Which fly — and where — on a team of three?

“Can you recommend three flies for me to fish on a dropper rig right now?”

I get this question a lot. Of course the answer depends on many, many factors. Since I enjoy helping people figure out this whole fly fishing thing, I thought I’d give you some simple guidelines — the goal being that you’ll eventually be able figure it out on your own.

You can begin with my articles, “How To Tie and Fish Dropper Rigs for Stripers,” and “Wet Fly 101: Take the ancient and traditional path to subsurface success.” Those will give you a good working base to build upon. Here are three best practices for figuring out which flies to tie on.

If you know that tiny BWOs are likely to be out on a overcast, damp fall afternoon, you’re already ahead of the game.

  1. Know what’s hatching or swimming. You should familiarize yourself with local hatches and baits. Know that when the Hendricksons are out on the Farmington in late April, so are caddis. Know that in early fall in SoCo, baits may include silversides, anchovies, peanut bunker, and finger mullet. Get to the river or estuary or beach and do some good old-fashioned observing. What’s flying around? What’s on the water? Bring a net and find out what’s in the water. For years, I’ve been pre-tying teams of three (sometimes 24 hours or more in advance) for where I’m going to be fishing. I’ve simply gotten dialed in to what’s happening and when. It is not a special talent. You can do the same.
  2. Hedge your bets. Cover your bases. Blackjack players know there are certain hands on which to double down, essentially giving them a chance to multiply their winnings. Likewise, if you absolutely, positively know what’s on the menu, offer up seconds or even thirds. So, using the Hendrickson/caddis scenario, my team of three will have two of one and a single of the other, depending on what I’ve observed. If it’s July on Block Island, I may have three sand eel flies, or two sand eels and a squid. If I have multiple baits or bugs and no hard confirmation of what’s the featured entree, I’ll give the fish a choice: different sizes, species, colors — and let them make the call. Droppers are always the fastest way to find out what the fish want.
  3. Which fly goes where depends on what you want the rig to do. If you’re fishing a team of three in a traditional way — a swing or mended swing followed by a dangle — your top dropper should be an emerger (soft hackles excel in this position) or a bait that’s likely to be near the surface, like a cinder worm or a grass shrimp. If you’re trying to get some depth to start — then let the entire rig swing up toward the surface — then your point fly should be weighted. If you want to manage the team of three like a single unit, dead drifting at or very near the surface, then your point fly should float. I almost always place the largest or heaviest fly on point. It’s not rocket science, and once you get out on the water and see how all these flies interact with water and current, you’ll have a better appreciation for the awesome power you wield with a team of three.

One last thing. You’re using a floating line, right?

Pop quiz, true or false: If trout are feeding on little dark stones or midges near the surface, Stewart’s Black Spider would be a good choice because it matches size, color, and presented an emerging profile.

800 Followers Contest winners, rain, Farmington River sampling, fly fishing Zooms for clubs

Yesterday, #3 son Gordo drew three names at random out of the proverbial hat (it was actually a small cloth laundry container). And the winners of the 800 Followers drawing are….drum roll…Alton, Tom M, and Chase M. The winners have already been notified by email. Congratulations! Thank you to everyone who entered, and thank you to everyone period for reading and subscribing. I literally couldn’t do it without you.

To the vise I go…

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Last night’s rains were much needed, but don’t be mislead. The ground was so parched and the plants so thirsty that the river flows have only come up moderately. Still, we won’t complain. More, please. (And please stay off the thin blue lines. Remember, the stocking truck doesn’t visit wild trout streams.)

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DEEP crews recently electrofished the Farmington and were able to cart off enough broodstock in a single day. These fish, chosen for their wild attributes and potential genetic elasticity, will be taken back to the hatchery, spawned, then re-released into the river in late fall. You can learn more about the Farmington River Survivor Strain here.

Farmington trutta tanks like this are captured, then placed into a live well until they can be transported back to the hatchery for breeding.

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Finally, I’m continuing to get Zoom speaking requests from clubs everywhere. I appreciate both the interest and the business. If your group is out-of-state (and especially way out-of-state), this is the perfect time to see what this Steve Culton guy is all about. You can view my current presentation menu here.

