The Law of the Instrument and the Intermediate Line

I recently came across a reference to the Law of the Instrument, and it reminded me of fly fishing with an intermediate line in surf and current — especially since I recently used an intermediate line for two days on Cape Cod.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Law of the Instrument, it’s basically this: If all you have is a hammer, you see everything as a nail.

And why, you may ask, was I fishing with an intermediate line? It was the ideal taper and grain weight for my new two-hander. For test drive casting, it was aces. For fishing, it reminded me why I never choose an intermediate line for current or surf. (For more on this, read Mainly Misunderstood: Five Myths and Realities About Using Floating Lines for Striped Bass.

“The fundamental thing about fly fishing is presentation. It means that you control what’s going on, so that you can bring your fly to the fish. You’re in control. Not the line. Not the accident.” What Ken is saying is simple: use the right tool for the job.

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Perhaps the Law of the Instrument explains so many of the misconceptions about intermediate lines: they are less affected by surf, they are good for presenting deep, they are versatile. (D: none of the above.)

Expand your toolbox with a floating line — and you’ll begin to notice all the screws and nuts and bolts around you.

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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The Hunt for Striped October

It was 9:30pm and everyone was drowsy. So when my wife and son announced they were going to bed, I decided it would be a good time to load up the Jeep and head to points salty. I’d failed in my first attempt to catch my October bass on the fly from the shore, and now there were now less than two weeks remaining to accomplish that mission.

At first it seemed like the wrong decision. A stiff, gusty breeze was blowing off the Sound,  and it didn’t look (or smell) very fishy. So I settled in with my cigar and waited for a more favorable tide. I passed the time with a few swings and dangles, and that’s how I uncovered my first clue: a peanut bunker snagged on my point fly. A few casts later, another snagged peanut. This gave me hope. The old saw of “find the bait, find the fish” ain’t always true, but at least I knew that stripers would have a reason for being here, even if I couldn’t see them.

At the turn of the tide I moved to another nearby location. Still no signs of bass (or even worried bait). But this is a universal truth: flies in the water catch more fish. I made a cast and let the flies swing around into a dangle. BAM! The hit came out of nowhere, but it was unmistakably a bass. No surprise — it took the peanut bunker bucktail fly on the team of three (the other two were silverside and anchovy). I made one more cast after I landed the 20″er, thought better of it, reeled up, and decided that I’d done exactly what I wanted to. I whooped and hollered and cackled all the way back to the Jeep.

The two are not mutually exclusive, but it is far more important to be a good angler than a good caster — or a distance caster. Which location? What tide? Where are the bass likely to be? What’s the bait? How can I present my flies in a way that makes it easy for the bass to eat? The cast that took this fish was all of 20 feet (and that includes 10-and-a-half feet of rod).

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Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see what I see?

Followers and readers already know that I tend to fish how, where, and when others don’t — especially when it comes to stripers. I’ve always considered currentseams to be a teaching platform, and to a large extend that is what drives the content of this site. Still, there are times when I feel like a lonely island being battered by the waves of conventional wisdom. So when I get a letter like the one below, it restores me. I’ve edited some of it for brevity, but I think its message is important. Fans of 1776 will get the title reference — and the importance of the answer, “yes.”

