Striper Mini Report 9/21/22: Nothin’ Shakin’ (But The Leaves On The Trees)

The rockabilly music scholars among you will no doubt recognize the title as the Eddie Fontaine classic (or the Beatles’ excellent BBC cover, for bonus points). But for our purposes, it’s an apt description of my Wednesday night outing. Surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski reported several hours of similar non-action the night before, but that was many miles east of the mark I fished. Besides, this was an entirely different type of water (estuary). I fished 90 minutes of incoming, then outgoing tide. Not. A. Touch. No menhaden (juvenile or adult). Only a handful of silversides. I heard three pops and saw one small bass holding in the current. In desperation, I zipped over to another mark, which was also dead as Julius Caesar. So it goes.

Ever feel like this is message the bass are sending you? But, you keep at it. Toby. did, and Thursday night at another coastal mark he was into over a dozen stripers in the 20+ pound range. He was plugging, and he told me that most of the bass were at the extreme edge of his casting range. I suppose that made me feel a little better!

Currentseams Q&A: Which line to use for fall blitzes?

Here’s a question from long-time reader Bill G: There have been big blitzes on the Cape, but I’m not getting hookups. Do you recommend a floating line for fishing blitzes?

As with many questions, there are simple answers — and complex ones, too. The simple answer is: yes. With a floating line, I can mend, so I have more control over current and my presentation. I can present at the surface, near the surface, or deep (depending on leader length, type, and fly weight/structure/materials); and I can present on a dead drift, the swing; or strip. As with many questions I get about lines/leaders/flies, you must first answer the question, “What do you want the fly to do?” — and go from there.

Which brings us to the subject of blitzes. In the abstract, blitzes are good. You’ve got a concentration of bait and bass, so the mystery of where are the stripers and what are they eating has been eliminated. Sometimes, it’s too easy: all you need to do is toss a fly into the maelstrom and you’re on. But we’ve all experienced the frustration of fishing a blitz where we can’t buy a strike. Line type is important, but there are other factors to consider as well.

  1. Is there a lot of bait? If so, are you fishing droppers? Fishing two or more flies during a blitz will dramatically raise your hookup odds.
  2. Where are you making your presentation? The middle of the bait ball is often the worst place for your flies. Try presenting along the edges or a couple feet away — or try going underneath the bait. Blitzing stripers are looking for easy pickings: the stragglers or wounded or dead that are outside the safety of the bait ball.
  3. How are you presenting? If the stripers are looking for easy pickings, a stripped fly may be your worst option. That’s why dead drift presentations near the bait are often so effective.
  4. Fly selection matters. Try sparse, impressionistic patterns than move and breathe and create the illusion of life even when at rest.

I’ve had success during blitzes with both floating lines and full sink lines — but the one time I recall using a full sink, it was because it was so windy, and that was the easiest line to cast. Thanks, Bill, for the great question, and I hope this helped.

When there’s a lot of bait in the water, I like sparse, impressionistic patterns like this Little Crazy. A basic bucktail with a marabou throat, I based the color scheme on Ken Abrames much larger flatwing, the Crazy Menhaden. The Little Crazy is becoming one of my favorite juvenile Atlantic Menhaden patterns.

Striper Report 9/15/22: On the hunt for big bass with Toby Lapinski

Last night I was treated to a few hours of striper fishing with surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski. We fished a top-secret mark on Long Island Sound where there’s no public access (Toby has permission from the landowner, God bless him). Conditions were perfect, with a very light breeze out of the northwest. The air temp was decidedly cooler than the water, which was about 75 degrees.

Right away, I liked the spot. It’s a rocky reef where the incoming tide sweeps over the cobble and boulders from left to right. The tide was already moving when we arrived, and it wasn’t long before the current became quite pronounced. I started off with a team of two JV menhaden patterns, and about a half dozen casts in I had my first hit of the evening. It was a quick bump that felt like a small fish. Unfortunately, this was to become a pattern; I had dozens and dozens of these quick tugs, but was unable to get a hook set.

