“The Steel Deal” in the Oct/Nov 2018 issue of Field & Stream

What’s the best fly for Great Lakes steelhead? Nylon or fluorocarbon? How does barometric pressure influence the bite? If you’ve caught the chrome bug, you’ll want to read this. Part primer, part advanced course, “The Steel Deal” includes sage advice from New York guide James Kirkland and Michigan author/guide Matt Supinski — and someone named Steve Culton.

Every year — and day — is different, but last year I did really well on the Salmon River with a fluorescent orange Crystal Meth variant called the Breaking Skein Glitter Egg.

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“I’m Not Dead Yet — The last hurrah for wild Connecticut River strain Atlantic Salmon” from American Angler

A long title, but a good quick read on the last few returning Connecticut River strain Atlantic salmon. “I’m Not Dead Yet” (Holy Grail fans will appreciate the reference) is a tale of ambitious environmental intentions and epic fail. Or, if you want to get biblical, what is a man profited if he should gain an industrial revolution and lose a majestic species? “Im Not Dead Yet” first appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of American Angler.

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“Bring out your dead!” These little guys have long since been eaten.

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Housy article complete, Farmington feature next

The Housatonic River piece is off at the editorial suites of Eastern Fly Fishing; it’s due out in the Feb/March 2019 issue. Next project is a feature for the same mag on the Farmington River. Haven’t taken fingers to keyboard yet, but I’ll be out this week shooting photos on the river with UpCountry Sportfishing’s Torrey Collins (hopefully his gf Mandy will be joining us). As always, if you see me on the river, come say hello.

Fish-friendly photos. That’s what I’m talkin’ about.

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Getting your word’s worth

The word machine is humming along. In fact, I’m taking a break right now from one of the many pieces I’m working on. (Despite the sunny weather, I made the command decision to write today. With all the high water and piss-stinking miserable humidity, and thunderstorms later, the fishing will have to wait.) Here’s what’s in the pipeline:

“Steel Deal,” a feature on Great Lakes steelhead tactics, coming this fall in Field & Stream

A feature on the Housatonic River for Eastern Fly Fishing, scheduled for March/April 2019

A feature on the Farmington River for Eastern Fly Fishing, scheduled for Fall 2019

“The Little Things 3.0” — I’ve completed this and I’m pretty sure Field & Stream is going to buy it for publication next year.

Please support these magazines, even if it’s just to buy a copy of the issue with the article. No readers means no more pubs which means no more interesting articles from folks like me.

Then, there are the new presentations I’m working on for the Fly Fishing Show…

And I haven’t forgotten about that new smallie bug. I promise it will be worth the wait!

No. Not happening right now.

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Sand Eel Secrets

There are several baits that give striper anglers fits: clam worms, grass shrimp, and truly tiny stuff (like crab larvae), just to name a few. You can also add sand eels to the list. I see the forlorn souls trudging off the beach, beleaguered and bewildered, always with the same mournful complaint: “There were all these fish feeding and we couldn’t catch them.” Sand eels might be the sulphurs of the salt. They’re a plentiful bait, easy to identify, the fish love to eat them — and most anglers approach the situation the wrong way.

I love fishing for striped bass that are feeding on sand eels. Some of my best nights of striper fishing have occurred during a sand eel hatch. Here are some things I’ve observed that will help you catch more bass that are feeding on sand eels.

— Striped bass are very much like trout. They like current, and they will key on certain food sources at certain times at the expense of all other menu options. What’s more, they will feed in a certain manner in a certain part of the water column. Sound like trout taking emergers just below the surface film? Good! Once you grasp this concept, you’re halfway home.

— When confronted with the scenario of stripers crashing sand eels on the surface, most anglers attack the problem with sinking lines and/or weighted flies. This is the equivalent of wading into a trout stream where trout are sipping Trico spinners, then tossing a tungsten cone head Woolly Bugger. (Sidebar: yes, stripers will root along the bottom for sand eels, then eat them as they shoot for the surface. Dredging the bottom with a weighted fly can be productive. But if you see the fish leaving rise rings or splashy boils, that should be your first clue that a floating line and an unweighted sand eel pattern is a good place to start.)

A floating line, a sparse, unweighted sand eel pattern, and a very happy angler. My friend John, who was fishing next to me, caught a bass in this size class on 11 consecutive casts.

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— This is not rocket science. Recall Fly Fishing 101: What are the fish eating? How are they eating it? What do I have in my box that most closely resembles the bait (size, color, profile)? How can I present my fly to mimic what the naturals are doing?

— It’s almost never a bad idea to target an actively feeding bass.

— Aggressive feeders will take a stripped fly with gusto. I like very short (3″ or less) rapid strips. Wait until you feel the weight of the fish before you set the hook. Always strip set.

— There often comes a time in the hatch when the bass will no longer chase. The stripped fly is rendered useless. But the catching doesn’t have to end. The smart angler will change tactics. He or she might use a dropper rig, suspended in the surface, managing it like a dry fly presentation (dead drifting over a feeding lane) or every-so-slightly maintaining tension on the line (not so much a retrieve as it is a gathering of slack). The takes in this scenario will be sublime. Again, strip set.

If the rise rings become softer and the stripers won’t chase a stripped fly, try a dropper rig suspended in the film.

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— Just because you don’t see stripers feeding on the surface doesn’t mean a) they’re not there, and b) they won’t take a sand eel fly at the surface.

— I like to shuffle into a beach trough or across a flat to see if I can roust some sand eels. On the dark of the moon I look for their biolume contrails, or feel for their crazy bounces off my legs. If I’m lucky, a nearby striper will ghost his position by stomping on the fleeing bait. Now I have a target.

— Confidence catches fish.

Find sand eel patterns that you have confidence in, then go forth and prosper. I happen to love Ken Abrames’ Big Eelie, shown here below the glasses and in the left side of the box. Note the vast array of colors; I’ve never experienced that stripers have a preference. I also like Ken’s smaller Eelie, and Ray Bondorew’s Marabou Sand Eel. And for the record, I haven’t caught a striper on sand eel fly that had eyes in over a decade.

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A shout out to Matt Supinski

One of my favorite parts of my fishing/writing job is that I get to talk to people who know way more than me. Last week I had the chance to talk to Matt Supinski, author of Steelhead Dreams. The purpose of the interview was to get support quotes for an upcoming steelhead piece for Field & Stream (which should be out late this year). Many thanks to Matt for sharing his time and insights. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a deadline approaching rapidly from the east. To the keyboard I go!

We all want to catch more steelhead, and hopefully you’ll find some useful tidbits when the piece comes out.

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“Soft Hackles for Striped Bass” from the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of American Angler

With striper season in full swing — if you’ll pardon the expression — this seemed like the perfect time to share “Soft Hackles for Striped Bass.” Many of you know me as a devotee of soft hackles and wets for trout, but interestingly enough, I was using soft hackles and wet fly tactics for stripers years before I tried them on trout. This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of American Angler. It features six patterns, three from Ken Abrames and three of my own doing. All of them are proven bass catchers. So get out your vise and your floating line and deliver these impressionistic wonders to a waiting, hungry mouth.

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The world-famous Jimi Hendrix-trippy-acid-flash-light-show striped bass photo. Nearly 40″ long, Miss Piggy (look at that full tummy!) fell for the seductive nuances of the Big Eelie, a soft-hackled sand eel.

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