“What are the best soft hackles (or wet flies) for fishing the Hendrickson hatch?” is one of those questions I get a lot this time of year. As always, the best flies are the ones in which you have the most confidence. I should also make this clarification: technically, with Hendricksons you’re fishing wet flies under the hatch. On the Farmington River, prime time for swinging Hendrickson wets is generally in the 11 am-to-3 pm window. Every day is different. Once you see duns on the water, and trout snapping at them, the wet fly game is all but over. But if you want to catch more trout, you should be swinging wets in this pre-hatch time frame. (Of course, you’re fishing a team of three wets. Here’s how to build a wet fly leader.) And so, in no particular order, these are some of my favorite Hendrickson wet fly and soft-hackled patterns.
As I continue to pore through Gary LaFontaine’s masterwork Caddisflies, I’m reminded of the sheer volume of universal concepts that apply to fly fishing. So, even though he’s talking about fishing for trout that are feeding on caddisflies, LaFontaine could easily be talking about stripers feeding on sand eels or grass shrimp. A true maverick, he isn’t afraid to think or act differently, to challenge conventional wisdom, or conduct experiments to prove his theories. (Listen to the science. You’ve heard that one before) The more you fish for trout and stripers, the more you begin to see patterns and similarities between the species and how you should be fishing for them. Here are three themes in Caddisflies from which I think striper anglers and fly tyers who want to dramatically elevate their game could benefit.
Realism is the least important factor in fly design. I don’t have the actual stat, but I’m comfortable in saying that nine out of ten striper baitfish patterns feature glued on, ultra-realistic eyes. (Other than on these pages, when was the last time you saw a squid fly without big googly eyes?) If realism, from eyes to full-bodied profile to opacity to exact coloring, etc., is so important, how come my baitfish flies (and yours, and everyone else’s) continue to catch stripers long after they’ve literally been ripped to shreds? It’s a rhetorical question, but I’ll answer anyway. It’s because the bass are keying on certain bait or environmental characteristics that serve as bite triggers, and those triggers are still present in the remnants of the fly. LaFontaine knew that making a favorable impression on the fish — by showing them at least one primary feature or action that identified the fly as something that looked like what they were eating — was far more important than rendering a carbon copy.
Energy efficiency is the reason for selective feeding. Fish, especially bigger ones, are essentially lazy. So when they’re glommed onto grass shrimp in a feeding lane, you can engage in the futile activity of ripping and stripping a big fly past them, or deliver what they’re eating to their waiting mouths. This is why there is no one-size-fits-all “go-to” striper fly — and why learning presentation with a floating line is so important. Match the hatch, learn its nuances, make it easy for the stripers to feed, and you’ll catch more bass.
Fish are not intelligent. There is no such thing as an educated striped bass. Fish cannot reason. They are programmed for survival, and these primal forces have nothing to do with fly fishing or why you can’t fool that lunker. The fish is simply doing what’s it’s doing, and it’s up to you to crack the code.
Those of us who fish for, love, and value striped bass know that striper stocks are at a 25-year low. Many of you, like me, are also aware of the miserable job the ASMFC has done to manage those stocks. We’re angry. We’re frustrated. But we can’t give up, because there is hope: the American Saltwater Guides Association. The ASGA is on the side of healthy, sustainable striped bass fisheries management. Joining forces with them — or should I say, us — is going to create a critical mass that will help preserve our precious striped bass.Right now we are in the public comment phase of ASMFC Amendment 7 PID (Public Information Document). Here are three actionable steps you can take today to help save stripers:
One: Get informed. Read this downloadable two page ASGA reference pdf which simplifies the issues.
Two: Attend the ASGA Striped Bass Town Hall on April 1, 7:30 p.m. It’s a Zoom meeting so you can do it from home. You can register here.
Three: This is probably the most important one: send in a public comment for the record. As an added incentive, The Saltwater Edge has program where you could win cool prizes just for doing your part. Details of that program are here. For instructions on how to submit a comment, click here. You have until April 9. Do it today! I thank you. The ASGA thanks you. And the stripers thank you.
As many of you know, I’ve been asked to contribute a chapter to Dennis Zambotta’s followup to “Surfcasting Around The Block.” I’d started writing back in December, then got sidetracked. First draft is done. Now comes the hard part — the editing, polishing, re-writing. So for now other creative projects will have to wait. For what it’s worth, I’m excited about what I’ve written so far.
