Catching Calamari-Crazed Stripers

Striped bass love squid—so much so that fishermen once referred to them as “squid hounds.”

It took me a bit to realize where the sporadic black-brown stains in the water were coming from. I was standing on the bow of the Done Deal, Captain Bobby Rice’s 33-foot Invincible, rod in hand, waiting to come within casting range of the breaking striped bass.

The bass were breaking over a wide area, the size of a football field, but not in any concentrated groups. Still, just about anywhere you looked, you could see the white-water detonation left by a feeding bass. This was considerably different from that morning’s blitz, when the stripers packed tightly together as they swam just below the surface, mowing down clouds of larval sea herring.

Squid-hounding striper
Squid-hounding stripers are suckers for topwater plugs.

As I wound up to cast, a bass broke just off the bow, sending a group of squid flying, and I immediately realized those stains were the ink released by the panicked cephalopods.

“Did you see that?” I shouted, but before I heard an answer, a striper engulfed my topwater plug.

Striped bass love squid—so much so that fishermen once referred to them as “squid hounds.” It’s long been one of my favorite nicknames for stripers, but until that morning off Cape Cod with Rice, I’d never actually seen stripers hounding squid.

longfin squid
longfin squid

Stripers dine on two different species of squid. The longfin squid moves inshore every year in varying numbers. Stripers encounter them from the east end of Long Island up to Maine. The shortfin squid is usually a pelagic species, but some years, shortfins move inshore in massive numbers, giving striped bass an all-they-can-eat calamari appetizer. By the end of May, it was apparent that 2018 was one of those years.

shortfin squid
shortfin squid

When stripers find squid in open water, the action takes place on the surface in spectacular fashion. To get a better view of the action, I climbed onto the Done Deal’s T-Top, where I watched small groups of squid jetting frantically under the surface while stripers chased them like hounds after a hare. To evade capture, the squid would take to the air and glide a few feet before touching back down. More often than not, by the time they landed, there were bass waiting for them. When a striper caught up to one of the squid, the strike was violent, like a submarine mine had gone off, sending a small geyser of white water up where the squid had been one second before.

Reverse Atom Popper

Classic Calamari

In the 1940s and 1950s, fishermen had far fewer options when it came to striper plugs. When they needed a long-casting lure, they took one of the most popular plugs of the time, the Atom 40 metal-lip swimmer, and placed the rear hook on the line tie. Coming in tail-first, the lure looked like a squid, jetting across the surface to evade a pursuing striper. This modification was so effective that Bob Pond, creator of Atom lures, put it into production, calling it the Reverse Atom. This lure, though awkward looking, was a good representation of a squid with its transparent amber color. Though it’s no longer made, it occasionally appears at flea markets and garage sales, and would make a fine addition to a fishing plug collection and an even better addition to a surf bag stocked with squid-imitating lures.

Matching the color and action of a panicked squid is the most important part of getting bites in the middle of striper-squid savagery. We walked topwater plugs, like the Daddy Mac RD Bomb, through the fleeing squid and had hits nearly every cast.

Finding stripers blitzing squid in open water or in the surf is a dream-come-true scenario, and one that doesn’t play out very often. Most often, stripers slake their hunger at the shoals and rips where squid spawn.

squid imitating lures
Squid Lure Colors
Squid have the ability to change color through chromatophores, pigment cells in their skin that expand and contract, in order to communicate with each other. Popular lure colors for imitating squid include red, white amber and pink.
(shown left to right)
• Beachmaster Gibbs-style Needle
Super Strike Zig Zags (white and amber)
Fish Snax Lures ‘da Squid
Drifter Tackle Doc
Ocean Born Flying Pencil (white and pink)
Lemire’s Plugworks Calamari Popper
Z-Man Heroz
• D.R. Pencil

During the strongest periods of the tide, stripers will chase squid through the face of standing waves in the rip line, creating exciting sight-casting opportunities. Topwater lures will catch in the rips, but soft-plastic stickbaits are tough to beat. Rigged weightless on wide-gap swimbait hooks or on light jigheads, the soft plastics dance and dart just below the surface as they sweep into the rip.

Stripers feast on squid just as greedily after dark, but the action takes place near the bottom, often within reach of surfcasters. With their gliding actions, darters and needlefish plugs make realistic representations of squid. Bucktail jigs, fitted with split-tail or hackle feather trailers, also swim like squid on straight, slow retrieves.

striper on squid underwater
Live-lining squid is a productive way to catch stripers.

And though few fishermen do it these days, fishing the squid themselves is a productive way to catch stripers. Fresh, dead squid can be fished whole on a fish-finder rig in the surf while live squid can be live-lived with no added weight.

The squid-hounding stripers of spring provide some of the most exciting fishing of the season, so whenever you hit the water in May and June, be sure to have some imitation calamari with you.

7 on “Catching Calamari-Crazed Stripers

  1. LOU

    DONT BE FOOLED BY THIS ARTICLE , SMOKED KIELBASA WORKS THE BEST WHEN STRIPERS ARE FINIKY. RIGHT ANDY ?

  2. Joe

    My daughter likes fishing and I have been trying to catch a striper with her. Granted, I don’t know much about shore/beach casting but I am trying to learn. Maybe I missed this in the article but…..I heard that if you are fishing using bait you use mackerel in the beginning part of Summer and squid towards the end. Is this true?

    1. Ben

      It really depends on what they’re feeding on Joe, and what time you plan on fishing. I know guys that are pretty loyal to bunker, and some are loyal to eels. On The Water has some great articles regarding stripped bass and surf casting. I personally check out the bait around the beach. If I have no luck landing anything, then I hit up the tackle shop. This time of year mackerel run through April. Going for something live is always good, either live lining bunker or throwing a live eel like a plug. Don’t bother touching frozen bunker man.

      I’m no professional. Just learned a lot from trial an error.

  3. Nostromo

    The thing about fishing for stripers is that by the time you read of a hot technique something else has supplanted it. Last December 12th the fish that were onto something three times outside casting distance moved right onshore at sunset and into civil twilight. I think these were bass feeding casually on herring; my best hunch. I threw everything I had at them to no avail and I didn’t have any bait. A small piece of bunker or a finger mullet might’ve done the trick. Haven’t been out this season so far. Might have to wait until the fall when, hopefully, the pandemic is under control.

  4. Xia Corowski

    I once was in a blitz outside of Norvis bay- so many squids- using Gia dees white popper- killed the bass that day.
    I would love to catch some squid now for frying, for making skins.
    Under the sea fun!

  5. Luis Javier Rodriguez

    Here in Rhode island fresh caught squid free lined is deadly no other bait has produced as good for me get your squid jigs ready catch a few and ice them out good if you don’t catch stripper they are not there.

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