A (Fairly) Good Day for the Five-Weight

Today was tidal creek stomping day with Toby Lapinski, he armed with his light spinning gear and me with my trusty five-weight. The wind was a bit of an issue for me — as was casting room — but once I reacquainted myself with the nuances of casting a three-fly team with a 9-weight line on the 5-weight rod, everything was jake. We hit two marks on the incoming tide. One was a total blank, and the other produced for both of us. Nothing large, but enough to put a nice bend in our rods. It sure didn’t feel like December.

In these politically charged times, here’s something we can all agree on.

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This one didn’t make it. We saw scores of dead bunker, especially at the second mark. Many had bird wounds (post mortem?). Apparently there was a substantial fall invasion of these crazy menhaden.

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You’ll experience fewer tangles with a three-fly team if you slow down your stroke and open your loop a bit. Photo courtesy of Toby Lapinski.

Another striper puzzle solved, and Striper Moon film coming to Amazon Prime!

I love fishing for stripers at night around docks, bridges, waterfront restaurants — anywhere there is light and shade. The reason is simple: the light attracts baitfish, and the baitfish attract stripers. I’m especially stoked about fishing areas where there is a stark demarcation of light and shadow. Those are magical places.

Late Sunday/early Monday found me at such a place. It’s a mark that offers what I call “the aquarium effect.” The overhead lights enable you to see clearly what’s in the water, whatever its place on the food chain. On this particular night, I could see bass cruising along the bottom, solo or in small hunting packs, rousting baitfish (spotted: silversides, peanut bunker, mullet), then smashing them on the surface. Some of this took place in the well-lit areas, but most of it was going down at or just past the shadow line.

Rigged with a three-fly dropper team, I had at it. No love. I tried dead drifts; greased line swings; short, pulsing strips; rapid, long strips; and what could hardly be called a strip at all, more like an almost imperceptible gathering of line. Frustrated, I vowed to come back after the tide turned, and headed to another mark a short drive away.

This was a flat in near total darkness. I could see worried bait in the faint ambient light. An hour and four bass later, I left with a smile on my face.

Funny thing about droppers: the fish will always tell you what they want. On this night, at the second mark, they wanted the top dropper, an Orange Ruthless clam worm (lower right), even though there were no clam worms to be found anywhere near I was fishing.

And then back to the original mark. The tide had shifted but the bass and bait were still there, and the former remained unimpressed by my offerings. As with any such puzzle, you’ve got to try different pieces until you find one that fits. In this case it was as simple as switching to a Gurgling Sand Eel on point to make it a suspension rig. A couple mended swings into the shadows, and whack! Then, on the dangle, ker-pow! That called for a celebration cigar. So I did.

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Great news for Ken Abrames fans! Ken recently posted on Facebook that the Striper Moon — A Legacy film will be available soon on Amazon Prime. I don’t know if this means a DVD or if it’s something that’s in a streaming format. Either way, you now know as much as I do. I’ll post details as I get them.

Which fly — and where — on a team of three?

“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.

You can begin with my articles, “How To Tie and Fish Dropper Rigs for Stripers,” and “Wet Fly 101: Take the ancient and traditional path to subsurface success.” Those will give you a good working base to build upon. Here are three best practices for figuring out which flies to tie on.

If you know that tiny BWOs are likely to be out on a overcast, damp fall afternoon, you’re already ahead of the game.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.