Coastal Maine is a saltwater fly angler’s paradise. With over 3,200 miles of coastline, numerous tributaries, bays, estuaries, and over 2,000 coastal islands, Maine is an excellent place to fly fish for striped bass.
What Is a Striped Bass?
The Moronidae Saxatilis or commonly referred to as striper, rockfish, linesider, or saltwater bass, are widely accessible gamefish. Striped bass are known as aggressive feeders, strong fighters, excellent table fare, and should be on every angler's list of species to target.
Striped bass have white bellies with silver sides. Horizontally, running along their bodies are black stripes, usually six to eight. Typically, the darker line in the middle is their lateral line that detects movement and vibration in the water. The top of their bodies are darker shades such as black, olive green, blue, and some brown. Variation in the color on top depends on the type of water the fish inhabits most of their time: brackish or saltwater.
Stripers have a life expectancy of up to 30 years. The males sexually mature between the two-four year-old range, and females can reproduce eggs when they reach the four-eight year-old range. The average size of striped bass is 20-35 inches and approximately 5-20 pounds.
The current IFGA All-Tackle record striped bass was caught in the Long Island Sound, weighed 81.88 pounds, and measured 54 inches long. For fly fishing, the current IFGA world record in the 20-pound tippet class is a 51.5-pound fish caught in Virginia. The largest striped bass caught in Maine came from the Sheepscot River and weighed 67 pounds.
What Time of Year Is Best To Catch Striped Bass In Maine?
Maine’s diverse coastline and cooler water temperatures make it an excellent summertime destination for migrating striped bass. The fish show up as early as the beginning of May and will typically stick around until October. When you hear about the mackerel schools showing up, it is time to start looking for striped bass.
The peak of striped bass action in Maine occurs from June through the beginning of September. As the seasonal patterns seem to fluctuate more frequently, it is important to focus on water temperature to mark the arrival and exit of these awesome fish.
Where To Fly Fish For Striped Bass In Maine?
The short answer: you can find striped bass in coastal Maine almost anywhere.
Striped bass thrive in salt and brackish water, which is abundant in this area. Any of the coastal rivers, marshes, bays, estuaries, and the open ocean will hold striped bass in Maine. That being said, understanding how striped bass migrates will help you know how to narrow down your point of focus.
The ideal water temperature for striped bass is 55-68 degrees Fahrenheit. As the fish migrate up the coast from the mid-Atlantic, they are looking for that comfortable water temperature and, of course, bait. It is essential to pay attention to water temperature and understand that certain areas along coastal Maine will attract traveling striped bass first.
Naturally, as we transition from spring to summer, the salt marshes and estuaries will attract the first arriving striped bass. The muddier bottom in these areas is an excellent insulator that draws sunlight and warms the water up quicker. In turn, the shallow water in the marshes and estuaries lights up with small bait, excellent forage for striped bass. Concurrently, the mouths of the large tributary rivers like the Kennebec River, Penobscot River, Saco River, and Spurwink River are great places to check earlier in the summer.
The striped bass and bait will spread out as the summer progresses and the water warms. With the warmer water, more bait like mackerel and menhaden (bunker/pogies) will arrive. At this point, everywhere along the coast of Maine is game on. From the beaches to up in the rivers, the bays, offshore islands, and open ocean will all hold striped bass that you can target with a fly rod.
Targeting Striped Bass On The Fly
Striped bass are ambush predators. Keeping that in mind will help you pinpoint specific places and techniques to target striped bass on the fly. For striped bass, structure is king. Fortunately, for fly anglers in coastal Maine, there is abundant structure along the coast to attract striped bass. If you are new to fly fishing for striped bass, you’ll want to keep things simple and target rocky shorelines, jetties, grass flats, oyster bars, docks, and bridges.
Each feature offers shelter for baitfish and a current break for striped bass to stage and lets bait come to them. Whether you are fly fishing for striped bass on a boat, kayak, or on foot, you should be able to find those types of structures to target.
One of the most exciting ways to target striped bass on the fly is on shallow water flats. Watching a striped bass attack a fly over shallow grass or on the surface is one of the best experiences in fly fishing. Locating sand flats or shallow grass beds close to deeper water are great places to find schools of striped bass.
