With changing conditions, a smorgasbord of baitfish, and a full spectrum of striped bass sizes, there’s no one lure that will cover an angler for the entire fall run. There are, however, several lures that you should never be without in the fourth quarter.
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The darter has long been a classic fall striper lure, especially on the East End of Long Island. On my early trips to Montauk, fishermen favored yellow darters because they believed it was a good impression of the juvenile, “spike” weakfish that large stripers feasted upon. Truth be told, a meandering darter does a fair imitation of a wide variety of baitfish and is a must have for Montauk and anywhere where else that good current moves over fish-holding structure.
Learn more: How to Fish a Darter
The versatility of the bucktail jig helps it match countless baitfish, fish effectively in a variety of conditions and environments, and catch striped bass when few other lures can. Keep a range of sizes on hand, from ¾ to 3 ounce; for colors, stick to the basics of white, black, and lime/chartreuse.
“I’ve devoted most of my life to that damn deer-hair-wrapped piece of lead. It’s the ultimate fishfinder, in my opinion. It mimics everything. You can fish practically the entire column and it doesn’t discriminate on size or species. Plus, it’s a single hook, so it’s easy on the fish and the angler.” – Stephen Lobosco
Learn More: Bucktails in Boulder Fields for Stripers
Sand Eel Imitations
Especially if you fish the sandy, barrier beaches of New York and New Jersey, a good, soft-plastic sand-eel imitation will keep your surf rod bent throughout the fall. The Bill Hurley Sand Eel, Savage Gear Sand Eel, Tsunami Sand Eel, Fish Lab Mad Eel, and JoeBaggs Sandeel all make convincing sand-lance imitations. And, few Long Island surfcasters would be caught without an AVA style tube-tailed diamond jig in the fall—like the ones made by Sportfish Products—as the diamond jig has long been a sand-eel imitation that surfcasters can use to reach fish far off the beach.
From sandy surf to back bay to boulder field, the minnow plug catches everywhere. Plus, its slender profile matches many of the smaller baitfish swimming through the surf during the fall run. There are plenty to choose from— classics like the Cotton Cordell Redfin and Bomber Long A to more modern baits like the Daiwa Salt Pro Minnow and the Shimano Coltsniper Jerk.
Learn More: Essential Minnow Plugs for Stripers
Soft-Plastic Stickbaits and Paddletails
Up there with bucktails in terms of versatility, 9- to 14-inch soft-plastic stickbaits match a wide variety of baitfish and can fish a range of conditions in just about any habitat where stripers swim.
“Spring run, summer doldrums, peak-fall insanity: if I can have only 1 lure and I can rig it anyway I want, I’m reaching for a 9-inch Lunker City Slug-Go in Arkansas Shiner color.” – Jerry Audet
Paddletail baits, both the classic swim-shad variety and longer, more slender versions that come with matching jigheads, are easy-to-use baits that stripers can’t resist during the fall run. These can be fished on a slow, straight retrieve or in an up-and-down jigging motion.
“A few years ago, I would have said a topwater, probably a pencil popper. The past few seasons, though, I have been catching more quality fish using paddletail soft plastics, usually fished slower and beneath a school or blitz.” – Steve Gallant
“For me if it had to be one lure it would be the 6-inch Bass Assassin Sea Shad in the albino shad color. It catches me more fish in the fall in so many conditions and spots just by changing the weight of the jig head.” – Mike Gleason, TAK Waterman, New Jersey
Learn More: Sandy Beach Soft Plastics
These slender, seemingly actionless plugs sit atop the pantheon of big bass baits because of their castability, versatility, and lifelike profiles. Legendary fish stories, like the “Snowstorm Blitz” at Block Island in 1987, was centered around the needlefish’s ability to cut through an onshore wind, reach the fish, and then provide a convincing facsimile of an unsuspecting baitfish. When it comes to the number of areas and depths a slow-sinking needlefish can catch, especially during the fall run, its only rival is the bucktail jig.
“I would choose the needlefish for no other reason than their versatility. A sinking needlefish, for example, can be fished in 3 feet as well as 30 feet and still effectively cover the entire water column. A needlefish can even double as a topwater/pencil/spook in a pinch. The same versatility cannot be said of many other plugs.” – Toby Lapinski, The Fishing Wire, Connecticut