Its that wonderful time of year again when our stripers begin their annual migration north along the East coast. From Virginia to Maine, every saltwater angler has been waiting for these days since late Fall. Often, the first fish to show up in your waters are the “Schoolie” Striped Bass. “Schoolie” is a nickname given to the smaller size class of stripers, these smaller fish (typically up to 20 inches) love to run in large schools, which is where they get their name. They are a blast to pursue on the fly rod because they are never picky, and when you find one fish, you know there are dozens right where that fish was sitting. So to kick off the striper season right, we wanted to share the essential gear that we bring out every time we chase schoolies!
Since schoolies aren’t the biggest, chasing them on lighter rods can be a blast. These little guys are feisty and rarely give up without a spastic fight which is why we love sizing down our rods and making the chase a little interesting. This time of year we reach for our Streamer Express rods and matching Pelican reels. With enough backbone and accuracy to put your fly where you want, and just light enough to make a fight with a 20″ schoolie epic!
In our opinion, an intermediate line is the most effective line for tossing flies to Schoolies. Designed to sink slowly and suspend flies in the middle of the water column, these lines will keep your line from fouling up in the surf or any waves you may encounter on the water, keeping you tight to your flies as you strip them in.
When using Intermediate or any sinking line while wading, a stripping basket is key! Designed to catch your line as you strip it in and prevent your line from getting tangled in current or around rocks while you’re retrieving your fly, this is one piece of gear you do not want to forget while wading for Striped Bass!
Fly selection does matter when chasing these aggressive packs of fish, depending on what bait is around your area, try to match the color tones of those fish and get to work! We often find that some simple, sparse flies in whites, olives, tans, and greys with lots of movement get the best results until you dial in on what the fish are feeding on. Since these fish run in packs, its not uncommon to catch tons of fish out of the same spot during a fishing session and that is why having durable flies is a must unless you want to keep switching flies.
A Zero-Twist Leader and Lots of Fluorocarbon
Luckily, you don’t need to get crazy fancy with your leader setup if Schoolies are what you are after. We prefer to use our Zero-Twist Leader system because it allows us to easily swap out tippets and, lengthen or shorten our leader as we need to. Typically you only need an 8-9 ft leader. We prefer to use fluorocarbon tippet in 10 or 15 lb test strength because its harder for the fish to see in the water column and sinks through the water, instead of floating like mono.
Dan Zazworsky’s passion is sharing his love of fly fishing with anyone that will listen, read or watch. You can find him exploring new waters every day while chasing any fish that will eat a fly!