Striper report: It’s grass shrimp time, baby

My striper fishing cycle goes through an almost ritualistic pattern, following bass and bait to certain spots at certain times of the year. May and June are always a good time to target stripers feeding on tiny grass shrimp in the many estuaries along the Connecticut shoreline. These diminutive crustaceans swarm to mate, and the stripers know that they’re there, literally queuing up to feed on them. Throw in some clam worms and smaller baitfish like mummichaugs and you’re got a veritable saline smorgasbord.

I’ve been trying to expand my menu of usual places, so last night I ventured out to try two new locations. Both had grass shrimp and stripers. The fish weren’t very big — 16″-20″ — but they weren’t easy to catch, and I like a good presentation puzzle. Wouldn’t you know that I caught my first one when I wasn’t paying attention. My rod was tucked under my arm, flies dangling in the water below me while I was trying to figure out a murderous eddy, when WHACK! Once I had the drifts calculated, the takes began in earnest.

I didn’t shoot many photos — we all know what a school bass looks like — but this is the sweet silly who took the fly on the dangle. My apologies for the focal challenges.

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Droppers give you a strategic advantage when there is a multitude of tiny bait in the water. Last night’s rig: a micro Gurgler, Simpson’s Hairwing Shrimp, and an Orange Ruthless clam worm. For perspective, the Ruthless is 2″ long. The bass liked all three flies, the clam worm in particular.

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Farmington River Report 5/21/18: Working hard on a glorious day

Adam won the weather lottery when he picked yesterday for his wet fly lesson. It was easily one of the ten best days of the year. The river was 415cfs and 58 degrees in the permanent TMA. The trout were a bit less cooperative, but we stuck with it and ended up with several to net.

The plan was to walk a couple long stretches, actively fishing and picking pockets, swinging through runs, and dangling over likely holding areas. This was one of those days where Mother Nature tells you, “Nice try, boys, but today the trout are going to be stuck to the bottom.” High pressure sometimes does that. So after 90 minutes all we had to show for our efforts was a bump and a missed hookset.

We were standing in a run that I knew held fish. We added a shot to the middle dropper for  a short-line deep presentation, and what do you know? We hooked up on our demo cast. Adam went to work and had a customer in short order.

Bug activity was about a four on the 1-10 scale: small (size 18) caddis, midges, BWOs, and a couple larger un-IDed mayflies. We did see some smutting trout in a classic dry fly pool. Our persistence paid off in the second run we walked through, with the trout nodding their approval to Adam’s soft hackles. Well done, young man!

What we like to see and hear: a bent rod and a singing drag.

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A rambunctious rainbow moments before capture. With the warm of the air and the refreshing splash of cold water on your hands, all is right with the world.

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Revisiting the Herr Blue: a three-feather flatwing-bucktail hybrid

Many years ago I adapted Ken Abrames’ R.L.S. Herr Blue bucktail into a large nine-feather flatwing. I was pleased with the result, and that fly produced many large bass for me. But the recent acquisition of a ginger saddle brought out the tinkerer in me. And since I never did a three feather flatwing-bucktail version of the Herr Blue, I went to work.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, a flatwing/bucktail hybrid combines the seductive motion and swimming action of a flatwing (using three contrasting saddles) and the color-blending deliciousness and adding-the-illusion-of-mass properties of bucktail. I originally started tying these not only as a way to conserve precious flatwing saddles, but also to use bucktail in place of saddle colors I did not have. The template is Razzle Dazzle, with all strands of flash extending at least 3/4″ beyond the longest feather. (See the Rock Island and Crazy Menhaden three-feather flatwings.)  Bonus: they’re easy to cast for their size, and they swim beautifully on the greased line swing.

Obviously this fly is intended to imitate a river herring or alewife; it could also easily pass for other larger baitfish like menhaden. I tied two, one 8″ and the other 10″. So without further ado, I present the Herr Blue three-feather flawing. DIA. (Danke In Advance.)

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Hook: Eagle Claw 253 3/0
Thread: White 6/0
Platform: White bucktail, 30 hairs
Tail: First, a white saddle; second, 2 strands silver flash; third, a pink saddle; fourth, a ginger saddle; fifth, 2 strands light green flash; sixth, 15 hairs light blue and 15 hairs pink bucktail, mixed; seventh, 10 hairs light blue and 10 hairs violet bucktail, mixed; eighth, 2 strands purple flash; ninth, 10 hairs orange and 10 hairs emerald green bucktail, mixed.
Body: Silver braid
Collar: White and ginger bucktail, mixed about 5:1 respectively
Wing: 15 hairs smoky gray bucktail and 30 hairs dark blue bucktail, mixed
Topping: 7-8 stands peacock herl
Eyes: Jungle cock

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A closer look at the blend of nine different colors of bucktail.

