Surf Fishing for Stripers: Timing, Techniques & Tips

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Every autumn, striped bass pour down the East Coast, from Maine through Maryland, fleeing the approaching winter. With timing, luck, and some crucial knowledge you will learn in this article, you can get in on this moveable feast.

In the spring, those stripers filter back northward, and once again, anglers come to the best beaches and points for a shot at one of these incredible game fish, though at a more leisurely pace.

For me, it’s impossible to beat the beauty of the autumn striper migration if you’re a Northeast saltwater fisherman, and especially if you’ve become as enamored of the magic of the striped bass fall run as I have.

But don’t ignore spring fishing. Over the past decade, to an increasing degree, more and larger fish are routinely taken in the spring season, which starts roughly in mid-April in the Mid-Atlantic and New Jersey and runs through late June up in Maine.

These fish are pushing up the coast in the spring but in no hurry. Conditions are improving. They’re following migrating schools of bait, so there’s plenty to eat. So they’re liable to hold along certain sections of the coast if conditions are ideal and baitfish are abundant.

Striped bass along the East Coast shoreline are feasting on peanut bunker (a.k.a. juvenile Atlantic menhaden), sand eels, mackerel, anchovies, and mullet.

Fall vs. Spring Striper Fishing

The water temperature and food supply might not always be ideal off the coast of New York in April for those first arriving stripers, but if they wait, it’ll get better, so they’re not pushed, per se.

By contrast, in the fall, conditions are worsening by the day. Water temperatures are dropping, and the push is on as night temperatures dip into the 40s and 30s in October and November. As a result, these fish are fleeing conditions that aren’t suitable for their survival.

Spring Surf Casting for Striped Bass

That’s a big reason the spring run can be so much more productive than the fall run of fish: It just lasts longer. 

The difference is most evident if you think about the spring vs. the fall from a weather perspective.

No one would say that winter suddenly turns into summer, especially in more northern states. On the contrary, we typically have long thaws, with the winter hanging on and the spring arriving slowly.

In the spring, fish are setting up shop in areas where they’ll stay for the remainder of the summer, albeit with some movement farther offshore as water temperatures warm.

Stripers typically leave the Mid-Atlantic and push northward beginning in late March and early April. They arrive in New Jersey by mid-April and early May, and striped bass have surrounded New York’s Long Island by May and June. Others will push north to Massachusetts and beyond as spring nears summer.

The game here is easier. Wait until the calendar turns to spring and start fishing your favorite beaches in low-light conditions, searching for feeding stripers.

Fall Surf Fishing for Stripers

In the Northeast, bitter cold weather often arrives suddenly and hangs on. Drastic shifts in temperature, which drop near-shore water temperatures, make the fall migration more hurried for stripers and fishermen. This time of year, you must take advantage of whatever chances you get to intercept the frantic migration.

Having that said, even if it is a shadow of its former glory, the fall run for striped bass in the Northeast is still the most exciting time of the year to be a saltwater angler.

This is not the script in the autumn: The circus is leaving town, and fast. Striped bass, bluefish, false albacore, bonito.… They’re all leaving the Northeast as frosty nights drop ocean temperatures and colder air masses shift south.

Stripers most reliably push south down the coastline between mid-October and late November, with timing dependent upon the weather in a specific year. Warmer years will slow the fall migration, whereas early storms and colder nights will speed things up.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the fall run for stripers is the anticipation leading up to, but immediately before, it begins. Because here’s the thing: While the run is almost guaranteed to happen between late September and early December every year, that’s a relatively wide window.

There’s no telling, really, when it will begin in earnest and when it will just be … over.

One week you’ll seemingly be casting into a void that stretches to Portugal. Then a cold front hits, and the following week you’ll have gulls, terns, and cormorants dropping on massive schools of bait being pushed up from beneath by schools of stripers and bluefish.

Having that said, there is at least some predictability that comes with the nature of the run.

When to Fish the Fall Run for Stripers

The fall run has been starting later and lasting longer in recent decades. This shift presumably is due to average air temperatures in September, October, and November rising steadily and ocean temperatures following suit.

