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Get Your Striper On

Block Island, RI

I love stripers.  It had been almost a year since I hooked up with one, but my recent annual family trip to Block Island, RI, reminded me how fun they are.  Striped bass, stripers for short, are a migratory fish that inhabit the coastal waterways of the mid-Atlantic and northeast.  Stripers have a range from North Carolina to Maine.  They are aggressive predators who fight hard and can grow quite large.  Their annual migration pattern along the most heavily populated part of our country inspires fisherman up and down the eastern seaboard.  Strict commercial and recreational restrictions and limitations have brought the fishery back from near extinction in the 1980’s.  You can catch stripers all year long; however, the prime time is May-October.


Pursuing stripers on the fly just might be my favorite type of fly-fishing.  I don’t think any other fishing gets my heart racing like seeing a striper blitz occur on the surface.  Any decent trout angler expects to catch trout every time they hit their favorite river; it is just a matter of size and numbers.  This is not true with stripers, and even the best are fooled and puzzled by this amazing game fish.  Chasing stripers is a great way to break into saltwater fly fishing without having to pay the big bucks needed in tropical environments pursuing bonefish, tarpon, or permit.  Other game fish, such as bluefish, flounder, false albacore, and bonito, also inhabit the same vicinity as stripers, and they are just as fun to catch.  My blog post today is intended to help the newbie saltwater fly fisherman get started chasing stripers.


Rod:  Medium to fast action 8-9 weight rods in the 9-10’ length.  You want a rod that will turn over large flies and not tire your arm out.  You will also need a stick that can mend and reach over crashing waves.

Reel:  Large arbors with a decent drag system.  A solid drag will help you tame the powerful bursts of energy that the stripers can display.  A large arbor reel will also help you pick up line more quickly when fighting a fish.

Line: Intermediate.  This line will cover 99% of all your striper fishing.  I also think this is the most important part of your setup, and I highly recommend paying top dollar on this piece.  Get a quality coldwater salt line like RIO’s Intermediate Outbound.  Also, you should have around 150-200 yards of solid 30lb. backing attached to your fly line.  All saltwater species will push the limits of your tackle.

Stripping Basket: This is the second most important piece of equipment, in my humble opinion.  It will keep your line in one place, help you easily shoot casts, and fish more efficiently.  You can buy these from any online fly fishing retailer; however, I made my own about 4 years ago with material from Walmart for a total cost of $10.

Leader: I have three different leaders I use given the conditions.

  • For the crashing surf, heavy rips, or rocky turbulent structures, I surgeon loop both ends of a 2’ strip of 50lb. mono.  Then I attach one end to my fly line, the other I will loop to loop connection to another 3’ foot section of 25lb. mono.
  • For calmer back bays, salt ponds, or tidal creeks.  I take the leader mentioned above, and then I will blood knot another 3’ section of 15lb. fluorocarbon to the end of 25lb. mono.
  • For the flats or extremely picky stripers, I will switch to a store bought 9’ 12lb. bonefish leader.

Flies:  Deceivers, Half and Half’s, Snake Flies, and Saltwater Poppers.  These flies will get you into the game and as you progress you will branch out.  However, the most important thing to keep in mind is size, color, and shape.   Use these three characteristics and then work backwards.  For example, at Block Island, the main bait or forage in the area are sand eels; moreover, this calls for slender, long, olive/green/chartreuse patterns, i.e. a skinny Half and Half.  In New Jersey, menhaden are the main bait, and this calls for large Deceiver style flies with more colors, such as blue and pink.

Match the hatch and use your brain just like you would for trout.  Also, in regards to color, the standard dark sky/ dark fly rules apply, so have some all black flies for dusk, dawn, and night.  Finally, I always use a non-slip uni-knot to connect my fly to my leader.  Lefty Kreh has called this the best way to attach a saltwater fly.

