Tiny bait, lots of bait = a good time for droppers

I fished three marks in SoCo last night, and while the striper action was slow, the bait story was consistent: smallish to tiny, and lots of it. Confirmed sightings: silversides, anchovies, peanut bunker, and I may have seen a stray finger mullet.

My night began in the surf, but the meatball factor (bright headlamps used early and often) and a lack of action had me moving to Spot B, an estuary with a moving tide. Lots of bait, too few marauders.

I finished the evening at Spot C, some skinny water on flat, just as the tide began to flow out. Lots of worried bait in this location, and it’s a perfect place to fish a team of three. I had 2″ long Ray’s fly on top dropper, a Magog Smelt bucktail in the middle, and a micro Gurgler on point to do double duty as a suspender and waking fly. I was disappointed with the number of assembled diners, but it is what it is and you do your best. Two fish to hand in 45 minutes and I was satisfied, abetted in no small amount by a Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 corona and a come-from-behind Mets victory.

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick refresher.

Thank you, Nutmeg TU and “Trout Fishing For Stripers” Question of the Day

Many thanks to my friends at the Nutmeg TU chapter for inviting me to Zoom with them. I missed the pizza and the in-person energy, but we made do, and then some. The subject was “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass” and the Q&A session was again excellent. Well done, folks!

Question of the Day: “Do you always fish your Gurgler suspension rig on a dead drift or do you ever strip it?” A: the question refers to my three-fly team with two droppers and a Gurlger on point. If I’m using that rig, it usually means that the stripers have either stopped chasing, or I’m arriving on the scene and I’m fairly certain that the bass will not chase. So the presentation starts with finding a feeder — look for the splashy take or the rise rings — and placing the rig over that position. If there is no earth-shattering kaboom (bonus points if you get the reference) I’ll manage the Gurgler as a dry, fishing the whole team on a dead drift. If that’s not working, I may very slowly begin to gather line. This is less of a strip and more of an extremely slow pull, about 1 inch-per-second. If that doesn’t work, I might try a cast a few pops of the Gurgler. But in my experience, it rarely comes to that. Great question!

I used this articulated Gurgler a few times this summer as the point fly on a three fly team. It got some attention, even on a dead drift.

“Fly fishing is all about line control”

That’s what my friend Grady Allen, owner of UpCountry Sportfishing in New Hartford, CT, told me many years ago. We we out on the river. I’d just begun to fly fish for trout, and Grady was trying to explain the fundamentals of presentation to me. As I look back to that evening, his words still resonate.

Most trout anglers are keenly aware of the importance of line management and presentation. (You can tell because you rarely, if ever, see intermediate lines — a line you cannot mend — on trout streams.) Somehow, this gets lost in modern striper fishing.

If you won’t take my word for it, take Ken’s.

KenLineControl

I’m revisiting this subject because I received yet another question about stripers feeding on the surface that an angler could not get to bite. When I asked him what line he was using, his answer did not surprise me: intermediate. When I asked him what presentations he was using, likewise no surprise: variation on a stripping theme.

If you want to catch the stripers that everyone can’t, start with learning presentation. You’ll need a floating line and you’ll need to summon your inner trout ninja. Pretend those stripers are trout, holding in the current, rising to emergers or spinners. Mend your line. Present your flies to the bass where they are holding. Goodness! You may even enjoy not treating your fly rod like a glorified spinning rod.

After your first hookup, you’ll realize that this was no accident. And that you can repeat it. Hopefully, you’ll never look back.

Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want. Learn how to fish a dropper rig on a floating line, and you’ll need to be registered as a lethal weapon.

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Striper Reports: a little shrimping, a little herringing, tonight’s Zoom

“Herringing” may not be a word (or even the formal name of your German neighbor), but that’s what I was doing last night while you were sleeping. But let’s back up a day, to the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning.

A-shrimping I did go. I didn’t like the cold air or the east wind, but we’re getting near the May new moon, which is, if you keep track of this sort of thing, primo grass shrimp time in these parts. I fished two marks. The shrimp mating swarm tally at both was disappointing — I’d give it a 3 out of 10 — and the striper action was correspondingly below par. Nonetheless, I fished and hooked up and had a blast. There’s something about the “ploink!” and “squsplish” noises the feeders make that makes me cackle.

Sunday’s rig was Micro Shrimp Gurgler on top, Caddis Shrimp middle dropper, and RLS Black General Practitioner on point. I liked that my first grass shrimp bass of the year came on the GP. So much for the importance of casting distance — the take came about 20 feet away. When stripers are focused on feeding, you can often wade comically close to their position if you’re careful about it. What a hoot to be catching stripers on size 6 and 8 hooks!

