Mini striper report 9/25/20: spotty but promising

I fished with Toby Lapinski last night — make that very early this morning — at a top secret location in eastern CT. (Toby is the Managing Editor of the New England Edition of The Fisherman magazine. Look for some stuff from yours truly in that pub coming soon!) Toby was spinning and I was flying. I love that combination because of the instant feedback it provides both anglers, and last night the response was: up the spin guy, down the long rod. I didn’t get a touch. Toby, who was fishing a variety of surface plugs and soft plastics, had a few bumps, an unfortunate bluefish lure removal, and a nice 20-pounder. The action was sporadic and sparse, leading us to conclude that Toby’s encounters were with lone wolves rather than any pods of fish moving through. To be continued this fall…

I pride myself in my photography, but let’s face it: this shot sucks. In the heat of the moment, both photographer and camera screwed the pooch. As always, we strive for a quick, striper friendly release, photo op be damned, so by the time I figured out the issue we could only manage this blurry disaster. Try to imagine 30-something inches of piggy striper swimming away. Please.

The nice thing about the Eagle Claw 253 is…

…you can sharpen it fairly easily to extend the life of your fly. This RLS Rat-a-Tat had an unfortunate encounter with a rock, dulling its point. Not to worry! Out came the mill file, and a few strokes later we’re ship-shape and sticky sharp. This fly is now a year-and-a-half old and no worse for the wear. News flash: the biggest striper I ever caught came on a big flatwing that was four years old and had undergone numerous sharpening.

800 Followers Contest is closed. Winners announced soon!

I will draw winners this week and notify you by email. Thank you to everyone who entered, and for your continued support and readership!

Cheers, fellow currentseamers. Actually, I’d better not — I’m writing right now.

Extending your long-distance dry fly drift, or: When not to mend.

I don’t usually double dip my Instagram (stevecultonflyfishing) and Currentseams posts, but I thought this one was worthy of a more in-depth discussion. It’s a video of a smallmouth blowing up on a dead-drifted Wiggly about 70 feet across the river:

Now that you’ve seen it, let’s get to what appears to be a problem. One sharp-eyed viewer made a trenchant comment: “Mend!” He noticed the long downstream belly in the line. It’s a fair point in the abstract, but it doesn’t address the situation or the presention in its entirety.

Let’s begin with conditions. We have very low, clear, slow moving water. That usually means spooky fish. Now, smallmouth are not known as picky eaters, but the longer you fish for them, the more you discover that they can be as difficult to entice as the world’s most finicky trout. I was fishing a Wiggly, which, if you’re a Wiggly purist, is supposed to be presented on a dead drift. Any angler-induced motion should include the legs only. That’s a daunting proposition, especially at 70 feet. It doesn’t mean that the fish won’t hit a waking or stripped Wiggly. It just means that you’re only going to get hits from aggressive, willing-to-chase bass. And sometimes, that eliminates the bigger fish.

Now let’s talk distance and tackle. 70 feet away is a challenging length to dead drift a dry fly. The 5-weight I’m using, although 10 feet long, isn’t enough stick to make a 70-foot mend with an 8-weight, weight forward long taper line. I could, of course, lengthen the leader if I was concerned about moving the fly on the mend. But that’s a moot point if you can’t make that mend in the first place.

So, how did I handle this situation? I began by determining where I wanted the fly to have the longest period of dead drift. I aimed my cast about 10 feet above that point. I made an aerial upstream mend, then a hard, full upstream mend with as much line as I could manage. The fly moved a bit, but that didn’t concern me — I was simply setting it up for where I thought the strike zone would be, well downstream. (I had seen this fish sipping bugs off the surface, and it appeared to be one of the larger bass in the pool.) As the fly dead-drifted downriver, I made another upstream mend with about two-thirds of the line — this was about as big a mend I could afford without disturbing the fly.

That sets up the large belly you see in the video. It’s not ideal, but it’s a necessary evil to obtain the drift I wanted. What you can’t see is me tracking the drift with my rod tip, then pointing my rod downstream, and extending my arm as far out as possible to make that drift last just a…few…more…feet. (I could also have stripped out line and fed it into the drift, but that tactic makes long distance hooksets even harder.) And that’s the rub: with that much line out, and that much slack from the downstream belly, it’s a challenge to get a good hookset. You have to rely on a sticky sharp hook and hope the fish does most of the work.

When it all comes together, as it did here, you understand that while catching isn’t necessarily the best part of fly fishing, it most certainly doesn’t suck. In the end, we are presented with one of the most important questions in fly fishing: “What do you want the fly to do?” If you answer that question, and figure out a way to make it happen, you’re going to catch a lot more fish.

Tiny bait, lots of bait = a good time for droppers

I fished three marks in SoCo last night, and while the striper action was slow, the bait story was consistent: smallish to tiny, and lots of it. Confirmed sightings: silversides, anchovies, peanut bunker, and I may have seen a stray finger mullet.

My night began in the surf, but the meatball factor (bright headlamps used early and often) and a lack of action had me moving to Spot B, an estuary with a moving tide. Lots of bait, too few marauders.

I finished the evening at Spot C, some skinny water on flat, just as the tide began to flow out. Lots of worried bait in this location, and it’s a perfect place to fish a team of three. I had 2″ long Ray’s fly on top dropper, a Magog Smelt bucktail in the middle, and a micro Gurgler on point to do double duty as a suspender and waking fly. I was disappointed with the number of assembled diners, but it is what it is and you do your best. Two fish to hand in 45 minutes and I was satisfied, abetted in no small amount by a Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 corona and a come-from-behind Mets victory.

