Salmon Fishing for Striped Bass first appeared in the October 2014 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide. Many thanks to them for allowing me to share it on currentseams.
Most striper fly anglers have never heard of A.H.E. Wood or the book Greased Line Fishing For Salmon. That’s a pity, because Wood’s greased line swing is one of the most elegant, pleasing – not to mention effective – ways to fish for striped bass in current.
Wood fished for Atlantic salmon in Scotland over a hundred years ago. Greased Line Fishing for Salmon, a technical how-to based on his extensive letters and notes, was first published in the 1930s. It was re-issued in 1982 by Frank Amato Publications with “[and steelhead] “ added to its title. While the writing style is a bit moldy, the content will transform the way you fish for stripers. You may never approach an estuary or a breachway the same way again.
The greased line and the fly rod.
Before the advent of the modern floating line, anglers were compelled to use lanolin dressings (grease) to keep their silk lines on the surface. Why grease the line? A floating line allowed them to mend. Mending meant they could harness the power of the current, rather than have the current dictate the fly’s path. As Wood wrote, “The basic idea is to use the line as a float for, and controlling agent of the fly; to suspend the fly just beneath the surface of the water, and to control its path in such a way that it swims…entirely free from the pull on the line.” It is a concept, Wood observed, “entirely opposed to that of the normal sunk fly procedure.” If you fish for stripers but don’t use a floating line, here is your chance to break free from the shackles of the sinking line – and use your fly rod as a fly rod, rather than a glorified spinning rod.
You can perform the greased line swing with a standard-issue nine-foot rod. But a longer rod makes mending a delight instead of a chore. And mending is at the heart of the greased line presentation.
Open wide. That’s about all this fifteen-pound Block Island striper had to do to eat my sand eel fly.
Why greased line swing?
Like their salmonid cousins, striped bass love current. They will take up feeding positions, holding on station, moving no more than a few lateral inches while they dine. Often, the stripers will not chase a stripped fly. Why would they? The current is conveniently delivering their food. All they have to do is rise to meet each morsel with an open mouth. Those morsels can range in size from minutia like crab larva, to inch-long grass shrimp, to more substantial fare like mullet, menhaden and herring.
And therein lies the genius of the greased line swing. Regardless of the size of your fly, you are sending it on a pathway to a hungry striper’s mouth. She doesn’t have to work hard to eat. What’s more, during much of its drift, the fly is presented broadside to the fish. This gives the predator a full profile of what’s for dinner, rather than a fleeting glimpse of a tail or head.
Presentation flies like these Crazy Menhaden flatwings are an excellent choice for the greased line swing.
Performing a simple greased line swing.
Use the greased line swing in tidal rivers, breachways, sand bar rips – any place stripers hold in current to ambush bait. Make a cross-current cast with your floating line. The moment the line hits the water, begin throwing a series of upstream mends. Be sure to mend the entire fly line, from the rod tip to the line/leader junction; half a mend is no mend. While you are mending, the fly will be travelling downstream at the natural speed of the current, while appearing to slowly swim toward the shore behind you. When the fly is nearly two-thirds of the way down and across from your position, stop mending, and hold the line so the fly can complete its journey with a wet fly swing. Keep the fly in the current below you for a few moments, then retrieve and cast again.
Obviously, if you see signs of an actively feeding fish, be sure to present your fly over its feeding lane. The greased line swing is also an excellent searching tactic. “Backing up a pool,” another traditional presentation method, involves working a stretch of water by moving upstream. Backing up a pool with the greased line swing allows you to cover a tremendous amount of water.
To execute the greased line swing, cast cross-current and throw a series of upstream mends (A-C); hold the line so the fly makes a wet fly swing (D); at the end of the swing, retrieve and re-cast (E).
Hooking stripers on the greased line swing.
The take of a big striper on a greased line swing is sublime. Rather than the blunt force hit with a stripped fly, the angler initially feels only a presence – a mere building of pressure. This is the striper acquiring its target, flaring its gills to suck the fly into its mouth. You might be tempted to set the hook at this point; but that would be a mistake. You’ll pull the fly right out of the striper’s mouth. Instead, let the bass hook itself. It is feeding with confidence, and does not yet sense that it has been deceived. Simply hold the line, and let the bass come tight as it turns away with the fly in its mouth. All this happens in a matter of seconds, or less. The hook point (of course, you constantly check your hooks to make sure they’re sticky sharp) will find purchase in the corner of the striper’s mouth, just like your father taught you it should.
When you present on the greased line swing, the stripers you catch will be neatly hooked in the corner of the mouth every time.
You may be thinking, “But I like the way that big hit on the strip feels!” Not to worry. The adrenaline rush you crave is coming.
Now, the striper realizes that this baitfish bites back. The water erupts as the fish’s primal reflexes of fight and flight kick in. This is where you set the hook. Point your rod directly at the fish, hold the line tight to the rod handle, and thrust rearward with conviction. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a solid hook set. If you’re fishing with a strong leader – mine is always twenty, twenty-five, or thirty-pound nylon, substantial enough for any inshore striper I’m likely to encounter – you can dictate terms to the fish. From this point, the striper will be fighting a losing battle.
And you’ll have Arthur Wood to thank.