Marlborough Show Happy Recap

Whew! Three days of intensive fly fishing meet-and-greet, instruction, tying, speaking (plus a little buying) and I’m wiped out. But it’s a good kind of spent, like after a monster Block Island All-Nighter. I’ll try to tell the story of my busy weekend through these photos. Don’t forget, the Edison Show is this weekend! It goes without saying that I’m stoked for that, too.

Friday morning I ate my power fishing breakfast, then loaded up the truck and headed for the show. This was my first gig of the weekend, and it was very well-attended. No time to loll about, as I was the featured fly tier on the main show floor at 1pm. And then a seminar at 4:30, Beyond Cast & Strip: Presentation Flies for Striped Bass. I was appreciative of the good number of people who hung around so late on a Friday to hear the talk, and I think we all had a lot of fun.
This is friend Ed Engle being Featured Fly Tier. Ed is a wonderful tier and his books are swell, too — you can find several of them on my shelves, and I reference them often. Ed was demoing small nymphs. Mine was Presentation Flies For Striped Bass. It was my third time being FFT, and it was the largest crowd I’ve tied for yet. I’d like to give a shout out to all my audiences for being so engaging and asking plenty of excellent questions. I also attended talks by Ed, John Shaner, Jason Randall, and Landon Mayer. If you’re not going to demos and seminars and other talks, you’re really missing out on some wonderful opportunities to learn from some of the industry’s best.
You should be spending a good amount of time walking the floor and chatting with fly tiers like Lisa Weiner. It’s a great opportunity to learn a new technique, get exposed to fly patterns you might not know about, and just meet some genuinely nice, talented people (like Lisa).
No rest for the weary. Here’s a Magic Fly’s (Pale Watery Wingless Variant) -eye view of my Saturday class, Tying and Fishing Wet Flies. Later in the day, I did a Destination Theater talk, Modern Wet Fly Strategies, that drew a near-standing room crowd. If you were there, thanks for coming! I did a second class, Presentation Flies for Striped Bass, on Sunday morning, and finished up with the debut of a new smallmouth presentation, Hot Bronze.
And of course, the Fly Fishing Show means vendors. Here’s friend Joe Cordeiro’s Flat-Wing booth. I scored a nice grey saddle from Joe, and a few more high quality bucktails from Brad Buzzi. Everyone I spoke to seemed to agree that this show had a really good energy. After two challenging years, welcome back, Marlborough!

“Beyond Cast & Strip: Presentation Flies for Striped Bass” Promo Video

Just a short promo for the upcoming Fly Fishing Shows in Marlborough and Edison. You can attend my seminar, watch a tying demo, or take a class with me. Here’s the schedule.

Marlborough Friday, Jan 20: 1:00pm, main show floor, Featured Fly Tier, Presentation Flies for Striped Bass4:30pm, Seminar, Release RoomBeyond Cast & Strip: Presentation Flies for Striped Bass.

Marlborough Sunday, January 22: Classes With The Experts, 8:30am-11:00amPresentation Flies for Striped Bass. You must pre-register for this class

Edison Friday, Jan 27: 2:00pm-4:30pmClasses With The Experts, Beyond Cast & Strip: Presentation Flies for Striped Bass. You must pre-register for this class. 

Currentseams Best of 2022: #4-#2

#4: Getting Published for the First Time in a Real Book, Surfcasting Around The Block II. Although I was late to it in terms of its bookshelf life, I’m a big fan of Dennis Zambrotta’s Surfcasting Around the Block. So you can imagine my delight when, a couple of years ago, Dennis asked if I wanted to write a couple of chapters for the followup. Like filmmaking, writing a book isn’t an instantaneous proposition. In fact, the journey from idea to manuscript to holding bound paper and glossy cover in your hands can be glacial. (Maybe these days that’s not such a good analogy. But I digress.) Published in the fall of 2022, Surfcasting Around the Block II is a must-read for any fan of this fishery. Modesty prevents me from listing my favorite chapters, but suffice to say there are many pearls within the entire book to be harvested by the keen student.

From the original book. (The text, not the fly.)

#3: A Striper That Could be Measured in Pounds Instead of Inches. It’s been a few years since I caught a striper on the fly this big, and man, I don’t have to tell you how good this one felt. After putting in my time at this general mark over several years, what a gas to finally connect with a good fish. And I did it on a fly with which I’ve never had any success, the RLS Sure Thing. So summon your best General Patton voice and shout along with me, “Ken Abrames, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!” Photo by striper master Toby Lapinski. Read more.

