Sight Fishing for Striped Bass

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A friend of mine calls striped bass “rockfish”.  He prefers that name because they are often found around rocks.  It’s tough to argue with his logic, as well as his catch rate around rocky coastal zones concerning striped bass.  While I prefer the name “striper”, I agree rocky areas hold fish.  Each Summer I spend two weeks or so at a particular beach in Southern Maine.  I fish the sand flats, sand drop offs, trenches,  tide lines and most importantly, the rocks.

Over the past decade and a half, I’ve caught hundreds of stripers around this beach.  I tend to have my greatest success within three hours, either side of low tide.  It’s easier to locate fish around a beach during low tide.   There is less water, you gain structural visibility and the fish/bait become compressed.  Seeing a beach during low tide provides the angler with visual clues as to where to fish.  With the exception of some surface activity/diving terns/busting bait, the majority of my experience includes blind casting to promising target zones for striped bass.  This technique works and it wasn’t uncommon to land a dozen fish in a morning.

Last year, I varied my fishing routine and began to pursue greater sight fishing possibilities.  One day while I scouted around a rock jetty, I stumbled upon plenty of fish, cruising the edge of the rock jetty.  As a result, this year I set a goal to pay my angling dues fishing a particular rock jetty.  My goal was to sight fish and land a 36″ striped bass on a crab fly.  I tied up several mottled olive EP Fiber patterns, added plenty of rubber legging and weighted my patterns with heavy eyes.  I anticipated my return trip to Southern Maine all year, as I wanted to match wits with those shallow water, rock cruising stripers.  Well, I confess that I fell an inch short of my angling goal.  I landed and measured a 35″ striped bass, but couldn’t quite match a yardstick.

Still, I’ll gladly take a fish that size in shallow water.  It was a rush to spot it cruising near the base of the rock jetty, get in position, lead the fish with a cast, tease the crab fly and finally watch that fish swirl around, flare its’ jaws and engulf my crab pattern. It had a been a while since my 8 weight reel sizzled.  I landed a few more fish and lost another large fish, all on crab or tiny flounder flies.  Truth be told, I experienced more rejections than I could count.  My hook up rate might have been one fish per 25 presentations.  These fish can be jittery and very cautious.  Many times, a fifteen foot lead on a cast would spook them, especially with bright sun overhead.  There were other times when a fish might rush my fly, hover over the crab pattern and then lazily swim away.  I experimented with all types of slow retrieves, or no retrieve at all.  I fished a stealthy 15′ leader tapered to 12 pound  flourocarbon, along with employing a clear intermediate line, as well as trying a floating line.

It was a humbling, yet highly challenging and rewarding form of saltwater fishing.  I’ve caught easier bonefish in the Keys or dumber WBD browns than some of these shallow water, bright sun stripers.  No doubt, I’m already scheming with new techniques to entice these selective stripers.  Did I mention that I saw several pods of fish that contained 40″ plus brutes?  The prospect of sight fishing and hooking one of these hefty fish already has me excited about next season.

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Craig Dennison

This is Craig and I host Fly Fisher's Workshop. My fly fishing experiences include plenty of travel (Montana/Florida/North Carolina/Maine) and a few years part time guiding for trout. While I primarily target trout and steelhead, I still manage to chase warm water species and enjoy chasing stripers and bluefish. I'm a 3rd generation fly fisher trying to share the passion with my two sons!

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