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Stripers on the flats
Chasing striped bass in the shallow water - the flats - can be a lot of fun as Swiss fly-angler Lukas Bammatter can attest to
"There are better ways to fish for stripers than chasing the flats" adjudges Striper legend Frank Daignault in his book "Fly Fishing the Striper Surf". My opinion after two weeks of fly-fishing on the Maine coast: Might be, but sight fishing in shallow water is simply more fun.
The shore is hardly visible; wafts of mist are hovering over the water. Once per minute a dull horn can be heard from a distance. Scary. The scenery reminiscent of a thriller - which is not far-fetched. Nearby, in an old hotel building, scenes of a famous thriller were filmed.
Suddenly a big, loud splash rouses me from slumber. Just about ten meters behind our boat a small group of Striped Bass are chasing sandeels. Seconds later, my chartreuse/olive Clouser lands on the spot. Five strips and I am in.
Three stripers and about one hour later, the fog is almost gone. More and more of the beautiful surroundings show up. Water grass and rocks covered with seaweed form the shores of the small islands we are drifting in between. Although the background is overgrown with pine trees, the scenery has strong similarity to the Bahama flats or other famous bonefish destinations.
I had never thought that targeting striped bass could be like this. Fishing the surf, casting off a jetty or driving out on the ocean in search of a big blitz (feeding frenzy) is more often mentioned in books about striper fishing.
That was the belief of Jamie too when he started his striper fishing career. My fishing buddy and guide during my time on the Maine coast changed his mind after he monitored some of the fishing reports of the local guides on his mobile radio system. After messages like "they're chasing on the flats" he started to search for potential hotspots on Google Earth. What he found was a dense accumulation of islands with a a deep channel in the middle. The perfect entrance for big predators from the deeper sea to the flats between the islands. Meeting several guide boats while exploring this labyrinth for the first time, he realized: "This is it".
sight fishing in shallow water is simply more fun
Not easy to stalk
I am the lucky one who now benefits from Jamie's experiences. While he is driving the boat I am standing on the bow stalking the water. To see striped bass chasing baitfish on the surface is the best but unfortunately not the most common case. The fog often makes it difficult to spot the cruising fish early enough. More often we just hear a swash or see a small group passing close to the boat. But even if an experienced eye spots them, there is usually only time for one cast. Sometimes casts of 20, 25 meters or more are necessary to reach the action.
When you do put the fly where it needs to be, however, the stripers don't mess around. A spotted fly is mostly chased and often eaten. Once hooked, the bass don't disappoint. Although they don't fight like Bonefish or Permit, it is still an exciting sport fish.
Watch the tide!
There are flats that could be fished from wading angler too, but you really need to know your way back to the shore and be conscious of the tide coming in. On the other hand boat fishermen need to pay attention to the falling tide - unless you want to run on ground and be stuck for a few hours.
I found it comfortable to change spot by pulling down the hand throttle. Especially because we never saw the stripers chasing baitfish in the same bay or area for a long period. Rather they appeared on one spot and a minute later another five hundred meters away, what kept as busy and energized.
The most successful tactic was to find a zone where the stripers showed up from time to time or to look out for big bait accumulations. Because of the shallow water the stripers respond sensitive to any form of disorder like the loud noise of an outboard engine. Therefore following a group of stripers with a boat rarely ends up successful.
The fly in my hand and the line in proper loops in front of my feet, I was always ready to cast during the drift. It was challenging to monitor the water and constantly be ready to hit the spot. More than once my line got tangled right in the moment when the action started. Most fly fisher know how it feels like to see a big fish passing in feeding mode and your casting fails because you are acting too hectic…
But once in a while it all went right: I saw a fish cruising and parked my fly exactly where it needed to be. To see my target following and taking the fly was incredibly rewarding and a convincing argument to chase striped bass on flats.