“I believe in giving credit where credit is due. I also believe that if someone has helped you, made a part of life more enjoyable, or provided valuable guidance, you should thank them. currentseams has done all three of those things for me.
I moved to Barrington, Rhode Island 7 years ago. I was a sophomore in high school and by then an avid fly fisherman and fly tier of, again, 7 years. I knew little of Rhode Island’s saltwater opportunities then. I was a die-hard trout fisherman, but with the Farmington 2 hours away and no drivers license I thought I should figure out how to have fun in my own backyard.
After multiple run-ins with striped bass eccentrics my father and I were excited. Yet in our haste to get on the water (in reality it was just MY haste) we forgot to really take our time to learn and listen. “Whats the best fly? What’s the best line? Where’s the best spot? Okay, thank you and goodbye!” We wanted to know what everyone else was doing so that’s what we got: intermediate lines, weighted flies, and the strip retrieve. It wasn’t a productive spring, and you can bet our disappointment had us sticking to trout.
With my intermediate line and my Clouser minnows I set out to really figure out this whole striped bass thing. I had done the research. I knew they were around. Now I just had to catch them. This time I had some success. I got a better understanding of tides and where to find fish, but I still fished fast and deep because its all I knew and all I was told. Countless times I lamented my setup as stripers gorged on silver sides right before my eyes. Damned my sinking fly!
I decide to change it up. Time to ditch the internet and get some ink in my nails. Time to sort through my stacks of Eastern Fly Fishing magazine. After some digging I found it, an article titled “South County, RI: By Boots or By Boat”. I don’t have a boat, but I certainly have some boots. This could be good. The article featured beautiful imagery, informative writing, and a picture of a gray-haired man in all black fishing in a trout stream? What?
The caption reads: On a foggy day, the South County salt ponds and connecting estuaries closely resemble the English countryside. It’s no small reason that the original settlers called the area New England. And it’s why native son Kenney Abrames favorites trout and salmon techniques in the salt. 
Not a trout stream, but he was fishing it like one. Who is this Kenney Abrames? A quick internet search bears links to A Perfect Fish and Striper Moon. I scroll down a bit more and there it is, a search result titled “Ken Abrames- currentseams”. I clicked. I read. I explored and I never looked back. It was as if a whole new world had opened up to me. I blazed through currentseams. I quickly bought and read Striper Moon. I bought some floating line. And I put my stores of bucktail and peacock herl to work.
Funny enough, it worked. As soon as I got back from school I began catching striped bass using sparse flies, drifts, and swings. I was having a blast. It felt so satisfying to read something, execute what the writing said to do, and have the desired result.
I (also) realized something very important. This whole time I had been looking to you and Ken for absolutes. But there are no absolutes in fishing. There are only problems and solutions. As I began to re-read Striper Moon and currentseams I started to understand the true message behind both works. That message being this: Objects do not catch fish. People do.
I began to learn that there was no one fly, or one technique, or one rod, or one fly line, or one anything. Every fishing situation is different and it takes a creative angler to solve the riddle of each one. It was with this relization that I stopped looking at Striper Moon and currentseams like they were the Bibles of striped bass on the fly. These works are shared knowledge, not commandments.
Through the help of currentseams I have become a more creative angler. I have embraced the greased line swing, the floating line, and have even created my own fly as a solution to a fishing problem. Thank you for keeping alive the old traditions of striped bass fly fishing and for sharing your insights with the world. Keep up the good work and I cannot wait to read your next post.”
~
Thanks for making my day, Sam.
~
If you want to catch the fish that not everyone can catch, then don’t fish like everyone else.
TroutFishingStripers

Mainly Misunderstood: five myths and realities about using floating lines for striped bass

No line application in fly fishing is more misunderstood than the floating line for striped bass. Well, maybe not. Maybe it’s the intermediate line. Tell you what — read this, then go forth with your floating line and be fruitful and multiply your striped bass catch. “Mainly Misunderstood: Five Myths and Realities About Using Floating Lines for Striped Bass” includes words of wisdom from striper grandmaster Ken Abrames. It first appeared in the May/June 2017 issue of American Angler.

Mainly Misunderstood-Five Myths and Realities About Using Floating Lines for Striped Bass

All good things to those who invest in the floating line. (Okay, we can add in the flatwing and the greased line swing.)

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First Striper of 2018

The tide and weather and scheduling planets aligned last night, so I found myself standing in some very cold water casting a large flatwing and smoking an Alec Bradley Tempus Churchill.

It did not suck. (All of it.) Especially when about 15 minutes in I started to get a few courtesy taps. I couldn’t tell if it was small fish or a subtle cold water take. Covering water, greased line swinging, and then at the end of a drift, a tug, a re-tug, a hook set, and I was into my first striper of 2018.

It felt so good that not even changing a flat tire in a McDonald’s parking lot in the middle of the night in the rain bummed me out.

Twenty inches of striped wonderfulness. The fight was uneventful until I tried to move the fish over a sand bar into some shallows. He wanted none of that, and we had some surface-thrashing bull-in-a-china-shop runs to break the calm of the night.

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The best way to fish an intermediate line?

This question was recently asked on one of the striped bass forums. Here’s my answer:

  1. Take the intermediate line off your reel, wind it back on its spool, and return it to its box.
  2. Put a floating line on your reel.
  3. Never look back.

🙂

Stripers don’t care which line you use. But a floating line places you in charge of the presentation, so you can bring your fly to the fish. Not vice versa.

Block Island All-Nighter first keeper