It’s that little bucktail wing over the tail. It adds just the right amount material (70 total fibers) to create the illusion of mass — and gives the tier the opportunity to create a seductive blend (6 colors here) of color.
A Rock Island Flatwing/Bucktail Hybrid in progress, secret sauce complete.
I started adding this rear wing as a way of making up for a lack of saddles in the colors needed for some of Ken Abrames’ multi-feather flatwings. I first tried it with Ken’s Striper Moon and Crazy Menhaden. The bass loved them. A few years later, I created the Rock Island, now one of my signature patterns. I don’t know if the stripers care, but I love the way the bucktail does the heavy lifting of color blending without adding mass — not to mention all the secondary and tertiary colors it creates.
Not satisfied with yesterday’s Farmington River streamer spanking, I ventured out last night with old friend Bob for some more piscatorial abuse. We fished the Hous from 9pm to nearly midnight. Our reward was…bupkiss. Well, not exactly. Bob managed one tap on his plug (spinning for Bob, fly for me). On the plus side, I reacquainted myself with my two-handed cannon — the rust factor was minimal, and it felt good to bomb out 90 foot casts with little effort. Oh! I also managed to wade through the deepest hole I’ve ever ventured into without breaching my waders. So I suppose dry and skunked beats soaked and skunked. We’ll go with that.
Not from last night. But I did fish a Rock Island flatwing (eaten below), a high confidence herring pattern I developed many years ago. You can read about the Rock Island flatwing here.
Every year is different, and where 2017 (if you’ll pardon the expression) fell short, 2018 was off-the-charts good for legal bass. Many, many stripers over 28″, with one that went a good 25 pounds and missed the magic 40″ mark by half an inch. I already mentioned Block Island in this countdown, which came back with a big striper vengeance. What’s my secret? Put in your time. Follow the tides. Floating lines. And as Ray Charles so eloquently sang, “Nighttime is the right time to be with the one you love.” (You can find out more at my presentation “Targeting Big Stripers From The Shore” at the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, Destination Theater Room A 10am Saturday 1/19.)
Yeah, baby. Love the colors on this one. Whenever possible, I try to keep the fish in the water for the photo op. Does it get any better than keeper-size summer stripers feeding on sand eels? As it turns out…
…yes it does. I dubbed her “Long Jean Silver.” Hope she makes lots of baby bass next spring.
Some stripers should be measured not in pounds or inches, but rather: could this fish eat a small dog?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Following the tides is a tough job, but some damn fool needs to be out while the rest of the world is sleeping.
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.
I love fishing floating lines in surf around structure.
Many thanks to the Fairfield County Fish & Game Protective Association for hosting me last night. One of the larger crowds I’ve presented to, and their clubhouse is a great venue. FCF&GPA understands that a fed presenter is a happy presenter, and since I thoroughly enjoyed my monster dog and chili, I hereby award them the currentseams Legion of Hot Dog Merit.
Much later, I went striper fishing. It’s a new spot I reconnoitered last year, and it looked fishy as hell in the daylight. It was a little creepy in the rain and the dark, and there wasn’t much sign of any activity, bait or predator. But I was standing in water throwing a Rock Island flatwing and fishing it on the greased line swing, and life was good. It got even better when I landed my first striper of the year, all 34 inches of her. Nothing like starting the season off with a bang — or in this case, a massive thud.
Gadzooks! The contest! I’m going to try to announce the winners in the next 24 hours.
The Rock Island flatwing continues to produce big bass. It’s become one of my confidence patterns for stripers.
Here’s to impressionism in fly tying. Here’s to creating the illusion of mass without adding bulk. Here’s to using water as a key ingredient in a fly pattern. Here’s to tying flies that try harder to look like something that’s alive and good to eat than try to carbon copy the bait or insect.
I often think of the discussions anglers have about herring or menhaden patterns. The chief complaint seems to be that a given pattern doesn’t mimic the deep belly profile of the bait. The next question that should be asked is, “Is that really necessary?” Anyone who has fished a large flatwing on the greased line swing to stripers feeding on herring knows the answer.
