Striped bass (Roccus saxatilis) add a dimension to surf fishing that can only be described as incredible. These raucous rogues rampage in the surf from the Coquille River northward to the Siuslaw River, but the best fishing is to be found on the beach at Bastendorff Beach, North Beach and Horsefall Beach. The stripers are in the surf anytime from mid September through February before entering the estuaries in mid March. Your whole world changes when a large striper strikes your bait. Your entire body comes to life as adrenaline courses through it reacting to the surging runs of the striper as it uses its body to free itself.
The best fishing occurs during low to moderate surf on an incoming tide with the two hours prior to high slack tide being the most productive using sand crabs (Emerita analogo), spiny mole crabs (Blephoripoda occidentalis), sand shrimp (Callianassa californiensis) or sand worms (Nereis vexillosa) for bait. Cast the bait over the backside of the largest breaker as it crests in areas adjacent to deeper water. The incoming tide in combination with the wave action of the surf churns the sand exposing the sand crabs, sandworms and other intertidal animals on which the stripers feed.
Sand crabs are the most numerous intertidal animals found in the surf. They are the small crustaceans seen burrowing themselves in the wet sand as you walk along the surf. Their location under the dry sand is often disclosed by a small hole about the size of matchstick or a shallow dimple or small mound in the sand. Hardshell sand crabs are the most common ones used for bait, but the softshelled sand crabs are the most preferred. Use the larger sand crabs as bait for striped bass and the smaller ones for surfperch. Bait the sand crab to the hook by inserting the point of the hook into the mouth exiting the rear portion of the crab resulting with the eye of the hook positioned at the mouth of the crab and the barb pointing toward the front of the crab. Inserting the hook into the rear of the sand crab and up and through the back is an alternative method for hooking them. Sand crabs are not usually sold at bait or tackle shops. The angler has to dig his own by hand or screen them using a sand screen. Using a sand crab screen built from ½ inch wire mesh and ¾ inch plywood is the most efficient method to catch sand crabs. To screen sand crabs, set the screen on the wet sand in an area where the crabs are active. Disturb the sand with your foot to wash the crabs into the screen.
Sandworms are one the most effective baits available to the angler, but only the most ardent surf fishermen use them. All of the shallow water fish species associated with the ocean beach will eagerly take sandworms. They are usually 6 to 8 inches long and have so many legs they resemble a millipede. Sandworms are carnivorous and can bite. Their undesirable appearance and the fact their bite stings limits their popularity with anglers but not with the fish. Dig for sandworms in the tidal flats of the bays during low tide and fish them in the surf for striped bass on the high incoming tide. Bait the sandworm by inserting the point of size 2/0 hook through the mouth threading as much of the sandworm onto the hook as possible. Both sand crabs and sandworms are superior bait, but because of convenience and availability the sand shrimp is the bait most often used.
Sand shrimp are difficult to keep on the hook. The best way to bait a shrimp onto the hook is to thread the shrimp on the hook leader using a bait needle. Insert the bait needle into the mouth of the shrimp through the body cavity and into the tail. Attach the loop on the hook leader to the notch in the end of the bait needle. Pull the needle and the hook leader loop through the shrimp. Slide the shrimp up the leader line away from the leader loop. Pinch the hook leader loop between your thumb and index finger. Attach the hook to the hook leader loop by pushing the end of the pinched hook leader loop through the eye of a number 2/0 bait holder hook. Slip the hook leader loop over the hook and pull tight. Slide the sand shrimp down over the hook and you are ready to fish.
Surf fishing for striped bass requires using larger hooks than those used on the typical surf fishing leader. Use size 2/0 bait holder hooks for sand crabs, sandworms and sand shrimp. The surf fishing leader for striped bass consists of a 30 pound test fluorocarbon line 6 feet long with 3 dropper loops tied into it. Tie a barrel swivel to one end of the surf fishing leader and a snap swivel on the other. Tie the end with the barrel swivel to the end of the main line. Attach a 2 to 6 ounce pyramid sinker to the snap swivel on the other end of the surf fishing leader. Tie three 12 inch hook leaders with loops on both ends using 30 pound test fluorocarbon line. Loop one end of the hook leader over the dropper loop. Slip the other hook leader loop through the dropper loop and pull tight. Pinch the hook leader loop between your thumb and index finger. Attach the hook to the hook leader loop by pushing the end of the pinched hook leader loop through the eye of a number 2/0 bait holder hook. Slip the hook leader loop over the hook and pull tight. Bait the hook with sandworms or sand crabs, and you are ready to fish.
