Here’s everything you need to know about west coast striped bass, in one compact article. Most anglers have heard about East Coast hotspot locations like Cape Cod and Montauk. Not everyone knows that every summer, the waters of the west also witness a solid run of migrating stripers. You may be interested to know that way back in 1879, striped bass specimens were transplanted from New Jersey to San Francisco – just 132 of them to be exact. From that little release, their migratory runs are now large enough to entice fly anglers out to Pacific-facing waters up and down the West Coast.
You’ll find that techniques and gear are very similar to those used in the east – good news for striper anglers that have moved west. Even if more spread out than some of the super concentrated spots on the East Coast, follow our tips to increase your chances of hooking into the highly coveted West Coast striper.
Stripers now stretch along the CA coast, from Baja all the way up in to the Northwest including Oregon and Washington, even Barclay sound in British Columbia. Year round stripers are to be had, mostly in fresh water, but fall is the traditional season to catch them during their migration. There’s no absolute information about the migratory pattern on the west coast. Moreover, there’s an unsettled debate as to how much they migrate according to environmental influences like food availability versus spawning cycles.
The stripers have most successfully adapted to the San Franchisco bay area, notably the San Juaquin Delta. In any season, you’ll find an abundance of sublegal stripers under 18 inches. What we do know is this: after spawning in the San Joaquin Delta and upper Sacramento River in the spring, adult stripers generally move downstream. During the summer and fall, they migrate to and hold in brackish and salt waters. Stripers feed voraciously in the bays, specifically San Francisco Bay.
A good number enter the ocean, but the actual figures vary every year. Anglers find that larger stripers tend to move up and down the coast more so than their smaller counterparts. Occasionally, stripers are caught as far north as Bodega Bay and as far south as Monterey. At the end of the fall season, spawning fish move upstream into the fresh waters of the lower Sacramento and San Joaquin Delta. All said, it is always a good idea to check in with local fishing shops who are clued in to the timing and location of the runs which can vary year after year.
Small-skiff anglers prefer The Brothers and The Sisters islands in the northern part of the bay. During the summer and fall, you will find larger fish in the middle portion of the bay. Some of the more consistent producers include the Red Rock and Southampton Shoals. Other striper hot spots include the Rock Pile, Mel’s Reef, Harding Rock, the Raccoon Strait, and Blossom Rock. The hard reefs at the south tower west of the Golden Gate Bridge are also among the favorite striped bass hangouts.
After the San Francisco bay mini-release, additional stocking and the fish’s migratory urge brought stripers to the Oregon Coos River system by the late 1800s. Today, most striped bass in Oregon are found in the Coquille and Umpqua/Smith rivers. In these waters, striped bass spend most of their time in fresh water, with occasional and unpredictable trips to the sea. In the spring and fall stripers are likely to be closer to the surface, so during this time use flies emulating injured minnows. During summer, the stripers go deeper to escape the heat, so this is the time to use flashy bait. In Washington, stripers can be found however
are relatively scarce. They can be found along coastal marine waters, in Puget Sound and in some of the larger river systems.
Best Flies for Stripers
When it comes to catching stripers, choose flies that imitate what they typically eat. You should always carry a weighted fly that emulates baits like silverside and sand eels. A sparsely tied and skinny fly like a flatwing can also fit the bill, especially for profile and presentation. If you want to catch larger stripers, choose a wide body fly that imitates baits like herring, pogies, and butterfish. When bass are feeding and blitzing bait pods, pick a topwater fly like a popper or a Gurgler.
Fly Fishing Lines and Leaders for Stripers
Be ready with multiple rods or at least spools with different lines for different conditions – sinking, intermediate, and floating. When fishing deep and around a structure, you’re better served by a sinking line. On the other hand, when fishing subsurface to the mid-water column, opt for an intermediate line. when fish are feeding near the surface, a floating line works best.
If you had to choose a single line on one rod, an intermediate line is the general option for most scenarios. You can extend the leader a bit and use a fast retrieve with a topwater fly on an intermediate line. Retrieve slower to go deeper. Better yet, optimize your rod & reel combo by carrying a spare spool with a sinking line.
When fishing for stripers, your basic leader should have a 2 foot butt section with a 30 lb fluorocarbon or monofilament. It should also have a 20 lb, 3 foot mid-section and a 15 lb, 2 foot tippet section. That said, you can also simplify things by using a straight piece of 20lb fluorocarbon or monofilament for the entire leader.
Tips for Striper Success
Remember to practice your double-haul beforehand for casting distance and accuracy. Make sure that when you get your line out there, you drop your fly with relative accuracy. It is always best to perfect your distance casting in an open, dry area than to waste your time figuring things out in the actual blitz – when they feed voraciously and you won’t want to miss a second of the action!
You should also learn to tie excellent knots that provide a range of motion for your fly. Lefty’s loop or non-slip loop knots are perfect for this. They allow your fly to move realistically, resembling swimming baitfish. Again, practice these offline so they are routine.
There’s a reason why stripers are also referred to as rockfish. Seek out structure when fishing for striped bass, such as docks, jetties and piles, bridges, and grass beds. After all, baitfish typically find shelter around these areas. Consequently, they draw feeding stripers.
If you’re fishing from a jetty or otherwise climbing on rocks, wear wading boots with felt soles or studs. Keep in mind that wet rocks can be extremely slippery. No kidding it happens every season – you wouldn’t want to be the person that slips and gets injured just as you hook into a massive striper.
Before you head out, be sure check the tide chart. Keep in mind that tides move faster than you think. So, when you walk out to a sandbar during low tide, don’t wait until the waves start rushing in. Make it back safely to shore promptly.
We’ve shared some tips on choosing the best flies for stripers. However, it is still ideal to ask for advice from local shops. Ask them about the types of baits that move through the local waters. When it comes to selecting the fly, you should always try to match what’s in the water.
If you do not have time to head out to the East Coast, you can still fly fish for stripers on the West Coast. All you need is ample practice and research!