Fly anglers are always looking for the next best thing. Especially when it comes to fly patterns. But often, “new” doesn’t translate to “better.” Some of these patterns are decades old, but they still get eaten because the stripers haven’t gotten any smarter. So if you want to see what’s in my fly box this fall — and at the end of my leader — read “These Old-School Striper Patterns are Still Deadly During the Fall Run,” brought to you by our good friends at Field & Stream.
In his classic Stripers and Streamers, Ray Bondorew serves up an unimpeachable truth: fly tyers tend to overcomplicate things. Nowhere is this more true than in striper fly tying, where realism is king. Sand eels, also known as sand lances, are pretty basic — slender body, pointed snout, lighter on the bottom, darker on the top. Yet, as Ray observed, “Many sand eel patterns have been devised over the years, and many seem to involve much work to copy such a slender, simple bait. Complex bodies with Mylar tubing, Corsair, and epoxy have evolved. Several patterns require tandem hooks.” He doesn’t mention my pet peeve: eyes, which do a fantastic job of catching anglers. But I digress. I’ll let the man continue.
“I have always thought,” Ray said, “that there must be a way to formulate a simple, quickly tied, and effective pattern, especially for sand eels less than four inches long.” So Ray went forth and prospered at the vise. Ray’s Marabou Sand Eel is another favorite of mine, along with Ken Abrames’ Eelie, for imitating small sand eels, three inches long or less. Like Ken, Ray has some very specific thoughts on how best to tie this pattern.
“The trick here,” he says, “is to use as little marabou as possible.” Any thicker than a paper match width is, as Ray calls it, “overdressed.” Wet your fingertips and run them along the length of the completed fly to see if you’ve achieved your goal. Those who channel their inner sparse, impressionistic fly artist shall be rewarded with fat, cantankerous stripers.
Tying notes: As with Ken Abrames’ Eelie, I use the Eagle Claw 253 or other light, wide gap hook. No monocord for me, so I use Olive UNI 6/0. Leave a 3″ tag of thread near the hook bend; use this tag to bind down the wing. (Ray says if you choose to go the non-bound wing route, the pattern makes a fine silverside fly.) The pearl flash should extend beyond the wing by 1/2″. Use high quality marabou quills, and keep it sparse. What’s pictured here is as heavily dressed as I go.
I’ve got stripers on the brain, and so we’ll be talking about the traditional-style striper flies I like to tie and fish: sparse bucktails, soft-hackles, and flatwings. The discussion will include materials and hooks I use, and I’ll throw in a tying demo of something tbd. If you haven’t been getting the Zoom links — I send them out Tuesday late afternoon — please check your spam box. If you’re sending a request to get on the list, please don’t wait until 7:45 p.m. Tuesday night…I won’t be checking my email that late. Thanks!
A hale and hearty shout out to the South Shore Fly Casters, who most graciously asked me to speak at their February meeting. The topic was “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass,” which focuses on traditional flies and presentation methods you can use to catch the stripers that everyone can’t. Let’s start with the venue. Any club that holds their meetings at a craft brewery gets bonus pints — er, points — from me. The turnout was strong (almost 50) and it was very passionate, interested group. I appreciated your welcoming nature and for all the kind things you had to say about me and my writing (and the SSFC club swag). Hoping to come back soon!
A very cool space for a meeting. In case you’re wondering, it’s Barrel House Z in Weymouth. That’s my double IPA near the projector. Yummy. (Photo Dan Wells.)
Three Q&A highlights: Q: What knot do you use to build your three-fly team? A: Triple surgeons. But you should use the knot with which you are most comfortable (a lot of people like the blood knot). I also mentioned that I never go below 20# mono for the rig, and that if bass over 15lbs are in the mix, I’ll typically fish only one fly.
Q: Do you ever tie droppers off the bend of the leading hook? A: Never for striper fishing. I don’t want anything getting in the way of a hookup, but most of all I want the dropper fly to able to swim freely on its own tag.
Q: How do you use a floating line to present an unweighted fly deep? A: I’ll either add a 3/0 shot (or two) to the leader (and I may also lengthen the leader from, say, 7 feet to 10 feet), but most often I’ll use of the following: 1) homemade T-11 sink tips (I carry a bunch from 2-8 feet long in 2-foot increments; or 2) I’ll use an integrated sink-tip line that has a floating running line. Of course, with either of these solutions, you must mend if there is current to help the fly sink. I’ll also shorten the leader to 3 feet.
Hope that helps!
My Soft-Hackled Flatwing recently appeared in the “Guide Flies” section of On The Water magazine. I’m sorry that I don’t have a publish date, but it’s out there and of course right here. The Soft Hackled Flatwing draws from fly tying giants Abrames and Bondorew and Gartside. Play around with colors, have fun, and catch fish!
The Soft-Hackled Flatwing from On The Water‘s Guide Flies. There’s a link to a pdf just below.
You know it’s going to be a good night when you sit down at the table and moments later a server brings you a cold, crisp Octoberfest — which you didn’t order, but would have. Sometimes things just fall into place. Many thanks to my good friends at the Narragansett Chapter of TU who demonstrated once again their mastery of the concept of a fed presenter is a happy presenter. Always a pleasure talking fishing over dinner. The topic for the club was “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass,” and we had a some good Q&A afterwards. Now, I gotta make a new presentation for next year!
