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!
In short, a lot.
I’m currently reading Dennis Zambrotta’s Surfcasting Around The Block. As you may have read a few days ago, Dennis has asked me to contribute a chapter to his upcoming followup. It’s a little crazy to me that I’ve known about Dennis’ book for years, but I’ve never read it until now. While the focus of the book is on spin fishing the Block with plugs in the surf — and frequently surf under hardcore conditions — there are plenty of secrets that the fly angler keen on building his or her knowledge base will be able to use for their next outing, whether on Block Island or elsewhere. Here are some of my thoughts.
Color matters to needlefish pluggers. The needlefish is a primary choice for pluggers when sand eels are the bait, and the most popular color is fluorescent green. On Block I fish Big Eelies the vast majority of time, in all kinds of colors, and have never found that the stripers have a preference. But now my mind is wandering in to places of color and length. The Big Eelie in L&L Special colors is one of my favorite, high-confidence Block flies. It’s got a lot of chartreuse. Hmmmm….maybe a longer version, seven inches long, with more bright greens?….one way to find out…
Or, maybe the L&L in a Soft-Hackled Flatwing, tied about 7″ long. I really like fishing this color scheme over sandy bottom structure, like Crescent Beach...or on the Cape…
Location matters…and there are so many locations. I like to think that there aren’t too many anglers that know Block Island on the fly like I do, and then I read a book like this and realize how very little I really know — especially when it comes to locations. Part of it is that I’m a creature of habit. Part of it is that I like to fish flats and skinny water more than surf. Part of it is that it can be challenging to fish certain marks with a fly rod in wind and waves (almost constant companions on Block). But I’ve really got to explore more of these boulder fields (check out Gerry Audet’s talk on boulder fields sometime) and the mysteries they hold. In a way, Dennis hasn’t written a book as much as he’s built a roadmap. Follow it to find your own secret spot.
Tides matter. Once you’ve figured out where you’re going to fish, pay attention to the tides. There are certain marks on Block that I fish on universal tides, and others that I’ll only hit at a certain tide. Pay attention to the details in Dennis’ book and you’ll have the code cracked for you on your next outing.
Put in your time. And move around. If the bass aren’t biting where you are, give them a chance to move into the area you’re fishing. If that doesn’t work, move. One of the beauties of the Block is that everything is accessible and everything is short drive from where you are.
Okay, so the days of the multiple 30, 40, and 50+ pound bass blitzes from shore are over. (Dammit! I can’t believe I missed that. Oh, to have been a striper fly fisher on Block in the early to mid 1980s…) It’s been a slow last couple years for me for slot fish and above on Block, the opportunity still exists. Here’s a very respectable double-digit pounder on the fly from two years ago. Miss you, sweetheart.
If you fish for stripers and tie striper flies, and you don’t know about Mark Gustavson’s excellent website Fly Fishing For Moriches Bay Striped Bass, you should. It’s a hidden gem. I don’t think Mark actively posts anymore, but his fly patterns, heavily influenced by Ken Abrames, are lovely. They’re also effective. Here’s my take on his excellent Squidsicle, reminiscent of Ken’s Banana Squid. I used an Eagle Claw 253 size 4/0 instead of the Mustard 3407DT size 3/0.
Mark Gustavson’s Squidsicle, ready to swim. Try fishing a fly like this along shorelines, troughs and flats, using a gentle hand-twist retrieve. Beware of the tap! The tap isn’t the take; rather, it’s the striper flaring its gills and sucking the fly into its mouth. Wait for the pull and the weight of the fish, then set the hook.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last night’s Zoom session. We’ve been averaging around 50 people, which doesn’t suck. And all those tremendous questions! Keep them coming. At some point these Zooms will end — or go on hiatus — but for now we’ll plan on another Currentseams Zoom next week.
Speaking of Zoom, if you’re in charge of lining up speakers for your fly fishing club, why not consider hiring me for a virtual meeting? That’s exactly what the Candlewood Valley Chapter of TU is doing tonight. I’ll be presenting “Trout Fishing For Stripers” in its entirely. If you’re interested in booking me, you can find my presentation menu here.
We are on a major striper tying binge. Soft hackles and flatwings. These are part of a large order for a long-time customer. Clockwise from bottom left: classic Big Eelies, then sets of Soft-Hackled Flatwings (pink/chartreuse/olive, grey/fluoro yellow, white/chartreuse.) The compleat striper angler will, of course, have a comprehensive selection of soft hackles in his or her box.
Finally, guiding. The State of Connecticut is partially re-opening today. Charter boats can take out up to five anglers. For now, though, I’m playing this one conservatively, so I’m still not guiding. I understand that outdoor transmission is rare — nonetheless, this is the decision I’ve made. I’m hoping to be taking clients out sometime in June. Thanks to everyone who has been reaching out about lessons and guiding — I truly appreciate your patience.
Stay safe and be well.
