Now that you have a basic understanding of when stripers move up- and down-lake, and where to target them throughout the year, let’s dive into the gear needed to catch these fish.
In general, a 9-foot 8 weight fly rod is the best rod to target striped bass. A fast action rod is recommended, as the fly lines needed are heavily weighted at the front to get casts out quickly and to turn over larger flies. Most of the major fly rod manufacturers have an 8 weight outfit that will provide you with a rod, reel and fly line – perfect for getting you started. A few 8 weight outfits I recommend are the Redington Path, Echo Base, Orvis Encounter, TFO NXT, Redington Vice, and Orvis Clearwater. These are the least expensive or “entry” level rod outfits and can also be used for other bass species and redfish.
A step up from these would be the new Redington Field Coastal Saltwater 9wt setup. This is great if you only want to target striped bass. The Coastal Quickshooter Intermediate line included with the outfit is the best all-around fly line for striped bass in lakes, and I will discuss more in the fly line section as to why.
If you have the ability to spend more money on a rod, a Redington Predator, TFO Mangrove Coast, ECHO Ion XL, ECHO Boost, Sage Foundation or Orvis Recon would be in the mid-range price of this rod category. There are plenty of options in the higher-end price range of rods, but since this article is just to get you started, I will save those options until later.
As stated before, a 9-foot 8 weight rod that is fast action is recommended, but there are two options outside this range I want to mention. For fishing heavy sinking lines, like a full sink or depth charge tungsten coated line, a fast action rod doesn’t load these fly lines the best. If you want to fish sinking lines or target stripers in deep water, I recommend a medium action rod, like a TFO Pro 2. This rod does not have as much tip flex as the fast action rods, and it makes casting those sinking lines much easier, especially for long days on the water.
Another non-typical rod type I recommend is a short 8 weight rod, similar to the Sage Bass 2, Sage Payload, ECHO B.A.G. Quickshot, Redington Predator in the 7’10”, or St. Croix Mojo Bass. These rods are more technical to cast but are very effective tools when fishing on dock lights, up lakes and rivers in the spring, or when fishing from a kayak. I typically overline these fly rods or utilize a bass bug or streamer taper fly line. These rods are great for quick, short casts and for throwing big heavy flies. However, they will not throw a full sinking line very well.
The fly reel is the least important part of your freshwater striped bass setup. The drag doesn’t need to be sealed, and the materials do not have to be corrosion resistant like saltwater reels. A large arbor reel, with a simple cork or disk drag that can hold your fly line and 150 yards of backing, is the basic criteria. I like to find reels that can interchange spools very easily, because to fish year-round for striped bass you will need two or three different types of fly line.
Using interchanging spools is much easier than taking all the fly line off the reel, and putting new fly line on, especially when you are on the water. An Orvis Clearwater, Redington ID, Redington Behemoth, Lamson Waterworks Liquid or Remix are all great options that have simple designs for swapping spools.
Fly Lines, Leaders, and Tippets
For Striped Bass fly-fishing setups, the rod is tied with fly line in their level of importance. Starting with floating lines, a heavy weight forward line is recommended. This will help cast for distance and turn over large flies. Fly line manufacturers offer a wide array of options, but an important point to research is the average surface water temperature during the spring, fall and winter of your fishery. Reason being, floating fly lines are offered in a warm-water and cold-water design. The cold-water lines are more rigid while the warm-water lines have a lot of stretch. But if you utilize a warm-water line during a time of year when the water surface temperature is still cold, that fly line will coil on the surface and affect the way you retrieve your fly. SA Bass Bug, Rio Big Nasty, Rio Predator, Orvis Bass, Rio Outbound and SA Titan are all great floating lines for all seasons on the lakes and rivers in South Carolina.
Do research and find a floating line that has a short head, meaning the front section of the fly line is around 30 feet and that the taper is substantial. For intermediate lines, warm-water and cold-water styles will work. If you can only purchase one fly line to target striped bass year-round, I recommend an intermediate line that has a floating running line and an intermediate head that sinks at one or two inches per second. In the winter, a sinking leader can be added to this line to go deeper, like a full sinking line. A sink tip line can also be used, or a sinking leader can be added to your floating line.
