Currentseams Q&A: Greased line swings, lateral lines, and finding flies in dirty water

Happy Monday. We’re back and at it, and it feels good! This question comes from new subscriber Travis. It’s a good one, and since the answer is not simple, I thought I’d share it. Question: After listening to your Saltwater Edge podcast episode, you’ve motivated me to start trying out greased line swings and other similar presentations for stripers in my local estuary. This article brought up similar concerns I have about this tactic where I fish because the water is quite stained while still being mostly salt. How do the stripers’ lateral lines function in regards to a dead drift or swing presentation? Does this method require the fly to be that close that it goes by their face like a trout, is there vision better than we give them credit for in murk or are their lateral lines more sensitive than always needing a strip retrieve? Still trying to get one on the swing.

Answer: I could write a lengthy chapter to answer. But rather than over-complicate, let’s simplify. The conditions are stained water with poor visibility. The first question is how do the striper’s lateral lines function in regards to a dead drift or swing presentation? My reaction response is, danged if I know. My second response, while sounding facetious, is actually an attempt at serious: probably the way they always do. But I know where Travis is going with this. What’s he’s asking is, how do stripers find a fly in murky water? Do they see it? Do they rely on their lateral line? Does the fly need to be moving for them to find it?

Here’s what I can tell you. I fish a couple estuaries where the water, at best, is the color of tea, and perhaps most of the time is more like tea and milk. That is, lousy visibility. The bait is grass shrimp about an inch-and-a-half long. Every time I go, I hear the pops of bass feeding. So, I know they’re finding the naturals in stained water in the dark. Now, I don’t know if they’re finding the bait through vision or their lateral line or a combination of the two. But I do know that they can and will find my grass shrimp flies, which could hardly be described as patterns that — and I’ll use a phrase that generally drives me bonkers — “push water.” These flies are swung or dangling in the current. Sometimes the hits come when I ‘m pulling in over a hundred feet of line and backing. But mostly it’s on the swing and dangle.

Exhibit A: All of these flies are small. All of them have produced stripers, on static presentations, even in stained water. I fish them with confidence on the swing or dangle with a floating line because I know they work, and I know I am presenting the flies in a manner in which the naturals are being eaten.

I don’t know how the bass are finding my flies; I might even suggest that it doesn’t matter, because they are finding my flies, just as they find my skinny sand eel flies at night on the dark of the moon in the whitewater wash of a pounding surf. I fish bigger flatwings in the spring in a different estuary system where the water is frequently stained. Granted, those are much bigger patterns, but the presentation is still a natural drift, swing, or static dangle; regardless, the bass find those flies.

What Travis is really asking for, I believe, is permission to believe that the bass will find his flies in murky water. Permission granted. But ultimately, the permission has to come from you, Travis — and the only way to obtain it is to get out there and fish. Hope that helps!

Exhibit B: flatwing found in lightly stained water.

Striper Mini-Report 6/9/22: Not so much

A quick in-and-out trip with #2 son Cam last night to a favorite grass shrimp mark. The water was loaded with bait doing the mating dance. Sadly, assembled diners were few and far between. Whether it was the waxing gibbous, the cold front, or just not our night, pops were at a premium. We managed one small bass and the tiniest shad I’ve ever landed. On the plus side, these father-son outings feel really good. And there’s something about standing in a marsh in early summer soaking in the midnight moonlight that restores one’s soul. We’ll get ’em next time.

Pondering…wondering…calculating…where did the bass go?

Last night, while you were sleeping…the bass were popping…

First, I’d like to apologize for the lack of recents posts. Busy, busy, busy is the word. I’m hoping to clear my plate by early June so I can get on the water and tell you about it. But I did manage to venture forth last night with #2 son Cameron for a grass shrimping expedition. We fished a secluded tidal marsh. Conditions weren’t ideal — I’d like it a little warmer — and I was concerned at the start by the lack of visual and audible feeding tells. I needn’t have worried. Once the feeding began, it grew exponentially, and we were surrounded by the cacophony of pops, splashes, swirls, and sharp reports.

Nonetheless, the fishing was tough. We dropped a few, landed a few, but the number of hits was not commensurate with the number of stripers present. So it goes when you have thousands of bait targets in the water. We fished a three-fly team consisting of a deer-hair head shrimp on top, a Black GP in the middle, and a micro gurgler on point. Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want, and last night they wanted the deer hair head fly. We spent as much time sitting and watching and listening as we did fishing, and that seemed right. When I think of all the places in southern New England where the same thing will be happening tonight, I can’t help but smile and relish the sensory treat we experienced.

I don’t usually double-dip between here and Instagram, but this is the best shot from last night (credit to Cam) and I think it is worthy of inclusion. What looks like an impressionistic oil painting is actually a time-lapse photo taken in the black of midnight. Being surrounded by feeding fish is something every striper angler should experience. There were grass shrimp, mumies, and even a few random worms. Good stuff.

Striper Report: All you can eat (grass shrimp)!

Last week, while you were asleep — certainly some of you were, as the tide widows crept into the wee hours — I was banging around several marshes and estuaries looking for stripers feeding on grass shrimp. I found substantial numberqs of grass shrimp in every mark I visited, and varying numbers of bass. Grass shrimp are present year round, but they spawn when the water warms, and it’s getting to be that time of year. You can find grass shrimp swimming around if you shine your light in the shallows, but they mostly prefer to skulk along the bottom. They’re translucent creatures, so they’re not as easy to see as, say, a green crab. Their eyes reflect your headlamp beam, so that’s an easy way to spot them.

I see your beady little eyes. These guys are in less than six inches of water.