If you love fishing small streams, now’s the time to prove it.

Mid-to-late September is traditionally the time I like to revisit my favorite thin blue lines to reacquaint myself with the wild things that live there. But not this year. Connecticut is in drought conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme. Many brooks have been reduced to a trickle; in some cases, entire sections have gone dry.

While I’m fond of the expression, “nature finds a way” — and it always does — now is not the time to be fishing small streams. Hopefully the fish have survived the heat and dry of summer by hunkering down under a cut bank or in a deep slot or a spring house. It’s been harsh conditions for months now, and the last thing they need is to have the life sucked out of them by doing battle with us. (And the spawn is coming, as if that weren’t stressful enough.) Don’t be fooled by cooler air and water temperatures or one rainstorm — these fish are in survival mode.

So please — if you really love small streams and the trout and char that live in them — put the small stream rods and the bushy flies away until flows get back to normal. Thank you.

It’s all bad news. This is already a week old. And the statewide streamflow table is even worse.

Mini striper report 9/25/20: spotty but promising

I fished with Toby Lapinski last night — make that very early this morning — at a top secret location in eastern CT. (Toby is the Managing Editor of the New England Edition of The Fisherman magazine. Look for some stuff from yours truly in that pub coming soon!) Toby was spinning and I was flying. I love that combination because of the instant feedback it provides both anglers, and last night the response was: up the spin guy, down the long rod. I didn’t get a touch. Toby, who was fishing a variety of surface plugs and soft plastics, had a few bumps, an unfortunate bluefish lure removal, and a nice 20-pounder. The action was sporadic and sparse, leading us to conclude that Toby’s encounters were with lone wolves rather than any pods of fish moving through. To be continued this fall…

I pride myself in my photography, but let’s face it: this shot sucks. In the heat of the moment, both photographer and camera screwed the pooch. As always, we strive for a quick, striper friendly release, photo op be damned, so by the time I figured out the issue we could only manage this blurry disaster. Try to imagine 30-something inches of piggy striper swimming away. Please.

The nice thing about the Eagle Claw 253 is…

…you can sharpen it fairly easily to extend the life of your fly. This RLS Rat-a-Tat had an unfortunate encounter with a rock, dulling its point. Not to worry! Out came the mill file, and a few strokes later we’re ship-shape and sticky sharp. This fly is now a year-and-a-half old and no worse for the wear. News flash: the biggest striper I ever caught came on a big flatwing that was four years old and had undergone numerous sharpening.

800 Followers Contest is closed. Winners announced soon!

I will draw winners this week and notify you by email. Thank you to everyone who entered, and for your continued support and readership!

Cheers, fellow currentseamers. Actually, I’d better not — I’m writing right now.

Extending your long-distance dry fly drift, or: When not to mend.

I don’t usually double dip my Instagram (stevecultonflyfishing) and Currentseams posts, but I thought this one was worthy of a more in-depth discussion. It’s a video of a smallmouth blowing up on a dead-drifted Wiggly about 70 feet across the river:

Now that you’ve seen it, let’s get to what appears to be a problem. One sharp-eyed viewer made a trenchant comment: “Mend!” He noticed the long downstream belly in the line. It’s a fair point in the abstract, but it doesn’t address the situation or the presention in its entirety.

Let’s begin with conditions. We have very low, clear, slow moving water. That usually means spooky fish. Now, smallmouth are not known as picky eaters, but the longer you fish for them, the more you discover that they can be as difficult to entice as the world’s most finicky trout. I was fishing a Wiggly, which, if you’re a Wiggly purist, is supposed to be presented on a dead drift. Any angler-induced motion should include the legs only. That’s a daunting proposition, especially at 70 feet. It doesn’t mean that the fish won’t hit a waking or stripped Wiggly. It just means that you’re only going to get hits from aggressive, willing-to-chase bass. And sometimes, that eliminates the bigger fish.

Now let’s talk distance and tackle. 70 feet away is a challenging length to dead drift a dry fly. The 5-weight I’m using, although 10 feet long, isn’t enough stick to make a 70-foot mend with an 8-weight, weight forward long taper line. I could, of course, lengthen the leader if I was concerned about moving the fly on the mend. But that’s a moot point if you can’t make that mend in the first place.

