The wicked witch of the east

The old saw goes, “Wind from the east, catch fish the least.” But ever since I fished my first easterly, I’ve had a hard-on for them. Especially the ones that always seem to roar through this time of year. Not only do they they keep the meatballs away, I also find the fishing is often surprisingly good.

Yesterday was overcast with an unrelenting easterly blow of 20-30mph. This was comic book casting wind. Into its teeth would have been impossible with a thick floating line. With the wind behind me, back casts were an exercise in do-your-best, and my strategy was basically to loft the line into the banshee and let her deliver the goods.

Seinfeld had the puffy shirt. I had to settle for the puffy rain jacket, billowing Gore-Tex courtesy of the bitch of April.


About ten casts in I took my first striper. Then, save for a couple follows, nothing for an hour. That’s an eternity in these conditions: strong moon tide current in an exposed estuary. Windblown water pouring in from the ocean over a sand bar, colored that odd yellow-grey/sea green you get with an easterly. Frosty whitecaps and chop, and some perilous looking rips. Seaweed and organic  flotsam everywhere. Forty-eight degree air temperature, but with the wind chill off the ocean, I could barely feel my fingertips. Windblown rain showers that felt like BBs against my jacket.

Even though it was the middle of the afternoon, I was certain there were fish around. Yet I wasn’t getting any action on my smaller (3.5″) soft-hackle. I thought that maybe it was getting lost in the maelstrom. Let’s break this down. The one hookup I had was at the surface. Perhaps something bigger and easier to see might work? The best solution I had in my box was a 7″ long, all black deer hair head fly. On it went. And on they went. I lost count of how many stripers I caught in the next half-hour. It wasn’t a fish on every cast, but it was a follow, a nip, or a hookup on every cast. Tremendously exciting to see the takes right near the surface amidst the storm surge. The spray from the hit would sail into the air, get captured by the wind, and shower the surface with a liquid blast radius.

In the end, it was as simple as this: In rough water, make it easier for the fish to find your fly.

The hatch awards

I had the pleasure of guiding Don and Dave on Monday. Like a lot of people I take out, they were interested in my Wet Flies 101 course. As with last Friday, the day claimed two-out-of-three positive ingredients: lovely weather (blazing, brilliant sunshine), significant hatch activity (caddis, midges, stones, mayflies) — but sadly, not much going on feeding-wise. The guys made the best of it with good spirits and an enthusiasm for learning. Don focused mainly on near-surface presentations like the mended swing, and Dave plumbed the depths with short-line dead drifts. Both methods were right today, as both caught trout. Well done, gentlemen. You are both well on your way to having some terrific days. Water temperature was 44 degrees in the upper TMA. That’s cold for this late in April. We had to get out and warm up every so often.

Man working: Don making some upstream mends, watching his drift like a hawk. Rats! I forgot to get a picture of Dave. My bad.



They’ll stone you when you’re trying to be so good.


After we wrapped up, I ventured downstream to see if the H-word was out. Yes, in decent numbers. But due to high, cold water, predators were few and far between. Still managed my first trout of the year on Hendrickson wet, dapping it over a feeding fish. Ker-pow!

Hello, my three-tailed friend. I missed you.


And, we’re underway

Kicked off my 2014 guiding season yesterday with Matt. Matt wanted to take my Wet Flies 101 half-day course, and we headed to the upper TMA in search of feeding fish. Two-thirds of nature cooperated; an absolutely glorious late April sunshine, and a snow flurries-like caddis hatch (with a few Quill-something mayflies and mounds of midges for good measure). Unfortunately, the third that really counts was in absentia. Not a damn riser anywhere. Nothing for the nymphers, and even the spin guy only managed one on his Rooster Tail. Off to below the upper TMA, where Matt rousted up a nice brown on a bead head soft-hackle Pheasant Tail. Speaking of Matt, it was gratifying to see how much he improved over the course of just a few hours. So often, you get out of something only what you put in, and he worked hard on his mending and wet fly presentations. By the end of the day, quality drifts were the rule rather than the exception. Well done, Matt!

