If you want to catch more stripers, learn presentations other than cast-and-strip

One of my goals with currentseams is to help you become a better angler — and hopefully catch more fish. So if I could somehow distill a “Top Ten Tips” out of my brain’s fly fishing storehouse, one of them would certainly be: Learn presentations other than cast and strip. Especially if you want to catch more stripers.

When I see questions like, “How fast do you retrieve the fly?” or “Do you strip with one or two hands?” — and I see these questions a lot — I despair. Rarely does anyone ask the question, “Does it have to be a retrieve?” The answer would open many doors to greater fish-catching glory.

Even if you were going to fish for stripers using only retrieves — and there are many outings over the course of a season where I do just that — there are an abundance of retrieve options that are rarely used or discussed. For example, for sand eels, I like a hyper short (1-2″) rapid pulsing strip. For a large squid fly like the Mutable Squid, I like a slow hand-twist retrieve. Last week I fished a large deer-hair head fly with a fast strip-strip-strip-strip….pause….wait for it….then strip action. And there’s always the surface popper trick of landing the fly with a splat….then doing nothing. Once the landing rings dissipate, give that bug a twitch. You could present in randomly timed, spaced, and distanced strips, creating the drunken action of wounded prey. The list goes on. And the stripers will always tell you when you get it right.

Ultimately, you’ll need to learn presentations other than cast-and-strip for those outings where the stripers will not chase. One of my recent trips included a puzzle where school bass were cruising and feeding, but would not move to a stripped fly. The answer was found within traditional salmon presentation tactics. Those willing to invest in the floating line — I’m not talking money, but rather in taking the time to learn how to harness its power and master a few basic presentations — will see their catch rates soar. And while you’re at it, pick up a used copy of “Greased Line Fishing for Salmon [and Steelhead] by Jock Scott.

Fly fishing is all about line control. So take charge. Presentation is not difficult to learn. Remember that a fly rod and line is only, as Ken Abrames once observed, “a stick and a string.”

Learn presentation and start bringing your fly to the fish — not vice versa.

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.

The nice thing about the Eagle Claw 253 is…

…you can sharpen it fairly easily to extend the life of your fly. This RLS Rat-a-Tat had an unfortunate encounter with a rock, dulling its point. Not to worry! Out came the mill file, and a few strokes later we’re ship-shape and sticky sharp. This fly is now a year-and-a-half old and no worse for the wear. News flash: the biggest striper I ever caught came on a big flatwing that was four years old and had undergone numerous sharpening.

Tying the Gurgling Sand Eel

By popular demand, I present the recipe for the Gurgling Sand Eel — a kind of love child of Ken Abrames, Jack Gartside, and Kelly Galloup.

Here’s the backstory. A couple years ago, the guys at Block Island Fishworks (either Hank or Eliot, I can’t remember, but I think it was Eliot) showed me a prototype of an articulated sand eel Gurgler at the Edison Fly Fishing Show. I was given one, fished it that summer, and I resolved to tie a few of my own.

Here’s the prototype from Fishworks. Their shank is a little shorter, and the stinger hook smaller. I used a longer shank and a bigger stinger hoping that they would discourage dink hookups; I’m pleased to say that that was the result during this summer’s field testing. They use a strategically placed double layer of foam; I went for the simplicity of one (although Jack Gartside’s Sand Eel Gurgler uses the double layer). I deemed the eyes unnecessary. And since I like the action of saddle hackles — think Abrames’ Big Eelie — I incorporated them into my variant.

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The Gurgling Sand Eel

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Thread: 6/0, tyer’s choice of color
Stinger hook: Eagle Claw 253 1/0 or Gamakatsu SC15 2/0
Tail: 30 hairs bucktail; next, a 4″ pencil-thin saddle; next, 4 strands Flashabou; next, two 4″ pencil-thin saddles; next, 6 strands Krystal Flash. Tyer’s choice of colors.
Body: Pearl braid
Front shank: Fish Skull 35mm articulated shank
Underbody: Medium Polar Chenille
Shell: 3mm fly foam trimmed 1/4″-5/8″ wide, tyer’s choice of color

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Tying notes: Tie the stinger assembly first. If you want to reinforce the thread wraps on the articulated shank, you can add cement. Start the shell just behind the eye, and bind down well. Attach the Polar Chenille near the butt end, and wind forward. Pull the foam over the top of the shank and secure with three wraps of thread just behind the eye.  Bring the thread underneath the lip and whip finish. Trim lip.

Yup. It works. I think the articulation adds another layer of action when you fish this with short, jerky strips. Bonus: it also works on the dead drift or on long pauses between strip sequences.

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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.

BlockIslandEFF

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.