August 15 2023

What Do Striped Bass Eat? 6 Prey Items Caught On Camera

by Ryan Collins

What do striped bass eat? That is a question I receive every so often. The honest answer is that striped bass eat many types of fish, crustaceans, worms and more.

At times they will even eat one another! 

In this post you will get an opportunity to watch bass eating and chasing baits in action, all caught on video. 

To get us started I have limited this post to just 6 food items that striped bass eat with regularity.

Keep in mind that stripers will eat dozens of different types of prey.

Check back soon because I plan to add more food items to this list whenever I am able to capture a striped bass eating a different type of prey on video.

Striped Bass Eat Sand Lance

Sand lance (or sand eels as they are commonly called) are one of the striped bass' favorite meals.

Here on Cape Cod stripers eat sand lance regularly throughout late spring into early fall.

As you will see throughout this blog post, striped bass eat at the surface very often. Stripers will actually use the top of the water column to their advantage, pinning baitfish like sand lance against the surface.

Click play below to see what I mean! 👇

The footage above was filmed in Cape Cod Bay during early June of 2020. On this day large schools of striped bass in the 20-26 inch range were feeding aggressively at the surface on sand lance.

However, the action was not only occurring at the surface. Striper feeds were happening along the bottom too.

In the next video you can actually see the sand lance burrow themselves into the sand in a last ditch effort to escape being eaten!

If you watch the above video again and focus your attention in the upper right hand corner of the screen, then you will see a rare shot of a striped bass eating a sand lance which is burrowed in the sand.

This type of behavior could explain why over the years I have found rocks in the bellies of striped bass.

Perhaps the stripers accidentally swallow rocks and pebbles while trying to eat the sand eels.

Striped Bass Eat Crabs

Over the years I have watched striped bass eat two different types of crabs - the green crab and the lady crab. I am also quite sure striped bass will eat other types of crabs too.

For this reason, crabs can make great bait for striper fishing, however these days I rarely hear about anglers using crab for bait. 

It seems that live crab fishing for striped bass may be a thing of the past.

Perhaps during 2022 I will experiment more with using live crabs for bait when striped bass fishing. I would love to capture on film a big striped bass engulfing a big live crab.

In the meantime, I think you might get a kick out of the following video clip. 👇

In this video you can watch as a crab does his best to hide from a big striper and avoid being eaten by the bass.

Striped Bass Eat Adult Bunker

Almost everyone knows how much striped bass love to eat bunker, which are also called pogies or menhaden.

Bunker are a vitally important good source for stripers, bluefish, tuna and other species.

Bunker are perhaps the most oily baitfish that striped bass eat. They are packed with nutrition and it’s now wonder striped bass go crazy for them.

In addition, bunker help keep the ocean, bays, rivers and harbors clean by filter-feeding the water.

For example, you can watch the video below for a unique look at a school of bunker as they filter-feed.

 Nevertheless, just because you have a big fat bunker on the end of your line, it doesn’t mean you will automatically get a striped bass to eat it.

After all, striped bass are not always in the feeding mode.

Sometimes big stripers will chase a bunker without eating it. In these situations slow trolling, or bump trolling a bunker, by shifting your boat in and out of gear can help generate a bite from a bass.

But even this technique is no guarantee that a striped bass will eat. You can watch the video below to see what I mean! 👇

Striped Bass Eat Peanut Bunker

In the previous section we discussed how striped bass eat bunker. In this section we will discuss how striped bass eat peanut bunker.

Peanut bunker are of course, young juvenile bunker. They are the same species, just smaller and younger fish.

Here on Cape Cod striped bass eat peanut bunker during the late summer and throughout the fall. This is when peanut bunker fill the coves, harbors, bays and shorelines, where big schools of stripers standby reading to eat them.  

In the following video you can watch as a school of striped bass hunt peanut bunker that are hiding amongst the weeds in less than 3 feet of water.

A major difference between eating an adult bunker and a peanut bunker is the quantity of baits required to fill a striped bass’ stomach.

Adult bunkers are quite large and it only takes a few of them to make a meal. Peanut bunker on the other hand are only a few inches long (often shorter) so it can require dozens of peanut bunker to fill the belly of a striper.

Therefore, peanut bunker feeding frenzies will often last for a long time, sometimes an entire morning, simply because it takes that long for striped bass to eat their fill.

Adult bunker blitzes on the other hand are usually short lived because the bass become full after eating only a handful of these large baitfish. 

Striped Bass Eat Eels

By now you probably understand how striped bass are opportunistic feeders. They will oftentimes eat whatever is readily edible.

