How do you set the hook with a striper dropper rig?

Here’s a great question from Will: When you are running your gurgler/eel dropper setup, how are you setting the hook on a dropper take? Trout land tells me to set down and across the direction of the drift, but saltwater land is telling me to strip set. He’s referring to my suspension dropper rig where I’ve got a floating fly on point and two smaller flies on dropper tags.

This is a question to which there is no simple answer. My best attempt at a distilled response would be: Strip set. (Kindof.)

Here’s why it’s a little complicated. There are multiple factors to consider, such as conditions; current; the type of take (feeding frenzy slam, gentle sipping take, greased line swing inhale?); the position of the rig relative to you, etc.

When I’m fishing a suspension dropper ring, I am rarely using a stripped presentation (the closest I’m getting to stripping is something akin to a slow gathering of slack line) — so I’m not doing a traditional strip set. Instead, when I need to set the hook, I most often hold the line against the cork and thrust the rod back toward my hips, essentially mimicking a strip set. Depending on the ferocity of the take and the size of the fish, I may set the hook in this manner multiple times. I always set and reset multiple times with a large bass. Even if I am doing a static presentation like a straight dangle, I have the line in one hand and am ready to spring into action.

Sometimes the striper eats the fly, turns and swims away, thus setting the hook himself. (This is why I preach sticky sharp hooks, and checking your hook points often.) You may need to reset; wait until the fish stops moving, then point the rod at the bass, and set as outlined above.

And sometimes you feel the pressure of the fly being sucked in, or maybe a just a small tap. You should wait to feel the weight of the fish before you do any setting — otherwise you may come up with nothing. This is especially true during a greased line swing or when you’re on the dangle.

A near-slot bass taken this summer on an Orange Ruthless, part of a three-fly team. The strike came just as the presentation transitioned from swing to dangle, about 50 feet below my position in a moderate current. In this case, she was feeding with confidence and blasted the fly, setting herself. I executed a thrust set to drive the hook further home, and a couple minutes later I was taking this photo.

Time to tie up some September Nights

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but suddenly it’s fall. The shadows have started getting longer earlier. There’s an early morning nip in the air. (At least my wife tells me so — I’m still sleeping when she’s out running.) There are even a few leaves on the ground, although that can be attributed to drought as much as anything. Nonetheless, fall has begun, and for striper anglers in the northeast fall means finger mullet. The September Night pattern can be found in Ken Abrames’ classic Striper Moon. It was one of the featured patterns in my 2015 American Angler article Soft Hackles For Striped Bass.) You don’t even need long flatwing saddles to tie it — I’ve gotten away with stung hackle in a pinch. Just look for chubby, webby feathers.

Ken Abrames’ September Night

Hook: Eagle Claw 253, 1/0-3/0; Thread: white 6/0; Tail: 30 gray bucktail hairs, then two white saddle hackles tied in flat, then two strands silver Flashabou; Body: silver braid; Throat: sparse, long white bucktail tied as a 3/4 collar, both sides and bottom; Collar: white marabou, folded or doubled 3-4 turns; Wing: 30 long white bucktail hairs, then 15 purple bucktail hairs, then 2 strands blue Flashabou, then one natural black saddle hackle.

Re-thinking this whole scud thing

Scuds are everywhere. In case you don’t know what they are, scuds are freshwater invertebrates. They look a lot like tiny shrimp. You find them on the bottoms of rivers, and where they’re prevalent, they’re an important food source. Scuds are common in many tailwater systems, and I’ve recently come to the realization that I haven’t ever fished them much. That’s been a mistake.

For example, the Housatonic River is loaded with scuds. That I haven’t ever fished a scud fly there seems foolhardy at best. I can imagine the same for the Farmington River. Although the Farmington isn’t known for scuds, a good scud fly will look alive and like something good to eat — so why wouldn’t a trout partake?

To get you started, here’s a great little scud fly from renowned Colorodo guide and new friend Pat Dorsey. It’s called the UV Scud, and you can find the recipe in this tying video. Fish on!

