Stripping for Stripers: Fly Reeling with Morgan Mattioli
When Morgan Mattioli and her dad started chasing stripers on the Jersey Shore, they were surfcasting. Over the last couple years though, the 22-year-old Rutgers student has only used fly gear when targeting rockfish.
She and her dad are relative newcomers to fly reeling, but Morgan appears to have jumped the learning curve: She’s done freshwater fly fishing for trout, but she says it feels “too easy.”
“It seemed like everytime I cast, I’d catch a fish.” First world problems, to be sure.
Morgan clearly likes to challenge herself, and saltwater fly angling for stripers is one way she does it.
“Fly fishing for striped bass in New Jersey is one of the most difficult ways to fish in the Northeast,” she says.
Part of what makes striper fishing on the Garden State’s coast so challenging is a lack of structure. Jetties and fishing piers used to line the Jersey Shore like rungs on a ladder. But many have been removed in efforts to restore the shoreline after the destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy.
When stripers are on the prowl, they like to use structure to hunt for bait. Removing the jetties resulted in a lot of structure loss on the Jersey Shore. Good for the shoreline; tough for the reelers chasing stripers.
When Morgan goes out now, she’s looking for pockets behind sandbars, along with the right wind and tide patterns. Ranging from Sandy Hook to Island Beach State Park, she prefers a northeasterly wind.
“I have to cast 60 to 80 feet to get to where the fish are, and if the wind is blowing right off the water, it can be tough.”
The Big One
Sometimes foul weather isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, Morgan’s favorite striper story happened just as the weather turned nasty.
“One time, I was out fishing smaller bait in the back bays when it started to rain.” Morgan had already cast her line into the water, but she looked up at the rain and decided to pack it in.
“And while I was looking up, a 28-inch striper smashed my fly — and I was just about to leave!” And that fish was only an inch off Morgan’s personal best.
Chasing Fish Anywhere, Anytime
Stripers run the New Jersey coast in late April and early May, on their way north, and again as they head south in November. Morgan and her dad head to Cape Cod for striper fishing in the summer months.
Morgan says Cape Cod is an awesome fishery with plenty of structure and inlets on a coastline that’s natural striper habitat. It’s less of a challenge than fishing Jersey, but she enjoys fighting the rockfish all day long.
Some smaller fish don’t make the migration and spend the winter in New Jersey waters.
“I can fish the holdover stripers all winter long. They’re smaller — only 12 to 18 inches — but I get the beach all to myself,” Morgan explains.
She’s “big on conservation” and practices strict catch-and-release fishing.
Morgan won’t spend the entire winter in New Jersey though. She and her dad have plans to hit the Bahamian flats and hunt bonefish — with fly gear, of course. Bonefish are notoriously elusive, but Morgan is sure she’s up for the challenge.
It’s like fishing for stripers or anything else, she says.
“You can’t give up. They’re tough to find, but stick with it — the fish are around,” she says. “Find the structure, figure out the tides, and you’ll catch the fish.”