“Mainly Misunderstood — Five Myths and Realities About Using Floating Lines For Striped Bass” in the current issue of American Angler

Why are floating lines so underused for striped bass fly fishing? Are intermediate lines  truly versatile? These questions and more are answered in “Mainly Misunderstood,” and you can read all about it in the current (May/June 2017) issue of American Angler. If you’re looking to open the door to a whole new world of presentation options, the floating line is the antidote to the mind-numbing metronome of cast-and-strip.

If you want to catch keeper bass like this with flatwings fished on a greased line swing, you’re gonna need a floating line.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

I love fishing floating lines in surf around structure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Stuff I Use: the Eagle Claw 253 Hook

The Eagle Claw 253 hook is the traditional choice for tying the flatwings, bucktails, and soft hackles made popular by Ken Abrames. It is a 1x short, O’Shaughnessy style spinnerbait hook with a non-offset point.

Ken didn’t choose that hook by accident. In Striper Moon, he writes of the 254 1x short, a similar hook, “The wire is light and does not cause the hook to sink unnaturally…the shank of this hook is one size short…this does two things: first, it makes the hook lighter and second it makes the point longer in relationship to hook size. I believe this gives me a mechanical advantage when fighting  a fish.” Those same attributes apply to the 253, which is the dominant hook in his book of fly patterns, A Perfect Fish.

“To fashion a fly from tradition is an honorable practice.” — KA. I did my best to honor that practice with the Rock Island, tied here on the Eagle Claw 253, size 3/0.

Rock Island Flatwings

The Eagle Claw brand holds a special place in my heart. It was the snelled hook we used when my father taught me how to fish for trout in the early 1970s. For years now, I’ve been tying most of my striper flies on the Eagle Claw 253. I usually buy them in lots of 100, readily available at any number of online retailers. Most of those 100 are sticky sharp right out of the box; those that aren’t are easily sharpened with a few strokes of a mill file. Eagle Claw makes a version of the 253 called “Lazer Sharp.” Ironically, I’ve found many of the Lazer Sharp hooks to be pencil-eraser dull, and difficult to sharpen. Stick with the regular 253 hook.

The biggest striper (probably between 30-35 pounds) I ever caught on the fly from shore took this Razzle Dazzle flatwing, below, tied on an Eagle Claw 253. At the time of the catch, the fly was at least 3 years old, and seen multiple seasons of use. I had sharpened the hook the night of the outing, as I had done many times before with Eagle Claw 253s, making sure it had enough sticking power to hold a junior cow.

IMGP2600

Most of the Eagle Claw 253s I use are size 1/0 and 3/0, although I will tie some of my larger flatwings on 4/0s. A word of caution: on larger stripers, I’ve had the 1/0s begin to open (I tend to put a lot of pressure on a fish when fighting it) although I have never lost a striper to an opened hook. If I suspect there are bigger fish around, I’ll go with a 3/0 and up. I have never had an issue with those sizes.

My favorite hooks for flatwings, bucktails, and soft hackles, fresh from a 100 count bag, ready for the vise.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ray’s Fly Featherwing: A simple, sparse flatwing

Many years ago, I was having trouble with some bass that were feeding on silversides in a Rhode Island breechway. The fish were active, but I couldn’t get them to bite. Ken Abrames recommended that I try the Ray’s Fly Featherwing, a dressed-down flatwing version of Ray’s Fly. I remember him telling me that it was, at the least, another arrow  in the fly box quiver.

That was a long time ago. I remember tying some up, but I don’t know what became of them. I know I caught stripers on them. I think I lost my last one to a bluefish.

Recently, someone on one of the forums asked about a “Ray’s Fly flatwing.” I think the Ray’s Fly Featherwing is the fly he was referencing. I haven’t tied in a couple of weeks, so I went down to the bench this morning and churned out a few. So simple. And sparse. I’d be as inclined to use these for a sand eel as I would a silverside.

All saddles are tied in flat — flatwing style, as they say. Note that the olive saddle is tied in at the head. All you need to do now is add water.

Ray’s Fly Featherwing flatwing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hook: Eagle Claw 253 1/0
Thread: White
Tail: 30 strands white bucktail under white saddle under 4 strands pearl flash under yellow saddle
Body: Pearl or silver braid
Wing: Olive saddle
Topping: Peacock herl

Ken Abrames returns online

Many of you have been wondering, “What happened to Ken Abrames’ Stripermoon website?” Well, the old forum is no more.

Ken has moved on to two Facebook pages. The first is called JK Abrames Stripermoon, and you can find it here.

The second is called Stripermoon Blog. That is located here.

Please join me in welcoming Ken’s return to the web.

Hello, old friend.

Ken Abrames Portrait

 

“Bill Peabody’s Flat-Wing Patterns”

A few years ago, Capt. Ray Stachelek gave me a copy of an article Bill Peabody had written in the May-June 1998 issue of Fly Fishing In Salt Waters. I mentioned it here, then mostly forgot about it. A few weeks ago, one of you asked if I could share the piece. With my Compleat Angler flatwing demo tomorrow, this seemed like a good time to do it.

