Striper report 10/6/21: Daytime bliss, nighttime suffering

On Wednesday Alex took a striper lesson with me. He did a fantastic job. The point of these short (2 hours) lessons is to give students feel for how to approach multiple situations involving current — and especially for them to discover the expansive fly fishing life beyond cast-and-strip. We do it in the daytime (the better to eyeball things) and while the immediate goal isn’t to catch — that will come later — I have the highest amount of respect for those who want to invest in upping their game. Alex did a tremendous job; he has an intuitive feel for current and presentation. Now all he needs is some bass to play with.

As it turns out, so do I. I drove to Rhode Island that night to fish two different marks and, once again, I was disappointed by the paucity of striped things that swim. The first mark was one of my “guaranteed” spots. You know — a place you go to save a night when you desperately need a fish. No longer. I’ve fished it three times this year, blanked all three times, and it’s the first year in decades that I have not caught a bass there. Fooey. Not to be outdone, the second mark had plenty of bait, and not a single striper. So I casted, mended, and tried to pretend that maybe a bass would show up. Instead, I stayed out way too late. I won’t be going back this year (he said bitterly).

Alex really nailed the greased line swing. What a lovely day to be out fishing.

Striper lessons

I took Don out for a striper lesson this week. Rather than give you a “Dear Diary” account, I thought I would tell you about some of the striper lessons we covered.

Cast and strip is ultimately limiting. You will catch the aggressive, willing-to-chase fish with that approach. But eventually you will encounter bass that are holding on station, feeding on a particular bait, and cast-and-strip will fail you. Learn the art of presentation. Dead drifts, greased line swings, dangles and mends — all of these will serve you well when the going gets tough. If you want to learn presentation, and you value line control, you need a floating line. Period. Find the line taper and grain weight that’s best suited to your rod, how you cast, and how you want to fish. Hint: it isn’t necessarily what’s printed on the blank. You don’t need to cast far to catch stripers. I taught Don what I call the “zero foot cast,” and by using the current, you can delivery your fly to fish over 100 feet away. When the fish are on something small, droppers are your best friend. Multiple baits mean multiple catching opportunities. And as always, droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want. If you want to catch more stripers, learn how to read water. Just like you do with trout. And last but not least, alway scope out a new mark in daylight so you can see what’s going on.

Don, shown working on his greased line swings and dangles, is a keen student of fly fishing. All he needs now is some cooperative stripers!

Striper mini-report 5/5/21: Last night, while you were sleeping…

…I was standing in a river, practicing my greased line swings with a floating line and a 10″ Rock Island flatwing. My casting was good enough. My presentations were spot on. The bass were…not there. At least not in any numbers. We saw some wakes and swirls made by herring, but nothing to suggest that they were present en masse. We heard a couple reports of bass crashing bait, but they were in the first 30 minutes of our 2+ hour session, and then nothing. So it goes. This is why it’s called putting in your time.

In between casts, I found my mind wandering toward Block Island: plans and schemes and hopes and dreams. I could use a striper rainbow right about now.

Presentation is everything in fly fishing.

Presentation is so important — the only thing that’s more important is a sharp hook — that I thought I would share some of the critical points from last’s night’s Zoom. Thanks to everyone who attended — we had a great turnout. In no particular order:

The wrong fly presented correctly will always out fish the right fly presented incorrectly. I showed a video that demonstrated this.

When you’re deciding on which line, leader length and size, and fly pattern, ask this question: What do you want the fly to do? The best answer should reflect what the fish are eating and how they’re eating it.

Fly fishing is all about line control, and a floating line gives you, by far, the most control over your presentation in current. The importance of mending cannot be overstated. Even slight, nearly imperceptible mends that produce a more natural drift can mean the difference between fishing and catching.

A sinking line and a weighted fly are usually a poor choice for catching fish feeding near the surface. Would you toss a Tungsten cone head Woolly Bugger to trout feeding on Hendrickson emergers?

This 15-pound bass came on one of those nights where anglers leaving the mark complained about fish busting that they couldn’t catch. They were using the wrong line, the wrong fly, and the wrong presentation. Learn the value of presentation, and watch your catch rates soar!

A longer leader will give you a better dry fly drift, and allow you to make more mends without disturbing the natural track of the fly.

“The difference between fishing and catching is a single split shot.” Attributed to Joe Humphries. Regardless of the originator, it’s good advice when you’re nymphing. Adjust your weight to get the most productive drift.

See you next Tuesday.

Yes, I Guide/Teach for Striped Bass

Do I guide for striped bass? The short answer is yes. But, these sessions are non-traditional in the sense of a typical guide trip/lesson. The focus is rarely on catching stripers in the moment; rather, it is to prepare you to catch stripers in the future. Depending on time/tide/conditions/season/luck, we may indeed catch some bass. But there is also a high probability that we won’t see a fish.

There are several reason for this. For starters, I do not guide at night. No exceptions. That leaves us with daylight hours, which in the abstract usually means fewer hookups. We’re also in the midst of striper downturn — there are far less fish than there were, say, 15 years ago. I can’t take you to Block Island or Cape Cod, which typically have an in-season abundance of stripers — you’d have to pay for my time and travel, and that would be cost-prohibitive. I’m shore wading only, so we can’t quickly zip off in a boat a few miles away to find the next blitz. Finally, my lessons are usually two hour sessions. Tides and time being ever-changing, that means we may not hit a strong bite window (if we do, good on us!). So, if you’re OK with trading immediate gratification for success down the road, read on.

What do I teach? A lot of good stuff you won’t find anywhere else. Most of you know me as a guide who fishes for stripers in a traditional and (in modern popular practice) unconventional manner. I primarily use floating lines. You should have one, too. My focus is on rigging, presentation, fly selection, and more presentation. You might want to spend a couple hours with me if you’re interested in learning traditional trout and salmon presentations like the greased line swing; how to tie and fish dropper rigs; fishing with multiple flies at or near the surface; reading water; fishing with your two-hand setup (sorry, I can’t supply you with a rod); and plenty of little things that sometimes make the difference between fishing and catching stripers.

I hope this clarifies what I do. My rate will vary depending on location. If you’re interested in setting up a trip, or need more information, please call me at 860-918-0228 or email swculton@yahoo.com.

Not all Gurgler-type flies are meant to be stripped. I caught this handsome Block bass on a dead drift — the Gurgling Sand Eel was point fly on a team of three — and showing you how to do the same is just one of the things I teach.

“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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Floating Line Burning Question of the Day:

If using a floating line in surf and waves causes you to lose contact with your fly, then how am I catching all those stripers in surf and waves with a floating line? (See #2 here.)

No problem hooking up with a floating line on this warm July night on a Rhode Island beach front.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA