Best of 2020 #1: The Triumphant Return of the Block Island All-Nighter!

You may think it would be easy to pick out a top ten fishing memories of the year list. But it isn’t. Sometimes it’s especially difficult to choose one event as the single best moment of the year. What made that particular fish better than another? Is size the only determining factor? What about frequency of catching? Is an epic day of constant action more worthy than a single big fish? These are the questions for which I struggle to find answers. In the end, I chose my tenth Block Island All-Nighter as the #1 Best of 2020 for several reasons. First, the company: old friend Peter Jenkins of The Saltwater Edge. It was Jenks’ first BIAN, and after a slow start he killed it. While there weren’t any slot fish or better, the action was consistently good all night (I’m told by my Island spies that this was the first really good night of the season). Finally, I hadn’t done a BIAN in five years, and it was soul-restoring to get back to this treasured tradition. Cap it off with a highly satisfying breakfast at Ernie’s, and that, and Jenks would say, “makes it a win!”

I know this was a challenging year for everyone. I hope you found some solace, if not downright joy, on the water. Here’s to the great moments of 2020, and to the hope that 2021 is even better. Thanks for reading currentseams. I value your comments, questions, and passion for this wonderful sport of ours. Cheers!

Skunk’s off. Most of the stripers we caught on BIAN X were in the 20″-24″ class, but Block Island bass are a treat on the long rod at any size .

What Striper Fly Anglers Can Learn From Pluggers

In short, a lot.

I’m currently reading Dennis Zambrotta’s Surfcasting Around The Block. As you may have read a few days ago, Dennis has asked me to contribute a chapter to his upcoming followup. It’s a little crazy to me that I’ve known about Dennis’ book for years, but I’ve never read it until now. While the focus of the book is on spin fishing the Block with plugs in the surf — and frequently surf under hardcore conditions — there are plenty of secrets that the fly angler keen on building his or her knowledge base will be able to use for their next outing, whether on Block Island or elsewhere. Here are some of my thoughts.

Color matters to needlefish pluggers. The needlefish is a primary choice for pluggers when sand eels are the bait, and the most popular color is fluorescent green. On Block I fish Big Eelies the vast majority of time, in all kinds of colors, and have never found that the stripers have a preference. But now my mind is wandering in to places of color and length. The Big Eelie in L&L Special colors is one of my favorite, high-confidence Block flies. It’s got a lot of chartreuse. Hmmmm….maybe a longer version, seven inches long, with more bright greens?….one way to find out…

Or, maybe the L&L in a Soft-Hackled Flatwing, tied about 7″ long. I really like fishing this color scheme over sandy bottom structure, like Crescent Beach...or on the Cape…

Location matters…and there are so many locations. I like to think that there aren’t too many anglers that know Block Island on the fly like I do, and then I read a book like this and realize how very little I really know — especially when it comes to locations. Part of it is that I’m a creature of habit. Part of it is that I like to fish flats and skinny water more than surf. Part of it is that it can be challenging to fish certain marks with a fly rod in wind and waves (almost constant companions on Block). But I’ve really got to explore more of these boulder fields (check out Gerry Audet’s talk on boulder fields sometime) and the mysteries they hold. In a way, Dennis hasn’t written a book as much as he’s built a roadmap. Follow it to find your own secret spot.

Tides matter. Once you’ve figured out where you’re going to fish, pay attention to the tides. There are certain marks on Block that I fish on universal tides, and others that I’ll only hit at a certain tide. Pay attention to the details in Dennis’ book and you’ll have the code cracked for you on your next outing.

Put in your time. And move around. If the bass aren’t biting where you are, give them a chance to move into the area you’re fishing. If that doesn’t work, move. One of the beauties of the Block is that everything is accessible and everything is short drive from where you are.