Matt executing a mended swing, focused, intent, and best of all having fun.



After our session ended, we headed downstream where we found some fish willing to jump on. I also saw the first Hendricksons of the year, although two doesn’t make me do handsprings — and there was nothing rising to them. Not to be a wet blanket, but my enthusiasm is also tempered by the fact that we’re in for some cold, wet weather over the next few days. But come, they will.

An intriguingly marked rainbow that took my BHSHPT. Love the colors on the gill plate. Landed a nice wild brown as well, and LDRed a third. A fun way to end the day.



Thank you, CT/RI Coastal Fly Fishers

Last night I concluded a busy winter and spring presentation schedule with “Wet Flies 101” at the CT/RI Coastal Fly Fishers. Nice people and — bonus! — pizza are the friends of any speaker. Thanks for helping me set up, thanks for the spirited Q&A, and thanks to the gentleman (a thousands apologies, I forgot your name) who gave me the articulated streamer. Hope to see you again soon.

 A RI coastal scene from a couple summers back, taken a few hours before fly fishing commenced.



Dear Meatball*

Dear Meatball,

How are you? That was some wind last night. Cold, too, huh? The water was warmer than the air.

Technology is so cool these days, isn’t it? Cars, computers, phones…even headlamps. I remember the first one I bought for fishing. It was little more than a stubby flashlight attached to an elastic headband. Now, you get multiple LEDs with spotlights capable of throwing 45 lumens. Or more. You can see everywhere with those things.

But you already know that. You and your buddies sure got your money’s worth out of your headlamps last night. What’s on the shore? Let’s light it up! Gotta check my rig, or look at my reel? Light it up! Anything in the water in front of me? Turn on the high beams! Is that guy still fishing above us? Scotty, full power searchlights on him!

Here’s the thing: that guy was me. When I’m fishing on the dark of the moon, I want my eyes, which aren’t great in the first place, to adjust to what little ambient light is available. It’s tough enough wading around in the dark without stumbling over submerged rocks and gravel bars. Your 600 candlepower light bombs in my face aren’t making the job any easier. It’s also rude as hell.

What’s more, flashing bright lights in the water in the pitch black of night generally isn’t good for business. Scaring the fish and all that. Which is why I cannot put into words the extent of my delight when you and your Vegas light show packed up and left.

Once you were gone, a funny thing happened. I started to catch stripers. Sure, it could have been a matter of time and tide. Personally, I think it was not having your group trying to replicate the total aggregate wattage of Times Square. The bass came in nice and close, and took my Crazy Menhaden flatwing on the greased line swing with confidence.

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks for leaving.

Your pal,


Red lights at night, gentlemen. Red lights at night.


*With apologies to Billy Lagakis, from whom I so shamelessly stole this wonderful descriptor.

Under Cover of the Night

Drew from the new spot well last night. Every day is different, so they say, and last night we had consistent action for the first hour of the mid-tide drop. Then came a lull. In hopes of attracting something bigger, I fished an 8″ flatwing/soft-hackle, a September Night variant. While it did keep the dinks away, all I could manage were cookie-cutters in the 18-24″ range. The fish-on-the-reel eludes me. The takes were similar to yesterday’s, a sensation of building pressure on the greased line swing or the dangle. A thrusting hook set, and you’re on.

Bob wanted to stick the tide out a little more, but I had wanderlust. We both made the wrong call. Bob had a couple more nondescript fish, and I drew a blank. Stayed out much later than I wanted to, especially with no action, and finally dragged into bed at 3:30am.

But, she’s coming. I can feel it.

After a slow start, the bassing has picked up. So far, I’d give this spring one striper thumbs up.


Night Tides

And so we mark the official beginning of the year’s Zero-Dark-Thirty adventures. We kicked off 2014 with something a little different; instead of our usual haunts, we rolled the dice at a new location and were rewarded with fairly consistent action. Most of the fish were in the 20″ class, but there were a few that stretched the tape to 24″. And one big momma.

