Big Striper Strategies - Part I
By Doug Jowett

Editorís note: When it comes to saltwater guiding for stripers, Capt. Doug Jowett has few peers. His years of experience and angling know-how are yours for the reading in this information-packed, two-part series. The second installment, which deals with location, water temperatures, angling strategies, and much more, will appear in the July issue of the Sporting Journal.

What is a "Big" striper on a fly?

To me, a "Big" striped bass is one over 40 inches and a "good" striper is one between 30 and 40 inches. To others a "Big" striper is a keeper. In Maine that was 36 inches prior to 1997, and in other states as short as 28 inches. Massachusetts anglers are prone to weight measurement. There, a "Big" fish would be 20 pounds or more.

Just for discussion, letís call a "Big" striped bass one that is 30 inches or better. If you have caught such a fish, you know it is a trophy fish. On my boat a 30-inch striped bass taken on a fly rod wins the angler a long-beaked hat with a striper logo. My "Hat Club" puts an angler in a class of fly fisher - one that has accomplished the special feat of landing and releasing a "Big" striped bass on a fly.

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So, how many "Big" stripers did you catch last year?

For a fish to be 40 inches in 2001, it would have to be born around 1988. The young-of-the- year index for striped bass crashed in 1971 and didnít recover until 1989. Thatís 18 years of poor striped bass spawning activity. A 30 inch striped bass is eight years old while a 44 incher is 16 years old.

During 13 years, a 40 inch striped bass has run the gauntlet of survival. It tries to dodge commercial fishing, natural predation, recreational sports fishing, disease, pollution and other factors affecting survival to become a 40 inch fish. There are precious few "Big" striped bass in the eco-system today.

There are two ways to go about catching a big striped bass - plain luck or careful planning.

We have all heard the stories of novice and expert anglers dropping a fly in the water to have a monster "old pajamas" take just by luck. The right place - the right time! It happens. But how can you increase the odds to catch the few large stripers in the system on a more consistent basis? Most fly rodders would be happy with one 40 incher, or half a dozen plus-30 inch fish per season.

Part of the formula includes being at the right place at the right time as the pure luck angler, but with added factors contributing to more connections with big fish. It may seem simplistic, but the factors of a sound formula for large fish success are: sound equipment, casting ability, bait selection, location, strategies and technique.

As you read on, be honest with yourself: do you consider all the factors when you head out for a day fishing? If the answer is yes, you probably catch more "Big" striped than most. If the answer is no, you probably donít catch many "Big" striped bass.

Large striped bass will test all your equipment. The most neglected component being the hook. Learn how to properly sharpen a hook and keep it sharp. I check every fly hook quite often. When a fish strikes but doesnít hook-up, always check the hook for sharpness. When a hook hits the side of the boat or section of the fly rod or a rock - check it for sharpness. Every time the hook touches something or you suspect it has, check it. Donít leave any one component of your fly rod system in less than perfect condition.

The fly rod should be inspected regularly for grooved guides or nicks in guides that will fray fly lines and backing. Damaged lines might break under the pressure of a trophy fish. Leaders and tippets should be changed regularly. Too many fly fishers will leave the master section of a leader in place for an entire season. If you are a trophy hunter, replace the leader every trip. Donít leave any detail to chance. A weak leader may fail when a "big" fish strikes.

Fly lines should be cleaned and dressed every day to provide maximum casting performance. (more on that under casting ability later). I always like to check the first 20 or 30 feet of backing to make certain it hasnít rapped around itself and jammed into a less than smooth release from the reel spool.

Know what length and type of leader will turn over the flies you are using and have appropriate leaders already tied. Fishing a 425 grain fly line doesnít require much of a leader system while an intermediate or floating line should have matching leaders to the cast at hand.

If I want precise fly presentations, I like to tie my own knotted, tapered leaders for use on nine foot fly rods. I sometimes use leaders as long as 15 feet to turn over some pretty big flies. This type of leader requires the use of 80, 50, 25 and 15 pound mono line with a fluorocarbon 12 pound tippet. One recipe for a 14 foot leader is: 41"-80 lb., 23"-50 lb,39"-25 lb., 37"-15 lb. and 20" fluorocarbon 12 lb. tippet. Thatís a specialty leader designed to accomplish one function - careful presentations to finicky striped bass. Sometime the unconventional will put "big" striped bass on the hook.

The reel should work flawlessly. Learn how to care for your fly reel and keep it in top working order. Most good fly shops will teach you how. Learn how to set the drag properly and check it many times during a day of fishing. Always set the drag on the light side and if needed, adjust during battle.

These equipment details may sound obvious. I canít tell you how many times Iíve had clients show up on the dock with their own equipment in poor working condition. We waist precious pre-dawn time correcting equipment problems. I just wonít leave the dock until all equipment is ready for a big fish.

A good fly caster will catch more "big" striped bass than a poor to mediocre caster!! Itís that simple - if you can put the fly in the right place at the right time, your chances of catching the big fish increase dramatically. That means casting well and long under all conditions and with varying sizes of flies.

Being a good caster doesnít mean you must cast 80 to 90 feet all the time (that would definitely help though). Rather it means you have line control under varying conditions to cast 50 or 60 feet and can adjust your cast almost instantly rather than struggling with each cast. It means you can change from a 425 grain shooting head to an intermediate or floating line and still cast with proficiency.

Be able to cast in windy conditions from a rocking boat or unstable ledge platform. Balance your fly rod with the proper fly line for publications including major outdoors magazines and has five books he has





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