You’re now at Countermeasure Central on currentseams! Here you can watch the tying video (below); see the original post/recipe; and read the Guide Flies feature piece from On The Water magazine. In case you’re new to this pattern, the Countermeasure is a riff on several proven streamer designs (like the Zoo Cougar and Zonker). It’s loaded with bite triggers, and it’s one of my favorite smallmouth bass bugs. Oh! Big trout love it, too.
I decided to fish the mouth of the Hous for a couple hours simply because I could…and because it seemed like that time of year. I had the place to myself for about 30 minutes, but no love taps were forthcoming. The terminal rig was a Soft-Hackled Flatwing in R.L.S. Easterly colors on an 8-foot leader. It didn’t compute that there were no fish around, so I decided to make an adjustment.
This is the kind of little thing — I know you’ve heard that phrase somewhere before! — that can have huge impact on your fishing. If you know or suspect the fish are there and you’re not catching, do something different. So I swapped out my leader for a 6-foot section of T-11 and a three foot leader. Still nothing. Then, I added a 3/0 shot to the leader just above the fly. Next cast, bang! Then another two casts later. This made me happy.
Sometimes it’s the little adjustments that make the biggest difference. This single shot, clamped on with pliers, resulted in an immediate hookup.
You might think that this is how the story (happily) ends. But no. After those two fish, I went a good half hour without a tap. I have to confess that this kind of fishing holds little interest for me, even less so when the bite is off. But since we’re talking about adjustments, how’s this: go from dredging the bottom to skating on top.
Many years ago old friend Ed Simpson exclaimed, as we fished a spot not too far from where I was wading, “Make ’em come up!” Off came the full sink tip and shotted fly, on went the longer leader and a Gartside Gurgler. First cast, splash, boil, whack! Then another. And another. These fish were sporting the colors of bass not fresh from the sea, but rather those of winter residency. Not very big, but I love any striper that displays that marauding spirit. Many anglers think of fishing surface bugs as an active presentation, with the fly in constant motion, but every one of my hits came on the pause (see this post for more on varying your strip cadence).
My last adjustment came as the action and tide waned. I noticed a far sexier rip, abutted by a slick, 150 feet downriver. So I waded down, made some casts, and caught some more. And that, dear reader, brings us to our happy ending.
One of my goals with currentseams is to help you become a better angler — and hopefully catch more fish. So if I could somehow distill a “Top Ten Tips” out of my brain’s fly fishing storehouse, one of them would certainly be: Learn presentations other than cast and strip. Especially if you want to catch more stripers.
When I see questions like, “How fast do you retrieve the fly?” or “Do you strip with one or two hands?” — and I see these questions a lot — I despair. Rarely does anyone ask the question, “Does it have to be a retrieve?” The answer would open many doors to greater fish-catching glory.
Even if you were going to fish for stripers using only retrieves — and there are many outings over the course of a season where I do just that — there are an abundance of retrieve options that are rarely used or discussed. For example, for sand eels, I like a hyper short (1-2″) rapid pulsing strip. For a large squid fly like the Mutable Squid, I like a slow hand-twist retrieve. Last week I fished a large deer-hair head fly with a fast strip-strip-strip-strip….pause….wait for it….then strip action. And there’s always the surface popper trick of landing the fly with a splat….then doing nothing. Once the landing rings dissipate, give that bug a twitch. You could present in randomly timed, spaced, and distanced strips, creating the drunken action of wounded prey. The list goes on. And the stripers will always tell you when you get it right.
Ultimately, you’ll need to learn presentations other than cast-and-strip for those outings where the stripers will not chase. One of my recent trips included a puzzle where school bass were cruising and feeding, but would not move to a stripped fly. The answer was found within traditional salmon presentation tactics. Those willing to invest in the floating line — I’m not talking money, but rather in taking the time to learn how to harness its power and master a few basic presentations — will see their catch rates soar. And while you’re at it, pick up a used copy of “Greased Line Fishing for Salmon [and Steelhead] by Jock Scott.
Fly fishing is all about line control. So take charge. Presentation is not difficult to learn. Remember that a fly rod and line is only, as Ken Abrames once observed, “a stick and a string.”
