Striper Report: All good things to those who wait, or: The Sure Thing

On page 77 of my copy of A Perfect Fish, scribbled in the margin just to the right of the recipe for the R.L.S. Sure Thing, is a single word. Fall. Then, below that, in smaller letters, 8-9″, night time when there’s a little moonlight KA 3/12/10. These are the notes I took from a phone conversation I was having Ken Abrames on that date. If you went through my copy of the book, you’d find notations like this one sprinkled throughout. Such are the benefits of befriending the author.

The funny thing about the Sure Thing is that up until last week, the only thing that was certain about that pattern was that I would blank when I fished it. To be fair, I didn’t fish it a lot. But over the years it got enough time in my rotation to cause a chuckle whenever I thought of the name. Pshaw! Sure thing, indeed.

Nonetheless, I tied one up last Thursday because I was going out in the fall with a little moonlight, just after dusk. I made it 9″ long like the man said. And I remember thinking, as I lashed feather to hook “If not tonight, when?” Besides, Toby (Lapinski, surfcaster extraordinaire) had done well his previous outing at this mark with a yellow needlefish. The Sure Thing is a three-feather flatwing with at least one yellow saddle and plenty of yellow bucktail. It would be a very reasonable facsimile of Toby’s plug.

My newly minted R.L.S. Sure Thing, as yet unshaped, but ready to hunt. I’ll try to remember to feature this pattern and recipe in a future post.

We settled in and began to cast, me with my two-hander and floating line and Sure Thing, Toby with his surf rod and bag of plugs. Right away Toby was into stripers. Nothing too big by his standards, but enough to whet our big bass appetites. Even though it was early in the incoming, the current was already beginning to pick up speed as it rushed across the rocky bottom. This was my second time here, and I knew what I had to do: make a cast, immediately throw a large upcurrent mend, gather in the slack, and let the fly greased line swing over the bar.

Big fish don’t miss, and this one drilled the Sure Thing with precision accuracy. The beauty of the greased line swing manifests with such takes; you feel the heaviness of the fish, see the surface erupt in a chaotic whitewater geyser, and hear the distinct sound made by a large object as it thrashes on the surface. My cast had only been about 70 feet, and I quickly came tight to the striper.

I set the hook. Then again, and once more. Normally, I’d put a bass this size on the reel, but I’d already begun stripping her in. It wasn’t until she was about 25 feet out that I questioned my decision. I let her take a little line from hands, and used the rod tip to deflect the more frantic short bursts. She was close now.

Always fight a big fish from the bottom third of the rod. Note that the rod angle is below 45 degrees. I was confident in my hook set, and the fact that I had a sticky sharp 3/0 hook and a 30-pound mono leader. It’s only when I feel the fish is running out of fight that I raise the rod tip to lift its head and lip it. The raised rod tip also cushions any sudden late bursts by the fish, which are sometimes difficult to manage when you’re hand stripping a larger bass. Photo by Toby Lapinski

Twice I thought I was in a good position to lip her. Twice she refused. And then it was over. The camera was readied, rod tucked under arm, fish supported — she never left the water — and then the most satisfying part. Release. Watching her melt into the dark waters of Long Island Sound, knowing you may catch her again some day. Perhaps it’s the fist bump from the friend who was there to share it with you that is the most satisfying. Or, maybe the victory cigar.

Whatever. It doesn’t have to be a sure thing.

38″, 20-pound class, R.L.S. Sure Thing. This has been my best year since 2018 for bigger bass. Photo by Toby Lapinski

Striper Lesson & Report 9/26/22: Love that dirty water. (Or not.)

Bert took a striper lesson with me on Monday. We banged around two different tidal marks near Long Island Sound. The wind made for a few casting and mending challenges, and the water was heavily stained. Bert learned about non-stripping presentations where the angler brings the fly to the fish. The greased line swing, the dangle, strategic mends — these are all now part of Bert’s striper fly fishing vocabulary. We even had a tug in the midst of this mid-day maelstrom. We also covered fly selection, dropper rig construction and presentation, and baitfish ID. If you want to catch those hard-to-catch, unwilling-to-chase, and (most of all) bigger striped bass on a regular basis, you need to learn presentation. Great job, Bert!

Despite the low visibility, we saw several bait balls of juvenile Atlantic Menhaden. Nice loops!

Then, Monday night, I ventured to the Ocean State. It never occurred to me that the entire southern New England coastal waters might be stirred up by the blow. Yep, the estuary I fished was the same sandy mess and weed farm. Bait was everywhere — mullet, peanuts, silversides — but the only thing that was on them were a few bass in the 12″-16″ range. In a little over two hours I managed a couple hits from these smaller guys, but no hookups. I stayed out way later than I should have, and I didn’t hit the pillow until after 3am. Maybe next time.