#2: Two Glorious Days in Cheesman Canyon. Good lord, what have I been missing all these years?!? I continue to kick myself for never having experienced fly fishing for trout out west before this year. The river was the South Platte; the beats, sections of Cheesman Canyon; the guide, Chris Steinbeck from Pat Dorsey’s Blue Quill Angler. I spent two days in a state of trout nirvana, one with my son Cam and the other solo. Maybe I simply hit it right. Maybe I was spot-on my game. But I know this for sure: an hour on this tailwater has the potential to beat the tar out of a week on the Farmington in terms of nymphing action and robust, belligerent, hefty wild trout. Wow! (It just occurred to me that I never finished my triptych. So I shall endeavor to give you the last part in early January.) Read the first two installments here, and here.

Ironically, my first fish of the trip was by far the smallest. Still, a powerful fighter.

Coming soon…the #1 event of 2022!

Currentseams Q&A: Greased line swings, lateral lines, and finding flies in dirty water

Happy Monday. We’re back and at it, and it feels good! This question comes from new subscriber Travis. It’s a good one, and since the answer is not simple, I thought I’d share it. Question: After listening to your Saltwater Edge podcast episode, you’ve motivated me to start trying out greased line swings and other similar presentations for stripers in my local estuary. This article brought up similar concerns I have about this tactic where I fish because the water is quite stained while still being mostly salt. How do the stripers’ lateral lines function in regards to a dead drift or swing presentation? Does this method require the fly to be that close that it goes by their face like a trout, is there vision better than we give them credit for in murk or are their lateral lines more sensitive than always needing a strip retrieve? Still trying to get one on the swing.

Answer: I could write a lengthy chapter to answer. But rather than over-complicate, let’s simplify. The conditions are stained water with poor visibility. The first question is how do the striper’s lateral lines function in regards to a dead drift or swing presentation? My reaction response is, danged if I know. My second response, while sounding facetious, is actually an attempt at serious: probably the way they always do. But I know where Travis is going with this. What’s he’s asking is, how do stripers find a fly in murky water? Do they see it? Do they rely on their lateral line? Does the fly need to be moving for them to find it?

Here’s what I can tell you. I fish a couple estuaries where the water, at best, is the color of tea, and perhaps most of the time is more like tea and milk. That is, lousy visibility. The bait is grass shrimp about an inch-and-a-half long. Every time I go, I hear the pops of bass feeding. So, I know they’re finding the naturals in stained water in the dark. Now, I don’t know if they’re finding the bait through vision or their lateral line or a combination of the two. But I do know that they can and will find my grass shrimp flies, which could hardly be described as patterns that — and I’ll use a phrase that generally drives me bonkers — “push water.” These flies are swung or dangling in the current. Sometimes the hits come when I ‘m pulling in over a hundred feet of line and backing. But mostly it’s on the swing and dangle.

Exhibit A: All of these flies are small. All of them have produced stripers, on static presentations, even in stained water. I fish them with confidence on the swing or dangle with a floating line because I know they work, and I know I am presenting the flies in a manner in which the naturals are being eaten.

I don’t know how the bass are finding my flies; I might even suggest that it doesn’t matter, because they are finding my flies, just as they find my skinny sand eel flies at night on the dark of the moon in the whitewater wash of a pounding surf. I fish bigger flatwings in the spring in a different estuary system where the water is frequently stained. Granted, those are much bigger patterns, but the presentation is still a natural drift, swing, or static dangle; regardless, the bass find those flies.

What Travis is really asking for, I believe, is permission to believe that the bass will find his flies in murky water. Permission granted. But ultimately, the permission has to come from you, Travis — and the only way to obtain it is to get out there and fish. Hope that helps!

Exhibit B: flatwing found in lightly stained water.

Let’s start here: Thank you, Ottawa Fly Fishers

Last night I did my second international Zoom presentation with the Ottawa Fly Fishers. They are a small but very enthusiastic group, and it’s been a pleasure getting to know them. The subject was “Wet Flies 101.” I don’t need to tell you about my passion for tying and fishing wet flies, so spreading the word is kind of like getting extra frosting with your cake. Thank you again, Ottawa Fly Fishers, for being such swell hosts!

One afternoon, many years ago, this fly saved my bacon. I was guiding Matt, and it had been a slow, disappointing day. All of sudden, for no apparent reason, trout started eating the middle dropper, a size 16 Starling and Herl. Whatever was hatching unseen underwater, it was small and dark and the fish wanted it. Remember Ken’s sage advice: droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want.

“Meditations on the Sand Eel and a Floating Line” in issue #75 of Surfcaster’s Journal — plus a short striper report

I’m delighted to have piece in the diamond issue of Surfcaster’s Journal. Meditations on the Sand Eel and a Floating Line is exactly what it sounds like: my thoughts on fishing this important bait using traditional patterns and salmonid tactics — and catching more striped bass. Most anglers I see targeting stripers feeding on sand eels use intermediate lines and weighted flies. They’re missing out, and typically only catching the stripers that are willing to chase. Some of the answers to the mysteries of “How come I can’t catch those bass?” when they’re feeding on sand eels are unveiled within.

