The striped bass is one of the most beloved saltwater gamefish in New England. If you have spent any time on the shore from Delaware to Maine, you have probably seen people fishing for striped bass off piers and jetties. What is less common is seeing people fly fishing for striped bass, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an effective way to catch stripers. Fly fishing for striped bass is a fun, exhilarating, and challenging pursuit that, for many, become a lifelong obsession.
When most people think of fly fishing, it conjures up the image of a trout stream in Montana, cold limestone rivers with magnificent mountain vistas overhead. The other perception about fly fishing is that it is a difficult and expensive sport to pursue. The intention of this guide along with the objective of South Shore Fly Casters is to make fly fishing more accessible and provide resources and opportunities for people of all skill levels and abilities to be successful fly fishing for striped bass.
If you know anything about fly fishing, you know that it is a sport steeped in tradition and conventional wisdom. What I mean to say is, it’s chock-full of opinions. By even producing a document like this, we are opening ourselves up to scrutiny. But that’s ok, because our only goal is to provide the most basic information that offers a person who may never have picked up a fly rod the chance to land a striped bass on the fly. Like most sports, fly fishing is a blend of art and science and much is open to interpretation. The information found herein is the culmination of several experienced fly fishermen’s recommendations for beginners looking to hook a striped bass on the fly for the very first time.
This guide is intended to be a “living document”, so we intend to update the content with some regularity. The recommendations herein are intended for people looking to fish for striped bass on the fly primarily in Massachusetts along with neighboring coastal states, from Rhode Island to Maine. We’re also not trying to re-write the book on many topics where there’s already an abundance of excellent content. In these situations, we will direct you to links and other resources that we think are valuable.
We are going to make recommendations on the minimum gear we feel is necessary to get started with fly fishing for striped bass. It's also important to note that there’s plenty of used and discounted gear out there that can greatly reduce the upfront cost, so take the time to look around places like Craigslist and Sierra Trading Post for good deals.
If you are going to purchase a “quiver of one” fly rod for striped bass, then a 9’ 9wt medium fast to fast action fly rod is what is recommended. Whether you intend to fish from shore or by boat, this single rod will allow you to cast to and land stipers in a wide range of scenarios. If you want to learn about choosing a fly fishing rod, here’s a great article from Orvis.
For modern fly fishing rods, there tend to be 3 price points. We’re only recommending entry and mid-level rods, as there is no reason to spend $800+ on a fly rod if you’re a beginner; there’s a lot of truly amazing rods at lower price points to get the job done.
If you are looking at other fly rod manufacturers, the single most important thing to consider is warranty. Many of the leading brands will offer 25+ year guarantees on rods, which will cover everything from manufacturer’s defects to slamming your rod tip in a car door. When your rod breaks (because it will at some point), you want the assurance that the manufacturer will provide an inexpensive fix or replacement and get it back to you quickly so you can get back out on the water.
If you have spent time fly fishing freshwater, there’s one factor you haven’t had to deal with: saltwater. Saltwater corrodes and can wreak havoc over time if your reel’s drag is not fully sealed. Sealed drags first rose to prominence among saltwater anglers, and for good reason. If you want to learn about the importance of a sealed drag system for saltwater fly fishing, here’s a great short blog article by Cheeky.
Like fly rods, there’s a few standard price points for fly reels. We’re offering entry-level options only, because due to the weight of stripers you’re likely to encounter, these reels will offer you enough drag to land 99% of them. If you are budget constrained, then you certainly may pick up a reel without a sealed drag but recognize it may need to be replaced in the future.
Entry-Level - $200 - $300 (sealed drag)
Cheeky Launch 400 - $249
Orvis Hydros IV - $250
Redington Rise - $219
A quality sealed drag fly reel is almost maintenance free. To learn about basic care for your fly reel, here’s a great guide.
The topic of a single fly line for striped bass is one that can be heavily debated. The consensus among our group is that an intermediate fly line is the best for beginners as it provides the possibility of fishing the entire water column. Depending on their feeding pattern at a given time, striped bass will take a fly on the surface, in the middle of the water column, or deep along the bottom. With an intermediate fly line, you can create a system to address each of these scenarios with a combination of leader/tippet material and the proper fly. As you become more experienced and understand the limits of a single rod/line combination, you will likely opt to build different setups that address specific feeding scenarios more effectively. This is the natural evolution of the sport and one that is best understood through experience.
If you are purchasing a 9wt fly rod, then you want to pair your rod with a 9wt fly line. These specialty fly lines don’t deviate much in price, see below for recommendations.