Stripping Basket: 1 Utility Belt 1 Plastic Storage Container 6 Zip-Ties
Stripping Basket:
1 Utility Belt
1 Plastic Storage Container
6 Zip-Ties
By varying colors and sizes on Lefty Kreh's Deciever, you can mimic about 99% of all bait encountered on the Northeast coastline
By varying colors and sizes on Lefty Kreh’s Deciever, you can mimic about 99% of all bait encountered on the Northeast coastline
When fishing for stripers, you will no doubt encounter bluefish.  They get a bad rap; however, they are hard fighters and will pounce on a well placed fly.
When fishing for stripers, you will no doubt encounter bluefish. They get a bad rap; however, they are hard fighters and will pounce on a well placed fly.


This might be the most intimidating thing for a freshwater fly fisherman to wrap their brain around.  When you get to the coastline, your jaw might drop and wonder how you are going to locate fish in this entire ocean, especially if you are fishing without a boat like me.  Here are some rules to help guide you and increase your chances:

  • Stripers love structure, just like any other predatory fish.  Structure creates competing currents, eddies, and rips.   This creates a natural trap for bait and easy pickings for stripers.  When you get to your coastline, look for jetties, sandbars, rocky outcrops, and tidal coves.  Anything that can create an ambush spot is game.
  • Break everything down. Attack these structures in segments like you would any trout stream.  Be methodical, and take casts on the face of a clock working from 9 to 3 o’clock.  Work the drift, and let the currents present your fly in a natural manner.
  • Know your tides.  Tides create moving water.  This adds more character to the structure you have already located.  When fishing on foot, I find the two hours before and after high tide to have the greatest chance of hooking up with stripers.
  • Dusk and Dawn.  I find these two times of day most productive.  There is less boat traffic to put fish down, and predatory fish hunt during these low light conditions.
  • Hand over hand.  After I have cast and when I am starting my retrieve, I put my rod under my armpit and do a hand over hand retrieve stripping line into my stripping basket that is around my waist.  This position will seem unnatural to most fly fisherman; however, in my mind, it is the most efficient way to fish by foot along the Northeast Coast.  It also allows for constant connection of you to your fly so you do not miss any strikes.  You don’t have to worry about your line tangling around your feet or rocks.  And it adds distance to your casts.
  • Do your homework.  There is plenty of information out there on striper fishing and spots to hit up.  These two books are my favorite and will cover you from New Jersey to Maine. Fly Fisher’s Guide to the Northeast Coast and Fly Fisher’s Guide to the New England Coast: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine
  • Stay positive.  Saltwater fly-fishing is a pure dedication.  It’s a little frustrating watching a guy a next to you cast a plug 200 feet out on a convention surf rod.  As a fly fisherman, casting distance may seem like a huge handicap; however, I view it as an opportunity.  The 20-40 foot range is where most of my hookups with stripers occur.  Conventional guys are too concerned with getting their plugs out a country mile that they never fully work the close structure.  This is where you can shine.  Your biggest pro will be that you can present a more life-like fly (besides live bait) to these fish.  Conventional guys say stripers are not picky.  I say that is bull.  I had a great view one calm morning this past week as 5 different stripers followed and then refused my fly.  These fish are not stupid.  Measure success not only in fish landed, but also in fish that you rolled on your fly or any missed strikes.  Kelly Galloup says if you can get the fish to roll on your fly, you are doing everything right.  There will be plenty of skunks, but one successful day will make up for it.
Rough seas and choppy surf are some of the best conditions when fishing for stripers.
Rough seas and choppy surf are some of the best conditions when fishing for stripers. Asbury Park, NJ
Switching to a all black Half and Half paid off near dusk this past trip to Block Island, RI.
Switching to a all black Half and Half paid off near dusk during this past trip to Block Island, RI.
Stripers can be caught throughout the year.  This on was taken the day before Thanksgiving in Asbury Park, NJ
Stripers can be caught throughout the year. This on was taken the day before Thanksgiving at Shark River Inlet, NJ.

It took me over a year to land my first striper.  Looking back, I didn’t have a clue to what I was doing that first year.  But I eventually, got my bearings and learned through the school of hard knocks.  I even had my best trip to Block Island this past week with 8 stripers and 3 bluefish landed, breaking off another 3 fish, and about a dozen and half missed swipes/rolls/refusals on my fly.  My time hitting the salt has been paying off.

