Stripers-by-numbers

2: Number of cigars I smoked, a Gispert Churchill on the drive down to Rhode Island, and an H. Upmann 2000 Reserve corona gorda on the way back to Connecticut.

5 and 9: The weight rod and line I used. Perfect for the tight confines of the first spot we fished. I could load the rod with a minimum of line, and shoot the rest with a flick of the wrist.

7 and 9. The weight rod and line Jon used.

1: Number of stripers we caught in the first spot (Jon was the successful angler).

4,957: Number of weeds I hooked in the first spot. At least it seemed like that many. I was fishing a greased line swing, then a dangle, and I could feel the tick the moment the weed hit the fly.

1: Number of stripers we saw in the second spot. Jon noticed a wrinkle on the surface in the moonlight. As we worked our way along the bank, I felt a quick little bap! And then he was gone. Other than seeing a few silversides and a juvenile fluke, the place was as dead as Julius Caesar.

86: My heart rate when we got to our last stop and saw a couple fish feeding out in the current.

10: As we were already well past our cutoff of 11pm, our agreed-upon time limit, in minutes, to catch a striper.

1: Number of bass we caught. (My turn.)

2: Happy anglers who made the drive home to Connecticut.

New article in American Angler: Wet Fly 101

Check out the current (Nov/Dec) issue of American Angler for my latest article, “Wet Fly 101.” Wet flies have been fooling trout for centuries, and the fish aren’t getting any smarter. This piece serves as a broad introduction to wet flies. It covers basics like fly types; building a traditional three-fly team; what kind of water to target; and presentation. For those looking to take the ancient and traditional path to subsurface success, it’s a fine place to start.

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The Black Caddis steelhead hair wing

If you’re the sort who likes things neatly categorized, you can divvy deer hair winged steelhead flies into two groups. The first would be the waking dries, shrimp flies like the Grease Liner and all manner of skating caddis. The second would be the subsurface streamers/wets like the Muddler Minnow or the Muddler Daddy. I took a decided path toward the latter with the Black Caddis.

The Black Caddis

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Hook: 1x short, 2x strong wet (this is the Orvis 1641) size 8-12
Thread: Black 6/0
Body: Lagartun chartreuse mini braid with grizzly hen hackle, palmered
Hackle: 2-3 wraps of the grizzly hen, continued from the body
Head/Wing: Black deer body hair

Tying notes: Lagartun mini braid is easy to work with and comes in a range of spiffy colors. Like a Muddler Minnow, the Black Caddis has a head of clipped deer hair; the wing is an extension of those fibers. Because the fly is intended to be fished below the surface, I’ve kept the wing and head sparse. To form the head and wing, make a few taut wraps of thread to secure the wing, then, while wrapping the thread forward, bind down tightly on the hair (give it 3-4 good wraps). The wing should behave itself, while the hair for the head will flare outward. On your next thread wrap, carefully move the flared hairs up and toward the rear of the fly with your thumb and forefinger, while moving the thread under it and forward to the eye. Whip finish. Trim the hair to your liking.

The Hot Chocolate Stone steelhead nymph

You’re up before the sun. As you hike to the river, there’s a distinct chill in the air that tells you in another month the trail will be covered in snow. Once you get to your spot and wade in, you can feel the gripping cold of the water against your legs. Should have worn the neoprenes. Maybe not, though. It’s supposed to get up to the high 50s today. It’ll be warm enough later. But for now, damn, you’re just about shivering. You’ve already had your coffee, but you want something else. Something warm. And sweet. A cup of hot chocolate would do nicely. The kind your mom used to make after you came in from outside on a snow day. Hmm. Maybe the steelhead would like some, too. A little chocolate brown stone, just like the ones you saw hatching yesterday morning. A hot orange bead to get their attention. Soft hackles that say, “I’m alive.” And a buggy body because that’s what fish like. Once you get that first steelhead on, you’ll be downright toasty.

The Hot Chocolate Stone

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Hook: 2x strong, 1x short emerger, size 8-12
Thread: Hot Orange
Tail: Brown Coq de Leon
Body: Fiery brown angora goat, dubbed roughly
Hackle: Grouse
Bead: Hot Orange

Tying notes: This is a pretty straightforward tie. If you want to add a little more weight to the fly, you can seat the bead with about 8 wraps of undersized wire. Coq de Leon and grouse are beautifully barred materials that naturally create the illusion of segmentation. Angora goat is one of my favorite body materials; it’s spikey and rough, and you can get it in all kinds of colors from muted naturals to fluorescents. Use a dubbing loop to get than uber-buggy look. Play around with different bead colors at your discretion; the fish will always tell you if they have a preference.

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The Hot Chocolate Stone Rogues’ Gallery:

Salmon River (NY) November 2012

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So, this guy walks into the woods carrying a fly rod…

We haven’t had rain in a while; the brook was low and the forest floor dry as tinder. Still, I found a spirited rivulet of groundwater that wended down the fall line before tumbling over a mossy ledge. When the water is this clear and low, the brookies tend to stay in the darker, deeper sections — or in the whitewater just below that miniature waterfall next to the moss-covered boulder.

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Vibrant red spots ringed by blue halos adorn an eastern brook trout. Brookies are the only trout (technically, they are char) native to much of the eastern United States.

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Fall is living up to its name. The deluge of soon-to-be-ex-flora has already begun in the hills. Fishing-wise, the leaves weren’t really an issue; I only hooked a few here and there. I was looking for photo ops when I glanced down at my feet. I was struck by contrast of these two leaves against the rock, but what really captured my fancy was how, in that swift current, did they manage to find a toehold — and how are they able to so stubbornly cling to their perch?

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A lot of people don’t know this, but Vincent Van Gogh was an avid fly fisherman. He used to jet from his estate in Holland to his cabin in the Appalachian foothills, where he could pursue his passion: fishing for Salvelinus fontinalis. The flank of the brook trout is said to have been Vincent’s inspiration for his masterwork Starry Night

Well, at least that’s what I heard.

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Fishing notes: Water was 56 degrees. Not surprisingly, most of the fish I pricked came from deeper holes, dark runs, and plunge pools. I found one abyss where there was a bona fide lunker (for this size stream) of about 11-12 inches. Pricked him twice, but couldn’t get a good enough hookset to close the deal. I tried for over a half hour, and in the end decided that that fish might be responsible for populating hundreds of yards of brook — and with spawning season so close, would be better left uncaught. I fished mostly downstream. Dry fly was a size 16 Improved Sofa Pillow; wets were a cornucopia of bead head soft-hackles. Cigar was an Aroma de Cuba Reserve maduro Churchill.