Peepers. But sadly, no stripers.

I usually fish for stripers twelve month a year, but somehow January and February escaped me in 2013. March nearly got away, too. But I took care of that last night.

Met old fishing buddy Dr. Griswold to catch the bottom of the tide at one of our old haunts. The conditions were certainly favorable. A strong moon tide, good water level, and a water temp of 46. But alas, no stripers for either of us. I swung. I greased lined. I nymphed. I stripped. I jigged. I fished deep, on top, and all points in between. But, you can’t catch what isn’t there.

On a positive note, Bob didn’t lose his Christmas gift. Every year I tie some flatwings for friends as a present, and every year Bob loses his fly on the bottom or in a tree within the first five minutes of fishing it. Not last night. Well done, Bobber.

What Santa brought this year: the Rock Island flatwing

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I was also able to coax ninety minutes out of an E.P. Carillo Golossos while on the water. Terrific cigar.

And when I got home, the choir was singing. Spring peepers. Their first performance signals that the over-wintering bass in my local rivers are getting ready to move.

Not tonight. But soon.

Small Stream Wild Browns For Lunch.

No, no. Not the kind you eat. The kind you use as an excuse to avoid that pitfall of adulthood: Responsibility.

Back when I had a salaried job, I was fortunate to work within short driving distance of two Class 1 WTMAs. Many were the warm spring days when I’d take an elongated lunch to wet a line. Well, just because I’m working from home now doesn’t mean I couldn’t do likewise. And so today, I did.

I hadn’t been to either of these streams in years. “Hello, old friend,” I said to the first as I stepped out of the truck. The water was a perfect height, clear, 44 degrees, and there were midges and small grey stones flitting about. After last summer’s drought I wasn’t sure what to expect. So I decided to hedge my bets by fishing a size 14 beadhead white mini-bugger. I never met the wild trout who didn’t like a flashy streamer in early spring.

Hello, Mr. Stone. You successfully navigated to this rock without falling prey to Mr. Trout’s jaws. Fly and be free!

Stonefly

It felt both familiar and comforting to cast, mend, and swing that fly across my old stomping grounds. Nothing in a few of my favorite pools, then – bump – was that a fish or the bottom? Next cast I’m on with a lovely little brown, about five inches long. A fish to hand is currency, and with that trout my trip was bought and paid for. More nothing as I waded downstream. Then, near the tailout of a languid pool – was that a rise? You betcha. Small fish, smutting, and the best solution I had in my box was a size 20 Winter/Summer caddis. First drift, up he comes, but the hook point found no purchase. And that was that. Try as I might, I couldn’t coax a reprise.

With my time budget melting like the remaining snow pack, I motored over to WTMA number two. Fished a run where I’d had some early season success before, but drew a blank. I was just getting ready to leave when I talked myself into venturing about 50 yards downstream. There, in some shallow riffles, I hooked another small brown who liberated himself as I pulled him out of the water. Then, in the run below, bang! Classic hit on the strip. A stunning brown about ten inches long, his tummy the color of aged cheddar and pectoral fins the size of kayak paddles.

So what if I would have to work tonight?

A Fuzzy Nymph: The Ginger Caddis Larva

Ever heard of a guide fly? In case you haven’t, guide flies have two qualities: They can be tied quickly, and they are high-confidence fish magnets. The Ginger Caddis Larva is such a fly.

It’s one of those flies that, if you saw it in the bins at your local shop, you might not give it a second look. But the trout certainly will. Angora goat is one of my favorite tying materials. It takes on a translucency underwater, and the fibers trap miniature air bubbles much like an emerging or diving caddis might.

The Ginger Caddis Larva is a quintessential fuzzy nymph; I fish it as nymph, bouncing it along the bottom, then as a wet, letting the fly swing up toward the surface. I’ll also fish it as a straight wet in a team of three flies. If I don’t get a strike, I let the fly sit there at swing’s end.

This pattern lends itself to dozens of variations. Try it in Insect or Highlander Green. Get some black or brown Angora and make it a little stonefly. Add a soft hackle (like partridge). Give it a bead head. Swap out peacock herl for the hare’s ear thorax. You get the idea.

Back to the guide fly thing. Two years ago I passed this fly out at one of my wet fly classes. It was a slow day on the river, but what little action we saw came on this fly (we were fishing teams of three flies, so the trout had a choice). A few weeks later, I ran into one of my students outside the local fly shop. “Steve,” he says, “I need some more of those Ginger Caddis Larvas and I can’t find them anywhere.”

He bought every single Ginger Caddis I had in my box on the spot.

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Hook: 2x strong, size 10-18
Weight: 8-12 turns undersized wire
Thread: Orange
Body: Ginger Angora goat, very spikey
Thorax: Dark hare’s ear

Tying notes: To make it spikey and rough, try chopping the hairs up with scissors and winding them on a dubbing loop. Angora goat has long, unruly fibers that become problematic on smaller flies, so the chopping remedies that. I use high tack wax with Angora, like Loon Swax. I like to underweight this fly. Underweighting doesn’t mean that you’re putting wire under the body – you are – but rather, it refers to using lead wire that is thinner than the diameter of the hook wire. The goal is to help the fly sink, not suck the life out of it.

The Magog Smelt Striper Bucktail

Long before breathable waders and UV-cured resins, fly anglers began fishing the salt for stripers. They brought with them their corpus of freshwater knowledge – and also their flies. Saltwater fly fishing (and therefore saltwater fly tying) was in its infancy. So it only makes sense that they would borrow tackle and tactics and flies from whence they came.

I have a particular interest in traditional fly fishing and tying methods, whether for trout or stripers. For several years now I’ve been tying and fishing these legacy striper patterns, and I’d like to share one of my favorites with you: the Magog Smelt Bucktail.

