Rejecting the concept of the go-to fly

Are trout anglers smarter than striper anglers? I ask myself this question a lot. I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do know this: no other fly fishing endeavor gets by on a smaller corpus of knowledge than fly fishing for striped bass. As evidence, I offer the phenomenon of the go-to fly.

“What’s your go-to fly?”

You see it all the time on striper forums. It presupposes that there is a single fly solution for all saxatilus situations. Invariably, the usual suspects are rounded up. Now, the Clouser is a great fly (or jig, depending on your level of crustiness). In fact, there was a time when it was my favorite striper fly (really). But a Clouser is not going to serve you well when the bass are holding on station slurping grass shrimp. I go back to the night in Rhode Island when, after several hours of pounding up 10-15 pound bass on Big Eelies, another angler chased me down the beach to ask what fly I was using. He’d learned a hard lesson that sinking lines and weighted flies are a highly unproductive way to fish for bass crashing bait on the surface.

Now, ask a trout angler, “What’s your go-to fly?” If they’re any good, their answer will be, “For which hatch?” Or, “What time of year?” Or, “How am I fishing?” You get the idea. No trout angler worth his Catskills dries would ever approach the Trico spinner fall with a Woolly Bugger by rote.

If you want to catch less fish, fish the go-to fly.  If you want to catch more, go to the fly that best resembles what the fish are feeding on — and fish it how the naturals are behaving.

I love my Big Eelies. But they stay in the box when I’m fishing for bass that are feeding on herring.

Block Island All-Nighter Flies Big Eelies


10 comments on “Rejecting the concept of the go-to fly

  1. Paul says:

    So now the question is, what do you use when the bass are feeding on herring? Particularly spring time bass that are heading up-river to spawn? 🙂

  2. asier says:

    Dear Steve,
    I,m coming from the surfcasting …ten years back a friend of my , ( my Yoda 🙂 ) start teaching me fly fishing in the river, the way of casting , the rod , the line, the flys , everything can be very “elegant ” but for me the more awesome, was the knowledge in the river, where, when, what & how…. !!
    At that time, my Yoda was reading, to Ken ,striper moon, and many other people about stripers..
    we still learning from that.
    That´s for me fly fishing.. when,where,what & how…
    that´s why i liked

    • Steve Culton says:

      It is elegant in its simplicity. What are the fish eating? How are they eating it? What do you have in your box that resembles the food? How can you fish it like the naturals are behaving?

      Hope you are well.

  3. Dick Sablitz says:

    Right on!!!!

  4. Mike Powers says:

    I just found this place by the accident of forgotten bookmarks, but this looks like my kind of place. I used to live in places where we argued about whether Clousers were jigs and such.

    So just for argument’s sake I will posit a go-to fly. Ray’s fly. Ray Bondarew is (was?) a Rhode Island guy who came up with peacock over olive over yellow over white bucktail. I don’t like peacock anymore and I’ll add feathers or change the ingredients and I’ll make all the colors different for night fishing, but I still basically tie Ray’s flies.

    When life affords me the chance to be in touch with the ocean and know what the bait is I can guess how much it will have grown in the last few days. When it doesn’t and all I can do is show up at the ocean (or one of its subdivisions) I have to guess. So that’s what a go-to fly does.

    It’s like an Adams on a stream within innocent brookies.

    • Steve Culton says:

      Hi Mike, and welcome. Ray Bondorew is a friend and his fly is a great one. It’s served as the template for many of my favorite bucktails. I stand by my thesis, and if you’re ever in doubt, droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want. Tight lines!

Leave a Reply to Steve Culton Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s