Striped bass fly fishing is more popular than ever. The reasons for this are various, but one of them is that stripers are so accessible. You don’t need an expensive boat or spending thousands of hours to finally land one. With a little practice, a little research, and some basic equipment, any angler can catch a striper on the fly this season.
Where to Catch Your First Striper on the Fly
There is no bad place to fish for stripers with the fly rod. If you are a fly fisherman many of the same places will work. But to make it easier for you while you think it all over, I suggest fishing in quiet backwater areas with a higher presence of small fish. Don’t worry about trying to run to an ocean beach to catch slot-sized fish in giant rocks. Instead, look for places with very little wind where stripers of all sizes approach the shore. Learn your skills in these easier areas and progress from there. If you are currently fishing with corks, consider bringing both spinning and fly gear the first few times. This will allow you to make sure the fish are there using a preferred lure and then switch to the fly rod.
Whether you’re a boat or shore fisherman, a great place to find your first fly-tracer is in or around tidal estuaries. Estuaries are generally small and sheltered, which means you can make shorter casts away from strong winds. The water also tends to be shallower, which works great with easy-casting float lines. There are plenty of baits of all sizes in the tidal estuaries (so no need to “find the bait”) with a large portion on the small side. This allows for smaller flies that are easier to cast and present for the new fly fisherman. Finally, most estuaries have current. If you’re a freshwater river angler, you’ll feel right at home swinging and drifting flies in the estuary channels.
2) Rock flats
Another great place for beginners is rocky plateaus or areas with small rocks. These places tend to have a good amount and variety of bait around the clock, and strippers will pass through them looking for an easy meal. Since you’re not trying to match any particular bait, it simplifies fly selection. I choose an easy to cast fly that I can cast mid-water column, and hold off the rocks. Look for areas that fall or quickly turn to sand, as tracers will move along these edges. A word of warning: avoid places with giant barnacle-encrusted boulders that take up the entire water column. They are easy to tangle and even small fish will break you or destroy your line rubbing it against rough rocks.
3) Sandy beaches
Sandy beaches are a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to fly fishing. On one side, there’s nothing to get caught on, the fish can’t smash you on any structure, and there’s plenty of room to cast. There are also sometimes smaller baits like sand eels and mole crabs, which are easy to imitate with a fly. On the other hand, it takes experience to find the right time to fish a sandy beach. Strong winds and crashing waves can spell disaster for the new fly fisherman, while conditions that are too calm can disable plotters. Bait can also disappear from one tide to another.
If you are going to be targeting stripers on sandy beaches, I would spend time looking for high concentrations of bait and learn the best wind and wave conditions for your particular spots. Another way around this is to fish from a pier or pier that protrudes from a beach – this will help you get up and out of the waves, and piers often attract a lot of bait.
When is the best time to target stripers with a fly rod?
Although it’s tempting to fish during the day, the best time to catch stripes is near or after dark. Many anglers love the sunrise, and this is a good place to start. The most productive time will usually be the 30 minutes around sunrise. Don’t show up just at sunrise or after, because it’s too late. Sunset can also be good, especially if you want to get used to a spot before fishing it in complete darkness. But if I had to choose just one, I would choose sunrise because fish tend to feed just before full light. That said, fishing in total darkness, especially around new and full moons, can be very productive. Stripers feed much more aggressively at these times and move closer to shore where fly fishers can reach them.
How to cast on stripers with a fly rod
I think one of the most underrated factors in catching stripers, especially from shore, is casting skill. Unlike many other species, distance really matters with stripers, especially if you’re fishing from shore. Being able to cast a full line is a plus when battling against the wind, wading to the ribs in water, or when trying to cast big flies.
The good news is that you don’t have to be on the water to perfect this skill. Practicing on a soccer field or in a park is a great way to get used to the timing and coordination needed to cast long distances without the added complication of also trying to fish. Don’t worry about point accuracy at first. It doesn’t matter as much with stripers, unless you’re fishing in certain conditions, like light sand flats. As long as you approach your fly relatively close and the presentation is accurate, they will eat. To get maximum casting power, learn the double casting technique as it will greatly increase your distance.
The Best Flies for New Striped Bass Anglers
It’s tempting to carry dozens of flies, but it’s unnecessary and can be overwhelming for a beginner. Stripers are opportunistic and if hungry they will eat just about anything that looks alive, especially after dark. Instead of thinking about fly choice in terms of specific colors and styles, focus on how you will use the fly. I like to have a few big and small flies that can cover the entire water column. While stripers are often near the bottom, that’s not always true, and it’s worth being prepared.
My favorite flies are a combination of commercial and custom models, but are based on flies like Clouser Minnow, Lefty’s Deceiver, Popovic’s Hollow-Fleye, Andino Deceiver and Abrams Rhode Island Flatwing. Models in the 3-4 inch range are great for beginners, but I also like to carry larger flies in the 5-8 inch range. Even little strippers have no problem inhaling an eight inch fly.
When it comes to equipment, you should keep it simple, yet powerful. A 10 weight rod is best, especially if you are a shore angler. This will make casting full lines with bigger flies more manageable. It will also provide plenty of fighting power to bring fish in quickly without undue stress so they can be released healthy. The coil really doesn’t matter that much. Tracers are relatively slow and rarely make long runs. As long as a reel will hold your fly line and 150 yards of 30-pound backing, you can use just about anything. Many anglers I know still use simple click drags. However, if you are constantly going to hit your reel with splashes or splashes, you will want to consider a sealed drag.
When it comes to fly lines, don’t skimp. I prefer to invest in a quality cold water pipe even if it means making compromises elsewhere. I’m a big fan of floating lines in the places I’ve suggested in this article (estuaries and rock flats). Floating line is versatile and allows you to use both surface and subsurface flies, easily swing flies into the current, and keeps you from getting snagged on structure. However, if you are going to be fishing on open sandy beaches or in water deeper than 10 feet, an intermediate line is useful. Boat anglers fishing in very deep or fast moving water may need to consider casting lines. When it comes to your rig, for most anglers a 7 foot straight piece of 20 or 30 pound monofilament is fine.
Read next: Want to catch more strippers? Pay attention to the moon
Finally, I think a stripping basket is essential for all shore anglers, as well as many boat anglers. This will help you cast farther and keep tangles to a minimum. You also want to make sure you have sturdy pliers or clamps. Striper flies have big hooks and a Striper’s mouth is very tough, so having the right tool will unhook them quickly, reducing the time they’re out of the water and the time you’re not fishing.