Dr. Griswold with the best fish of the night, first cast into a new hole. I have yet to put a fish on the reel this year. Soon, Steven. Soon.


Day-Night Doubleheader

Game One: Team Cohiba Rides Again

Back when we used to get up early and go on Opening Day proper — we’re talking decades worth or fishing here —  there was a guy who would always fish the same pool on the Salmon River as my father and I. Because of our omnipresent cigars, he dubbed us “Team Cohiba.” A few years back, dad and I had an epiphany. Why get up at 4am and battle crowds and cold if we’re going to release the fish anyway? Thus was born the new Culton tradition of fishing the Friday before Opening Day. We start at the rather civilized hour of 10am. Cigars will be lit. Trout are plentiful.  Yahoos are few and far between.

I’ve been fishing with dad now on the the third Saturday in April — or the Friday before —  every year since 1971. Okay. There was that one time in the 80s when he had to go to a wedding and I flew solo, but other than that it’s been a tradition as reliable as the firmness of the earth. And so we went forth on the 18th of April to match wits (or lack thereof) with dumb hatchery trout.

Me and he who taught me. His name is Paul Culton, and I watched him like a hawk when I was a kid because some day I wanted to be as good an angler as he was. Thanks for taking me fishing, dad.


The Salmon was down to 490cfs, a good height after all of last week’s rain, running cold at 44 degrees. Some years we get a good caddis hatch. On this day it was a few measly midges. The Woolly Bugger hatch was outstanding, though, and browns, rainbows, and even a tiger trout found my olive and white offerings to their liking.


Game Two: You can’t catch stripers on the surface in 44 degree water (except when you can).

Traditionalist. Creature of habit. Call me what you will, but I’ve been going striper fishing on Good Friday for years. What better way to honor Simon Peter, who, as you may know, was a professional angler before he became a Saint.

Today, the answer was yes. I expected the water to be high and a little off-color, so I tied up an opaque (by my standards) fly made of fluorescent white, fluorescent yellow, fluorescent chartreuse, and light blue bucktail, along with a chartreuse marabou collar. Think the stripers will be able to see that? Saints be praised, they attacked it with gusto. The fishing was so good, I decided to tap into my inner iconoclast. If I can catch a bazillion dumb schoolies on a floating line with a four-foot sinking T-11 sinking head, why can’t I catch them on the surface? Water only twelve degrees above freezing? Hah! Off came the T-11 head. On went the white Gurlger. Second cast, a spirited follow. Third cast, BAM!

I took over a dozen fish on the Gurgler, and had dozens more cartwheel hysterically at the fly. We soon discovered that simply dapping a standard-issue bucktail on the surface 20 feet in front of you was enough to draw follows, boils, and strikes. As they say in the UK, tremendous sport.

The last fish of the day came on the Gurlger. I was cold. I was tired. I had striper thumb. But I fished with my dad, reconnected with some old friends, and had more fun that any guy wearing baggy waterproof pants has a right to.

It was a good, Good Friday.

A few minutes with Ken Abrames (a currentseams exclusive)

The striper grandmaster talks about Tuesday Nights, the rhythms of earth and ocean, and love.

Ken Abrames is one of the most revered names in saltwater fly fishing. He is the creator of the modern flatwing streamer, presentation-style flies that can imitate everything from clamworms to menhaden. His books Striper Moon and A Perfect Fish belong on the shelves of anyone who is an aficionado of traditional New England striped bass fly tying and fishing methods. Besides being a world-class angler, Ken is also a rod designer, author, poet, and artist.

For me, though, the coolest thing about Ken isn’t that he’s supremely talented on so many levels, or his mystical insights into the natural order. It’s that you can go to Rhode Island on Tuesday nights and meet him. Talk to him. And fish. There’s no club, no membership dues, no fee, no appointment. You just check out the forum on his website to see where the group is meeting, show up and have fun. Tuesday Nights in 2014 start next week, April 22, in Matunuck, on the beach to the west of Carpenter’s Bar.

