15 Minutes with Capt. Mike Hogan
Schoolie reports/rumors start trickling in come April. While schoolie stripers aren’t the most glorious size-wise, they often bring as much excitement as their bigger cousins as anglers with cabin fever search for the first “sea run” (i.e., not holdover) fish.
Tides: Tides are important as they dictate where you fish. Often the first schoolies arrive in tidal estuaries. At high tide, schoolie stripers will swim way up inside the ponds, foraging on baits in the warmer water. But as the tide drops, savvy anglers will know to fish at the mouths of these creeks and rivers as bait flushes out of the ponds. Schoolies will line up for the buffet!
Lure and Rigging Selection: Often schoolie stripers arrive before a serious amount of migratory bait does. Your best bet is to match the local hatch. Small forage and worms hatches:
4.6” Hogy Sand Eels: Yes, the name implies that these baits imitate sand eels, but they perfectly replicate many small bait-fish, especially the grey ghost color. Fish this bait rigged on a ¼- or 1/8 ounce Hogy jig head or Hogy weighted 1/0 swim bait hook. This weedless hook will help you bounce the sand eel on the bottom without getting hung up.
4” and 6” Skinny Hogy: If there are worm hatches in your neck of the woods, this is your go to bait. Fish these with the same rigging you would with the sand eels. If your outfit is light enough to cast very light lures, try the un-weighted versions of our 1/0 swim bait hooks for the 4” Skinny and the 4/0 version for the 6” Skinny.
5” Bunny: These little baits have an over sized paddle tail for extra thump. These baits are excellent “search baits.” Simply cast and retrieve them and let the paddle tail do the rest. The best way to rig these baits is with a 5/0 weighted swim-bait hook.
4.6” Mini Squid: Those of us who live near waters where squid are found know how much stripers love to eat squid. This bait is ideal for open water conditions. We recommend the 4/0 Hogy Soft Circle hook for rigging.
Black: An excellent nighttime color – if you can stand the cold water when the sun goes down!
Bone: A popular daytime color that almost always works. You simply can’t go wrong with bone. Sometimes a two-tone dark/bone color like grey ghost can unlock the jaws of finicky stripers.
Pink: There are two forage items that stripers can’t resist: Squid and worms. Pink is reasonably imitative of both!
Retrieve: Whether you are trying to finesse a bait or cover ground, the water is cold in this early time of year, so fish your baits relatively slowly.
Twitch Twitch: Keep your tip pointed toward the water while twitching the rod tip. This technique is often known as walking the dog. Break up your retrieve with a series of pauses, allowing your bait to fall to the bottom. Once it settles, start retrieving again but be sure to keep a tight line during the fall as stripers will often softly pick up a bait at this time.
Crank and Search: The retrieve method is best suited for swim baits such as our Bunnies above. Keep your tip parallel to or slightly pointed toward the water. Pause briefly every now and again, but keep the retrieve going. The whole idea is to cover ground to find where the fish are congregated.
Outfit: A lightweight outfit capable of throwing ¼-ounce lures is key. You will be throwing very small baits. Lighten up your braid.
Line and Leader: Line is possibly the most important part of the equation as you are tasked with the challenge of throwing very light baits in what are often windy conditions. We recommend 20-pound test braid for extra distance – the stuff absolutely flies through the guides. Be sure to tip the braid with 10-pound test fluorocarbon leader, attached with a double Albright knot or uni to uni. We prefer tying direct as opposed to a small swivel for an extra stealthy presentation. Not a braid fan? Try Yozuri Hybrid 10-pound test.
Knots and Tying Direct: The lures we recommend for schoolie stripers are small and light. In addition to casting, your other challenge is to make sure your bait is swimming properly. We recommend tying direct with a loop knot. The loop going through the eye of the hook will allow the bait to swing on the line. Fluorocarbon is stiffer than mono, so this extra touch can really enhance the lure’s action.