If you talk to Ken Abrames, he’ll tell you about how an angler will come to him and complain that he’s not catching any fish. One of the first things Ken will do is ask to see the fly. If it’s up there on the opacity meter, Ken will start pulling bits of hair and flash out of the fly. Often, the angler then begins to hook up (ask me how I know).
By all means, tie and fish the patterns you have confidence in. Just consider the sage advice of Bill McMillan, who doesn’t like to pretend that a fish is anything other than the primitive animal it is.
I don’t see any big honking bellies or ultra-realistic 3D eyes on these flies. Funny thing! Stripers eat them like candy.
Doesn’t look like the any of the grasshoppers I used to catch when I was a kid. Yet this fly is in grave danger any time I drift it past a grassy bank on a sunny summer day.
For hundreds of years, the ultimate in sparse impressionism. And the fish haven’t gotten any smarter.
Getting home from a fishing trip when the birds are just starting to sing is significant.
It can mean the fishing was so good you lost track of time. It can also mean you were stupid enough to leave your home before midnight and stay out long past where good sense should have compelled you to stop.
And sometimes it’s a little of both.
A bleary camera eye stares blankly at the microwave oven clock.
We’ve been working the striper night shift here at currentseams for the past three weeks. While it’s been a mixed bag, it has been better than last year (pretty much a blank repeated ad nauseum), with only one skunking in the mix and my first keeper of the year. Most of the fishing has been wonderfully meditative greased line presentations with large flatwings. And I’ve had the chance to reconnect with my beloved five-weight.
The best striper of the spring so far, a 30-incher who found my Rock Island flatwing to her liking. I was lucky to catch this fish — she came at the end of the drift on my last cast of the evening, and saved me from the dreaded polecat. Loads of fun, and quickly landed on the five-weight.
And so we close the books on what was easily the worst spring for fly fishing for stripers from the shore in Connecticut I’ve experienced since 2007.
How bad was it? By this time in an average year, I’ve already passed the century mark in stripers landed. A good year? Tally it in hundreds. I think I caught ten this year over the course of fifteen trips, and only three of those outings produced fish. Legal bass? Hah! I think I managed one striper over 20″. (Last year was lousy for big bass, too, with only one legal fish for me all spring. Granted, it was a thirty pounder, but oh, how far the mighty have fallen.)
Blame it on a long winter and a cold spring. Blame it on lack of bait. Blame it low flows in the rivers. Blame it on crashing striper stocks. Blame it on shifting channels. Blame it on every year is different. Blame it on plain old bad luck. One thing is certain: If I’m going to spend four hours in a river in the middle of the night, I gotta feel like there’s a reasonable chance I might find some fish. Folks, I ain’t feeling it.
So, time for Striper Plan B. I’ll let you know how that goes.
In another year, this might represent the number of stripers I’ve caught so far. Instead, it’s a painful reminder of yet another long, fishless night.
I started on Monday and finished Tuesday. No moonlight or starlight. Rather, one of those misty, showery nights where the atmosphere is so dense it seems you could wrap your fingers around it and grab a handful. Mysterious. Striper. Weather. The five-weight with the new Rio Outbound line and a seductive 9″ Rock Island flatwing fresh off the bench, ready to swim. Hours of greased line swings. Rhythmic mending. The rise and fall of the fly in the current on the dangle. Short pulsing strips on the retrieve. Water haul, tip flexed, the line coils shooting from the basket through the guides. Ears cocked, listening intently in the dank as best you can for the sounds of a swirl or the pop of an open mouth. Nothing. Still, nothing. And more nothing. Just you, the rod, the fly, and your thoughts.
You may ask why I keep doing this when the repetitive result is neither fish nor hits. Because this could be the night I get my first 25-pounder on the five weight. Because the next cast might be the drift over a striper holding in ambush. Because you can’t catch striped bass while you’re asleep in your bed. Because I’m fortunate enough to be able to set my own schedule, and people like you send me comments and emails telling me that when you can’t go fishing, you enjoy reading about when I can.
Most of all, I do it because I love it.
I left home almost five hours ago. I fished hard and I fished well, so I fell asleep as content as an angler could be after a skunking.