Striper report: It’s grass shrimp time, baby

My striper fishing cycle goes through an almost ritualistic pattern, following bass and bait to certain spots at certain times of the year. May and June are always a good time to target stripers feeding on tiny grass shrimp in the many estuaries along the Connecticut shoreline. These diminutive crustaceans swarm to mate, and the stripers know that they’re there, literally queuing up to feed on them. Throw in some clam worms and smaller baitfish like mummichaugs and you’re got a veritable saline smorgasbord.

I’ve been trying to expand my menu of usual places, so last night I ventured out to try two new locations. Both had grass shrimp and stripers. The fish weren’t very big — 16″-20″ — but they weren’t easy to catch, and I like a good presentation puzzle. Wouldn’t you know that I caught my first one when I wasn’t paying attention. My rod was tucked under my arm, flies dangling in the water below me while I was trying to figure out a murderous eddy, when WHACK! Once I had the drifts calculated, the takes began in earnest.

I didn’t shoot many photos — we all know what a school bass looks like — but this is the sweet silly who took the fly on the dangle. My apologies for the focal challenges.

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Droppers give you a strategic advantage when there is a multitude of tiny bait in the water. Last night’s rig: a micro Gurgler, Simpson’s Hairwing Shrimp, and an Orange Ruthless clam worm. For perspective, the Ruthless is 2″ long. The bass liked all three flies, the clam worm in particular.

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February Stripers

Cold fronts and wind and snow and sleet be damned, I went striper fishing. This was virgin winter water for me; I looked at this place last year and wondered if any bass would care to stay though the cold months. I have my answer.

Only 20″, but a bass is a bass. Dagnabbit, now that I’ve done January and February, I guess I gotta go for 12 consecutive months with a striper on the fly.

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The Culture of Can’t

One of my mentors used to tell me, “Say ‘yes’ and then figure out how to do it.” On the surface, it was a little intimidating. But once I got the hang of it, I realized the powerful wisdom of Gini’s words — and all the opportunities it created.

I see far too much “can’t” in fly fishing. Some of it is human nature — “can’t” gives us an easy way to opt out. Some of it derives from negative experience (“I can’t nymph.” Yes, you can. You just need someone to teach you.). Some of it is generated by preconceived mindsets and popular mythology (“Using a five weight rod is unsporting and will put too much stress on a large striper.” No, it isn’t, and not if you fight the fish from the reel and butt of the rod.).

There are two kinds of anglers: those who can’t and those who can. In my experience, the ones who can — or at least believe they can — are the ones having the most fun.

This double-digit pounder was back in the river before she knew what hit her (Herr Blue flatwing, 5-weight rod, 9-weight line, and an angler who said “yes, I can”).

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Striper report: all about adjustments

I fished for 90 minutes today at a very popular late fall spot. Lots of bass around — the spin guys were cleaning up — but I wasn’t getting my fly where it needed to be, which was down deep. Dagnabbit, I left my bag of 3/0 shot in the car. Two sections of T-11 (totaling 10 feet) and a leader shortened to 3 feet solved the problem, along with some upstream casts and active mending. When my fly was ticking bottom, the bottom often fought back. All shorts, but some of them put up a good fight in the current. Wow, the wind! Gusts over 20mph made me glad I was casting with/across it. The dredging is still going on, but any commotion caused by tugs and barges didn’t seem to bother the fish. A glorious day to wet a line and catch a few stripers (and a bonus shad).

No photos, because you all know what a schoolie looks like. You’ll have to settle for a blast from the past on a warm summer night a few years ago…

ElectricSmoke

“Running The Coast” film benefit event (bonus: it’s at Stony Creek Brewery) November 29 & 30

As the proud father of a veteran (my oldest son Bill, USMC, two tours in Iraq) I’m delighted to share this with you. I’ll be speaking before the film on night two, November 30th. Hope to see you at the Stony Creek Brewery.

You can get all the details here.

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Block Island striper report: small is the new black

Another year, another seven days to chase linesiders in one of The Last Great Places. What each new season brings is always a mystery until you get out there, and then you can toss all the reports you’ve been hearing because they’re either spot on, nothing like that at all, or varying points of somewhere in between.