To effectively fish a flat, set up a slow drift and keep an eye out for ambush spots like oyster beds, grass beds, and current breaks, and fan cast. Be looking for fish feeding on the surface or “V” wakes that indicate fish moving in shallow water. If you’re lucky, you may even get a chance to sight-cast striped bass on the flats. Be patient and try to place the fly a foot or two in front of the striper. Flats offer great wading opportunities as well.
You will want to target ledges, drop-offs, rip currents, and boulders along the beaches and rocky shorelines. Any depth change offers a striped bass a place to hide and a place for current to disorient baitfish.
Whether you are fishing these areas on foot or on a boat, you’ll want to make sure that you present your fly at every angle possible and retrieve the fly all the way back to your position. You’ll be surprised at how many fish will hit the fly right before you lift it out of the water. Additionally, don’t be afraid to cast in spots just outside the structure or current seams; the turbulent waters will sweep bait far beyond the structure where bigger fish tend to lurk.
Out in open water, you can search for striped bass feeding on the surface. Casting a fly into a surface-feeding frenzy is as fun as it gets for fly fishing for striped bass. Presenting topwater or subsurface flies can result in a mele of multiple fish competing for your fly at once. These feeding frenzies also give you the best chance for multiple people to hook up simultaneously. Locating diving birds and offshore current seams near structures are great places to encounter surface-feeding fish.
Regardless of how or where you are targeting striped bass, you will have the most success targeting them during low light hours.
Gear/Flies for Striped Bass in Maine
Maine hosts an excellent fishery for fly anglers to tangle with striped bass. Now that you understand the biology of the striped bass, when they show up in Maine, where to look for them, and how to target them, let's discuss the proper tools for you to go out and catch striped bass on the fly.
Striped bass in Maine primarily feed on baitfish, sand eels, and crabs. They are typically looking for menhaden, mackerel, and various types of herring, so choosing flies that mimic those fleeing baitfish will work great. Deceivers, Streamers, Gamechangers, and Clouser minnows will all be effective flies. It is crucial to have flies in a variety of colors; white/chartreuse, pink/chartreuse, red/white, olive/white, black/purple, etc. Make sure to have sand eel imitations like a Surf Candy or a flatwing style fly. Crab pattern flies are pretty self-explanatory. Stripers will feed on crabs near rocks or on the flats.
Targeting the average schoolie-sized striped bass in the inlets and marshes will require 3-5 inch flies. If you focus on larger bodies of water and larger fish, using bigger presentations will do the trick. Do not be afraid to throw presentations that are 6-10 inches long. If you are fishing in turbulent waters or at night, throwing large flies that will displace a lot of water is important. In calmer, clear, or midday situations leaning towards a smaller or subtle presentation can do the trick.
Throwing topwater presentations for striped bass creates the most exciting action. Make sure to add different-sized gurglers and poppers to your fly box. Topwater presentations are most effective during the day's early morning or sunset hours.
Anything from a 7-10 wt rod will work well in Maine. It is important to know the potential class of fish you have available to you will often determine the proper sized rod and reel to use. No matter small or large, stripers hit hard and pull drag. Something with some backbone to handle their power and a fast action to allow for quick hooksets will do the trick. Due to the solid probability of encountering a big fish and Maine's temperamental wind conditions, going with a 9 or 10-wt rod should have you covered.
A reel that is sealed to help protect the drag from the saltwater and has the capacity for at least 150 yards of backing is key. For most applications we discussed, a floating or intermediate line will work fine for striped bass. Areas where the current is strong, or the fish are deeper will favor the intermediate line. There are several different options based on specific techniques, such as a line with a sinking tip or a shooting head. To keep it simple, a tapered floating or intermediate line with a 9-foot, 20-pound fluorocarbon leader will do the job.
Maine’s diverse coastline is an absolute haven for migrating striped bass. By understanding where to look for and how to target these fish, fly anglers can enjoy abundant opportunities throughout the summer to hook up with these hard-fighting and excellent-tasting fish.