Currentseams Q&A: Greased line swings, lateral lines, and finding flies in dirty water

Happy Monday. We’re back and at it, and it feels good! This question comes from new subscriber Travis. It’s a good one, and since the answer is not simple, I thought I’d share it. Question: After listening to your Saltwater Edge podcast episode, you’ve motivated me to start trying out greased line swings and other similar presentations for stripers in my local estuary. This article brought up similar concerns I have about this tactic where I fish because the water is quite stained while still being mostly salt. How do the stripers’ lateral lines function in regards to a dead drift or swing presentation? Does this method require the fly to be that close that it goes by their face like a trout, is there vision better than we give them credit for in murk or are their lateral lines more sensitive than always needing a strip retrieve? Still trying to get one on the swing.

Answer: I could write a lengthy chapter to answer. But rather than over-complicate, let’s simplify. The conditions are stained water with poor visibility. The first question is how do the striper’s lateral lines function in regards to a dead drift or swing presentation? My reaction response is, danged if I know. My second response, while sounding facetious, is actually an attempt at serious: probably the way they always do. But I know where Travis is going with this. What’s he’s asking is, how do stripers find a fly in murky water? Do they see it? Do they rely on their lateral line? Does the fly need to be moving for them to find it?

Here’s what I can tell you. I fish a couple estuaries where the water, at best, is the color of tea, and perhaps most of the time is more like tea and milk. That is, lousy visibility. The bait is grass shrimp about an inch-and-a-half long. Every time I go, I hear the pops of bass feeding. So, I know they’re finding the naturals in stained water in the dark. Now, I don’t know if they’re finding the bait through vision or their lateral line or a combination of the two. But I do know that they can and will find my grass shrimp flies, which could hardly be described as patterns that — and I’ll use a phrase that generally drives me bonkers — “push water.” These flies are swung or dangling in the current. Sometimes the hits come when I ‘m pulling in over a hundred feet of line and backing. But mostly it’s on the swing and dangle.

Exhibit A: All of these flies are small. All of them have produced stripers, on static presentations, even in stained water. I fish them with confidence on the swing or dangle with a floating line because I know they work, and I know I am presenting the flies in a manner in which the naturals are being eaten.

I don’t know how the bass are finding my flies; I might even suggest that it doesn’t matter, because they are finding my flies, just as they find my skinny sand eel flies at night on the dark of the moon in the whitewater wash of a pounding surf. I fish bigger flatwings in the spring in a different estuary system where the water is frequently stained. Granted, those are much bigger patterns, but the presentation is still a natural drift, swing, or static dangle; regardless, the bass find those flies.

What Travis is really asking for, I believe, is permission to believe that the bass will find his flies in murky water. Permission granted. But ultimately, the permission has to come from you, Travis — and the only way to obtain it is to get out there and fish. Hope that helps!

Exhibit B: flatwing found in lightly stained water.

4 comments on “Currentseams Q&A: Greased line swings, lateral lines, and finding flies in dirty water

  1. George Baldwin says:

    Great explanation, Steve. I remember, years ago when I started saltwater fly fishing, wading into a large expanse of murky water on a dark, overcast new moon night. I remember feeling foolish about casting a needle-thin juvenile sand eel imitation into that water, hoping a bass would find it. I heard a bass popping on the surface, so I worked my way toward it by following the sound of it feeding. When I thought I was close enough, I cast that fly, which was literally the size of a toothpick, but at half the length upcurrent from the fish and let it swing down. Bang! Fish on. I was totally amazed, but also had a newfound confidence.    I also love the simplicity of your shrimp flies. People tend to tie much fancier versions, more anatomically correct and with accurate colors. It’s much quicker, easier, cheaper… and effective to tie simplistic versions that will suggest the quarry, stand out a bit to grab attention, and act like the real deal in the water.      George

  2. Travis says:

    Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I have only been fly fishing for two years now and yes , the “pushing water” criteria seems to be all I hear about when I talk to shops about tackle for striped bass. Your articles and this Q&A reminded me of an old study I read when I first started targeting them which focused on striped bass diets in my area the majority of their diet, other than baitfish and small striped bass, are mysid shrimp and isopods. It’s refreshing to hear that there are other options when targeting these awesome fish. I will keep at it.
    Thanks again!

    • Steve Culton says:

      Travis, you’re very welcome! Happy to help.

      I’m not saying that pushing water isn’t a thing. I’m just saying that it’s not a critical factor in the flies I tie and design. Other options are usually good, as there are many, many ways. Carry on, and have fun. 🙂

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