Fly fishing for striped bass is fantastic! They are the perfect example of an estuary fish to target on the fly.
Striped bass is one of my favorite species to target on the fly. Yeah, sure, they have a notoriously ‘Tough to catch’ reputation but let me tell you when you find the fish, and they are on the feed, boy, are you in for a treat!
Strippers or linesiders are the commoner’s species, which is why I think I love them so much. I think they punch well above their weight and can be very selective when they choose to be. Saltwater or freshwater, mangroves, or rolling waves they can be found in many different habitats. Striped bass respond well to surface flies and can’t resist a shrimp pattern.
When spring comes around, I start to dust off the cobwebs and get my 8wt rod and reel set up ready for action! I’m getting the shakes just writing about this, and I still have a few months to go.
Fishable across the Gulf coast all the way to the Pacific Coast, they can be found everywhere. They generally spawn during the winter in the brackish waters of the river inlets, bays and surrounds. Then migrate to the summer feeding grounds on the flats and tidal zones. This is where I like to catch them.
New to the sport or a self-confessed linesider whisperer, I’m sure the below article will be of interest to all of you. I am by no means a professional, but I am happy to share my thoughts and experiences.
Steps for Catching Striped Bass with a Fly Rod
Finding the fish is half the battle, especially when they are feeding out in the ocean. It’s a big place, so it is essential to know your environment and know what to look for.
Knowing what they feed on and how the bait moves are essential, using the birds as a signal system is my best and reliable way to find the fish.
1. Gear-Up Right
Selecting the right gear is very important, and it will just make your day easier and hopefully more successful. The rod is key, and a 9wt is the best, in my opinion. You can get away with a 7/8wt for the ‘schoolies,’ but the bigger females will smash you up on this. My go-to rod is the Sage Foundation 8wt 9′ rod. It is a great rod and has a lovely backbone to lift the fatties. It fishes like a true 9wt and can also turn those bigger flies. In my case, an excellent reel to match is a Sage Spectrum C 7/8 spooled with a RIO Bonefish WF rocket taper fly line.
2. Find the Food Stripers Love
As I mentioned earlier, finding the fish is half the battle. It is important to understand how the strippers move and act during the different seasons. They spawn in the late autumn-winter in the bay inlets and less turbulent waters. You can target them at this stage.
The smaller males will mainly feed with the odd larger female coming to hand. In the spring and summer months, the bass move into the moving waters, chasing the baitfish into shallows and off ledges. It’s simple, find the bait, and you will find the linesiders.
3. Structure is Key
Where to Find “Holding Water” for striped bass is the key. The quieter bays and inlets are the main target here in the winter. The larger females can even be found cruising the backline on your favorite swimming beach in the early spring. As we move into the warmer months, you need to shift your focus to the tidal areas as this is where the baitfish will congregate and, in turn, where the bass patrol and will be found.
This is when you find those monster females post spawn, hungry and aggressive. Some massive fish have been caught during this time, and it is worth reading the Biggest Striped Bass for more info.
Observing to understand what striped bass are eating will be the key to your success. They will eat anything, really, baitfish, crabs, eels, shrimp, and prawns are all on the menu. Having your fly box kitted with the above imitations is recommended. Don’t go over the top. Just have a few of each pattern in various weights to fish in the needed circumstances. I’m not one to carry boxes, and boxes of flies but rather have what works, and that is it! For more of this take a look at the Best Flies for Striped Bass
Presentation is critical, well, at least for those picky wintery fish. Most of the fishing in the summer will be caught from a boat, or alternatively, you will be on the beach punching those waves to get to those backline cruises. Whichever you are on, the presentation is paramount to the eat. From the boat, you will need the stealth, and a good, experienced skipper is vital to poll you within casting distance and without spooking the fish. From the beach, it’s all about getting over those waves so you can maintain contact with the fly at all times.
5. The Right Positioning
Once you are in position, take a few moments to scan the area and see if you can see any fish or anything that might influence your decision on flies and retrieves. It’s important to remember the tide when fishing in an estuary or ocean, and what worked on the incoming tide might not work on the outgoing tide. The fish will also move with the waves and chase the baitfish.
