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.

R.L.S. Black General Practitioner

What’s the best shrimp fly pattern? You could go with the philosophy of, “There ain’t no best,” and you’d get no argument from me. Or you could weigh in with the General Practitioner — and you wouldn’t be wrong.

General Practitioner = G.P. = Impressionistic shrimpy goodness.
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Trey Combs writes in Steelhead Fly Fishing that the original prawn was tied by Colonel Esmond Drury in 1953. The General Practitioner then got really famous as a west coast winter steelhead pattern. Today there are all manner of versions and colors; this one is a variant developed by Ken Abrames as published in A Perfect Fish.

Ken introduced me to the pattern many years ago. He handed me a black G.P., and with a knowing confidence, told me to fish it as part of a three fly team. Sadly, I’ve long since lost that fly, but I still have one of Ken’s olive G.P.s. tucked away in the never-to-be fished-again archives. When tied just so, G.P.s are magical creations that bask in their impressionistic glory. Picture this fly near the surface on a greased line swing or a dead drift, easily visible to a striped bass even in the mucky outflow of a salt marsh. Wait to feel the weight of the fish — and then hang on. Stripers love shrimp, and when they are keyed on this bait, feeding on station, they will often ignore all other offerings and stripped presentations.

R.L.S. Black General Practitioner

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Hook: Atlantic salmon 2-8
Antennae: Black and blue bucktail, mixed
Head: Black golden pheasant neck feather
Eyes: Golden pheasant tippet
Body: Gold flat tinsel
Ribbing: Gold oval tinsel
Hackle: Natural black
Carapace: Metallic black turkey feather
Back: Same
Tail: Same
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A view from below. You can imagine all those hackle fibers gently quivering in the current and whispering to a striper, “I’m alive…”

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Tying Notes: Ken called for an Eagle Claw 253, but I like the badass black of Atlantic salmon hooks. No gots turkey feathers? Me either, so I used dyed black pheasant rump. The majority of the black G.P.s I’ve seen use far too much bucktail; remember, you’re tying the antennae of a grass shrimp (the steelhead pattern calls for 10 bucktail hairs; I used 20) not an opaque jig. To form the eyes, cut a V-shape in the tippet and then lacquer with head cement. The “eye stalks” will narrow from the head cement. You don’t have to use the tinsels; gold braid works just as well. The body and top feathers are somewhat of a pain; tie in the carapace at the tail, then tie and wind the tinsel and hackle to the mid-point of the shank, tie in the back (like a little roof), continue forward with the tinsel and hackle, then tie in the tail feather, again like a little roof. Make a spiffy head and go fish.

Time to tie up some Soft-Hackled Flatwings

So simple, so elegant, so effective. The Soft-Hackled Flatwing borrows from many sources, all of them wonderful and good. I love this fly for early season school bass, and it makes a fine generic baitfish year-round. Just tailor the color and length to the bait you’re matching et voila! And remember: eyes on flies catch anglers. Not stripers.

Impressionism rules the day. If you’re interested in learning more about soft hackles for stripers, read “Soft Hackles for Striped Bass” from the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of American Angler.

SofthackledFlatwings

Here’s the basic template:

Hook: Eagle Claw 253 1/0
Thread: 6/0
Platform: 30 bucktail hairs
Tail: Flatwing saddle to match platform color, under 2-4 strands flashabou
Body: Braid
Wing: 30-45 bucktail hairs, under 10-20 hairs contrasting color, under 2-4 strands Krystal Flash or flashabou
Collar: Blood quill marabou, tied in at tip, 3-4 turns; 1 turn mallard flank (optional)

Bonus fly: Rat a Tat Big Eelie Variant

After tying the original large R.L.S. Rat a Tat flatwing, I couldn’t help but begin to imagine a translation into a Big Eelie. Those of you who are long time readers (and few of you who have stumbled across me on the beaches of Block Island and wondered, “What fly is that guy using?”) know that Ken Abrames’ Big Eelie is a Steve Culton summertime striper staple. (A little alliteration to jump start your post-lunch brain.) You also know I think it’s a profile and action fly, and that while colors may be irrelevant, I nonetheless love to play around with different combinations. I have to admit I’d never think of grouping these colors in a sand eel pattern. But I’ve got a hunch this is one is going to produce a big bass for me. And for you as well!

