Fly Fishing Gear for Striped Bass in Maine & New Hampshire
We have a ton of choices when it comes to selecting the right kit for chasing stripers on the fly in Northern New England. Below is the gear that I've honed in on from my time on the water and also a preview of the equipment that my clients will have access to on the skiff.
If I were to choose one rod to fish everyday it would be the T&T Exocett 9wt. A fast action 9wt is a real workhorse when chasing striped bass on the Maine and NH coast. A solid 9 can cut through the wind, present big flies, and still have enough stealth when fishing the flats for skinny water stripers.
The next rod that I would add to the quiver is the T&T Exocett 8wt. I choose an 8wt next because I particularly enjoy fishing the flats. An 8wt allows a more delicate, fine tuned presentation and a more intimate feel when fighting fish. If you're a junky for wading the rocky coast, perhaps you would choose a two-handed rod next to add to your quiver, like the 11'2" Exocett Surf 10wt . If you haven't casted a two-handed rod in the surf, it can be incredibly satisfying. These rods are specifically built for overhead casting and can throw a fly a country mile with ease. The casting stroke is different but simple, and with a little practice you'll pick it up in no time. Two-handers can make much easier work of the cast when prospecting for stripers and covering ground. Also, their use isn't just limited to fishing the rocks, think swinging flies through estuaries, but rods of this length are clunky on a boat.
The last rod that I won't go without is a 9' 10wt. This rod is great when the winds are up, or you are hucking big flies. I end up slinging the 10wt often throughout the fall. Typically the weather is a little more adverse and the fish can be bigger as we look for migrating schools of bass. When I fish the 10, Im ready to intersect with a fish of a lifetime... just gotta keep putting that time in. Also a 10wt is perfect for chasing false albacore and bonito when they flood the waters from Cape Cod to Montauk in late summer/fall.
You could have the best bow in the world but if your arrow is junk, a target can be tough to hit when it counts. The same goes for choosing the right fly line. Your line must be matched to your rod and the fishing style that you're into.
A good question to ask yourself is where in the water column are the fish you are after? On the flats I use a floating line almost all of the time. With our big tides in the gulf of Maine you can go from sight fishing in a foot of water to presenting a fly in four feet of water in the matter of only a couple hours. Sometimes you can compensate a floating line with a longer leader and a fast sinking fly to get in front of fish on deeper flats or you can switch over to a clear sink tip. Scientific Anglers and Rio make some great options but there are a lot of solid lines on the market today.
I always have an intermediate line rigged up and a fast sinking line that falls at 8 to 10 inches per second. Spend some time envisioning your favorite places to fish and where the fish hold. From there you can back into the right line to get your fly where you need it. On the coast sometimes an intermediate will do the trick but you may also want to drench some deep holes where big bass may lie.
I carry a mixed bag of reels but they all have a couple things in common. Having the ability to load 200 yards of 30 lbs backing is key. You'll need that backing when you connect with the big bass you've been hunting. I recommend having backing spun on your reel by a local fly shop to ensure that it is wound tightly on the spool so you won't tangle when big fish pull hard. Loosely spun backing can cause big problems and the issue only arises exactly when you need everything to go right. A strong, smooth drag is also important. In a perfect world you'll choose a reel built specifically to handle the salt. There's a lot of great options out there at numerous price points. A trip to your local fly shop will shed lots of light on the subject.
When you think about leaders there's a number of things to keep in mind including stealthiness, castability, strength, and how the leader enables your fly to move. On the flats a longer leader of 10 to 12 feet with light tippet in the 8 lbs to 16 lbs range can be helpful to hide your fly line and avoid spooking fish. When fishing deeper water and casting big streamers you may want to shorten your leader and use a stiff butt section with a heavier tippet of 20 lbs. Deeper water removes some of our stealthiness concerns but everyday is different and you'll want to play around with some different formulas. Building your own leaders can be really satisfying and allow you to construct the perfect leader for your application. This option is cheaper and allows more flexibility than buying stock, tapered leaders. Plus you will learn a ton along the way as you cast different leader lengths and weights. Do a search to find some striped bass leader formulas and also check out this great intro video to building your own: Build your own leaders.
Flies are a whole 'nother story but in general you'll want to match local striped bass prey and key in on what the fish are actively feeding on. The greatest anglers in the world have learned over the years that it's the Indian and not the arrow, meaning that a life-like presentation is of utmost importance... which is all up to you. Understanding how striper prey behaves and how it becomes vulnerable to your quarry can take you a long way. In a future post, I'll go over some of my favorite flies for the Gulf of Maine and it's estuaries.