In 2017, I’d been hearing credible talk of voluminous schools of sand eels inshore and the Bass-O-Matic running on high. That sounded swell, but there were two x-factors to consider: we were coming out of the new moon into first quarter with a waxing gibbous and its bite-killing light; and the weather. Good news/bad news on both fronts. On the plus side it was cloudy most nights, so moonlight was not a factor. On the down side, it was windy. Like small craft warning windy: 20 knots sustained with higher gusts that pushed the limits of what is reasonable with a fly rod. And wind usually changes everything on the Block.

Like last year, I caught stripers every night. But the bargain of two consecutive years without a skunk was a preponderance of small fish. This was the first time in a decade that I didn’t take a legal bass out here, and I found myself longing for those schools of 15-pounders that would sit off the beach for 90 minutes, having their way with sand eels. I had two double-digit nights, then a six, then three singles, and wrapped it up with another half dozen. But 27″ was the largest bass I could muster.

Sight fishing from the beach during daylight was tough due to wind, but mostly to the clouds that made finding those elusive shadows a chore. What’s more, on the sunny days I spotted very few cruisers. I did get two fish to follow my fly, one of them a good 20-pounder, but in the end they both broke off the chase.

And then there were the Meatballs. I had enough nights where I enjoyed blissful solitude, but there were a few sessions where the Meatballs were out in force and in rare form. I’m usually the quiet sort on the water, but at one point on a certain night I was blasted so often by so many hundreds of lumens that I finally turned and barked, “Please stop shining that light on me NOW!” They left shortly after. I had a cigar to celebrate.

And that’s the thing about Block. Even when it’s bad, it can be very, very good.

I had high hopes for this fish — he went on the reel — but the tape measure didn’t lie and he came up an inch short. I mostly stuck with my usual eclectic mix of Big Eelies. This fish thought the Crazy Menhaden color scheme looked tasty. Kind of a neat stained glass effect going on in the water around him, too.

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Unless there’s a specific hot spot, I always try to mix it up on the Block. I fished the east side and west side beaches, southeast side, off some jetties, in the Great Salt Pond, and — regrettably — the North Rip. I say this only because the Rip had been producing a consistent good bite if you had a spinning rod. The night I slogged out there was about the worst night for fly fishing you could imagine. The wind was rain jacket whipping-fast, and I had to cast my line backhand over my right shoulder (I’m a lefty) to shoot it into the rip, then feed line into the left to right current. So far so good. But, rats. Mung. Every cast. I took this shot when I got back to the truck. Yes, it was that hot and that humid and that foul. I love the Block, but walking a mile and a half in the sand for nothing will make anyone dour.

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I discovered that striped bass have great camo against the sand and rocks — even when they’re dead.

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A public service message brought to you by the National Spell Check Society.

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On the last night I caught bass two ways. First, off the beach, where I found a school of hungry fish feeding in the moonlight; then, inside the Pond on a flat with a team of three flies suspended in the film. (Floating line, of course, for both methods.) My last two fish of the trip came as the flies dead-drifted across the flat. That building pressure I felt let me know a striper was flaring his gills to suck in one of the small sand eel flies, in this case a 3″ Eelie in olive and chartreuse. See you next year, when one of us has put on a few more pounds.

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The unimportance of casting

The casting discussions are seemingly endless: distance, tight loops, line speed, hauling, leader turnover, and more distance. Not that I’m surprised. But I do find it fascinating, especially since you rarely see these topics brought up on trout fishing boards.

I never wanted to be a great caster. I did, however, aspire to be a great angler. Maybe some day I’ll get there. In the meantime, I’ll just follow Ray Bergman’s advice on fishing, and let the casting take care of itself.

Striper fly anglers have a unique obsession with casting distance. Funny thing! My biggest striper this spring, best measured with a scale or a yardstick, came on a 30-foot cast that I pooched out in front of me. All I had to do was wait for the current to deliver the fly to her waiting mouth.

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