This post is not the end all of fly fishing for stripers; however, it is merely intended to cut down the learning curve that I experienced.  Once you feel the power of the strike, the pull of the fight, and the joy of landing a striped bass.  I promise you will be addicted.

Bob's Banger is a great saltwater popper.
Bob’s Banger is a great saltwater popper.
This is bluefish is one of the biggest fish I have ever caught on the fly at 37" and approximately 19lbs.
This is bluefish nailed a Half and Half outside Atlantic Highlands, NJ.  It is one of the biggest fish I have ever caught on the fly at 37″ and approximately 19lbs.
The only downside to bluefish is that they will destroy a fly with their sharp teeth.
The only downside to bluefish is that they will destroy a fly with their sharp teeth.

For further inspiration, read The Blitz: Fly Fishing the Atlantic Migration.  It’s a great book of two fly fishermen who for one year followed the entire Atlantic migration from North Carolina to Maine.  They documented the places they went, the people they met, and the fish along the way.  Here is also a link to their ten-minute you tube trailer of the book.

Vladi Worm


I am big believer of throwing flies that are different from what everyone else is throwing. Fish are wise and will educate themselves to a size 14 Adams quickly. Well, the Vladi Worm is a completely different and unique fly. It was founded in Poland by Vladi Trzebunia, who 20 years ago compiled more points in the World Fly Fishing Championships then three national teams combined. Vladi has tutored many famous American fly fishermen, such as Jackson Hole’s Jack Dennis, as well as many American national fly-fishing teams.

About three years ago, anytime I would fish, I would rig this fly up. As I have gotten away from tight line nymphing, this fly has taken a back seat in my fly box. I don’t think I even tied the Vladi Worm onto the end of my line all of last year. That all changed about a two weeks ago when Zach and I hit up the West Branch of the Ausable during very high water. My first choice was for streamers but the high water and tight pockets kept leading to missed swipes from the trout. I needed to get down the water column very quickly. The correct choice was for tight line nymphing. I re-rigged, tied on Vladi Worm as my anchor fly, and crushed it while many other anglers watched in frustration. The Vladi Worm will catch trout anywhere, period. If you fly fish for pure numbers, then this fly should be your go to fly. The Vladi Worm is heavily weighted and designed for short casts with little to no false casting. The fly rides hook point up, bounces of any rock or obstruction, and will rarely get caught up. This is one of my confidence flies that I know will catch trout anywhere, and I will always have a few in my fly box.


Hook: Daichi 1870 Swimming Larva Size 6

Weight: .025 Round Lead Wire

Thread: Pink 210 Danville

Ribbing: 4x Monofilament

Flash: Pearl Magic Shrimp Foil

Body: Pink Crown Latex Condom

Step 1:

Place hook into your vice and wrap two layers of lead wire at the back hook bend.



Step 2:

Start your thread at the front of the hook and continue to wrap over all the lead wire so that there is a nice thread layer down.



Step 3:

Tie in your monofilament, shrimp foil, and latex material.  When working with the condom, start with one condom and then cut it in half.  Take one of those halves and cut it in half again.  You can use one condom to make four Vladi Worms.




Step 4:

Take you tying thread to the front of the hook.  Begin wrapping your latex up to the front of the hook.  When you get there, take two thread wraps around the latex.  Then wrap the latex all the way to the back of the hook again.



Step 5:

Pull your shrimp foil forward and secure at the the fron of the hook.


Step 6:

Wrap the latex material back to the front of the hook one last time, covering the shrimp foil.  Secure latex at the front of the hook.  Cut off excess, latex and shrimp foil.


Step 7:

Take your monofilament and begin wrapping the ribbing all the way to the front of the hook.  Try and pull pretty tight on the mono to create the ribbing effect.  Secure at front, clip excess, and take a few whip finishes to finish!



Jess's first trout from about 3 years ago off of a Vladi Worm
Jess’s first trout from about 3 years ago off of a Vladi Worm

Foam Bass Popper

Designed by MKFF

Note: We did not invent this pattern; it has been pieced together from various popper and ocean shrimp patterns I have seen over the years. It is unique enough that we will claim credit to the Bass Popper version being fished in Warren and Sussex County, NJ.


