Currentseams Q&A: Which line to use for fall blitzes?

Here’s a question from long-time reader Bill G: There have been big blitzes on the Cape, but I’m not getting hookups. Do you recommend a floating line for fishing blitzes?

As with many questions, there are simple answers — and complex ones, too. The simple answer is: yes. With a floating line, I can mend, so I have more control over current and my presentation. I can present at the surface, near the surface, or deep (depending on leader length, type, and fly weight/structure/materials); and I can present on a dead drift, the swing; or strip. As with many questions I get about lines/leaders/flies, you must first answer the question, “What do you want the fly to do?” — and go from there.

Which brings us to the subject of blitzes. In the abstract, blitzes are good. You’ve got a concentration of bait and bass, so the mystery of where are the stripers and what are they eating has been eliminated. Sometimes, it’s too easy: all you need to do is toss a fly into the maelstrom and you’re on. But we’ve all experienced the frustration of fishing a blitz where we can’t buy a strike. Line type is important, but there are other factors to consider as well.

  1. Is there a lot of bait? If so, are you fishing droppers? Fishing two or more flies during a blitz will dramatically raise your hookup odds.
  2. Where are you making your presentation? The middle of the bait ball is often the worst place for your flies. Try presenting along the edges or a couple feet away — or try going underneath the bait. Blitzing stripers are looking for easy pickings: the stragglers or wounded or dead that are outside the safety of the bait ball.
  3. How are you presenting? If the stripers are looking for easy pickings, a stripped fly may be your worst option. That’s why dead drift presentations near the bait are often so effective.
  4. Fly selection matters. Try sparse, impressionistic patterns than move and breathe and create the illusion of life even when at rest.

I’ve had success during blitzes with both floating lines and full sink lines — but the one time I recall using a full sink, it was because it was so windy, and that was the easiest line to cast. Thanks, Bill, for the great question, and I hope this helped.

When there’s a lot of bait in the water, I like sparse, impressionistic patterns like this Little Crazy. A basic bucktail with a marabou throat, I based the color scheme on Ken Abrames much larger flatwing, the Crazy Menhaden. The Little Crazy is becoming one of my favorite juvenile Atlantic Menhaden patterns.

Striper Report 8/29/22: Of dropper rigs, sparse flies, and slot bass

I fished Monday late night into Tuesday early morning in Estuary X in Rhode Island. When I arrived there were clear signs of bait and stripers on the feed. Here’s what happened, in the form of observations and lessons learned and re-learned.

This time of year, the SoCo estuaries are loaded with silversides. In case you didn’t know, silversides go nuts when you shine a light on them. They form tight schools and they congregate in shallows near the shore. There are also juvenile Atlantic Menhaden around, from 2-4″ or so, but silversides are the dominant bait. When there’s that much bait in the water, a dropper rig is your best friend. Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want. They also raise your chances for a hookup because you have more targets in the water.

My first casts were made with a three fly team consisting of a sparse, generic bucktail about 3″ long on top dropper, Mark Gustavson’s Lil’ Bunky in the middle, and a Magog Smelt bucktail on point. There was a substantial current and my presentation was a greased line swing. I had action on every single cast, sometimes on all three flies — except it wasn’t bass. It was weeds. Lots and lots of weeds. When it became clear that flora was all I’d be hooking, I decided to search for fauna elsewhere.

This juvenile menhaden pattern is sparse, simple, and — as you’ll see — highly effective.

At the next mark I switched to a suspension dropper rig — one with a floating fly on point (in this case a Gurgler) — because I was fishing in shallower water with a much slower current. What’s more, there were several rocks in my presentation zone topped with bubble weed. So this rig helped keep my flies away from trouble. While there was an enormous amount of bait, there was not a corresponding number of stripers in the mix. I was having one of those nights where no matter where I moved, the stripers would shift to just out of casting range. By the turn of the tide I was a wee bit frustrated.

But sometimes persistence pays off. I moved to a different location where I’ve had some success before. I spent a few minutes sitting on a rock, savoring the calm of a cigar in the middle of a cloudy, humid night. I could hear the silverside schools working; every once in a while, they’d get agitated. But I wasn’t hearing any slashes or pops that would indicate stripers feeding. Still, they weren’t getting restless for no reason. I was standing upstream of two bait balls; my logic was that bass would be looking for strays to pick off. If I could dangle my rig near the edges of the bait balls, or even equidistant from them, perhaps my fly would get seen.