To make matters worse, my two-handed casting was rusty and I discovered that my two fly team had become irreparably tangled. Since I was feeling lazy, I clipped the dropper section and tied on a larger fly on the now 4-foot leader.

I had a few more bumps, but meanwhile, Toby was slaying them on plugs, especially his needlefish. I swapped out the deer-hair head contraption I was fishing for a “Sand Eel Punt” (basically an Eel Punt with sand eel-thin saddles) in Block Island Green. Finally, I connected with an 8-pound bass. That was my only fish landed of the evening. As my action slowed, Toby continued to pound up bass, albeit not in the size range we were hoping for. As the moon rose, the bite began to taper off.

The winning fly from last night, the “Sand Eel Punt.” I’m going to try this with some more substantial saddles.

Some observations: I can’t remember the last time I had so many hits that didn’t convert to hooksets. It was almost as if the stripers were afraid to commit to the fly; certainly some of those nips were from smaller bass. I can’t blame it stripping the fly right out of their mouths; any movement I was creating was no faster than about 1 foot-per-two-seconds, and I was doing plenty of greased line swinging. With the two-hander, I was able to cover far more water; however, when the bite was on, I had many hits when I only made casts of 50 feet or so. Lastly, why did Toby catch so many more fish than me? Was he covering more water? Was it the action or shape of his plugs? The depth he was fishing? Did my shorter leader have an influence? Why were Toby’s hits more demonstrative than mine? All stuff I’m trying to figure out today.

I’ll be appearing at The International Fly Tying Symposium, Nov 12-13, Somerset, NJ

I’m very excited to announce that I’ll be a featured speaker and instructor at this year’s International Fly Tying Symposium in Somerset, New Jersey! The dates are Saturday, November 12, and Sunday, November 13. My tentative schedule is: Seminar, Tying and Fishing Wet Flies, Saturday 10:30am; Tying Class, Tying Soft Hackles, Winged, and Wingless Wets, Saturday 1pm-3:30pm; Seminar, Beyond Cast and Strip: Presentation Flies for Striped Bass, Sunday 11am. The rest of the time I’ll be tying on the show floor. I believe the seminars are included in your admission price, and that you have to sign up for the tying class. I also want to emphasize that this is a preliminary schedule, and that the Symposium website should have more information up by October 1. Naturally, I’ll update you as things develop. Mark it down, and be there or be square!

It’s not just, “Which fly?” Presentation matters, and you’ll hear all about both from me at the International’s Fly Tying Symposium in November.

Alas, no fishing…but plenty of plans and schemes

Folks, I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to post any fishing reports. That’s due entirely to the fact that I haven’t been fishing, which we all know is just plain wrong…or as my son Gordo would say, “that’s messed up.” It’s not going to get fixed this weekend, either. But…

…I will have some news to share with you next week about an event I’m participating in this fall. I’m really excited about it, and I think you’ll be, too. Sorry for the cliffhanger, but duty calls elsewhere. In the meantime, tight lines, sparse flies, floating lines, and let’s keep those fish wet.

Is it too early to be thinking about steelhead?

Long Island Fly Rodders awarded Legion of Grilled Keilbasa with Cheeseburger Clusters

You gotta hand it to the Long Island Fly Rodders. This club knows how to have a cookout (even in the rain) and how to make a guest speaker feel right at home. So: a very big thank you! Last night, I presented — after dining, of course, a fed presenter being a happy presenter — Wet Flies 101 to very enthusiastic group of over 50 people. There were so many great follow-up questions, it’s hard to pick one out, but I’ll try to get to some of them later this week. In the meantime, thanks again, and see you next time.

First, they feed you (thanks Mr. Grillmeister!)…
…then they gift you some nifty pint glasses. Wow! Thanks again.

“Wet Flies 101” at LIFR tonight and some much needed rain!

A reminder that I’m speaking tonight, Tuesday, September 6, at the Long Island Flyrodders in Levitttown, NY. Despite what the website says, I go on at 7:30pm, with the group’s social festivities/casting lessons beginning at 6:30. Meetings are held at the Levittown VFW, 55 Hickory Lane. The group tells me that all are welcome. My subject is “Wet Flies 101” which is a gateway to wet flies, soft hackles, and how to fish them. You too, can become a skilled practitioner of this deadly art. Hope to see you there, and as always, please come say hello.