Amidst the heat, the August Blizzard arrives

The Hous is low (175cfs in Falls Village) and getting dangerously warm. I’ve recently taken readings over 80 degrees in the late afternoon; 78 degrees is the threshold where smallmouth begin to stress, so if you must fish, pre-dawn to a few hours after sunrise is best, with evening/night the second choice. You should carry a thermometer and use good judgement. (The bite stinks in full sun, anyway, so you’re not missing much.)

Overall, the fishing continues to be generally poor, with the bass in numbers so small (compared to, say, 2016) it’s hard to realize it’s the same river. The fish are scattered in isolated pockets, so if you do find a bronze crew, please don’t fish it (literally) to death. I’ve been doing best with low, slow presentations and smaller (about 2″) jig hook/bead head mini-streamers in rusty crayfish colors.

The white fly hatch has started and in some areas is already winding down. I have experienced two hatches this summer that were an easy 10 out of 10, with so many flies whizzing upstream that leaving the river without eating/breathing in/wearing them was next to impossible — and spinner falls so heavy it looked like the surface of the river was paved with spent white carcasses. Ironically, these mega hatches don’t offer the best fishing; there’s so much protein in the water that it’s hard to get your fly noticed.

For now, I’m giving the bass and the river a break. I encourage you to do likewise.

This is what I’m talking about. Madness!
I’ve found the August White, swung on a team of two, to be its usual wonderful self. I use it during the emergence and the spinner fall. One night I had to cut one fly off after my second double. Wet fly hook size 8-10, white hackle fibers for the tail, white silk or thread for the body, white hen cape soft hackle.

Housy, we have a problem

It used to be that you’d show up at the Hous in the July with a fly rod and a Woolly Bugger and you couldn’t keep the smallmouth off your fly. You might try to keep count, but somewhere after the second dozen it all became a blur. If you were fishing early morning or late afternoon, with the sun tucked safely behind the hills, entire stretches of the river would light up. At dusk, the river was boiling.

Those days are over. At the very least, the Housatonic River smallmouth population has been dramatically reduced. At the worst, we have a crash.

The fishery has been in decline for several years now. Marks where I was catching dozens of bass five years ago began their slide around 2019, and now it’s to the point where I’m catching one…or two…or none. This isn’t a localized problem; I’ve been covering water from Falls Village, way above the TMA, down to Kent. Miles and miles of river. And the fish just ain’t there.

I’ve got some calls into the CT DEEP to discuss the situation, and I’ll let you know what I find out. In the meantime, save your fishing chips for other rivers.

This video is from 2018. That late afternoon, I took bass after bass after bass on a Gurgler…then at dusk, I really got good. I fished this mark last night and in 45 minutes all I could manage was two fish.

Farmington River Report 7/15/22: Low and slow, but plenty cold

I guided Mike and his son Deven yesterday from late morning to mid-afternoon. We had a gorgeous sunny summer day. Although flows are low — 90cfs from the dam plus 40 from the Still — the water was delightfully cold (I got 60 degrees mid-day at the upper end of the PTMA). That’s great news for both anglers and the fish. As always, I urge you to aware of water temps in low, summer flows. If you don’t have a stream thermometer, please get one.

We started off in the PTMA. Mike, who’s an intermediate level fly fisher, decided to tight line nymph. Deven, who’s just getting started, spent a little time with me working on his casting; I then rigged him up with a two-fly wet team and we had at it. The action was slow, but, yes, Deven stuck a trout in a swift little slot under some overhanging branches. Well done, young man! Meanwhile, Mike got into a fish downstream. The action was very slow, however, and we decided to move on. (Many thanks to the very courteous and chill anglers who so graciously shared water with us.)

Next stop was a riffle near the top of the PTMA. Sadly, goose eggs. On to a mark above the PTMA. Deven and I concentrated on swinging wets in some faster water, then on using an indicator in some slower, deeper water with a large drowned hopper and a nymph dropper. We blanked, but Mike, who was now dry fly fishing, stuck one more fish on a tiny caddis emerger before we called it a day. A pleasure, gentlemen, and you both did well under some very challenging conditions.

Thankfully, what’s coming out of the bottom of Hogback is cold and clear and very trout-friendly.