There are two ways at impact to determine that you’ve hooked a good bass. The first is sheer power of the hit. The second is sound the water makes as the bass rolls on the fly. I got both. I set the hook — never with the tip, always a sharp rearward thrust back toward my hips. Once the bass realized it was hooked, she bolted for deeper water, another positive sign that you’ve got a good ‘un (bigger bass love to sound). Because the night was damp, my old Scientific Anglers System 2’s drag wasn’t at its powerful-run-stopping best. She peeled off 75 feet of line in a jiffy. I managed to stop her run by palming the reel. From then it was a matter of cranking the reel and not letting her breathe. And before too long, I was admiring her substantial flanks and alien-creature mouth. You beautiful striper, you.

I had a rough night with the camera, so please believe me when I tell you that this shot doesn’t do her justice. 32″ and faaaat. Easily 15 pounds. I was truly impressed with her girth. She’s been eating well! The other thing to note is the silversides in the water. There weren’t any bait schools nearby — these are all random silversides, which gives you an indication of how much bait was in the water. As you’ve probably guessed by now, she ate the Lil’ Bunky.

RI Striper Report 9/6-7/21: Tons of bait. Ounces of bass.

I fished the last two evenings at various marks in SoCo and enjoyed….not a touch. Well, that’s not entirely true. I felt every weed that brushed against my three fly team. Last night I accidentally snagged a few small menhaden. But nothing living that could be measured in pounds came in contact with my fly.

I fished inside a breachway in moving water, incoming and outgoing; in a pond area of an inflow; off a jetty; and from the beach. Not even a courtesy tap. I saw and heard a few stripers, but they were small and their presence fleeting, and I never really had a good shot at a target. Bait, on the other hand — wow! Masses of bait everywhere. Silversides, menhaden, and mullet in mother lode Vegas jackpot numbers everywhere. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such immense, dark clouds of menhaden.

The fighting is rounds. This was round one.

I’ll take menhaden. Look for an upcoming article from me in Field & Stream on matching fall run bait with classic striper flies.

The Hunt for Striped October

It was 9:30pm and everyone was drowsy. So when my wife and son announced they were going to bed, I decided it would be a good time to load up the Jeep and head to points salty. I’d failed in my first attempt to catch my October bass on the fly from the shore, and now there were now less than two weeks remaining to accomplish that mission.

At first it seemed like the wrong decision. A stiff, gusty breeze was blowing off the Sound, ¬†and it didn’t look (or smell) very fishy. So I settled in with my cigar and waited for a more favorable tide. I passed the time with a few swings and dangles, and that’s how I uncovered my first clue: a peanut bunker snagged on my point fly. A few casts later, another snagged peanut. This gave me hope. The old saw of “find the bait, find the fish” ain’t always true, but at least I knew that stripers would have a reason for being here, even if I couldn’t see them.

At the turn of the tide I moved to another nearby location. Still no signs of bass (or even worried bait). But this is a universal truth: flies in the water catch more fish. I made a cast and let the flies swing around into a dangle. BAM! The hit came out of nowhere, but it was unmistakably a bass. No surprise — it took the peanut bunker bucktail fly on the team of three (the other two were silverside and anchovy). I made one more cast after I landed the 20″er, thought better of it, reeled up, and decided that I’d done exactly what I wanted to. I whooped and hollered and cackled all the way back to the Jeep.

The two are not mutually exclusive, but it is far more important to be a good angler than a good caster — or a distance caster. Which location? What tide? Where are the bass likely to be? What’s the bait? How can I present my flies in a way that makes it easy for the bass to eat? The cast that took this fish was all of 20 feet (and that includes 10-and-a-half feet of rod).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Striper report: Nine down. Three to go.

Last night’s mission was September bass. Success! But I had to work for it, which made it even sweeter. Got to the spot in plenty of time for the turn of the tide. The water was loaded with worried bait (silversides, peanuts, and even a few rogue mullet) but not a corresponding number of predators. I could hear an occasional frantic bait shower and a pop here and there, but where was that telltale tug? There. Fish on. Then: fish off. Despair. I kept at it, but nothing.

With rain and wind forecast for Monday, I made up my mind that I was staying out until I secured my prize. Off to Spot B which was dead as Julius Caesar. On my way to Spot C I passed Spot A and thought, wouldn’t it be funny if I made a couple casts and caught a bass? What a fine tale that would make. First cast, mend, nibble-nibble. Second, bump! I could tell what was going on: school bass were making hit-and-run passes through the bait balls. It was either a hair trigger hook set or wait for the weight of the fish. No right answer, only the one that works. I went with option B. And on my third cast, I caught a striper on the fly from the shore for nine consecutive months.

School bass like this that are feeding on bait balls can be devilishly hard to catch. Persistence, passive presentation, and a team of three flies are your ally.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA