How to Flats Fish for Stripers

How to Flats Fish for Stripers

A flat is a shallow area of water (2 to 5 feet) spanning a few hundred feet to a few miles. Fish cruise these areas due to the abundance of baitfish and crabs. When most people think of flats fishing they imagine tarpon, bonefish, and permit; however, the sand flats of the northeast present a unique opportunity and challenge for anglers looking to stalk and catch stripers in clear water. That said, fooling a striper on the flats is a challenging task. If you are looking to successfully dial into the northeast flats, check out the guide below to help you succeed.

Setup & Gear

A solid pair of sunglasses goes a long way, your best options are green or brown lens because they provide the most contrast. As for the setup, a fast action eight-weight like our ripper allows you to fire off tight loops while maintaining pressure on fish ranging from 20 to 36 inches. We recommend pairing this reel with a size (7-9) pelican flight, the smooth drag and stopping power can turn just about any flats roaming fish. Regarding your leader, it’s best to fish a long tapered section of line, such as a 12-foot leader composed of 40,30,20, and 12 lb line all connected by blood knots. Here comes the juicy part; our favorite flies include the strong arm merkin, olive over white clouser, and ep spawning shrimp. Truth be told, anything crabby or crustacean-like will catch fish!

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Spotting fish

Flats fishing is all about covering water. The best way to comb a flat is to take 20 steps, scan the water to the front and sides for 5 minutes, and then repeat the process. As you wade around, there are a few telltale signs to look out for. First, look for light reflecting off a striper's body. If you see a flash of light, slowly comb the area until you can see the entire fish mulling around the flat. Another sign of fish is dark shadows moving along the bottom; stripers stick out like a sore thumb when they swim over sand. You'll have plenty of shots if you can spot these small signs!


Subtle and precise casting is crucial for success. The goal is to spot a fish and land the fly 3-5 feet in front of the striper's line of vision. You lead the fish rather than attempt a closer presentation because the sound of the line and fly hitting the water can spook the fish. The next aspect of presentation involves matching the hatch. Stripers on the flats eat a variety of crustaceans such as green crabs, blue claw crabs, and grass shrimp, which are slow-moving bottom dwellers. When retrieving a crab or shrimp fly, focus on slow light strips to mimic a crab-like movement. Don’t hesitate to pause the fly or throw a few sharp strips.


Fishing the New England flats is all about the tide. Ideal times are typically from the last third of the incoming to the middle of the outgoing. At this time, fish can sneak into shallow water and hunt comfortably. Once the tide reaches the top of the slack, you’ll likely see larger yet fewer fish roaming around. Big fish prefer to feed when current forces are weakest. Feeding at slack requires the least energy expenditure for a large striped bass. Remember that each flat across the northeast may have different depths, currents, and water clarity, so try to spice it up until you figure out which tide works best for you!

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