Fly fishing for striped bass is one of the most exciting things a fly fisher can experience! If you have managed to catch one of these awesome fish on a fly rod, I am sure you would agree!
Fly fishing for striped bass (aka stripers) can be quite tricky, but does it have to be?
Striped bass are actually very willing to eat a fly but there are some things you have to get right in order to be successful.
In this article, I am going to run through everything you need to know about catching striped bass on a fly rod including gear, tactics, and more. Once you have this knowledge under your belt, catching stripers on fly should be a lot easier.
Table of Contents
- Where Should I Fish for Striped Bass?
- The Right Equipment will Enhance Your Experience Immeasurably!
- Saltwater Fly Fishing Tactics for Striped Bass
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Where Should I Fish for Striped Bass?
The biggest struggle when fly fishing saltwater species, including stripers, is finding the fish. This takes some time to understand. Once you have it dialed, your success rate is going to soar!
Striped bass live in almost all the coastal waters of the US from the Gulf of Mexico to California, and along the East Coast.
But here’s the deal…
While California and the Gulf offer solid striper fishing, the best place to fly fish for striped bass is along the east coast from South Carolina to Maine.
Understanding Striper Migration is the First Key to Success
One of the reasons striped bass fishing is so much fun is because they are migratory. They live in the ocean and then travel into the rivers and freshwater ways to spawn each year.
This migration makes them available to fishers from the open ocean to small creeks. It also makes them devastatingly powerful. These fish fight ocean tides and then traverse freshwater to reproduce giving them a special voracity.
What about specific locations?
Here’s the deal:
When beginning your fly fishing journey for striped bass, I recommend secluded backwater fishing holes rich with juvenile fish. This will give you an opportunity to practice before hitting the difficult surf.
Where to Locate Striped Bass
Salt Water Flats
Ocean flats can run from 1 to 10 feet deep. These warm flats have great structure, like rock pilings, and baitfish really enjoy cruising these flats.
Here, you will find bass hugging close to cover. Be sure you use flies with a weed guard or flies, like Clouser’s minnow, that run upside down. This can make a world of a difference.
Feeder Creeks, Rivers and Lakes
While stripers tend to really enjoy the drop offs and ledges of larger creeks and lakes, you can find them hugging tight to cover on deeper shorelines, too.
One of my favorite areas to seek out striped bass on the fly rod are feeder creeks that enter larger lakes and rivers. These joining “mouth” areas are often packed with baitfish. If you can swim your fly through these areas there is a good chance a striper will give chase.
Fly fishing for striped bass from beaches can be successful, however, much depends on weather conditions and tidal movement.
The good news: it’s wide open for casting, there’s plenty of baitfish that are easily imitated and there’s generally no underwater structure to break your line.
The bad news is that fly fishing for striped bass on the beach takes first-hand knowledge of the weather, tidal movements, and the ability to work around the strong winds/surf.
- Weather that is too calm can cause the stripers to stop feeding.
- Stiff wind and crashing waves can be impossible for novice fly fisherman to overcome.
- Working around tidal movement also means that there is a chance that baitfish will arrive with one tide and leave with the next.
The best way to fly fish for stripers from the beach is to target concentrations of baitfish. Jetties, docks, or piers that stick out from the beach help break the surf and provide structure for baitfish. These are premier fly fishing locations.
But that’s not all…
Searching out rocky bottoms is an excellent way to fly fish for striped bass that are rich with bait and cover.
When fishing over rocky bottoms, I usually select a fly I can present in the middle of the water column. There, the fly is presented deep enough to draw lurking stripers up from the rocks without becoming snagged on bottom structure.
Estuaries are an excellent spot for novice anglers to fly fishing for striped bass from shore or boat. The shallow water and protection from wind make the estuaries a haven for baitfish and a target-rich environment for stripers.
Perfect for using a floating line, anglers can start with smaller flies and graduate up to larger flies. Because estuaries have a current, I like to drift my fly into the current, which helps carry my fly right to the fish.
Understanding the Time of Day will Make a Huge Difference
From sunrise till about two hours after, striped bass fishing is hot. At daybreak, stripers will be hungry and on the hunt. I like to target the shallows and schools of baitfish, placing my fly where I think a lurking striper may be.
Once the day begins to heat up, the action will die down, and I find it best to wait until evening to head back out.
The two hours before sunset is another excellent time to fly fish for stripers. Because striped bass are visual predators, the low light conditions of dusk and dawn are advantageous as their eyes are better than most of their prey.
I like a rising or falling tide at dusk. This provides some of the best fly fishing for striped bass.
As temperatures cool in the evening, striped bass will head back into the shallows to hunt schools of baitfish. If you can find the combination of a moving tide, cooling water, and baitfish, it’s almost guaranteed that striped bass will be there.
What about After Dark?
Night fishing is fun but it requires more work and can be hit-or-miss when fly fishing for striped bass.
You need lights to make baitfish swarm and dark-colored flies to match the environment. Lights suspended from boats or structures can bring in schools of baitfish and also therefore striped bass.
Night is best when the baitfish are spawning. Late spring and early fall is the best time of year for night striper fishing. I also like to target full moons which illuminate the water and my fly for the stripers to see.
The Right Equipment will Enhance Your Experience Immeasurably!
What Type of Rod should I Use?
A sturdy 7-10 weight rod that has the power to sling heavy flies is best. Personally, I use the St. Croix Mojo.
This rod is nearly 8ft in length and is built for casting heavy poppers and large streamers making it perfect for fly fishing for stripers.
What Type of Reel?
A good 7/8 weight reel will get the job done. Look for a quality reel made of steel or die-cast metal. They will hold up to the abuse that fly fishing for striped bass can have on your fishing tackle.