Intermediate Fly Lines
Scientific Angler SONAR Intermediate - $89
Orvis Hydros Coldwater Intermediate - $89
Cortland Compact Intermediate - $89
Rio Coastal Quickshooter XP - $99
For beginners, we recommend that your local fly shop set up your reel with fly line and backing. Fly line backing is the thin but very strong section of line that is secured directly to the arbor of a fly reel and to the back end of a fly line to provide an insurance policy of sorts on the fly angler’s otherwise limited tackle when hooking, playing, and landing particularly fast or strong game fish species, like striped bass. Each reel calls for a specific length of backing, so leave it to your local fly shop to load your reel per the manufacturer’s specification.
Yet another hotly debated topic amongst striped bass fly anglers is the leader system. If you’re familiar with trout leaders, you may know that they are tapered monofilament lines that are connected to your fly line with loop-to-loop connections. Often, fly anglers will add fluorocarbon tipped to them, which is considered to be less visible to the discerning trout or bass. Also, if you’re accustomed to the X rating system for trout tippet, you’ll notice the tippet material used for striped bass uses the pound test rating system.
This may come as a surprise, but we recommend a single section of straight fluorocarbon for your leader system, anywhere from 5’ to 7’ typically. There are several reasons for this. First, modern saltwater fly lines have “shooting heads” that are powerful and easily turn over big, heavy flies. This eliminates the need for a tapered leader, as the system for transferring energy from the fly line to the fly isn’t as sensitive. Second, tapered leaders are expensive and using straight fluorocarbon won’t make you apprehensive about changing flies and cutting back line. Lastly, it is a system that eliminates knots along the length of the leader which will reduce drag when stripping flies through the water.
We highly recommend Seaguar Blue Label fluorocarbon 20lb test as the go-to..
Seaguar Blue Label Fluorocarbon - $13
One of the very noticeable differences with saltwater fly fishing compared to trout fishing is the need for a stripping basket. A stripping basket is (typically) a plastic basket that sits below your waist that you feed your fly line into when stripping line in. This effectively is the saltwater fly angler’s solution for line management and there are a couple reasons why stripping baskets are important. First, when striper fishing you are typically casting your fly line 25’ to 40’ or more then stripping your line in to imitate a swimming baitfish. If you dump the line to the ground, then you are likely to get the line tangled in your feet, rocks, or some other obstruction. Trust us, fly line has a way of finding something to tangle itself on… The stripping basket helps you to manage your fly line much easier and will generally keep it free from tangling. Also, if you’re wading in water and you dump your fly line, it will sink making the ability to shoot your line much more challenging as the line will "stick" to the water.
If you’re budget conscious, there’s lots of tutorials for DIY stripping baskets, here’s one example. Otherwise, below are a couple options you can purchase:
Orvis Stripping Basket - $89
Walmart Generic - $34
Migratory striped bass will show up to our local waters as early as April. Ocean water temps at that time of year are in the mid to upper 40°F, so it’s cold. While you can do your best to stay out of the water, there’s many scenarios that necessitate wading in the water if you want to catch a striper. As such, it is recommended to get yourself a pair of chest waders. A good pair of chest waders should be made of a waterproof and breathable material to keep you comfortable for long periods of time. GoreTex is the well-known industry leading producer of waterproof and breathable material that you’ll find in high end waders from brands like SImms, Orvis, and Patagonia. However, many brands have their own proprietary material and offer more affordable versions.
There are also two kinds of waders, stocking foot and boot foot. Stocking foot is the standard for fly fishing, as it allows you to select your own pair of wading boots separate from the waders. This feature also comes in handy when you want to use your wading boots to wet wade in the summer months. As such, we would recommend a pair of stocking foot chest waders. Below are some options to consider. We would highly recommend you visit a local fly shop to try on waders to see which are the most comfortable and provide you with the features you’re looking for.
Redington Escape Waders - $229
Orvis Clearwater Waders - $298
Fly fishing is not a sedentary sport, so you’re going to log miles on your wading boots if you’re targeting stripers from shore. Comfort and safety are key when selecting wading boots, from long treks over sandy beaches, through muddy estuaries, and over slippery boulder fields. Like fly reels, saltwater will also abuse your wading boots. If possible, look for a pair of wading boots that does not have any metal grommets or eyelets, as they will corrode over time. Wading boots also come in many different types in terms of the soles, here’s a great article about what to consider when selecting wading boots. Below is one versatile option for wading boots we would recommend.
Korkers Greenback Wading Boot - $129
In addition to the gear mentioned above, there are a few accessories that we deem essential for anyone fly fishing for striped bass, from beginners to experts.
It is imperative to be able to remove a fly from the mouth of a striped bass and to do so quickly without injuring the fish. Striped bass populations are in decline and so we must emphasize the importance of adhering to catch and release practices to ensure the health of the striped bass population. Here is a great video on how to properly handle and release striped bass.
