Striped bass are awesome fly rod fish — they respond really well to colorful wads of feathers and glue, they fight hard and often run in large schools. What’s not to love?
If you’ve never tried it, here’s a look at the basics to get you started:
Fly fishing and spending big bucks are often synonymous, but one of the great aspects of fishing for stripers with the long rod is you don’t need any particularly fancy gear. A No. 8 or 9 rod is ideal. It needs to have enough backbone to punch a weighted line and big fly into the wind. You’ll also want a reel with a smooth drag — just in case you hook Moby.
As far as lines go, my all-time favorite is Teeny’s Professional Series’ Dan Marini Striper Line, which features a heavy 32-foot head. I’ll run the 525-grain and then cut it back to make it lighter if necessary. It’s the least prone to coiling line I’ve found and also cuts the wind like a champ…all great attributes when fishing stripers – especially on the California Delta where I spend a lot of time.
Rather than run a tapered leader and tippet, I run straight 25-pound fluorocarbon (mono when fishing poppers) and the length depends on what I’m doing but usually 4 to 7 feet of leader is fine.
In the mornings and evenings, I like to toss poppers and chuggers in the shallows for some heart-stopping surface action. When a big bass decides to take your fly off the top of the water, it’s an explosion of adrenalin that’s highly addictive! Plop…plop…plop…KER-SPLOOSH!!
During the brighter period of the day, the fish don’t respond so well to surface offerings but no worries…they’ll munch a well-presented baitfish imitation all day long, provided that the boat traffic isn’t too extreme. Weighted 2/0 Clouser Minnows are the top getters but a whole host of barbell-eye streamers will work.
As far as colors go, think shiny, silvery baitfish with green or dark backs. However, the old adage about striper patters that goes: “If it does not contain chartreuse, it is of no use…” is a very good rule of thumb to live by. My favorite patterns feature a chartreuse back, white belly and some silver flash in the body.
I target shallow flats, points, tule banks, pilings, channel edges and rock walls. The fish like different strip patterns every day, so experiment until the fish tell you what they want. I generally start out by letting the fly sink for a second or two (depending on the water depth) and then do a strip-strip…pause…strip-strip-strip…pause type of retrieve. Again, mix it up until you figure out the hot cadence on a given day. Also, keep in mind that the fish may change throughout the day so if you’re formally hot retrieve rate falls flat, try another pattern.
Often fish will bite on the pause, so pay close attention to what you’re doing, as those grabs can be quite subtle. Other times, however, stripers will clobber a fly so hard that it’s all you can do to keep the rod from going in the drink.
If you are feeling a little insecure or overwhelmed as a beginner, try this: Take some conventional gear with you and toss poppers, swimbaits and cranks until you locate a concentration of fish and then switch over to the fluff chucking gear. Tossing a big fly and a heavy line and then stripping it back all day can wear you out. Rather than give up before you get to experience the rush of a striper on the fly, try this “bait and switch” technique. It can help you get the hang of things early in your career.
Well, I don’t want to overwhelm ya with too much info on the first go-round. Start with these simple tips and get out there and have some fun!
Dan Washington says
East Coast striped bass are typically found from the Carolinas to Nova Scotia. The Chesapeake Bay is the major producer area for striped bass, with the Hudson river being a secondary producer. Spawning migration begins in March when the migratory component of the stock returns to their natal rivers to spawn. It is believed that females migrate after age five. These fish are believed to remain in the ocean during the spawning run. Males as young as two years old have been encountered in the spawning areas of the Chesapeake bay. The migratory range of the northern (Hudson stock) extends from the Carolinas to New York’s Hudson River in the winter time and from New Jersey through Maine in summertime with the greatest concentration between Long Island, New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.The migration of the northern stock to the south often begins in September from areas in Maine.
Picture #3; closeup of the fish and fly. I’m digging the knot used on the fly. We use a similar one periodically, but that looked a bit diff. Can you tell me more about it?? Thanks
JR, I use the Tarpon Figure Eight Knot:
Great article. Can you add a little more about how to think about tides? I’ve heard that’s important.
Virgil, tides are important. Basically, you just need moving water. Some spots fish better on the income vs. the ebb and vise-versa. Avoid the slack!
Clint Williamson says
“Time and tide wait for no man,” and it is absolutely true when fishing for Striped Bass, regardless of tackle choice. Time of day and stage of the tide are critical factors in determining a successful striper strategy. Moving water, structure and the predominant bait should all be considered when targeting stripers, but there is already plenty of information on how to fish for Stripers generally, what you want to know is how to catch them on the fly. The good news is that fly-fishing for stripers can often be more productive than other methods.