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How to locate, stalk, and catch large fish in the surf
THE SAME SIGHT-FISHING EXCITEMENT that has captivated bonefish and tarpon anglers for decades is now mesmerizing striper anglers from Long Island to Cape Cod. But despite growing interest in striper fishing and the techniques required to catch the fish, most fly fishers still don't know how to sight fish for stripers in the surf.
There are three types of sight-fishing techniques for stripers: wading inshore flats, wading or boat fishing offshore flats, and sight fishing along ocean beaches in the surf. The most challenging sport is in the surf, where the fish run large, presentations are complex, and fly selection is difficult. I began sight fishing the surf eight years ago and managed just three hookups for the entire season that first year. Since then, 60 percent of my fishing from June through September is spent stalking stripers in the surf. In 1997 I averaged three hookups a day. Here's how I do it.
You must understand striper surf moods if you want to sight fish for them. As the spring migration concludes, the fish leave the rivers and estuaries and take up residence along Northeast ocean shores. As water temperatures rise into the 60s (F.), the fish begin their summer feeding pattern, nocturnally feeding on squid and diurnally feeding on a variety of surf prey. Unlike the bold, aggressive school-fish we're accustomed to seeing during spring and fall migrations, summer stripers quietly prowl the surf, often alone, as they feed selectively on the ocean bottom.
Daytime surf feeders are large fish. Ten- to 25-pounders are the usual targets, with 25- to 40-pounders often in the mix. They are from 7 to 13 years old and have keen survival instincts. Expect them to be wary and challenging. Smaller fish enter the surf near dark, which accounts for the schoolies that are often taken by blind casters but are seldom seen by sight casters. The right sight-fishing strategies are the key to catching the large, challenging fish.
Except during slack tides (dead high and dead low), stripers work the surf all day. They maneuver it in a number of patterns that are influenced by tides, sandbar and hole formations (rip tides), the …