It was an August evening and I was wading the flats in Brewster, MA with my cousin. Here you can walk out for almost a mile and fish drop-offs, channels and the "edge" of one of the world's largest tidal flats for striped bass, fluke and bluefish. The trick in Brewster is timing your walk so that you can get as much fishing time in during the lowest part of the tide. You just need to allow yourself enough time to walk back to the beach before the Atlantic returns in force to flood the flat.
It was, of course, right as that flood tide was pouring back in that a striped bass picked up one of my circle-hooked sand eels and headed for New Hampshire. I watched as braided line poured off my spinning reel, the drag singing. The fish never even slowed down. It took every inch of my line no matter how hard I tightened down the drag and when I heard the faint "ping," I couldn't tell if it was the last inch of line snapping from the spool of my reel or my heart being popped like a balloon inside my chest.
It was the line, and that's why I'm still here to tell you that the tackle you bring when you chase striped bass, whether it's on the flats of Cape Cod, from the beaches of New Jersey, off the coast of rocky Maine or in Delaware Bay, will make the difference between a beautiful grip-n'-grin shot to frame on your wall or a sad beer-soaked story to tell like my tale above. Point being: bring the right gear and you'll be more successful. Here are my recommendations for each striper situation.
1. Shallow Water Flats on Foot
While the situation above took place on Cape Cod, there are several places where you can find yourself pursuing stripers in skinny water on foot. One of the most enjoyable parts about catching stripers this way is that it allows you to scale down your gear and use light tackle to go after these fish. The mistake I made, and that I'd urge you not to repeat, is scaling too far down. I was using a 6'6", medium spinning rod in that instance, which wasn't up to the task. For flats fishing on foot, I'd recommend a 7, or 7.5-foot, medium-heavy spinning rod paired with a spinning reel capable of holding at least 200 yards of monofilament or braided line.
Rod: G. Loomis makes a Greenwater rod series designed especially for these situations. I prefer the 7.5-foot, medium model.
Reel: It's hard to beat a Shimano Stradic and the 5000 series works perfectly in this situation. I've soaked these things in more salt than you'll find in a french-fry factory and as long as you rinse them after each use, they stay smooth.
2. Skinny Water with a Boat
Boats look great parked in your driveway. And they can be an interesting conversation point at the bar or a great means of meeting new friends. But the best thing about boats is that they move.
When you're pursuing stripers from a boat in shallow water, you can afford to get away with slightly lighter gear because you can chase the fish if necessary — something I wished I could have done in my story above. When fishing for striped bass from a boat in shallow water, spinning gear is still ideal for casting distance, but you can scale down your choice for lighter presentations and a more thrilling fight.
Rod: G. Loomis GL3 6'6" SJR.
Reel: Shimano Stradic 4000
3. Live Bait from Boat
Spinning gear does not, however, often have the strength and backbone to best manage larger live baits, like bunker or eels. For fishing live bait for stripers, conventional gear is almost always the way to go. Keeping tabs on your bait by "thumbing the spool" to detect if it's nervous, being eaten or dead can help you improve your hook-up percentage while fishing live baits.
Rod: 7' G. Loomis LR 842
Reel: Shimano Tekota
4. Light Surf
Not all surf fishing is the same. Some surfcasting takes place amidst monster waves, while treading on almost-submerged boulders; while other surfcasting situations call for a lighter more finessed presentation. For slinging smaller lures or lighter baits when surfcasting, you'll want a smaller, more sensitive rod.
I prefer an 9-foot, medium action surf rod for quieter bays and even some jetty fishing, with a medium-large spinning reel to match. I'm talking about slinging lures like a 1-oz. bucktail or a smaller plug. This setup is also great for casting swimbaits, like a Storm Shad, on a quieter bay or inlet.
Rod: G. Loomis IMX 1085
Reel: Shimano Thunnus
5. Heavy Surf
When you're talking full-on striper surf fishing, you'll need to go loaded and ready for anything the Atlantic might throw at you. This can often mean chucking heavy plugs into strong winds and potentially battling bigger fish. I've found that a 10-foot rod is short enough to manage and cast easily while being long enough to get you the distance in casting you'll need. Make sure the rod is capable of casting 2-ounce or heavier lures.
Rod: G. Loomis's IMX surf line is a great place to start.
Reel: Shimano Stella 8000
Terminal tackle is the main part of the equation for striper success, but here are a few of the accessory items I never leave home without.
Boga Grips: This is a tool I've found to be indispensable. It's perfect for weighing and handling fish, and it will keep your hands away from slashing bluefish teeth.
Net: Find yourself a sturdy and reliable, saltwater-grade net for bringing bigger fish on board the boat safely.
Glasses: A good pair of polarized lenses can be a great aid on the water. Smith and Costa Del Mar make some of the best glare-cutting fishing lenses on the market.