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Salmon River Steelhead Report: Turn and burn

The plot is simple enough: drive five hours. Sleep for four-and-a-half. Up at 4:30am, on the river by 5am, fishing at 5:30am. Hard stop of noon. Drive home six hours (traffic and construction accounting for the added time). Collapse on couch.

Madness, you say? Perhaps. But this is, as Guinevere sang in Camelot, the month “when everyone throws self-restraint away.” There is something quite liberating about shedding your fleece and breathable jacket — not to mention responsibility — then standing in a river in the sunshine in your shirt sleeves catching steelhead.

I had this pool to myself for a couple hours. It produced a nice drop-back, already shedding its winter color for brushed aluminum flanks, and two skippers. The skippers were fun, taken during a caddis hatch on a mended wet fly swing with a Partridge & Orange soft hackle. The fish were slashing at emergers in the slack water along the far bank. There was a big steelhead doing likewise in the tailout, but I couldn’t get him to take. Now that would have been something to write about.

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A rusting skeleton that served a more dignified purpose in a previous life. I still can’t believe I was catching steelhead in the middle of May. What a contrast to the skunk and freezing rain of the April trip. 

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Three-Feather Flatwing/Bucktail Hybrid Preview

For the uninitiated, a flatwing/bucktail hybrid combines the seductive motion and swimming action of the flatwing (three contrasting feathers here) with the color-blending deliciousness and adding-the-illusion-of-mass properties of bucktail. (See the Rock Island and Crazy Menhaden three feather flatwings.) So, just a taste for now.  Details to come soon.

I don’t know how important color is to a striper at any given moment, but I really like the blends on this fly.

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“Soft Hackles for Striped Bass” from the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of American Angler

With striper season in full swing — if you’ll pardon the expression — this seemed like the perfect time to share “Soft Hackles for Striped Bass.” Many of you know me as a devotee of soft hackles and wets for trout, but interestingly enough, I was using soft hackles and wet fly tactics for stripers years before I tried them on trout. This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of American Angler. It features six patterns, three from Ken Abrames and three of my own doing. All of them are proven bass catchers. So get out your vise and your floating line and deliver these impressionistic wonders to a waiting, hungry mouth.

Soft Hackles for Striped Bass

The world-famous Jimi Hendrix-trippy-acid-flash-light-show striped bass photo. Nearly 40″ long, Miss Piggy (look at that full tummy!) fell for the seductive nuances of the Big Eelie, a soft-hackled sand eel.

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Farmington River Report 5/5/18: A wonderful day for wets

Every once in a while, the planets align and the fishing and weather and dam release gods smile upon you. Such was the case for yesterday’s “Fishing Wet Flies and Soft Hackles” class. We had beautiful weather, a perfect 375cfs in the permanent TMA, respectable hatch activity, and cooperative trout. What more could you ask for? How about having the two runs we fished all to ourselves (on a sunny Saturday in early May)? What?!? The answer was yes.

Great job by Andrew, Adam, Ihor, John, and Lou, who are all now officially certified wet fly and soft hackle threats. Guys, it was a pleasure being your instructor.

Every class participant got into trout, and Andrew really lit it up. Here he is doing battle with a spirited rainbow. We had a lot of interest from the fish today on bead head soft hackles fished in the point position.

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Ihor’s first of the day, taken on the swing in some classic wet fly water. We had a tough time later on trying to get a couple of his (the trout’s, not Ihor’s) cousins to eat, despite some tactical positioning and flawless dead drift presentations. I’ve seen it play out so many times on this river: if your wet fly choice and presentation are good, and the fish doesn’t take within the first three drifts, he’s not having it. Let the fish rest and try again later.

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The smallest trout of the day might have been the loveliest. This wild gem courtesy of John and Mother Nature.

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We experienced a moderate Hendrickson hatch in the afternoon, and the trout were clearly on the emergers. Not surprisingly, the action was best while it was feeding time. A wet fly that matches the hatch and is properly presented to an actively feeding fish remains one of my favorite ways to catch trout. Here’s Adam brandishing a pugilistic rainbow. (Note the water runoff. If the fish isn’t dripping wet, it’s time to get it back in the water.)

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Finally, I need to offer a sincere apology to Lou for not getting any shots of his fish. Lou did a great job, and I especially liked how he positioned himself to target a pod of trout during the afternoon rise. We’ll get you a photo op next time!