Once you are happy to get casting, use the current to swing the fly if this is what you intend to do to get that fleeing baitfish imitation.
One of my fondest memories was when I went on a bank stalking mission with one of my good friends. He was a trout purist and didn’t really stray too far from the holy grail. Needless to say, I convinced him that the linesiders were in the estuary and that we were in for a great day.
We arrived early, the tide had just turned. We were a way from the mouth, so I knew we had some time before the water would be pushing hard and filling up the banks.
Guide Tip: As a side note, this is a great time to check the area out where the fish will eventually be feeding on the full tide. It gives you a good indication of what life is there and what to start fishing with.
After a morning coffee and chat, we got set up and discussed our battle plan. Once the water started to push, it wasn’t long before we saw the signs of the fishing moving in. The birds were the first sign, and then the silver shimmers are what caught my eye, and last sign which is the best one, a screaming reel!
We had an amazing mornings fishing and got properly stretched a few times. My trout purist buddy is now a fully self-diagnosed ‘stripper’ nut. He had such fun and was blown away by their sheer power.
Selecting Fly Fishing Gear for Striped Bass
Your gear is essential. You don’t have to have the best of the best, but rather I like to say, reliable gear that you trust and know works. If you are an inshore saltwater angler, the chances are you have most of the gear already and won’t need to venture out to get much
Fly Rod – As mentioned earlier, my ideal rod choice for strippers is a 9wt fly rod. I like a fast-action rod with a good backbone to it. You could probably get away with an 8wt for the smaller ‘schoolies,’ It would actually be great fun, but you will battle turning those bigger flies in the wind and possibly turning around a ‘bus bass’ if you hook one. When out on the ocean, a 10wt is better. This just helps with the wind and gives you more control. So, a 9wt is the middle ground and should cover most of your fishing conditions.
Looking for the perfect fly rod combo for the Stripers?
The Sage Foundation Fly Rod Combo comes with everything minus flies. The rod in made in the U.S.A. and comes with the typically lifetime warranty. The fast action allows you to cast in the windy conditions found along the Colorado. Even better – when your buddies see you casting a Sage you’ll get the jealousy looks.
Fly Line – A good floating line will be your most used line, and it will cover most of the conditions and depths at which you will find the strippers. An intermediate is a good line to have as a second choice, especially when the fish are sitting a little deeper off the ledge and the current pushes the floating line over the fish, and you can’t get the fly into the zone. Then lastly, a quick sink line is a good choice to have if you do most of your fishing offshore. The fast sink rate will cut through the currents and get down to that deep bass.
Fly Fishing Reel – I wouldn’t recommend an over-the-top reel. You need a reel with a good smooth drag and about 100 yards of backing. Linesiders don’t usually take you too deep into your back but often have an explosive first run that you want to curb quickly. A reel an unreliable drag may just cause a few issues. So, you don’t need a top-of-the-range reel with a very strong drag as you would, for, say, Tarpon, but have a suitable and sufficient reel with a smooth drag.
Leader and tippet – I don’t like to complicate the leader matter. As you know, it can be very confusing to know what to use at what times. I use Lefty Kreh’s 50% rule for building all my leaders. I standardize them to 9ft for my striped bass fishing. On occasion, I would fish a 15 ft leader if they are really spookish and leader shy. This isn’t too often, but the longer leader really makes the difference when they are in this state. With tippet, the same kind of mindset applied. I stick to 2x for tippet, and should I think I need to go lighter, a 3x option would be the lightest. It’s important to use good quality tippet. Even the fluorocarbon is great. A good quality tippet offers a higher breaking strain with a smaller line diameter, which is what we are after.
Favorite Flies for Striped Bass
My fly choice depends on the day and the conditions. You will always find the below flies in my box in some weight or color. They are tried and tested ones
Dustin’s Destroyer– The EP shad is a classic bass baitfish pattern. The striped bass will love it if you tie it in the right colors, whites, and greens! It can be fished in any conditions and is a great search pattern should the fishing be a little quiet.
