Ray Bondorew’s Marabou Sand Eel

In his classic Stripers and Streamers, Ray Bondorew serves up an unimpeachable truth: fly tyers tend to overcomplicate things. Nowhere is this more true than in striper fly tying, where realism is king. Sand eels, also known as sand lances, are pretty basic — slender body, pointed snout, lighter on the bottom, darker on the top. Yet, as Ray observed, “Many sand eel patterns have been devised over the years, and many seem to involve much work to copy such a slender, simple bait. Complex bodies with Mylar tubing, Corsair, and epoxy have evolved. Several patterns require tandem hooks.” He doesn’t mention my pet peeve: eyes, which do a fantastic job of catching anglers. But I digress. I’ll let the man continue.

“I have always thought,” Ray said, “that there must be a way to formulate a simple, quickly tied, and effective pattern, especially for sand eels less than four inches long.” So Ray went forth and prospered at the vise. Ray’s Marabou Sand Eel is another favorite of mine, along with Ken Abrames’ Eelie, for imitating small sand eels, three inches long or less. Like Ken, Ray has some very specific thoughts on how best to tie this pattern.

“The trick here,” he says, “is to use as little marabou as possible.” Any thicker than a paper match width is, as Ray calls it, “overdressed.” Wet your fingertips and run them along the length of the completed fly to see if you’ve achieved your goal. Those who channel their inner sparse, impressionistic fly artist shall be rewarded with fat, cantankerous stripers.

Ray’s Marabou Sand Eel. Thread: Light green monocord. Hook: Eagle Claw 254 size 1 or 1/0. Body: Pearl braid. Tail: Several wisps of long white marabou over which are tied two strands pearl Flashabou and a few wisps of olive marabou. Wing: A few wisps of olive marabou topped by 2-3 strands of peacock herl.

Tying notes: As with Ken Abrames’ Eelie, I use the Eagle Claw 253 or other light, wide gap hook. No monocord for me, so I use Olive UNI 6/0. Leave a 3″ tag of thread near the hook bend; use this tag to bind down the wing. (Ray says if you choose to go the non-bound wing route, the pattern makes a fine silverside fly.) The pearl flash should extend beyond the wing by 1/2″. Use high quality marabou quills, and keep it sparse. What’s pictured here is as heavily dressed as I go.

If you tie Ray’s Marabou Sand Eel and it looks too thin, you probably tied it right.

Ken Abrames’ Eelie: the sand eel pattern where thin is in

Many of you know that Ken Abrames’ Big Eelie is my favorite sand eel fly. I use it primarily when the bait is at least 3″ long, or when I’m fishing an open beach or need a sand eel searching pattern. Oh, did I mention that it’s my favorite fly for Block Island? But smaller bait requires a smaller fly. Enter Ken’s Eelie, little brother to the Big one. The Eelie is basically a Big Eelie minus a saddle and the soft hackle. I rarely tie the Eelie longer than 4″; 3″ seems just about right. I love this fly as part of a three fly team; that’s how I most often fish it. Like the Big Eelie, the Eelie lends itself to all manner of color variations (try white, chartreuse, and olive, with a chartreuse body).

The Eelie is an exercise in sparse construction (some bucktail and a few hackles), simplicity (it’s a fast, easy tie), and impressionism (no eyes). The key to the Eelie is its thinness. I’ll quote Ken from Striper Moon: “The secret of tying effective sand eel flies is how thin you make them. Sometimes, an eighth of an inch thick is too heavily dressed.” You’ve been so advised by the master himself.

Ken Abrames’ Eelie. Hook: Eagle Claw 254 sz 2-1/0. Tail: White bucktail, then a white saddle, then pearl flashabou, then a yellow saddle, then an olive saddle. Body: Pearl mylar tubing. Wing: None

Tying notes: Ken’s original recipe is listed above. I make a few changes when I tie the Eelie. For years, I’ve been using the Eagle Claw 253 1/0 and some smaller hooks from brands like Gamakatsu; the key is to find hooks that are short shank, wide gap, light and strong. I match thread color to body color (here I used UNI 6/0 white). Instead of tubing, I use pearl braid for the body. Follow Ken’s instructions for thinness, and you’ll make the bass — and yourself — very happy.

For sand eel flies like the Eelie, thin is always in.

Happy Independence Day (with some bonus fireworks)

Happy Birthday to the United States of America. I hope you’re have a safe and fun Fourth of July; maybe you’re getting together with family, or perhaps you’re out on the water. To help you celebrate, here’s bonus from the archives: the Olive Fireworm Big Eelie variant. This is my traditional 4th of July favorite sand eel pattern. Tie some up, and let the fireworks begin!

Boom. Ooh. Ahh. Ohh.

The Big Eelie featured in On The Water’s “Guide Flies”

This is my third (I think) year participating 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 can be relied upon to produce day in and day out. (Or night after night, as it were.) The Big Eelie delivers the goods. Developed by Ken Abrames, this pattern imitates larger sand eels. Part flatwing, part soft hackle, the Big Eelie is understated elegance at its finest. I think what I like most about the Big Eelie is that its template — four pencil-thin saddles and a marabou collar — lends itself to as many color combination as your inner artist can conjure up. My Rat a Tat Big Eelie, based on Ken’s larger flatwing, is just one example. Have at it and hold on tight!

Here’s a link to a PDF of this page:

Tying the Gurgling Sand Eel

By popular demand, I present the recipe for the Gurgling Sand Eel — a kind of love child of Ken Abrames, Jack Gartside, and Kelly Galloup.

Here’s the backstory. A couple years ago, the guys at Block Island Fishworks (either Hank or Eliot, I can’t remember, but I think it was Eliot) showed me a prototype of an articulated sand eel Gurgler at the Edison Fly Fishing Show. I was given one, fished it that summer, and I resolved to tie a few of my own.

Here’s the prototype from Fishworks. Their shank is a little shorter, and the stinger hook smaller. I used a longer shank and a bigger stinger hoping that they would discourage dink hookups; I’m pleased to say that that was the result during this summer’s field testing. They use a strategically placed double layer of foam; I went for the simplicity of one (although Jack Gartside’s Sand Eel Gurgler uses the double layer). I deemed the eyes unnecessary. And since I like the action of saddle hackles — think Abrames’ Big Eelie — I incorporated them into my variant.

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The Gurgling Sand Eel

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Thread: 6/0, tyer’s choice of color
Stinger hook: Eagle Claw 253 1/0 or Gamakatsu SC15 2/0
Tail: 30 hairs bucktail; next, a 4″ pencil-thin saddle; next, 4 strands Flashabou; next, two 4″ pencil-thin saddles; next, 6 strands Krystal Flash. Tyer’s choice of colors.
Body: Pearl braid
Front shank: Fish Skull 35mm articulated shank
Underbody: Medium Polar Chenille
Shell: 3mm fly foam trimmed 1/4″-5/8″ wide, tyer’s choice of color

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Tying notes: Tie the stinger assembly first. If you want to reinforce the thread wraps on the articulated shank, you can add cement. Start the shell just behind the eye, and bind down well. Attach the Polar Chenille near the butt end, and wind forward. Pull the foam over the top of the shank and secure with three wraps of thread just behind the eye.  Bring the thread underneath the lip and whip finish. Trim lip.

Yup. It works. I think the articulation adds another layer of action when you fish this with short, jerky strips. Bonus: it also works on the dead drift or on long pauses between strip sequences.

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Gurgling Sand Eel

Here’s something I played around with on Block Island this summer. For now I’m calling it a Gurgling Sand Eel. I stole the idea from one of the guys at Block Island Fishworks, either Hank or Eliot — I can’t remember — but thanks for the inspiration! I made a few changes to suit my style, and here it is. If there is interest I can post a recipe.

I tied two prototypes with different trailing hooks.

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The bass said yes!

