Mark Gustavson’s Squidsicle

If you fish for stripers and tie striper flies, and you don’t know about Mark Gustavson’s excellent website Fly Fishing For Moriches Bay Striped Bass, you should. It’s a hidden gem. I don’t think Mark actively posts anymore, but his fly patterns, heavily influenced by Ken Abrames, are lovely. They’re also effective. Here’s my take on his excellent Squidsicle, reminiscent of Ken’s Banana Squid. I used an Eagle Claw 253 size 4/0 instead of the Mustard 3407DT size 3/0.

Mark Gustavson’s Squidsicle, ready to swim. Try fishing a fly like this along shorelines, troughs and flats, using a gentle hand-twist retrieve. Beware of the tap! The tap isn’t the take; rather, it’s the striper flaring its gills and sucking the fly into its mouth. Wait for the pull and the weight of the fish, then set the hook. 

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Tying the R.L.S. Mutable Squid Flatwing

Tucked away in the back pages of Ken Abrames’ masterwork A Perfect Fish are three squid patterns you should have in your box: the R.L.S Indigo Squid, the R.L.S. Orange and Blue Squidazzle, and today’s tying feature, the R.L.S. Mutable Squid. Don’t be mislead by the fact that these patterns didn’t make the main squid chapter of the book; Ken thinks highly of them, particularly the Orange and Blue Squidazzle. Perhaps the under-rated gem of the bunch is the Mutable Squid.

If you do know diddley-squid, you know they can change their colors in an instant, so the name is apropos. I only fished this fly once, and it produced — stripers love squid — so I figured it was time to have another in my box. And here it is, hot off the vise, for your viewing and tying pleasure.

R.L.S. Mutable Squid

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Hook: Eagle Claw 253
Thread: Gray
Platform: Light gray
Support: Gray neck hackle
Tail: First, a medium-gray saddle, second, a ginger saddle, third, 4 pearl Flashabou, fourth, a pink saddle, fifth, 5 strands Flashabou one each red, gold, blue, emerald green, purple, sixth, a medium-gray saddle.
Body: Light blue braid
Collar: Bucktail, medium gray, bottom and both sides
Wing: Bucktail, medium gray
Cheeks: First, 3 hairs each orange, turquoise, chartreuse, violet, pink; second, Lady Amherst pheasant tippets, one each side.
Eyes: Jungle cock

 

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Tying Notes: Construction should be intuitive. I used 6/0 thread and a 3/0 hook.  I chose hair from the lower part of the bucktail for the collar and wing to get a bit of flaring action (the fly has not yet been shaped). The flash is 1″ longer than the saddles, giving this tie a total length of 8 1/2″.

 

 

Block Island All-Nighter X: The X Factor

You never know what you’re going to get on a Block Island All-Nighter. My tenth reminded me that I’m not young anymore. The spirit is willing, but after nine straight hours and no sleep, the body protests. The last time I did this was 2015 — I had to look it up — but the conditions were perfect in terms of tide (high at dusk), moon (new) and weather (consistent SW flow), so going was almost an imperative on principle alone. Besides, I’d have company, old pal Peter Jenkins, owner of The Saltwater Edge. So off we went aboard the 7pm ferry.

Logistics were a challenge. Be advised that fewer ferries are running and passenger numbers are limited. We couldn’t get a car reservation, and taxi service on the Island was deemed spotty due to the current situation. That meant renting a Jeep, which worked out just right. Here’s Jenks doing some leader prep as we sail past Crescent Beach. I like a simple 7’6″ straight shot of 25# or 30# mono. Block bass are not leader shy.

Jenks

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Angler traffic was light throughout night, as a few hardy souls came and went. The bass traffic was similar: not here. Then here. Then gone. No large schools or consistent feeding. But the fish that showed came to eat. I had the early hot hand with a half dozen bass by midnight. Then Jenks caught fire. No keepers in the mix — I had bass in the 20″-24″ range with a couple 26″ers thrown in. What the fish lacked in size was made up for in pugnacity. Here’s a scrapper from early on. 

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I’m often asked, “How do you figure out what the bait is?” I suppose by now I qualify as a old salt, and old salts know that this time of year on Block it’s sand eels, sand eels, sand eels. You can feel then plinking and ploinking against your waders if you shuffle your feet. And sometimes the answer can be found in a photograph (look along the lateral line).