Learn presentation and start bringing your fly to the fish — not vice versa.
You may have noticed this year that there weren’t many Housatonic River smallmouth reports on these pages. It wasn’t for a lack of effort from your humble scribe. I believe I fished more days this summer for smallmouth than I have since I started seriously pursuing them (in 2016). So why did I go dark? Part of it was people — and anglers — everywhere. And anywhere. I ran into anglers in places where I’ve never seen a soul. Finding a parking spot was, at times, impossible. Part of it was the drought, which made for challenging conditions. And part of it was that in terms of size and especially numbers, this was by far the worst year I’ve had fishing smallmouth on that river.
One late July night illustrates this last point. I fished a favorite mark that was, to my delight, devoid of other anglers. I hit the White Fly hatch perfectly — in fact, I’d rate this as one of the top three blizzards I’ve ever experienced. The surface should have been boiling with frantic rises — dozens per second. Instead, I could easily pick out an occasional lonesome rise ring here and there. The lack of bass on the bugs was both extraordinary and discouraging. What’s worse, what was rising was small. Not a bruiser in the bunch.
At least the dragonflies had a good meal.
Since the fishing was awful, and — this is important — every year is different — I decided that I would embrace different. So I explored. I fished new water. I tried new flies (like Wigglies and Barr’s Meat Whistle). And I tried new methods (like indicator nymphing and dead drifting crayfish patterns along the bottom). These efforts will pay off handsomely in the future. So, 2020 wasn’t the year we wanted it to be. But we can take comfort in the hope and promise of 2021.
I mentioned earlier this week that the short film Striper Moon — A Legacy will soon be available on Amazon Prime. I’ve been busy with some video projects as well. On Wednesday, we shot home interview and fly tying footage for director Matthew Vinick’s film on Farmington River dry fly fishing. We covered stuff from hatches to our day on the river to the Survivor Strain program, and I also tied up a classic Catskills Light Cahill dry. I’ve seen a rough cut of my segment, and it doesn’t suck! I’m very excited to be involved with this project.
The title of the film is Summer on the Farmington. Matthew Vinick and John Kosmaczewski are partners on the project. Here’s a low-res still, taken from video, of me doing battle with a high-teens Survivor Strain brown. That’ll put a bend in the old cane pole.
Last but not least, I recently shot footage for a step-by-step video on the Countermeasure. Just gotta edit and do voiceover. Coming soon!
Hot on the heels of yesterday’s scathing menhaden management commentary comes a shout out to the Connecticut members of the ASMFC. This is from a post made by Charles Witek on Facebook: “The New England states are worried about lobster bait. Virginia is worried about Omega. Everyone is worried about cutting fishermen’s income. It’s probably no coincidence that–with the exception of Connecticut and Rhode Island–the states seeking a larger cut in menhaden landings were southern–North Carolina, Georgia and Florida–which have neither a lobster fishery nor a big menhaden fishery. Connecticut made a noteworthy effort to convince the Management Board to do the right thing, and Rhode Island has long been a leader for better menhaden management. Folks in those states–particularly in Connecticut–ought to thank their fisheries managers if they get the chance.” Huzzah! If you want to send them a thank you email, you can find their contact info here. Please comment here if you send an email!
On to striper fishing. I’ve spent a significant amount of time this fall learning a new mark. The going’s been slow, but on Tuesday night I finally had some action — about a dozen hits, and the water was so calm I could also see several follow-the-fly wakes. Nothing big, but the big fish potential remains. Then there was last night. Specifically, the fog. It came in on big galumphing herds of elephant feet. We’re talking horror-movie density fog. I hate fishing in fog. With a few notable exceptions, it’s always been a bite killer. And so it was last night. Still, I got to stand in the ocean and fish and smoke a cigar and you know, that ain’t all so bad…
If there is a defining line between heavy fog and actually rainfall, I think we reached that threshold.
The dumpster fire that is the ASMFC continues to burn brightly. If you want evidence that their conservation model appears to be based on the theme, “Kill more fish,” look no further than this week’s meeting of the ASMFC’s Menhaden Board.
