The unimportance of casting

The casting discussions are seemingly endless: distance, tight loops, line speed, hauling, leader turnover, and more distance. Not that I’m surprised. But I do find it fascinating, especially since you rarely see these topics brought up on trout fishing boards.

I never wanted to be a great caster. I did, however, aspire to be a great angler. Maybe some day I’ll get there. In the meantime, I’ll just follow Ray Bergman’s advice on fishing, and let the casting take care of itself.

Striper fly anglers have a unique obsession with casting distance. Funny thing! My biggest striper this spring, best measured with a scale or a yardstick, came on a 30-foot cast that I pooched out in front of me. All I had to do was wait for the current to deliver the fly to her waiting mouth.

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Stripers en Espanol

Last week I had the pleasure of guiding Asier and Moncho. They wanted to learn more about linea engrasada (greased line) fishing for striped bass. What was remarkable about the session was that they came all the way from Spain to do it. I’d like to tell you we slayed legions of bass, but we saw only one fish caught in the two hours we were on the water.

But if there ever was an outing where catching was truly secondary, this was it. Moncho speaks limited English (and I know even less Spanish), so Asier served as an able translator. We talked fishing, greased line, Ken Abrames, asked and answered questions, drew diagrams in the sand, exchanged flies and hooks and cigars, laughed at our communication gaps — what an appropriate way to spend the the day after Thanksgiving.

Asier recently posted this in the comments section of my guide service link. I am both honored and humbled by his words. “We come from Spain to learn with Steve, we only spend two hours with him… much more than enough to convince me he is the kind of guide always wanted, the knowledge, the philosophy, attitude, positivism, and of course the way he teach… How much he teach us in two hours in the sea, I can´t imagine how much he can teach in the river…. I really would like to come back and…. let’s try… more!!!!! Thanks Steve, people like you make sense to fishing.”

Three amigos. Moncho is on the left, Asier on the right.

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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

Fly Fishing for Striped Bass: Meditations, Musings, and Observations

I don’t know about you, but when I’m out fishing I tend to get lost in my thoughts. Some of those thoughts involve the standard issue routine of life. Others, a problem that is currently in want of a solution. Most often, though, I’m thinking about fishing. I’m also doing a lot of observing — conditions, other anglers, how fish are feeding, what the bait is doing. You know. The truly important stuff. Recently, I was fortunate enough to spend eight glorious nights fly fishing for stripers. Here are thirty-six hours and nearly a hundred stripers’ worth of thoughts and observations wrapped up into six hundred words.

~ Stripers often feed like trout. Consequently, you should be prepared to fish for them like trout. Match the hatch (bait). Present your fly (or flies) to the bass in the manner the natural bait is behaving. Target specific rising fish.

~ If you use stealth and caution, you can get remarkably close to actively feeding stripers, especially at night. I have waded to within two rod-lengths of a striper that was rising in three feet of water, and caught him by dapping my sand eel fly in the film.

I love sight fishing on rocky flats at night. After I crept up on his position, I watched this bass feed for several minutes before making a cast. Taken on a chartreuse and olive Eelie.

Block Island Bass

~ Stripers will frequently chase and hit a rapidly stripped fly. The more you fish for stripers, though, the more situations you will encounter where they will ignore a rapidly stripped fly. If you want to catch those fish, you’ll need to have other presentation arrows in your quiver.

One of my favorite ways to catch stripers is by dead drifting a three-fly team. The point fly (in this case a Gurgler) and the floating line stay on the surface; the two droppers are suspended just below. I use this approach when there’s a lot of bait in the water, especially small bait like clam worms or grass shrimp or sand eels. The takes are sublime. Rather than a bull rush smack, the sensation is one of building pressure as the bass, feeding with confidence, sucks the fly into its mouth. The explosion comes moments later at hook set. It is a poetic and beautiful and — when bass are feeding near the surface — highly effective way to catch striped bass.

Sand eel dropper rig

~ A floating line allows you to present deep (and deep in current), on the surface, and all points in between, without having to change lines or tips or flies. You can mend a floating line over the tops of waves along the beach.

~ The notion that a weighted fly is all you need to fish for stripers is like saying that a Woolly Bugger is all you need to fish for trout.

~ Sticky sharp hooks. Always.

~ If stripers are crashing 2”-3” sand eels on the surface, do not be surprised if they ignore a 6” Black Bomber or dumbbell-eyed sand eel fly.

~ Striper fishing spots can be notoriously fickle. The moon changes, the weather changes, winds shift, tides move, bait moves, stripers move. If you’re not getting any action, go find the fish. Make note of the most favorable conditions for a given spot.

~ A fine, hand-rolled Dominican cigar is an effective (not to mention, delicious) way to keep the no-seeums away. Certain botanical sprays, not so much.

~If you want to catch more stripers, fish when other people don’t, fish where other people don’t, and, most importantly, fish how other people don’t.

Pay attention to the little things, and the results can often be measured in pounds.

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Striper Report: Walkin’ after midnight. Searchin’ for you.

I started on Monday and finished Tuesday. No moonlight or starlight. Rather, one of those misty, showery nights where the atmosphere is so dense it seems you could wrap your fingers around it and grab a handful. Mysterious. Striper. Weather. The five-weight with the new Rio Outbound line and a seductive 9″ Rock Island flatwing fresh off the bench, ready to swim. Hours of greased line swings. Rhythmic mending. The rise and fall of the fly in the current on the dangle. Short pulsing strips on the retrieve. Water haul, tip flexed, the line coils shooting from the basket through the guides. Ears cocked, listening intently in the dank as best you can for the sounds of a swirl or the pop of an open mouth. Nothing. Still, nothing. And more nothing. Just you, the rod, the fly, and your thoughts.

You may ask why I keep doing this when the repetitive result is neither fish nor hits. Because this could be the night I get my first 25-pounder on the five weight. Because the next cast might be the drift over a striper holding in ambush. Because you can’t catch striped bass while you’re asleep in your bed. Because I’m fortunate enough to be able to set my own schedule, and people like you send me comments and emails telling me that when you can’t go fishing, you enjoy reading about when I can.

Most of all, I do it because I love it.

I left home almost five hours ago. I fished hard and I fished well, so I fell asleep as content as an angler could be after a skunking.

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Striper mini-report: Our Blessed Lady of the 3/0 Shot

A quick zip in, zip out striper mission yesterday to see if anyone was around. They were, for a brief window. I missed the first 45 minutes (according to the other angler I spoke to — I didn’t get your name, but thanks for sharing the water). But for a half hour, it was nearly a Bass-O-Matic.

Hellooooooo down there.

Little guy big mouth

 

While the fishing wasn’t very technical, there was a key to success: getting the fly to the bottom where the bass were hanging out. I was fishing a floating line with a four-foot section of T-11 sink tip and a weightless soft-hackle about three-to-four inches long. Not deep enough. Once I added a 3/0 shot to the leader and threw some mends, it was bottom — and striper — city.

And then, like that, they were gone. I tried a few other rips (not easy to find with a 10-20mph SW wind disturbing the surface) but decided that when the local who fishes this spot all the time left, he knew something I didn’t. And off I went.

The tide comes in. The tide goes out. Leaving lovely sculptures in its wake.

Outgoing