Lefty’s Deceiver– This fly pattern needs no introduction and has set the bar for baitfish patterns in all aspects. The fly’s movement in the water and, more importantly, on the drop is what gives this fly its lethal ability. I like them in more natural colors, with a bit of flash. It pays to have one or two bright-colored ones for those tricky days when the sun is high.
The nice thing about the deceiver is its weight, and you can really send it a long way off with a good double haul cast. Fish them slowly with full retrieve striped and allow the fly to sink. The drop is the trigger and often when the fish hits you.
Surf Candies- I was never fond of surf candies, but they are now one of my go-to flies for linesiders. I like to have them in tans, greys and ginger beer colors. All with a white underbelly and 3D eyes. Yes, they take some time to tie, especially when you are curing them with the epoxy or Solarez, but once done, they are great. I like to fish them in slightly deeper waters and retrieve them with an erratic strip.
Hud’s Bushwacker– Again, nothing special here. The Bushwacker is a classic autumn largemouth bass fly, an amazing fly to have and fish. Its super light, and the fluttering movement it makes on the drop is what gets the fish every time. There are a few color changes and a size or two up, and we have a deadly fly for striped bass.
Chartreuse and whites are my go-to color. Another excellent quality of this pattern is that you can fish it right up in the weeds and grass and very rarely get caught up.
Mush Mouth– This is a great shallow water baitfish pattern; the synthetics are bright and attract fish from far. This simple baitfish pattern should be fished fast and erratically. You want to imitate a fleeing baitfish. Mustards and browns are the colors I like, only because that is the color of the baitfish in my area. Match your colors, and you will have a winning recipe.
Game Changers– This is a relatively new pattern, but it is fast becoming a firm favorite for all fly fishermen. Its movement in the water is what makes it so deadly, and because it is so light, it is relatively easy to cast. I prefer mine small in the same tans and browns as most of my baitfish patterns. I also have a few pearl white ones that seem to work very well in the brackish waters.
Guide Tip: For more on flies and choices, check out our Best 11 flies for Striped Bass
How I Like to Setup my Fly Rod for Striped Bass
As mentioned above, my rod and reel setup are straightforward. My go-to choice is a 9wt rod and reel with a WF floating line. A 9ft leader with a 3ft 2X tippet is what I like to start with. I use the Rapala Knot for all my baitfish and shrimp patterns. This knot just gives an extra bit of movement to the fly and is a great knot to use when fishing larger diameter mono.
What Additional Gear is Great to Have when fishing for Striped Bass?
The below list is what I like to carry and find very useful to have when out for striped bass. Please feel free to add to the list for your own needs.
- A Flask of hot coffee to start the day is essential.
- A backup pair of sunglasses. I carry a low light pair which are great.
- A good pair of waders for when conditions aren’t great in the boat or if fishing beaches and flats in the early spring It can still be rather chilly.
- Sun gloves are great for those heavier lines
- A warm waterproof rain jacket is a must in the early spring and late in the season.
- For beach fishing, a stripping basket is a must!
- I like to carry all my gear in a waterproof backpack. Fishpond, Simms, and Orvis make great ones
Where to Find Striped Bass
Knowing where to fish for striped bass Is key.
Fishing the current is a great way to start your day. I apply two trains of thought here. Firstly, I see if I can see any visuals of fish feeding or sub-surface. If this is a go, then I will target them off the seam of the pushing current, they will hang here and ambush baitfish.
I also like the fish up and across the current, casting up the current and stripping the fly back through the current. Alternatively, you can swing the fly like you would for steelhead. Both these methods work very well and account for many fish in the right conditions.
Inlets are awesome to fish. The bass move in here on the pushing tide and feed on baitfish. This can be very exciting fishing if you are in position and ready. The fish almost know they have a limited amount of time and make the most of the time feeding. This is where a game-changer will work well.
Flats are very challenging but, at the same time a rewarding time to target striped bass. Whether you are by boat or on foot, you need to have stealth and patience. Lead the fish well, and don’t fish flies that are too heavy and sink too fast. You want the fly to hang in the zone for the strippers to see it.
When is the Best Time to Fly Fish for Striped Bass
You can quite easily target striped bass for most of the year, but obviously, there are the peak times to focus on them.
