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.

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.

If you want to catch more stripers, learn presentations other than cast-and-strip

One of my goals with currentseams is to help you become a better angler — and hopefully catch more fish. So if I could somehow distill a “Top Ten Tips” out of my brain’s fly fishing storehouse, one of them would certainly be: Learn presentations other than cast and strip. Especially if you want to catch more stripers.

When I see questions like, “How fast do you retrieve the fly?” or “Do you strip with one or two hands?” — and I see these questions a lot — I despair. Rarely does anyone ask the question, “Does it have to be a retrieve?” The answer would open many doors to greater fish-catching glory.

Even if you were going to fish for stripers using only retrieves — and there are many outings over the course of a season where I do just that — there are an abundance of retrieve options that are rarely used or discussed. For example, for sand eels, I like a hyper short (1-2″) rapid pulsing strip. For a large squid fly like the Mutable Squid, I like a slow hand-twist retrieve. Last week I fished a large deer-hair head fly with a fast strip-strip-strip-strip….pause….wait for it….then strip action. And there’s always the surface popper trick of landing the fly with a splat….then doing nothing. Once the landing rings dissipate, give that bug a twitch. You could present in randomly timed, spaced, and distanced strips, creating the drunken action of wounded prey. The list goes on. And the stripers will always tell you when you get it right.

Ultimately, you’ll need to learn presentations other than cast-and-strip for those outings where the stripers will not chase. One of my recent trips included a puzzle where school bass were cruising and feeding, but would not move to a stripped fly. The answer was found within traditional salmon presentation tactics. Those willing to invest in the floating line — I’m not talking money, but rather in taking the time to learn how to harness its power and master a few basic presentations — will see their catch rates soar. And while you’re at it, pick up a used copy of “Greased Line Fishing for Salmon [and Steelhead] by Jock Scott.

Fly fishing is all about line control. So take charge. Presentation is not difficult to learn. Remember that a fly rod and line is only, as Ken Abrames once observed, “a stick and a string.”

Learn presentation and start bringing your fly to the fish — not vice versa.

Thank you, Nutmeg TU and “Trout Fishing For Stripers” Question of the Day

Many thanks to my friends at the Nutmeg TU chapter for inviting me to Zoom with them. I missed the pizza and the in-person energy, but we made do, and then some. The subject was “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass” and the Q&A session was again excellent. Well done, folks!

Question of the Day: “Do you always fish your Gurgler suspension rig on a dead drift or do you ever strip it?” A: the question refers to my three-fly team with two droppers and a Gurlger on point. If I’m using that rig, it usually means that the stripers have either stopped chasing, or I’m arriving on the scene and I’m fairly certain that the bass will not chase. So the presentation starts with finding a feeder — look for the splashy take or the rise rings — and placing the rig over that position. If there is no earth-shattering kaboom (bonus points if you get the reference) I’ll manage the Gurgler as a dry, fishing the whole team on a dead drift. If that’s not working, I may very slowly begin to gather line. This is less of a strip and more of an extremely slow pull, about 1 inch-per-second. If that doesn’t work, I might try a cast a few pops of the Gurgler. But in my experience, it rarely comes to that. Great question!

I used this articulated Gurgler a few times this summer as the point fly on a three fly team. It got some attention, even on a dead drift.

“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 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.

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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.

Three-Feather Flatwing/Bucktail Hybrid Preview

For the uninitiated, a flatwing/bucktail hybrid combines the seductive motion and swimming action of the flatwing (three contrasting feathers here) with the color-blending deliciousness and adding-the-illusion-of-mass properties of bucktail. (See the Rock Island and Crazy Menhaden three feather flatwings.) So, just a taste for now.  Details to come soon.

I don’t know how important color is to a striper at any given moment, but I really like the blends on this fly.

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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”).

5:13:12HerrBlue

 

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.)

~

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