“Sensei Elmer & The 50-Fish Nights” in the current issue of Surfcaster’s Journal

Surfcaster’s Journal 68 is live right now — it’s an online-only ‘zine — and within its fantastic digital walls you can find my latest story, “Sensei Elmer & The 50-Fish Nights.” This is a piece I wrote a long time ago, revisited, rewrote, re-edited — and now, instead of hiding on my hard drive, it can be yours to read and enjoy. You get to see some decent photos taken by me, and some extraordinary shots from my immensely talented brother David . (You can see more of David’s work on Instagram @theplayoflight.) “Sensei Elmer” is about two memorable fly fishing nights I had one October. Or is it about something far deeper than catching fish?

Most of what I write eventually ends up here, but this piece won’t — so if you want to read it, you’ll have to subscribe to the Surfcaster’s Journal. It’s only $20 a year and you get six issues. Tell ’em Steve sent ya.

Get your Elmers here!

How to organize and store your fly tying hooks and beads

The best system for organizing your fly tying hooks and beads is the one that works for you. In the case of my ever-growing collection of such stuff, that means storage compartment boxes. But not just any boxes. They need to be adjustable, stackable, and easily transportable. Since I’m not fishing this week, I’m using the time to organize the disaster area that is my tying space. I thought I’d share my process of sorting and storing hooks and beads with you.

Let’s start with the storage boxes. I’m a big fan of the 3700 Series Plano Prolatch(TM) Stowaway(R) and 3600 Series Deep Prolatch(TM) Stowaway(R) bulk storage containers. I’ve been using them for years. You can find them at many hardware and big box retailers, and you can also order them directly from Plano. They’re very reasonable priced, and they’re a quality product. I like these boxes because they allow custom configuration; you can create numerous different-sized compartments within each box. The boxes stack neatly atop one another. And if I’m doing a show or a class on the road, I just latch the box and toss it into a larger container for transport. (Plano offers many more options in the way of fishing hardware/lure storage — it’s worth browsing their site if you’re looking for ideas.)

This is the Deep Prolatch: 11″ x 7.25″ x 2.75″. I’m using this one for my freshwater streamer hooks. Everyone will have their own system of organization; for example, I’ve got hooks of different sizes and makes and models in the middle two compartments. But all the 3x long hooks are on one side, and the 4x long hooks are on the other. Stingers and other shorter shank hooks are in front. Large jig and Atlantic Salmon hooks in the back. Works for me!

I can’t tell you how to organize your boxes –that’s up to you — but I can tell you how I organize mine. I have one box for beads and dumbbell eyes, sorted by color and/or material. For example, I have one compartment for brass copper beads and another for tungsten copper beads. But there’s only one compartment for gold beads, regardless of material, because I don’t have a lot of gold beads. There’s a box for freshwater streamer hooks, and a box for saltwater streamer hooks. My smaller hooks box is organized by hook type, with compartments for light wire hooks, heavy wire hooks, shrimp/scud hooks, heavy steelhead hooks, egg hooks, etc. Again, there may be many sizes and different makers within a compartment, but I can easily find the right hook for a size 14 North Country Spider (light wire hooks section) or a size 12 Dark Hendrickson winged (heavy wire hooks section). Easy-squeezy.

The Beads Box, a 3700 Series Prolatch Stowaway, 14″ x 9.13″ x 2″.
Saltwater Hooks, 3700 series. I use fewer types of hooks for salt than other endeavors, hence the extra space at the rear. (Those are spare dividers you see. Each Plano box comes with a set of dividers so you can customize your box.) To be fair, I sometimes use freshwater hooks in the salt, such as Atlantic salmon hooks, and those are kept in the streamer box.
My workhorse freshwater box, also 3700 series.
Stack ’em up! It’s also very cool to be able to grab a box, toss it into a large container, and hit the road without having to worry that I’ll open the box to find a thousand mixed beads rolling around. Everything stays in its own little space.

Block Island Report, photo edition

Twelve stripers to hand, and not a single picture of any of them? It’s true. We’ve all seen enough cookie-cutter bass photos; the one striper that was photo-worthy escaped into the waves; and several of them were landed in very fish-photo-unfriendly conditions. So, you have to settle for this (slightly) humorous photo essay of my week on the Block. Oh! You may also learn something…

It helps to have a 4WD vehicle on Block. Some of the better fishing can be found along the dirtier of its many dirt roads.
Here’s a little lesson in scouting a new mark. This is a section of beach on the south side. I planned to fish it at high tide, so I first visited it at dead low. This gives me an opportunity to see what and where the structure is that will be covered by water. (Of course, I also visited it in daylight at the corresponding tide I’d be fishing). Also, note the tremendous drop-off between where I’m standing and the rock pile-of-a-beach lip at the left. Where I’m standing will be filled at flood, creating a trough through which stripers can cruise for bait. It also tells me two more critical pieces of information. First, I won’t have to cast far to reach viable water. And two, under no circumstances do I want to get too close to the edge, or wade into this trough. Sadly, the surf was too big for the fly rod when I actually fished it, but I believe this mark will produce bass for me in the future.
Fine, but I just caught a bass after four hours of banging all over this island, and now I’m going home to have a late night beer.
Elsa’s remnants produced some impressive surf. To give you some perspective, those waves are hundreds of feet away and well overhead high. In my experience, an approaching tropical storm/hurricane on Block can turn the bass on big time the night before (nope, didn’t happen this time) and then completly mess up the fishing the next night (yep, that did happen). To be fair, the fishing stunk all week, so it made little difference.
Electrical storms were an almost constant threat that week. Here I am keeping my eye on a system that was moving over the mainland. I’m also celebrating my only bass of the night, which is always a cigar-worthy occasion.
“Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.” I remember these retro-cans from the 70s. To Block Island: you’re a truly special place to fish.

