This is a multi-part series on how to get into saltwater fly fishing. For the other posts, click here and here.
If you’ve made it this far, The Salt will be calling you soon. The stripers are well on their way to our home waters, and they are hungry. So, hopefully, this is a timely post. We’ll rip through tides and times, and a few other things in between.
Tactics can be touchy, so, I’ll direct you more towards themes and let you develop your own. Take it all with a grain of salt and please feel free to cast in your own $0.02 in the comments section below.
I find the most consistent fishing to take place at the oddest hours. There are a ton of factors at play, so, do your best to take everything into consideration. Odd hours generally mean low/no visibility, knowing the water you are fishing, and being wary of the tide and currents. Some of my best outings for stripers have been in the 11 pm to 6 am range.
That said, you can really catch stripers at any time of day. If you’re going to explore new water, scout it out in daylight or go with someone who knows it very well. Timing must coincide with tides, and both play different roles depending on the area you’re fishing.
Stripers can be found in a wide variety of places. I’ve caught them in the most unassuming places and have also gotten skunked during my most confident outings. The best bet is to find the bait and look for signs of striper activity. Trust me, you’ll know. As my buddy @canalflyguy says, stripers crashing bait on the surface sounds like a bucket being pulled under the surface with extreme voracity. It’s no secret that bird activity can be a great indicator as well.
People catch these amazing fish in so many different types of water, which means that coming up with a game plan can become a torturous obsession. Personally, I like to target choke points and areas with variable depths. Add a strong current with bottom structure, and I’ll fish it tirelessly even if I’m getting blanked for hours. Other people love to fish flats, estuaries/marshes, rivers, beaches, jetties, canals, and salt ponds, meaning that the options are daunting.
This is arguably the most important concept to understand, and probably the most difficult. The tides range in intensity and affect each place differently. For example, Cape Cod bay tides on the north and west coasts of the Cape are far more extreme than the Atlantic side tides on the south and east coasts.
I’ve found that some places fish better on an incoming, others on an outgoing, and some during slack tides. The best piece of advice I can give is to study your water before you fish it (or, while you fish it). Ask yourself which way bait may be pushed by the currents, where stripers may find their optimal ambush points, etc. In my opinion, timing your target tide cycle with first or last light is ideal.
I’ve heard some people say you have to be capable of 90-foot casts to get into stripers. Simply not true. I’ve been totally schooled by older guys that weren’t casting more than 30 feet. Casting is important, but finding the fish and dialing them in is quintessential. There have been a number of moments where changing my approach, such as changing from a medium-fast retrieve to a swing-and-twitch, was the difference between getting skunked and having a double digit day.
Read as much as you can. Get out there and experiment. Tactics are touchy because they’re really different for every angler and every situation they are faced with. Best advice I can give here is to learn as much as you possibly can. Read, watch, walk, drive, wade, cast, observe, sample, and log.
Much like fly fishing in rivers, learning how to read salt water is also very important. I found a great forum here. It’s particularly relevant for surf fishing, which family vacations seem to make inevitable.
That whole forum can be a valuable resource, and most of the users are very friendly and helpful. I’d definitely recommend taking a look through it at some point.
You should also work toward building a network of anglers that will help you in your pursuit of bass. It’s incredibly helpful to have a handful of buds that can help one another get into fish and I can attest to this being a major catalyst to my successes thus far.
I’ve caught and released ~80 stripers already in 2018, all in MA. They are ready and willing, time to get some salt on your waders!
I’m very open to sharing more information if folks have any questions. I’m even open to taking a salt newbie to put them on their first striped bass. We are blessed to have a such an incredible fishery in our backyard, I definitely encourage you to throw some loops into it!
7 thoughts on “Salt, Part 3: Making Your Game Plan”
Timely post. As someone who just started fly fishing in the salt water I can use all the help I can get.
Hopefully you find these posts useful! If you ever have any specific questions, please feel free to reach out – I’m always happy to help.
Best advice I have is pick one general area that is the closest area to your house for example one tidal river or accessible beach. Find a time window that you can do at least two or three 2 hours trips a week then beat those areas to death. I used to exclusively fish Cape Cod then I had children and spending 2 hours round trip driving to fish meant very infrequent trips so I had to change how I fished. I ended up putting a lot of time into the tidal river closest to my house turned out the fishing can be epic and that area now has produced more big fish on a fly rod than the Cape has for me. That in my opinion is not because it is better than the Cape, but instead its because due to its proximity I have been able to spend the time on the water to develop a deep knowledge set which allows me to actually pattern big fish. Minimize your time wasted in the car and maximize your time on the water. You never know what you might find close to home.
Very good advice Dan. Home waters are good for the soul and the wallet!
Sounds like very good advice also.
This is a great post series! Thanks, I learned at lot as I am also getting into saltwater on the fly again too!
Excellent series. Really validating to read after spending a ton of time “learning on my own”. Especially the part on the intermediate line. Just purchased one after flogging multiple areas with a 300 and 400 grain sinker.