So here it goes, we will attempt to put down as much information as we can for those of you who are just getting their feet wet in the world of saltwater fly fishing for striped bass. We will start with outlining the necessary gear and in later posts we will get into flies, locations, tactics, etc. I will assume the average person reading this has a basic understanding of fly fishing, can cast a loop thirty feet, and knows the difference between leader and tippet. If this doesn’t apply to you, read on anyways and send us an email with your questions!
I will stay away from mentioning brand names, because I do not want anyone to feel like they need to have a certain brand of gear to get the job done. I will leave it to you to pick the brand, offering only guidance on rod weights, line types, reel attributes, etc. If you can, shop small and support your local fly shop, but sometimes the deals online are too good to pass up.
We are far from experts and are constantly learning ourselves. But we have crossed over the beginner’s hump and would love to help others to do the same. Taylor and I have gained enough knowledge that should be useful to the beginning saltwater fly fisherman!
That is where the eight weight rod comes into play! An eight weight setup is to striper what a five weight setup is to trout; the perfect place to start. Both of us now have a multitude of rods but you can basically do it all with a five weight and an eight weight. A nine foot eight weight rod with a fighting butt and full wells grip will be tactile enough to enjoy fighting smaller fish and typically has enough power to fight the average keeper sized fish, as well as punch weighted and large flies into normal winds. I personally prefer fast action rods but I started with medium action and worked my way up from there. I strongly recommend going to a local shop or trekking to a big box store to cast as many different brands of rods as you can in your price range. This will help you get a feel for casting heavier weight rods and the differences in actions. A good entry level rod can be had for about a hundred dollars and prices can reach all the way to around a thousand.
The next piece of the puzzle is the reel. An ideal saltwater fly reel will have a sealed drag system. There are a number of quality reels in the two hundred dollar to three hundred dollar price point that are lightweight, strong, and utilize sealed drags. The reason for the sealed drag is simple; saltwater is much more corrosive than freshwater. Although a sealed drag is actually not necessary, it is nice to have if you can afford it. I do not want price to be a barrier to entry. Any reel with a decently strong drag that has enough line capacity for the weight you are using will work just fine. Just be sure to thoroughly rinse any reel with an unsealed drag system with freshwater after use. It is a good idea to rinse your gear with freshwater whether it is sealed or not.
Next up is fly lines, leaders and tippet. If money was no object, the ideal situation would be a reel with three interchangeable spools, one spool with floating line, one spool with intermediate line, and one spool with sink tip line. Each of these lines hits a different part of the water column that striped bass can be caught in. However, the most common and effective line for stripers is the intermediate line. This provides the most flexibility to the beginning angler. You can fish a weighted clouser and reach the bottom, you can fish a gurgler and stay near the surface, or you can fish an unweighted fly like a deceiver and fish in-between. These differing combinations of flies with an intermediate line effectively mimic the attributes of the three different lines mentioned earlier.
I personally have floating line on my seven weight, intermediate line on my eight weight, and sink tip line on my nine weight. I typically have these all rigged up with an appropriate fly and sitting nearby while I fish. This allows me to quickly switch to a top water fly if the striper start blitzing the surface or switch to a deep sinking fly so I can reach a channel or ledge.
A nine foot, twelve to sixteen pound tapered leader is a good choice for striped bass. Many anglers choose to make their own leaders out of descending strength mono or fluorocarbon but that is more advanced. Mono tippet material in the same strength range as your leader is inexpensive and effective, however, I prefer fluorocarbon because it is more transparent in the water and sinks slightly faster.
There are a few other pieces of gear that will also be very useful when fishing. A stripping basket like our DIY one seen above is very effective tool for managing your fly line. A stripping basked has inverted spikes in the bottom that keep your line from knotting during casting. A stripping basket also keeps your line from being carried away by the current. Both Taylor and I prefer to hold the grip of the fly rod under our arm and strip the fly line into the basket with two hands. When a fish hits, it is easier to do a strip set, which we will cover in a later section.
A standard pair of waders will work just fine for saltwater fly fishing. If you already have waders for freshwater fly fishing, do not be afraid to use them in the salt! Like any piece of gear, just rinse off the waders with fresh water after fishing. A nice pair of anti-corrosive pliers are useful, multiple quality brands of pliers can be found for less than a hundred dollars. Pliers help you remove the hook quickly; limiting the time the striper is handled. Polarized sunglasses are a must. They will cut down on glare and can even help you site fish for striped bass in some situations! Lastly, a small sling pack or backpack to hold your fly boxes, tippet, water bottle, sunscreen, etc. is very useful.
Hopefully this is a good starting point and enough information to help you pick out an entry level fly rod, reel, and line!