American eels are one such prey item that striped bass will have no qualms about hunting and eating whenever they happen to come across an eel.  

I would imagine that striped bass most often eat eels when they encounter the eels in brackish water, where freshwater meets the salt.

These spots are usually in estuaries, creeks and rivers.

Striped bass will often visit estuaries throughout the course of the year. However, the spring in particular is one time of year when a lot of big striped bass enter estuaries and brackish areas to reproduce.

It’s for this reason I would have to imagine that many eels are encountered by striped bass during spawning time.

I don’t know if my next statement is 100% true, but I’ve been told that striped bass will kill eels because eels like to eat the eggs of striped bass. This theory may make sense, but again I don’t know for sure if this is true or not.

One thing is for sure, striped bass eat eels, and they are one of the most popular baits for striped bass fishing.

However, according to Wikipedia, American eels are an endangered species, which has me thinking twice about using them for bait. I will probably not use eels as often for bait moving forward.

Striped Bass Eat Mackerel

Stripers eat mackerel whether they are dead or alive, cut into chunks or strips, or just fished whole. On Cape Cod mackerel are one of the most prolific food items for striped bass, especially at the Cape Cod Canal

Mackerel are very speedy swimmers, and it’s not easy for a striper to catch a mackerel, especially on the wide open ocean. Therefore stripers will often gather in large schools of hundreds, if not thousands of bass, to hunt mackerel.

The bass will corral the mackerel and drive them to the surface where they become pinned against the surface, which makes them easier to catch.

At the Cape Cod Canal striped bass eat mackerel by driving them to the surface, and also by driving them into the shoreline. This hunting tactic is very effective and in years past it has drawn thousands of huge stripers into the canal to feed during the summer months.

Bluefish also naturally feed on mackerel alongside striped bass, slicing and dicing the mackerel into chunks. These chunks of mackerel sink down to the bottom where they are consumed by bass.

This could help explain why fishing with chunks of mackerel can be so effective. Just remember to always use the freshest mackerel possible. 

In Conclusion

As I mentioned in the first few paragraphs of this blog post, this list contains only a brief overview of the many prey items that striped bass will eat. 

For example, not included in this list are:

And a very long list of other species which striped bass routinely eat.

That’s why I will be trying harder than ever to capture more images and videos of striped bass eating more prey species. I will keep you posted with how it goes!

Tight lines 🎣

About the author 

Ryan Collins

I'm fortunate to have grown up on the beach, and I've been fishing since kindergarten. I have great family, friends and fishing experiences to be thankful for. Just being out there is enough-catching fish is just a bonus!

  • Thanks Ryan, Wow, these videos confirm what I’ve always wondered about. Having surf fished for 40 years before it bottomed out and I ended up in a kayak, I always wondered what was happening out there while I waited…on the beach…at night…tired and desperate for a bite. I’m in Wellfleet and having a blast in my kayak tube n worming it. I really liked that video as it was spot on. One thing I would add (as seen in the clip with the bass NOT eating the chunk mackerel) you must cover the hook to get bites. They have learned that the hook is bad.

    • I’m glad you found this post entertaining and valuable. The tube and worm footage is definitely some of my favorite. I appreciate the tip about covering the hook! Hopefully that will help someone else reading this to get more bites.

      Wellfleet is such a nice area. I hope you have a fun and productive fall season down there.

  • Some folks have the eye to get and take some great pictures and of course skills as well. You are blessed. Peace and Prayers

    • Fish photography is very similar to actual fishing Carl. You spend a lot of time with a camera in the water, waiting for a couple good shots. Luck plays a big role too! Thanks for the comment. 👍

  • What a great year of providing content Ryan! Very enjoyable to watch and read, especially on days below 30… Have a very Happy and Healthy New Year and look forward to next year’s content on MFCC!

  • Ryan,
    That was incredible camera work! Absolutely fascinating to watch bass and their prey interact.
    Who knew eels were becoming endangered ☹️ I guess they’re off the bait list.
    Happy New Year and tight lines!

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the videos Pete, and I hope you had a great New Year!

      Yes according to the research I’ve done online, American eels are endangered. Aside from fishing pressure, I think a lot of the eels habitat has been destroyed due to dams and pollution.

    • It was cool, but I kind of wish one of them engulfed the eel! That would of been a cool shot. Oh well, there is always next year. Hope all is well Stephen and thanks for the comment.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

    You may also like

    2024 Season Kickoff Workshop

    2024 Season Kickoff Workshop