There is more to fly fishing the striper surf than just throwing any old fly on a hope and a prayer.
It’s a good idea to keep any fishing simple but there are some things you can do to juice up your catch. Here are a bunch.
The Riffle Hitch
Riffle hitch is a way to tie your fly to the leader that will draw the attention of gamefish. When a fly is attached to riffle it leaves a wake on the surface that is attractive to stripers holding in the current. And, while we all know that stripers love current, you want them to know your fly is there. What a riffled fly does is side-plane in the surface tension leaving a subtle wake. To accomplish this the angler ties off the fly around the throat; for it to be successful, current is required as this does not work in flat water. Hard running outflows, which are better striper fishing anyway, leave a stronger “riffle” signature that draws more attention. I have also done this in trout streams and had marvelous results on Atlantic salmon.
Fly fishers can opt to attach a section of fly line ahead of a length of mono that will provide long distance casting with a minimum of false casting. While this makes casting much easier, if the wind is not a problem, it has its place among fly line options that cast well and sink more quickly for deep water efforts. With winds in your face, shooting heads can present problems; if the connection is not smooth the bump can make the angler think he has been hit. Smooth connections are not easy to achieve so “heads” create false alarms. Recommendations are usually for 25 or 30 feet of fly line; I like 20. You never want to fly fish with only one fly line in your kit because, in the course of a season, things can befall a fly line. Bluefish damage or leader degradation can put fly fishing out of business, and an extra spool of anything can get you through a night of fishing.
While it probably does no harm, a lot of fly fishers think that imparting life to the fly helps to make it more lifelike. Real bait fish don’t dance and, if you have a well formulated fly pattern, jiggling shouldn’t be necessary. Wild coastal inhabitants just kind of mosey along. When tied properly a fly can present a convincing bait fish. Sand eels, grass shrimp, even cinder worms, don’t jiggle and fly fishers should not jiggle either.
This one took me a long time to learn. The reason for this is that long leaders in fly fishing are a PIA and the longer the leader the harder it is to cast. The trap in leader selection is that that the easy fishing with shorter leaders catch less fish, and I don’t know why that is. However, if you fish comfortably with a 6-foot leader your counterpart with a 10- or 12-foot leader will always catch more. Embarrassing.
Light leaders also draw more hits. The reason that is so is probably because gamefish are able to see it. If you hear funky music reading this, I hear it too. The trap in more contacts with light leaders is that you might hook more stripers but they break you off. More embarrassment. Also, the thought of a bass swimming around with your fly on its lip is kind of a bummer. Nothing but trade-offs!
Two Fly Combos
There are bound to be situations in the striper surf where your fly is competing with a million of the real thing in bait fish. There are times when linesides are popping all around you, even brushing your waders, but your one fly is competing with thousands of the real animal which puts you in the loser’s corner. You could double your chances, though admittedly two times nothing is still the same as one times nothing. If you run into a worm hatch with millions of worms all over the estuary and a like number of stripers swilling on them, slash your wrists because knowing you are among a million stripers and 20 million worms does not have a viable solution. Even so, you will, on paper anyway, stand a better chance with two worm flies or two grass shrimp for them to laugh at. With so much competition from bait fish in your spot, it is highly unlikely that you hook two gamefish at once. Nevertheless, I’ve done it. Another trade-off.
Fly fishermen are notoriously prone to fishing in the daylight. In Maine they call that “fishing with the owls”. For years I told fly fishing seminars that most fly guys who are wearing $2,000 of fly fishing clothes from Orvis fish in daylight because they wanted to be seen. Those guys used to wait for me in the parking lots and it was not for an autograph.
At the heart of the night fishing issue is that we are all socialized to sleeping at night; it is unnatural to be schlepping around in the eel grass with the snakes when you should be in bed with your honey. Still, the guys who fish at night, and that includes those who fly fish, catch way more fish. Of course, for many anglers fly casting is challenging enough when you can see without taking on the closet like blind darkness. That said, I am paid to sometimes tell you what you do not want to hear. Sure, if the fish have arrived in darkness and have found bait, one could catch mightily. Dawn is famous for blitzing but such times are too short to be a reason to time your fishing that way.
Inasmuch as gamefish have had all night to forage around, the longer they have had darkness the more likely it is that they are in your secret spot. In that case there is no harm in stretching into the dawn. In daylight be sure to wear Polaroids for seeing fish. Sometimes they go crazy and stay in the place. I really like outflows that often hold well after sunrise. Just because it is daytime, don’t leave the fish.
Editor’s Note: Frank Daignault is the author of many books including Fly Fishing the Striper Surf.