Expect the fall surf fishing to begin between late September and the third week of October. That time frame will vary depending on the climate in the actual year and your fishing location.

For example, the fall run will typically begin mid-to-late September up north in Maine as large numbers of bait fish school up and head south along the shoreline. Of course, stripers and other game fish will be right with them.

The shifts happen progressively later, heading south. In Massachusetts, look for schools of fish to arrive in late September and early October. As you progress south, the movement of bait, stripers, and bluefish along the coast predictably gets later.

Politics aside, it’s safe to say that the world is getting warmer by the year, and the fall run is occurring later as a result. Consider that, according to, the average water temperature off Montauk, New York, in September 2007 was 65 degrees, and in that same month in 2021, it was 70 degrees.

Water temperatures dictate movement to a greater degree than any other single factor, though things like the sun’s lower angle that diminishes daylight hours may also play a role.

A striped bass prefers ocean temperature ranging from 58 to 68 degrees, and it will travel to stay in this ideal range.

Further Dialing in the Fall Run

Your best bet to figure out when to hit the water to have your best shot at hitting the fall run at its peak will be considering the following factors.

Air and Water Temperatures

Ultimately, air temperatures play a large role in dictating inland water temperatures around the Northeast. The longer, hotter summer days bring ocean temperatures up into the 60s and even the 70s in some spots.

Warmer inland temperatures will push schools of stripers off the coast and often out of reach of surfcasters in July, August, and early September.

The exception is that night fishing can still be productive as stripers come in to feed after dark in the summer.

Turning the calendar to fall, daylight hours diminish and air temperatures decline, and inland water temperatures follow suit. Yes, warm days still shine on the coast, but they are shorter, cooler nights get longer, and water temperatures drop.

Inland water temperatures eventually dip into the 60s and high 50s. That, in turn, will push stripers farther south to stay within their ideal temperature range.

Once water temperatures get below 50 degrees, the abundance of food also begins to diminish, so stripers and the smaller fish they’re chasing all migrate to warmer waters.


Upwelling is a phenomenon where south and southwest winds, predominant in the summer, push warmer water offshore, away from the beach.

While the south and west winds are bringing warmer air over dry land, they are in effect pushing warmer water away from dry land. Departing warm water is inevitably replaced by colder water from beneath.

So even though you might not feel it in the air, colder water sparks these fish to move back inland after sustained months of predominantly southwest winds.


Ideal winds and water temperatures can create blitz-like conditions in the fall surf in the middle of the afternoon, which is rarer during the spring. However, your best chance to encounter stripers feeding heavily near shore any time of year is always at first and last light.

The one exception here is fishing after dark, which can often be productive, especially early in the fall.

However, beginners should stick to daylight hours when getting the hang of surf fishing.

It’s best to arrive at your chosen beach a half hour before sun-up to catch the morning bite. If you’re fishing in the afternoon, stay a half hour after sunset for your best chance at finding fish feeding heavily.


A powerful low-pressure front moving through can give the run an added boost in the fall.

Often, storm fronts will act like accelerants. They force fish to feed heavily before their passing and push stripers farther south faster. An intense low-pressure system moving along the coast might easily kick an early fall season into full gear.

How to Catch More Stripers

Stay Mobile

In the NFL, mobile quarterbacks are increasingly carrying teams further into the playoffs and giving them a better shot at bringing home the Lombardi Trophy. The same approach can result in a successful surf season in the fall when chasing striped bass and bluefish.

If you have a favorite beach that you love to fish, if you check it daily, fish it regularly, and know its structure, you likely will find and catch stripers in the fall … at some point.

Better yet, get to know a variety of beaches that feature good near-shore structure, including drop-offs, sandbars, and nearby river inlets.

If you can stay on the move checking two, three, or even four different spots before making a cast, you’ll be infinitely more likely to intercept the surface blitzes that are hallmarks of the fall run.

And speaking of surface blitzes, a few essential pieces of gear will improve your odds exponentially when finding and catching striped bass, bluefish, and false albacore in the autumn.

