The tide and weather and scheduling planets aligned last night, so I found myself standing in some very cold water casting a large flatwing and smoking an Alec Bradley Tempus Churchill.
It did not suck. (All of it.) Especially when about 15 minutes in I started to get a few courtesy taps. I couldn’t tell if it was small fish or a subtle cold water take. Covering water, greased line swinging, and then at the end of a drift, a tug, a re-tug, a hook set, and I was into my first striper of 2018.
It felt so good that not even changing a flat tire in a McDonald’s parking lot in the middle of the night in the rain bummed me out.
Twenty inches of striped wonderfulness. The fight was uneventful until I tried to move the fish over a sand bar into some shallows. He wanted none of that, and we had some surface-thrashing bull-in-a-china-shop runs to break the calm of the night.
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.
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.
Why are floating lines so underused for striped bass fly fishing? Are intermediate lines truly versatile? These questions and more are answered in “Mainly Misunderstood,” and you can read all about it in the current (May/June 2017) issue of American Angler. If you’re looking to open the door to a whole new world of presentation options, the floating line is the antidote to the mind-numbing metronome of cast-and-strip.
If you want to catch keeper bass like this with flatwings fished on a greased line swing, you’re gonna need a floating line.
I love fishing floating lines in surf around structure.
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.
Back to the night shift. Dozing on the couch at 10:45, taking care to not really fall asleep because the bus is leaving at 11:30. On the road, JR Cuban Alternate Cohiba Esplendido ceremoniously lit at the appropriate landmark. Now past midnight, and it’s raining. Maybe it will keep the yahoos away. Only a few cars in the lot. That’s good. The weather people said showers, but this is more like a fine mist. Three other guys out fishing, more than I expected, but better than Monday’s daytime lineup. There are fish around — the spin guy to my left just hooked up. Now it’s really raining. I didn’t order this wetness. Everyone is leaving, and I’m all by myself. Thirty minutes in. The rain stops. A few stars try to wink through the parting clouds. There it is, a sharp pull at the end of the greased line swing. My first keeper of the year? No way. It feels like a short. And it is. Not why I came out tonight, but the stink is off. Working the stretch of water down, then backing up the pool, even though there is no true pool to be backed up. Over an hour of meditative casting, mending, swinging, repeating. Alone. Magnificently alone. Let’s try up there. I haven’t caught a striper up there in a long time. The answer is no. Until the answer is yes. A better fish, struck on the second mend, but still a short. I can see Scorpio and the Summer Triangle and it makes me dream of being out alone on Block Island in July. There’ll be some keepers there for sure. There probably are a few here, but not for me or my Crazy Menhaden. Perhaps when next I return. Big girls. Ready to eat.
Undercover of the night.
That’s AM, people. Very AM.
It’s been a pretty weird spring for those of us who chase striped bass from the shore on the fly. Ye Olde Striper Shoppe, usually overflowing with eager school bass this time of year, continues to fail to produce. You’ve heard me say it before — every year is different — and as Joe Jackson might say, “so there goes your proof.”
I almost didn’t go yesterday because I simply wasn’t feeling it. But I talked myself into it. Not too hard a sell, since it’s got to turn on sometime, right? In the interest of avoiding crowds and trying something different, I went to a place that had no right to be holding stripers. It wasn’t. But I got my money’s worth of casting practice. Oh. And there was that rip. That paramour-sexy rip with its erotically dancing, undulating surface that made brazen overtures to my weaknesses for such water. Mark my words, there’ll be a bass or ten in it sometime soon.
I forgot my good camera. Usually that means a big striper. But you’ll have to settle for this water, weed and sand sculpture.
Switched from the full sink to the floater for a second piece of water. Nearly two more hours of casting practice. It was rejuvenating to perform a proper greased line swing again. (The poetic majesty of the greased line swing cannot be under-estimated.) But, time on this session had run out. Three more casts. And on the third, as the seven-inch long Crazy Menhaden flatwing swung down and across, a firm take worthy of the year’s first striper. A standard-issue school bass, under twenty inches, still wearing the colors of estuary in winter. But for today, a perfect fish.
I gotta tie some more of these. And some Rock Island flatwings, too.
I see it all the time on internet forums. Someone wants to know what’s the best line to use for striped bass: floating, intermediate, or full sink. They get many responses, and it’s nice that people want to help. Unfortunately, there’s usually some bad information in the mix of suggestions. And it almost always involves a floating line.
