Original Article on Striper Boils - from 2000

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wayne gustaveson

Staff member
This article on striper boils was first published in 2000 - the first year that WaynesWords was on the Internet. The picture of the young man with a boil nearby is my 32-year old son enjoying his first striper encounter.

STRIPER BOILS - Background


Surface feeding activity occurs as 100-5000 striped bass roll and porpoise in unison. These "boils" can simmer or boil over as striped bass trap shad schools against the surface. Water spouts and crashing splashes mark the spot. Disturbance by fishing boats cause striped bass schools to sound and then reappear a few hundred yards away as feeding resumes in a different direction.

As shad grow in size and develop stronger swimming ability the surface action gets more intense as striped bass corral shad against the surface or trap them near shore. The tendency for shad to "ball up" in a tight school when predators approach allows striped bass to herd and trap shad schools. The trapped shad school is repeatedly probed by striped bass working together to eat, injure and kill as many shad as possible. Shad are often slashed by the jaws and stunned by the powerful caudal fin during such encounters. Striped bass capture most shad at the surface creating a highly visible disturbance with water spouts and a boat wake-like wave as stripers line up shoulder to shoulder to feed. When the attack commences the surface activity is intense and visible for many hundred meters as water is thrown high in the air. Surface feeding boils last from a few seconds to as long as three hours. Duration is probably determined by shad abundance. Many shad allow a longer feeding period while few shad may be consumed or lost from sight in a few seconds.

Surface boils only occur when shad are present. In years when shad numbers are limited and eventually eliminated from the open water, no striper boils are seen. When shad are abundant boils are common and predictable. Striped bass often feed at the same time in the same location on a daily basis. Striped bass habitually return to a successful feeding spot every day until the forage is consumed or escapes.

Both shad and stripers are tightly bunched as they begin the daily feeding ritual. Normally, about one-half hour after first light shad form schools after spending the night randomly distributed in the water column. This shad schooling behavior attracts striped bass and feeding begins. As shad schools are repeatedly attacked, large schools fragment into smaller groups. Fragmentation of shad schools also causes striped bass schools to break up as groups of striped bass chase after small groups of shad. An original feeding event, one-acre in size, can dissolve into scattered striped bass feeding in many different directions over a square mile. When feeding ceases both shad and striped bass regroup.

If striped bass are satiated they may not eat for the rest of the day. More likely they will randomly feed again near mid-day and then again in the evening just before dark. After dark, shad schools disperse and boils are not likely. Striped bass are effective nocturnal feeders and feed on shad subsurface at night.

In times when forage is very abundant, boils may be rare or half-hearted because shad are easily obtained and schooling efforts are not required to obtain food. Perhaps surface feeding action is at its peak when shad are common but not abundant. Striped bass must now work hard to corner shad for effective feeding opportunities. As shad become scarce, surface feeding opportunities decrease.



Larval shad are barely able to swim as they drift in the water column like plankton. All sizes of stripers eat larval shad in the first boils of the season. Stripers line up side by side and effectively graze on the surface in unison like a large lawn mower cutting grass. The feeding school moves just faster than most electric trolling motors can push a boat. The feeding activity looks like a single wave surrounded by calm water. It is very subtle and easy to miss. There is very little splashing although the slurping noise is audible for many hundreds of yards. When a boat approaches the fish sound and then pop up again a few hundred yards away to resume feeding in a new direction.


Food size is very small, less than an inch, and terminal tackle cannot be much larger or it will be ignored. Small white jigs, plastic worms, or spoons work when tossed into the school but long casts are required to reach the boat shy fish. It is recommended that a small lure dropper be placed behind a heavy lure (or casting bubble) that can be cast long distance to reach the school. The big lure delivers the goods but the small lure catches the fish.

Small Boils

When shad are available but only in small numbers stripers feed in small squads or individually instead of in complete schools. Five to ten stripers chase after a handful of shad. They break the surface in dolphin-like leaps when shad are cornered. The disturbance lasts only for a few seconds or as long as it takes to catch a mouthful of shad. The boil is random and usually repeatable, popping up again and again for brief moments in the same general 10-acre area.


