Ken Abrames 1994 Striper Fly Tying Presentation Video

I discovered this gem just yesterday: archival footage of Ken Abrames making a presentation on striped bass fly tying to the Rhody Fly Rodders, circa 1994. Now you too can watch, listen, and learn from the grandmaster as he covers striped bass fly design, materials, color, and traditional tying methods. While I’ve had detailed conversations with Ken on all these topics, it’s still a special treat to be able to see him in action over 20 years ago.

Recorded long before the days of home HD, the video is perfectly watchable — certainly, its content far outweighs any video washout or digital artifacts. You can find it on YouTube in three parts; here’s the link to part one.

What happens when you mix water and bucktail (and other secrets of the art of tying the sparse fly) revealed.

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Striped Bass Podcast in the can

Or so they’d say in the days of film and reel-ro-reel tape. I guess the proper term now would be “on the drive.” Regardless, last week we recorded material for a podcast(s) about fly fishing for striped bass with a floating line, flatwings, sparse flies and other traditional fly fishing methods. There are over two hours of material to sift through — thankfully, not my job — and unfortunately, I don’t have a release date. But hopefully the editor will hop to it and we’ll have something fun and informative to listen to on long drives or — shhhh! — while goofing off at work. When I have more information on a completion date, I’ll let you know.

The boys are back from summer camp, so my three weeks of hedonistic binge fishing are over. Not to worry. I have brilliant plans for sneaking out to the water…

I haven’t been in ten days, but my spies tell me the Farmington continues to fish well. Plenty of cold water has the trout fed, fat, and happy.

As always, thanks for reading and following currentseams.

Flatwings. Floating lines. Traditional presentations. You too can learn the secrets of catching stripers that are measured in pounds instead of inches. Coming soon to a podcast near you.

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Block Island Stripers From The Shore

 

“Block Island Stripers From The Shore” first appeared in the October/November/December 2016 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide — sadly, the last issue of this regional gem. I consider Block Island to be sacred fishing ground. Some of my favorite fly fishing memories have been created along its shoreline.

My grandparents had an old map of Block Island in their basement. To my young eyes, it looked like a pirate treasure map from a story book. (I wasn’t too far off – the notorious Captain Kidd was known to frequent the island and its waters.) Then, there was the curious name. Why Block? It was shaped more like a pork chop than a cube. (I would later learn the island was named for Dutch explorer Adrien Block.) It was small enough to be charming (7 miles long and 3 miles wide, situated 13 miles off the coast of Rhode Island) yet substantial enough to have been around since the last ice age.

Then there were the magical names of its shoreline and landmarks: Pots and Kettles. Rodman’s Hollow. Black Rock. It all sounded like a fanciful netherworld inhabited by wizards and elves.

The wondrous reality is that from May through November, Block Island is home to Morone saxatillis. And if the year, moon, and tides align, you can reasonably expect an unforgettable encounter with a striped bass on the fly from the shore.

A feisty Block Island school bass taken on a dead drift using a small, sparse sand eel pattern.

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Where to fish. Finding a place to fish on Block Island is a good news-good news scenario: many possibilities, ample public access. You can find most of these spots on an online map. Note that there is no camping on Block Island, and no sleeping in vehicles.

Crescent Beach stretches several miles north from the ferry landing in town to Mansion Beach. The sandy bottom makes it a popular place for sight fishing. Some people bring ladders, but most anglers are content to walk and wet wade. Mornings – the beach crowds start building around 11am – and late afternoons are the best times to try your hand at stalking a cruising fish. If you see a substantial number of bass during the day, it usually means they’ll be around at night, too.

You’ll find structure, waves, and current like this along much of the island’s shoreline.

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Sandy Point is the spit that juts out from the northern tip of the island. Currents from Long Island Sound and Cow Cove smash together, creating the dangerous – and sometimes deadly – North Rip. This is the place where Block Island angling legend Ben Lubell lost his life in the early 1980s. Take a lesson from Ben, and never wade in the North Rip. Stay out of the water and the wash at Sandy Point.

Those same lethal currents can also make for great fishing, acting as a conveyor belt that delivers helpless bait to waiting mouths. Local historians will tell you that Cow Cove got its name when the island’s first settlers forced their cattle to swim ashore there. Noted author and fly tyer Ken Abrames says with a smile that the name really comes from the size of the stripers that have been taken there over the years.

The Great Salt Pond was once a brackish, landlocked lake. A channel was dug in 1895. The pond offers the fly fisher a rich diversity of angling opportunities, from shallow flats to deep water drop-offs to pinch-points to river-like currents. The channel at the Coast Guard Station, also known as the Cut, is the most popular fishing spot on the island. However, popular doesn’t always mean best, and parking is often limited.