Thank you Basil Woods Chapter of Trout Unlimited (and the Question of the Day)

A late but hearty and heartfelt thank you to the Basil Woods TU chapter from central New Hampshire for hosting me via Zoom last Thursday! I presented my original “The Little Things” to a very enthusiastic group. More and more fly fishing clubs and TU chapters are taking advantage of technologies like Zoom to hire guest speakers like me. If you’re outside reasonable driving distance, you can do the same. For more information on programs, visit my Presentation Menu page here.

Here’s a brief Q&A segment from post-show. Q: Do you arrive at the river rigged for streamers or do you start with emergers? A: It depends. Sometimes I make up my mind well in advance that I’m going to fish a specific method, consequences be damned. For example, there are days in the winter when I’ve decided that I’m going to fish streamers solely because I’m willing to risk catching one large trout — I hope — rather than a bunch of smaller ones. Or maybe I just don’t feel like nymphing. There are times in the spring and summer when I’ll plan to swing wets, and then, as the hatch moves out of the emerger stage, switch to dries. Other times I’ll get on a nymphing kick, and that’s how I’m going to fish — simply because that’s what I feel like doing. So, fish the method that pleases you most. And know that if you want to catch more fish, you’ll need to be fluid in your choice of methods as conditions and time of day/year dictate.

Happy angler syndrome occurs when you a) Fish the way you like; b) Fish the method that is most productive for the conditions; or c) ideally, both.

Striper Mini Report 9/21/22: Nothin’ Shakin’ (But The Leaves On The Trees)

The rockabilly music scholars among you will no doubt recognize the title as the Eddie Fontaine classic (or the Beatles’ excellent BBC cover, for bonus points). But for our purposes, it’s an apt description of my Wednesday night outing. Surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski reported several hours of similar non-action the night before, but that was many miles east of the mark I fished. Besides, this was an entirely different type of water (estuary). I fished 90 minutes of incoming, then outgoing tide. Not. A. Touch. No menhaden (juvenile or adult). Only a handful of silversides. I heard three pops and saw one small bass holding in the current. In desperation, I zipped over to another mark, which was also dead as Julius Caesar. So it goes.

Ever feel like this is message the bass are sending you? But, you keep at it. Toby. did, and Thursday night at another coastal mark he was into over a dozen stripers in the 20+ pound range. He was plugging, and he told me that most of the bass were at the extreme edge of his casting range. I suppose that made me feel a little better!

Currentseams Q&A: Which line to use for fall blitzes?

Here’s a question from long-time reader Bill G: There have been big blitzes on the Cape, but I’m not getting hookups. Do you recommend a floating line for fishing blitzes?

As with many questions, there are simple answers — and complex ones, too. The simple answer is: yes. With a floating line, I can mend, so I have more control over current and my presentation. I can present at the surface, near the surface, or deep (depending on leader length, type, and fly weight/structure/materials); and I can present on a dead drift, the swing; or strip. As with many questions I get about lines/leaders/flies, you must first answer the question, “What do you want the fly to do?” — and go from there.

Which brings us to the subject of blitzes. In the abstract, blitzes are good. You’ve got a concentration of bait and bass, so the mystery of where are the stripers and what are they eating has been eliminated. Sometimes, it’s too easy: all you need to do is toss a fly into the maelstrom and you’re on. But we’ve all experienced the frustration of fishing a blitz where we can’t buy a strike. Line type is important, but there are other factors to consider as well.

  1. Is there a lot of bait? If so, are you fishing droppers? Fishing two or more flies during a blitz will dramatically raise your hookup odds.
  2. Where are you making your presentation? The middle of the bait ball is often the worst place for your flies. Try presenting along the edges or a couple feet away — or try going underneath the bait. Blitzing stripers are looking for easy pickings: the stragglers or wounded or dead that are outside the safety of the bait ball.
  3. How are you presenting? If the stripers are looking for easy pickings, a stripped fly may be your worst option. That’s why dead drift presentations near the bait are often so effective.
  4. Fly selection matters. Try sparse, impressionistic patterns than move and breathe and create the illusion of life even when at rest.

I’ve had success during blitzes with both floating lines and full sink lines — but the one time I recall using a full sink, it was because it was so windy, and that was the easiest line to cast. Thanks, Bill, for the great question, and I hope this helped.

When there’s a lot of bait in the water, I like sparse, impressionistic patterns like this Little Crazy. A basic bucktail with a marabou throat, I based the color scheme on Ken Abrames much larger flatwing, the Crazy Menhaden. The Little Crazy is becoming one of my favorite juvenile Atlantic Menhaden patterns.

Striper Report 9/15/22: On the hunt for big bass with Toby Lapinski

Last night I was treated to a few hours of striper fishing with surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski. We fished a top-secret mark on Long Island Sound where there’s no public access (Toby has permission from the landowner, God bless him). Conditions were perfect, with a very light breeze out of the northwest. The air temp was decidedly cooler than the water, which was about 75 degrees.