Some anglers are addicted to the thrill of catching stripers on hard baits. For those anglers, bait fishing cannot replace the action of casting lures into the surf. The Diamond Jig, Buzz Bomb, Point Wilson Darts, Krocodile lures and Miki’s Spoon are some of the more popular hard baits. Stripers respond to the flash of chrome lures. Adding a small piece of red hackle to the treble hook and a few drops of herring oil only adds to the lure’s effectiveness. Cast the lures as far as possible into the surf allowing the lure to sink to the bottom. Retrieve the lure by swimming it back through the surf allowing the lure to fall to the sand every few feet. The lure hitting the sand mimics a wounded forage fish. Striped bass are opportunistic. They react instinctively by seizing the lure.
Soft baits are another productive option anglers should include in their tackle bag. Leadhead jigs are the most productive soft bait fallowed by the Berkley Power Grub. The Berkley Power Grub fished in the surf will take both striped bass and redtail surfperch. Apply a few drops of herring oil to the jig to eliminate the human scent and cast the jig as far as possible into the surf. Retrieve the jig by jigging it back through the surf.
Striped Bass enter Coos Bay and Umpqua Bay in the middle of March to spawn upriver in June. The larger mature striped bass enter the bay earlier than the smaller striped bass moving upriver into the upper tidal reach of the Umpqua River, Smith River, Coos River, Millicoma Rivers and the South Fork of the Coos River. The fishing can be good in the upper tidal reach in these rivers for the larger fish during the initial run in the middle of March and red hot throughout the upper bay and tidal reach during April and May. Water temperature is the key that triggers striped bass to spawn. The temperature of the water in the Smith, Umpqua and Coos Rivers is seldom high enough for striped bass to spawn successfully. Juvenile striped bass grow rapidly attaining a length of 16 inches by their third year with large individuals attaining a maximum length of 4 feet. Striped bass usually live between 10 and 12 years of age. The oldest striped bass tagged in Oregon was 27 of age and weighed 18.6 kg. After spawning in June the stripers move down river into the bays feeding heavily before returning to the ocean by mid September.
Wolf packs of stripers roam the bay ravaging forage fish while the larger more solitary stripers relate to structure by using the structure to ambush their prey. Early in the run live herring are the most productive bait. Feeding seabirds often disclose the location of herring or striped bass feeding on herring. Jig for herring and use them for bait or purchase them live at Umpqua Bait in Winchester Bay (5412714511). Double hook the herring as previously described by inserting a size 4 hook under the herring’s lower jaw pushing it up into the herring’s nose. The hook imbedded in the nose should rest with the point of the hook facing forward. Then imbed one of the barbs from the size 1 treble hook into the flesh just underneath the skin behind the dorsal fin with the point of the treble hook facing forward. Cast the live herring into the school of feeding bass. Baiting the herring with a single hook is another productive option. Tie a size 4 hook or larger to a 6 foot length of the 30 pound test fluorocarbon line attached to a size 3/0 barrel swivel on the end of the main line. To bait a live herring with a single hook, thread the hook through the thin membrane behind the lips. Push the hook through the flesh just under the skin behind the dorsal fin. Live herring hooked in this manner is constantly swimming trying to escape the hook in its back. The vibration emitted by the fleeing herring attracts striped bass. When a striped bass strikes the herring release several feet of line to give the striped bass the time to swallow the herring. Allow the striped bass to bend the rod all the way down before lifting the rod with sweeping motion to 12:00 o’clock high to set the hook. Use frozen sardines or herring for bait if live herring are not available.