“Low & Slow: Summer River Smallmouth” in the July 2021 issue of The Fisherman

Last summer was challenging time to fish for smallmouth: we had the double whammy of heat and severe drought. In “Low & Slow: Summer River Smallmouth,” I talk about some of the strategies, tactics, and flies I used to find success in those truly tough conditions. You can read the article in the current (July 2021) New England issue of The Fisherman magazine.

Put it in the book! (Surfcasting Around the Block)

I’m pleased to say that I’ve completed and submitted my chapter to Dennis Zambrotta’s followup to Surfcasting Around The Block. I like what I wrote. Dennis likes what I wrote. I’m hoping you will, too. You’ll have questions, of course, like when’s the book coming out (don’t know) and can you tell us what you wrote about (nope, you’ll have to wait, but it’s a really good story). Speaking of writing about stripers, I just finished a piece for Surfcaster’s Journal magazine. It’s something I wrote a very long time ago, revisited, re-wrote (about 10 times), polished up, and now you’ll finally get to read it. It’s another good one (he said modestly). Now, if I can only find some time to fish…

Here it is: a map that shows all my secret Block Island fishing spots.

Conservation-minded anglers: everything you need to know about our May 5th ASMFC meeting win

If you took the time to send in comments to the ASMFC prior to their May 5th meeting on Amendment 7, congratulations! After years of feeling like no one was listening, your voice was heard. The American Saltwater Guides Association (ASGA) has a fantastic summary of the meeting on their website. If you’re not familiar with the ASGA, you should be. We’re one of the good guys in the fight for striped bass conservation. We need your support!

We’re putting the heat on the ASMFC.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Steve Culton’s Grass Shrimp Solution featured in On The Water’s “Guide Flies”

Another year, another appearance in On The Water magazine‘s “Guide Flies” column, written by Tony Lolli. You’re familiar with he concept of a guide fly — a pattern that is typically simple to tie and is a consistent producer. I’d like to introduce the Grass Shrimp Solution as Exhibit A: some bucktail, a few wraps of braid, palmered wet fly hackle, and then you’re fishing. You can see the wet fly influence in its construction. I like this pattern at night when the grass shrimp are forming mating swarms, and are being carried out of an estuary on current. Make it part of your three fly team, and hang on! This pattern was originally published in the old American Angler magazine, Nov/Dec 2015, “Soft Hackles For Striped Bass.”

Here’s a pdf of the article:

Squirrel and Ginger in the Current Issue of American Fly Fishing

As many of you are already aware, my favorite caddis soft hackle, the Squirrel and Ginger, is featured in the “In The Vise” column of American Fly Fishing (May/June 2021). You get my narrative, materials list, and step-by-step tying instructions. Please support publications like American Fly Fishing, one of the few remaining fly fishing magazines.

Now appearing on a newsstand near you. You can also order a copy from the American Fly Fishing website.

To bead head on point or not? A simple rule-of-thumb for a three-fly wet fly team

The more you fish wet flies, the more you’re going to encounter situations where you want your team of three to behave in a very specific way. This can happen from day to day, location to location, and even from moment to moment within a single run. As always, ask yourself the question “What do I want the fly to do?” Let the answer be your guide.

If you want to sink your rig, then a bead head on point is good choice. Of course, the size of the bead, the material (brass or tungsten), the speed of the current, your leader length, and your mending skills will all factor into how much depth you can achieve. I’ll use red thread at the head to help me identify the tungsten beads in my fly box should I choose to go heavy. I like to keep the heaviest fly on point; I find it easier to cast, and as the heaviest member of the team it will want to pull the entire rig down.

Say you’re fishing a bead head pattern on point, and you notice an active riser above your position. The fish is taking emergers just below the surface. In this case, a sinking rig may not be to your advantage — you want to make it easier for the buyer to buy.

To keep the team of three near the surface, I’ll switch out a bead head point fly for a soft hackle. If I’m making an upstream presentation to a fish that’s feeding just below the surface, I want the flies on my team likewise just below the surface. Of course, match the hatch if you can. We did this yesterday with a trout that was feeding on caddis in some slower, shallower water. Off came the bead head point fly, on went the unweighted caddis, and a few well-placed casts later, bingo! Fish on.

Striper lessons

I took Don out for a striper lesson this week. Rather than give you a “Dear Diary” account, I thought I would tell you about some of the striper lessons we covered.

Cast and strip is ultimately limiting. You will catch the aggressive, willing-to-chase fish with that approach. But eventually you will encounter bass that are holding on station, feeding on a particular bait, and cast-and-strip will fail you. Learn the art of presentation. Dead drifts, greased line swings, dangles and mends — all of these will serve you well when the going gets tough. If you want to learn presentation, and you value line control, you need a floating line. Period. Find the line taper and grain weight that’s best suited to your rod, how you cast, and how you want to fish. Hint: it isn’t necessarily what’s printed on the blank. You don’t need to cast far to catch stripers. I taught Don what I call the “zero foot cast,” and by using the current, you can delivery your fly to fish over 100 feet away. When the fish are on something small, droppers are your best friend. Multiple baits mean multiple catching opportunities. And as always, droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want. If you want to catch more stripers, learn how to read water. Just like you do with trout. And last but not least, alway scope out a new mark in daylight so you can see what’s going on.

Don, shown working on his greased line swings and dangles, is a keen student of fly fishing. All he needs now is some cooperative stripers!