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Last night’s outing was a fine way to spend the evening, if you place a premium practicing your Perry Poke and short backcast two-hand overhead volley — not to mention nursing an expertly crafted cigar. I fished one mark, a trib known to hold herring and stripers, neither of which were present in any great numbers. So. I covered lots of water. I greased line swung. I swam my Razzle Dazzle in short, staccato bursts. I set a hard stop of very early AM, and made it into bed before 3am.

So goes the night shift.

Hope to see you for tonight’s Zoom. Some of you asked yesterday about getting on the list and haven’t yet sent me an email.  (To be clear, leaving a comment on this site is NOT an email. To get on the list, you send an email to swculton@yahoo.com asking to do so. I hope that helps.)

How To Catch The Stripers Feeding On The Surface That No One Else Can.

I get questions like this all the time: “Last night, I heard and saw a ton of surface activity, but didn’t have a single bite. I was using the usual suspects: Clouser, Deceiver, epoxy baitfish, using every retrieve I could think of — but not a single bump. Can you help me understand what was going on?”

When I’m giving my “Trout Fishing for Stripers” presentation, this is the point where I reference highly frustrated anglers like this one. Scenarios vary, but the solution remains the same: it can be found within traditional trout and salmon tactics and presentations.

Let’s break this down. First: the last fly I’d use for this situation would be a dumbbell eye-weighted pattern. Just as you wouldn’t cast a tungsten cone head bugger to trout that are sipping tiny BWOs on the surface — please tell me you wouldn’t — nor should you plumb the depths with Clousers when the striper action is clearly on top.

So which pattern(s) to use? Well, what are the bass eating? This time of year (May, northeast waters) I’ve got a 20-spot on grass shrimp or clam worms or tiny minnows…essentially something small. Most Deceivers I’ve seen are far bigger than 1-inch long, so that pattern’s not a good choice, either. If it were me I’d fish a team of three, and those small baits I mentioned would be a good place to start.

Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want.

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Finally — and here’s where the treasure is buried — let’s talk about presentation. We have a pretty good idea of what’s being eaten, and how the stripers are eating it (holding on station, feeding in a specific area of the water column, not willing to chase). Now we need to give them the goods the same way the naturals are behaving: on a dead drift.

Think of the current as a conveyor belt. Food is being delivered into open mouths. To make that dead drift presentation, you need to be able to mend, and to be able to mend you need a floating line. Sinking lines will drag, and drag is a death sentence for the dead drift. Forget about “which retrieve?” Your only retrieve should be when you’re at the end of a drift and you’re gathering your line to make another cast. (An exception would be fishing on the dangle, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The stripers are eating. They’re sitting there just waiting to take your fly. Answer the big four questions correctly (What’s the food? How are they eating it? What do I have in my box that looks/acts like that food? How can I present it like the naturals?) and you’ll be turning frustration into exhilaration.

Just don’t forget your floating line.

Why anglers with shooting baskets catch bigger stripers than anglers with stripping baskets

It’s more than just semantics.

It’s a matter of how you fish, and how bigger fish tend to behave.

I was reminded of this point during a couple of recent outings. Schools of bass were moving through with the tide. I was fishing a floating line and a Rat a Tat Big Eelie variant. When I stripped the fly, I hooked up. When I mended and dead-drifted the fly over the sand bar, I hooked up — but with significantly bigger fish. I have experienced this on numerous occasions.

Then there are nights during a sand eel feeding event where the bass are willing to chase the fly — but only to a point. A change occurs, and to catch fish, the angler must create the illusion that the fly is a helpless sand eel drifting near the surface. (Dropper rigs on a floating line are the perfect tool for this job. Read more about striped bass dropper rigs here.) If you are taking in any line at all, it is certainly more of a slow gathering than a strip.

So, the next time you strap that plastic tub around your waist, consider this: are you using it primarily as a line collection device — or as a line management and line shooting device?

Your answer is one of those little things that will make a big difference.

The feeders on the strip were school bass in the 20″-22″ range. On the dead drift, helloooo, keepah! Plus a few just short of 28″. Good stuff.

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Stripers from the surf

Better late than never goes the saying. So last night at 11pm I was walking with a skip in my step as I headed toward a jetty somewhere in SoCo. The SW breeze was light and warm coming off the water (it was much chillier in the interior of the salt pond I visited later) and I began casting into the pocket formed by beach and rocks.

I thought I felt a bit of odd pressure on a drift, but it wasn’t until I felt a sharp tug a few casts later that my suspicions were confirmed. Once I realized I’d left my Korkers in the car, I walked the bass along the rocks and landed it on the beach. I wasn’t up for doing that all night, so I waded into the surf proper and had at it, casting parallel to beach break and mending my line over the sets. Sure enough, there was a school of two-year olds in close. What they lacked in size they made up for in ferocity. I was fishing a three fly team of a clam worm on top dropper, a small sand eel in the middle, and a Magog Smelt soft hackle on point. They liked the two baitfish flies.

It would have been nice if they were a little bigger, but I hadn’t caught a striped bass in the surf in Rhode Island in years. So these schooligans were a treat.