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The Big Eelie is a high-confidence pattern for me on Block. I fish it on a floating line on a dead drift, or with very short (6″) erratic, drunken strips. It doesn’t matter what color I choose (and I fish everything from dark to lighter fluorescents to dull hues) — it’s a profile and action pattern. And, as you can see, the bass love it. This used to be a beautiful Crazy Menhaden Big Eelie. Now it’s missing two saddles and most of the marabou collar. I was still catching on it when I switched it out at false dawn for a…wait for it…Big Eelie in RLS False Dawn colors.

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We did some surf fishing on the west side after midnight and again at sunrise. Conditions were about as good as you could hope for: a moving tide, moderate surf, and best of all, no weeds. Fish were present both times: stripers in the dark, and bass, bluefish, and shad in daylight. Here’s one that went bump in the night.

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There comes a point in the wee hours — for me, it’s usually around 2:30-3:00am — where the gas tank nears empty and the boilers almost out of steam. That’s when I take five (literally). It may seem counterintuitive to introduce a central nervous system depressant into the equation, but after closing my eyes I poured a wee drap of Highland whisky (Old Pulteney Navigator, which seemed highly apropos). I re-slogged out to the beach just before false dawn, and wouldn’t you know? I had hits on my first four casts. Never underestimate the mojo of single malt and a cigar! 

WeeDrap

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7:00am. Breakfast at Ernie’s. Hungryman Special: two eggs, two pancakes, bacon, and toast. (Thank you, Jenks, for being such a swell fishing partner.)  It feels amazing to have your first real meal in 12 hours. That hard wood bench on the ferry is going to feel even more amazing. I was lights out before we left the harbor. I don’t remember if I had any dreams, but right now I’m drifting off to a place where that sharp tug tells you the bass has committed to your fly and the ensuing battle is a bulldogging fight that only a Block Island striper can produce.

Ernies

“Block Island, RI: One of the Last Great Places” from Eastern Fly Fishing

You’ve got to go way back into the archives for this one: the May/June 2009 issue of Eastern Fly Fishing. Block Island, RI: One of the Last Great Places was written just as I was beginning to gain some publishing traction. You’ll have to settle for a low-res black and white version of the article, but the work stands on its own. It’s a quick primer on fishing the Block from shore, and it’s about all you’ll get out of me in terms of where-to. Thanks to John Kelsey for tying the Orange and Blue Squidazzle! PDF link is below.

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This used to be an L&L Big Eelie. An epic night of big Block bass on sand eels reduced it to a shell of its former self. They were still eating it when I stopped fishing at dawn.

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Zoom thanks and summer Zoom hiatus

Thanks to everyone for another well-attended Zoom. It’s refreshing and encouraging to see so much interest in flatwings! I know Ken was pleased to hear about it.

As far as future Zooms go: this has been great. But now that summer is unofficially here, I’d rather we all spend our Tuesday evenings fishing. So we’ll take a summer hiatus after next week’s Zoom. Depending on how things shake out, this is something we may resume (get it?!?) in the winter. Stay safe, be well, go fishing!

More flatwing/bucktail hybrid secret sauce. This one’s on a Crazy Menhaden: 70 hairs, 6 colors. 

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The Secret Sauce Behind My Flatwing/Bucktail Hybrids

It’s that little bucktail wing over the tail. It adds just the right amount material (70 total fibers) to create the illusion of mass — and gives the tier the opportunity to create a seductive blend (6 colors here) of color.

A Rock Island Flatwing/Bucktail Hybrid in progress, secret sauce complete.

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I started adding this rear wing as a way of making up for a lack of saddles in the colors needed for some of Ken Abrames’ multi-feather flatwings. I first tried it with Ken’s Striper Moon and Crazy Menhaden. The bass loved them. A few years later, I created the Rock Island, now one of my signature patterns. I don’t know if the stripers care, but I love the way the bucktail does the heavy lifting of color blending without adding mass — not to mention all the secondary and tertiary colors it creates.

Tuesday Night Zoom: “Flatwings: Tying and Fishing Basics,” May 26 at 8pm, plus an ASGA Webinar on Advocating for Striped Bass

You asked for it — heck, some of you demanded it — and here it is. (After all, what could be more appropriate for a Tuesday night?) We’ll talk a little bit about a lot of things re Ken Abrames’ brilliant creation: the modern saltwater flatwing. This will be fun. See you Tuesday!

