May 2006


A Guide to Striper Lures
By Tim Sherman


One of the most enjoyable ways to catch striped bass is to tempt them with a cast lure. It is man versus fish in its purest form. We think of plugging or jigging for stripers during spring catch and release season and in fall when they are in a feeding state of mind. These are great times to tie on a jig or topwater plug, but they are not the only times during the season when lures are effective. Many anglers in the light tackle set know lures can be effective all season long. Light tackle fishing in its own right is thought of as targeting shallow water fish. These anglers move out to deeper water as stripers find water temperatures uncomfortable in skinny water.

Things can get a bit confusing when walking down the aisle of a tackle shop in pursuit of productive striper lures. For an angler new to light tackle fishing, any number of questions can arise. What size is best? What about colors? Which lure is best for a given situation? How many should I buy? This last question is easy. As a rule, I buy lures in pairs. This way I have a spare should one be lost in the course of a day’s fishing. If it becomes the “lure of the day” you can offer the second one, for a slight fee of course, to your fishing partner. Read on and you will find the best scenarios for when to use which type of lure.

Soft Plastics

It is easy to get baffled with choosing soft plastics. There are three body styles I like to carry: sassy shads, mullets, and soft jerkbaits. Sassy shads and mullets are very similar in that they both have a paddle-type tail. The mullet style has a more slender body than the prototypical sassy shad. Baits like the YUM Samurai Shad or Riptide Mullet are the best examples. Soft jerkbaits resemble thin-bodied baitfish like bay anchovies and silversides.

You will also find soft plastics out on the market today with the jig head molded within.

When it comes to being cost-effective, these are best used when you are fishing without the fear of bluefish biting through the lure’s tail. They, too, come in the three basic body styles. You will find them marketed under names like Calcutta, Storm, and Tsunami. I am partial to the Tsunami brand and the Trout Mauler. It has a slender whip tail, and at 5/16-ounce, is effective in shallow water. The Paddle Tail Minnow in the 4-inch, 1/2-ounce size fits the size of the mullet baits. The shad style bodies in the pre-rigged line-ups are routinely called swim baits.

The best overall soft jerkbait I have seen is the Bass Assassin. It can be fished in the skinniest of water to deepest whole in the bay simply by varying the size of the jig head to which you impale it. The albino color is the most popular amongst those who cast them. Shad and mullet-style baits are best used in depths of 1 to 12 feet. The paddle tail slows the fall of these lures and they do not achieve depths quickly. My favorite colors include pearl hues, chartreuse glitter, and opaque chartreuse. Sizes in the 4 to 6-inch range are best.

We find crankbaits widely used in the bass fishing realm. However, shallow diving models are effective when targeting stripers in a shallow setting. Rattling lipless crankbaits, categorized as rattle traps, have been popular with striper anglers for years. Manufacturers are producing them in sizes to 1 1/2 ounces. These lures best mimic small shad and menhaden. A typical cast and retrieve is really all you need to do with crankbaits. You may want to rip the rod tip upward a time or two during a retrieve to entice stripers with rattle traps.

The best crankbaits for stripers are the Heddon Swim’n Image (formerly marketed under Excalibur) and the Bomber Speed Shad. When it comes to rattle traps, I haven’t found one yet that outperforms the Stillwater Lures Clatter Shad. For both of these style lures, I carry a selection of chrome, shad, and clown patterns.



Out of all the subsurface lures, the jerkbait is the one you need to impart action to the most. With every downward twitch of the rod tip, a jerkbait will dart and dive. In many instances, the more erratic you make the lure act, the harder a striper will strike it. Most have an elongated minnow style body, and some have a slightly thicker shad body. They come in floating, suspending, and sinking models. When fish are aggressive I choose floating models. I still cast the Mark Sosin Long A as my number one jerkbait.
In fall when water temperatures dip below 55 degrees, I tie on suspending baits and work them slower than I do the floating bait. I let the lure sit for a five count between twitches of the rod tip. Often the strikes come on the initial movement after a pause. The Rapala Husky Jerk and XRap jerkbaits are my favorites in suspending models. Natural hues, the clown pattern, and crazy colors like “the Sosin plug” are what you will find in my box of jerkbaits.

Topwater Plugs

Just the mention of stripers popping topwater plugs gets me fired up. I want to know where to meet and at what time when the bite is on. It is truly one of fishing’s top moments to see a striper crash through the surface to take down a surface lure. I rely on two styles of topwater plugs: those that pop and chug, and those that walk the dog. Poppers have a concaved face that spits water forward as you rip your rod tip toward the water.

Walking baits are those that dart side to side with the same downward motion of the rod tip. These lures work best when stripers are aggressively feeding in the shallows. Yet, don’t hesitate to cast them into the midst of a feeding frenzy in 40 feet of water in the middle of the bay.

My all time favorite topwater plug is the 3/8-ounce Rebel Pop-R. To my dismay, Rebel stopped producing my prized rainbow trout color in this size. Last year I found the 3/4-ounce Tsunami TS Popper to be productive. For walking baits, I like the original Heddon Zara Spook and Spook Jr. There are times when stripers pass on the cigar bodied Spooks in favor of natural shaped plugs. This is when I cast the Tsunami Walking Minnow or the brand’s jointed walker.

Colors, colors, colors. Survey my box of topwater plugs and you will find everything from the natural to the absurd. My choice of natural hues includes shad, rainbow trout, and smelt. However, you will also find hot pink/yellow, purple/blue/gold, and citrus shad. I have learned that the obnoxious patterns can often outperform the natural hues.

These are not the only lures for striper fishing. They are but one angler’s set of fishing tools that bring fish to the boat. This short introduction to lures and their effective uses can help you evolve your own ways of catching stripers with artificial offerings. Maybe you will find a favorite lure and top colors the way.


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