  • Umpqua U301 SZ4
  • Ultra Thread FL. Fire Orange 210
  • Yellow Bucktail
  • Green Bucktail
  • Krystal Flash Olive
  • 3MM Yellow Foam
  • 1MM Orange Foam
  • Estaz Opalescent White
  • Red or Orange Hackle
  • Zap A Gap
  • 1/8 Flat Eyes
  • Essie 825 Hip-Anema

Step 1 – Creating the Tail:

During May and June Bass begin to feed upon top water poppers. For a Trout fisherman this is equivalent to the hopper season, when huge Trout gobble ungainly foam hoppers whole. The bucket mouths will emerge from below to grab a popper at such speed you will see an underwater wake racing towards your popper. The tail creates life like action to mimic an amphibian racing across the surface of the water.

Step 1A:

Start the thread.
Step 1A – Start the thread.

Start the thread right before the hook bend; cover a small area with the thread to create a base for the tail.

Step 1B:

Step 1B - Tie in Yellow Bucktail.
Step 1B – Tie in Yellow Bucktail.

Select the Yellow Bucktail, cut a pinch of hair fibers (around 25), and tie in on top of the base you created in the previous step. The tail should be 1 and ½ times the length of the hook shank.

Step 1 C:

Step 1C - Tie in Crystal Flash
Step 1C – Tie in Crystal Flash

Select four pieces of Crystal Flash, place along the tail on one side of the hook shank, loop the strands around the top of the shank and run along the other side of the hook shank. Trim to match the length of the tail, be careful not to cut the bucktail.

Step 1 D:

Step 1D - Tie in Green Bucktail.
Step 1D – Tie in Green Bucktail.

Select the Green Bucktail, cut a pinch of hair fibers (around 25), and tie in on top of the Yellow Bucktail. Align to the existing tail length. Remember to always cut the butt end of the fibers off at a 45-degree angle; this makes it easier to cover with thread.

Step 1 E:

Tie in four more pieces of Crystal Flash in manner similar to my description in Step 1 C.

Step 2 – Building the Body

The concept for the body on this fly comes from a shrimp popper pattern Captain Daniel Andrews handed Brenton on our guided trip while staying at Sanibel Island. The shrimp in the bay will hop along the surface of the water especially to avoid predators. This is the same popping sound that entices Bass to strike.

Step 2 A (prepping the foam):

Step 2A - Prep the foam.
Step 2A – Prep the foam.

First you need to pre-cut a piece if yellow foam, then the orange foam. Yellow serves as the belly, orange as an indicator for your ability to detect a strike while floating on the water surface. Yellow foam should be 1-½ inches long by ½ inch wide. The orange foam should be trimmed to ¾ inch long and ½ inch wide. Now your foam is ready for attachment to the body.

Step 2 B (Tying in the body components):

Step 2B - Build a tie in area.
Step 2B – Build a tie in area.

Prepare the tie in area by wrapping thread over the butt ends of the Bucktail, work up and down the tail mound a few times to make an even though sloping surface.

Step 2 C (Tying in the body components):

Step 2C - Add the yellow foam.
Step 2C – Add the yellow foam.

Pick up your piece of yellow foam; hold the piece on top of the shank, and slide the foam down so only a small portion is on covering the base area you just created. Begin to tie the foam in tightly over the tail mound of thread, to tie on, pinch the foam around the shank making it create a U shape. This action will ease getting your initial wraps in place.  Tie in and cover evenly, leave a tiny area at the back of the mound without thread so you will be able to roll the foam over in later steps.

Step 2 D (Tying in the body components):

Step 2D - Attach the Estaz.
Step 2D – Attach the Estaz.

Now take the Estaz and cut an eight-inch piece. Tie this piece in on at the tail end of the mount we just created with the foam. Cover the butt piece completely. Now wrap a base layer of thread forward to one hook eye from the hook eye. This prevents slippage and allows you to evenly wrap the estaz forward up the shank. Once you have wrapped the Estaz up the shank, tie off and cut excess one hook eye’s distance from the hook eye.