Many thanks to everyone who attended last night’s Zoom (Pro Tips and Q&A). We’ve been averaging around 50 people (which does not suck) and I’m grateful for the enthusiasm you’ve shown — love all the questions! Stay tuned for details on the next Currentseams Zoom.
Absent any striper fishing (what strange times we live in!) I’ve been striper tying. Tasty snacks abound: clam worms, mullet, silversides, sand eels, isopods and grass shrimp. Dig in!
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!
I suspect that at 9:45pm last night many of you were either watching MNF or getting ready for bed. Me? I was pulling out of my garage to go striper fishing in Rhode Island.
Used to be that fall meant many long nights spent banging around the beaches, breachways, and salt ponds of the Ocean State. Sadly, the state of the striper stocks have reduced that autumn fishery to a shell of its former self. Nonetheless, needs must go, if only to remember the glorious nights of yore when the surface of my thumb was reduced to shredded flesh.
“Steve, can you get me on the hook? For old times’ sake.” Can do, Sally.
I fished two marks. The first was a skinny water flat where I used a three fly team (Orange Ruthless, small PB bucktail, Morning Glory) and wet fly tactics. The flat was loaded with silversides, and although I heard a few pops, I was only able to manage a couple of touches. The lack of sharpness on the hits led me to believe that dink stripers were the culprit.
Off to Spot B, an area with an elevated perch and nearby incandescent lights. Peanut bunker and mullet in the bait mix. Now well after 1am, I was just about to call it when I heard some mischief and saw a pod of six school bass harassing bait down current. I made a cast, didn’t like it, and as I was pulling my rig out of the water one of the bass struck. The upshot was a miss, but those fish were there to eat, and on the next cast I connected with a double on the PB and the Morning Glory.
And so a happy and tired me crawled into bed just after 3am.
Not from last night, but a good likeness of my customers.
What’s the best shrimp fly pattern? You could go with the philosophy of, “There ain’t no best,” and you’d get no argument from me. Or you could weigh in with the General Practitioner — and you wouldn’t be wrong.
Trey Combs writes in Steelhead Fly Fishing that the original prawn was tied by Colonel Esmond Drury in 1953. The General Practitioner then got really famous as a west coast winter steelhead pattern. Today there are all manner of versions and colors; this one is a variant developed by Ken Abrames as published in A Perfect Fish.
Ken introduced me to the pattern many years ago. He handed me a black G.P., and with a knowing confidence, told me to fish it as part of a three fly team. Sadly, I’ve long since lost that fly, but I still have one of Ken’s olive G.P.s. tucked away in the never-to-be fished-again archives. When tied just so, G.P.s are magical creations that bask in their impressionistic glory. Picture this fly near the surface on a greased line swing or a dead drift, easily visible to a striped bass even in the mucky outflow of a salt marsh. Wait to feel the weight of the fish — and then hang on. Stripers love shrimp, and when they are keyed on this bait, feeding on station, they will often ignore all other offerings and stripped presentations.
R.L.S. Black General Practitioner
Tying Notes: Ken called for an Eagle Claw 253, but I like the badass black of Atlantic salmon hooks. No gots turkey feathers? Me either, so I used dyed black pheasant rump. The majority of the black G.P.s I’ve seen use far too much bucktail; remember, you’re tying the antennae of a grass shrimp (the steelhead pattern calls for 10 bucktail hairs; I used 20) not an opaque jig. To form the eyes, cut a V-shape in the tippet and then lacquer with head cement. The “eye stalks” will narrow from the head cement. You don’t have to use the tinsels; gold braid works just as well. The body and top feathers are somewhat of a pain; tie in the carapace at the tail, then tie and wind the tinsel and hackle to the mid-point of the shank, tie in the back (like a little roof), continue forward with the tinsel and hackle, then tie in the tail feather, again like a little roof. Make a spiffy head and go fish.
An empty parking lot is can mean several things, among them: it’s a ridiculous time of day (it wasn’t). No one is hip to the spot (everyone is). There are no fish there (ding-ding-ding). So I celebrated my 18th wedding anniversary with an EP Carillo corona gorda and tried to enjoy some blissful solitude. Even a constant, soaking rain couldn’t wreck my casting practice. And so it goes.
Why I like RLS Easterly colors (grey dun, silver, peacock, fluorescent yellow) during an easterly blow. Even in dingy water, this soft-hackled flatwing really pops.
Yeah. Hard times for fly casters yesterday with a sustained 15 knot southwest blow in our faces (and an especially unfavorable quarter for lefties) with some stronger gusts mixed in. I debuted my new custom two-hander, but I don’t have the right lines for it yet and it wasn’t the synergy I know I’ll eventually enjoy. Still, some small bass were brought to hand, and they felt like giants in a ripping moon tide.
A Soft Hackled Flatwing in RLS Easterly colors (grey dun and fluorescent yellow) caught the eyes of several feisty schoolies. The colors really popped in yesterday’s conditions.