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Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda

Coldwater Stripers, Dredging with the Fly
When water temperatures hit the magic 55° mark
by Captain Jim Freda
Shore Catch Guide Service

altwater fly fishers all across the Garden State will jump to the back this month to look for that first bend in their fly rod as another striped bass season has now begun. The back is any area west of the Corlies Demarcation Line or in other words our back bays, rivers, tidal creeks, and ponds. Here is where one will find the warmest waters temperatures and as a result the best opportunity for a striped bass.

The season which began on March 1st has gotten off to a real slow start not only for fly fishers but also for bait fishermen as March came in like a lion and never left. Even the first week of April brought us days that began with temperatures in the upper twenties. This inevitably will keep our back bay waters in the mid forty degree range and bring the action almost to a standstill.

On April 2 backbay temperatures in the upper part of the Raritan Bay were 45 degrees and this was on the outgoing tide. There have been only occasional days so far to this point where water temperatures have broken the 50 degree mark.

The periodic heavy rainfalls have not helped either as run-off from these storms will raise the salinity in the backbays. Even though striped bass are anadromous, meaning they can move from saltwater to freshwater as is indicative of when they spawn, a sudden increase in salinity can shut the bite down for a few days. Heavy run-off will also quickly dirty the water up making it more turbid. This means that there will be many more suspended particles in the water.

So to date there have been many more poor days than goods days of backbay striper fishing for bait anglers and almost zero days of catches for fly fishers. However this doesn’t deter the longrodder from trying, as I said above, we are all looking for that first bend in the rod to start our new season.

Getting striped bass to strike out at the fly is usually a waiting game right now in terms of water temperatures. The magic temperature that I look for is right around the 55 degree mark. Below this temperature striped bass are more prone to having their noses down rooting through the mud looking for tiny invertebrates such as worms, small crabs, or clam bits. But as temperatures rise the stripers are more willing to chase small and big baits so their diet becomes more diversified.

So when we start our backbay fly fishing season it is going to be a coldwater game and one will have to employ special tactics to have the most success to have a striped bass take the fly. Trying to get a striped bass to hit the fly in coldwater conditions requires a lot of patience and a slow methodical presentation right on the bottom. I like to call it dredging the bottom.

To do this will require a sinking line 250 grain weight or greater, a short 4-5 foot leader, and a weighted fly. The correct sinking line to use will depend whether you are fishing from the shoreline or boat, on the depth of water that you are fishing, how much line you have out, and if there is any current that is present, ie)the less current present the quicker your line will sink to the bottom.

With the right sinking line in the waters that you are fishing your fly should be just above the bottom bumping it just a few times on each retrieve. To do this cast your fly out and allow enough wait time for it to sink to the bottom and then employ a strip-pause type of retrieve. This will allow your fly to slightly lift up off of the bottom and then drop again. This motion will get the attention of a bass that is at the same level of your fly.

Keep in mind however to always check your fly before your next cast for any small pieces of detritus that might have been picked up by the hook point. This will definitely happen when retrieving right along the bottom. A fly that is fouled with algae or detritus will not get hit.

As mentioned above your sinking line selection will depend on if you are fishing from a boat or wading from shore. From the boat sinking lines from 300-450 grains will most often be used in the bay. While wading 200-250 grain lines will normally be a fast enough sink rate to get you down near the bottom. This is so because the water you will be casting in to will only be from three to six feet in depth. In either case however it will be best to carry several different sinking lines with you so you can then select the right line for different conditions.

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Captain Jim Freda

Fishing clousers, jiggies, or half and halfs are good flies to choose to start your season as they can mimic either small swimming baits or invertebrates. The weighted head of these flies will also help to keep your fly down in the strike zone near the bottom. I also like to use bright colors with these flies such as yellow, chartreuse, white, or a mix of these colors. These colors will stand out best and reflect the most light under turbid backbay water conditions.

So get out there and try but look for sunny warm days and fish on the outgoing tide especially if it occurs at the end of the day. That first bend in the rod is always exciting! End

Copyright © 1998 - 2014 Jim Freda, All Rights Reserved

Articles by Captain Jim Freda

Capt. Jim FREDAEmail Captain Jim Freda

Jim Freda is a highly respected charter captain, author, outdoor writer, seminar speaker, and photographer. His first book Fishing the New Jersey Coast, has been a best seller and received the “New Jersey Center for the Book Award” as one of the most notable NJ books. He co-authored a second book Saltwater Fishing a Tactical Approach, A Guide for Northeast Beach and Boat Fishermen, with his Shore Catch associates Capt Gene Quigley and Shell E. Caris.

Jim has weekly fishing columns that appear in the Bergen Record, NJ's second largest newspaper and the Coast Star and Ocean Star newspapers of Monmouth and Ocean Counties. Nationally, Jim is a contributing editor for Fly Fishing in Saltwaters magazine and also writes for Fly Fisherman magazine, Saltwater Sportsman, Eastern Fly Fishing, Big Game Journal, and Regionally he writes for On the Water magazine where he has is own monthly column, The Fisherman magazine and the NJ Federation of Sportsman Clubs newspaper.

As a seminar speaker Jim is featured as one of the celebrities on the Saltwater Sportsman National Seminar Series, as one of the “Stars of the Show” at the Fly Fishing Show in Somerset, NJ, the Northeast’s largest fly fishing show and is on the National Pro Seminar slate at the Toyota Saltwater Expo also in Somerset. He is also regularly featured each year at many of the local fishing clubs in the surrounding area including the State’s two largest clubs the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association and the Saltwater Anglers of Bergen County. Capt Jim has also been a guest speaker at all the Trout Unlimited Clubs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jim has also been a special guest speaker at the Bloomberg Network in New York City.

He is a member of the National Factory Pro Team for St. Croix Rods and pro staff for Fins Fishing Line, AVET Reels, Spro, Gamakatsu, Hogy, Korkers, Costa Del Mar, Columbia Sportswear and Aquaskinz.

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Saltwater Fishing A Tactical Approach Fishing the NJ Coast