Step 2D2 - Wrap the thread up the shank.
Step 2D2 – Wrap the thread up the shank.
Step 2D3 - Twist the Estaz up the shank to create a body.
Step 2D3 – Twist the Estaz up the shank to create a body.

Step 2 E (Tying in the body components):

Step 2E - Roll the foam over the shank.
Step 2E – Roll the foam over the shank.

Now pinch the overhanging piece of foam between your thumb and forefinger. Flip it up, over the tie in point towards the hook eye where the thread is hanging. In the same manner that you secured it to the shank in Step 3 B, secure it at the front tie in point. Try not to crowd the hook eye, as there are additional components that need to be added.

Step 3 – The Head

I like to give the fly a lifelike appearance, closely modeling it after a live amphibian that the bass are seeing in the pond or lake you are fishing. Does this really matter? The jury is still out on that; Bass strike mainly for the sound and movement. Its similar to the Trout fly concept of size first, shape of flies next and then color last. Adding the lifelike features helps me as an angler to visualize a strike. That being said, you can build a Bass popper out of a 1-inch PVC pipe filled with BBs with a treble hook attached. Bass are not going to give you an award for the most life like fly. As opposed to Trout, Bass are consumed with a fear of missing their next meal.

Step 3 A:

Step 3A - Build the beard.
Step 3A – Build the beard.

Flip the popper upside down in the vice, being careful as to not allow your handy work to unwind. Pinch 10 to 15 fibers in your thumb and forefinger. Tie in at the front point where we pinched the foam in. Optimally you will create a fanned out beard for the popper. Once you have secured, trim the excess butt end fiber crowding the hook eye.

Step 3 B:

Step 3B - Secure the orange indicator foam.
Step 3B – Secure the orange indicator foam.

Now we will secure the orange indicator foam. This foam serves two purposes first as an indicator and secondly a surface for water to flip up against and make the popping or splashing to woo the Bass. Align the front of the foam with the front of the yellow foam, the yellow foam will stick out (trimmed later). Pinch and wrap in through the same band as they yellow foam. Use Zap a Gap to glue the orange foam’s shank end against the yellow foam. Do not glue the front end of the foam.

Step 3 C:

Step 3C - Trim the foam.
Step 3C – Trim the foam.

Trim the front foam, what we will refer to as the “mouth” equal to each other.

Step 4 – Finishing Touches

Now that the primary components of making the popper look life like are complete we can move onto the finishing touches.

Step 4 A:

Step 4A - Whip finish.
Step 4A – Whip finish.

Whip finish the fly by lifting up the foam and completing the four wraps right behind the eye of the hook.

Step 4 B:

Step 4B - Attach eyes.
Step 4B – Attach eyes.

Take two flat eyes and gently stick them to the top of the orange foam.

Step 4 C:

Step 4C - Paint the mouth.
Step 4C – Paint the mouth.

Use the Essie nail polish. Paint a mouth between the yellow and orange foam. This resembles one of Fred Arbogast’s Hula Poppers or a frog with its mouth wide open.

How to Fish A Popper

Bass aggressively attack poppers, they fear missing a tasty morsel of food. Try to limit false casting of these large flies, two to three false casts should be enough force to fire them out there. Use the double- hauling technique to give the cast more power.

Look for dark spots in the water and breaks in the weeds, don’t line the fish, instead, cast in a way that allows you to pull along the edge of the coloration changes.

The popper will land with a hard splash; let it sit for a minute until the ripples are gone. Then begin retrieving with two-inch jerk strips.  Between every strip, allow the ripples to dissipate. If a Bass is coming at it, don’t stop stripping maintain the same retrieve speed. If she wants it, she will get it!

If you are unable to entice any strikes or interest attempt a different retrieve. For example, sometimes the Bass will attack a continuous slow retrieve. The key is to experiment and figure out where the Bass are hiding.

Completed Foam Bass Popper
Completed Foam Bass Popper

Proof that it works!