Okay, so the days of the multiple 30, 40, and 50+ pound bass blitzes from shore are over. (Dammit! I can’t believe I missed that. Oh, to have been a striper fly fisher on Block in the early to mid 1980s…) It’s been a slow last couple years for me for slot fish and above on Block, the opportunity still exists. Here’s a very respectable double-digit pounder on the fly from two years ago. Miss you, sweetheart.

Calling all Blockheads! (Read all about it.)

Great news for Block Island striper fans: Author Dennis Zambrotta is putting together a followup to his classic Surfcasting Around The Block — and he’s asked me to contribute a chapter. I’m totally stoked. But jeez…I have so many good stories to tell…how do I pick just one? Not to worry. I already have a good idea about what I’m going to write about…

In case you’re unfamiliar, the original Surfcasting Around The Block is “a collection of memoirs and short stories about Block Island, surfcasting, and striped bass.” Even if you’re strictly a fly angler (like me), it’s loaded with pearls and gems. The followup will have plenty about fly fishing.

“Block Island, RI: One of the Last Great Places” from Eastern Fly Fishing

You’ve got to go way back into the archives for this one: the May/June 2009 issue of Eastern Fly Fishing. Block Island, RI: One of the Last Great Places was written just as I was beginning to gain some publishing traction. You’ll have to settle for a low-res black and white version of the article, but the work stands on its own. It’s a quick primer on fishing the Block from shore, and it’s about all you’ll get out of me in terms of where-to. Thanks to John Kelsey for tying the Orange and Blue Squidazzle! PDF link is below.

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This used to be an L&L Big Eelie. An epic night of big Block bass on sand eels reduced it to a shell of its former self. They were still eating it when I stopped fishing at dawn.

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Best of 2018 #6: Block Island stripers

The Block is my salty retreat. My striper sanctuary. I’d go so far as to call it sacred water. The seasonal bass populations have been neap and spring in the past decade, but 2018 was a high water mark: good numbers of stripers, and some decent sized fish in the mix. In fact, a third of the Block Island stripers I landed this year were legal-plus, with a few to 15 pounds. Best of all, many of these fish weren’t easy to catch. On several nights I passed other anglers leaving the beach who greeted me with the lament of “lots of bass busting, but we couldn’t catch them.” This was surely a job for the floating line, dropper rig, and trout tactics.

And to my delight, it was.

My Block Island fishing is steeped in tradition. For example, I’ll use certain flies on certain dates, like the Olive Fireworm Big Eelie on July 4th. Doesn’t matter what year it is, it’s that the fly on that date. This 15-pounder tried to assert her independence, but I won the day.

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I fished Crescent Beach and was walking along Corn Neck Road as the bars were letting out. “Hey, flashlight hat man!” came drunk girl’s come-hither shout-out. I rather liked her choice of words. In the moonlight I could see bass crashing bait on the surface. Here’s a release in the wash.

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Is it me or does this bass look like she’s formulating a thought?

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Tell the NOAA no fishing in the Block Island Transit Zone

This is important, folks. The NOAA is considering a rule that would allow recreational striped bass fishing in the Block Island Transit Zone, a part of the EEZ. The BITZ is an important refuge for striped bass, especially breeding age females which sometimes spend the entire summer there. If approved, charter boats will come and wantonly kill the future of this glorious species. Please visit the link below, hit “comment now!” and provide your opinion.

Click here to comment.

She needs your help!

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Block Island striper report: small is the new black

Another year, another seven days to chase linesiders in one of The Last Great Places. What each new season brings is always a mystery until you get out there, and then you can toss all the reports you’ve been hearing because they’re either spot on, nothing like that at all, or varying points of somewhere in between.

In 2017, I’d been hearing credible talk of voluminous schools of sand eels inshore and the Bass-O-Matic running on high. That sounded swell, but there were two x-factors to consider: we were coming out of the new moon into first quarter with a waxing gibbous and its bite-killing light; and the weather. Good news/bad news on both fronts. On the plus side it was cloudy most nights, so moonlight was not a factor. On the down side, it was windy. Like small craft warning windy: 20 knots sustained with higher gusts that pushed the limits of what is reasonable with a fly rod. And wind usually changes everything on the Block.