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick refresher.

Thank you, Nutmeg TU and “Trout Fishing For Stripers” Question of the Day

Many thanks to my friends at the Nutmeg TU chapter for inviting me to Zoom with them. I missed the pizza and the in-person energy, but we made do, and then some. The subject was “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass” and the Q&A session was again excellent. Well done, folks!

Question of the Day: “Do you always fish your Gurgler suspension rig on a dead drift or do you ever strip it?” A: the question refers to my three-fly team with two droppers and a Gurlger on point. If I’m using that rig, it usually means that the stripers have either stopped chasing, or I’m arriving on the scene and I’m fairly certain that the bass will not chase. So the presentation starts with finding a feeder — look for the splashy take or the rise rings — and placing the rig over that position. If there is no earth-shattering kaboom (bonus points if you get the reference) I’ll manage the Gurgler as a dry, fishing the whole team on a dead drift. If that’s not working, I may very slowly begin to gather line. This is less of a strip and more of an extremely slow pull, about 1 inch-per-second. If that doesn’t work, I might try a cast a few pops of the Gurgler. But in my experience, it rarely comes to that. Great question!

I used this articulated Gurgler a few times this summer as the point fly on a three fly team. It got some attention, even on a dead drift.

ASGA Fireside Zoom Chat 9/16 @ 7pm: State of the Striper

From the American Saltwater Guides Association: “Join the ASGA team for a Fireside Chat focused on the current state of the Striped Bass! The chat will be LIVE this Wednesday, 9/16 at 7pm. Tune in via Zoom or Facebook Live! This is a great way for members of the fishing community from all backgrounds to learn something new, ask questions and be a part of the dialogue.” Register at: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEtcO2sqzMjHNczidcP8mqBjyfM2113PGFw

Thank you, Penns Woods West TU!

My presentation season is in full swing. Last night I Zoomed with the Penns Woods West TU group, covering my first “The Little Things” program. We had an exceptional post-session Q&A, and I thank all those who came up with such insightful discussion topics.

I have to say this new normal Zoom presentation thing doesn’t suck. I’m probably not driving to Pittsburgh (the Penns Woods location) or farther to present under regular circumstances, but that’s not an issue with this technology. So, fishing clubs, come one, come all: Steve Culton has fly fishing presentations, will travel through cyberspace!

Question of the night: How do you keep a dropper rig from tangling? A: The joke response is, “don’t fish dropper rigs.” Here are my top three tips for keeping things copacetic. 1) Slow down your casting stroke and minimize false casts; 2) Make sure your leader lays out flat on the water; 3) Check your leader early and often for potential issues. If you make a mickey cast, haul that team of three in and eyeball it! Tangles get exponentially worse in the water. Here’s Dave showing us how it’s done. Dave was my first client this year to go an entire wet fly session without a tangle. Bravo, sir!

Do you know what your fly is doing? (Streamer Edition)

Do you know what your streamer is doing? I mean, do you really know how deep it is, how fast it’s sinking, how fast (or slow) it’s moving, and in which direction(s)? I think many anglers don’t. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into more than once, but there’s a clear way out of it.

Many years ago I tied up a streamer called the Hi-Liter. Part of its raison d’être was to be easily seen (its colors are hot pink and chartreuse) not just by the fish, but by me. I used the Hi-Liter to get a better visual handle on where the streamer actually was. A few years later I was interviewing George Daniel, and I was pleased to discover that he was doing the same thing. I’ll let George pick up the story:

“Take your favorite streamer, tie it in a bright, obnoxious color and fish it. You’ll be amazed to see what level and direction your fly is moving. You’ll learn a lot by changing the leader length, retrieve, and type of fly line — and that will allow you to really dial in your presentations.”

I spent a good chunk of time yesterday on the Housatonic, perched above the water on a rock, doing just that. The water was low and exceptionally clear, with none of the normal tea tinge that river usually displays. Not only did I get to observe and experiment with presentation, I also got to witness how smallmouth attack a streamer.

I used a white tungsten cone head Woolly Bugger for my experiments. The closing and attack speed of smallmouth is astonishing. One moment, your streamer is in isolation. In the blink of an eye, a shadow materializes at lightning speed out of nowhere. Smallmouth are classic ambush predators, attacking from below, behind, from an oblique blind side — or any combination thereof. You cannot strip a fly faster than they can swim, although they do not always want to chase and eat. I had several tremendous hits after I performed a combination of rapid long strips, then let the streamer begin to settle. WHACK! Where you cast is also important, as I had a good half dozen takes moments after the streamer hit the water.

“The Little Things 3.0” public Zoom event, October 14 7:00pm

I’m pleased to announce that Middletown’s Russell Library will again be hosting me as a guest speaker. I’ll be presenting “The Little Things 3.0” via Zoom on Wednesday, October 14, at 7:00pm. This Zoom is part of their One Book series, and you need to pre-register through the library. The event is limited to 48 participants, and you must pre-register here. You cannot register through me or this website, and this is not part of the Zoom series I conducted earlier this year.

This is a unique opportunity to see this presentation outside of the usual club format. I’m hoping that plenty of currentseamsers will be in virtual attendance.

Here’s a “Little Things” freebie: big, chunky hoppers/crickets/Chernoble ants/wigglies this time of year. You may not get a strike, but if you do, it’s going to be a good fish. Shown here, my Hopper Hammerdown soft hackle.