There is one frequent flier that dominates the bad advice airspace. It appears so regularly that it commands a gospel-like gravitas. Like any good urban (or in this case, saltwater) legend, it gives the reader permission to believe. Its exact wording is a variation on this theme: “It’s hard to stay in contact with your fly in waves or surf or a rip with a floating line.”
It baffles me. Because I don’t have any trouble maintaining contact with my fly when I’m using a floating line.
So, anglers who use floating lines in the surf can be placed into two groups. Those who have trouble staying in contact with their fly. And those who don’t. One is a dead end, a self-fulfilling prophecy of you can’t. The other is full of wonder and possibilities. Which group do you want to be in?
Before you answer, I’d like to tell you a couple of stories about fishing in the surf with a floating line.
Last summer, I fished on Block Island twelve hours before Hurricane Arthur hit. Anyone who is familiar with advance hurricane swell in New England knows that the breakers can be impressive. Even so, the waves that night were not what surfers would call gnarly. When I arrived at my spot on the southeast side, the swells were a very manageable three feet, with occasional four-foot sets.
I was fishing a boulder field, and I was mystified by a small group of rocks that kept poking their tops out of the waves. I couldn’t remember them ever being there. In one of those well, duh, moments it dawned on me that those weren’t rocks – it was a school of stripers, seemingly aware of what was approaching, and eating while the eating was good.
On my first cast with the floating line, the sand eel fly settled into a trough just to the right of where I reckoned the bass would be waiting. I hadn’t accounted for the wind, which had been picking up since the afternoon. Still, the line snapped to attention on my first strip, and a couple minutes later I was releasing a barely sub-legal striper back into the Atlantic. This went on for the better part of an hour; the only reason I stopped was because I didn’t like beaching the fish on the rocks in an exponentially increasing shore break. I hated leaving a school of active feeders, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I tucked the point of my Big Eelie into the hook holder just as the first wave of tropical rain began to tattoo my jacket hood.
Striped bass don’t read internet forums or hang out in breachway parking lots. This fifteen-pounder was part of school that was feeding in a strong rip. The bait, sand eels, was trapped between the rip and the shore and the stripers were feeding with impunity. It was one of those magic moments (rather, episodes — it lasted close to 90 minutes) where it was a fish on every cast. You guessed it. I was using a floating line.
Flash backward several years. Same island, different wave conditions. Our plan was to fish all night, and the trip started poorly. A ferocious north-northeast blow turned the harbor of refuge in Point Judith into a maelstrom of foam and chop and weeds. The ferry was pitching and rolling even before we cleared the breakwater. Once safely ashore, the normally sheltered Great Salt Pond provided no relief from sustained winds of twenty miles per hour. That banshee howled all night; it’s the only wind I can ever recall that made my ears hurt. One keeper bass was all I could manage. By five in the morning, beaten and bowed, I wearily trudged across the sand to one of the west side beaches for a desperation look-see.
Try to picture what the pre-dawn ocean looked like after nearly twenty-four hours of winds gusting to thirty-five knots. White-capped anarchy comes to my mind. I had no motive other than what-the-hell desperation when I made my first cast into a trough about twenty feet off the beach. Seven casts later, I had landed eight stripers. I had switched over to a full-sink integrated line in the middle of the night, and those first fish were obviously sitting in that trough, or cruising the shore break wash. But when I looked one hundred feet down the beach, I witnessed a scene that every striped bass angler dreams about.
It was an all-out blitz. Sand eels were spraying in desperation, their flanks reflecting the orange of sunrise. Seagulls excitedly chattered overhead, seemingly more stoked about the carnage than I was. And somewhere underneath, there were stripers. Untold numbers of them, rolling on the bait as they gorged themselves on an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet.
I quickly swapped out the full sink for the floating line and a seven-foot leader. I don’t know how many stripers were in the school. I suspect it was hundreds. They ranged in size from eight to over twenty pounds. The blitz was taking place about sixty feet off the beach, and the wave chop beneath the floating line was substantial. Yet, for two hours it was bass after bass after bass. I caught them on the strip and I caught them on the dead drift. I lost count after the first dozen. The only reason I left is because I had a ferry to catch.
This all began with a question. So let’s close with one: If it’s so hard to stay in contact with a fly in waves with a floating line, how did I manage to catch all those stripers?
For me, the answer is self-evident. Perhaps your answer is still out there, on the water, waiting to be discovered. I encourage you to find it. As an old Rhode Island sharpie once said, “The path of the obvious is perhaps the most difficult path of all to find and unravel, but it is well worth the effort and the results are measurable in pounds not inches.”