How to Land Your First Striper on a Fly Rod
Put down the spinning rod and pick of a fly rod this season for some of the most fun you can have on salt water
Fly fishing for striped bass is more popular now than ever before. The reasons for this are diverse, but one of them is because stripers are so accessible. You don’t need an expensive boat or to put in thousands of hours to finally land one. With a bit of practice, a little research, and some basic gear, any angler can catch a striper on the fly this season.
Where to Catch Your First Striper on The Fly
There is no wrong place to fish for stripers with the fly rod. If you’re a plug fisherman many of the same spots will work. But to make it easier while you’re figuring everything out, I suggest fishing quiet back-water areas with a higher presence of smaller fish. Don’t worry about trying to run right out to a pounding ocean beach to catch slot-sized fish in giant boulders. Instead, look for places with very little wind where stripers of any size come in close to shore. Learn your skills in these easier areas, and progress from there. If you currently fish with plugs, consider carrying both spinning and fly gear the first few times out. This will allow you to build confidence that fish are around by using a favorite lure, then switch to the fly rod.
Whether you’re a boat or shore angler, one great place to find your first fly striper is in or around tidal estuaries. Estuaries are typically small and sheltered which means you can make shorter casts away from strong winds. The water also tends to be on the shallower side, which works really well with easy to cast floating lines. There is a lot of bait of all sizes throughout tidal estuaries (so no need to “find the bait”) with much of it on the smaller side. This allows for smaller flies, which are easier to cast and present for the new fly angler. Finally, most estuaries have some current. If you’re a freshwater river angler, you’ll feel right at home swinging and drifting flies in estuary channels.
2) Rocky Flats
Another great place for beginners is rocky flats or areas with small boulders. These places tend to hold a good quantity and diversity of bait around the clock, and stripers will cruise through them looking for an easy meal. Since you’re not trying to match any bait in particular, it makes fly selection simple. I choose a fly that is easy to cast that I can present mid-water column, and keep up out of the rocks. Look for areas that drop off or transition quickly to sand, as stripers will cruise along these edges. A word of warning: Steer clear of spots with giant, barnacle-encrusted boulders that take up the whole water column. They are easy to get tangled in, and even small fish will either break you off or destroy your line by rubbing it against the rough rocks.
3) Sandy Beaches
Sandy beaches are a bit of a mixed-bag when it comes to fly fishing. On the one hand, there’s nothing to get caught on, fish can’t break you off on any structure, and there’s plenty of room to cast. There’s also sometimes smaller bait like sand eels and mole crabs, which are easy to mimic with a fly. On the other hand, it takes experience to find the right time to fish a sandy beach. Strong winds and breaking waves can be a real disaster for the new fly angler, while conditions that are too calm can turn stripers off. Bait can also disappear from one tide to the next.
If you are going to target stripers on sandy beaches, I’d 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 a jetty or pier jutting out from a beach—this will help you get up and out of the waves, and the jetties often attract lots of bait.
When is The Best Time to Target Stripers With a Fly Rod?
While it’s tempting to fish during the day, the best time to catching stripers is near or after dark. Many anglers like sunrise, and this is a fine place to start. The most productive period will typically be the 30-minutes around sun-up. Don’t show up right at or after sunrise, as that’s too late. Sunset can be good too, especially if you want to get used to a spot before you fish it in full-darkness. But if I had to choose just one, I would pick sun rise as fish tend to go on the feed right before full light. This said, fishing in total darkness, specifically around the new and full moons, can be highly productive. Stripers feed far more aggressively at these times, and come close to shore where fly anglers can reach them.
How to Cast To 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 can really matter with stripers, especially if you’re fishing from shore. Being able to cast a full line is an asset when you’re struggling against wind, wading up to your ribs in the water, or when you’re trying to cast large flies.
The good news is that you don’t have to be on the water to hone this skill. Practicing at a soccer field or 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 pin-point accuracy at first. It doesn’t matter quite as much with stripers, unless you’re fishing certain conditions, like on gin-clear sand flats. As long as you get your fly relatively close, and get the presentation accurate, they’ll eat. To get maximum casting power, learn the double-haul casting technique as it will dramatically 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 they’re hungry, they will eat just about anything that looks alive- particularly after dark. Instead of thinking about fly choice in terms of specific colors and styles, focus on how you’ll use the fly. I like to have a few small and large flies that can cover the entire water column. While stripers are often near the bottom, this isn’t’ always true, and it pays to be prepared.
My go-to flies are a combination of commercial and custom patterns, but are based on flies like the Clouser Minnow, Lefty’s Deceiver, Popovic’s Hollow-Fleye, the Andino Deceiver, and Abrams Rhode Island Flatwing. Patterns in the 3- to 4-inch range are great for beginners, but I like to carry some larger flies in the 5- to 8-inch range, too. Even small stripers have no problem inhaling an eight-inch fly.
The Best Fly Rod, Reel, Line, and Tools For the Beginner Striper Angler
As far as gear goes, you should keep it simple, but powerful. A 10-weight rod is best, especially if you’re a shore-bound angler. This will make casting full-lines with larger flies more manageable. It will also provide plenty of fighting power to get fish in quickly, without undue stress, so they can be released healthy. The reel frankly doesn’t matter a whole lot. Stripers 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-pawl drags. However, if you are going to constantly hit your reel with splashes or spray, you’ll want to consider a sealed drag.
When it comes to fly lines, don’t skimp. I’d rather invest in a high-quality, cold-water line even if it means making compromises elsewhere. I am a big fan of floating lines in the places I’ve suggested in this article (estuaries and rocky flats). Floating line is versatile and allows you to use both surface and subsurface flies, swing flies in current easily, and keeps you from hanging up on structure. However, if you’re going to fish open-sandy beaches or water that is over 10-feet deep, an intermediate line is useful. Boat anglers fishing very deep or fast moving water may have to consider sinking lines. When it comes to your leader, for most anglers a straight 7-foot piece of 20- or 30-pound monofilament is perfect.
Finally, I think a stripping basket is essential for all shore-bound anglers, and also many boat anglers. It will help you caster farther, and keep tangles to a minimum. You also want to make sure you have robust forceps or pliers. Striper flies have large hooks, and a striper’s mouth is very hard, so having the right tool will get them unhooked quickly—decreasing the time they’re out of the water, and the time you’re not fishing.