Summertime fishing, writing, guiding, and other news

Hello, all. My apologies for the lack of regular posts, but it’s summertime, and I’m working hard, playing hard. And so much to write about! Here’s what’s going on.

First, the fishing. I am in hard-core summer mode, which usually means long afternoons into nights. I know you won’t begrudge me the chance to get out and fish at the expense of writing here. I hope you’re getting out too. I’m also doing a bit of guiding. Then, there’s the yard and the garden. Speaking of which…

…we need rain! They’ve dropped the flow from the dam on the Farmington to 85cfs. The Still is currently a warm trickle. Ugh! The good news is that what’s coming out of the dam is plenty cold. I suppose we’ll have to rejoice in that.

Hot bronze, baby! Fortunately, smallmouth like warmer water.

I’m currently writing a piece for Surfcasters Journal on fishing the sand eel hatch with a floating line. It’s going to be loaded with tips on how to catch those stripers that not everyone can. Naturally, I’ll let you know when it comes out.

Last but not least, I am now officially a Scientific Anglers Pro. I’m a big fan of their Mastery Anadro line, and I’m waiting to give the Mastery Bass line a whirl. As always, I never hump products that I don’t use and love!

Fish on!

Another disappointing Block Island performance

Ugh. That seems like a fair enough description of the the state of the Block Island fishery from shore. Like last year, it was very slow, giving us two consecutive years of ugh. I was able to catch fish every night (save one) only because I was hopping around the island from mark to mark in a desperate search for stripers. The most I could manage on any night was three, sometimes only one, and this is now three consecutive years without a slot or legal bass(!?!). Sure, the boat bite has been good — Cam scored a couple junior cows off the south side on a boat trip — but since mid-June, for both pluggers and fly anglers, the shore bite has been lousy. I saw very few bass cruising the east side beaches during daylight. There were sand eels scattered here and there, but no substantial schools. And no schools of cruising bass — just an occasional lone wolf. Stay tuned for a more detailed report/photo essay.

Spotlight on you, gorgeous. This near-slot striper hammered my Big Eelie as it drifted across a sandbar on the outgoing tide. It was one of three fish on that night. Every time I thought the bite was going to pick up, it didn’t. I say again: Ugh.

The B.I.G. Big Eelie Variant

I’ve had the B.I.G. Big Eelie variant on my brain ever since I read Dennis Zambrotta’s Surfcasting Around The Block. In case you’re unfamiliar, Dennis devotes an entire chapter to the popular needlefish plug — and he details how bright, fluorescent lime green was all the rage among needlefish aficionados. Dennis dubbed the color, “Block Island Green,” and it was so popular back in the day that you could always find an incredible number of fluorescent lime green spray paint cans at the island hardware store. Fortunately, you don’t need to summon your inner painter to tie the B.I.G. Big Eelie. All you need is some bucktail, a few pencil thin saddles, and a sandbar over which to swing this bright green striper catching machine.

The B.I.G. Big Eelie

Hook: Eagle Claw 253 3/0

Thread: Fluorescent green or chartreuse 6/0

Platform: 30 hairs white bucktail

Tail: First, a white saddle; second, 4 strands light green Flashabou; third, three chartreuse or bright green saddles. (All saddles pencil thin.)

Body: Pearl braid

Collar: Fluorescent green marabou, tied in at the tip, 2-3 turns

Bonus Summer Striper Box: The Sight-Fishing/Flats Box

I don’t typically do a lot of flats or sight fishing on the beach for stripers in the summer. But on those rare occasions when I do, I have a small box ready to go. This is a small Orvis Day’s Worth Box (sadly no longer available). I also like this box a lot. The dimensions are roughly 4 1/4″ x 3″ x 1 1/4″. It’s not waterproof, but its clamshell snaps shut tight thanks to some strong magnets. Smooth foam on one side, and scalloped foam on the other.

In which we keep it simple: dumbbell- and bead chain-eyed crabby stuff on one side; ditto slender, sparse baitfish on the other side. Oh! And a bonus small jiggy-thingy just in case. Now we just need the right light and surf conditions…wait…I see you…