Striper report: It’s grass shrimp time, baby

My striper fishing cycle goes through an almost ritualistic pattern, following bass and bait to certain spots at certain times of the year. May and June are always a good time to target stripers feeding on tiny grass shrimp in the many estuaries along the Connecticut shoreline. These diminutive crustaceans swarm to mate, and the stripers know that they’re there, literally queuing up to feed on them. Throw in some clam worms and smaller baitfish like mummichaugs and you’re got a veritable saline smorgasbord.

I’ve been trying to expand my menu of usual places, so last night I ventured out to try two new locations. Both had grass shrimp and stripers. The fish weren’t very big — 16″-20″ — but they weren’t easy to catch, and I like a good presentation puzzle. Wouldn’t you know that I caught my first one when I wasn’t paying attention. My rod was tucked under my arm, flies dangling in the water below me while I was trying to figure out a murderous eddy, when WHACK! Once I had the drifts calculated, the takes began in earnest.

I didn’t shoot many photos — we all know what a school bass looks like — but this is the sweet silly who took the fly on the dangle. My apologies for the focal challenges.

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Droppers give you a strategic advantage when there is a multitude of tiny bait in the water. Last night’s rig: a micro Gurgler, Simpson’s Hairwing Shrimp, and an Orange Ruthless clam worm. For perspective, the Ruthless is 2″ long. The bass liked all three flies, the clam worm in particular.

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“Soft Hackles for Striped Bass” from the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of American Angler

With striper season in full swing — if you’ll pardon the expression — this seemed like the perfect time to share “Soft Hackles for Striped Bass.” Many of you know me as a devotee of soft hackles and wets for trout, but interestingly enough, I was using soft hackles and wet fly tactics for stripers years before I tried them on trout. This article first appeared in the Nov/Dec 2015 issue of American Angler. It features six patterns, three from Ken Abrames and three of my own doing. All of them are proven bass catchers. So get out your vise and your floating line and deliver these impressionistic wonders to a waiting, hungry mouth.

Soft Hackles for Striped Bass

The world-famous Jimi Hendrix-trippy-acid-flash-light-show striped bass photo. Nearly 40″ long, Miss Piggy (look at that full tummy!) fell for the seductive nuances of the Big Eelie, a soft-hackled sand eel.

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The Staccato Symphony, performed by an Acre of Feeding Bass

Another late (or early) bedtime Sunday morning — 3:15am if you’re keeping score — but well worth it. I arrived at the mark with the tide still motoring in, and amused myself by sitting on a rock in the dark, absorbing the sights and the sounds of an estuary at night, with a Gispert Churchill to keep me company. I wasn’t hearing the sounds of feeding bass, but I could see plenty of bait meandering along the shoreline. So I tossed my three fly rig (soft-hackled shrimp on top dropper, Orange Ruthless in the middle, foam-back floating shrimp pattern on point) into the flow and managed a scrappy schoolie.

Ten minutes after the turn of the tide, I began to think that maybe I had made a mistake. Or that that cold front had knocked the feed off. Or the fish were simply elsewhere. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Moments later, the salt pond was lit up like night sky on the Fourth of July. Pop! Pop! Pop! There were bass everywhere, and the sharp reports of their feeding made it sound like I was at a rifle range. This went on for the better part of an hour.

These fish weren’t easy to catch, but that’s what made it so enjoyable — kind of like when you finally figure out that hatch and you fool that brown who’s been refusing your best efforts. I got them on the swing, the dangle, and especially by sight casting to the rise rings of active feeders.

Trout fishing for stripers with small flies and a floating line? Yes, please.

It would be safe to say that this fly was a popular choice that night. A re-palmer and it will be good to ride again. Tied on a #8 Atlantic salmon hook.

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Back on the striper night shift

Last night’s striper adventure returned me to some favored waters along the Sound. There were grass shrimp and mummies, and as the tide began to pull back toward the sea, the estuary suddenly came alive with the random staccato of carnivores on the prowl. The assembled diners were only in the 12″-18″ range, but what they lacked in sized they more than made up for in gusto — and in eagerness to jump on the fly.

I fished a three fly team last night, and caught stripers on all three patterns (top dropper = sz 10 Deer Hair Shrimp, middle dropper = sz 6 pink Crazy Charlie, point fly = 2″ Orange Ruthless clam worm). The bass favored the top dropper and point fly. I caught them on the strip, the swing, and the dangle.

We went low budget (but thoroughly enjoyable) on the cigar, a JR Cuban Alternate Cohiba Esplendido.

Now begins the internal debate: do I get a good night’s sleep tonight? Or do I venture out into the very wee small hours again?

Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want.

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How to tie a dropper rig for stripers. (Just in case you missed it the first time.)

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Two shad. Not bad.

The tide had reached its highest rise

Beneath the starry late spring skies

And so the time had come to pass

To maybe catch a stripe-ed bass.

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Absent hearing a loud pop,

Into the water flies did drop

A drift, a mend, and then a tug

A shrimp fly ate by silver thug.

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A small bass was caught next to me,

“I’m the Shad King!” was my decree.

A second one on deer hair shrimp

on whose materials I did scrimp.

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On the dangle, another spot

I felt the bump, but hooked ’twas not

Then, while standing in a slog

I lost my fly rig on a log

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And so it goes, this striper funk

More trips than not I get the skunk

It makes me want to scream and shout

Instead I think I’ll fish for trout.

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I fought the log and log won. A stupidly simple grass shrimp pattern: sparse fine bucktail tail, silver body braid under criss-crossed white thread, deer hair wing, head trimmed caddis style.

Deer Hair Grass Shrimp