I’ve long believed that anglers using different methods can learn much from each other. That’s what Six Things Salt Water Fly Anglers Can Learn From Plug Fisherman, now available at Field & Stream Online, is all about: going to school on anglers who are fishing differently than you. I got the idea from books like Surfcasting Around The Block by Dennis Zambrotta, and Night Tides: The Striper Fishing Legend of Billy The Greek by Michael Cinquemani. Neither book is about fly fishing, but each is loaded with pearls and gems that will help make you a better fly angler.
I’d like to thank Jerry Audet from InDeepOutdoors.com, Dan Wells, and Dennis Zambrotta for sharing their experiences and expertise. I have a lot of respect for these guys and their passion for striped bass.
Want to book a date with a big striped bass? Put in on the calendar! Read my most recent piece, Why Making a Tide Calendar for Striper Fishing Will Help You Land More Bass, currently in Field & Stream Online, and you’ll learn how to build a calendar that notes the best times and tides for fishing the striper marks that you love.
Put it in the books.
Like the title says, you can find my latest piece in the March 2021 issue of The Fisherman magazine. Early Season Tactics: Hunting Transition Trout is about the rough patch of fishing we face in the next month or so. It’s loaded with useful strategies and tactics to help you catch more fish, and includes a guest appearance from UpCountry Sportfishing‘s Torrey Collins. You can read the article here.
Quality content like this usually isn’t free; The Fisherman is kind enough to allow public access to the article. Why not support them with a subscription? You can do that here. Many thanks to my editor, Toby Lapinski, for giving me the opportunity to write about fly fishing subjects that matter.
Presentation is so important — the only thing that’s more important is a sharp hook — that I thought I would share some of the critical points from last’s night’s Zoom. Thanks to everyone who attended — we had a great turnout. In no particular order:
The wrong fly presented correctly will always out fish the right fly presented incorrectly. I showed a video that demonstrated this.
When you’re deciding on which line, leader length and size, and fly pattern, ask this question: What do you want the fly to do? The best answer should reflect what the fish are eating and how they’re eating it.
Fly fishing is all about line control, and a floating line gives you, by far, the most control over your presentation in current. The importance of mending cannot be overstated. Even slight, nearly imperceptible mends that produce a more natural drift can mean the difference between fishing and catching.
A sinking line and a weighted fly are usually a poor choice for catching fish feeding near the surface. Would you toss a Tungsten cone head Woolly Bugger to trout feeding on Hendrickson emergers?
A longer leader will give you a better dry fly drift, and allow you to make more mends without disturbing the natural track of the fly.
“The difference between fishing and catching is a single split shot.” Attributed to Joe Humphries. Regardless of the originator, it’s good advice when you’re nymphing. Adjust your weight to get the most productive drift.
See you next Tuesday.
In case you missed it, the ASMFC’s Striped Bass Board met last week. You gotta love this group. The Commission’s inability to grasp that striper stocks are in trouble, and that they are charged with recovering that stock, is almost staggering in its perfection. That unspoiled incompetence was on full display during the proceedings. The Commission is, as Bobby Knight said, “a legless man who teaches running.” Do you know what they did for 2 1/2 hours? They performed a deep dive into the urgent matter of tube-and-worm rigs. Or, as Charles Witek of One Angler’s Voyage described it, debating “how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.” Never mind those pesky issues of collapsing bass stocks and overfishing.
Meanwhile, rogue ASMFC states like Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey maintain their laser-like focus on how they can kill more stripers. (You know, out of mercy. They don’t want any stripers to starve to death.)
What’s a concerned angler to do? First, read this excellent essay from the ASGA’s (American Saltwater Guides Association) Tony Friedrich. Next, don’t give up hope. We all know the ASMFC’s process is irreparably broken. The ASGA is our current best hope to effect change within and for the ASMFC. So, finally, support the ASGA. They’re doing good work. They have a plan. They need you to be involved.
Q: How many ASMFC Striped Bass Board members does it take to change a light bulb? A: C’mon. The ASMCF can’t change a damn thing.
Many thanks to The Fisherman magazine New England Region Editor Toby Lapinski for giving this piece a home. This was originally intended to be part of my series of “Little Things” articles in American Angler. But with that pub’s demise, I’m happy to call The Fisherman its new home. “Stacking the Deck: The Little Things” continues the theme of seemingly insignificant things that can have a huge impact on your fishing success. Stay tuned as there will be more from me in future issues of The Fisherman.