Currentseams Q&A: Which line to use for fall blitzes?

Here’s a question from long-time reader Bill G: There have been big blitzes on the Cape, but I’m not getting hookups. Do you recommend a floating line for fishing blitzes?

As with many questions, there are simple answers — and complex ones, too. The simple answer is: yes. With a floating line, I can mend, so I have more control over current and my presentation. I can present at the surface, near the surface, or deep (depending on leader length, type, and fly weight/structure/materials); and I can present on a dead drift, the swing; or strip. As with many questions I get about lines/leaders/flies, you must first answer the question, “What do you want the fly to do?” — and go from there.

Which brings us to the subject of blitzes. In the abstract, blitzes are good. You’ve got a concentration of bait and bass, so the mystery of where are the stripers and what are they eating has been eliminated. Sometimes, it’s too easy: all you need to do is toss a fly into the maelstrom and you’re on. But we’ve all experienced the frustration of fishing a blitz where we can’t buy a strike. Line type is important, but there are other factors to consider as well.

  1. Is there a lot of bait? If so, are you fishing droppers? Fishing two or more flies during a blitz will dramatically raise your hookup odds.
  2. Where are you making your presentation? The middle of the bait ball is often the worst place for your flies. Try presenting along the edges or a couple feet away — or try going underneath the bait. Blitzing stripers are looking for easy pickings: the stragglers or wounded or dead that are outside the safety of the bait ball.
  3. How are you presenting? If the stripers are looking for easy pickings, a stripped fly may be your worst option. That’s why dead drift presentations near the bait are often so effective.
  4. Fly selection matters. Try sparse, impressionistic patterns than move and breathe and create the illusion of life even when at rest.

I’ve had success during blitzes with both floating lines and full sink lines — but the one time I recall using a full sink, it was because it was so windy, and that was the easiest line to cast. Thanks, Bill, for the great question, and I hope this helped.

When there’s a lot of bait in the water, I like sparse, impressionistic patterns like this Little Crazy. A basic bucktail with a marabou throat, I based the color scheme on Ken Abrames much larger flatwing, the Crazy Menhaden. The Little Crazy is becoming one of my favorite juvenile Atlantic Menhaden patterns.

Striper Report 9/15/22: On the hunt for big bass with Toby Lapinski

Last night I was treated to a few hours of striper fishing with surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski. We fished a top-secret mark on Long Island Sound where there’s no public access (Toby has permission from the landowner, God bless him). Conditions were perfect, with a very light breeze out of the northwest. The air temp was decidedly cooler than the water, which was about 75 degrees.

Right away, I liked the spot. It’s a rocky reef where the incoming tide sweeps over the cobble and boulders from left to right. The tide was already moving when we arrived, and it wasn’t long before the current became quite pronounced. I started off with a team of two JV menhaden patterns, and about a half dozen casts in I had my first hit of the evening. It was a quick bump that felt like a small fish. Unfortunately, this was to become a pattern; I had dozens and dozens of these quick tugs, but was unable to get a hook set.

To make matters worse, my two-handed casting was rusty and I discovered that my two fly team had become irreparably tangled. Since I was feeling lazy, I clipped the dropper section and tied on a larger fly on the now 4-foot leader.

I had a few more bumps, but meanwhile, Toby was slaying them on plugs, especially his needlefish. I swapped out the deer-hair head contraption I was fishing for a “Sand Eel Punt” (basically an Eel Punt with sand eel-thin saddles) in Block Island Green. Finally, I connected with an 8-pound bass. That was my only fish landed of the evening. As my action slowed, Toby continued to pound up bass, albeit not in the size range we were hoping for. As the moon rose, the bite began to taper off.

The winning fly from last night, the “Sand Eel Punt.” I’m going to try this with some more substantial saddles.

