Introducing Currentseams Q&A

I get a asked lot of questions about fly fishing: from clients on the river, people in forums, club members I speak to, followers though email, etc. I’m happy to answer them, and flattered that someone thinks I might be able to help. In the spirit of help, I’d like to introduce Currentseams Q&A. When I get a question that I think might have broad appeal, I’ll post it and my answer here.

We’ll kick things off with a striper question.

Q: I finally will be getting to fish salt a few mornings next week up in Maine.  It’s an area I’ve fished a fair bit, but most often, using fairly substantial 5-8” flies – like the Grocery Fly (a harbor Pollack imitation), bigish deceivers and clousers and my favorite, a big Ray’s Fly.  How big?  6-8” on a 2-3/0 gami hook. That said, normally I’ve gone out a few times and have some hands on “data”… this year… no luck.  So, my “research” has been scanning surf talk threads in the maine/nh forum… which results in what looks like a likely ticket right now – 3-3.5” sand eels. So, I humbly ask…  Big Eelies and variants or small bucktails/deceivers, or even small “candy” like flies? If you’re open to it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on solid flies in smallish sizes. Point blank, for some reason in the surf I have a brain block on tossing little stuff… It’s a big ocean man, how will they see it?

A: Stripers are not humans. What you or I might find hard to see can be a billboard to a striper. I couldn’t possibly count how many striped bass I’ve caught on 1-2″ long grass shrimp flies (in murky water) or sparse (30 bucktail hairs and couple strands of flash) sand eels tied on #8 hooks. Bass also eat things like crab larva and isopods that are a fraction of an inch long. They find them just like you’re able to find M&Ms. The Big Eelie is a good bet, as is anything that is sparse and thin and matches the profile. Try Eelies: two thin saddle hackles over 30 fine bucktail hairs and a braid body. 2-3″ long. Maybe a couple stands flash. Small Ray’s Flies to match the bait. Play around with colors: the stripers will always tell you what they like. Ray Bondorew has a small sand eel fly made of marabou. Simple. No eyes. And effective. I fished hard/epoxy/tube bodied sand eel flies for years. I caught fish on all of them. But they all seemed to me like they were trying too hard to be an exact replica of the bait, right down to the detailed eyes. I haven’t fished a sand eel fly with eyes in years. Impressionism is more my style and energy, and I like to fish flies that don’t give the bass credit for being anything other than the primitive animal they are. (Thanks to Bill McMillan for that last line.)Have fun, experiment, and fish with confidence.

Here’s a sparse sand eel I call the Golden Knight. Two-and-a-half inches long, 30 fine bucktail hairs, a few strands of blue flashabou and black Krystal flash. This one is tied on a hook for small streams; for stripers, I use a TMC 7999 Atlantic salmon hook. This is a very effective fly to imitate small sand eels; I like to fish it as a team of flies near the surface, suspended between a corkie and a floating fly like a Gurgler.

Sparse Golden Knight

L&L Special Big Eelies. No matter what colors I tie the Big Eelie in, stripers love it.

L&LBIg Eelie

Things you can catch on sparse sand eel flies. This girl is nearly 40 inches long. Look at that tummy spilling over my right hand! Also dig the Jimi Hendrix guitar-on-fire psychedelic halo. The bite was incendiary that night.

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The R.L.S. Herr Blue

In a vast Sargasso Sea of opaque, doll-eyed baitfish patterns, the R.L.S. Herr Blue shines as an understated alternative. This is my favorite fly when the bait is juvenile herring.

Sparse construction and impressionistic design are hallmarks of the R.L.S. bucktails, outlined by Ken Abrames in Chapter 2 of A Perfect Fish. There are 14 flies listed. You’re probably familiar with the most famous of them, the Ray Bondorew classic, Ray’s Fly. There are enough color combinations among the R.L.S. Bucktails to match many of the baitfish stripers favor – or match or contrast the color of the sea and sky on any given day. (Think I’m crazy on that last one? Tie up an R.L.S. Easterly on a grey, foul day when the wind is blowing 20 knots out of the east and see what happens.) Size-wise, you’re only limited by the length of the bucktail you have on hand.

Like Ray’s Fly, the Herr Blue embraces the philosophy that less is more – with only 66 total bucktail hairs, you can easily read the newspaper through its body. It’s also a fascinating exercise in color blending, with no less than nine different bucktail colors that create all kinds of secondary and tertiary hues.

Herr Blue is the kind of fly that doesn’t get a lot of attention on internet forums or in flyshop bins. That’s easy to understand. When it comes to popular perception of saltwater patterns, impressionism always takes a back set to realism. That’s a shame, because flies like this reveal to you just how low on the intelligence scale fish really are.

But now, you’re in on the secret. And you’re going to love the look on other people’s faces when you show them the fly you’ve been catching all those stripers on.

Ich bin ein Herr Blue (click on image to enlarge)

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Thread: White
Hook: Eagle Claw 253 or Mustad 3407 (this is the EC 253 size 1/0)
Body: Silver mylar braid
Wing: Bucktail, 15 hairs white, 5 ginger 1.5x hook length, mixed, under 8 violet, 4 pink, 10 light blue mixed 2x hook length, under 2 strips silver and 2 strips purple flash (I only use one of each for the smaller versions) under 10 dark blue, 4 emerald green, 6 smoky blue/grey, 4 orange mixed 3x hook length.
Topping: 5-7 strands peacock herl a half inch longer than the longest bucktail
Eyes: Jungle cock (optional)

Tying notes: This fly is 3½” long. I usually tie it from 2½” to 6”. In the smaller sizes, I use only one strand of flash per color. You don’t have to make yourself crazy trying to calculate bucktail lengths for different sizes; sometimes I just make each section about a half-inch to an inch longer than the previous one. The jungle cock eyes are a nice touch, but most of the time I fish this fly neat – no eyes. One question I get a lot is, “Do I have to actually count the bucktail hairs?” Today, my answer is yes. Two reasons. One, I’d like you to see just how few 66 bucktail hairs really is. Two, you are embarking on adventure in controlled color blending. Think of it as a custom color you order in a paint store. They take the base and add precise shots of pigment to it to create the same color over and over. Same thing here. This fly was created by a painter with an exceptional eye for color. I trust his judgment, and I want to try to see what he envisioned when he specified this blend. Having said that, the universe will not implode if you use 12 violet, 6 pink, or 15 light blue bucktail hairs. So, do it by the book, then improvise to your heart’s desire. Try to keep things sparse, though. A little bucktail goes a long way.

Thanks to the Saltwater Edge for tonight’s flatwing class

I spent a very enjoyable two hours tonight at the Saltwater Edge tying flatwings. We kept it simple with single-feather and two-feather patterns, like the Morning Glory and the September Night. Another great group, very enthusiastic, with lots of good questions. It is a privilege and a pleasure to be able to teach tying these magnificent flies. Thanks to Peter Jenkins and his gracious crew for having me. And thanks to Ken Abrames for leading the way.

Some flatwing-bucktail hybrids. Even at rest, they have a palpable energy.

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