Like to fly fish from shore for striped bass? Along the northeast coast? Well then sand eels are your friend. How come? For one thing, these slim, oily forage fish call stripers like a moth to a flame. And that includes big bass too. Real big. Sand eels are also easy to match with a dressed hook, another plus. And to top matters off, sand eels pull bass extremely close to the beach – well inside casting range- and do it in a fixed circadian rhythm, allowing anglers to predict when and where the action is likely to unfold. Sweet stuff.
Look for them along sandy strands, especially where terns build they nests. In protected areas of modest current, such as you find up inside lagoons, and salt ponds, you’re apt to find juveniles sand eels. Expect them to arrive by mid May. These “paper match” size pups were born during the prior winter. A cold December -January period produces the right conditions for spawning success. And yes, these little sand eels are one that flats anglers encounter. The young tikes are often only 1.5- 2″, requiring small flies on hooks down to size 4#.
On the open coast, or in places of stronger current such as salt pond inlets, you’ll run into the adults. These dudes are considerably bigger, typically running upwards of 4″. On occasion, you may run into some much longer. These are the offshore variety of the clan, and do visit some open ocean locations. Block Island, ocean side of the Cape Cod, some to mind. Now 6″ flies are on the menu.
After watching bass chow down these things for years, hell, I decided to try one myself. Grabbed a sand eel, popped it into my mouth , and gave it a few chews. ummm. It had a fresh salty flavor, much like a quahog. Yummy, actually. Boy, those striped bass know what they’re doing!