Sometime around mid-autumn, when the water's surface temperature drops below 65 degrees, schools of stripers can be found near the surface rounding up baitfish. This surface activity can last all winter, even until March or April. Fishermen can also cast bucktail jigs and crankbaits into these feeding frenzies and enjoy a sporting fight on light line and tackle.
There is a small but growing group of anglers that has begun pursuing these fish with fly tackle, perhaps the ultimate challenge when it comes to landlocked stripers. Once success has been achieved with this type of fishing, the fish are not the only ones ending up being hooked. It's addicting.
The methodology always starts with finding the fish. Late winter and early spring finds schools of both stripers and hybrids up in the rivers and creek channels of lakes. Flocks of white terns and gulls will give up the location of baitfish and stripers. If birds are sitting, but not actively diving and feeding, there is still a good chance the fish are nearby but not aggressively chasing bait.
If birds are diving and flying near the surface in a state of frenzy, you should approach the activity in your boat and try to determine the direction the school of fish and birds are moving. If you can let them come to you and intercept them, you will have a better chance of not spooking the fish and putting them down. If that's not possible, approach slowly and quietly with the trolling motor to no more than 40 or 50 feet.
You must be prepared to cast accurately 40 and 50 feet into, or just beyond the feeding fish. Allow the fly to sink a few feet before giving it a slow retrieve. Sometimes, a few quick jerks followed by a stop, letting the fly sink a few more feet, will provoke a strike. In addition to the diving birds, look for individual fish boiling or feeding on the surface. Blind casting to open water rarely results in any hook-ups, so be economical with your casts. The motion of the rod and the glare from the line can put fish down. Cast to target-rich locations only. Then when a big striper grabs the fly, hang on!
A 7- or 8-weight rod and a reel with a smooth, reliable drag are needed to land these big fish once they are hooked. A floating line is usually adequate, but keeping an extra rod and reel rigged with an intermediate sink-tip line is a good idea for fish suspended in slightly deeper water. Keep an eye on your boat's electronics for balls of bait and suspended fish.
The flies used should be on the small side - anywhere between one to three inches in length. Clouser Minnows and Deceivers tied in white or pearl colors work best, but it is always wise to experiment with different sizes and colors if what you are fishing isn't what they are taking.
The immediate feeding activity may only last five or 10 minutes before it abates, so take your shots while you can. Often, after a short lull in the actions, the frenzy begins again in the same general area. Again, watch the birds. They are as good as any electronic fish finder.
Catching big stripers on inland lakes and reservoirs is a relatively new pursuit, but an extremely exciting one. If you are itching to try something new this winter, try catching and landing a big striper on fly tackle. You may never pick up a spinning rod again.