It’s about time! Despite these totals, many of the larger rivers are still below where they should be this time of year, although I expect that to change. It’s tough getting all this at once, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Way Out West, Part Two: The South Platte River

I’d known about the South Platte for years, but never got the itch to go fish it, until I did — and now I am faced with a matter of difficult settlement: my favorite trout water is almost 2,000 miles away.

It’s so easy to fall in love with the South Platte. Since it’s a tailwater, it’s a viable fishery year-round. It’s got so much productive water that you could very likely stumble into fish (and if you know how to read water, you could quickly become a dangerous machine). In addition to being cold — I didn’t take a temperature, but it had to be high 40s-low 50s — the water is clear enough that the eagle-eyed among us can sight fish for trout. And the trout — ah, the trout — are fat and feisty and fantastic. Plus, there are lots of them. Subsurface invertebrates are everywhere and provide the trout with a daily smorgasbord. It’s almost like someone imagined, then created a trout theme park fantasyland. Really, it’s that good.

Early morning on the first day. Cam might be contemplating the fish at his feet, or the sheer beauty of his surroundings. These streamside boulders are typical of the South Platte in Cheesman Canyon, and sometimes these behemoths are in the river proper. Along with the smaller boulders, it makes for the kind of structure trout love. On both days, my experience was: find one fish, and there are a bunch more close by. I think we saw a half dozen other anglers on Wednesday. Friday, the “crowded” day, maybe twice that many. I fear that western anglers would be mortified by the hordes on eastern streams.
Afternoon on the first day. The water is at 250cfs and running with breathtaking clarity. It was easy to pick out fish, especially if you knew where to look (on day one they were holding in riffly moving water 1-2 feet deep). This slot extended far down the glide past where I was standing when I took this photo. Both Cam and I hooked fish along the entire length of this wrinkled water center stream.
Day two. The water is up to 300cfs. Our guide, Chris Steinbeck of the Blue Quill Angler, said that Thursday morning the water had some color, but cleared up after noon. I think I liked this height better; having no experience to compare to, I’d call this flow medium. Here’s what’s so wonderful about the South Platte: there are fish everywhere. Compare to the Farmington, where there are vast stretches (especially now) of unproductive water. I caught more brag-book trout in an hour on the South Platte than I might in a month on the Farmington. If you can read water, and make adjustments like weight and indicator position, and perform quality drifts, there’s no reason why you can’t do likewise. Cam doesn’t fly fish, and he stuck over a dozen trout on day one.
I believe the river is so productive because of the high percentage of viable water. The analogy I came up with was the South Platte is like a high-gradient northeast wild brookie stream, times 10 in size. See what I mean?
A so-ugly-it’s-beautiful golden stonefly from Chris’ Friday sampling. We also came up with midges and baetis and PMD nymphs. There were a couple stray salmon flies flitting about over the course of both outings. Not shown: scuds, an important food source for South Platte trout. I creamed ’em the first day with Pat Dorsey’s UV Scud.
Compared to the Farmington and the Housatonic, wading the South Platte is a walk in the park. Absent the fast-moving, deeper sections, this was about as tricky as the footing got. (I still don’t see why the possibility of falling in should prevent me from getting into the best position to catch that fish — although I’m pleased to report that I did not go swimming on the South Platte.) Much of the river is granite sheets and smaller gravel bottom. Bottom snags were few and far between; I didn’t lose a single rig the entire trip. As you can see, the rocks are covered with this mossy vegetation, hence the substantial scud population. Clearing weeds off of flies and rigs was a constant task, although it served as a good reminder that my presentations were where they should be. Coming next: Part 3 — The Fishing.

Striper Report 8/29/22: Of dropper rigs, sparse flies, and slot bass

I fished Monday late night into Tuesday early morning in Estuary X in Rhode Island. When I arrived there were clear signs of bait and stripers on the feed. Here’s what happened, in the form of observations and lessons learned and re-learned.

