The Peanut Bunker Boom

Five Lures for Fooling August Stripers

peanut bunker blitz

August begins a transitionary time for striped bass along the Massachusetts coast. Where the early part of the summer is focused around finding bass on larger bait (menhaden, mackerel, squid, herring) August ushers in the age of the peanut bunker.

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The good news is that if you find stripers on said bait, they’ll be eating. In August, only a small percentage of the young-of-year peanut bunker will have left their nurseries for the open ocean. This creates a striper-to-bait ratio that is in the angler’s favor. As the late summer and fall progresses, small bait will become much more abundant, sometimes creating a challenging bite for the angler throwing lures to bass.

airborn peanut bunker
Finding the bait is often more important than fishing good structure once peanut bunker schools show up. Photo by Joey Manansala

As a boat angler, bites can be feast or famine. Much of your success in August will ride on finding bait concentrations. This is where a good pair of binoculars can be a trip saver. If you find the birds, you’ll find the bait, and subsequently, the bass (or blues, or bonito). In August, especially by the middle of the month, I throw my list of honey holes out of the window. Striper fishing in August along the New England coast, especially in Cape Cod Bay and areas North, can often resemble albie fishing. The run-and-gun technique most often associated with seeking out tunoids will prove to be an invaluable technique for hooking up on fast moving schools of stripers. As a result, this list of top August lures focuses on offerings that cast well and cover the entirety of the water column.

fins up striper
In August, only a small percentage of the peanut bunker have left their nurseries for the open ocean. If you find them, chances are good that stripers will be on them. Photo by Billy Mitchell

Albie Snax

The unweighted Albie Snax softbait is the “do-it-all” lure in the arsenal. It’s so prevalent in my day-to-day fishing that I have three entire tackle trays on the boat dedicated to these lures. Where you’ll struggle to cast other unweighted soft plastic baits, the heavier material used in their heavy duty hooks allows you to cast it almost as far as soft plastics on jigheads. The key to getting a good cast with the Albie Snax is your rod and line setup. A medium- or medium-light rod with a fast action, 20-pound braid, and 15-pound fluorocarbon leader will turn the Albie Snax into a missile in the hands of a competent caster.

Albie Snax with VMC swimbait hook
Albie Snax with VMC Heavy Duty swimbait hook

The effectiveness of this lure is simple. Its slow sink rate and “wiggle” makes it an extremely effective and natural imitator of a dead or wounded baitfish. As a result, casting into the middle of the feed and letting it sink with the occasional rod twitch will often draw strikes from the larger bass waiting underneath. If I don’t have a strike on the drop, I’ll begin a slow retrieve with occasional pauses. The Albie Snax is an incredibly versatile lure. You can even fish it topwater in the same way you would fish a spook plug. Bone, amber, or bubblegum all find their places on rods on the boat. We rig our Albie Snax with VMC swimbait hooks on the twistlock screw.

topwater striped bass
Topwater lures shine during daybreak. Photo by Billy Mitchell

Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow

There is just something about the Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow that drives bass crazy. While it’s typically seen as a schoolie killer, big bass will hit a properly walked Jumpin’ Minnow with reckless abandon. Last August, we were throwing Jumpin’ Minnows into a shallow, rocky cove where the bass had pinned a school of peanut bunker. We were picking away at low slot fish when suddenly, we saw a big boil and heard the scream of a drag. The bass measured 42 inches and had bent out the front inline hook. Thankfully, the back hook held true.

Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow
Rebel Jumpin’ Minnow

The Jumpin’ Minnow works best on a straight walk-the-dog style retrieve. Keep it moving with quick, short rod twitches. You may have to play around with hook types and sizes if you’re changing out the stock hooks. If you find that it’s going sub-surface on the retrieve, remove one of the hooks or change out to a smaller set of hooks. The Jumpin’ Minnow does its best work when it’s riding high. I prefer the bone color, and the stripers do too.

Bill Hurley Sandeel
Bill Hurley Sandeel

Bill Hurley Sand Eel

The Bill Hurley Sand Eel is another incredibly versatile lure, but it especially shines when bass are holding deep, either eating sand eels or resting before their next feeding. In these scenarios, depending on depth, I’ll either drop the jig straight down or cast it off the back of the boat. Vertical jigging only seems to work when bass are holding more than 40 feet down in the water column. Most often, bass will hit the jig on the drop. Sometimes, a slow rod lift will be needed to get them to commit. The more traditional “fast jig” seems to work best when they’re actively feeding on sand eels. This technique involves rapid raises and twitches of the rod tip while slowly reeling in slack line. If you can’t get your hands on a Bill Hurley, the next best thing is a JoeBaggs sand eel, an original RonZ or Tsunami holographic sand eel.

striped bass caught on Bill Hurley Sandeel
The Bill Hurley Sandeel is a versatile lure that can be very effective when the bass are holding deep.

The hydro-dynamic head shape of this lure allows it to sink and get into the feeding zone quickly. This means you can use a lighter jig-head compared to other similar lures. Casting the Hurley Sand Eel into a feed and using a straight retrieve can also be deadly. The thin “rat-tail” soft bait portion has a subtle, built-in action without having to twitch the rod.

Guppy Jobo Jr.

While most attribute the Guppy pencil poppers to Canal fishing, they can be extremely effective fished from the boat as well. Long casting is just as important from the boat as it is on the Canal if you’re chasing fast-moving schools of stripers and bluefish under birds. This is especially true when the schools get spooky under grease calm conditions and high sun. With the right rod setup, you can cast these plugs into the next county.

Guppy Jobo Jr.
Guppy Jobo Jr.

The key to getting bit when stripers are on inch-long baitfish is either matching the bait exactly or going in the complete opposite direction—and a loud thrashing pencil popper is an excellent way of going in the opposite direction. I like to work the Guppy Jobo Jr. with fast rod twitches and occasional pauses.

striped bass
Covering ground and finding the birds are often the keys to success in August.

Hogy Pro Tail

An exceptional casting lure with a subtle swimbait action, the 1-ounce Pro Tail will often catch when other lures won’t get a sniff. Its natural swimming action also makes it an ideal search bait when you find a school of peanut bunker. The Pro Tail’s extremely small body in combination with its heavy weight make it a true winner when compared to other, lighter swimbaits. Where other soft plastic swimbaits and shads have a built-in exaggerated roll and heavy tail vibration, the Hogy Protail swims, well, exactly like a peanut bunker.

Hogy Pro Tail
Hogy Pro Tail

A straight retrieve through a school of feeding fish will be your best bet in getting stripers to eat. But when they get finicky, allowing the lure to drop and using big exaggerated rod lifts and reeling in the slack is a deadly technique. The last technique to try is to burn it across the surface and then letting it sink for 5-seconds. Repeat until a striper eats it.

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