The 2 Best Retrieves for Big Striped Bass

I'm not going to claim to be the worlds authority here, but as always I have an opinion!
I won't claim I've caught lots of big bass on flyrod, but after a few decades I've caught a few, and two retrieves have produced ALL of them for me.

So what's a big striped bass? Just for this discussion, let's consider big to be 20 pounds and up. That might be a 40" thin fish, or a 32" football, both of which I'm super happy to catch.

We're getting into mature fish here, ones more likely to be loners, ones more likely to be harder to catch, especially as their size increases.

The Best Retrieve for Big Striped Bass . . .

Is NO retrieve at all. Yes, just cast out your fly so the current works it, and keep your light tight and your rod tip pointed at the fly so it swings with the current.

Your fly might be moving incredibly fast at a river mouth with the tide ripping, or barely moving in an almost slack current, but fish, including big fish, love this.

Ever see bait just hanging in the water, maybe grass shrimp, or sand eels, or tinker mackerel? Just floating almost motionless in the current? Well, striped bass have seen them too and love to eat them.

There are a number of situations where this (non) retrieve works. Here are some of my favorites.

River and Stream Mouths

I especially like the outgoing tide for striped bass in river and stream mouths as do many anglers. Cast your flyline across the current, angling about 45 degrees from downstream so your fly drifts naturally across the current as it drifts. Point your flyrod at the fly as it drifts and when your fly stops moving, retrieve and repeat.

This is a killer technique!

I usually use a fast sinking line to get my fly deep, although as always experiment. Try different things especially if you are not catching anything.

In some locations, like smaller streams/marshes or when the current is dying down, switching to a floating or intermediate line is necessary.

Is your flies bouncing on the bottom, occasionally getting hung up, and are you loosing a few flies? That's OK -- that's often right in the strike zone.

The Clouser is my #1 fly in this situation.

Off of Rocks

I love fishing off of rocks, especially when there is some surf, and striped bass love feeding off rocks, especially when there is some surf.

Simply look for current lines around the rocks. There may be big current lines where a large pool keeps filling and emptying with the surf, or maybe just a little current as the water laps on and off the rocks.

Cast into the current and let your fly drift as it tugs on your rod slightly. You might get a 20 foot drift, you might get a 4 inch drift. Both will produce fish.

Fish the White Water: With any surf at all there will be white water, known as "wash", around the rocks. This is prime striper water. The fish might be feeding right on the rocks.

Watch for Bigger Waves: I've had hundreds of times fishing off of rocks when I ONLY caught fish when the occasional bigger wave came in, and created more white water. A striped bass patrolling the wash has a split second to decide to eat your fly or not, and is more likely to make a mistake and get hooked. Remember big bass are smart -- if you hook a big bass on a fly it's because it made a mistake!

Keep safety in mind of course, particularly with waves off of rocks, which may be very slippery and treacherous.

The 2nd Best Retrieve for Big Striped Bass . . .

So if no retrieve is the best fly retrieve for big bass, what is the second best?

Well, everyone always says "vary your retrieve," and vary your retrieve to the extreme.

The 2nd best retrieve for big striped bass is fast -- as fast as possible. Put the flyrod under your arm and strip with both hands literally as fast as you can! I'll sometimes use one hand only as it's easier, but sometimes a two handed super fast retrieve works when a one handed one doesn't.

I love this retrieve off rocks, especially during the daytime. Sometimes it works when nothing else does. I also love it when fishing from a boat.

I've taken some big striped bass on flyrod using these two retrieves. How big?? No monsters yet, and I can't tell you how much the biggest have weighed as I released them, but I've taken a number of 20 and 30 pound class fish, and a couple that may have been in the low 40s.

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