Like last year, I caught stripers every night. But the bargain of two consecutive years without a skunk was a preponderance of small fish. This was the first time in a decade that I didn’t take a legal bass out here, and I found myself longing for those schools of 15-pounders that would sit off the beach for 90 minutes, having their way with sand eels. I had two double-digit nights, then a six, then three singles, and wrapped it up with another half dozen. But 27″ was the largest bass I could muster.

Sight fishing from the beach during daylight was tough due to wind, but mostly to the clouds that made finding those elusive shadows a chore. What’s more, on the sunny days I spotted very few cruisers. I did get two fish to follow my fly, one of them a good 20-pounder, but in the end they both broke off the chase.

And then there were the Meatballs. I had enough nights where I enjoyed blissful solitude, but there were a few sessions where the Meatballs were out in force and in rare form. I’m usually the quiet sort on the water, but at one point on a certain night I was blasted so often by so many hundreds of lumens that I finally turned and barked, “Please stop shining that light on me NOW!” They left shortly after. I had a cigar to celebrate.

And that’s the thing about Block. Even when it’s bad, it can be very, very good.

I had high hopes for this fish — he went on the reel — but the tape measure didn’t lie and he came up an inch short. I mostly stuck with my usual eclectic mix of Big Eelies. This fish thought the Crazy Menhaden color scheme looked tasty. Kind of a neat stained glass effect going on in the water around him, too.

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Unless there’s a specific hot spot, I always try to mix it up on the Block. I fished the east side and west side beaches, southeast side, off some jetties, in the Great Salt Pond, and — regrettably — the North Rip. I say this only because the Rip had been producing a consistent good bite if you had a spinning rod. The night I slogged out there was about the worst night for fly fishing you could imagine. The wind was rain jacket whipping-fast, and I had to cast my line backhand over my right shoulder (I’m a lefty) to shoot it into the rip, then feed line into the left to right current. So far so good. But, rats. Mung. Every cast. I took this shot when I got back to the truck. Yes, it was that hot and that humid and that foul. I love the Block, but walking a mile and a half in the sand for nothing will make anyone dour.

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I discovered that striped bass have great camo against the sand and rocks — even when they’re dead.

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A public service message brought to you by the National Spell Check Society.

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On the last night I caught bass two ways. First, off the beach, where I found a school of hungry fish feeding in the moonlight; then, inside the Pond on a flat with a team of three flies suspended in the film. (Floating line, of course, for both methods.) My last two fish of the trip came as the flies dead-drifted across the flat. That building pressure I felt let me know a striper was flaring his gills to suck in one of the small sand eel flies, in this case a 3″ Eelie in olive and chartreuse. See you next year, when one of us has put on a few more pounds.

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Celebrating summer

July is a darn good month to be an angler in these parts. I just returned from a week on Block Island, and while the fishing wasn’t great (spotty action and smaller fish) I did get into bass every night. Detailed report and pics to come.

I’m really looking forward to getting back to the Farmington, in particular to swinging some wets. The spring’s cool temps and voluminous water supply should make for some terrific wet fly outings over the next several weeks. Speaking of wet flies, there’s one more opening in Sunday’s UpCountry Wet Flies 101 class. Jump on it and become the envy of all your trout angling friends. You can’t sign up with me; you have to do it through the store here.

Speaking of jumping on things, if you’re planning on booking a lesson/outing/trip with me, best to inquire now. My days are filling up (two gigs next week) and I am going to jealously guard my personal fishing time. You know where to find me.

Client John with a fine example of what is possible on the Farmington River at noon on a sunny day in July.

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“Block Island Stripers from the Shore” in the Oct/Nov/Dec 2016 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide

It’s the Destination Issue of MAFFG, and we’re all heading to Block Island! A nifty little primer on the island, its structure, flies, gear, and more. While this past year was (ahem) a bit of an off-year for stripers on the fly from the shore, the Block remains one of my favorite places to fish — and write about.