When Ken talks, you tend to listen. Tuesday Night, Quonny Breachway, September 2012.


Currentseams: How long have you been doing Tuesday Nights?

Ken: Since 1984.


Currentseams: What made you decide to start them?

Ken: Around that time, I met a fellow named Armand Courchaine, and we started to fish together. We got the idea of starting Rhody Flyrodders back up again. Bang! The club started to grow – in less than a year we had over 100 members. One Saturday, I put together a fishing gathering in Newport. A bunch of people came, but I wasn’t satisfied. I began to ponder and imagine, what night of the week is most available to most people? I came up with Tuesday, because it’s a good, neutral night.


Currentseams: What was the fishing like in those days?

Ken: From the time I was a boy, to around 1984, shore fishing in Rhode Island had really fallen into a sad state. People didn’t know the places anymore. Very few people were walking the beaches. There were a lot of famous spots in Rhode Island that people didn’t know how to get to. But I knew the places, so Tuesday Night was a way to show people where to fish, and how to fish them, so they would have the wherewithal to go out on their own. Rights-of-ways had fallen into disrepair, and some of them had been encroached upon by landowners. So I had people going around and cleaning up these right-of-ways. And they weren’t just fishermen. All kinds of folks came. Everything we did was like seed to enhance access and fishing. People warmed right up to it.


Currentseams: People who don’t know about Tuesday Nights often ask, “Can anyone come?” And of course, the answer is yes.

Ken: Yeah, there is no membership, and there is no hierarchy.


Currentseams: And people want to know if it costs anything, and the answer is no.

Ken: No, of course not. Fact is, you probably end up going home with more than you came with.


Currentseams: How do you decide where to go?

Ken: I close my eyes…and feel. I don’t use any kind of science. Always go to inner silence when you need an answer. Then you’ll know.


Currentseams: What are your thoughts on the weather we’ve had this winter? It’s been pretty cold…

Ken: When I was a boy I used to always go ice skating on Thanksgiving. So tell me about how cold it is. Things have changed. I see different birds up here now that I never used to see.


Currentseams: Do you think things will be late this year?

Ken: When was the moon in relation to the equinox?


Currentseams: New moon is Sunday, March 30th.

Ken: It’s kind of like the first flower of spring. The first flower of spring comes before the second flower. That’s the order. So the first thing that shows up will tell you what the order of the year will be.


Currentseams: I keep track of things in my garden…

Ken: Yes, that’s right, that’s exactly what you were supposed to say. Is the skunk cabbage out yet?


Currentseams: Not here. I looked at my records, and in 2011 I had crocuses blooming on March 5. I don’t have any flowers yet (March 28).

Ken: So, there’s your answer. Everything happens in order. The ocean is the same as the land. So, you look for the first thing that shows up. And that will tell you what the second thing is going to be. You have to feel. It’s like dancing with a beautiful woman. You can’t do it out of the pages of a book. You have to just hold her, and move with the music. It’s the same thing with this world. It’s alive, and it has a pulse, and a rhythm, and an order. But it doesn’t tell you what those are ahead of time, because reason has no power over the earth. None.


Currentseams: So now, in 2014, what would you say Tuesday Night is all about?

Ken: It’s all about love. It’s that simple.


Currentseams: (laughs)

Ken: I love the earth, I love fishing, I love the people who come fishing. And that’s what they get when they come.

A good night to give a wet fly presentation

Had enough rain yet? I can only imagine what your favorite trout stream looks like. One of those neither man nor beast nights, so I was astonished to see such an impressive turnout at the Thames Valley Chapter of TU meeting. “Wet Flies 101” was the topic. I can’t say enough good things about this group: we had projector difficulties, hardware interface problems — just about anything that could go wrong, did. That is, until several chapter members pitched in and pulled it all together for me. My hat is off to you. Thank you for having me, thank you for helping me, and thank you for being such an attentive and curious audience.

It was also nice to see so many familiar faces. You know who you are.

We could use a little sunshine breaking through the mists.