I recently had a chance to fish for striped bass on the north shore of Long Island, and of course, I used a fly rod. Why use anything else?
The spot is a kind of man-made creek that cuts across the beach — the outflow of cooling water from a power plant. It’s at least 20 degrees warmer than the quickly chilling water of Long Island Sound, and stripers tend to hang out there right through the winter.
I’ve had the most success in this spot at high tide, but there’s not a lot of room there when the tide is in — especially since the power company has been dredging near the outflow.
I found myself sharing the spot with another angler who fished with a spinning rod. Over the course of two hours, I caught five schoolie stripers — fish in the 15- to 20-inch class, far too small to legally keep, but still strong enough to put a big bend in my 11-foot switch rod.
The first hour, I caught none. Then I moved behind the other guy, cast across and let my Seaducer swing into a deep hole near the edge of the outflow, and the fish started biting.
I’m the kind of guy who’s perfectly content to catch five strong, pretty fish and call it a day. So it didn’t bother me so much that the angler with the spinning rod, fishing 10 feet away from me, probably caught close to 100, most of the time on successive casts.
I don’t think a fly rod is always the best tool for the job.
The spinning-rod fisherman was casting straight across the outflow, using a soft plastic bait with a lead jig head. It sank immediately and swam straight back to him down deep, where the schoolies were milling about.
This was not the first time I’d been wildly outfished by saltwater anglers with spinning tackle. The marine environment is big, the striped bass and bluefish are big and big plugs or baits that get attention are sensible fishing tools.
Of course, there have been times when I’ve been among fly-fishers that outnumber anglers with spinning or casting rods. And there have been times when flies outfished plugs.
Frank Daigneault, author of several great books about fishing the Atlantic coast, insists that in many saltwater situations, a fly rod is, in fact, the best tool for the job.
“For me, fly fishing is held to the same standard as all my other activities in the field — it has to be the best way for the situation that confronts me,” he wrote in “Fly Fishing the Striper Surf.”
Daigneault is an “eel fisher and plug caster,” but fishes successfully with flies (almost always at night, by the way.) When the situation calls for it, the fly rod “yields three fish for every one you would catch with the next best option,” he wrote.
As he points out, a fly rod is the best way to present imitations of small fish, like little two-inch spearing or bay anchovies. And because they’re made of supple materials like feathers and bucktail, flies seem to give a more lifelike impression than plugs, spoons or soft plastics.
Of course, over the centuries, fly tackle evolved to do a job that no late-comer spinning rod can do — deliver a virtually weightless, half-inch insect to a stream delicately enough to avoid frightening trout. Every other kind of rod and reel throws its terminal tackle — bait, lure, float, sinker, whatever — but a fly rod throws the line, which in turn carries small, ethereal bugs to trout that are expecting them.
The fly rod can also deliver small, ethereal fish to bigger fish that like to eat them. But it really can’t deliver a lure that will create panicky commotion like a Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper — and if there’s one thing hungry stripers and blues love, it’s panicky commotion.
Still, I practically never fish with anything except a fly rod. It may not always be the right tool, but it’s always my favorite, even when I’m out-fished by other gear 20 to 1.