Rat a Tat Big Eelie

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Hook: Eagle Claw 253 3/0
Thread: Chartreuse 6/0
Platform: 30 hairs black bucktail
Tail: A yellow grizzly saddle, under 2 strands each of gold and red flash, under a chartreuse grizzly saddle, under a turquoise grizzly saddle, under a yellow grizzly saddle.
Body: Gold braid
Collar: 3-4 turns ginger marabou, tied in by the tip.
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Tying notes: Sand eels are a slender bait, so make your saddles about the width of a pencil. You don’t want a flaring broom shape for the platform, so likewise make it slim, and take the bucktail from near the tip of the tail. All the saddles are tied in flat. The marabou adds the magic here, as it veils the body when wet, creating movement and an almost glowing effect. I like to tie this fly about 4  1/2 inches long.

Eight-feather flatwing: Ken Abrames’ R.L.S. Rat a Tat

I’ve been eyeballing the RLS Rat a Tat in the back of A Perfect Fish for about as long as I’ve owned the book. At first I didn’t really know what to make of this pattern. Over the years, its energy grew on me. Finally, this winter, I found the saddles I needed to tie it. Ken described the Rat a Tat’s genesis this way: “That’s a fly I designed just to irritate fish. It’s the kind of a fly that will get a reaction strike.”

I’ll be sure to hold on tight.

Ken once told me that he sometimes includes yellow elements in a fly to indicate the presence of fat, so this should make a fine greasy baitfish pattern (think herring or menhaden). Note how naturally the jungle cock nail integrates with the random black of the grizzly. Lots of magic going on here.

Ken Abrames’ R.L.S. Rat a Tat. This tie is about 11″ long.

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Hook: Eagle Claw 253
Thread: Chartreuse 6/0
Platform: Black
Pillow: Chartreuse dubbing
Support: Chartreuse neck hackle
Tail: First, a yellow grizzly saddle, second, a chartreuse saddle, third, 2 red Flashabou, fourth, a turquoise grizzly saddle, fifth, a light blue saddle, sixth, 2 gold Flashabou, seventh, yellow grizzly saddle, eighth, a ginger saddle, ninth, 2 emerald green Flashabou, tenth, a fluorescent green grizzly saddle, eleventh, 2 red Flashabou, twelfth, a yellow grizzly saddle
Body: Gold braid
Collar: Bucktail, ginger, bottom and both sides.
Wing: Bucktail, yellow
Cheeks: Bucktail, 3 hairs each turquoise, orange, chartreuse, dark blue and emerald green
Topping: Seven strands of peacock here
Eyes: Jungle cock

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A closer look at the zebra-like tail section reveals great gobs of grizzly goodness.

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Many questions (rhetorical and otherwise)

I once read that a good way to learn things was to ask a lot of damn fool questions. I tend to do that in my fishing, whether I’m wondering to myself, trying something new, or picking the brain of someone who knows a lot more than me. Here are some recent points I’ve been pondering:

Is “pushing water” the most trite, overused, overhyped concept in streamer construction today?

How do all those stripers find my 1″ long sparse grass shrimp flies at night with no moon in water with visibility of under 2 feet?

Why don’t more striper anglers think in terms of matching the bait, and presenting the fly like the naturals are behaving?

When it comes to choosing lines and leaders, is there a more important question than: “What do you want the fly to do?”

If intermediate lines are the most versatile, why do the vast majority of striper anglers use only one presentation with them?

Is there a striped bass swimming today that cares if your fly turns over?

Last but not least: why the hell didn’t I get out and fish in the wake of last weekend’s storms?

If you want to consistently catch bigger bass on the fly from shore, fish how, where, and when most other people don’t.

Block Island All-Nighter first keeper

TU 225 awarded the Order of the Triple Jalapeño Burger with Octoberfest Clusters

You know it’s going to be a good night when you sit down at the table and moments later a server brings you a cold, crisp Octoberfest — which you didn’t order, but would have. Sometimes things just fall into place. Many thanks to my good friends at the Narragansett Chapter of TU who demonstrated once again their mastery of the concept of a fed presenter is a happy presenter. Always a pleasure talking fishing over dinner. The topic for the club was “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass,” and we had a some good Q&A afterwards. Now, I gotta make a new presentation for next year!

If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve got. (And if it’s stripers like this, you’re probably doing something right.)

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