Movement and Locations
Striped bass start coming up to Maine as early as May. Most of our early runners are very small fish taking advantage of the abundance of small bait in estuaries and marshes. The more comfortable water conditions in these areas also provides a more inviting habit for the stripers. It is not until our rivers are full of larger bait such as alewives and river herring that the bigger sized striped bass make an appearance. Fishing river mouths and estuaries can be very productive for early season big fish. However, once those runs of bait come to an end and the pogies (menhaden/bunker) show up (which they have been doing in big numbers in recent years) the bigger bass will start to push out into deeper water. This in turn means the ledges, rock piles, and beaches become the go-to locations.
Throughout the summer months large striped bass can be caught on both beaches and rocks on the Maine coast. Access to deeper, colder water can be important during the hottest times of the year. As things cool down and our fall run takes place, big striped bass can be anywhere and everywhere. Some fish decide to push back up into rivers or cruise along the mouths to feed on bait dumping out, and some choose to stay out in their summer haunts. As they migrate south they can take advantage of feeding opportunities which will make for some of the best fishing of the year, however it can be very spotty. Fall is a high-risk-high-reward scenario in Maine. It is important to stay mobile and flexible as you never know when or where a massive feed could pop up. Time of day matters less in the fall. By mid-late October most our trophy sized bass have headed south but they seem to come earlier and stay later every year so you never know if that late season monster might still be hanging around in November.
Time of Day
Night time or low light hours is always your best bet at catching trophy striped bass. Fly fishing at night can be a difficult activity, but it is a regular occurrence for big bass to be caught on 10”+ black flies that push large volumes of water at night. The flies that work best are black or black/purple in color and mimic the profiles of either very large baitfish, or long eels. The major advantage with fishing at night is that large bass will often come close to shore in locations that you would only ever see schoolies during daylight hours.
Daytime presents completely different scenarios. On days where we have surf, fishing rock piles and ledges can be very productive. Though high surf is limiting to a fly angler, it is often when the biggest bass are in closest to shore during daylight hours. Maine is loaded with rocky coastline and the bass take advantage of that regularly feeding in the wash that breaking waves create on the rocks. Big bass will take flies a rods length away from you more often than they will as soon as your fly hits the water 80ft out from shore. A big mistake many shore anglers make is casting as far as they can out from shore when in reality the bass are very close in when fishing ledges and rock piles with steep drop offs. Try casting your fly parallel to shore if possible and you may be surprised by the results. Productive flies for fishing rocks in Maine are large hollow flies, beast flies and mackerel patterns all of which will get the attention of a large bass. When Conditions are calm is when a fly really shines over other conventional fishing methods. Maine is a bait factory. We have an immense amount of small forage from Brit herring to sand eels to green crabs and everything in between. When conditions are calm, and the water is clear, sight fishing for large striped bass can be extremely productive. There are certainly times where you can get a large bass to eat a tiny sand eel or crab pattern when they will not touch anything else. On top of sight fishing on flats or in estuaries, rocks can still produce on calm days. The advantage of calm days on rocks is you can usually get out to casting points that would otherwise be unsafe on rough days. Like sight fishing in skinny water, usually downsizing fly is a good choice on calmer days if bass will not commit to bigger baitfish patterns.
It is important to not be under gunned when targeting large fish and hoping for that bass of a lifetime. Trophy bass will often give an extremely long run when they are first hooked. This is especially true in shallow/flats areas. In deeper water, they can make deep dives. This is why a reel with a large capacity for backing is important. 150 yards of backing or more is highly recommended. A smooth and strong drag system is imperative (and ideally fully sealed). Also understand that super light weight reels may not be the best option. With lightness usually comes fragility which can become an issue on the rocky Maine coast. Reels will see rough wading conditions such as rocks/ledges and almost constant submersion while flats fishing. These situations combined with salt water make it nasty on gear. A light reel can also negatively effect balance of a rod when casting heavy lines and big flies. A 10 weight rod and line set up is highly recommended for big striped bass in Maine. Conditions can often be unforgiving and a rod and line with the power to cooperate with wind and waves is very helpful. On top of a 10 wt being a better tool for battling the elements, the heavier grain lines also allow for a wider array of flies to be thrown from 12” long beast flies to a tiny green crab fly and everything in between. Give us a call at the shop if you need help getting geared up for fishing for big Maine striped bass on the fly!
Written By: Joe Webster