Surfcaster’s Journal is an online e-zine. If you’re not reading it, you should be. Although the focus is primarily on using spinning gear, there is some in-depth fly casting content (like this piece) — and there is plenty of invaluable information that may be gleaned from the traditional surfcasting articles. It’s only 20 bucks for a year. You can subscribe here.

I remember this night like it was just a few months ago: Block Island, July, and a school of 15-20 pound bass were in close harassing sand eels for several hours. The stripers were very willing to jump on. But what about those frustrating nights when you can’t buy a hit? Read Meditations on the Sand Eel and a Floating Line and become a closer.

Mini-striper report 10/16/22: I fished for several hours last night with surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski. He was plugging and I was on the 2H fly rod. Conditions appeared to be perfect, but the neither the bass not the bait got the memo. Toby managed two school bass and yours truly took the skunk. Toby had a trenchant analysis of the evening, which, as you have not yet heard it, I will now precede to relate: “Bleaaahhhh.” That’s a direct quote.

One month away! International Fly Tying Symposium tying class and seminars

Steve Culton will be making his first appearance at the 2022 International Fly Tying Symposium, November 12-13 in Somerset, NJ. (I know, sounds like a press release, but this kind of is.) In case you haven’t visited, and are looking for more information, the Symposium site is live. There was a glitch yesterday in the class registration link; that has been fixed. So, if you want to attend my class, Tying Soft Hackles, Winged and Wingless Wets, Saturday Nov 12 from 1pm-3:30pm, you can register here.

I’m currently working on two new seminars that will debut at the Symposium. The first, on Saturday at 10:30, is Tying and Fishing Wet Flies. This will cover some basic wet fly construction, theory, and how to present and fish wet flies — and you’ll also get to see some of my favorite patterns. On Sunday at 11am, it’s Beyond Cast and Strip: Presentation Flies for Stripers. I’ll be covering fly design, use of natural materials, sparseness in design, and — drum roll — presentations other than cast and strip. If you want to attend either or both, you just show up, and I’m hoping for a good turnout from currentseams followers. And of course, I’ll be at a tying table when I’m not teaching and presenting.

If you’re just casting and stripping, a spinning rod is a much better tool for that job. Find out why I tie striper flies the way I do, the secret ingredient in all my patterns, and how to present them — at this year’s International Fly Tying Symposium.

Striper Report: All good things to those who wait, or: The Sure Thing

On page 77 of my copy of A Perfect Fish, scribbled in the margin just to the right of the recipe for the R.L.S. Sure Thing, is a single word. Fall. Then, below that, in smaller letters, 8-9″, night time when there’s a little moonlight KA 3/12/10. These are the notes I took from a phone conversation I was having Ken Abrames on that date. If you went through my copy of the book, you’d find notations like this one sprinkled throughout. Such are the benefits of befriending the author.

The funny thing about the Sure Thing is that up until last week, the only thing that was certain about that pattern was that I would blank when I fished it. To be fair, I didn’t fish it a lot. But over the years it got enough time in my rotation to cause a chuckle whenever I thought of the name. Pshaw! Sure thing, indeed.

Nonetheless, I tied one up last Thursday because I was going out in the fall with a little moonlight, just after dusk. I made it 9″ long like the man said. And I remember thinking, as I lashed feather to hook “If not tonight, when?” Besides, Toby (Lapinski, surfcaster extraordinaire) had done well his previous outing at this mark with a yellow needlefish. The Sure Thing is a three-feather flatwing with at least one yellow saddle and plenty of yellow bucktail. It would be a very reasonable facsimile of Toby’s plug.

My newly minted R.L.S. Sure Thing, as yet unshaped, but ready to hunt. I’ll try to remember to feature this pattern and recipe in a future post.

We settled in and began to cast, me with my two-hander and floating line and Sure Thing, Toby with his surf rod and bag of plugs. Right away Toby was into stripers. Nothing too big by his standards, but enough to whet our big bass appetites. Even though it was early in the incoming, the current was already beginning to pick up speed as it rushed across the rocky bottom. This was my second time here, and I knew what I had to do: make a cast, immediately throw a large upcurrent mend, gather in the slack, and let the fly greased line swing over the bar.

Big fish don’t miss, and this one drilled the Sure Thing with precision accuracy. The beauty of the greased line swing manifests with such takes; you feel the heaviness of the fish, see the surface erupt in a chaotic whitewater geyser, and hear the distinct sound made by a large object as it thrashes on the surface. My cast had only been about 70 feet, and I quickly came tight to the striper.