So, how did I handle this situation? I began by determining where I wanted the fly to have the longest period of dead drift. I aimed my cast about 10 feet above that point. I made an aerial upstream mend, then a hard, full upstream mend with as much line as I could manage. The fly moved a bit, but that didn’t concern me — I was simply setting it up for where I thought the strike zone would be, well downstream. (I had seen this fish sipping bugs off the surface, and it appeared to be one of the larger bass in the pool.) As the fly dead-drifted downriver, I made another upstream mend with about two-thirds of the line — this was about as big a mend I could afford without disturbing the fly.

That sets up the large belly you see in the video. It’s not ideal, but it’s a necessary evil to obtain the drift I wanted. What you can’t see is me tracking the drift with my rod tip, then pointing my rod downstream, and extending my arm as far out as possible to make that drift last just a…few…more…feet. (I could also have stripped out line and fed it into the drift, but that tactic makes long distance hooksets even harder.) And that’s the rub: with that much line out, and that much slack from the downstream belly, it’s a challenge to get a good hookset. You have to rely on a sticky sharp hook and hope the fish does most of the work.

When it all comes together, as it did here, you understand that while catching isn’t necessarily the best part of fly fishing, it most certainly doesn’t suck. In the end, we are presented with one of the most important questions in fly fishing: “What do you want the fly to do?” If you answer that question, and figure out a way to make it happen, you’re going to catch a lot more fish.

Tiny bait, lots of bait = a good time for droppers

I fished three marks in SoCo last night, and while the striper action was slow, the bait story was consistent: smallish to tiny, and lots of it. Confirmed sightings: silversides, anchovies, peanut bunker, and I may have seen a stray finger mullet.

My night began in the surf, but the meatball factor (bright headlamps used early and often) and a lack of action had me moving to Spot B, an estuary with a moving tide. Lots of bait, too few marauders.

I finished the evening at Spot C, some skinny water on flat, just as the tide began to flow out. Lots of worried bait in this location, and it’s a perfect place to fish a team of three. I had 2″ long Ray’s fly on top dropper, a Magog Smelt bucktail in the middle, and a micro Gurgler on point to do double duty as a suspender and waking fly. I was disappointed with the number of assembled diners, but it is what it is and you do your best. Two fish to hand in 45 minutes and I was satisfied, abetted in no small amount by a Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 corona and a come-from-behind Mets victory.

In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick refresher.

Thank you, Nutmeg TU and “Trout Fishing For Stripers” Question of the Day

Many thanks to my friends at the Nutmeg TU chapter for inviting me to Zoom with them. I missed the pizza and the in-person energy, but we made do, and then some. The subject was “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass” and the Q&A session was again excellent. Well done, folks!

Question of the Day: “Do you always fish your Gurgler suspension rig on a dead drift or do you ever strip it?” A: the question refers to my three-fly team with two droppers and a Gurlger on point. If I’m using that rig, it usually means that the stripers have either stopped chasing, or I’m arriving on the scene and I’m fairly certain that the bass will not chase. So the presentation starts with finding a feeder — look for the splashy take or the rise rings — and placing the rig over that position. If there is no earth-shattering kaboom (bonus points if you get the reference) I’ll manage the Gurgler as a dry, fishing the whole team on a dead drift. If that’s not working, I may very slowly begin to gather line. This is less of a strip and more of an extremely slow pull, about 1 inch-per-second. If that doesn’t work, I might try a cast a few pops of the Gurgler. But in my experience, it rarely comes to that. Great question!

I used this articulated Gurgler a few times this summer as the point fly on a three fly team. It got some attention, even on a dead drift.

ASGA Fireside Zoom Chat 9/16 @ 7pm: State of the Striper

From the American Saltwater Guides Association: “Join the ASGA team for a Fireside Chat focused on the current state of the Striped Bass! The chat will be LIVE this Wednesday, 9/16 at 7pm. Tune in via Zoom or Facebook Live! This is a great way for members of the fishing community from all backgrounds to learn something new, ask questions and be a part of the dialogue.” Register at: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEtcO2sqzMjHNczidcP8mqBjyfM2113PGFw