An Introduction to Plugging for Stripers

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This article will be an introduction to plugging for striped bass.  My goal is that this article is to give you more knowledge and help you become a better fisherman.  I will cover the necessary gear, lures, tides, and areas to cover when casting lures for striped bass.

If you are considering to start plugging for stripers the gear that you choose is very important.  I believe that the reel that you choose is most important.  Plugging for stripers requires that you make hundreds of casts a day.  The reel has to be able to perform otherwise it will be a very frustrating day.  My preference is a Quantum Smoke HD.  This reel has great line capacity, a smooth drag can cast a mile, and it is very durable.  

The line that you choose to put on the Quantum Smoke HD is also very important.  I always have 30-50lb FINS XS Braid or 40G  spooled up on my reels.  In most cases, I use an Alberto Knot to join the braid to a 2-3ft foot GAMMA fluorocarbon leader.

Choosing one rod is impossible when you are plugging for stripers.  In my opinion, fishing rods are like golf clubs.  There is one rod for a very specific purpose.  If you become a serious striper plugger you will find that over time you will have a rod for every technique. 

For many years, I did get by with one multi-purpose rod.  That rod was a Phenix Ultra MBX 7’7” with an 8-17lb line rating.  It is light, strong, and can be used when fishing a variety of lures.

Now here is the fun part.  You can catch stripers while casting a variety of lures.  However, there is a time and place for each of them so the key is to know when and where you need to throw them.  Here are the five different style lures that you will need.

My favorite baits to thow first thing in the morning or in low light condition are definitely topwater baits. These baits often produce quality and quantity of fish.  I warn you that this style of fishing is very addicting.  Watching a big striper blow up on the topwater bait is indescribable and is by far my most favorite way to catch striped bass.  Learn to “walk the dog” at various speeds and Hold On!

The second bait you should have in your arsenal is the BladeRunner Spoon. Here is a real scenario on how and when you will need this bait.  You have arrived at your first spot which was a turn in the levy, where shallow water meets the deep or was it a flooded island, a weed shoal, next to a Tully island or a break in the levy?  Those are all great spots and those are the areas you should be in when targeting stripers?  Just make sure that you have good water movement, good current, and you are in the right spot.  Current is definitely the key ingredient to striper plugging!  

Sorry! I started to get excited thinking about where to fish and got distracted.  So, you just arrived at your first spot and you plan to throw a topwater bait into that 3-8ft of water while your boat is positioned in the deep water that can range between 10-25ft.  You happen to look at your fish finder and see that it appears to be on simulator mode because there is a huge school of stripers sitting right underneath you.  What do you do?  You can’t throw that topwater bait so you put that rod down and grab your rod that has a BladeRunner 1 3/4oz spoon on it.  Let that spoon do the work and let it flutter down to the bottom.  Once it hits the bottom, jig your rod up and let the BladeRunner fall naturally again.  If the stripers are stacked up you won’t have to repeat this process long because they cannot resist that spoon in their face!

If I am fishing an area like a weed shoal I like to throw a lipless crankbait.  A Livingston FlatSide 50 or Flatside 38 allows me to cover a lot of water.  I refer to the lipless crankbait as my search bait.  These baits perform really well when you know the fish are around but not sure exactly where they are schooled up.   Stripers sometimes like the lures moving fast and sometimes they like it slow.  Vary your retrieve accordingly and find out what they want that day.  Don’t forget to add a pause in there as well.  

Swimbaits are a very versatile bait and can be fished in many different scenarios.  My favorite place to throw a swimbait are pumps that are running and pumping water from the farmlands into the delta.  Often times stripers will school up at these pumps waiting for food or preying on the baitfish that are also taking advantage of an easy meal being pumped into the delta.  A ½ or ¾ oz BladeRunner lead head or SpinTrix teamed up with a Madame Lure 5.5 inch Swimbait.  My favorite Madame Lure colors include white, white chartreuse, and calico magic.  Calico magic performs really well when the water is a little dirty and when you know the stripers are feeding on crawdads. 

Jerkbaits are my go-to baits when I am fishing shallow or if I want to fish slow.  Lucky Craft Pointers or Calissa’s both produce and are perfect if you are fishing a flooded island or in 2-8ft of water.  Your bait will only dive to about 2-4ft of water depending on the speed of your retrieve which allows you to keep your bait from getting a bunch of weeds on it.  Glide Baits are another bait that is perfect for this situation.  I enjoy throwing the Savage Gear or River2Sea glides.  Both have produced both quality and quantity of fish for me.

Tides are critical when plugging for stripers.  Personally, I like big tides.  Why? Because I think the stripers become more predictable.  Remember, stripers are predators and they use the current to their advantage to ambush their prey.  In a simple scenario, the current is ripping around a tule island.  I would fish the front and the back of the tule island with concentrated efforts in the back eddy’s and where the water is not moving quite as fast.  Stripers want to be just outside of the current and wait for food to come to them.  Present your bait like it is coming down naturally with the current and the amount of fish you catch will increase.

The delta is huge and it is always changing.  I would highly suggest that you spend some time studying a map to find out where you should fish.  It is most important to identify points, pumps, turns in levy, tully islands, flats, weed shoals, and breaks in the levy.  Don’t forget that current is the most important!  

There is so much information to cover when talking about plugging for stripers but I hope that this gave you a small taste on how much preparation and how much fun this style of fishing can be.  The stripers are moving into the delta and this is a perfect time to get out there.  See you on the water!

By: Ernie Marlan