I can’t tell you how many species of fish I’ve caught, way too many to count. After sampling many fish and using just about every fishing technique you can imagine, fishing for striped bass is still at the top of my list of fun fisheries. Why do I like stripers so much? The answer is simple: they aggressively hit a variety of lures and I don’t always have to resort to bait.
They are not as finicky or difficult to catch as some fish, but larger stripers are elusive and difficult to entice into hitting a lure, even when they will readily take live bait.
I moved to Boston from Southern California in the early 90s. In California I grew up fishing plastics and participated in the revolution in saltwater plastics in the 70s and 80s. In New England I was surprised to see that soft plastics weren’t the go to bait for stripers, especially after my California plastics were so successful. I was having fun, but my smaller plastics were producing smaller fish, only occasionally catching the big bass.
As the striper population built through the 90s, a few companies in New England started to manufacture bigger plastics. The growing ranks of fishermen using plastics created a new market and companies started to produce baits up to 18 inches long. I quickly switched to big baits, rarely using lures smaller than 9 inches. The size of the fish I was catching went way up!
I have since dialed in my lures and gear to specifically focus on bigger bass. My go to lure is the 13-inch Jiggn Hogy on a Hogy Barbarian Jig Head and I have a few rods designed to cast these big lures. The 13-inch Hogy has earned its way to the top spot in my tackle box because it is large enough to get the attention of big fish, it is a straight tail lure and has an incredible swim, and it is durable enough to withstand the chomps of multiple fish. I prefer straight tails over paddle tails because they are easier to swim quickly and sink faster when fishing in current; I’ve also caught more big bass on straight tails than paddle tails.
Rigging a bait is pretty simple; line the bait up with the jig head to see where the hook point will come out of the bait and slide the hook right through the middle of the plastic so it hangs as straight as possible. A couple drops of superglue can be helpful to keep the bait from sliding down the hook, but aren’t absolutely necessary.
Striped bass bend hooks, especially jig hooks, like no other fish. Large bass regularly eat whole lobsters and crabs. Their hard mouths are impervious to the claws. This makes them tough to hook; hooks don’t penetrate all the way and with just the tip of the hook. Hooks often bend because the line pulls the hook eye away from the tip. I lost many large fish while searching for adequate jig hooks. I fish the Hogy Barbarian head because it uses a 3x strong VMC Barbarian hook. This hook is extremely sharp and its unique shape keeps it from bending under pressure.
I typically fish for bass around strong current and rocks and while stripers aren’t the hardest fighting fish around, they are pretty good at finding the rocks, so I use heavy leaders for abrasion resistance.
On my big plastics rigs, I’m using 50-pound braid to a 50-pound mono or fluorocarbon leader. If I get stuck in the rocks, I can pedal my Hobie® kayak hard enough to pull it out or break the heavy line. I couldn’t use 50-pound leaders when I paddled. If I snagged, I couldn’t break the line.
The baits I’m throwing are big and hefty. They weigh about two ounces each not including the half-ounce to one-ounce jig head. I fish these lures on custom rods built specifically for this type of fishing. I’m using moderate/fast taper rods from United Composites USA. The more moderate taper of these rods throws the large baits better and provides plenty of power to stop big bass from digging into the rocks. I use rods in the 8-foot range rated for one to five ounces and 20- to 50-pound line.
My go-to reels are small conventionals like the Penn Fathom 15 or Daiwa Saltiga 12. I also use large baitcasters such as the Shimano Calcutta BSV or the Daiwa Luna 300. I prefer conventional reels to spinning reels because I can keep a tight line as the lure is dropping and I always have a finger on the line feeling for hits.
I keep at least 3 rods rigged in my Hobie H-Crate. Two have 13-inch Hogys tied on, one with a half-ounce head, the other with a three-quarters ounce head. The third rod will be a bit lighter and have a 10-inch Hogy on a half-ounce head. Having multiple rods rigged with similar lures allows me to switch to the best one as I drift over an area. I’ll switch to the lighter jig heads as I move over a boulder field and go to the heavier one as I hit the edges.
Big plastics aren’t distance casting lures, but with my Hobie I’m pedaling to the spots I need to fish and keeping my casts relatively short.
Having a short line makes it easier to feel the hits and be more precise about my presentations. Working around current or rocks it is important to put your lure exactly where the fish are! Also, the short line allows me to quickly pedal on top of a big fish as they dig into the rocks. Pedaling on top of them changes the angle of the line and keeps it out of the rocks and puts more fish in the kayak.
The basic retrieve with a big plastic is to bounce it off the bottom and swim it in the bottom third of the water column. The typical cast starts off with putting the reel in gear as soon as the lure hits the water. Putting the reel in gear allows me to feel the jig down to the bottom. Many fish hit as it sinks. As soon as the lure hits bottom, I bounce it back up and begin a steady retrieve occasionally stopping to let the lure bounce off the bottom again. Many hits happen right before or after the lure touches bottom.
If you are new to fishing plastics, you might want to start off with a smaller bait like a 10-inch size. They are easier to cast and most anglers are more confident with a smaller bait on the line. Work the lure as described above, but don’t worry so much about hitting bottom, just keep it moving. A smaller bait will catch more fish, especially small ones. When you need to build confidence in a bait, the best way to go out and catch fish!
Big plastics look odd to many fishermen. I’m always asked why I don’t have a second hook in the tail. I don’t need one.
A second hook deadens the swim of the lure. Bass don’t hit the tail. They aim for the head. Big bass swallow the 13-inch Hogy in one gulp. A second hook would do considerable damage to a fish that I plan on releasing. If the lure looks odd to you, resist the urge to add more hooks. Soft plastics have higher hit to hookup ratios than hardbaits with double treble hooks.
If you want to target big striped bass, there is no better bait than a big plastic. Lures in the 10- to 14-inch range are perfect for fish over 20 pounds. You will catch plenty of smaller ones too, but big baits get the attention of big bass!