Some observations: I can’t remember the last time I had so many hits that didn’t convert to hooksets. It was almost as if the stripers were afraid to commit to the fly; certainly some of those nips were from smaller bass. I can’t blame it stripping the fly right out of their mouths; any movement I was creating was no faster than about 1 foot-per-two-seconds, and I was doing plenty of greased line swinging. With the two-hander, I was able to cover far more water; however, when the bite was on, I had many hits when I only made casts of 50 feet or so. Lastly, why did Toby catch so many more fish than me? Was he covering more water? Was it the action or shape of his plugs? The depth he was fishing? Did my shorter leader have an influence? Why were Toby’s hits more demonstrative than mine? All stuff I’m trying to figure out today.

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!

Three things striper fly tyers (and anglers) could learn from Gary LaFontaine

As I continue to pore through Gary LaFontaine’s masterwork Caddisflies, I’m reminded of the sheer volume of universal concepts that apply to fly fishing. So, even though he’s talking about fishing for trout that are feeding on caddisflies, LaFontaine could easily be talking about stripers feeding on sand eels or grass shrimp. A true maverick, he isn’t afraid to think or act differently, to challenge conventional wisdom, or conduct experiments to prove his theories. (Listen to the science. You’ve heard that one before) The more you fish for trout and stripers, the more you begin to see patterns and similarities between the species and how you should be fishing for them. Here are three themes in Caddisflies from which I think striper anglers and fly tyers who want to dramatically elevate their game could benefit.

Realism is the least important factor in fly design. I don’t have the actual stat, but I’m comfortable in saying that nine out of ten striper baitfish patterns feature glued on, ultra-realistic eyes. (Other than on these pages, when was the last time you saw a squid fly without big googly eyes?) If realism, from eyes to full-bodied profile to opacity to exact coloring, etc., is so important, how come my baitfish flies (and yours, and everyone else’s) continue to catch stripers long after they’ve literally been ripped to shreds? It’s a rhetorical question, but I’ll answer anyway. It’s because the bass are keying on certain bait or environmental characteristics that serve as bite triggers, and those triggers are still present in the remnants of the fly. LaFontaine knew that making a favorable impression on the fish — by showing them at least one primary feature or action that identified the fly as something that looked like what they were eating — was far more important than rendering a carbon copy.

I get this all the time: “That doesn’t look like a squid.” But Ken AbramesMutable Squid isn’t designed to “look like a squid.” It’s designed to create the illusion of life. I don’t know what stripers think it is, but they’ve eaten this fly enough times for me to know that they think it’s something good to eat.

Energy efficiency is the reason for selective feeding. Fish, especially bigger ones, are essentially lazy. So when they’re glommed onto grass shrimp in a feeding lane, you can engage in the futile activity of ripping and stripping a big fly past them, or deliver what they’re eating to their waiting mouths. This is why there is no one-size-fits-all “go-to” striper fly — and why learning presentation with a floating line is so important. Match the hatch, learn its nuances, make it easy for the stripers to feed, and you’ll catch more bass.

Fish are not intelligent. There is no such thing as an educated striped bass. Fish cannot reason. They are programmed for survival, and these primal forces have nothing to do with fly fishing or why you can’t fool that lunker. The fish is simply doing what’s it’s doing, and it’s up to you to crack the code.

“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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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.

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Many questions (rhetorical and otherwise)

I once read that a good way to learn things was to ask a lot of damn fool questions. I tend to do that in my fishing, whether I’m wondering to myself, trying something new, or picking the brain of someone who knows a lot more than me. Here are some recent points I’ve been pondering:

Is “pushing water” the most trite, overused, overhyped concept in streamer construction today?

How do all those stripers find my 1″ long sparse grass shrimp flies at night with no moon in water with visibility of under 2 feet?

Why don’t more striper anglers think in terms of matching the bait, and presenting the fly like the naturals are behaving?

When it comes to choosing lines and leaders, is there a more important question than: “What do you want the fly to do?”

If intermediate lines are the most versatile, why do the vast majority of striper anglers use only one presentation with them?

Is there a striped bass swimming today that cares if your fly turns over?

Last but not least: why the hell didn’t I get out and fish in the wake of last weekend’s storms?

If you want to consistently catch bigger bass on the fly from shore, fish how, where, and when most other people don’t.

