I see it all the time on internet forums. Someone wants to know what’s the best line to use for striped bass: floating, intermediate, or full sink. They get many responses, and it’s nice that people want to help. Unfortunately, there’s usually some bad information in the mix of suggestions. And it almost always involves a floating line.
There is one frequent flier that dominates the bad advice airspace. It appears so regularly that it commands a gospel-like gravitas. Like any good urban (or in this case, saltwater) legend, it gives the reader permission to believe. Its exact wording is a variation on this theme: “It’s hard to stay in contact with your fly in waves or surf or a rip with a floating line.”
It baffles me. Because I don’t have any trouble maintaining contact with my fly when I’m using a floating line.
So, anglers who use floating lines in the surf can be placed into two groups. Those who have trouble staying in contact with their fly. And those who don’t. One is a dead end, a self-fulfilling prophecy of you can’t. The other is full of wonder and possibilities. Which group do you want to be in?
Before you answer, I’d like to tell you a couple of stories about fishing in the surf with a floating line.
Last summer, I fished on Block Island twelve hours before Hurricane Arthur hit. Anyone who is familiar with advance hurricane swell in New England knows that the breakers can be impressive. Even so, the waves that night were not what surfers would call gnarly. When I arrived at my spot on the southeast side, the swells were a very manageable three feet, with occasional four-foot sets.
I was fishing a boulder field, and I was mystified by a small group of rocks that kept poking their tops out of the waves. I couldn’t remember them ever being there. In one of those well, duh, moments it dawned on me that those weren’t rocks – it was a school of stripers, seemingly aware of what was approaching, and eating while the eating was good.
On my first cast with the floating line, the sand eel fly settled into a trough just to the right of where I reckoned the bass would be waiting. I hadn’t accounted for the wind, which had been picking up since the afternoon. Still, the line snapped to attention on my first strip, and a couple minutes later I was releasing a barely sub-legal striper back into the Atlantic. This went on for the better part of an hour; the only reason I stopped was because I didn’t like beaching the fish on the rocks in an exponentially increasing shore break. I hated leaving a school of active feeders, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I tucked the point of my Big Eelie into the hook holder just as the first wave of tropical rain began to tattoo my jacket hood.