Great news for Block Island striper fans: Author Dennis Zambrotta is putting together a followup to his classic Surfcasting Around The Block — and he’s asked me to contribute a chapter. I’m totally stoked. But jeez…I have so many good stories to tell…how do I pick just one? Not to worry. I already have a good idea about what I’m going to write about…
In case you’re unfamiliar, the original Surfcasting Around The Block is “a collection of memoirs and short stories about Block Island, surfcasting, and striped bass.” Even if you’re strictly a fly angler (like me), it’s loaded with pearls and gems. The followup will have plenty about fly fishing.
I just got back from a two-day steelhead trip with middle son Cam. You’ll understand that I’m a little wiped, and with the holiday tomorrow, a little busy. So the full story will have to wait. I can tell you that the conditions were challenging and we had to work hard for every fish. Until then, here’s a little salmonid taste to tide you over on turkey day. Be safe, be well, and please know that I am truly thankful for your readership and following.
Another November ritual completed: the refilling of the steelhead box. (One of them, at least. This is my main box.) It’s emptiness or fullness before I begin is usually a good indicator of the previous season. Did I go on a lot of trips? (An average number.) Did I lose a lot of flies to the bottom gods or to the unyielding material of a steelhead’s jaw? (Not so much. Slow year.) I will restock the box with old favorites, and perhaps a few new experiments. The order of its contents remains a comfort. Nymphs, soft hackles, stoneflies to the left; eggs, attractors, and junk flies to the right. Such a contrast between dull blacks and browns and the riot of fluorescence. Which patterns will be the hot item this year? Only one way to find out.
It recently occurred to me that many, if not most, of my currentseams audience hasn’t seen any of the stuff I wrote and/or tied before I started this site. I came to this realization when I was trying to find the recipe for the Steelhead Cameron, a west coast marabou wing-style streamer that was part of a series of patterns named for each of my three sons. Since I’m always looking to give you fresh, interesting, and useful content, I thought that this might be a worthy project: to go through my archives and find the old stuff that doesn’t suck. I know I did a whole series on legacy saltwater patterns. There are stories to re-tell. I’d likely need to re-tie and shoot any fly patterns. Stay tuned while I go digging….
The Steelhead Cameron, part of the “My Three Sons” series. All of them work. You’ll have to wait to see the Gordon and the William, and to get the recipes for all three.
The best steelhead nymphs are the ones in which you have the most confidence. After all, “best” isn’t measurable. But if you buy into the old saw that the proof of the pudding is in the eating of it, I’d like to offer up five steelhead nymphs that have proven their worthiness on New York’s Salmon River.
So, what qualifies a steelhead fly as a nymph? For the purposes of this list, I’ve kept it to flies that are size 8 or smaller; flies that feature predominantly muted colors (hot spots, contrast points, and bead heads are allowed); and flies whose basic construct is at least 50% actual invertebrate driven. So, no bigger stoneflies here. No Steelhead Hammer types. And no black-light poster colors. Here we go, in no particular order. As a bonus, some of the patterns have links to my tying video.
60-Second Redhead. The beauty of this fly isn’t that if you lose one to the bottom gods, you’re not depressed because they’re so fast and easy to tie. It’s that this fly, which would never catch your eye in a retail bin, is like candy to steelhead when they’re eating bugs.
60-Second Copperhead. After pounding up so many steelhead on the redhead, I wondered if they’d like a version with a copper Ice Dub head. A wise old Salmon River veteran once told me, “It’s hard to go wrong on this river with black and copper.” He was mighty right.
Copperhead Stone. I landed my first steelhead on this fly, and years later, it still works. I remember one morning in the Lower Fly Zone when I was handing them out to everyone who wanted to know, “What fly are you using?”
Spider. Another ridiculously simple tie (notice a pattern here?): size 12 hook, black Krystal Flash tail, black Estaz body, copper (the original calls for olive or pearl) braid flashback. Designed by Clyde Murray for Erie fish, the Salmon River steelhead like it just fine.
My top five steelhead nymphs for the Salmon River in Pulaski, NY, are all very simple ties. Note that they all have some kind of contrast, flash, or hot spot. These are all high-confidence patterns for me, all proven producers, and it’s hard to go wrong with any of them when you suspect the steelhead are eating nymphs.
To be fair, it was only a few hours — I fished from noon to 3pm — but the going was glacially slow. I hit four favorite nymphing marks below (450cfs) and within the TMA (390cfs), and I found a trout willing to jump on in only one of them. I used a combination of tight line and indicator nymphing methods, and I even switched out my point fly and dropper — none of it seemed to make any difference. The angler traffic continues, with nine other folks sharing the water with me during my travels. Mine was the only fish I saw hooked all day, which is not to brag, but rather to illustrate how slow the fishing was. I stopped at UpCountry on the way home to do some shopping, and Torrey Collins said that nymphing has been slow for him lately, too. So it goes.
The day wasn’t a total loss. I scored this beautiful, webby dark dun hen cape at UpCountry. Just what I need for my next batch of Dark Hendrickson winged wets.
I’ve been using Cortland 444 Peach double taper fly line for years, on both my larger river and small stream trout setups. This was the first fly line I bought, and I’ve never found the need for something else in a basic line. The five-weight size performs equally well on my 10′ Hardy Marksman II and my quiver of short small stream sticks. It works for wets, dries, nymphs, and smaller streamers. It’s a durable line, and the best part is that when one end gets gershtunkled, you simple reverse it because the front and back tapers are a mirror image.
An all-time classic with spiffy new packaging. Cortland 444 Peach is available in double taper or weight forward. New to this model is a factory welded loop at one end. If you choose to reverse the line, you can simple make your own at the other end. As always, I urge you to patronize your local fly shop — mine is UpCountry Sportfishing in New Hartford, CT.
If you fish a two-handed rod, or if you use a modern shooting head integrated line (like Rio Outbound or Airflo 40+) with your single hand setup, you’ve undoubtedly encountered this scenario. You want to change your fly, or check the hook point, so you tuck your rod under your armpit and gather in the line. Problem: while you’re fiddling with the fly, the current grabs the line — those shooting heads have a lot of surface area — and downstream goes your head, taking your running line along with it. Now, you’ve got to re-strip 60, 70, 80 feet of line again — time you could be fishing.
Solution: wrap a couple loops of the running line around your off-hand wrist. I like to gather in the running line till the shooting head is just outside the rod tip. The orange running line below my wrist remains inside my shooting basket. This way I’m ready to cast as soon as I change flies. That’s more time spent fishing, and that means more potential time catching.
Another short and sweet (or bitter, depending on your POV) striper report: fished the mouth of the Housatonic today for two hours. We had a good tide, overcast skies, and a falling barometer, three elements that should have made for a terrific outing. Unfortunately, Mother Nature forgot to CC the bass on the memo. Not a touch for me, both deep and on the surface. In fact, I saw only three three teens-inch bass caught in two hours among ten or so anglers, and it was all two guys fishing one small pocket. Deciding that you cannot catch what isn’t there, and having had enough two-handed casting practice, I skedaddled just before low tide.
Not from today. In fact, it was as warm a November day as I can remember down there. The most excitement I had was when a bird went fishing for my fly. I was relieved that the pull produced no hookup.