Cape Crusaders

Got back yesterday from a 36-hour Cape Cod stripers on the fly trip. I met a friend from England who fishes out there several weeks this time of year, and a couple other guys I knew from the SOL forum.  Tuesday night we fished an outflow. I took a 20″ bass on my first cast, and I supposed that it was going to be one of those lose-track-of-the-count-after-a-dozen nights. Or not. That was my only striper of the evening.

Wednesday AM we fished the mouth of an estuary. I could sense almost right away that it wasn’t going to happen, and it didn’t. The most fun I had that morning was casting Mike’s (the Englishman who is also a rod maker) cannon of a two-hander. (Good Lord, I need one of those for windy days.) Or maybe it was breakfast. It was pretty tasty. I think I’ll go with breakfast. We headed for a bay to catch the last of outgoing, but with the wind in my face, a tired body, and the only bass around being in the stocked trout size range, I decided to save my chips for later.

Good call. The Wednesday dusk and night bite was off-the-charts good for numbers (not so much for size) but you take what the striper gods give you and offer thanks. Mike and I started by working a beach, and we ran into a good old-fashioned classic blitz, with terns dive bombing the bait and a striper on just about every cast-and-strip. We were fishing about 25 feet off the beach, walking down current, casting parallel to the shore. This went on until dark, and we fairly giggled about it on our walk over to where Chris and Chuck were fishing.

I loved this second spot: an outflow with stripers holding on station, unwilling to chase, feeding on something small. I was feeling lazy, but after Chris mentioned the deer hair grass shrimp he’d seen in my box the night before, I realized that the standard baitfish fly was going to be nothing but casting practice. While bass popped around me, some within a rod length away, I tied up a three fly dropper team with the shrimp on top, a 1.5″ saltwater Hornburg, and a Gurgler on point to suspend the rig. I generally avoid the phrase “that was the ticket,” but I beg to report that that was, indeed, the ticket. For the next hour, the skunk turned into a touch or multiple touches on just about every cast. The fish were small and hard to hook, and with the action winding down, I decided to end on a high note after I took a double.

 

Mike demonstrates the proper technique for serving tea in the field, taken directly from the pages of the British Commando manual. Tea and milk on the beach after a night’s fishing. How civilized! Yes, the weather was October cold.

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Chris with the best fish of our 36 hours, taken in an outflow on a Big Eelie. A fine demo of proper catch-and-release.

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“Soft Hackles for Striped Bass” from the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of American Angler

With striper season in full swing — if you’ll pardon the expression — this seemed like the perfect time to share “Soft Hackles for Striped Bass.” Many of you know me as a devotee of soft hackles and wets for trout, but interestingly enough, I was using soft hackles and wet fly tactics for stripers years before I tried them on trout. This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of American Angler. It features six patterns, three from Ken Abrames and three of my own doing. All of them are proven bass catchers. So get out your vise and your floating line and deliver these impressionistic wonders to a waiting, hungry mouth.

Soft Hackles for Striped Bass

The world-famous Jimi Hendrix-trippy-acid-flash-light-show striped bass photo. Nearly 40″ long, Miss Piggy (look at that full tummy!) fell for the seductive nuances of the Big Eelie, a soft-hackled sand eel.

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Rejecting the concept of the go-to fly

Are trout anglers smarter than striper anglers? I ask myself this question a lot. I don’t have a definitive answer, but I do know this: no other fly fishing endeavor gets by on a smaller corpus of knowledge than fly fishing for striped bass. As evidence, I offer the phenomenon of the go-to fly.

“What’s your go-to fly?”

You see it all the time on striper forums. It presupposes that there is a single fly solution for all saxatilus situations. Invariably, the usual suspects are rounded up. Now, the Clouser is a great fly (or jig, depending on your level of crustiness). In fact, there was a time when it was my favorite striper fly (really). But a Clouser is not going to serve you well when the bass are holding on station slurping grass shrimp. I go back to the night in Rhode Island when, after several hours of pounding up 10-15 pound bass on Big Eelies, another angler chased me down the beach to ask what fly I was using. He’d learned a hard lesson that sinking lines and weighted flies are a highly unproductive way to fish for bass crashing bait on the surface.

Now, ask a trout angler, “What’s your go-to fly?” If they’re any good, their answer will be, “For which hatch?” Or, “What time of year?” Or, “How am I fishing?” You get the idea. No trout angler worth his Catskills dries would ever approach the Trico spinner fall with a Woolly Bugger by rote.

If you want to catch less fish, fish the go-to fly.  If you want to catch more, go to the fly that best resembles what the fish are feeding on — and fish it how the naturals are behaving.

I love my Big Eelies. But they stay in the box when I’m fishing for bass that are feeding on herring.

Block Island All-Nighter Flies Big Eelies

 

Big Eelies and Banana Squid, or: striper soft hackles galore

I went on a wee tying binge, and when the feather dust settled I was left with an 8-pack of Big Eelies. Some are old favorites, and a few sport new color combinations. That’s one thing I love about this pattern: it lends itself supremely well to all manner of color experimentation, and the stripers almost always seem pleased with your work.

Big Eelies hot off the press. Clockwise from lower left: pink/chartreuse/olive, grey/olive, Crazy Menhaden colors, Olive Fireworm colors, black/chartreuse, pink/olive/brown, then the two of the original classic. I can already feel that forceful tug at the end of a twitching strip.

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The Banana Squid, another classic from Ken Abrames. It’s different from most other squid patterns, and it looks nothing like what books would lead you to believe  a squid should be. Add the magic ingredient of water, and it transforms into a living, breathing organism than looks good to eat. Fished slowly and deliberately, it relies on organic movement and impressionism to fool the fish.

