Fly Fishing For Striped Bass
Striped Bass can be found in the beaches, bays, and inlets across Maine, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode island. They are touted as the number one saltwater sportfish in New England. Stripers prefer water temps ranging from 50 to 70 degrees with optimal temps at around 60 degrees. In terms of diet, stripers will prey on a wide variety of different fish and crabs such as menhaden, mackerel, small bluefish, anchovies, eels, crabs and shrimp. Typically the striper run begins in March and ends in late December. Initially, these fish migrate North from deep wintering areas off Virginia and North Carolina. Along this route they stop in several states to feed and spawn in rivers such as the Delaware and Hudson. After they spawn, they begin filling into warm waters within the back bays of New York and New Jersey. As the later spring/ summer kicks in, these fish will often reside in “summering areas” such as flats and boulder fields where they can readily feed on bait. As temperatures drop in the fall they migrate out of the bays and inlets down the coast slowly but surely back to their wintering holes. That being said, There are a variety of ways to tempt a striper into eating your fly! Here’s a list of different striper scenarios!
Fishing the Back Bay
The back bay is a place of magic. Usually these areas are most conducive in the spring from early March to the middle of May. The typical back bay area is calm and protected with a depth of 4-8 feet. Fish are attracted to these areas since they are typically the warmest in early spring. During this time of year stripers will eat large menhaden and small spearing. One feature that can act as a hotspot in the back bay is the presence of salt ponds or creeks that create outflows. Usually, these outflows have an abundance of small bait that gets washed out into the bay, which can be a recipe for big fish. The most conducive time to fish at the mouth of an outflow is 3 days before and 3 days after a full and new moon. At this time, the current will be at its strongest. Often creating a sweeping motion that allows for a fantastic fly swinging bite. In terms of size these fish are generally in the "schoolie" size (15- 28 inches) with some monsters (20-40lbs) mixed in during the full and new moon. For gear, an Outlaw 9 foot 8-10 weight stealth with floating/ intermediate sinking line will do the trick! As for flies, the best patterns include Clousers, half and halves, deceivers, game changers, and flatwings in size 2/0 and 3/0 attached via loop knot to 10 feet of 20 lb fluoro-carbon.
Fishing the Boulder Fields
The main body of migratory Striped Bass begins moving out of the back bays and into boulder fields around late May. These fish will typically hold in these spots well into the summer. That being said, some areas in the northeast such as the Long Island Sound have optimal shoreline and geographic layout to support a summer fishery while other states such as New Jersey act merely as a corridor for migrating fish.
Not to knock on any Jersey Anglers! But typically they experience a world class back bay fishery in early March to late April. Once this run of fish has migrated, a large body of fish does not typically call the area home for the summer. On the contrary the fish migrating out of the back bays of New York have an optimal summer home in the Long Island Sound. When fishing a boulder field it’s important to focus on casting at the structure in front of you as fish will hug tight to the rocks and boulders in the area. In order to combat the structure a 6 foot section of 30 lb fluorocarbon tied via blood knot to 4 feet of 40-60Lb fluoro is necessary, and will allow a fly fisherman to put the breaks on most fish swimming into rocky areas. In this scenario, poppers, beast flies, and deceivers will usually grab the attention of a willing fish. If the fish do not strike a fly riding high in the column, they maybe hanging deeper on drop offs and thus will hit a fly fished on a sinking line. As it pertains to targeting larger striped bass in boulder fields, most anglers partake in bait and switch. This is a two man system in which one angler casts a topwater hookless lure to draw in the attention of a larger striper. When the fish begins hitting or boiling behind the lure the fly caster then casts roughly 2-3 feet in front of the lure, as the fly hit’s the water the second angler then quickly reels the lure back to the boat. The fish will then track the profile of the fly and ultimately crush it. While there are many lures that will do the trick, throughout the northeast the hottest bait and switch lure is the Musky Mania DOC, it’s essentially a bone white 9 inch zig zagging topwater lure. This technique is the number one big fish strategy and has been known to help fly anglers land trophy stripers in excess of 40lbs. That being said, bait and switch can be a very tough tactic as large striped bass will often track the fly down, briefly inspect it, and disappear.
To many anglers fishing the flats for striped bass is the toughest yet most rewarding discipline, it involves stealth, precision casting, and perfect presentation. Stripers usually hit the flat’s in numbers in late spring and move off the flat’s in the latter summer. During this time they eat a variety of crabs and shrimp on the bottom. In this situation a finesse presentation is key. Usually 10 feet of 16lb tippet tied via blood knot down to 12lb tippet will do the trick. Fish on the flats generally range from 20 inches up to 20lbs, however larger fish do appear at times. These fish will travel in small packs across the edges of sandy drop offs. When approaching a fish on the flats it’s crucial to understand the direction of its head and tail.If a fish is moving across your point of view you must cast ahead of it, leading the fish by a few feet. This will provide a natural presentation in which the fish swims into the fly. Moreover, If the fly line land’s on top of the fish it will quickly spook and bolt away. Usually, the easiest fish to catch on the flats is a striper that is layed up on the bottom eating crabs. These fish are a non moving target, if you can sneak up on the fish slowly, you may have a few casting shots to attract an eat. The most conducive fly patterns include the strong arm crab, merkin crab, and Crouser crab. As for retrieve, these patterns fish best with slow short strips, especially when a fish is hot on the fly.
Targeting Stripers on Off Shore Rips
Offshore rips are hot spots for large schools of Stripers. These areas are created by changes in current and ocean topography, they often hold Stripers from late Spring well into the summer. Typically, the water temperature in these offshore areas are cooler than inshore waters, which creates a comfortable living situation. In these offshore rips, striped bass tend to move in dense schools with fish of similar size class. While it may seem easy to catch these fish during a blitz, you must match the profile of the bait in order to catch a striper. The best flies to throw on the rips include sandeel patterns such as the cf-eel, easy sandeel, foilflye, surf candy, and clouser. In terms of leader set up, a 10 foot section of 30 lb fluoro knotted down to 20lb fluoro is perfect as there is no structure to compromise the leader.
In no particular order, here are my favorite places to target Stripers!
- Monomoy Rips: MA
- Manhasset bay backwaters: Long Island, NY
- Nantucket Flats: MA
- Shinnecock flats: NY
- Norwalk Island: CT
- Fishers Island: NY/CT
By: Jack Larizadeh