Most of us spend a good part of our fishing time scanning the water for signs of fish activity, especially evidence that baitfish are around. However, there are many trips where baitfish are hard to find and this is particularly true for those of us who fish mostly at night. Stripers focus in on a variety of foods, not only bait fish, but also crabs, lobster, shrimp, and sea worms. These types of baits are not easily seen when scanning the water, but knowledge about the areas you fish will help you guess that these other types of food are available. Of these baits, sea worms are one of the easiest baits to imitate
It isn't exactly a secret that striped bass love to eat sea worms, tube and worm is one of the most popular methods for catching stripers. Worms are common throughout New England, so the odds are that if you are fishing inshore for stripers, worms are available somewhere nearby. Worm spawns are legendary for their bass activity, but catching a bass during a worm spawn isn’t as easy as it sounds. Those who come across bass feeding on spawning worms often find so much bait available that they can’t get the attention of the fish.
Most of us aren’t on the water at the right time to find a worm spawn, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of the stripers’ love for worms! Worms prefer a muddy bottom and an obvious place to look is in the back bays of harbors and estuaries. But don’t think these are the only places to find them, rocky areas often are surrounded by sand and mud, creating ideal habitat for worms.
I’m sure it comes as no surprise that my go to lures for imitating worms are plastics—red plastics. When I am fishing areas where I think that there are high worm populations, I tend to focus on shallow areas, usually about 3’ to 10’ deep. I also tend to fish slower than I would if I were swimming the same plastics trying to imitate bait fish, which means that I have to downsize the weights that I use.
In very shallow water I will fish unweighted, but if there is any current, I want a little bit of weight to keep my plastic closer to the bottom. A lightly weighted swimbait hook or the Hogy weighted grip hook is often all that is needed to keep the bait in the bottom part of the water column. I also use an assortment of small jig heads, usually ½ ounce or less, in areas with little or no current a 1/8 ounce head can be ideal for working plastics slowly off the bottom.
For this style of fishing I prefer longer thinner plastics like the Hogy Skinny in 6” or 9”, large bass worms also work for this style of fishing as well. The bass worms often don’t hold up to stripers, but if you treat the worms as bait instead of lures, then you will be ok. I also like to use the 14” Hogy on a weighted swimbait hook to prospect for larger fish. The big bait is the size of a giant worm and may help get past some of the smaller fish to find the bigger ones.
The best retrieves are slow and twitchy, keeping in close contact with the bottom. If the fish are active, speeding up is always a good idea; fishing faster can put you on more fish.
A few years ago, I was fishing from shore around Deer Island and hit a spot where I was steady into a mix of stripers and cod. The bite was fast and the catch was mixed, each cast I didn’t know what kind of fish I was going to hook. Finally I laid a 29” cod on a rock to get my jig out and noticed that the rock was covered in sea worm parts that the cod had regurgitated. The bite lasted for a week and I noticed the sea worms spit up by the fish each trip; the most effective technique was going low and slow with a half ounce head. The area was mostly rock interspersed with sand and not one that I had considered a spot for worms. This bite changed my approach in areas like this and I now think about whether the fish may be on worms.
Fishing at night I don’t get to see breaking fish too often so I have to roll through my spots and try a number of different tactics. I usually start out where I think bass will be on baitfish, but if those areas don’t produce, I will quickly go through rocky spots where small fish and crabs may be or sandy/muddy areas where worms may be. Including worms in the mix of baits that I am trying to imitate makes me try new spots and find fish I otherwise wouldn’t.