I almost always fish the grass shrimp swarm with a team of three. The patterns vary, and sometimes I’ll throw a clam worm like the Orange Ruthless into the mix, but last week I fished a deer-hair head on top dropper, a black General Practitioner on middle dropper, and Micro Gurgling Shrimp on point. I took fish on all three flies, although I was intrigued that I only caught bass on the black GP on the one night when I had bright moonlight. (The lessons are never-ending.) The fish weren’t very large — 20″ was the best I could manage — but I could tell from some of the feeding pops that there were bigger bass around.

My most recent three-fly grass shrimp team. L-R: Black GP, Caddis Shrimp, Micro Gurgling Shrimp. This gives you a good idea of the size of the naturals, which are the size of these flies or smaller. Note that none of these flies attempt to be a carbon-copy of the actual bait. They’re simply designed to match size and profile, to look alive, and create a favorable impression on the stripers. Ultra-realistic flies are to be admired for their craftsmanship, but not necessarily for their fish-catching ability.

Striper Mini-Report 5/30/20: A 10,000:1 bait-to-bass ratio

I fished Salt Marsh B last night for a couple hours with #2 Son, Cam. The water was infested with silversides, crabs, and grass shrimp. Surely this bountiful buffet would summon legions of striped diners. But no. There were a few bass around — we even managed to catch some of them — but the audio feeding tells of a hundred popping mouths was strangely absent.  We fished a team of three shrimp flies, a Micro Gurgler on top, Caddis Shrimp middle dropper, and Black General Practitioner on point. All three flies found favor. Given this season and our general location, we’ll take it.

A fine silhouette to see, even in murky marsh water. 

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Striper Reports: a little shrimping, a little herringing, tonight’s Zoom

“Herringing” may not be a word (or even the formal name of your German neighbor), but that’s what I was doing last night while you were sleeping. But let’s back up a day, to the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning.

A-shrimping I did go. I didn’t like the cold air or the east wind, but we’re getting near the May new moon, which is, if you keep track of this sort of thing, primo grass shrimp time in these parts. I fished two marks. The shrimp mating swarm tally at both was disappointing — I’d give it a 3 out of 10 — and the striper action was correspondingly below par. Nonetheless, I fished and hooked up and had a blast. There’s something about the “ploink!” and “squsplish” noises the feeders make that makes me cackle.

Sunday’s rig was Micro Shrimp Gurgler on top, Caddis Shrimp middle dropper, and RLS Black General Practitioner on point. I liked that my first grass shrimp bass of the year came on the GP. So much for the importance of casting distance — the take came about 20 feet away. When stripers are focused on feeding, you can often wade comically close to their position if you’re careful about it. What a hoot to be catching stripers on size 6 and 8 hooks!

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~

Last night’s outing was a fine way to spend the evening, if you place a premium practicing your Perry Poke and short backcast two-hand overhead volley — not to mention nursing an expertly crafted cigar. I fished one mark, a trib known to hold herring and stripers, neither of which were present in any great numbers. So. I covered lots of water. I greased line swung. I swam my Razzle Dazzle in short, staccato bursts. I set a hard stop of very early AM, and made it into bed before 3am.

So goes the night shift.

Hope to see you for tonight’s Zoom. Some of you asked yesterday about getting on the list and haven’t yet sent me an email.  (To be clear, leaving a comment on this site is NOT an email. To get on the list, you send an email to swculton@yahoo.com asking to do so. I hope that helps.)

Thanks Zoomers and some yummy striper morsels

Many thanks to everyone who attended last night’s Zoom (Pro Tips and Q&A). We’ve been averaging around 50 people (which does not suck) and I’m grateful for the enthusiasm you’ve shown — love all the questions! Stay tuned for details on the next Currentseams Zoom.

Absent any striper fishing (what strange times we live in!) I’ve been striper tying. Tasty snacks abound: clam worms, mullet, silversides, sand eels, isopods and grass shrimp. Dig in!

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How To Catch The Stripers Feeding On The Surface That No One Else Can.

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.

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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.

When the stripers are eating small stuff…(raffle swag for tomorrow night’s presentation)

Tomorrow, February 19, I’ll be presenting “Trout Fishing For Striped Bass — How to catch the stripers that everyone can’t” to the South Shore Fly Casters. SSFC is a newly formed group, and they’ve done a terrific job of getting their club up and running in a short amount of time. The gig is from 6pm-9pm at Barrel House Z, Weymouth, MA. Come on down…or up…or across…and you might win this spiffy little collection in their raffle. As always, please come say hello!

When the stripers are keyed on small stuff, it’s hard to go wrong with a well presented team of three. Four options here, clockwise from top: Deer Hair Grass Shrimp, Micro Shrimp Gurgler, Orange Ruthless Clamworm, Eelie. Good luck!

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Striper Report: Grass Shrimp Basstravaganza

I love me some topwater grass shrimp action. Even if the bass are on the small side, there’s so much soak in: the metronome-in-molasses turning of the tide; the bottle rocket-like traces made on the surface by hundreds of mating shrimp; and the percussive pops and swirling boils of the diners.

The method was a floating line and three fly team, presented with a combination of swings, mends, dangles, and animating the flies by raising and lowering the fly rod. I took the first fish, then handed the rod over to #2 son Cam, who spent the next gleeful hour catching stripers. Cam reported that he could feel the bass sucking the fly in — the first tap — and then waiting to feel the second tap or the weight of the fish to set the hook. What a great job he did (said his proud papa). Cam had the bonus excitement of his first double hookup, a riot with two feisty schoolies in tow.

Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want, and last night they wanted all of the below. The Grass Shrimp Gurgler was on point; Orange Ruthless clam worm in the middle. If you’re not fishing droppers during small bait/lots of bait events, you are missing out on a proven, strategic advantage — not to mention plain old fun. You can read more about how to tie and fish dropper rigs for stripers here.  

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