If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve got. (And if it’s stripers like this, you’re probably doing something right.)
There are several baits that give striper anglers fits: clam worms, grass shrimp, and truly tiny stuff (like crab larvae), just to name a few. You can also add sand eels to the list. I see the forlorn souls trudging off the beach, beleaguered and bewildered, always with the same mournful complaint: “There were all these fish feeding and we couldn’t catch them.” Sand eels might be the sulphurs of the salt. They’re a plentiful bait, easy to identify, the fish love to eat them — and most anglers approach the situation the wrong way.
I love fishing for striped bass that are feeding on sand eels. Some of my best nights of striper fishing have occurred during a sand eel hatch. Here are some things I’ve observed that will help you catch more bass that are feeding on sand eels.
— Striped bass are very much like trout. They like current, and they will key on certain food sources at certain times at the expense of all other menu options. What’s more, they will feed in a certain manner in a certain part of the water column. Sound like trout taking emergers just below the surface film? Good! Once you grasp this concept, you’re halfway home.
— When confronted with the scenario of stripers crashing sand eels on the surface, most anglers attack the problem with sinking lines and/or weighted flies. This is the equivalent of wading into a trout stream where trout are sipping Trico spinners, then tossing a tungsten cone head Woolly Bugger. (Sidebar: yes, stripers will root along the bottom for sand eels, then eat them as they shoot for the surface. Dredging the bottom with a weighted fly can be productive. But if you see the fish leaving rise rings or splashy boils, that should be your first clue that a floating line and an unweighted sand eel pattern is a good place to start.)
A floating line, a sparse, unweighted sand eel pattern, and a very happy angler. My friend John, who was fishing next to me, caught a bass in this size class on 11 consecutive casts.
— This is not rocket science. Recall Fly Fishing 101: What are the fish eating? How are they eating it? What do I have in my box that most closely resembles the bait (size, color, profile)? How can I present my fly to mimic what the naturals are doing?
— It’s almost never a bad idea to target an actively feeding bass.
— Aggressive feeders will take a stripped fly with gusto. I like very short (3″ or less) rapid strips. Wait until you feel the weight of the fish before you set the hook. Always strip set.
— There often comes a time in the hatch when the bass will no longer chase. The stripped fly is rendered useless. But the catching doesn’t have to end. The smart angler will change tactics. He or she might use a dropper rig, suspended in the surface, managing it like a dry fly presentation (dead drifting over a feeding lane) or every-so-slightly maintaining tension on the line (not so much a retrieve as it is a gathering of slack). The takes in this scenario will be sublime. Again, strip set.
If the rise rings become softer and the stripers won’t chase a stripped fly, try a dropper rig suspended in the film.
— Just because you don’t see stripers feeding on the surface doesn’t mean a) they’re not there, and b) they won’t take a sand eel fly at the surface.
— I like to shuffle into a beach trough or across a flat to see if I can roust some sand eels. On the dark of the moon I look for their biolume contrails, or feel for their crazy bounces off my legs. If I’m lucky, a nearby striper will ghost his position by stomping on the fleeing bait. Now I have a target.
— Confidence catches fish.
Find sand eel patterns that you have confidence in, then go forth and prosper. I happen to love Ken Abrames’ Big Eelie, shown here below the glasses and in the left side of the box. Note the vast array of colors; I’ve never experienced that stripers have a preference. I also like Ken’s smaller Eelie, and Ray Bondorew’s Marabou Sand Eel. And for the record, I haven’t caught a striper on sand eel fly that had eyes in over a decade.
Long before I fished for stripers, I was aware of striper plugs. I’d see rows of them in gleaming packages in the local sporting goods store (remember those?) and think that some day I’d like to throw one and catch a big bass. I remember liking the blue and white glitter-flecked Atom plugs.
I also remember the Bomber. Something about that plug in basic black said badass cow catcher. Would that translate to a large flatwing? One way to find out.
Creating a striped bass fly that draws from the color and energy of a plug is not new. Ray Bondorew did it it in Stripers and Streamers with his Yellow Rebel. My goal was not to make a carbon copy of the Bomber Long A, but to capture its essence. So, lots of black saddles and bucktail. Some purple to jazz things up. A glowing core of light blue and chartreuse. High contrast jungle cock nails. And some seductive flash tied “Razzle Dazzle” (thanks, Ken!) style.
I like this fly 9″-12″ long. It shines when fished on the greased line swing. Cue up The Gap Band!
You get the idea.
The Bombardier Rogues’ Gallery:
Twenty pounds, short line swing, 2017
Fifteen pounds, greased line swing, 2017
You can read all about it on my presentation menu link. This debuted last month at the Cape Cod Fly Rodders, and I’m hoping the Fly Fishing Show will pick it up, too.
Don’t forget “The Little Things” at the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum’s Arts of the Angler show, Ethan Allan Inn, Danbury, CT, Sunday, November 5 at 10:30. Bonus: it’s daylight savings so you get an extra hour of sleep!
The third of three traditional striper fly videos from “Trout Fishing For Striped Bass.” If you can read a newspaper through the fly, it’s sparse.