The MaxCatch brand makes very affordable metal reels for fly fisherman on a budget.
And the Line?
A quick sinking fly line is what you need when you are fishing for striped bass. This will get your fly down to the fish quickly.
Though stripers like to patrol the shallow flats for baitfish, strong currents and tides can sometimes hamper your fly’s ability to sink with a standard line.
A strong 8 foot leader is ideal and should not be longer than 9 feet. I have even used lo-vis green Trilene as a great leader for fishing striped bass.
Your tippet material should be between 12 – 20lb test. A 20lb test tippet is very thick and tougher to cast than 12-15lb but is stronger and more abrasion-resistant.
Match your leader to the situation. That said, you would hate to lose a 50lb lunker over tippet material!
Should I Bring a Net?
This point is often lost on fishers who want to grab stripers by the lips and yank them up to thunderous applause. You can lose a lot of fish if you don’t use a net.
That feeling when a large striper turns away from your hand and snaps the line or shakes the hook as you watch him swim off is brutal. Also, more handling of a fish is more unneeded stress. Nets are essential.
A rubber or rubber-coated net also protects the fish’s scales and protective slime.
I use this nice big landing net for stripers and other large fish.
Your Fly Selection can Help Make or Break Your Trip!
You will want a few different options to fish different depths and match different sizes/species of baitfish.
Here’s what’s always in my fly box when striped bass fishing:
- Clouser Minnow
- Lefty’s Deceiver
- Popovic’s Hollow-Fleye
- Andino Deceiver
- Abrams Rhode Island Flatwing
Saltwater Fly Fishing Tactics for Striped Bass
While striped bass are an aggressive fish they are still a challenge to catch. A poorly cast fly, a bad hook set, and the wrong retrieve are just a few things that will make or break a day.
Just think about this…
How is it Going to Go Down?
The key is to be ready to make a cast at a moment’s notice so you never miss an opportunity. Make sure you have a rod length of line out of the tip, are holding the fly in your hand, and have around 50-60 feet of line pulled out on the deck of the boat, or left behind you as you wade.
You will then be waiting to see fish to target or will be blind casting and using the current when fishing tidal areas and from a boat.
Managing Your Line is a Must
While you are waiting to spot fish, you have to manage the fly line you have pulled out of the reel. I have seen many fish swim by without seeing a fly because the fly line was in a tangle.
When you are wading, managing your line is quite easy as it usually drags behind you. It can get caught up in rocks, sand, and the surf which is when using a stripping basket can be very useful.
If you are standing on the bow of a boat, your line can be moved around by the wind and waves, it is easy to step on, and all of these can form tangles.
Always check your line is good to go, and if you do find a tangle, cast it out and strip it back into the boat so it is neat and ready to go again.
Making the Cast
On the flats, you’ll want to cast your fly 6-10 feet in front of the fish so you don’t spook it. Once your fly lands, let the fly sink to the bottom and wait for the fish to come closer. When the fish is 3-4 feet from your fly, make a long strip or two and it should inhale it in seconds.
When fishing in deeper waters you will be blind casting around holding areas. You will want to use the current as much as you can which involves making long casts up and across the current.
As the fly comes down with the current, you should strip the fly across it. This makes your fly look like a struggling baitfish which stripers simply can’t resist.
How do I Set the Hook on a Striper?
Don’t trout set!
When setting the hook for any saltwater species, never lift the rod!
You have to strip-set!
This means that when you feel the fish eat the fly, just keep stripping to set the hook before letting them run onto the reel. If you lift your rod instead of strip-setting, it creates slack and actually pulls the fly out of the fish’s mouth.
Striper Fishing Tips
- Keep calm in the moment: There is nothing more exciting than seeing a fish chase your fly but if you panic/get over excited, chances are you will do something wrong. Take some deep breaths and remain calm.
- Think about the wind: If it’s blowing over your casting arm’s shoulder, it is going to blow the fly into your head and make casting very hard. Always have the wind behind you or coming over your non-casting arm’s shoulder.
- Think about the tides: The tide is what governs the movement of bait and therefore how the stripers move. An incoming tide will push bait into an inlet and stripers will follow. An outgoing tide will flush bait out of an estuary and the stripers will be waiting to ambush them
- Watch the sun: Make sure the sun is behind you as this removes a lot of the glare and will help you see fish a lot more easily. Just be aware of your shadow!
Can I fly fish for striped bass?
Yes, in both fresh and saltwater.
Is it better to angle for a striper from a boat or shore?
Both have their advantages, but I find boating to be easier as it gives me more mobility, casting range, and the ability to pick up my anchor and move if the fish aren’t there.
What is the best Fly for striped bass?
I like the Clouser Minnow but there is a variety that is incredibly successful, including Lefty’s Deceiver, Popovic’s Hollow-Fleye, Andino Deceiver, and Abrams Rhode Island Flatwing
What should I look for when searching for a good fly fishing spot for striped bass?
- Can I cast and retrieve here? Can I maneuver around the bank or shoreline without snags or brush in the way?
- The other component is the water. Is there bait, is there tidal movement, is there a structure underneath the water, and what does the bottom look like? If the answer to all of these questions is in line with what we’ve talked about, then I usually find it to be an excellent location when fly fishing for striped bass.
Striped bass fight like crazy, they get to be as big as your 8 year old and they look great in those grip and grin pictures.
Fly fishing for striped bass is a world class adventure and if you get into the school of stripers you are gonna need a break from reeling these aggressive fighters in.
Success with fly fishing for striped bass really comes down to locating them and presenting a streamer well. Watch the baitfish, imitate their movements, and hang on because the bites are coming!
*Make sure to check your local regulations and state laws before angling and be safe out on the water.
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