It’s the best time of year to target stripers on the fly!
If you ever wanted to catch a striped bass on the fly then the easiest time to do it is when ocean temperatures are dropping from 55 to 48 degrees. As striped bass are migrating south towards the Chesapeake and the Carolinas for the winter, they’ll be on massive feeds gorging themselves on bait to fuel up for the winter ahead. In your boat you can literally set up over hundreds of bass that are feeding on sand eels or sea herring, which are the two main baits that fuel the feeding mayhem.
If sand eels are the bait then I will use a technique called stacked mending when I am fly fishing to get my fly deep quickly. This method involves using a 350- to 450-grain quick sinking line that sinks at a rate of 8 to 9 inches/sec. To stack mend cast out and then mend or dump all of the remaining fly line and about another 15 yards of backing into the water by making slow sweeps with your rod tip from side to side. With a slow to moderate drift I can usually get my line down to about 30 feet. As the boat drifts away I wait for my line to come tight. Once it does I start my retrieve in a strip-pause manner. Usually strikes come quickly and with hard bumps. However don’t be fooled into thinking that you have a solid hook-up. Pull your rod horizontally and set the hook hard with two or three strip strikes.
I normally use 6 to 8 feet of 30-pound fluorocarbon leader looped to looped to my sinking line. No tapering down of a leader is necessary. For flies a long slender slim profile fly will work best. Popovics’ jiggies are my number one choice to emulate the sand eel’s slender profile. Clousers and half and halfs also work well as the weighted heads of these flies will help to put these flies deeper in the water column. I fish these on 8- to 10-weight St Croix Legend Elite series fly rods.
At some point during the season you may also get to experience the annual migration of sea herring along inshore waters. These baits are the Atlantic herring that many anglers will jig in local inlets or breachways using sabiki rigs. These baits will often have bigger 25- to 35-pound bass with them. If the bait’s migration route takes place inside the three mile line word will quickly spread that the big bass are here.
This migration event is very exciting because it is highly visual. Striped bass will push these baits to the surface causing all kinds of surface commotion and attracting a multitude of gulls and gannets. Moving around and locating the pods can have you into Hitchcock-type of action. If you have a good network of communication you will be at a distinct advantage.
For this type of fly fishing I will break out my St Croix 9-foot, 10-weight; if the bass are really big my 9-foot, 12-weight rod will do the trick. These rods will give me enough power and leverage to lift and subdue the bigger bass. I will increase my leader length to 9 feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon and fish this on either an intermediate line if it is calm or a 300- to 400-grain sinking line if the wind is up.
For flies Bob Popovics’ beast fleye, bucktail deceivers, or hollow fleyes are my go-tos because of their profile and ease at which they cast. Dave Skoks’s yak hair flies, big half and halfs, and wide bodied deceivers will also work. I like to employ a long strip-pause retrieve.
For this end of the season boat finale make sure you dress warm in several layers with a wind resistant, waterproof STORMR, Gortex, Grunden, or Helly Hansen shell as your outermost layer. Wear waterproof gloves and cover your head and especially the back of your neck as well.
Using disposable hand warmers that you can put inside your gloves or jacket pockets is a big plus. I also like to put them in my shirt and pants pockets in between the layers of my clothing, but not directly on my body. Placing them in between your layers will help to keep you warm as you trap heat. This may just be enough to take the edge off on a cold winter day.