Saltwater Fly Fishing Tips for Striped Bass and Other Species

Whether you are hopping in the skiff of an experienced guide or your best bud's rig, teamwork on the flats can be the difference between a banner day of fly fishing for striped bass or coming home with a skunk.  One of the most exciting elements in fly fishing is poling the flats in search of fish in skinny water.  As rewarding as the flats can be they are one of the more challenging places to hook up.  The flats require simple but precise communication between the guide and angler.  

1. Roles - The angler and guide both have distinct roles.  The guide will likely be perched high on the poling platform with a great height advantage, allowing further visibility than the angler positioned at a lower height on the bow.  For that reason the guide will be scanning and locating fish on the flat while positioning the boat to make a cast.  Once a fish is spotted, it's the guide's job to alert the angler and give away the fish's location.  The angler will be on the bow, standing in ready position with fly in hand, ready to make a quick, accurate cast.  The angler will also be scanning the water, looking for fish at distances that he/she can spot fish effectively.  Once a target is spotted the guide will position the boat while the angler acquires the target and gets ready to cast.

 Scanning the flats for fish.  We just pulled onto a flat and now it's time to pattern the fish, judge their mood and pick out targets for the angler.  Photo:  Ben Carmichael

Scanning the flats for fish.  We just pulled onto a flat and now it's time to pattern the fish, judge their mood and pick out targets for the angler.  Photo: Ben Carmichael

2. Location, Distance and Cast - The guide will often see the fish first because of the height advantage and from experience patterning fish home flats.  The guide will call out the location of the fish with a simple description... "11 o'clock at 70 feet, fish moving left to right."  This is a call out for the angler to search and find the striper.  The angler should point the rod tip in the direction of the target and scan until the fish is found.  The guide can direct the angler further by telling him/her to move their rod tip to the left or to the right until the fish is discovered.  The angler shouldn't take his/her eyes off the fish as the boat jockey's into position.  

 Jon Tregea spots a waking fish at the boat's 12 o'clock and analyzes it's direction and mood, patiently awaiting the right moment for the shot.  Photo:  Kyle Schaefer

Jon Tregea spots a waking fish at the boat's 12 o'clock and analyzes it's direction and mood, patiently awaiting the right moment for the shot.  Photo: Kyle Schaefer

3. Stealthiness - This key point can be the difference of sliding along a flat unnoticed or alerting all the fish that something is up.  Any vibrations that are sent out from the boat are picked up by the fish's lateral line.  Scuffling feet, a dropped rod, or loudly putting down a water bottle on the boat's deck can alert fish and put them on edge.  It's a good practice to place a high priority on moving stealthily through the boat whenever on the flat.  Remember, when we are fishing our goal is to slip our fly into the fish's world as naturally as possible without alerting the fish's highly developed nervous system.  

4. The Eat - Let's assume that both angler and guide see a fish that's coming straight towards the bow of the boat at 60 feet.  The guide will instruct the angler to start the cast and deliver the fly to the cruising fish with a proper lead.  Once the fly hits the water it's key to let it sink to the feeding level of the fish.  The guide will provide instructions to let the fly sink and begin working it back to the boat at a specific speed and cadence.  The guide's height advantage will allow him/her to see everything going down, including the mood of the fish and it's interest in the fly.  As the striper closes in and get's ready to eat, listening to careful instruction from the guide can be the difference between a clean hook up and a missed fish.  Stripers can eat and spit a fly with the blink of an eye so trusting your guide's instruction can be key.  

 This shot captures the result of great teamwork.   T&T's  Joe Goodspeed sets the hook on a well earned flats striper.  We had overcast skies and challenging sighting conditions but we stuck to the plan and stayed patient.  This fish put off a dinner plate sized footprint of nervous water which alerted us to the fish's position.  Joe trusted the instruction blindly and made the cast perfectly... the fish ate and it was game on.  Had Joe hesitated or questioned the fish's position, the opportunity would have dissolved before we ever got a fly in the water.  Photo:  Mike Azevedo

This shot captures the result of great teamwork.  T&T's Joe Goodspeed sets the hook on a well earned flats striper.  We had overcast skies and challenging sighting conditions but we stuck to the plan and stayed patient.  This fish put off a dinner plate sized footprint of nervous water which alerted us to the fish's position.  Joe trusted the instruction blindly and made the cast perfectly... the fish ate and it was game on.  Had Joe hesitated or questioned the fish's position, the opportunity would have dissolved before we ever got a fly in the water.  Photo: Mike Azevedo

5. Trust - Building trust between the guide and angler can lead to developing a great relationship and becoming an effective team on the flat.  The guide has experience on these home waters and should know where the fish will be and how they will move... in theory!  When the angler turns him/herself over to the guide for instruction it gives the team an opportunity to grow and thrive.  As an angler there are times when you may just want to try things on your own and go rogue... and that's ok!  We all grow from testing the waters and logging the results from different tactics in our memory banks.  By communicating with your guide, you'll know when it's appropriate to try new things out or when it's time to simply turn yourself over to the guide's instruction.  

 Pound it out, celebrate, enjoy.  Photo:  Kyle Schaefer

Pound it out, celebrate, enjoy.  Photo: Kyle Schaefer

6. Get in the Flow - Flow, also known as the zone, is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does and loses sense of space and time.  To get in the zone, try a deep breathing pattern and bring your attention to the present moment.  Don't focus on negative thoughts and what can go wrong, just visualize everything coming together in the elaborate dance that is fly fishing on the flats.  

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