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The Striped Bass has long been an attention-grabbing gamefish. Maybe you've seen pictures on the internet or social media. Maybe you've hooked and lost a giant. The allure of Striper fishing hinges, partially, on the opportunity at a 50lb fish. But there are fish for everyone which makes Striper fishing attractive, too. Whether you're trophy-chasing or numbers-crazy, it's a migration that holds opportunity for novice and expert anglers alike.
That being said, there is a learning curve. Saltwater fly fishing can be exhausting, frustrating, challenging, and confusing. It can also take a real toll on equipment. Lots of fly anglers talk about 'the controllables'. Things that can be controlled should be to maximize an angler's chances of success on the water. Makes sense. But what can you do to ease the challenges of Striper season? Control the weather and angling conditions? Unlikely.
Sure, you can pick your days and work around the weather. If you're serious about fly fishing for Stripers, however, a long season can wear down equipment, even if you only fish in the bright sun. Choosing the right equipment can increase chances of success and can also make replacing important gear a non-yearly tradition.
If you're wondering about which fly rod you should choose for Stripers, we've covered that here. When choosing a reel, however, there are some important features to look for that'll provide a high-quality experience on the water. Gear choice is a controllable, so if you're serious about Striper fishing and you want durable gear that'll last and catch more fish, read on.
Here at Trident, we're hard on our gear. Striper season in Maine lasts from June through September and days are long so when we're not in the office we're on the water. We do a good amount of boat fishing during the summer season but more commonly you can find us navigating Maine's rocky coast on foot casting to Stripers that hug the shore and key in on schools of bait. Wading is a well-known, and very productive, strategy for targeting Stripers throughout the Northeast.
But wading often means sea spray, rocks, slippery conditions, and not-always-merciful weather. A reel that's durable and that will stand up to saltwater corrosion, drops, dings, and time on the water is a must. Two things contribute to a reel's durability. The finish a manufacturer uses on a reel is the biggest contributing factor. Reel construction materials matter, too.
Some of the most durable reels are finished with a Type III anodizing. Type III anodizing is strong, resilient, and highly corrosion-resistant. The Orvis Mirage USA is a highly durable fly reel that's finished with Type III anodizing and stands up well to abusive Striper anglers. If you're looking for a lightweight 8wt reel, the Lamson Force SL did well in our 2018 8wt Fly Reel Shootout in terms of durability, too. Although it doesn't utilize Type III anodizing, Lamson's Hard Alox finish is arguably just as durable when dropped or dinged.
The question of drag always comes up in the discussion of fly reel choice. I've written in the past that a huge max drag doesn't matter, and for some species that's true. Stripers are the opposite, especially when you're fishing from a rocky shoreline. The alternative name for Stripers is 'Rock Bass' (among others) and that nickname isn't a huge mystery in the fly fishing world. Stripers spend time in rocks and are mostly ambush feeders. In other words, after they eat your fly they're headed for cover.
A rod with a strong butt section helps steer fish out of rocks. A reel with drag helps, too. I've shredded more than one fly line on a Striper that decided to dive back into the rocks after being hooked. Anglers also routinely deal with currents, tidal swings, and hard fighting fish. A reel with a strong drag saves fly lines, helps land more fish, and makes a Striper angler's life much easier.
Choosing a fly reel with a strong drag system is sometimes expensive. But if you save a fly line and land more fish, it pays for itself. It's also worth getting a reel with a sealed drag. Most saltwater fly reels come with a sealed drag these days but elements and salt water can really mess up a drag system. My favorite saltwater reels with a strong, sealed drag include the Hatch Finatic (my personal reel), the Abel SDS, and the Ross Evolution R Salt.
Many hard-fighting saltwater species require a mid-arbor reel and more backing. It's not uncommon that a Bonefish will take you into your backing three or four times after the hook set. For Stripers, however, because they're ambush feeders and primarily hang along the rocky coast, you don't see line-peeling runs as often. That's not to say it doesn't happen, but a Striper reel doesn't have to have a huge backing capacity.
This means retrieval rates should be prioritized and a reel with a large arbor design should be your first choice. Picking up line quickly helps the angler steer fish out of rocks and current. It also helps catch up to fish that decides to turn and run at you.
Fishing from a boat follows the same intuition. Most anglers who fish for Stripers from a boat also fish structure and current. Although directing fish over rocks isn't as important when you're fishing from a boat, a large arbor design still helps anglers land fish quicker. It's healthier for the fish and it'll increase your chances of success on the water.
My favorite large arbor reels with a strong drag and durable construction are the Hatch Finatic, Nautilus CCF-X2, and Orvis Mirage. The Orvis Mirage may be the most capable Striper reel on the market because of its durability, ultra-large arbor, and superior drag system.
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