The Culture of Can’t

One of my mentors used to tell me, “Say ‘yes’ and then figure out how to do it.” On the surface, it was a little intimidating. But once I got the hang of it, I realized the powerful wisdom of Gini’s words — and all the opportunities it created.

I see far too much “can’t” in fly fishing. Some of it is human nature — “can’t” gives us an easy way to opt out. Some of it derives from negative experience (“I can’t nymph.” Yes, you can. You just need someone to teach you.). Some of it is generated by preconceived mindsets and popular mythology (“Using a five weight rod is unsporting and will put too much stress on a large striper.” No, it isn’t, and not if you fight the fish from the reel and butt of the rod.).

There are two kinds of anglers: those who can’t and those who can. In my experience, the ones who can — or at least believe they can — are the ones having the most fun.

This double-digit pounder was back in the river before she knew what hit her (Herr Blue flatwing, 5-weight rod, 9-weight line, and an angler who said “yes, I can”).

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Last night’s film and upcoming events

I had a splendid time at last night’s showing of “Running the Coast.” I spoke for about ten minutes on the importance of catch-and-release for our distressed striped bass fishery. The main points were:

Catch-and-release best practice begins with tackle. Use a barbless hook and a stout leader (I typically use 20, 25, or 30# nylon).

The two biggest causes of fish mortality are over-stressing the fish and exposure to air. Set your drag tight and get those fish in fast. A 28″ striper should not be taking you into your backing. “To play him long is to play him long.” — Stu Apte. We all like souvenirs of our catch, but do you really need 20 photos of 24″ fish? Keep fish in the water prior to the money shot. Don’t suspend the fish from its mouth. Don’t drag the fish onto dry sand beaches. Use common sense. Please.

Many thanks to the sponsors, benefit organizations, and most of all to Sean Callinan and Ray Luhn for organizing the event, and for their brilliant decision to hold it at Stony Creek Brewery. (Yum.)

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Looking forward: show season is upon us. I will have details on my schedule once it firms up. I will be speaking at the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough and perhaps in Edison, NJ. I’ll likely be doing the CFFA show here in CT. I may even have a gig in Maine! Fly tying classes, demos …once these get locked up, you’ll be among the first to know. If your club is looking for a speaker, you know where to find me.

The shortest distance between two people is a “hello.” Come say hi if our paths cross this winter.

Hello

 

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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Striped Bass Podcast in the can

Or so they’d say in the days of film and reel-ro-reel tape. I guess the proper term now would be “on the drive.” Regardless, last week we recorded material for a podcast(s) about fly fishing for striped bass with a floating line, flatwings, sparse flies and other traditional fly fishing methods. There are over two hours of material to sift through — thankfully, not my job — and unfortunately, I don’t have a release date. But hopefully the editor will hop to it and we’ll have something fun and informative to listen to on long drives or — shhhh! — while goofing off at work. When I have more information on a completion date, I’ll let you know.

The boys are back from summer camp, so my three weeks of hedonistic binge fishing are over. Not to worry. I have brilliant plans for sneaking out to the water…

I haven’t been in ten days, but my spies tell me the Farmington continues to fish well. Plenty of cold water has the trout fed, fat, and happy.

As always, thanks for reading and following currentseams.

Flatwings. Floating lines. Traditional presentations. You too can learn the secrets of catching stripers that are measured in pounds instead of inches. Coming soon to a podcast near you.

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Big Eelies and Banana Squid, or: striper soft hackles galore

I went on a wee tying binge, and when the feather dust settled I was left with an 8-pack of Big Eelies. Some are old favorites, and a few sport new color combinations. That’s one thing I love about this pattern: it lends itself supremely well to all manner of color experimentation, and the stripers almost always seem pleased with your work.

Big Eelies hot off the press. Clockwise from lower left: pink/chartreuse/olive, grey/olive, Crazy Menhaden colors, Olive Fireworm colors, black/chartreuse, pink/olive/brown, then the two of the original classic. I can already feel that forceful tug at the end of a twitching strip.

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The Banana Squid, another classic from Ken Abrames. It’s different from most other squid patterns, and it looks nothing like what books would lead you to believe  a squid should be. Add the magic ingredient of water, and it transforms into a living, breathing organism than looks good to eat. Fished slowly and deliberately, it relies on organic movement and impressionism to fool the fish.

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Hook: Eagle Claw 253 3/0
Thread: Black 6/0
Platform: 30 hairs grey bucktail
Tail: Three white saddle hackles tied in flat, then four ginger saddles (I used golden tan) to veil the white saddles, then sparse purple Krystal flash on both sides, then a short badger hackle on both sides, then a webby grey saddle tied in flat, then a full plume of amber marabou
Body: Purple braid tied to 3/8″ from the hook eye
Collar: A sparse layer or yellow bucktail one hair thick to extend to the end of the amber marabou, then a sparse layer of blue bucktail one hair thick, then a sparse later of red bucktail one hair thick
Hackle: Brownish marabou tied in near the butt of the stem, then wound and doubled 3-4 turns

Why I love fishing for stripers with big flatwings on the greased line swing

After three very slow springs, things turned around a bit in 2017. It wasn’t as good as the old days. (Is it ever?) But the skunks were few, and the keepers more plentiful than in recent years. I wish I could say the baitfish were making a comeback. Sadly, I saw precious few swirls of mating herring. But enough with the negative. This is a celebration  of elegant flies fished with a traditional method — and the brute force of striped bass that can be measured in pounds.

The Rock Island flatwing saw plenty of swim time. It may not look it, but this is a legal fish, one of three I took that night.

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Another old favorite, the Razzle Dazzle. The Razzle Dazzle is responsible for my biggest striper on the fly from the shore, 30 pounds. This one is a wee bit less than that. Still, a good keeper bass on the long pole.

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We’re getting there. 15 pounds of power. I landed her at 1:00am after two hours of fishing without a touch. Since it was raining, I decided to end on a high note. A JR Cuban Alternate Cohiba Robusto was lit in celebration, and smoked on the long walk back to the truck.

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I don’t handcuff myself to the dogma of black flies at night. But occasionally, I do fish them. This spring I prototyped and tested a large, mostly black multi-feather flatwing (patience — recipe and photos to come). My intent was to have a big fly to silhouette against the dark of the moon sky in stained water. Here are my test results — all 20 pounds of it.

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Following the tides is a tough job, but some damn fool needs to be out while the rest of the world is sleeping.

401AM