The Magog Smelt Striper Bucktail

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The Magog Smelt is an old landlocked salmon fly. It takes its name from Lake Memphremagog, located between Vermont and Quebec. It was the favorite striper fly of an old Rhode Island sharpie named John Abrames, who taught his son, Ken (you may have heard of him) to fish for striped bass with it. Ken in turn told me about the Magog Smelt, and now it’s one of my favorite bucktails and color schemes.

Hook: Eagle Claw 253 1/0
Thread: Black
Body: Silver braid
Throat: Red marabou
Wing: 30 hairs white bucktail, under 2 strips silver flash, under 30 longer hairs yellow bucktail, under 25 hairs longer purple bucktail, under 5-7 strands peacock herl
Cheeks: Teal flank tip

Tying notes: I tie the Magog Smelt Bucktail the Ray’s Fly format, from three to five inches long. The fly here is about 3 ½ inches. Keep each group of bucktail nice and sparse, and make each progressively longer. I treat the teal almost as a veil over the body braid. Back in the day, the old-timers painted white eyes with a black pupil on the head, but you could use jungle cock or leave it blank as I did here. I’ve never tied this fly with eyes, and the stripers love it au natural.

Farmington River Mini-Report 3/21/13

The best time to go fishing is when you can, and all that. So even though I wasn’t stoked about overnight lows well below freezing, snow showers, and a NNW wind of 15mph, I made the command decision to ignore the piles of work on my desk and head to the river. Surely two hours on the Farmington beats the tar out of eight hours behind a desk.

Given the forecast and the fact that it was a weekday, the river was fairly crowded in the Upper TMA. Water was 35 degrees, clear and running about 435cfs. I had ice on my guides for the first hour. Then the sun came out, and with it some midges and an unidentified mayfly that looked to be about a 20 or a 22.

My suspicions about the weather knocking the bite down were confirmed. None of the other anglers I spoke with today had so much as a tap. Saw only one trout caught in two hours, and I’m delighted to report that it was at the end of my line. A standard-issue holdover brown who found my bead head, fur-hackled caddis nymph to his liking. Funny thing: I had been watching all my drifts up to that point like a hawk. On the one drift where I’m daydreaming, the indicator goes under. How often has that happened to you?

In a few weeks, the air and water will be warmer. And so will the fishing.

The R.L.S. Herr Blue

In a vast Sargasso Sea of opaque, doll-eyed baitfish patterns, the R.L.S. Herr Blue shines as an understated alternative. This is my favorite fly when the bait is juvenile herring.

Sparse construction and impressionistic design are hallmarks of the R.L.S. bucktails, outlined by Ken Abrames in Chapter 2 of A Perfect Fish. There are 14 flies listed. You’re probably familiar with the most famous of them, the Ray Bondorew classic, Ray’s Fly. There are enough color combinations among the R.L.S. Bucktails to match many of the baitfish stripers favor – or match or contrast the color of the sea and sky on any given day. (Think I’m crazy on that last one? Tie up an R.L.S. Easterly on a grey, foul day when the wind is blowing 20 knots out of the east and see what happens.) Size-wise, you’re only limited by the length of the bucktail you have on hand.

Like Ray’s Fly, the Herr Blue embraces the philosophy that less is more – with only 66 total bucktail hairs, you can easily read the newspaper through its body. It’s also a fascinating exercise in color blending, with no less than nine different bucktail colors that create all kinds of secondary and tertiary hues.

Herr Blue is the kind of fly that doesn’t get a lot of attention on internet forums or in flyshop bins. That’s easy to understand. When it comes to popular perception of saltwater patterns, impressionism always takes a back set to realism. That’s a shame, because flies like this reveal to you just how low on the intelligence scale fish really are.

But now, you’re in on the secret. And you’re going to love the look on other people’s faces when you show them the fly you’ve been catching all those stripers on.

Ich bin ein Herr Blue (click on image to enlarge)

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Thread: White
Hook: Eagle Claw 253 or Mustad 3407 (this is the EC 253 size 1/0)
Body: Silver mylar braid
Wing: Bucktail, 15 hairs white, 5 ginger 1.5x hook length, mixed, under 8 violet, 4 pink, 10 light blue mixed 2x hook length, under 2 strips silver and 2 strips purple flash (I only use one of each for the smaller versions) under 10 dark blue, 4 emerald green, 6 smoky blue/grey, 4 orange mixed 3x hook length.
Topping: 5-7 strands peacock herl a half inch longer than the longest bucktail
Eyes: Jungle cock (optional)

Tying notes: This fly is 3½” long. I usually tie it from 2½” to 6”. In the smaller sizes, I use only one strand of flash per color. You don’t have to make yourself crazy trying to calculate bucktail lengths for different sizes; sometimes I just make each section about a half-inch to an inch longer than the previous one. The jungle cock eyes are a nice touch, but most of the time I fish this fly neat – no eyes. One question I get a lot is, “Do I have to actually count the bucktail hairs?” Today, my answer is yes. Two reasons. One, I’d like you to see just how few 66 bucktail hairs really is. Two, you are embarking on adventure in controlled color blending. Think of it as a custom color you order in a paint store. They take the base and add precise shots of pigment to it to create the same color over and over. Same thing here. This fly was created by a painter with an exceptional eye for color. I trust his judgment, and I want to try to see what he envisioned when he specified this blend. Having said that, the universe will not implode if you use 12 violet, 6 pink, or 15 light blue bucktail hairs. So, do it by the book, then improvise to your heart’s desire. Try to keep things sparse, though. A little bucktail goes a long way.