Carry a Heavy Surf Bag

An angler kneels in the surf while holding a large striped bass with a green bucktail lure still in its mouth.
Photo by Rick Back

Bring Plenty of Lures

Especially in the fall, larger lures, like diamond jigs weighing up to 3 ounces, and bucktails weighing as much as 2 ounces, can be effective baits. Make sure you’re well-stocked. It’s all about reaching the blitz in the fall, and heavier lures capable of longer casts are especially effective weapons this time of year.

Make sure that your casting distance is maximized with heavier lures and the longest rod you can comfortably wield because the blitz that was “just out of reach” doesn’t make a fun story to be telling all winter. 

I like two essential baits when hitting the beach in the fall: bucktails and diamond jigs. I will also carry diamond jigs with different color teasers and a variety of bucktail colors.

Lures like the Ava Diamond Jig, the Hopkins No=Eql, and the Kastmaster have all proven effective in the striper surf. You’ll have an option of colors to choose from with most of these baits.

Bright green (like the bucktail in the photo above) or chartreuse is a perennial favorite, but don’t count out bright red or even black.

The essential element to remember when retrieving these lures is that they must stand out from the thousands and thousands of baitfish migrating down the coast.

You’ve probably seen fish struggling to survive if you hung out near ponds as a kid or had a fish tank. Typically, a dying fish will move in spurts, followed by a lifeless fall through the water column

You want to mimic that motion with a diamond jig or bucktail. Retrieve these lures in one or two violent snaps or jerks that will pull the bait up through the water column, followed by a pause to let it fall back to the bottom.

That action will draw the attention of feeding game fish like stripers and bluefish. 

The one exception to the “heavier-is-better” rule comes with the Storm Swim Shads. Because they’re soft plastic and feature a paddle tail, these baits won’t cast as well as a metal diamond jig or a bucktail. Yet they have an incredibly lifelike action.

If the wind is at your back or you find fish feeding close to the beach, they may be in reach for lighter lures. That’s when these swimbaits are deadly on stripers and bluefish.

If you’re casting at feeding fish and keep retrieving baits with the paddle tails severed off, it’s likely bluefish feeding nearby.

Bait Fishing for Stripers

If you’re fishing with bait rather than artificial lures, make sure you’re using a circle hook if necessary to comply with state regulations.

Two main bait-fishing rigs are popular in the striper surf.

The first is a fish-finder rig. A fish-finder rig has a sliding pyramid sinker above a fluorocarbon leader. The key component of this rig is that as a fish takes the bait, it does not necessarily feel the pull of the pyramid sinker because your line is sliding through the stationary sinker as the fish moves.

A hi-lo rig, by comparison, is weighted at the bottom but has two leadered hooks off the main leader. You fish two baits on one rig, doubling your chances of hooking feeding fish.

Clams or chunks of either bunker or mackerel are popular baits to use on either fish-finder or hi-lo rig from the beach. 

Each bait has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, clams hooked properly through the foot tend to stay on the hook slightly better than pieces of fish. However, a fresh piece of bunker is tough to beat in its ability to attract feeding fish.

Use a Powerful Rod

In the spring, you might have bass and bluefish blitzing at your feet, but the schools often will be farther off the beach. This is especially true in the fall.

A surf rod of at least 10 feet, if not 11, can be a powerful tool that makes the difference between getting in on a blitz 75 yards off the beach or helplessly watching it happen.

Medium-heavy surf rods capable of throwing plugs and jigs as heavy as 4 ounces will give you more backbone to heave heavier lures farther. 

Spool the Right Line

I consistently stick with a braided line when fishing the surf, with a fluorocarbon leader of at least three feet.

The fluorocarbon leader brings a couple of benefits. First, fluorocarbon is less visible underwater, so you’ll likely get more hits from line-shy stripers.

Secondly, because it’s more abrasion resistant than straight braid, you’re less likely to have bluefish sever the line. Typically, if blues are around, you can feel the leader and tell that they’ve been getting at it. So it could be wise in this instance to switch to a steel leader to avoid break-offs.