Scissor Forceps are a single tool that will allow you to both dislodge a fly from a striper’s mouth and cut and trim tippet material with ease.
Orvis Scissor Forceps - $20
For many people who have not spent a lot of time fishing, polarized sunglasses may seem like a superfluous expense. However, polarized sunglasses are one of the most important pieces of equipment you can have. This article goes into great detail of the 5 reasons why polarized sunglasses are a must have for saltwater fly fishing.
Costa del Mar, arguably the best polarized fishing sunglasses on the market, recommend Green Mirror lenses for saltwater striper fishing. These lenses enhance vision and contrast for fishing inshore and on flats.
This might seem trivial, but a lightweight sun hat is another required piece of gear. Hats will reduce sun exposure as well as glare when you’re sight fishing for stripers or trying to identify bait. I’m sure you have one in your closet or perhaps there’s one on your head right now!
Fly fishing in saltwater, particularly in the dead of summer, will expose you to damaging UV rays; rarely is there cover to hide from the sun. We recommend investing in a sun hoody to safeguard yourself from UV rays. Most sun hoodies have a UPF 50 fabric that will protect your skin and keep you cool on the hottest and brightest days on the water. A general note about clothing is that unnatural bright colors can spook fish. So pick colors, like light grays and blues, that better match the environment around you.
As you will soon find out, the flies used for enticing striped bass imitate baitfish. Baitfish fly patterns are demonstrably larger than trout flies. Typical trout flies range in hook sizes from 8 to 20 on average, whereas striper flies range from sizes 4 to 3/0 on average. A larger fly box is required to carry these larger flies, so keep that in mind when selecting a new fly box. Cliff Outdoors offers quality and durable fly boxes in large sizes, from the Bugger Barn to the Beast.
Strong knots are critical in striper fishing, as there’s nothing more disappointing than hooking up with a striper only to lose them due to a poorly tied or faulty knot. The good news is there’s just two knots you need to learn in order to get going: the Non-Slip Loop Knot and the Perfection Loop.
The Perfection Loop is the knot you will use for your line to leader connection. The Perfection Loop is a simple, strong, and fast knot that’s perfect for this connection. Here’s an animated step-by-step tutorial for tying the Perfection Loop knot.
The Non-Slip Loop Knot is a great all-around knot for connecting your fly to your leader. The “loop” this knot forms gives your fly more natural swimming action compared to an Improved Clinch Knot where the tippet is cinched down to the hook eye. Here’s another great animated step-by-step tutorial for tying the Non-Slip Loop Knot.
The types of scenarios and water you will encounter for striped bass are numerous, arguably much more so than trout fishing. From estuaries and beaches, to rock piles and flats, it can be intimidating for anyone just starting out. Then add in the tidal element, moon phases, and baitfish and it can seem like a mind bending calculus problem.
What South Shore Fly Casters recommend is targeting a specific type of water your first season, like an estuary for example, and get to know it very well. Take the time to observe what's happening with the water, particularly at low tide, which will let you uncover channels and ambush points that striped bass are likely to utilize.
Fortunately, as the sport has gained in popularity so has the amount of quality literature on strategies and tactics for targeting striped bass on the fly. Below are a several books we deem to be essential reading for people of all skill levels.
Stripers on the Fly - Lou Tabory
Sight Fishing for Striped Bass - Alan Caolo
Striper Moon - Kenney Abrams
Fly Fishing for Striped Bass - Rich Murphy
Fly Rodding Estuaries - Ed Mitchell
Technology, for better or worse, has enabled easy access to valuable tools and information. The three apps below we recommend for accelerating your learning curve.
One of the most important considerations for targeting striped bass are tides. As a general rule of thumb, moving current is important for feedback bass. The Tide Chart app provides a number of great features within a single user interface: a 24-hour tide cycle, sunrise and sunset times, moon phase, and temperature. These are all important variables to consider when targeting striped bass. Get the Tide Charts app here.
Before cell phones, many dedicated fishermen would keep daily logs about their fishing excursions, specifically where they caught the fish, the current tide, the fly, etc. Gaia GPS allows you to log a tremendous amount of information associated with waypoints, so you can capture many variables in real-time about locations you've successfully caught stripers at. This is a great way to identify patterns that tend to produce results and allow you to increase your overall success rate. Get the Gaia GPS app here.
The high resolution aerial imagery provided by Google Earth gives you the ability to explore and scout your local waters from the comfort of your home. Subtle features from rocky structure to depressions are made visible through this app in a way that would be challenging to identify even if you were trying to observe it in-person. Get the Google Earth app here.