This time of year, the SoCo estuaries are loaded with silversides. In case you didn’t know, silversides go nuts when you shine a light on them. They form tight schools and they congregate in shallows near the shore. There are also juvenile Atlantic Menhaden around, from 2-4″ or so, but silversides are the dominant bait. When there’s that much bait in the water, a dropper rig is your best friend. Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want. They also raise your chances for a hookup because you have more targets in the water.

My first casts were made with a three fly team consisting of a sparse, generic bucktail about 3″ long on top dropper, Mark Gustavson’s Lil’ Bunky in the middle, and a Magog Smelt bucktail on point. There was a substantial current and my presentation was a greased line swing. I had action on every single cast, sometimes on all three flies — except it wasn’t bass. It was weeds. Lots and lots of weeds. When it became clear that flora was all I’d be hooking, I decided to search for fauna elsewhere.

This juvenile menhaden pattern is sparse, simple, and — as you’ll see — highly effective.

At the next mark I switched to a suspension dropper rig — one with a floating fly on point (in this case a Gurgler) — because I was fishing in shallower water with a much slower current. What’s more, there were several rocks in my presentation zone topped with bubble weed. So this rig helped keep my flies away from trouble. While there was an enormous amount of bait, there was not a corresponding number of stripers in the mix. I was having one of those nights where no matter where I moved, the stripers would shift to just out of casting range. By the turn of the tide I was a wee bit frustrated.

But sometimes persistence pays off. I moved to a different location where I’ve had some success before. I spent a few minutes sitting on a rock, savoring the calm of a cigar in the middle of a cloudy, humid night. I could hear the silverside schools working; every once in a while, they’d get agitated. But I wasn’t hearing any slashes or pops that would indicate stripers feeding. Still, they weren’t getting restless for no reason. I was standing upstream of two bait balls; my logic was that bass would be looking for strays to pick off. If I could dangle my rig near the edges of the bait balls, or even equidistant from them, perhaps my fly would get seen.

There are two ways at impact to determine that you’ve hooked a good bass. The first is sheer power of the hit. The second is sound the water makes as the bass rolls on the fly. I got both. I set the hook — never with the tip, always a sharp rearward thrust back toward my hips. Once the bass realized it was hooked, she bolted for deeper water, another positive sign that you’ve got a good ‘un (bigger bass love to sound). Because the night was damp, my old Scientific Anglers System 2’s drag wasn’t at its powerful-run-stopping best. She peeled off 75 feet of line in a jiffy. I managed to stop her run by palming the reel. From then it was a matter of cranking the reel and not letting her breathe. And before too long, I was admiring her substantial flanks and alien-creature mouth. You beautiful striper, you.

I had a rough night with the camera, so please believe me when I tell you that this shot doesn’t do her justice. 32″ and faaaat. Easily 15 pounds. I was truly impressed with her girth. She’s been eating well! The other thing to note is the silversides in the water. There weren’t any bait schools nearby — these are all random silversides, which gives you an indication of how much bait was in the water. As you’ve probably guessed by now, she ate the Lil’ Bunky.

Kicking off the 2022 Fly Fishing Speaking Season

Happy Monday to all. It’s hard to believe that Labor Day Weekend is nearly upon us, but that’s a fact. I’ve got stripers on my brain, an itch I’m looking forward to scratching in the next few months…plus trout…and steelhead…and can we please get some meaningful rain?

Fall also means this road warrior will be out and about, hopefully at a club or event near you! My first gig will be next Tuesday, September 6, at the Long Island Flyrodders in Levitttown, NY. Despite what the website says, I go on at 7:30pm, with the group’s social festivities/casting lessons beginning at 6:30. Meetings are held at the Levittown VFW, 55 Hickory Lane. The group tells me that all are welcome. My subject is “Wet Flies 101” which is a gateway to wet flies, soft hackles, and how to fish them. You too, can become a skilled practitioner of this deadly art. Hope to see you there, and as always, please come say hello.

So simple, just like a trout’s brain. Wet flies like these soft hackles have been catching trout for hundreds of years, and the fish aren’t getting any smarter. Come learn more at “Wet Flies 101” next week at the LIFR meeting.