Surf fishing for striped bass is really hard. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.
Certainly, any fishing can be difficult, and any species can be hard to catch given the right parameters. Even little sun fish from the local pond can be challenging, if you want them to be, and I’ve had a lot of fun sight fishing for them with tiny size 24 mosquito flies and a three-weight fly rod. But the surf of New England, where I spend the vast majority of my angling time, is really something uniquely challenging. Up here on the East coast, we are battling the conditions just as much, or more than, we are battling the fish. Rugged shorelines, big waves, cold water, and strong winds; these are all just part of the equation of pursuing stripers in the surf. It can be chaotic and harrowing, and many of the anglers I know fish for the adrenaline rush of simply being out in the surf, as much as they care about catching the fish. To top all this off, many of us die-hards also fish mostly after dark, deep into the night, because that is when the largest fish generally feed. Many of my non-fishing friends think I’m a little nuts, going out into a fall hurricane in the middle of night, just to try and catch a few fish. I’m not sure I can really argue with them.
The only fishing that I have done that is harder than surfcasting with lures, is surfcasting with a fly rod. Being able to only cast 60-to-100 feet into the wide open ocean, and hoping to hook and land a 20-pound-plus leviathan of the deep, in the middle of the night, on something made of feathers and fur…it sounds like a joke, right? Yet, for me, using the fly rod in the surf, is the most engaging, difficult, and intense fishing experience I have yet to engage in. But also the most rewarding! It is worth every bit of hard work, meticulous planning, and long hours learning the craft. There is a connection you feel when hooking and fighting stripers on the fly rod that you just can’t get with a spinning rod. Holding the line in your hand, it is like you’re holding right onto the fish’s tail. The level of separation is so diminished when compared to the surf rod. This intimacy is the number-one reason I fish with the fly rod in the surf. Sure, there are times that small baits are easier to pattern with flies versus lures, and I love the act of casting a fly rod even if I’m not catching. But ultimately, the main reason I pick up the fly rod on most of the nights I forgo the surf rod, is because I’m addicted to the direct feedback you get from hooking and fighting fish on the fly rod.
There are so many factors that go into being successful in the surf with striped bass, and there is hardly space in this blog post to cover even a small percentage of them. However, one factor I think sometimes gets a bit down played by fly fisherman is casting distance. Many trout fisherman that convert to the surf are stuck in the mentality that a carefully placed fly is better than a far-casted fly. Yes, many nights there are stripers very close to the beach, even “right at your feet”, but there are even more nights where they are not. Therefore, in the surf, we are generally not concerned with subtle casts and nuanced fly deliveries, but rather being able to get our flies to where the fish are generally feeding. In essence, being able to cast as far as possible is never a bad thing; and it can be everything in the surf! A very powerful, moderate-fast action rod and high-quality line specifically designed for the rigors of saltwater fishing can help dramatically in this.
Many striped bass anglers will suggest a rugged eight- or nine-weight rod for the surf. I diverge a bit from this, and would argue that a 10-weight is the place to start. I find I can cast much further in adverse conditions- windy days, standing in water up to my waist, getting hit by waves- with a 10-weight, versus an 8-weight. Further, I am almost always casting large flies over 6-inches long, and often as large as 12-inches. For me, using a 10-weight has opened up new spots that I couldn’t reach with a lower-weight rod. Sure, I still occasionally use an eight-weight in back waters in the spring and fall for small fish, but when I’m in the surf proper, I want a really powerful rod.
Now, for those reading this that are thinking “really? but I landed a 100-pound tarpon on a 10-weight”, I respond with: was that from a boat, and where you over sandy bottom? I bet 99% or more of you would reply “yes” to one or the other, or both. Striper surf anglers have to constantly deal with heavy structure- boulders, muscle beds, jetties- that break lines in the blink of an eye, and since we can’t chase the fish, we are limited to whatever we can do standing in one spot. Simply put, besides casting further, the fighting power of a 10-weight helps turn larger fish more easily and saves you from getting broken off. Further, I will openly say that even with small fish- those around 25-inches- I never feel like I have “too much rod” and the fish aren’t fun to catch. They put up a great fight on a 10-weight!
I sometimes hear anglers state that a “heavier” rod will put more strain on their wrists, elbows, or shoulders and cause injury. However, I have found that a heavier rod in the surf- allowing for a heavier line- requires less false casting to shoot more line. Since we are often blind casting for hours, day and night, this decrease in the number of swings necessary over a full tide lowers the number of repetitious motions that can lead to pain and injury. This alone is reason enough for me to use a 10-weight over an 8-weight.
I have been using the Lamiglas G1000 10-weight for over a full year now, and have caught hundreds of stripers on it. I do not state this flippantly, but to date it is not only my favorite surf fly rod, but my favorite Lamiglas rod all together! It casts phenomenally, and has held up well to the rough and tumble nature of my fishing. It’s an extremely powerful rod, and while it will cast a 10-weight line just fine, I actually mostly use 11- and 12-weight lines with this rod that range from 425 to 500 grains. The sweet spot for the rod, for my uses, seems to be right around 425-450 grains. This rod, with these lines, has no trouble turning over a seven-to-nine-foot leader and a 10-inch fly on a 4/0 saltwater hook! In calmer conditions, I can shoot my full line for hours.
Further, you can really lean into the rod when trying to lead a feisty striper away from potential break offs, and it is still very light weight for hours of casting. This makes it really a very high-tech rod. While it might be slightly understated in color, I like the stealth look of the rod and feel it fits well into the “vibe” of the night shift; those of us out pursuing stripers at night. Function over form: give me a high-quality rod that casts great and you can keep all the fancy colors and guide wraps!
If you’re looking for your first fly rod to use in the surf, or to step up to something higher-quality from a starter rod, or even if you’re interested in trying heavier-weight rod, you can’t beat the value and quality of this USA made rod.
By Lamiglas Team Member Gerald Audet