Every summer in the Northeast Striped bass turn their feeding patterns from day to night, hunting sand eels and spearing in the shallow beach fronts and backwaters. At this time of year, fly anglers should shift gears and focus efforts to the dark; specifically during the wee hours of the morning just before false light, for it is at this time when Stripers seem to feed at their heaviest.
With this new time comes new tactics. The flies, lines and retrieves we choose change in order to allow us to “match the hatch” within a specific range of the water column, but also allowing us to feel the cast and the load of the line with more intensity without the assistance of daylight. For flies, sparsely tied sand eel and spearing imitations such as surf candies, deceivers, and flat wings are all strong choices. Fly color also comes into play in the darkness, and anglers should choose dark materials such and black or purple as these darker colors have stronger silhouettes in the water.
Probably the most important piece of the equation is the fly line. Because the fish in my neck of the woods seem to feed higher in the water column at night, I go with the RIO Outbound Short Intermediate fly line. The head is only 30 ft long and ensures fast, one-shot casts for maximum distance. Because the line tapers fast after the shooting head to the running line, I can feel the transition easier in the dark triggering me to load the rod for the final launch. In addition to the fast loading shooting head, the line also has a floating running line; this allows the fly line to stay just below the water’s surface and makes it easier for the angler when he or she wishes to pick up line off the water quickly for a cast.
When fishing in the surf line, try to keep your cast short and close to shore, especially if there is a trough present. These drop offs give Stripers an ambush point and also create turbulence when the waves backwash off the beach, which is sure to trap and dishevel bait. If a distinct sandbar is within casting range, this can also be a great area to swim or swing a fly, depending on your position in the water. Make sure to get your cast perpendicular to the bar, so that the fly can drift over the bar and into the trough in a very natural presentation, often provoking a strike as soon as the fly drops off the edge.
If you plan to fish backwater flats or ponds, allow sound to assist you in finding fish. For it is in this calm and placid backwater when anglers can hear Stripers smashing and slurping bait off the surface. In this situation, a floating version of the Outbound Short would be a good choice as it will allow the fly to stay right on the surface, creating a wake in the water.
The most important thing about fly fishing at night is safety. Always be aware of your surroundings, fish with a buddy or partner, and wear a self inflating personal safety device. Now, go get out there and good fishin’…