Right away, I liked the spot. It’s a rocky reef where the incoming tide sweeps over the cobble and boulders from left to right. The tide was already moving when we arrived, and it wasn’t long before the current became quite pronounced. I started off with a team of two JV menhaden patterns, and about a half dozen casts in I had my first hit of the evening. It was a quick bump that felt like a small fish. Unfortunately, this was to become a pattern; I had dozens and dozens of these quick tugs, but was unable to get a hook set.

To make matters worse, my two-handed casting was rusty and I discovered that my two fly team had become irreparably tangled. Since I was feeling lazy, I clipped the dropper section and tied on a larger fly on the now 4-foot leader.

I had a few more bumps, but meanwhile, Toby was slaying them on plugs, especially his needlefish. I swapped out the deer-hair head contraption I was fishing for a “Sand Eel Punt” (basically an Eel Punt with sand eel-thin saddles) in Block Island Green. Finally, I connected with an 8-pound bass. That was my only fish landed of the evening. As my action slowed, Toby continued to pound up bass, albeit not in the size range we were hoping for. As the moon rose, the bite began to taper off.

The winning fly from last night, the “Sand Eel Punt.” I’m going to try this with some more substantial saddles.

Some observations: I can’t remember the last time I had so many hits that didn’t convert to hooksets. It was almost as if the stripers were afraid to commit to the fly; certainly some of those nips were from smaller bass. I can’t blame it stripping the fly right out of their mouths; any movement I was creating was no faster than about 1 foot-per-two-seconds, and I was doing plenty of greased line swinging. With the two-hander, I was able to cover far more water; however, when the bite was on, I had many hits when I only made casts of 50 feet or so. Lastly, why did Toby catch so many more fish than me? Was he covering more water? Was it the action or shape of his plugs? The depth he was fishing? Did my shorter leader have an influence? Why were Toby’s hits more demonstrative than mine? All stuff I’m trying to figure out today.

I’ll be appearing at The International Fly Tying Symposium, Nov 12-13, Somerset, NJ

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be a featured speaker and instructor at this year’s International Fly Tying Symposium in Somerset, New Jersey! The dates are Saturday, November 12, and Sunday, November 13. My tentative schedule is: Seminar, Tying and Fishing Wet Flies, Saturday 10:30am; Tying Class, Tying Soft Hackles, Winged, and Wingless Wets, Saturday 1pm-3:30pm; Seminar, Beyond Cast and Strip: Presentation Flies for Striped Bass, Sunday 11am. The rest of the time I’ll be tying on the show floor. I believe the seminars are included in your admission price, and that you have to sign up for the tying class. I also want to emphasize that this is a preliminary schedule, and that the Symposium website should have more information up by October 1. Naturally, I’ll update you as things develop. Mark it down, and be there or be square!

It’s not just, “Which fly?” Presentation matters, and you’ll hear all about both from me at the International’s Fly Tying Symposium in November.

Alas, no fishing…but plenty of plans and schemes

Folks, I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to post any fishing reports. That’s due entirely to the fact that I haven’t been fishing, which we all know is just plain wrong…or as my son Gordo would say, “that’s messed up.” It’s not going to get fixed this weekend, either. But…

…I will have some news to share with you next week about an event I’m participating in this fall. I’m really excited about it, and I think you’ll be, too. Sorry for the cliffhanger, but duty calls elsewhere. In the meantime, tight lines, sparse flies, floating lines, and let’s keep those fish wet.

Is it too early to be thinking about steelhead?

Long Island Fly Rodders awarded Legion of Grilled Keilbasa with Cheeseburger Clusters

You gotta hand it to the Long Island Fly Rodders. This club knows how to have a cookout (even in the rain) and how to make a guest speaker feel right at home. So: a very big thank you! Last night, I presented — after dining, of course, a fed presenter being a happy presenter — Wet Flies 101 to very enthusiastic group of over 50 people. There were so many great follow-up questions, it’s hard to pick one out, but I’ll try to get to some of them later this week. In the meantime, thanks again, and see you next time.

First, they feed you (thanks Mr. Grillmeister!)…
…then they gift you some nifty pint glasses. Wow! Thanks again.

“Wet Flies 101” at LIFR tonight and some much needed rain!

A reminder that I’m speaking tonight, Tuesday, September 6, at the Long Island Flyrodders in Levitttown, NY. Despite what the website says, I go on at 7:30pm, with the group’s social festivities/casting lessons beginning at 6:30. Meetings are held at the Levittown VFW, 55 Hickory Lane. The group tells me that all are welcome. My subject is “Wet Flies 101” which is a gateway to wet flies, soft hackles, and how to fish them. You too, can become a skilled practitioner of this deadly art. Hope to see you there, and as always, please come say hello.

It’s about time! Despite these totals, many of the larger rivers are still below where they should be this time of year, although I expect that to change. It’s tough getting all this at once, but beggars can’t be choosers.