And you can put your weeds in it

One of the more agreeable aspects of fishing salt pond outflows on a dropping tide is the conveyor belt effect: everything that was inside comes rushing past you on its way to the sea. Bait. Stripers. And sometimes, sadly, weeds. Lord, did I have my weeds Saturday night. Two of them were quite pleasant, a Cabaiguan Guapos on the drive down, then a Saint Luis Rey Corona Gorda for the trip back. The middle, not so much.

From an old, not-so-famous poem: “But all the outgoing tide decreed, was piles and piles of stringy weed.”

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Jon and I started out at dusk at Salt Pond A. We could see multitudes of bait in the water. But the only predators feeding on them were jellyfish, ranging in size from a salad plate to a more ominous-looking small platter. Off to Salt Pond B. Jammed with silversides, smaller unidentified baitfish, pods of worried mullet, needlefish, and — alas — precious few stripers. Jon managed a few small hickory shad, while I experienced a first: a mullet on a fly. I was fishing a team of three small bucktail baitfish patterns, ranging from two to three-and-a-half inches. Oh. I also caught weeds. Lots and lots of weeds. Dropper rigs excel at finding weeds. A 3/0 shot above the middle dropper provided a partial remedy, but I still got my limit of aquaflora.

On the way to Salt Pond C, disaster. Clumpthumplit! “What was that?” Jon asked, and immediately answered his question: he had left his rod on the roof of the car. A more fortuitous tumble might have kicked it into the breakdown lane, or even the grassy median. Positive waves were sent as Jon went off into the night to retrieve the fallen warrior. But no. DOA, including the reel. Last rites were given to both roadside, and Jon’s car, now playing the role of hearse, began the long, sorrowful journey back to Connecticut. But not without a detour. Salt Pond C still needed to be investigated. I made quick work of backing up the pool along a short channel. No fish. Several weeds. And lots of biolume.

So, it didn’t happen for us. Don’t bum out, man. Soon, those ponds will be holding.

The R.L.S. Herr Blue

In a vast Sargasso Sea of opaque, doll-eyed baitfish patterns, the R.L.S. Herr Blue shines as an understated alternative. This is my favorite fly when the bait is juvenile herring.

Sparse construction and impressionistic design are hallmarks of the R.L.S. bucktails, outlined by Ken Abrames in Chapter 2 of A Perfect Fish. There are 14 flies listed. You’re probably familiar with the most famous of them, the Ray Bondorew classic, Ray’s Fly. There are enough color combinations among the R.L.S. Bucktails to match many of the baitfish stripers favor – or match or contrast the color of the sea and sky on any given day. (Think I’m crazy on that last one? Tie up an R.L.S. Easterly on a grey, foul day when the wind is blowing 20 knots out of the east and see what happens.) Size-wise, you’re only limited by the length of the bucktail you have on hand.

Like Ray’s Fly, the Herr Blue embraces the philosophy that less is more – with only 66 total bucktail hairs, you can easily read the newspaper through its body. It’s also a fascinating exercise in color blending, with no less than nine different bucktail colors that create all kinds of secondary and tertiary hues.

Herr Blue is the kind of fly that doesn’t get a lot of attention on internet forums or in flyshop bins. That’s easy to understand. When it comes to popular perception of saltwater patterns, impressionism always takes a back set to realism. That’s a shame, because flies like this reveal to you just how low on the intelligence scale fish really are.

But now, you’re in on the secret. And you’re going to love the look on other people’s faces when you show them the fly you’ve been catching all those stripers on.

Ich bin ein Herr Blue (click on image to enlarge)

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Thread: White
Hook: Eagle Claw 253 or Mustad 3407 (this is the EC 253 size 1/0)
Body: Silver mylar braid
Wing: Bucktail, 15 hairs white, 5 ginger 1.5x hook length, mixed, under 8 violet, 4 pink, 10 light blue mixed 2x hook length, under 2 strips silver and 2 strips purple flash (I only use one of each for the smaller versions) under 10 dark blue, 4 emerald green, 6 smoky blue/grey, 4 orange mixed 3x hook length.
Topping: 5-7 strands peacock herl a half inch longer than the longest bucktail
Eyes: Jungle cock (optional)

Tying notes: This fly is 3½” long. I usually tie it from 2½” to 6”. In the smaller sizes, I use only one strand of flash per color. You don’t have to make yourself crazy trying to calculate bucktail lengths for different sizes; sometimes I just make each section about a half-inch to an inch longer than the previous one. The jungle cock eyes are a nice touch, but most of the time I fish this fly neat – no eyes. One question I get a lot is, “Do I have to actually count the bucktail hairs?” Today, my answer is yes. Two reasons. One, I’d like you to see just how few 66 bucktail hairs really is. Two, you are embarking on adventure in controlled color blending. Think of it as a custom color you order in a paint store. They take the base and add precise shots of pigment to it to create the same color over and over. Same thing here. This fly was created by a painter with an exceptional eye for color. I trust his judgment, and I want to try to see what he envisioned when he specified this blend. Having said that, the universe will not implode if you use 12 violet, 6 pink, or 15 light blue bucktail hairs. So, do it by the book, then improvise to your heart’s desire. Try to keep things sparse, though. A little bucktail goes a long way.

A new flatwing from the Culton bench: the Rock Island

Rock Island Flatwings

Depending on your cultural exposure, Rock Island Line is a blues, country, or skiffle song. I won’t go into the details of the story, but there’s a railroad and a train involved. It takes place ‘way down south, miles away from the Metro North line, but that’s the route I take when business calls in the City. That train parallels the shoreline, and it goes over plenty of marshy, salty estuaries — you know, the kind stripers like to hang out in. If you’re a bass angler, you can’t help but notice them, especially that rocky island right next to the channel that’s just got to be holding some decent size fish.

The Rock Island is a flatwing bucktail hybrid about 8″ long. Like a lot of the flies I make up, the tying process wandered around a bit before the pattern discovered where it wanted to be. For example, I started with black thread, then switched to purple. Then changed some of the bucktail color blends. I really like the contrast in this fly from bottom to top.

The Rock Island will get fished on a greased line swing on a cool May night when the herring are in. A’board!

A closer look at the head detail:

Rock Island CU

Thread: Purple
Pillow: Pink
Platform: Gray bucktail
Tail: Pink saddle, under 2 strands blue flash, under lavender saddle, under blue saddle, under 2 strands red flash, under 30 total hairs royal blue, amber, and olive bucktail (mixed), under 20 total hairs dark blue and red bucktail (mixed), under 2 strands purple flash, under 20 strands purple bucktail.
Body: Purple braid
Collar: Pale blue, light blue, and gray bucktail, mixed
Wing: 15 strands purple and 30 strands black bucktail, mixed
Topping: 7-8 strands peacock herl
Eyes: Jungle cock