Below is a pdf of “Bill Peabody’s Flat-Wing Patterns.” The quality is as good as I can make it, this being photos of a photocopy. I want to be clear that I did not write this piece. Bill Peabody did.  Enjoy!

Bill Peabody’s Flat-Wing Patterns

My rendition of Bill Peabody’s Flat-Wing Bay Smelt. The fly has not yet been shaped under water.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How To Tie And Fish Dropper Rigs For Stripers

“How to Tie and Fish Dropper Rigs for Stripers” first appeared in a 2010 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide

Not every day is April on the lower Housatonic when the stripers are ready to pounce on your fly with reckless abandon. No, this was an August evening in Rhode Island, and while the bass were open for business, hookups were few and far between.

I was fishing a spot where a rocky bar merged with a shallow sand flat before dropping off into a deep channel. Pop! Tock! Every few minutes, I could hear the distinctive tells of feeding fish, all within casting range. The water was loaded with dense schools of silversides. Peanut bunker were in the mix, and I had even seen clamworms earlier in the week. But what were the stripers feeding on tonight? Within a few minutes, I would have my answer. I cast my dropper rig into a surface seam, and started mending for a greased line swing.

As the flies swam across the current, the water exploded. I set the hook, and soon a fine striped bass was in my hands. With the dropper rig, he had three fly choices: a clamworm, a small bucktail menhaden, and a Ray’s Fly. He chose the menhaden. A few casts later, bap! Another striper on the menhaden. Satisfied, I clipped the other flies off the leader. Once again, droppers had proven to be the fastest way to find out what the fish wanted.

Dropper rigs take a little more effort than store-bought tapered leaders, but they’re easy to tie and the rewards can be great. A dropper rig is a terrific searching tool, giving the bass multiple targets, and letting you present at different depths on a single drift. I’ve always been the curious sort, and I like the surprise a dropper rig provides when I discover which fly fooled the fish. And, as an angler who embraces traditional methods, the dropper rig has proven itself — you’ve heard of a brace of wet flies — over the course of hundreds of years.

The original article had an illustration of a three fly team by Ken Abrames;  I’m replacing it with a detailed rigging diagram. It’s a simple leader — you’re basically making a triple surgeon’s loop and then tying two triple surgeon’s knots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here’s a pdf: Striper Dropper Rig

A basic dropper rig is about seven to eight feet long, with two dropper flies and one fly on point. The flies are spaced 18 to 24 inches apart, and the dropper flies are tied on tags that extend a few inches out from the leader. I use 20, 25, or 30 pound mono to build my dropper rigs. Start with a length of mono a little over four feet long. Tie a loop about the circumference of a baseball at one end; this will be the butt of the leader. I use a triple surgeon’s knot, but you can use the knot of your choice. Always wet the mono before you tighten your knots, and remember the wisdom that no knot is worthy of your trust. I test every knot I make before I fish any leader system.

Next, take a three-foot section of mono and attach it to the butt section with a triple surgeon’s or double uni-knot. The tag of the butt section will form the first dropper, so be sure to leave plenty of material (about 8”) for it. Snug that knot up good and tight, then repeat the process to form the second dropper. You should now have a length of mono with two tags, spaced about two feet apart, extending toward the point fly end of the leader. All you need to do now is tie on some flies. I like them between four and six inches away from the leader.

What flies? Think different: Different sizes. Different colors. Different species. Give the fish a choice. They will tell you when you’ve made the right one. In my experience, this rig fishes and casts best with the largest fly in the point position. Don’t be afraid of fouling or tangles. You can cut down on their incidence by slowing down your casting stroke, and making sure the line straightens out on your back cast before making the forward stroke.

Here are a few simple guidelines to help you decide if a dropper rig is a good idea. Use one when:
• You’re searching for fish.
• There are multiple baits in the water and you’re not sure what the stripers are feeding on.
• There is an abundance of small bait in the water, i.e. anchovies, grass shrimp, clam worms, sand eels.

A dropper rig might not be the best choice if:
• There are bigger fish about (landing multiple large fish on a single leader can be a dicey proposition).
• You’re having difficulty casting into a strong wind (use a shorter leader and a single fly).
• You start consistently hooking doubles or triples.

Droppers aren’t a magic bullet solution. But if you want to catch more fish, they are an excellent arrow to have in your quiver.

“Soft Hackles For Striped Bass” in American Angler

The November/December 2015 issue of American Angler hit the newsstands and fly shops last week. “Soft Hackles For Striped Bass” covers some salty soft hackle basics, and features six patterns: three from Ken Abrames, and three from yours truly.  I interviewed Ken for this piece, and there are plenty of good quotes to dig into. As always, I try to go beyond straight how-to and inject a little fun into things. I hope you enjoy reading it.

You can find “Soft Hackles For Striped Bass” by Steve Culton in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of American Angler.

Nov/Dec 2015 American Angler