It is counterproductive to chase these boils with the boat. The better way is to proceed slowly in the vicinity of the last boil with either a trolling motor or big motor and hope that the next boil will be in casting range. These fish are very catchable but pin point casting and impeccable timing are essential for success. Determine direction of travel and try to get ahead of feeding fish. Turn off the motor and wait for the next splash. These boils require great patience. When fish swirl to the top, cast right into or 3 feet beyond the feeding fish. If placed in the 'feeding zone' the striper will hit the lure. Once the fish turns and dives he will not go back for the lure.

Moderate Boils - (20-50 fish)

Stripers feeding together mean that shad schools are larger and exhibiting school behavior. Individual shad try to escape predators by moving to the center of the school. The ball of shad created is then ravaged by stripers who seek to kill, eat, injure, or damage as many shad as possible in a short time. Surface disturbance is great with water splashing high in the air as striper tails flail shad trying to stun them. After the initial attack stripers return and hunt down the cripples. Wounded shad flee along the surface making a very distinctive v-wake as they pass. The wake looks just the same (only smaller) as a stick-bait retrieved in the standard walk-the-dog fashion with a side to side motion of the lure.


Stick baits are the best baits (zara spook, jumpin' minnow, spittin image, etc.) as they lay out the distinctive v-wake that stripers are 'looking up' for to locate prey. Healthy shad are quick while injured shad are easy prey. A lure cranked down under the school looks healthy and will be passed while a lure trailing a v-wake on the surface is a target that cannot be ignored. Other lures (jigs, jerks, soft plastic, etc.) must be fished on the surface to be effective. One exception to this is the distinctive fall of a jigging spoon. When released on slack line the spoon's side to side sweeping motion resembles the death spiral of a mortally wounded shad and is another favorite striper target.

Approach the boil at top speed and then cut power when in casting range. Make sure boat drifts parallel to the boil and does not enter the perimeter which will cause the school to dive or to feed in the opposite direction. Cast out of the side of the boat - Never in front where the forward motion of the boat overtakes the lure and does not allow it to work while the stripers are still on the surface. It is better to wait and make one good cast than to waste a cast and see the school leave while the errant lure is being retrieved.

Keep contact with the school by putting the electric motor on high and traveling in the same direction that the school is feeding. Boils of this magnitude may stay up for 10 minutes and then pop up an additional 3 or 4 times after the school sounds or is put down by fishing pressure.

Big Boils - (100 or more stripers)

The ultimate boil may be experienced a few times each season. Shad and stripers will be oblivious to the fishing boat. They will keep moving out of range and a trolling motor on low speed should keep the fish in casting range. Often there will be 3 or 4 schools feeding in all directions at all times. Park between schools and let them feed right back into casting range for maximum effectiveness. Just be quiet as possible and pretend you are a big striper. You can feed right in with the other predators for up to 4 hours.


Catch fish on all baits - your choice. It is wise to crimp hook barbs, take off all but one hook, or use only a single hook. Do not let a stray hook foul in the net or end up in your hand. Hope the fish get full and quit before you need assistance casting or no longer have a place to stand with fish bodies littering the entire deck.


When parked next to a boil stripers are quite easy to catch. Finding a boil may be more difficult. Cruising in the boat is better than waiting. Find an area where fish have been seen and travel at moderate speed scanning for splashes and other disturbances. Since boils are random acts which occur only when shad and striper schools come together, it is most profitable to keep moving until a boil is discovered.

Other animals seek an easy meal as shad leap into the air and even on shore to avoid marauding stripers. Gulls, terns and blue herons mark areas where open water boils have been or will be. Coyotes and ravens visit coves where shad are trapped. They wait for stripers to ravage the small forage fish and then pick up shad that flop out onto the beach. Western grebes feed on shad and will be near shad concentrations. Look for these animals that are hungry and better at finding boils and easier for us to see than the tell-tale splash in the vast expanse of open water.

When stopped near active fish or after a school has just left the surface, LISTEN for the loud splash which sound carries extremely well over long distances. Many boils are heard before being seen.

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