While I truly love answering your questions, let me head you off at the pass: no, I don’t know where you can find a copy of MAFFG. You can try contacting them through their Facebook page. And of course, let them know you enjoy my writing.

Hot off the presses.

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Block Island report: Three steps forward, one giant leap back

Block Island used to be the the place I’d go to restore my faith in the ocean. The late spring striper fishing in Connecticut would inevitably fade, and mainland Rhode Island would become a crap shoot. But Block Island would be as reliable as sunrise in the east.

Over the course of a week, I could expect between 60 and 100 bass, with a healthy percentage of legal fish in the mix. Many were the years when my largest striper would be a summer resident of the Block. And while there might be a night of skunking, the Island would always quickly repay me with an off-the-charts outing. (I still fondly recall the night in the mid-two thousand oughts when my friend John and I encountered a school of 15-25 pound bass within casting range. John took a striper on 11 consecutive casts — work that out in your head — and I managed the largest fish of the night with a junior cow that went nearly 40 inches. I don’t think the drags on our reels were ever the same after that.)

Then came 2011. I landed eight stripers over the course of a week. Incredibly, 2012 was worse: four bass over seven nights. 2013 was much better, albeit spotty, 2014 better still and more consistent, and then last year I surpassed the 75 fish mark without a single skunk.

Sadly, the resurgence was short-lived. A paltry ten bass this year, four in one night. (This  indicates a dearth of schools of feeding bass. Instead, you get lone wolves, which means you need to be in the right place at the right time. Certainly some of that is calculable, but much of it is left to the whims of chance.) I had to work my butt off for those stripers, too — a typical night had me bouncing around the island hitting multiple spots. On of my two single-fish nights, my striper came on the last cast. I saw less than a dozen sand eels all week. The family goes to the beach nearly every day, yet I could only find one bass cruising the shore break. Even more telling was the hardcore-wetsuit-plugger who relayed his tale of woe. Fishing on his favorite boulders from the southeast to southwest sides, he managed a single bass over four nights.

My local spies tell me that the beach bite never materialized this year (the second half of June/first half of July is typically prime time), and the boat bite has likewise been poor. The big question is: why? For one, no bait, indicated by a paucity of shore birds scavenging the beach on the receding tides. Some locals are pointing to the wholesale wanton slaughter of larger bass at the Ledge over the last half-decade as a contributing factor. Meanwhile, Cape Cod has been en fuego this year. Could it be that for some reason, large numbers of bass ignored the right turn to the Block and continued on to the cozy confines of Chatham?

One thing is certain. A new normal for fly fishing Block Island from the shore has been established. And it is:  you pays your money and you takes your chances.

Good times on the first night. This fish was part of the only school (if you can call a half dozen bass a school) of actively feeding fish I found all week. What he lacked in size — this is a 24-incher — he made up for in ferocity. My presentation was short strips across a slow current, and he hammered the fly with such power that I put him on the reel. The Big Eelie in various color schemes accounted for all my bass. One constant on Block Island remains: the remarkable clarity of the water. 

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Iron meets water and air. Oxidation ensues. Taken on the northwest side.

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Darkness falls across the land. (And sea.) I took this shot while perched on a rock as the waves rolled in at my feet. I was sure I was going to score a 15-pounder here — there was a nice rip line moving across the current — but I blanked. A bit of a tricky wade as this flat is a weed-covered boulder field, so I was thankful to make it back to shore on the incoming tide.

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I saw you, feeding noisily near that boulder pile. The best striper of the trip, and my only keepah. I had to reposition myself to properly present to this fish. On the second cast, bang! What? I couldn’t believe I missed him. So I ripped my line in to make another cast. In the moment it took to raise the rod tip, slack formed in the line. When I lifted the line off the water, the fish was on. To reiterate: I’d rather be lucky than good.

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