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I also wanted to clue you in on a nifty little webinar that’s going down tomorrow AM: How to be an effective advocate for striped bass. It’s being put on by the ASGA. Here’s their copy: We know you care about fisheries policy but are probably frustrated with the process. We have designed this webinar to give you the tools needed to be an effective advocate. Spending time arguing on social media won’t get the job done. Let us show you how! We have special guests, case studies, and tons of useful information on how to make the best use of your time advocating for the resource. Join us at 11:00AM on Tuesday, May 26 for this free webinar. Also, be on the lookout for more webinars coming up in the next two weeks. You need to pre-register for the webinar, and you can do that here.

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Finally, we remember and honor those brave Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for our nation. A solemn and sincere thank you.

 

For your listening pleasure: “Trout Fishing For Striped Bass with Steve Culton,” a Saltwater Edge podcast

I’m pleased to share a new podcast hosted by the Saltwater Edge. Peter Jenkins, Saltwater Edge owner (and one of the tireless heroes behind the American Saltwater Guides Association) hosts and asks questions. Yours truly does most of the talking. So…what two striper flies can I not live without? Why are intermediate lines so limiting? How important is presentation? Where’s the best place to fish off a jetty? What’s all this trout fishing for striped bass nonsense about anyway? Listen in and enjoy!

Listen: Trout Fishing For Striped Bass With Steve Culton.

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Revisiting the Rhody Flatwing (and a little flatwing history for good measure)

I wrote about Bill Peabody’s Rhody Flatwing pattern on currentseams seven years ago. Three years earlier, I’d posted the pattern on a public forum. It’s funny how these things play out, because someone recently followed up on that old forum post with a Rhody Flatwing timeline that didn’t make sense. I don’t know when Bill Peabody created the pattern, but it had to be some time after 1980. Before his death, Peabody clearly stated that Ken Abrames’ flatwings were the inspiration for the Rhody. I’ve also had conversations with Ken where he talked about sharing some of his flatwings with Bill. The point is: Ken didn’t start experimenting with the modern saltwater flatwing until the late 1970s, and he did not share them with the Rhode Island fishing community until the early 1980s. So. The Rhody Flatwing had to have come after that.

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Here’s a link to the original Rhody Flatwing currentseams piece.

Below is a pdf link to an excellent article by Tom Keer from the Summer 2001 Fly Tier. Part of it is about Ken and how and when he developed the modern saltwater flatwing.

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A most excellent evening with the South Shore Fly Casters (and bonus Q&A)

A hale and hearty shout out to the South Shore Fly Casters, who most graciously asked me to speak at their February meeting. The topic was “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass,” which focuses on traditional flies and presentation methods you can use to catch the stripers that everyone can’t. Let’s start with the venue. Any club that holds their meetings at a craft brewery gets bonus pints — er, points — from me. The turnout was strong (almost 50) and it was very passionate, interested group. I appreciated your welcoming nature and for all the kind things you had to say about me and my writing (and the SSFC club swag). Hoping to come back soon!

A very cool space for a meeting. In case you’re wondering, it’s Barrel House Z in Weymouth. That’s my double IPA near the projector. Yummy. (Photo Dan Wells.)

SShoreFlycasters 2

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Three Q&A highlights: Q: What knot do you use to build your three-fly team? A: Triple surgeons. But you should use the knot with which you are most comfortable (a lot of people like the blood knot). I also mentioned that I never go below 20# mono for the rig, and that if bass over 15lbs are in the mix, I’ll typically fish only one fly.

Q: Do you ever tie droppers off the bend of the leading hook? A: Never for striper fishing. I don’t want anything getting in the way of a hookup, but most of all I want the dropper fly to able to swim freely on its own tag.

Q: How do you use a floating line to present an unweighted fly deep? A: I’ll either add a 3/0 shot (or two) to the leader (and I may also lengthen the leader from, say, 7 feet to 10 feet), but most often I’ll use of the following: 1) homemade T-11 sink tips (I carry a bunch from 2-8 feet long in 2-foot increments; or 2) I’ll use an integrated sink-tip line that has a floating running line. Of course, with either of these solutions, you must mend if there is current to help the fly sink. I’ll also shorten the leader to 3 feet.

Hope that helps!