Striper Report: All good things to those who wait, or: The Sure Thing

On page 77 of my copy of A Perfect Fish, scribbled in the margin just to the right of the recipe for the R.L.S. Sure Thing, is a single word. Fall. Then, below that, in smaller letters, 8-9″, night time when there’s a little moonlight KA 3/12/10. These are the notes I took from a phone conversation I was having Ken Abrames on that date. If you went through my copy of the book, you’d find notations like this one sprinkled throughout. Such are the benefits of befriending the author.

The funny thing about the Sure Thing is that up until last week, the only thing that was certain about that pattern was that I would blank when I fished it. To be fair, I didn’t fish it a lot. But over the years it got enough time in my rotation to cause a chuckle whenever I thought of the name. Pshaw! Sure thing, indeed.

Nonetheless, I tied one up last Thursday because I was going out in the fall with a little moonlight, just after dusk. I made it 9″ long like the man said. And I remember thinking, as I lashed feather to hook “If not tonight, when?” Besides, Toby (Lapinski, surfcaster extraordinaire) had done well his previous outing at this mark with a yellow needlefish. The Sure Thing is a three-feather flatwing with at least one yellow saddle and plenty of yellow bucktail. It would be a very reasonable facsimile of Toby’s plug.

My newly minted R.L.S. Sure Thing, as yet unshaped, but ready to hunt. I’ll try to remember to feature this pattern and recipe in a future post.

We settled in and began to cast, me with my two-hander and floating line and Sure Thing, Toby with his surf rod and bag of plugs. Right away Toby was into stripers. Nothing too big by his standards, but enough to whet our big bass appetites. Even though it was early in the incoming, the current was already beginning to pick up speed as it rushed across the rocky bottom. This was my second time here, and I knew what I had to do: make a cast, immediately throw a large upcurrent mend, gather in the slack, and let the fly greased line swing over the bar.

Big fish don’t miss, and this one drilled the Sure Thing with precision accuracy. The beauty of the greased line swing manifests with such takes; you feel the heaviness of the fish, see the surface erupt in a chaotic whitewater geyser, and hear the distinct sound made by a large object as it thrashes on the surface. My cast had only been about 70 feet, and I quickly came tight to the striper.

I set the hook. Then again, and once more. Normally, I’d put a bass this size on the reel, but I’d already begun stripping her in. It wasn’t until she was about 25 feet out that I questioned my decision. I let her take a little line from hands, and used the rod tip to deflect the more frantic short bursts. She was close now.

Always fight a big fish from the bottom third of the rod. Note that the rod angle is below 45 degrees. I was confident in my hook set, and the fact that I had a sticky sharp 3/0 hook and a 30-pound mono leader. It’s only when I feel the fish is running out of fight that I raise the rod tip to lift its head and lip it. The raised rod tip also cushions any sudden late bursts by the fish, which are sometimes difficult to manage when you’re hand stripping a larger bass. Photo by Toby Lapinski

Twice I thought I was in a good position to lip her. Twice she refused. And then it was over. The camera was readied, rod tucked under arm, fish supported — she never left the water — and then the most satisfying part. Release. Watching her melt into the dark waters of Long Island Sound, knowing you may catch her again some day. Perhaps it’s the fist bump from the friend who was there to share it with you that is the most satisfying. Or, maybe the victory cigar.

Whatever. It doesn’t have to be a sure thing.

38″, 20-pound class, R.L.S. Sure Thing. This has been my best year since 2018 for bigger bass. Photo by Toby Lapinski

Candlewood Valley TU awarded the Legion of Zoom and the question of the day (best tides for stripers)

Many thanks to the Candlewood Valley Chapter of TU for hosting me at their virtual meeting last night. My talk was “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass” and we all had a swell time. Since there was no ceremonial pizza and beer — the internet has its limits — I fed myself and washed it down at home. But the group still gets the official Currentseams Legion of Zoom just for being cool.

The Question of the Day: “Do you have a favorite tide for striper fishing?” A: Yes. It’s the best tide for the spot I’m fishing. For example, some of the river marks I fish during the herring run fish better with more water, so a higher or top of the outgoing is best. Others, I can’t get to the sand bar until a couple of hours before low — so bottom of the outgoing tide. Generally speaking, I like moving water. If I had to choose a phase, I’d go with outgoing — and if I had to choose a more specific window, I’d pick dead low tide, which has produced some of the biggest bass I’ve taken on the fly from the shore.

Some meat on those bones: a broad-shouldered, big-backed bass, taken on the dropping tide near dead low.

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On the striped bass board for 2019

The best time to go fishing is when you can, and if the tides line up, so be it, north wind and rising barometer be damned. Just a quick sortie to three different spots on the same river. The first two were blanks. At the third, there was mischief afoot. On the dangle at the end of the swing, some quivering taps. A few minutes later, more of the same. Dinks? I thought so. But ten minutes later, when I connected, the fish felt decidedly undinkish. Okay, so a 20″ striper ain’t exactly one to put in the brag book. But when you only need one, and it’s your first of the year, it becomes the perfect fish.

Last night’s fly was a three-feather flatwing/bucktail hybrid of the Herr Blue, about 8″ long.

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Cape Cod Flyrodders award the Order of Fried Scallops with IPA Clusters

On the road again yesterday, this time to South Yarmouth for the Cape Cod Flyrodders meeting. A welcoming group with lots of friendly faces — and they also understand that a fed presenter is a happy presenter. So, thanks for your hospitality, your generosity, and for the great turnout. Bonus: we’re on a lots-of-good-questions roll here — I think Q&A might be my favorite part of presenting. Well done. See you next time!

This is true. Thanks to Bill for the pic.

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Best of 2018 #3: Big stripers, and lots of ’em

Every year is different, and where 2017 (if you’ll pardon the expression) fell short, 2018 was off-the-charts good for┬álegal bass. Many, many stripers over 28″, with one that went a good 25 pounds and missed the magic 40″ mark by half an inch. I already mentioned Block Island in this countdown, which came back with a big striper vengeance. What’s my secret? Put in your time. Follow the tides. Floating lines. And as Ray Charles so eloquently sang, “Nighttime is the right time to be with the one you love.” (You can find out more at my presentation “Targeting Big Stripers From The Shore” at the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, Destination Theater Room A 10am Saturday 1/19.)

Yeah, baby. Love the colors on this one. Whenever possible, I try to keep the fish in the water for the photo op. Does it get any better than keeper-size summer stripers feeding on sand eels? As it turns out…

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…yes it does. I dubbed her “Long Jean Silver.” Hope she makes lots of baby bass next spring.

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Some stripers should be measured not in pounds or inches, but rather: could this fish eat a small dog?

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