Seasonal Highlight – East Coast Stripers
There’s nothing like a monster striped bass on a fly rod to test your tackle and your arm strength. Striped bass are perfect for coastal fly fishing, because they prefer shallow water and feeding near the surface.
During the fall, large schools of stripers migrate south along the Atlantic coast, feeding on schools of menhaden. As an angler, you know what this means — great opportunities to fly fish for this distinctively handsome fighter.
Conventional methods of catching stripers include live-lining, snagging and dropping, casting metal-lip swimming lures, or chunking, among others. For a change of pace consider catching a trophy 30-50 pound striper on a fly rod!
If you want to discover the best places on the Atlantic seaboard to catch stripers this fall, keep reading. We’ll also share useful tips on increasing your chances of hooking a trophy striper
Best Spots to Fish for Striped Bass
Striped bass are highly migratory and voracious eaters, making them easy to find and a blast to catch. During the spring, after spawning in freshwater rivers, they move north from Chesapeake bay and the mid-Atlantic region as far north as Novia Scotia. Towards the fall, they migrate back south ahead of spawning season, feeding on any food they can find, including crabs, river herring, menhaden (bunker), lobsters, and silversides. Under the right conditions, the ocean surface literally boils as the stripers pursue their prey.
Bottom line, the fish are all up and down the coast of every state from Georgia to Maine. For this reason it’s advisable to check in with a local tackle shop as to whether they’ve arrived, which is often dependent on water temperature and weather patterns. It is common to find giant mounted stripers in local tackle shops and pubs, where you can also pick up tips on where to chase stripers.
Due to structure that helps concentrate the fish, three of the most productive waters can be found in Cape Cod MA, Montauk NY, Cape May NJ, and Chesapeake bay waters.
In Montauk, New York, striper fishing literally creates a fun madness. Just by talking to people in town, you will see moods rising and falling according to the latest fishing reports. What’s excellent about Montauk is it has something for every type of striped bass angler, from shore fishing to small and large boat fishing. Light-tackle and fly fishers can chase blitzes off the point in small boats. Trophies are taken drifting eels and large patterns in the rip currents.
In the waters near Cape Cod, some dedicated fly anglers land 40+inchers on a daily basis. The waters between Cape Cod Bay and Buzzards Bay exchange form ideal rip currents that churn up baitfish. So, many will argue this is best fly fishing experience along the East Coast. The stripers literally ride along the currents, chasing the vast schools of baitfish that shortcut through the Canal. Get ready for big crowds and tides requiring you to throw big, heavy flies to entice the trophies.
Tourists flock to Cape May, New Jersey for its antique shops and beautiful Victorian homes. However, anglers visit the place for off-shore fishing. In the summer months, there are several big-money tournaments off the South Jersey Marina. Come fall, striped bass fishing is the talk of the dock. Fly fishers on boats and surfcasters alike have great chances. Following the schools of bunker into the channels and sloughs of Delaware Bay may be your best bet to hook into monster stripers.
Other great striper towns include Newport RI, Buzzards Bay MA, Chatham MA, Newburyport MA, Seaside Park NJ, Highlands NJ, and Cold Spring Harbor NY.
Best Flies For Striper Fishing
Poppers and streamers are popular and effective for enticing stripers with your fly rod. More recently, worm, shrimp, crab, and even lobster imitations are taking the spotlight. Of course, if you’re after trophy stripers, you should use flies replicating the baits that they like. The best examples are patterns that imitate menhaden, herring, eels, and squid. Keep in mind that your only point of contact with trophy sized striped bass is the hook. So, be sure to choose or tie flies that have sharp, strong hooks.
Pro tip: Choose flies that have built-in swimming motion. Also, make sure to mix up your retrieval speeds and patterns when fishing your flies. Alternate between one-hand and two-hand; fast and slow; and steady and erratic till you identify what is enticing fish the most.
Recommended Fly Tackle, Lines, and Leaders
Think big and strong when you’re after stripers. Your best shot at actually landing the largest fish is using 10, 11, or 12-weight rods. Don’t forget to bring several lines for various conditions. Use a floating line that has a steeper saltwater front taper when you’re tossing shallow swimming flies and large poppers. You’ll need to go deeper for bigger stripers. In general, fast-sinking heads with 400 or 500 grains will fit the bill. For landing large fish, you must have at least 200 yards of combine line and backing.
Also, remember that you’ll get less chance for failure with fewer knots. So, you won’t need a lot of taper like you would for trout fishing. At about 20 pounds, two- or three-piece leaders of about 7-8’ will usually tip out. Around the jetties and rocks, it is crucial to have a heavy shock absorbing tipping on the front end.
Factors for Striper Success
The awesome thing about stripers, is they can be caught on flies from the shore, jetties, docks, and boats. With this diversity, the important thing is to research where to go, and take gear that will make you successful in that situation. For example fishing for hours in the surf may warrant well insulated waders and some even don full body wetsuits.
Anglers have continuously been debating over the effects of wind direction, water temperature, moon phase, and wave action on monster Northeast stripers. However, most fly fishers would agree that it is crucial to consider whether the tides are rising or falling. Many people claim that there are better chances of catching big striped bass in the night around the new moon. After all, these are the darkest times of the month. In any case, your best bet is to consult guides and tackle shops for local tips.
Others swear by fishing in the early morning twilight. For example, in mid-September, the mullet begin migrating along the New Jersey surf. Around this time and towards the fall, it is advisable to fish at daybreak. The bait will draw bass close to shore. However, take advantage of fishing when the stripers are in season and endemic in the area. Focus on structure because stripers tend to gravitate toward rocks. However, remember that big current rips and wave turbulence also serve as a structure that entices stripers to ambush baitfish.
Iff you are not thoroughly familiar with the waters, your best bet is to book a guide. Also, you should always be considerate of other fly fishers when the blitz is on. Be a good ambassador of the sport and remember to make room for everyone. After all, the experience gets better when you share it with other anglers.
WATCH: STRIPED BASS (and Shad) ON A FLY ROD:
Check out this informative and well-narrated video by South Fork Salt: