I get questions like this all the time: “Last night, I heard and saw a ton of surface activity, but didn’t have a single bite. I was using the usual suspects: Clouser, Deceiver, epoxy baitfish, using every retrieve I could think of — but not a single bump. Can you help me understand what was going on?”
When I’m giving my “Trout Fishing for Stripers” presentation, this is the point where I reference highly frustrated anglers like this one. Scenarios vary, but the solution remains the same: it can be found within traditional trout and salmon tactics and presentations.
Let’s break this down. First: the last fly I’d use for this situation would be a dumbbell eye-weighted pattern. Just as you wouldn’t cast a tungsten cone head bugger to trout that are sipping tiny BWOs on the surface — please tell me you wouldn’t — nor should you plumb the depths with Clousers when the striper action is clearly on top.
So which pattern(s) to use? Well, what are the bass eating? This time of year (May, northeast waters) I’ve got a 20-spot on grass shrimp or clam worms or tiny minnows…essentially something small. Most Deceivers I’ve seen are far bigger than 1-inch long, so that pattern’s not a good choice, either. If it were me I’d fish a team of three, and those small baits I mentioned would be a good place to start.
Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want.
Finally — and here’s where the treasure is buried — let’s talk about presentation. We have a pretty good idea of what’s being eaten, and how the stripers are eating it (holding on station, feeding in a specific area of the water column, not willing to chase). Now we need to give them the goods the same way the naturals are behaving: on a dead drift.
Think of the current as a conveyor belt. Food is being delivered into open mouths. To make that dead drift presentation, you need to be able to mend, and to be able to mend you need a floating line. Sinking lines will drag, and drag is a death sentence for the dead drift. Forget about “which retrieve?” Your only retrieve should be when you’re at the end of a drift and you’re gathering your line to make another cast. (An exception would be fishing on the dangle, but that’s a topic for another day.)
The stripers are eating. They’re sitting there just waiting to take your fly. Answer the big four questions correctly (What’s the food? How are they eating it? What do I have in my box that looks/acts like that food? How can I present it like the naturals?) and you’ll be turning frustration into exhilaration.
Just don’t forget your floating line.