West Side. Charlestown Beach runs along the middle of the west side of the island. When it’s on, gird yourself for a bad case of striper thumb. The largest blitzes I’ve experienced on Block Island – both in numbers and pounds per fish –have taken place along Charlestown Beach. The West Side is also home to Grace’s, Dorie’s, and Cooneymus Coves. All are rocky bars that are in fly rod range at high tide.

South Side. The stretch from Black Rock Beach to Mohegan Bluffs features the kind of rocky structure that stripers like to frequent. However, both surf and prevailing winds can be a challenge to fly casters.

Some final words of advice and caution: never fish an area you’re unfamiliar with at night. Reconnoiter it first in daylight at the same tide you’ll be fishing. Don’t venture out in rough surf. And fish with a friend.

Flies and gear. Sand eels, squid, and silversides are the predominant inshore baits, so bring plenty of flies that match their action and profile. Sand eels start out small – 2” or less in early June – and grow as the summer progresses. I favor sparse, impressionistic patterns like Ken Abrames’ Eelie and Big Eelie. I tie the Big Eelie in a wide range of color combinations, from the original white/yellow/olive/blue to blue/black/purple. I make them about 4 ½” long, and stripers relish them all. It’s hard to go wrong with any simple, slim-profile baitfish pattern.

I’ve caught more Block Island stripers on the Big Eelie than any other pattern. This is the fly’s original color scheme.

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It’s not uncommon to find both smaller (2”-3” long) and larger squid in the Great Salt Pond. And while I’ve never done very well using big flies on the Block, I always bring some foot-long eel patterns, because one day I’m going to find that 50-pounder. Crab and shrimp flies designed for bonefish will also work quite well on Block Island’s flats.

Bring your favorite one- or two-handed rod. As with any island, expect windy conditions, and match your rod accordingly. The water I fish is typically 2 to 8 feet deep. A floating line gives me the option of presenting from the surface to the bottom in most places. I always bring my full-sink integrated line in case it’s insanely windy or I want to fish a deep channel.

Waders and studded boots are essential gear for navigating the rocky shores and jetties of Block Island. Lightweight and comfortable boots will make that one-mile slog down the beach a little more endurable. Keep in mind that Block Island is surrounded by cool water for much of the summer; you’re probably going to need a jacket at night. Use a personal flotation device and carry a compass – Block Island can get Transylvania horror movie foggy.

And for those rare nights when the wind lies down and the air is still, make sure you have a generous supply of effective bug spray. The no see-ums on Block Island are torturous.

When to fish. Every year is different, and as east coast striper stocks have ebbed and flowed, so has the fishing on Block Island. In the previous four years I have caught as many as 75 bass over 8 nights, and as few as 4. There’s no way to predict which island you’re going to get.

While you can certainly catch Block Island stripers in daylight, Ray Charles put it rather eloquently when he sang, “night time is the right time.” Because most of the water I fish is shallow, I favor the dark of the moon or cloud-covered nights. Of course, the best time to go fishing is when you can. Catching or merely fishing, Block Island is a unique and beautiful location – and you’ll quickly understand why it was named by the Nature Conservancy as one of the “Last Great Places.”

Why I love fishing at night. This striper was part of a school of 10 to15-pound fish that set up on a shallow cobble-bottomed bar to ambush bait.

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Block Island striper report: small is the new black

Another year, another seven days to chase linesiders in one of The Last Great Places. What each new season brings is always a mystery until you get out there, and then you can toss all the reports you’ve been hearing because they’re either spot on, nothing like that at all, or varying points of somewhere in between.

In 2017, I’d been hearing credible talk of voluminous schools of sand eels inshore and the Bass-O-Matic running on high. That sounded swell, but there were two x-factors to consider: we were coming out of the new moon into first quarter with a waxing gibbous and its bite-killing light; and the weather. Good news/bad news on both fronts. On the plus side it was cloudy most nights, so moonlight was not a factor. On the down side, it was windy. Like small craft warning windy: 20 knots sustained with higher gusts that pushed the limits of what is reasonable with a fly rod. And wind usually changes everything on the Block.

Like last year, I caught stripers every night. But the bargain of two consecutive years without a skunk was a preponderance of small fish. This was the first time in a decade that I didn’t take a legal bass out here, and I found myself longing for those schools of 15-pounders that would sit off the beach for 90 minutes, having their way with sand eels. I had two double-digit nights, then a six, then three singles, and wrapped it up with another half dozen. But 27″ was the largest bass I could muster.

Sight fishing from the beach during daylight was tough due to wind, but mostly to the clouds that made finding those elusive shadows a chore. What’s more, on the sunny days I spotted very few cruisers. I did get two fish to follow my fly, one of them a good 20-pounder, but in the end they both broke off the chase.

And then there were the Meatballs. I had enough nights where I enjoyed blissful solitude, but there were a few sessions where the Meatballs were out in force and in rare form. I’m usually the quiet sort on the water, but at one point on a certain night I was blasted so often by so many hundreds of lumens that I finally turned and barked, “Please stop shining that light on me NOW!” They left shortly after. I had a cigar to celebrate.

