Fly Fishing the Rocks in Southern Maine
Maine's rocky shoreline has been called many things but the phrase that continues to resonate with me is "The Bold Coast". It's big, dramatic, contrasting, unforgiving, and welcoming all at the same time. Maine's tidal coast spans an impressive 3,478 miles which is nearly three times longer than the distance between Northern Washington and the southern tip of California. Scattered between those countless miles are vast coastal forests of spruce & white pine, expansive beaches, tidal estuaries, quaint fishing towns, and craggy granite rock formations. South of Portland, Maine, where we spend the majority of our time fly fishing, we have our choice of many different features to fish. There's one in particular that draws us back again and again - The Rocks. It's no secret that stripers crave structure, current and an environment that is conducive for ambushing prey. These granite formations provide just the environment for hearty stripers to thrive.
Over thousands of years, weather, wind and waves have shaped our coast, carving out cobblestone bottomed coves, boulder strewn points, steep rocky drop offs, and reefs. These natural features provide endless holding water for stripers. The challenge is to find what kind of water these fish like while taking into account the currents, tides, surf and even water temps.
With ideal conditions calling us to the bold coast, we answered and picked a section to work a fly through. Let me set the stage... the tide is dead low and rising, winds are calm and out of the west, the moon is full, and the seas have sets rolling through at about 1-2 feet in height, sometimes bigger. We begin to work a teardrop shaped point by looking for specific features that could hold bass. As the sets of waves meet the granite, moments of turbulence arise out of the calm ocean. Energy smashes into the rocks and water washes up the face of boulders periodically stunning baitfish. These waves create currents that give birth to feeding lanes and holding water for striped bass.
In this element it's essential to keep a keen eye out for where these currents may be carrying bait or stunned prey to a holding striped bass. Identifying these lanes will be key to success. A prime time for catching big stripers on the rocks is when the surf is up and pumping. The tides will also create currents that affect how you approach the structure. For the most part, the holding stripers will be facing into the current waiting for food to come to them. When fish are in this pattern, dead drifting or swinging your fly into the fish's feeding zone can be a deadly technique. This makes sense, because you are trying to imitate bait that is being carried down current to the predator. When dead drifting or swinging your fly, make sure that you will be able to detect a strike whether it's visually or by keeping a slight amount of tension on your fly line to feel the take.
After about 15 casts to the rocky point we finally hook up. The bass was sitting at the base of a ledge where waves washed up and funneled a stream of water back down to the drop off. As the wave approached and washed up the rock, the perfect time was upon us for the presentation; when the wave recedes so will the fly and it will be washed right into a potential feeding lane. A strong mid-twenty inch fish jumped on the opportunity to take the fly. Now that we'd found one fish, I got the feeling that there may be more so we began to meticulously pick apart the rocky point like a trout stream. It was our lucky day because we plucked 8 fish off this point all scattered in different holding areas. Some fish were holding on the edge of the point where the waves washed current down the side of the rocks and others were on the backside of rocks where the waves washed over into 2 foot deep pools. We didn't tug on any bass over 30" but it was a satisfying session that reminded me of dissecting a trout stream. The old saying "foam is home" holds true when fishing the rocks. Foam is a result of churned water flowing from point A to point B. In that ruffled water can lie protein for holding fish. When picking a slice of coastline to work I usually prefer there to be foam/wash present.
At any given moment while fishing the rocks, you have the chance at a striper of a lifetime. So when I fish the rocks, I fish like I mean it. I usually won't run less than 20 lbs test either. When a big striper gets hooked in the rocks, I honestly like the fish's odds a little better! She will test your tackle and fish fighting ability because this is a hearty breed of striper built to live in a rugged environment. When feeding in the rocks, stripers have to make quick decisions because their food may be riding in waves and must be seen through the distortion of bubbles, sand and other debris. This is a good reason why it may be easier to fool a big striper on the rocks versus another element where the fish gets to give your fly a thorough examination before deciding whether to eat or not.
Casting to the rocks is a special way to fish and it always takes you to some gorgeous places. It's dynamic, challenging and can be extremely rewarding. If you can't tell, I'm passionate about this element and love sharing it with others. On a day off, you'll find me here or my favorite mud flat.
Enjoy your time out there as always!