Block Island All-Nighter first keeper

Trout fishing for stripers

Ben wanted to learn the mystical art of the floating line and traditional trout and salmon presentations for striped bass. So we braved the bluster and squalls of Jose and went exploring. We saw bunker in two of the tree locations we covered, but sadly no striped marauders. Ben did a great job with all the information I threw at him, and he’s going to be a dangerous striped bass catching machine.

Sometimes the cast is only a few feet. Ben covers a rip line where marsh grass meets flowing water.

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While I’ve gotten many requests for lessons like this, I have in the past resisted due to logistical (I don’t take people out at night) and practical (the day striper bite can be tough) considerations. Now that the seal has been broken, if this is something you’re excited about, we can try to make it happen. You’ll have to be agreeable to a shorter session (2 hours or so), the schedule of the tides (I can’t do anything to change them) and that the on-the-water lessons may not involve catching (see “day striper bite” above). Please don’t try to set something up though the comments section; rather, call or email me.

Bringing fly to fish. You too can learn the meditative art of the greased line swing. Here’s Ben throwing an upstream mend, keeping the fly broadside to the fish at the speed of the current.

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Mulling over a striper puzzle

I received this question this morning, and it’s a good one to share. It comes from an angler who is just starting out with a floating line for striped bass.

Q: Last night I fished the last 3 hours of outgoing with a friend. We fished a nice little rip with schoolies feeding. Same fly as my friend, about 20′ apart on my left.  (A spin guy on my right). My friend caught 2 with the same fly as me. Spin guy struck out. My friend has an intermediate sink  line, me and my floating. So I’m thinking is my line doing something completely different or independent from what my leader is doing down below?  It was a can’t miss scenario, they were feeding for about 45 minutes. I’m thinking the line up top is doing one thing, and the leader (about 9′, 20#, 15# tapered) is doing something different in the rip below.   

These were my thoughts:

Ok, let’s break this down unemotionally. Fish actively feeding for 45 minutes, yet in this “can’t miss” scenario, two out of three anglers did, and one of you managed the massive amount of…. two fish. It would be significant if the spin guy caught 20 and your friend caught 20 and you caught nothing. But you’ve got one angler catching all the fish, all being relatively few. None of you did particularly well for can’t miss.

It’s difficult to armchair quarterback a situation when I wasn’t there. But one thought is that your friend had the best angle of presentation. That happens all the time in fishing, from trout to steelhead to stripers. Or, he was simply lucky. (That also happens.) Or, he chanced upon two of the village idiots. Let me explain that last one.

I don’t know how both of you were presenting your flies, but you describe a rip. That means current.  I can tell you what his intermediate line was doing the moment it hit that current. It was starting to drag. His line formed a large “C” shape and his flies followed that path at a high speed, even faster if he was stripping. So he caught two fish that were willing to chase. If you had a floating line, and you weren’t mending, your line was doing the same. Given identical flies, both flies were in the same relative position in the water column. If you were mending, your fly was moving slower, and depending on its weight and the speed of the current, probably higher in the water column.

The concept of line and leader behaving differently is a core principal of line management. When nymping at a distance, a trout angler may have his line flat on the surface — that is, when it’s not airborne because he/she is throwing a series of upstream mends during the presentation — while the leader is at a right angle to the surface with the flies bouncing along the bottom. Line and leader are doing very different things. In a greased line swing, the line is being moved in an upstream arc in a series of mends, while the leader and fly remain perpendicular to the current as they move downstream and toward the angler’s side of the river. Line and leader doing very different things. It’s called line control. Presentation. And it’s the difference between fly fishing and treating your fly rod like a glorified spinning rod.

You weren’t not catching fish because you were using a floating line. None of of you did well because you weren’t presenting a fly or lure that matched what the fish were feeding on in the manner they were feeding.

What’s the bait? How are the bass eating it? What flies do I have that match that bait, and how can I deliver that fly to make it easy for the bass to eat? Answer those questions correctly, and you’re on your way to catching the fish that not everyone can catch.

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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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