I’ll let the ASGA pick up narrative. “Disappointing news coming out of this morning’s meeting of the ASMFC Menhaden Board, which had a great opportunity to show the public its commitment to recognizing menhaden’s critical role as a forage species. Despite the Board’s August decision to adopt Ecological Reference Points (ERPs), today it adopted 2021 and 2022 catch limits that have greater than a 50% chance of exceeding the fishing mortality target, undermining the intent of ERPs and disregarding public comments urging a precautionary approach to menhaden management. ‘Decision: Move to set a TAC of 194,400 metric tons for 2021 and 2022. 13-5-0-0 Roll Call.’ More details to follow in our full debrief of the ASMFC meeting.”
Stupid is as stupid does, and when it comes to conservation and fisheries management, nobody does stupid better than the ASMFC.
I love fishing for stripers at night around docks, bridges, waterfront restaurants — anywhere there is light and shade. The reason is simple: the light attracts baitfish, and the baitfish attract stripers. I’m especially stoked about fishing areas where there is a stark demarcation of light and shadow. Those are magical places.
Late Sunday/early Monday found me at such a place. It’s a mark that offers what I call “the aquarium effect.” The overhead lights enable you to see clearly what’s in the water, whatever its place on the food chain. On this particular night, I could see bass cruising along the bottom, solo or in small hunting packs, rousting baitfish (spotted: silversides, peanut bunker, mullet), then smashing them on the surface. Some of this took place in the well-lit areas, but most of it was going down at or just past the shadow line.
Rigged with a three-fly dropper team, I had at it. No love. I tried dead drifts; greased line swings; short, pulsing strips; rapid, long strips; and what could hardly be called a strip at all, more like an almost imperceptible gathering of line. Frustrated, I vowed to come back after the tide turned, and headed to another mark a short drive away.
This was a flat in near total darkness. I could see worried bait in the faint ambient light. An hour and four bass later, I left with a smile on my face.
Funny thing about droppers: the fish will always tell you what they want. On this night, at the second mark, they wanted the top dropper, an Orange Ruthless clam worm (lower right), even though there were no clam worms to be found anywhere near I was fishing.
And then back to the original mark. The tide had shifted but the bass and bait were still there, and the former remained unimpressed by my offerings. As with any such puzzle, you’ve got to try different pieces until you find one that fits. In this case it was as simple as switching to a Gurgling Sand Eel on point to make it a suspension rig. A couple mended swings into the shadows, and whack! Then, on the dangle, ker-pow! That called for a celebration cigar. So I did.
Great news for Ken Abrames fans! Ken recently posted on Facebook that the Striper Moon — A Legacy film will be available soon on Amazon Prime. I don’t know if this means a DVD or if it’s something that’s in a streaming format. Either way, you now know as much as I do. I’ll post details as I get them.
Thanks so much to the Connecticut Fly Fisherman’s Association, Middletown’s Russell Library, and the Croton Watershed TU Chapter for inviting me to host some fly fishing Zoom meetings. I was able to speak to over 100 people this week, and I’m grateful for the opportunity.
To the Hous: I fished within the TMA yesterday, and my experience can best be summed up by one Mr. Robert Zimmerman, who said in his epic song “Highlands,” “you picked the wrong day to come.” Okay, the weather was magnificent. It was great to be out. But there were scores of anglers competing for the honey holes (more people yesterday than I’ve seen in the last 10 years in the fall combined — really) — the water was loaded with leaves and evergreen needles (beware the windy autumn day) — and the trout were most uncooperative (I hit five marks in two hours and saw one fish landed). The river height was an excellent 325cfs, but those looking for solitude and leaf-free waters should be advised to wait a bit. Rain’s coming as I write this, and that should spike the flow this weekend.
With all this flotsam, it was challenging to get an unmolested drift.
This is from the American Saltwater Guides Association:
“Striped bass young of the year just came out from MD Department of Natural Resources. The 2020 results are pretty much awful. The YOY index for 2020 was a dismal 2.5 with a running mean of 11.5. The 2015 year class is the last dominant class on record. With the ASMFC meeting coming up next week, now is the time to get involved. Striped bass need you now more than ever.”
You can find the Chesapeake YOY survey results here.
The ASGA continues to be a positive influencer for striped bass conservation. If you’d like to get involved, or make a donation, visit their website.