To present a previously frozen sardine or herring to surface feeding bass, use a 3 foot long fluorocarbon leader rigged with a treble hook. Tie a size 3/0 barrel swivel to the end of the main line. Tie the fluorocarbon leader to the other end of the barrel swivel. Tie a loop on the end of the hook leader line. Thread the herring onto the leader line by inserting the bait needle into the lower jaw exiting through the nose. Pull enough of the leader line through the hole to complete baiting the herring. Insert the bait needle into the mouth through the body cavity exiting at the anal cavity. Attach a size 1/0 treble hook to the loop by pinching the loop on the end of the leader line together and pushing it through the eye of the treble hook. Slip the loop over the treble hook. Pull the shaft of the treble hook into the anal cavity while burring one of the barbs of the treble hook into the herring. If the herring are soft and collapse balling up on the leader line, insert a round toothpick along the backbone. Use a small copper clip to hold the herring’s mouth closed. Cast the herring into the school of surface feeding striped bass by positioning the boat to intercept them.
Striped bass are sensitive to noise and any sound will spook them. As you approach them be sure to turn the engine off well in advance and refrain from making any sound that will spook them. Use the tidal current to drift into casting distance of the feeding bass or anchor the boat and wait for the bass to come to you. Using a trolling motor is the best way to approach the spooky striped bass but be sure the trolling motor has a thrust capacity high enough to overcome the velocity of the tidal current.
The larger more solitary stripers often relate to structure. Use the power of the trolling motor to position the boat down current from submerged structure. Cast the herring rigged with a sliding sinker to the base of the structure. Work the herring down, around and through the structure slowly retrieving the herring to the boat. If fishing in the submerged structure is unproductive try drifting in the deepwater channels adjacent to the tidal flats. Fish on the bottom back bouncing a herring on a mooching rig just as you would for salmon or drift fishing with a herring suspended from a bobber.
The spawning run of herring and shad overlap with striped bass as they enter Coos Bay and Umpqua Bay each spring. Shad return the Umpqua, Millicoma and South Fork of the Coos Rivers from May into June. Fish for shad and cut them into strip bait. Use the strip bait back bouncing it along the bottom or at mid depth. Mini mooching the strip bait by raising and lowering the tip of the rod causing it to swim through the water is very effective in the upper reach of the Umpqua and Coos Rivers.
To some anglers nothing matches the thrill of catching a striped bass with an artificial lure. The anticipation of the moment is suspended in time as the lure is released and hits the water. The response of the striped bass as it grabs the lure and goes on a line ripping run is a thrill that cannot be satisfied. It is an experience that has to be repeated time and again.
The twilight of evening and the hours after sunset on a high incoming tide is the best time of day to fish for striped bass. The best fishing occurs in the channels adjacent to the tidal flats or at the entrance to the sloughs casting large Rapala or Rebel type lures. Striped bass respond best to broken back lures colored in the rainbow trout pattern or in blue and silver. A chartreuse RatL Trap lure is another equally productive lure. Stripers also respond to the flash of chrome lures. Cast lures to the schools of striped bass when they are feeding on the surface.
Fish leadhead jigs on the down current side of submerged structure such as pilings, jetties and bridge abutments. Fish for striped bass along riprap of sea walls or in areas where forage fish accumulate by casting hard baits such as a Diamond Jig, Buzz Bomb, Point Wilson Darts and Krocodile lures or a Miki’s Spoon into the school of feed striped bass. Angling for striped bass with a fly rod takes the thrill of catching striped bass to a new dimension.
Stripers foraging at the entrance of coves and sloughs provide fly fishermen the opportunity to fulfill one of their greatest expectations landing a striped bass with a fly rod. Use a 9 to 11 weight fly rod with a saltwater compatible reel filled with 150 yards of 25 pound test braided line for backing and a weight forward 10weight intermediate sinking line or floating line with a sink tip. Stripers cannot resist imitations of smelt, anchovies, herring or needlefish patterned flies tied with large eyes to size 1 to 3 hooks fished beneath the surface. The sight of a striper taking a fly from just under the surface and going on a line ripping run is an exhilarating experience one that can literally rip the rod right out of your hands. Release all striped bass less than 30 inches in length. Remember, conservation is the key that will assure good fishing in the future.
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