- Autumn/ Winter- The striped bass will move into the spawning mode and areas. It is here where the females will start to slow down and become trickier to catch. The males will congregate around them at this time. The males will be smaller and are usually easier to pick up on the fly.
- Spring/ Summer– This is the peak time, as I mentioned earlier. I love this time of the bass season. They come out of the winter chills, hungry and aggressive. In the early season, you will find your big 30LBS plus females. The striped bass chase the baitfish into the warming waters, and this is where you need to concentrate your fishing times.
- Times of the day– These are all dependent on where you are fishing. If you are fishing with the tides, you need to fish 2 hours before the high tide and 2 hours after the high. Suppose you are fishing the flats; it is important to use the sun. Position yourself with the sun to your back and use this lighting to help see the fish better.
Different Fly Fishing Techniques for Catching Striped Bass
Estuary fishing– is great fun and often best enjoyed from a boat. If you have wadable access to the right spots, then get to them early and fish the drop zones. Please just be aware of how high the water rises during the high tide. I have been caught off guard before, and it is not a nice feeling.
Flats fishing– is probably one of the most challenging ways to target striped bass, and I would say it’s more like permit fishing than bonefish. The bass can be very spookish, and often a 1 or 2 fish day will be considered a good day out. With this in mind, it is one of the most satisfying ways to catch any fish, the stalk, the cast, and hopefully, the eat.
Ocean fishing– can also have its challenges, but if you have the means to get out on the ocean to chase the linesiders, then you really should. You will fish the deeper waters, and often the best way to target them is to drift with the current on and over the rip. This is where the larger fish will hold. Swinging your fly and line through this zone will often result in a few eats and fish to hand.
Beach fishing– This is great fun, challenging but fun. You need to have your casting arm on here and be happy to get a little wet. A stripping basket is essential here as it will hold your line and prevent it from being washed around. You may want to use your waders in the early season because the water could be a little cool still.
Fish early mornings and evenings when the beaches are empty. Often the best waters are right where the sunbathers swim. Focus on the cross rips and gullies in the sand bed, swing the fly over these areas, and strip it back with speed.
Tips for Catching Striped bass with a Fly
- Know your surroundings and use them to fish efficiently.
- Match the hatch and use the baitfish around to decide on what fly you need to fish.
- Have confidence in the fly you are fishing.
- Fish with the tides.
- Fish with the sun to your back to help see the fish and make accurate casts.
- Make sure you don’t fish a too heavy fly that makes a ‘PLOP’ sound. This often spooks the fish on the flats.
- Be aware of your shadow on the flats as well.
Fighting, Netting, and Handling Stripers
We should all be practitioners and educators of keeping fish wet to ensure their survival to fight another day. This is often a very ignored part of fishing. We need to pay more attention to this and educate along the way.
Remember, hooking, fighting and landing the striped bass is the most exciting part. Netting or mouthing it with your thumb needs to be done with care and respect. Try to keep the fish in the water most of the time, and if you need a few pictures taken, then ensure the fish is not in the water for too long a period.
Make sure the fish is strong for the swim-off and send it on its way.
Last Cast for Striped Bass
So, there you have it. Catching striped bass on the fly is both exciting and challenging at the same time. For me personally, they are such a rewarding species to chase and catch on the fly, and I love it when the season comes around.
Please be sure to read Biggest Striped Bass as well to get more insight into these fantastic fish.
Looking for more Striper articles?
- Everyone wants to talk about how big….So what is the biggest striped bass? READ -> The Biggest Striped Bass Ever Caught
- What flies do you need? Read about my favorites in -> Best Flies for Stripers
- Want more about Bass gear? How about -> Best Rod, Reel and Line for Bass
- Want more “How To” Read -> How to Fly Fish for Striped Bass
Fly fishing has been my passion and pursuit for the past 20 years. I am a South African based fly fisherman who loves nothing more than spending a day on the water. Fly fishing is more than catching fish, being in the outdoors with good friends and family is what it is all about.
Fly pictures are credit to Umpqua – Tied to the Water