I had a rare Saturday night to myself so I ventured out to points salty. I won’t bore you with the details of the first 90 minutes, although they were pretty eventful, featuring: wedding party songs I don’t like, fireworks in the distance, almost perfect conditions, that long slow pull mystery solved (squid, of course), not a touch from a bass, and finally, a parking ticket. Egad!
After all that excitement, I decided to amuse myself at a well-lit estuary. I find places like this highly addicting; my intention was to fish for 15 minutes. Over an hour later, I had to drag myself away. The action wasn’t that great — there was a decent amount of bait (silversides and juvenile menhaden), but predators (hickory shad and bass) were few and far between.
Which brings me to the point of this post. I was, of course, fishing a three-fly team — you do too, right? (If you don’t, you should read this short article on how to build a dropper rig for striped bass. You can thank me later.) Hits were few and far between, but every time I did get hit, I was doing one of three things: dead-drifting the team of three in the current, letting it dangle in the current, or performing a very slow hand-twist retrieve. I call this “trout fishing for stripers” because these are all traditional trout or salmon fly fishing tactics. Learn the art of presentation, and you’ll be able to catch the fish that everyone can’t.
I guided Andrew and Brett yesterday and they wanted to focus on wet flies. Monday’s rain was more than I expected, and I didn’t like the height or the color of the Permanent TMA. So we headed north to the friendly confines of WBATSR (West Branch Above The Still River. I just made that up.) This was a good call as the water was running a crystal clear and very wadeable 200cfs. I really liked that height, and I thought there were dozens, if not hundreds of pockets and seams and slots and riffles that would hold trout. Sadly, the trout didn’t get the memo, and we had a very slow day. (We didn’t see any angler other than our group hook and land a fish.) It was the kind of day where I find the next great piece of water, and think to myself, “this is going to be it,” and then nothing happens. These episodes make me throw up my hands and say, “I quit.” Of course, I don’t really mean it, and of course we don’t quit, but I get frustrated just like everyone else.
Andrew had fished with me before, and on that day we had far more active fish than today. Brett is a relative newcomer to fly fishing, and once we smoothed out a few wrinkles he was swinging like a pro. I alternated between both anglers, and we worked downstream, covering several hundred yards of water. Bug activity was very light, with two confirmed Hendricksons and a handful of BWOs, but that was it. As you can imagine, angler traffic was heavy, especially with that section of river the only clear water game in town. With today’s rain and increased flows, I would guess that streamers and nymphing will be, by far, the most productive methods for a few days.
“Can you recommend three flies for me to fish on a dropper rig right now?”
I get this question a lot. Of course the answer depends on many, many factors. Since I enjoy helping people figure out this whole fly fishing thing, I thought I’d give you some simple guidelines — the goal being that you’ll eventually be able figure it out on your own.
If you know that tiny BWOs are likely to be out on a overcast, damp fall afternoon, you’re already ahead of the game.
Know what’s hatching or swimming. You should familiarize yourself with local hatches and baits. Know that when the Hendricksons are out on the Farmington in late April, so are caddis. Know that in early fall in SoCo, baits may include silversides, anchovies, peanut bunker, and finger mullet. Get to the river or estuary or beach and do some good old-fashioned observing. What’s flying around? What’s on the water? Bring a net and find out what’s in the water. For years, I’ve been pre-tying teams of three (sometimes 24 hours or more in advance) for where I’m going to be fishing. I’ve simply gotten dialed in to what’s happening and when. It is not a special talent. You can do the same.
Hedge your bets. Cover your bases. Blackjack players know there are certain hands on which to double down, essentially giving them a chance to multiply their winnings. Likewise, if you absolutely, positively know what’s on the menu, offer up seconds or even thirds. So, using the Hendrickson/caddis scenario, my team of three will have two of one and a single of the other, depending on what I’ve observed. If it’s July on Block Island, I may have three sand eel flies, or two sand eels and a squid. If I have multiple baits or bugs and no hard confirmation of what’s the featured entree, I’ll give the fish a choice: different sizes, species, colors — and let them make the call. Droppers are always the fastest way to find out what the fish want.
Which fly goes where depends on what you want the rig to do. If you’re fishing a team of three in a traditional way — a swing or mended swing followed by a dangle — your top dropper should be an emerger (soft hackles excel in this position) or a bait that’s likely to be near the surface, like a cinder worm or a grass shrimp. If you’re trying to get some depth to start — then let the entire rig swing up toward the surface — then your point fly should be weighted. If you want to manage the team of three like a single unit, dead drifting at or very near the surface, then your point fly should float. I almost always place the largest or heaviest fly on point. It’s not rocket science, and once you get out on the water and see how all these flies interact with water and current, you’ll have a better appreciation for the awesome power you wield with a team of three.
One last thing. You’re using a floating line, right?
Pop quiz, true or false: If trout are feeding on little dark stones or midges near the surface, Stewart’s Black Spider would be a good choice because it matches size, color, and presented an emerging profile.