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.

Block Island All-Nighter Flies Big Eelies

 

 

 

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.

Soft Hackles for Striped Bass

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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“Building A Better Trout Stream” — the story of Hatchery Creek, a natural-looking, sustainable, man-made stream

April summons memories of my early days as a trout angler: nightcrawlers, fishing with dad, Opening Day, Salmon River, and of course, buckets of trout fresh from the hatchery. The story of Hatchery Creek in Kentucky is quite different. What a cool concept — creating a blue ribbon trout stream from scratch — and they pulled it off big-time. “Building a Better Trout Stream” originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of American Angler.

Building A Better Trout Stream

Here’s to the fine job our Connecticut hatcheries and DEEP staff do. Love me my survivor Strain trout.

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Rejecting the concept of the go-to fly

Are trout anglers smarter than striper anglers? I ask myself this question a lot. I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do know this: no other fly fishing endeavor gets by on a smaller corpus of knowledge than fly fishing for striped bass. As evidence, I offer the phenomenon of the go-to fly.

“What’s your go-to fly?”

You see it all the time on striper forums. It presupposes that there is a single fly solution for all saxatilus situations. Invariably, the usual suspects are rounded up. Now, the Clouser is a great fly (or jig, depending on your level of crustiness). In fact, there was a time when it was my favorite striper fly (really). But a Clouser is not going to serve you well when the bass are holding on station slurping grass shrimp. I go back to the night in Rhode Island when, after several hours of pounding up 10-15 pound bass on Big Eelies, another angler chased me down the beach to ask what fly I was using. He’d learned a hard lesson that sinking lines and weighted flies are a highly unproductive way to fish for bass crashing bait on the surface.

Now, ask a trout angler, “What’s your go-to fly?” If they’re any good, their answer will be, “For which hatch?” Or, “What time of year?” Or, “How am I fishing?” You get the idea. No trout angler worth his Catskills dries would ever approach the Trico spinner fall with a Woolly Bugger by rote.

If you want to catch less fish, fish the go-to fly.  If you want to catch more, go to the fly that best resembles what the fish are feeding on — and fish it how the naturals are behaving.

I love my Big Eelies. But they stay in the box when I’m fishing for bass that are feeding on herring.

Block Island All-Nighter Flies Big Eelies

 

Mainly Misunderstood: five myths and realities about using floating lines for striped bass

No line application in fly fishing is more misunderstood than the floating line for striped bass. Well, maybe not. Maybe it’s the intermediate line. Tell you what — read this, then go forth with your floating line and be fruitful and multiply your striped bass catch. “Mainly Misunderstood: Five Myths and Realities About Using Floating Lines for Striped Bass” includes words of wisdom from striper grandmaster Ken Abrames. It first appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of American Angler.

Mainly Misunderstood-Five Myths and Realities About Using Floating Lines for Striped Bass

All good things to those who invest in the floating line. (Okay, we can add in the flatwing and the greased line swing.)

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