And that’s the thing about Block. Even when it’s bad, it can be very, very good.

I had high hopes for this fish — he went on the reel — but the tape measure didn’t lie and he came up an inch short. I mostly stuck with my usual eclectic mix of Big Eelies. This fish thought the Crazy Menhaden color scheme looked tasty. Kind of a neat stained glass effect going on in the water around him, too.

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Unless there’s a specific hot spot, I always try to mix it up on the Block. I fished the east side and west side beaches, southeast side, off some jetties, in the Great Salt Pond, and — regrettably — the North Rip. I say this only because the Rip had been producing a consistent good bite if you had a spinning rod. The night I slogged out there was about the worst night for fly fishing you could imagine. The wind was rain jacket whipping-fast, and I had to cast my line backhand over my right shoulder (I’m a lefty) to shoot it into the rip, then feed line into the left to right current. So far so good. But, rats. Mung. Every cast. I took this shot when I got back to the truck. Yes, it was that hot and that humid and that foul. I love the Block, but walking a mile and a half in the sand for nothing will make anyone dour.

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I discovered that striped bass have great camo against the sand and rocks — even when they’re dead.

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A public service message brought to you by the National Spell Check Society.

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On the last night I caught bass two ways. First, off the beach, where I found a school of hungry fish feeding in the moonlight; then, inside the Pond on a flat with a team of three flies suspended in the film. (Floating line, of course, for both methods.) My last two fish of the trip came as the flies dead-drifted across the flat. That building pressure I felt let me know a striper was flaring his gills to suck in one of the small sand eel flies, in this case a 3″ Eelie in olive and chartreuse. See you next year, when one of us has put on a few more pounds.

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Big Eelies and Banana Squid, or: striper soft hackles galore

I went on a wee tying binge, and when the feather dust settled I was left with an 8-pack of Big Eelies. Some are old favorites, and a few sport new color combinations. That’s one thing I love about this pattern: it lends itself supremely well to all manner of color experimentation, and the stripers almost always seem pleased with your work.

Big Eelies hot off the press. Clockwise from lower left: pink/chartreuse/olive, grey/olive, Crazy Menhaden colors, Olive Fireworm colors, black/chartreuse, pink/olive/brown, then the two of the original classic. I can already feel that forceful tug at the end of a twitching strip.

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The Banana Squid, another classic from Ken Abrames. It’s different from most other squid patterns, and it looks nothing like what books would lead you to believe  a squid should be. Add the magic ingredient of water, and it transforms into a living, breathing organism than looks good to eat. Fished slowly and deliberately, it relies on organic movement and impressionism to fool the fish.

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Hook: Eagle Claw 253 3/0
Thread: Black 6/0
Platform: 30 hairs grey bucktail
Tail: Three white saddle hackles tied in flat, then four ginger saddles (I used golden tan) to veil the white saddles, then sparse purple Krystal flash on both sides, then a short badger hackle on both sides, then a webby grey saddle tied in flat, then a full plume of amber marabou
Body: Purple braid tied to 3/8″ from the hook eye
Collar: A sparse layer or yellow bucktail one hair thick to extend to the end of the amber marabou, then a sparse layer of blue bucktail one hair thick, then a sparse later of red bucktail one hair thick
Hackle: Brownish marabou tied in near the butt of the stem, then wound and doubled 3-4 turns

Why I love fishing for stripers with big flatwings on the greased line swing

After three very slow springs, things turned around a bit in 2017. It wasn’t as good as the old days. (Is it ever?) But the skunks were few, and the keepers more plentiful than in recent years. I wish I could say the baitfish were making a comeback. Sadly, I saw precious few swirls of mating herring. But enough with the negative. This is a celebration  of elegant flies fished with a traditional method — and the brute force of striped bass that can be measured in pounds.

The Rock Island flatwing saw plenty of swim time. It may not look it, but this is a legal fish, one of three I took that night.

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Another old favorite, the Razzle Dazzle. The Razzle Dazzle is responsible for my biggest striper on the fly from the shore, 30 pounds. This one is a wee bit less than that. Still, a good keeper bass on the long pole.

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We’re getting there. 15 pounds of power. I landed her at 1:00am after two hours of fishing without a touch. Since it was raining, I decided to end on a high note. A JR Cuban Alternate Cohiba Robusto was lit in celebration, and smoked on the long walk back to the truck.

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I don’t handcuff myself to the dogma of black flies at night. But occasionally, I do fish them. This spring I prototyped and tested a large, mostly black multi-feather flatwing (patience — recipe and photos to come). My intent was to have a big fly to silhouette against the dark of the moon sky in stained water. Here are my test results — all 20 pounds of it.

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Following the tides is a tough job, but some damn fool needs to be out while the rest of the world is sleeping.

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“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.

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I love fishing floating lines in surf around structure.

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