I set the hook. Then again, and once more. Normally, I’d put a bass this size on the reel, but I’d already begun stripping her in. It wasn’t until she was about 25 feet out that I questioned my decision. I let her take a little line from hands, and used the rod tip to deflect the more frantic short bursts. She was close now.

Always fight a big fish from the bottom third of the rod. Note that the rod angle is below 45 degrees. I was confident in my hook set, and the fact that I had a sticky sharp 3/0 hook and a 30-pound mono leader. It’s only when I feel the fish is running out of fight that I raise the rod tip to lift its head and lip it. The raised rod tip also cushions any sudden late bursts by the fish, which are sometimes difficult to manage when you’re hand stripping a larger bass. Photo by Toby Lapinski

Twice I thought I was in a good position to lip her. Twice she refused. And then it was over. The camera was readied, rod tucked under arm, fish supported — she never left the water — and then the most satisfying part. Release. Watching her melt into the dark waters of Long Island Sound, knowing you may catch her again some day. Perhaps it’s the fist bump from the friend who was there to share it with you that is the most satisfying. Or, maybe the victory cigar.

Whatever. It doesn’t have to be a sure thing.

38″, 20-pound class, R.L.S. Sure Thing. This has been my best year since 2018 for bigger bass. Photo by Toby Lapinski

Striper Lesson & Report 9/26/22: Love that dirty water. (Or not.)

Bert took a striper lesson with me on Monday. We banged around two different tidal marks near Long Island Sound. The wind made for a few casting and mending challenges, and the water was heavily stained. Bert learned about non-stripping presentations where the angler brings the fly to the fish. The greased line swing, the dangle, strategic mends — these are all now part of Bert’s striper fly fishing vocabulary. We even had a tug in the midst of this mid-day maelstrom. We also covered fly selection, dropper rig construction and presentation, and baitfish ID. If you want to catch those hard-to-catch, unwilling-to-chase, and (most of all) bigger striped bass on a regular basis, you need to learn presentation. Great job, Bert!

Despite the low visibility, we saw several bait balls of juvenile Atlantic Menhaden. Nice loops!

Then, Monday night, I ventured to the Ocean State. It never occurred to me that the entire southern New England coastal waters might be stirred up by the blow. Yep, the estuary I fished was the same sandy mess and weed farm. Bait was everywhere — mullet, peanuts, silversides — but the only thing that was on them were a few bass in the 12″-16″ range. In a little over two hours I managed a couple hits from these smaller guys, but no hookups. I stayed out way later than I should have, and I didn’t hit the pillow until after 3am. Maybe next time.

Currentseams Q&A: Which line to use for fall blitzes?

Here’s a question from long-time reader Bill G: There have been big blitzes on the Cape, but I’m not getting hookups. Do you recommend a floating line for fishing blitzes?

As with many questions, there are simple answers — and complex ones, too. The simple answer is: yes. With a floating line, I can mend, so I have more control over current and my presentation. I can present at the surface, near the surface, or deep (depending on leader length, type, and fly weight/structure/materials); and I can present on a dead drift, the swing; or strip. As with many questions I get about lines/leaders/flies, you must first answer the question, “What do you want the fly to do?” — and go from there.

Which brings us to the subject of blitzes. In the abstract, blitzes are good. You’ve got a concentration of bait and bass, so the mystery of where are the stripers and what are they eating has been eliminated. Sometimes, it’s too easy: all you need to do is toss a fly into the maelstrom and you’re on. But we’ve all experienced the frustration of fishing a blitz where we can’t buy a strike. Line type is important, but there are other factors to consider as well.

  1. Is there a lot of bait? If so, are you fishing droppers? Fishing two or more flies during a blitz will dramatically raise your hookup odds.
  2. Where are you making your presentation? The middle of the bait ball is often the worst place for your flies. Try presenting along the edges or a couple feet away — or try going underneath the bait. Blitzing stripers are looking for easy pickings: the stragglers or wounded or dead that are outside the safety of the bait ball.
  3. How are you presenting? If the stripers are looking for easy pickings, a stripped fly may be your worst option. That’s why dead drift presentations near the bait are often so effective.
  4. Fly selection matters. Try sparse, impressionistic patterns than move and breathe and create the illusion of life even when at rest.

I’ve had success during blitzes with both floating lines and full sink lines — but the one time I recall using a full sink, it was because it was so windy, and that was the easiest line to cast. Thanks, Bill, for the great question, and I hope this helped.

When there’s a lot of bait in the water, I like sparse, impressionistic patterns like this Little Crazy. A basic bucktail with a marabou throat, I based the color scheme on Ken Abrames much larger flatwing, the Crazy Menhaden. The Little Crazy is becoming one of my favorite juvenile Atlantic Menhaden patterns.