Re-Stocking The Summer Striper Box, Part One: Sand Eels

Organizing and replenishing my summer striper box is an annual ritual. I thought you might like to see how I do it. The left side of my box is the busiest, in terms of number of flies and how often I’m dipping into it. This is the left side, the sand eel side, and I’m covered for both matchstick sand eels and larger ones up to about 5″. Let’s start with the box: it’s a C&F Design Permit Box, completely waterproof, four rows of slit foam, 7 3/4″ x 4 1/2″ x 1 2/3″. I’ve had this box for years, and I love it.

The top two rows are for sand eel patterns, so I start by removing every fly and taking inventory: what stays, what goes, what needs to be replaced? The bottom two rows are mostly small stuff, like shrimp, crustaceans and isopods, clam worms, and tiny baitfish. Then, I fill in the third row with smaller sand eels. Left to right, The Golden Knight, Ray Bondorew’s Marabou Sand Eel, and Ken Abrames’ Eelie on various hooks and in different color schemes. These smaller sand eels are most likely going to used as part of a dropper rig team of three.
Now I’m ready to fill in the top row with Big Eelies. Note that I carry multiple color combinations (and I have more in reserve at home that I can use to fill in the blanks). I’ll choose a pattern based on conditions, light, bottom structure, ritual, tradition, and — most importantly — feeling. It’s easy to lift up the tail to see what’s beneath; this system allows me to maximize available space. I also carry a few extra Big Eelies in a baggie. I hand these out from time to time to people I meet on the beach. Right, John?

Ken Abrames’ Eelie: the sand eel pattern where thin is in

Many of you know that Ken Abrames’ Big Eelie is my favorite sand eel fly. I use it primarily when the bait is at least 3″ long, or when I’m fishing an open beach or need a sand eel searching pattern. Oh, did I mention that it’s my favorite fly for Block Island? But smaller bait requires a smaller fly. Enter Ken’s Eelie, little brother to the Big one. The Eelie is basically a Big Eelie minus a saddle and the soft hackle. I rarely tie the Eelie longer than 4″; 3″ seems just about right. I love this fly as part of a three fly team; that’s how I most often fish it. Like the Big Eelie, the Eelie lends itself to all manner of color variations (try white, chartreuse, and olive, with a chartreuse body).

The Eelie is an exercise in sparse construction (some bucktail and a few hackles), simplicity (it’s a fast, easy tie), and impressionism (no eyes). The key to the Eelie is its thinness. I’ll quote Ken from Striper Moon: “The secret of tying effective sand eel flies is how thin you make them. Sometimes, an eighth of an inch thick is too heavily dressed.” You’ve been so advised by the master himself.

Ken Abrames’ Eelie. Hook: Eagle Claw 254 sz 2-1/0. Tail: White bucktail, then a white saddle, then pearl flashabou, then a yellow saddle, then an olive saddle. Body: Pearl mylar tubing. Wing: None

Tying notes: Ken’s original recipe is listed above. I make a few changes when I tie the Eelie. For years, I’ve been using the Eagle Claw 253 1/0 and some smaller hooks from brands like Gamakatsu; the key is to find hooks that are short shank, wide gap, light and strong. I match thread color to body color (here I used UNI 6/0 white). Instead of tubing, I use pearl braid for the body. Follow Ken’s instructions for thinness, and you’ll make the bass — and yourself — very happy.

For sand eel flies like the Eelie, thin is always in.

Re-stocking the summer striper box

I received so many comments and emails about my recent post on my striper fly box that I thought it deserved a follow-up. Having taken to the vise, my next step was to fill in the blanks. The box is sand eel-heavy, and that’s by design since I like to fish summer marks where sand eels are the primary forage.

I populated the third row with small stuff like clam worms, shrimp, and mostly small baitfish and sand eels. The second row gets all sand eels, from left to right: Eelies and Eelie variants, Ray’s Marabou Sand Eel, and the Golden Knight bucktail. Those flies are all 2 1/2″-3″ long. The big-eye hooks were gifted to me by some friends in Europe; I’m not sure of the name or size, but they look strong, have a wide gap, and are very light.
To the main event! Big Eelies get top billing since they are my workhorse (and favorite) pattern. The original is far left, followed be all kinds of variants: Olive Fireworm, Crazy Menhaden, a couple as yet un-named, L&L, Bruiser. (You can find recipes for most of these on my site.) Spares will go on the right side, along with squid and some experiments I’ll be test driving this summer and fall.