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Why I like cheap (but good) cigars for fishing. Known among the cigar cognoscenti as canoeing, this is what happens when the wind is at an unfavorable angle to your stick. 

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A lousy photo of a peanut bunker bait ball. Stripers were darting in and out of its shape-shifting mass, picking off strays at will.

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Back on the striper night shift

Last night’s striper adventure returned me to some favored waters along the Sound. There were grass shrimp and mummies, and as the tide began to pull back toward the sea, the estuary suddenly came alive with the random staccato of carnivores on the prowl. The assembled diners were only in the 12″-18″ range, but what they lacked in sized they more than made up for in gusto — and in eagerness to jump on the fly.

I fished a three fly team last night, and caught stripers on all three patterns (top dropper = sz 10 Deer Hair Shrimp, middle dropper = sz 6 pink Crazy Charlie, point fly = 2″ Orange Ruthless clam worm). The bass favored the top dropper and point fly. I caught them on the strip, the swing, and the dangle.

We went low budget (but thoroughly enjoyable) on the cigar, a JR Cuban Alternate Cohiba Esplendido.

Now begins the internal debate: do I get a good night’s sleep tonight? Or do I venture out into the very wee small hours again?

Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want.

StriperShrimpDropperRig

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How to tie a dropper rig for stripers. (Just in case you missed it the first time.)

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Fear and loathing in fly fishing

Legendary ad man Bill Bernbach once handed each of his employees a card printed with the words Maybe he is right. The idea was to encourage his staff to give new or foreign ideas a fair shake.

I think fly fishing needs an equivalent. Especially striper fly fishing.

The populist culture is that of the nine-weight rod, the intermediate line, the rapidly sinking single fly, and the cast-and-strip presentation.  Deviate from those paths, and you are greeted with alarm by the collective. Conformity is encouraged. It is your safety net. Without it, you’ll be sorry. You’ll see.

This pack mentality is frequently observed on internet forums. Mention fishing for stripers with more than one fly, and you can almost see the eyes glazing over and the heads spinning. Tangles! Hard to cast! Is that even fly fishing?

Thankfully, striped bass don’t read internet forums. Unlike people, they are immune to fear (it won’t work) and loathing (I’ll look stupid).

There are so few absolutes in fishing. There are, on the other hand, many, many ways. So if you don’t aspire to fish like everyone else, open doors. Ask questions. Find out. Try new things. How does that guy fish? Does he catch a lot? Does it look like fun?

Maybe he is right.

No wrong answers. Only the right ones for you. On this night, the striped bass repeatedly picked out the middle dropper, a chartreuse and olive Eelie between 2″-3″.

Block Island Bass

Currentseams Q&A: Multi-fly striper rigs

Q: Just wondering how you rig to balance strength on the dropper and still allow movement in the fly?  Blood knot with a long tag?  Or surgeons knot with a long tag towards the tippet end? What do you think your hook-up ratio is for the front fly versus the trailing dropper?

A: I think you’re referring to a tandem rig; when I fish multiple flies for stripers, it’s usually a team of three. I build all my multi-fly teams with 20, 25, or 30# Worldwide Sportsman camo mono. The mono size depends on where I’m fishing and what flies I’m using. For example, crystal clear water or small flies would have me leaning toward 20. If I’m feeling lazy, I’ll use a triple surgeon’s knot to form the droppers. If I suspect larger fish may be in the mix, I’ll use a double uni knot. I had a “bad” experience many years ago with a school of high 30s bass — if I hooked two, the bottom fish would pull the triple surgeon’s knot right out from the top dropper. Now, if I’m targeting larger stripers, I go with a single fly.

If I am fishing multiple baits ( i.e. grass shrimp, peanut bunker, silverside) the fly that gets eaten most is usually the one that most closely matches the naturals the fish are feeding on, regardless of position. One night a small peanut bunker fly saved my bacon. It happened to be the middle dropper. It still worked when I re-rigged with a single fly.

If I know what bait is present, I’ll hedge my bets. This June I fished two small grass shrimp droppers with a small clam worm on point. The water was infested with grass shrimp. 3/4s of the bass I caught came on the shrimp patterns.

My three-fly team from early June 2014, top to bottom: Grease Liner variant, pink Crazy Charlie, Orange Ruthless. The bass liked all three flies. These tags are about 5-6″ long.

Striper ShrimpDropper Rig

In early July, small sand eels were on the menu. I rigged a dropper system of two sparse sand eels suspended between a corkie and a Gurgler. This setup was fished in barely any current at a dead drift. Even though the bass were keyed on the sand eels, I still took one on the Gurgler (the point fly) while it was just sitting there.

This Golden Knight is tied on a small freshwater hook, but on an Atlantic salmon hook, it’s the kind of fly that I like to have when I’m fishing multiple sand eel patterns.

Sparse Golden Knight