A Striper Tying and Greased Line Swing Lesson

Neville has been following me for some time now, all the way from England. While he’s on holiday in the States this week, we had the time to meet up in Rhode Island for a lesson. We met at his rental in Point Judith, and tied a deer hair shrimp, my Grass Shrimp Solution, a Big Eelie, and then a Mutable Squid. That kept us busy for a couple of hours. Then we geared up and headed to an estuary to practice the greased line swing and its associated tactics. The tide was wrong, but we had moving water, and we even had a swing and a miss when Nev was stripping in his line to make another cast. (Teaching moment: the bass that chased his Ray’s Fly was small. Stripping a fly is a great way to attract small striped bass.) Neville is a very enthusiastic learner (he recorded much of our session on his phone) and I have only the highest amount of respect for those who dive into a subject with such eagerness and passion. Well done, Nev!

All the way from Merry Old England! Here’s Nev putting his TFO TiCr five-weight through its paces. He’s well on his way to becoming a dangerous striper-catching machine.

The requirements of a successful grass shrimp fly pattern are…well, they certainly don’t include realism

Edward Ringwood Hewitt was one of the leading innovators in American fly fishing and fly tying. The Skating Spider…Bivisisble…Neversink Stone…these are all Hewitt creations. Hewitt was obsessed with finding out everything he could about what made fish eat. To wit, he created a list of seven factors that made a pattern successful, and ranked them in order of importance. Gary LaFontaine, another keen student of feeding behavior and effective fly design, lists them in his masterwork Caddisflies. Number one is the light effects of the fly, above and below the surface. Number seven, the least important, is accuracy of imitation of the naturals.

So it should come as no surprise that The Grass Shrimp Solution, a ridiculously simple pattern constructed of a few strands of bucktail, some braid, and a hen feather, excels at fooling striped bass. It has no eyes, no tail, no carapace. But it does have the essential bite triggers that stripers are keying on. In Caddisflies, LaFontaine makes a very big deal about what fish are looking for when they’re feeding; it’s often a single, essential characteristic of the natural. The Grass Shrimp Solution offers a translucent silhouette when viewed from below; the soft hackle and sparse feelers provide movement; and when held on the dangle, the fly creates a wake just like the naturals. Impressionism. It’s what’s for dinner.

If you placed the Grass Shrimp Solution in a shop next to patterns with shells and eyes, no one would buy it. Fortunately, striped bass don’t browse through fly bins.

“Two Hand, or not Two Hand” in the current issue of Surfcaster’s Journal

Another appearance in the online bible/journal/diary of surfcasting! Out subject in Issue 78 of Surfcaster’s Journal is the two-handed fly rod — 2Her for all you cool kids — and a little bit about how I made the journey from single hand to being able to laugh at the wind. It’s part story, part how-two, and it’s all designed to help you eliminate some of the mistakes I made along the way. Oh. Yes. There are fish to be caught, too…Surfacster’s Journal is a pay-to-read e-zine. You can get a copy here.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! CT man finds two-handed surf rod nirvana!
What strange brew is striper addict and master tea boiler Mike Oliver concocting? It comes in the form of a two-handed cannon called the “Out Front.”

Finally(!) on the striper board

I can’t remember the last time it was this late in the season when I took my first striper. It hasn’t been for lack of trying; although, to be fair, this was also the first year in eons that I did not partake in the mouth of the Housatonic in April Bass-O-Matic. When the moment came, all was in line with universe: Rock Island flatwing, herring nervously milling about, greased line swing with a floating line, the hammering strike of a bass feeding with confidence. Though our session was only 90 minutes, we (surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski and I) got into about a dozen slot and sub-slot fish between us. And, as the herring run winds down, I begin to notice that the grass shrimp swarm time is approaching…

As the clock ticked past midnight, it suddenly became my 22nd wedding anniversary. I usually do well when I fish on my anniversary. And to ensure the event was celebrated properly, I chose a Padron Anniversario Series for my late night smoke. (Photo by Toby Lapinski)

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.