The point is that your fly needs to be in the upper 10 feet of the water column. SA Titan Sonar, Rio Big Nasty, Rio Predator and Rio Striped Bass are good options, but the Rio Coastal Quickshooter reigns supreme. This line has a clear tip so your leader can be very short as the fish will not be spooked by the fly line. The fly-lines will be labeled 8F/I, 8INT or 8F/I/3/5. “I” or “INT” stand for intermediate. Any numbering that follows is an additional sinking material and the number value correlates to how many inches per second the line will sink. Sinking and sink tip lines are adorned the same way. If the lake you are fishing has very deep sections (avg. of 60ft deep or greater) I recommend an 8-inch-per-second sink rate.
If the areas you will fish in the winter are less than 20 feet deep, a sink tip line is plenty, as it can be paired with a heavy weighted fly.
The types of leaders and tippets utilized are dependent on the fly line and fly set-up. For floating lines, a 9-foot tapered mono or nylon leader is recommended in the 10 to 16 lb. range. Using heavier leaders is more for casting bigger flies than for the weight of fish being targeted. It is hard to break 10 or 12 lb. leader or tippet material on a fish, as the material and the fly line have enough elasticity to account for fish up to 50 pounds. If fish are pressured, using a 16 lb. or even 20 lb. leader that is 10 feet or longer can help avoid spooking, and get a larger surface fly into the strike zone.
For intermediate lines and sink tip lines, I recommend a 5’ to 7’ leader of 12 lb. fluorocarbon. These leaders do not have to be tapered as the flies being cast are typically smaller. If the sink tip or intermediate line has a clear tip, a 3- or 4-foot leader can be utilized to pitch-cast flies into pockets. This method is very effective when covering a lot of water, as the short leader doesn’t require as many false casts. This is a good method for fishing dock lights, where fish are eating baitfish in the light and are not easily spooked.
For full sinking fly lines, a fluorocarbon leader or mono leader can be used. Monofilament and Nylon float, while fluorocarbon sinks. For a depth charged-type fly line, when casting an unweighted fly, I like to use a mono or nylon leader because it makes the fly dive and flutter, like a wounded baitfish. This is very effective when stripers are chasing big schools of bait, and you need your fly to stand out from the crowd.
Striped bass eat a wide variety of baitfish flies and patterns. The basis of their forage in lakes and rivers is for herring and shad, so anything imitating these baitfish will be effective. In general, it is more important to focus on the size and length rather than the color or pattern. “Match the hatch” as they say in trout fishing. In general, small flies 2-4 inches are best for the fall and winter. In the spring, flies can be larger in the 4- to 6-inch range, and topwater and near-surface flies should be 5-8 inches. Below are six flies that have proven very effective to help you get started.
1. Clouser Minnow – Size 4 – 2/0 in White, Gray, Tan, Pink or Chartreuse
2. Henry Cowen’s “Somethin Else” – Size 2 – 2/0
3. Finesse Game Changer – Size 2 – 2/0 in White, Gray, Olive, Black, or Chartreuse
4. EP Baitfish – Size 4 – 1 in White, Gray, Olive, Black or Chartreuse
5. Bob’s Banger – Size 1/0 – 2/0 in White or Chartreuse
6. Pole Dancer – Size 2 – 2/0 in White or Chartreuse
Accessories and Extras
I am a gear head, so these are just some additional items to purchase that will help you target striped bass on lakes and rivers. A very basic fish finder or graph is crucial for targeting stripers in the winter, but is really very helpful year-round. The graph only needs to display water temperature, depth, and contours. A digital graph works great, but I recommend the Garmin Striker. This can be mounted on a jon boat, kayak, or canoe, and costs around one hundred dollars.
I also like to have a net in the boat or kayak. The net does not have to be expensive. I use a basic one with a rubberized bag, because the material doesn’t seem to snag flies and fly lines like a nylon bag. At a minimum, you need a set of fish grips to hold the fish while you remove the fly. The “Rapala 9” Floating Grippers are great for kayak fishing.
Lastly, a waterproof or water-resistant boat box-style fly box can be great for storing not only flies, but your phone, fishing license, tippet spools, etc. Umpqua. MFC and Cliff make great options. There are cheaper equivalent options on Amazon, too. The basic criteria should be a deep box with inserts on both sides.