Running your finger over the leader every dozen casts or so to check for nicks is a good idea regardless of your leader material.

Braided line of at least 20-pound test, and even up to 50-pound test, is still thin enough that it will cast heavier lures like diamond jigs and bucktails a mile.

Braid also has limited stretch. Over a long distance, monofilament can expand and recoil when pulled suddenly, softening a hook set from more than 30 or 40 yards. On the contrary, braided line will move your lure or hook more immediately and drastically with one sweep of the rod.

Pick Your Spots

If you don’t have a favorite surfcasting beach yet, there are some key components that will help you choose one. The first and most obvious is access.

It might be tempting to jump a fence or go through somebody’s yard, but I can’t recommend it. In many places along the coast, daytime street parking is an option if you’re careful, so choose a beach with public access.

The second factor you’ll want to look for is a relatively steep drop near the shore.

Beaches where the depth slowly changes over a long, gradually declining flat are tough to fish. Stripers may push bait inshore to these beaches, but they won’t corral them at any one point, and you’ll in essence be hoping to intercept a fish.

Beaches with a steep drop-off, especially one relatively close to shore, will provide ambush points for schools of stripers where they can force bait schools into a corner and feed with abandon. But, of course, that makes it a great place to cast a lure if you are a fisherman.

A trough near the beach is even better than a simple steep drop-off. A trough is a channel of deeper water close to shore, with shallow water farther out.

To spot a trough, look for more sets of breaking waves beyond those on the beach right in front of you, which are easiest to see at low tide. Those farther breakers might be 100 to 200 yards off the shore.

Feeding game fish will push bait into these chutes at high tide and keep it trapped there as water levels drop. It can be a great place to find fish, if it’s within casting distance from shore.

The best time to fish troughs is between one and three hours before or after high tide.

Check Google Earth or an app to see where you might have near-shore drop-offs that will draw stripers and bait.

Bring Binoculars

Sometimes stripers will have peanut bunker (juvenile menhaden) pushed right into the beach on a given day, especially on a high tide. But often, these fish will be blitzing on schools farther off the beach.

A quick glance at a favorite beach might give you the impression it’s empty. Before writing off a beach as barren and moving on, use binoculars to scan the horizon. This tactic is especially effective at low tide.

If you are seeing flocks of birds, especially larger birds like cormorants, diving on schools of bait out of casting range, don’t be so fast to move to the next beach. 

Incoming water and shifting winds can often bring schools of baitfish in tighter to the beach soon enough. So when there’s frantic bird activity in sight, it’s best to make a few casts and see if the bait, and game fish in pursuit, move within range.

It’s best to start occasionally checking beaches at the beginning of the anticipated run for your area. Then keep an eye out more frequently as the season progresses.

Keep Casting

Have you ever heard the story about the large school of blitzing stripers that moved through in early December, blitzing along the beach after every surfcaster along the coast had packed up the gear and started holiday shopping?

Probably not, and here’s why: As air temperatures plunge, the weather undeniably affects one species: human beings.

There are fewer surfcasters on Northeast beaches after Thanksgiving than at any time in the six months prior. That also means fewer anglers post pictures on Facebook or Instagram or report a catch to your local tackle shop.

We’re getting at this: Just because it’s late in the season and nights are longer and days are colder does not necessarily mean that the fall run is over. 

Honestly, there still could be massive schools of stripers pushing bait into beaches while you’re decorating the tree. By mid-December, these fish are likely all well south of you. But anytime before that date, another school of stripers could always be pushing through.

If you have the time, and the weather’s not atrocious, give the beach one more look. Even late in the season, especially if you’re in New York or New Jersey, stripers may still be moving through.

Increasing fall temperatures are pushing the run later and later every year, and the last blitz of the season is likely one that very few fishermen see.

Until, of course, after the ball drops. At that point, we’ll be counting down the days until spring brings these fish back within casting range.

Where to Catch More Stripers

Check out our full articles on fishing for striped bass from the shoreline (including the very best locations) in the following states: