section favored second. Try to hide the hook inside the bait so the fish can’t see them.
Live scup can be devastating on big bass, particularly during midsummer when other large forage species are scarce. Scup must be over the legal size limit to use as bait, which means they need to be big. A good way to rig them is on a 3-way or sliding-sinker (fishfinder) rig, with an 8’ leader and an 8/0 circle hook. Scup should be hooked through the lips and drifted in deep water, preferably over hard-bottom areas where these fish typically gather. Some anglers remove the bait’s dorsal and pectoral spines to make it easier for a striper to swallow.
7: Large Surface Swimmer
Traditional wooden plugs like the Danny Plug, Goo Goo Eyes and Gibbs Casting Swimmer haven’t lost their effectiveness on big fish just because they’re old. These lures continue to perform when bass are feeding on big baits such as menhaden, herring and squid near the surface in the surf, rips or around rocky shorelines. The plugs work best when retrieved slowly to make them wiggle like a wounded baitfish. In addition to the commotion they create, the plug’s wide profile is easy for bass to see amid turbulent water. White, yellow and “rust” colors often produce best during the day, while black and purple are tops at night.
When a newbie angler first lays eyes on a tube lure, his first reaction is usually one of disbelief. However, skepticism quickly fades once the 3’ length of surgical tubing is deployed and big bass start coming over the rail. Tubes come in many lengths and colors, but the most common are 18” to 24” versions, particularly when the fish are holding in 10’ to 30’ of water. Top colors are red, black and fluorescent. Tubes are generally trolled on wire or 40-pound leadcore line to get them close to the bottom in areas of rock or kelp. The main thing is to troll them as slowly as possible—anything over 3 knots is too fast. Tubes work best when trolled through the water at a slow, steady clip, and there’s no need to impart action by moving the rod. And while some anglers like to “tune” the internal through-wire of their tubes to give the lure a pronounced serpentine motion, others feel that a straight and streamlined action draws more strikes. No matter how your tubes swim, however, there is one thing all tube fishermen agree on: Always place a big, juicy seaworm on the rear hook to emit natural scent.
9: Bunker Spoon
Take one look at a bunker spoon and you’ll understand why it takes trophy bass. After all, you’ve got to have a pretty big mouth to even think about inhaling one of these shoe-sized slabs of steel. As its name implies, a bunker spoon is designed to imitate a large menhaden, as well as a herring or shad, and works best when schools of these forage fish are present. Bunker spoons are usually fished on wire line and trolled very slowly (2-3 knots) around the outskirts of bait schools, areas of rocky bottom or along depth-contour lines. The mega-spoons also work well around river mouths when herring are returning to the ocean after the spring spawn.
Big soft-plastic baits are extremely effective around rocks, in rips, and other turbulent zones where the fish are feeding near or just below the surface. Slug-Go’s, Hogies, Got Strypers, Ron-Z’s and Fin-S-Fish in the biggest sizes really get the attention of big fish. Fish them on a 7’ medium-action rod, 30-pound braid, and 3 feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. Slow, erratic retrieves often work best, but don’t hesitate to try a faster retrieve if the fish are aggressive.
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