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Hook: Eagle Claw 253 3/0
Thread: Black 6/0
Platform: 30 hairs grey bucktail
Tail: Three white saddle hackles tied in flat, then four ginger saddles (I used golden tan) to veil the white saddles, then sparse purple Krystal flash on both sides, then a short badger hackle on both sides, then a webby grey saddle tied in flat, then a full plume of amber marabou
Body: Purple braid tied to 3/8″ from the hook eye
Collar: A sparse layer or yellow bucktail one hair thick to extend to the end of the amber marabou, then a sparse layer of blue bucktail one hair thick, then a sparse later of red bucktail one hair thick
Hackle: Brownish marabou tied in near the butt of the stem, then wound and doubled 3-4 turns

Block Island All-Nighter IX: It’s Father’s Day…and I got my cake!

We dip into the obscure 80s movie vault for that opening. But if you remember the first segment of Creepshow, you know from whence I quote. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. The first day of summer comes riding in on a white charger to banish the memories of the miserable spring that was striper fishing from the shore in Connecticut.

This was my first-ever solo BIAN (Block Island All-Nighter, for the uninitiated). A couple last-minute cancellations saw to that, and I couldn’t take Cam this year because he’s recuperating from an injury. You never know what you’re going to get on the BIAN. But there’s only one way to find out.

Getting ready. Big Eelies are a high-confidence pattern for me on the Block in June and July. The bass don’t have a color preference — it’s a profile and presentation fly — so I like to play around with different palettes. Crazy Menhaden colors on the paper, False Dawn on the cork. The entire top row left of the box is assorted other Big Eelies.

Block Island All-Nighter Flies Big Eelies

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I was sitting in my Jeep in the ferry lot. It was tropical for a June in Point Judith, so I had the door open. A squadron of passing gulls (if you’ll pardon the expression) evacuated their bowels over my position; most of it ended up on the truck, but a good tablespoonful got me square on the left leg. I took this as a sign. Yep. It was going to be a good night’s fishing.

Block Island All-Nighter bird poop

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Over the course of the night, I bounced around to several spots and found sand eels and stripers everywhere. I started fishing at 8:30; by midnight I had caught more bass than I had the entire spring in Connecticut. Plus, it was Father’s Day. That called for a celebration. A wee drap of Highland Park 12 year-old paired with a Gispert Churchill. (Sold separately.)

Block Island All-Nighter Wee Drop

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My first encounter of the night was with bluefish — it did not end favorably for my leader or my fly. After that, it was bass after bass after bass. The vast majority were scrappy pugs in the 20-24″ class, but there were a few keepers in the mix. It took me until June 22 this year (my longest stretch since I started fishing for stripers) to catch a legal fish. He she is, about to dash off to freedom. Note the curious observer to the right of her gill plate.

Block Island All-Nighter first keeper

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My best fish of the night, twenty pounds, just shy of 37″. She surprised me when I started hand stripping her in. The next thing I knew, line was hurtling through my fingertips and noisily chattering off the reel. The power of these larger bass is almost irrational, although they have a distinctive flight pattern: head for deeper water, and, failing at that, swim at attack speed in a broad half-moon arc. I’m trying to be as photo-friendly as I can with fish these days, and that translates to keeping them in the water as much as possible, even if it means not getting a classic hero shot. I encourage you to do the same.

Block Island All-Nighter 20 pounds

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Stripers often feed like like trout taking emergers or sipping spinners. I witnessed both rise forms. Here’s the back end of a spinner sip. Look in the foreground for worried water and a caddis-like leap by a sand eel. That spot erupted moments after I took this photo.

Block Island All-Nighter tailer

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The beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad. But I did not have another for dessert. That was reserved for Ernie’s. Scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes and toast, my first real food since those sublime fried scallops at Finn’s twelve hours earlier. 

Block Island All-Nighter Beer 

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You know the fishing is good when your fly ends up like this. In it’s heyday it was an L&L Big Eelie. Now it’s a testament to the potential of primal carnage and a top-ten-ever night of fly fishing for striped bass.

Block Island All-Nighter destroyed fly

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BIAN IX is awarded the official Currentseams seal of approval.

Block Island All-Nighter striper thumb

“The Little Things” in the July/August 2015 of American Angler

In case you didn’t know, I have the cover story in the current issue of American Angler, now available at your favorite fly shop or news stand. The piece is called “The Little Things,” and it’s about seemingly small adjustments you can make in your fishing that can have a large impact on the outcome. I have a followup — Son of “The Little Things” if you will — and several other pieces coming up in American Angler.

Read all about it.

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Not a picture of me. But a good photo nonetheless. I love guides who can multitask and make it look easy. 

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Partridge and Light Cahill soft-hackle

Some more production tying last night at currentseams HQ. Partridge and Light Cahill soft-hackles. So simple. And so effective during an emergence of the creamy mayflies we get on late spring evenings on the Farmington. A size 12 or 14 will do nicely. Hold on, now. Trout get reckless during this hatch.

When I started tying wet flies, I made two full rows of Partridge and (insert Pearsall’s Gossamer Silk color here) in my box. Later, on a whim, I bought some Uni Light Cahill thread and tied up a few of these soft-hackles. They sat unused for at least one season. I don’t remember the exact circumstance, but I do know that the first time I fished this fly, I cleaned up. I still have one of those original Partridge and Light Cahills; I fished it last spring, caught a trout on it, then retired it. It barely had any hackle left, but it still worked.

Such is the power of the impressionistic soft-hackle.

Filling corks with Partridge and Light Cahill soft-hackles. These are tied on a 1x strong, 1x long size 14 hook.

Partridge and Light Cahills