Know Your Quarry
Striped bass behavior in the sight-fishing condition
is unique. By "sight-fishing condition" I am referring
to very clear, brightly lit shallow waters from one
to five feet deep where the fish are readily spotted
and presented with flies. A variety of surface
activities visually reveal feeding stripers; the
rise-forms left by fish sipping springtime worm-spawns
and the wild splashing of bass blitzing migrating bait
in the fall are examples. Casting to stripers under
these conditions, however, is not what this book is about.
With clear, shallow water and bright sun, striper
behavior is considerably different than what we're
used to with night- or deep-feeding fish. Anglers
should take time to carefully observe their quarry
and learn its behavior. Since this fishing is
entirely visual, there is ample opportunity to study
the fish, its movements, and its feeding patterns.
There is no substitute for being able to predict
striper movements, to read which fish are feeders
and which are not, and to somewhat read what the
stripers are eating through their behavior.
Similarities to Bonefishing
Sight-fishing for striped bass and bonefishing have
a lot in common. Both species are stalked in clear,
shallow eater where visual presentations are
carefully made to moving targets that behave similarly.
Both may be pursued on foot or by skiff, either alone
or with a partner. It's no surprise that many
bonefishers have enthusiastically taken to striper
sight-fishing in recent years.
But the two sports are also very different, which
experienced bonefishers must understand to consistently
succeed with striped bass. Anatomical and environmental
differences are most relevant and they influence many
aspects of striper fishing. In my opinion, stripers
pose a tougher flats challenge than most bonefish;
the exception being the big bones found in the
Florida Keys and northern Bahamas. Many comparisons
to bonefish are made throughout this chapter to
effectively highlight striped bass behavior and help
those with bonefishing experience quickly adapt.
Many books have been written about bonefishing,
which are excellent background for striped bass
Stripers Are at the Top of the Food Chain
Unlike bonefish, stripers have no natural enemies
on the flats. The absence of barracuda and sharks
on temperate northern flats allows stripers the
freedom and comfort to graze the shallows without
urgency. Bonefish, on the other hand, must have
one eye open at all times for the jaws of death.
With this in mind it's easy to see why bones are
so skittish and often flush when spooked, while
stripers appear calm and rarely become frantic
when alerted to your presence. When alarmed,
stripers often react by simply veering slightly
rom their course and merely maintain a safe distance.
Stripers encountered while sight-fishing typically
run large. On inshore flats, fish from 25 to 32 inches
long are common. Offshore flats and the surf offer
even larger fish, with 30-to 44-inch fish typical.
These stripers are from seven to 15 years old. They
have been around a while, most likely have encountered
many humans before, and are wizened and wary. Large
stripers demonstrate what is know as a "sophisticated
spook." This is best described as an acute awareness
and respect for your presence, but without fear of harm.
This is invariably accompanied by what has become a
coined expression, "lockjaw", where the fish's mouth
simply will not open for any fisherman's offering.
The sophisticated spook takes some experience to recognize
while it's happening. Large bass calmly continue about
their business despite an angler's presence, and they
seduce many rookie sight-fishers with their iron nerve.
The only bonefish that maintain this calm on the flats
are the large, osprey-proof variety, typical of the
Stripers seem to get most agitated when they detect a
skiff on the flats. Here, in addition to veering from
their course they noticeably speed up to quickly get
by the vessel. But they remain calmer than bonefish.
It takes some experience to interpret this behavior,
which enables you to confidently ignore fish that have
probably seen you and focus on those that have not.
Many newcomers to this sport mistakenly conclude that
stripers in this environment are "uncatchable" after
they repeatedly fail to entice fish that had been
alarmed by a non-stealthy approach. ~ Alan Caolo
Credits: Excerpt and photo from Sight-Fishing
for Striped Bass Fly-Fishing Strategies for Inshore,
Offshore and the Surf, by Alan Caolo, Published by Frank
Amato Publications. We appreciate use premission.