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Re-Thinking the Gamakatsu SC15 for Striper Flies

For years, I’ve been using the Gamakatsu SC15 on smaller patterns like baitfish and clam worms. No issues until a couple weeks ago on Block. I was dead-drifting a team of three, when bang! It was an unusual hit for this type of fishing; the takes are usually a subtle pull or a building sensation of weight. When I retrieved the fly from mouth — the fish wasn’t that big, maybe 22″ — I was shocked to see the opening bend in the hook from that hit. I’m wondering if it’s one-off randomness or a recipe for disaster on a bigger fish. I’ll let you know…

I like the Gamakatsu SC15 size 2 for this smaller baitfish profile. The hooks are light, with a short shank, wide gap, tin plating, and they’re sticky, sticky sharp, critical for this type of light-take or quick-bump-and-set fishing. As you can see, the bottom hook experienced significant failure. I used the same hook in a 2/0 without incident.

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Mark Gustavson’s Squidsicle

If you fish for stripers and tie striper flies, and you don’t know about Mark Gustavson’s excellent website Fly Fishing For Moriches Bay Striped Bass, you should. It’s a hidden gem. I don’t think Mark actively posts anymore, but his fly patterns, heavily influenced by Ken Abrames, are lovely. They’re also effective. Here’s my take on his excellent Squidsicle, reminiscent of Ken’s Banana Squid. I used an Eagle Claw 253 size 4/0 instead of the Mustard 3407DT size 3/0.

Mark Gustavson’s Squidsicle, ready to swim. Try fishing a fly like this along shorelines, troughs and flats, using a gentle hand-twist retrieve. Beware of the tap! The tap isn’t the take; rather, it’s the striper flaring its gills and sucking the fly into its mouth. Wait for the pull and the weight of the fish, then set the hook. 

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Tying the R.L.S. Mutable Squid Flatwing

Tucked away in the back pages of Ken Abrames’ masterwork A Perfect Fish are three squid patterns you should have in your box: the R.L.S Indigo Squid, the R.L.S. Orange and Blue Squidazzle, and today’s tying feature, the R.L.S. Mutable Squid. Don’t be mislead by the fact that these patterns didn’t make the main squid chapter of the book; Ken thinks highly of them, particularly the Orange and Blue Squidazzle. Perhaps the under-rated gem of the bunch is the Mutable Squid.

If you do know diddley-squid, you know they can change their colors in an instant, so the name is apropos. I only fished this fly once, and it produced — stripers love squid — so I figured it was time to have another in my box. And here it is, hot off the vise, for your viewing and tying pleasure.

R.L.S. Mutable Squid

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Hook: Eagle Claw 253
Thread: Gray
Platform: Light gray
Support: Gray neck hackle
Tail: First, a medium-gray saddle, second, a ginger saddle, third, 4 pearl Flashabou, fourth, a pink saddle, fifth, 5 strands Flashabou one each red, gold, blue, emerald green, purple, sixth, a medium-gray saddle.
Body: Light blue braid
Collar: Bucktail, medium gray, bottom and both sides
Wing: Bucktail, medium gray
Cheeks: First, 3 hairs each orange, turquoise, chartreuse, violet, pink; second, Lady Amherst pheasant tippets, one each side.
Eyes: Jungle cock

 

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Tying Notes: Construction should be intuitive. I used 6/0 thread and a 3/0 hook.  I chose hair from the lower part of the bucktail for the collar and wing to get a bit of flaring action (the fly has not yet been shaped). The flash is 1″ longer than the saddles, giving this tie a total length of 8 1/2″.

 

 

Striper Report 3/30/20: doubleheader skunking

Not satisfied with yesterday’s Farmington River streamer spanking, I ventured out last night with old friend Bob for some more piscatorial abuse. We fished the Hous from 9pm to nearly midnight. Our reward was…bupkiss. Well, not exactly. Bob managed one tap on his plug (spinning for Bob, fly for me). On the plus side, I reacquainted myself with my two-handed cannon — the rust factor was minimal, and it felt good to bomb out 90 foot casts with little effort. Oh! I also managed to wade through the deepest hole I’ve ever ventured into without breaching my waders. So I suppose dry and skunked beats soaked and skunked. We’ll go with that.

Not from last night. But I did fish a Rock Island flatwing (eaten below), a high confidence herring pattern I developed many years ago. You can read about the Rock Island flatwing here.

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