There were some insanely large stripers brought to the beach in 2017. Every week, rumors of surfcasters joining or renewing their memberships to the 50-pound club circulated. Yet, the reports and posts that impressed me most were those of the vast numbers of schoolie stripers around last year.
From New Jersey up through Massachusetts, pint-sized stripers hit the beaches and backwaters en masse, and many fishermen enjoyed scaling down their tackle and catching schoolies. Inspired by the reports, for the first time in years I took out my 8-weight and rediscovered the simple fun of catching schoolie stripers on a fly rod.
It was a similar abundance of schoolie stripers that originally got me interested in saltwater fly-fishing in 2006. My first catches were made while balancing precariously on derelict bulkheads deep in the South Jersey backwaters, making sloppy casts through clouds of mosquitoes and watching 20-inch stripers fight over my Lefty’s Deceiver. The bass would have barely put a bend in my 11-foot surf rod, but they bent the fly rod to the cork grip.
Gear Up for Fly Rod Schoolies
During my reintroduction, I learned that though my casting had improved—a little—the simple fun of catching schoolies on the fly rod remained the same. I swung by a marsh on my way home from work and cast a Surf Candy among the dimpling schools of spearing. It didn’t take long before a small striper snatched up the fly, sending a jolt through the fly line directly to my hand.
Schoolie stripers are the perfect fly rod target, whether you’re just learning to cast or you’ve been fly-fishing for decades. Schoolies don’t require accurate or long casts (in most situations), they aren’t picky about which flies they’ll strike, and they feed at the gentlemanly hours of mid-morning and late afternoon—unlike their midnight-snacking larger brethren.
This past season, I made many more trips for schoolies with the fly rod. My 8-weight was the last striper rod I put away this winter after enjoying every last drop of the fall run, especially the rear guard of small stripers that passed in November. I’m sure I’ll be reaching for that same fly rod when the first rumors of sea lice and fresh fish begin swirling around the office. The schoolies should be abundant again next year, and they’ll have added a few inches and a pound or two—I can’t wait to welcome them back.