The first time I hooked a striped bass on a fly rod, it felt like I’d hooked a shark.
Only I wasn’t fishing in saltwater, I was fishing my hometown river just downstream from one of the larger reservoirs in the area.
Catching a striped bass was the last thing I expected on this day, but the five-minute fight on my ultra-light trout rod was one I’ll never forget. Today, fly fishing for stripers is one of my favorite winter pastimes – with much heavier equipment of course.
About the Striped Bass
The striper or striped bass (Morone saxatilis) is a remarkable species in that it has adapted to a freshwater existence, expanding its range from coast to coast.
Today, the striped bass can not only be found in the ocean, but in lagoons, bays and freshwater reservoirs and rivers.
And landlocked stripers can get as big as their saltwater brethren, growing over 20 pounds in many areas.
Striped bass get their name from the seven or eight horizontal stripes along the width of their bodies. The species is anadromous, migrating from the ocean to coastal bays and rivers where they spawn each spring before returning to the ocean.
Where to Find Stripers
The species has been introduced in reservoirs from coast to coast with the exception of some Midwest and Rocky Mountain fisheries. Both pure and hybrid fish can be found in freshwater as the striped bass has been crossed with such species as the white bass (the result often being referred to as a wiper or sunshine bass).
Striped bass are also common in nearshore fisheries such as estuaries, bays and lagoons. The fish is a popular target of surf fishers as well.
Fly Rod, Reel, Lines
Striped bass are big, bruising fighters – even in freshwater – so if you know you’re going to be targeting stripers, consider an 8- to 10-weight fly rod.
Saltwater anglers might even want to bump up to a 10- to 12-weight design depending on the size of the fish and conditions they’re facing.
The stronger the rod, the more leverage you’ll have during the fight and more likely you’ll be able to land the trophy of a lifetime.
For saltwater fishing, you’ll want to consider a disk drag system and a large arbor fly reel.
Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to use a fly line and tippet that cut through the current and reaches the depth stripers are holding at. Consult your local fly fishing shop to find out where the fish are holding and the best line class/system to reach the strike zone.
As for picking flies, you’ll want to fall back on big bass patterns such as a deer hair popper, baitfish fry, leeches, dragon and damselflies and crawdad patterns for still waters.
For inshore fishing, similar patterns in the saltwater variety work well. Flies resembling anchovies, shrimp, crab, worms and sculpin are always a good bet for striped bass.
The key being placement of the fly and getting down to their level. Once you find the strike zone, hold on because you’re going for a ride.