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.

How planting by the moon can help you catch bigger bass

Some of you may know that I am avid gardener. Right now, I am planting by the moon. What’s that, you say? The basic idea is that just as the moon’s gravitational cycle causes tides to rise and fall, it also affects soil moisture. So you want to plant seeds and transplant during periods when more moisture is being drawn to the surface.

Okay, Steve. But what the heck has this got to do with fishing?

I’m a firm believer in paying attention to natural rhythms.Using stripers as an example, I also believe that the angler who wants to catch more bass, and especially bigger bass, will not be one who places a premium on leader construction or casting distance — but rather one who focuses on things like tides, moon phase, wind direction, bait patterns, water type, structure, location, water temperature, frontal systems, and barometric pressure. What’s more, that angler should pay attention to common natural markers, like hearing the first spring peepers or when flowering trees bloom.

It’s all part of one magnificent puzzle. Every year is different, but nature is always right on time. It doesn’t hurt to be able to cast a plug or a fly line very far. But if you really want to crack the big bass code, pay attention to Mother Earth’s natural rhythms.

Yesterday was herb day. Today it’s peppers. I have it on good authority that this weekend is a great time to plant cukes and squash.

“Striper Moon: A Legacy” film is now online

Director Lorri Shankar’s film about Ken Abrames, “Striper Moon: A Legacy” is now online. You can see the original film poster here. The link to the film, on Google Drive, is here. Enjoy!

A still from the opening of the film Striper Moon A Legacy.

Late striper quasi-report: When the best retrieve is no retrieve

I had a rare Saturday night to myself so I ventured out to points salty. I won’t bore you with the details of the first 90 minutes, although they were pretty eventful, featuring: wedding party songs I don’t like, fireworks in the distance, almost perfect conditions, that long slow pull mystery solved (squid, of course), not a touch from a bass, and finally, a parking ticket. Egad!

After all that excitement, I decided to amuse myself at a well-lit estuary. I find places like this highly addicting; my intention was to fish for 15 minutes. Over an hour later, I had to drag myself away. The action wasn’t that great — there was a decent amount of bait (silversides and juvenile menhaden), but predators (hickory shad and bass) were few and far between.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I was, of course, fishing a three-fly team — you do too, right? (If you don’t, you should read this short article on how to build a dropper rig for striped bass. You can thank me later.) Hits were few and far between, but every time I did get hit, I was doing one of three things: dead-drifting the team of three in the current, letting it dangle in the current, or performing a very slow hand-twist retrieve. I call this “trout fishing for stripers” because these are all traditional trout or salmon fly fishing tactics. Learn the art of presentation, and you’ll be able to catch the fish that everyone can’t.

Saturday night’s crew. I had touches on all three patterns.

Read “Old-School Striper Patterns are Still Deadly During the Fall Run” at Field & Stream online

Fly anglers are always looking for the next best thing. Especially when it comes to fly patterns. But often, “new” doesn’t translate to “better.” Some of these patterns are decades old, but they still get eaten because the stripers haven’t gotten any smarter. So if you want to see what’s in my fly box this fall — and at the end of my leader — read “These Old-School Striper Patterns are Still Deadly During the Fall Run,” brought to you by our good friends at Field & Stream.

The Magog Smelt Bucktail didn’t make the article, but it’s another fall favorite of mine. You can find out more about this pattern here.

A surfcaster and a fly rodder walk into Long Island Sound…

…and not much happens. Surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski and your humble scribe gave it the old college try last night for close to three hours. (Note the lack of large bass photos — heck, note the lack of any bass photos.) A couple small bumps for Toby and not even a courtesy tap for me. Although I did have a couple weird moments of pressure on the drift, my fly sweeping across a reef, no hooksets were forthcoming. It was probably something small. Light show: we were treated to a spectacular electrical display as a storm moved across western Long Island. Funny thing: that storm produced a sudden cold NE breeze and some raindrops on what was otherwise a calm night. So it goes. Round three to the bass. I gotta get some points on my card, so I’ll keep punching. This mark has yet to produce for me, but I believe it will. Then we’ll see some bass photos.

The main bait continues to be menhaden, juvenile and adult, and silversides. We also saw plenty of crabs, so there’s no shortage of food. The bass were simply somewhere else.

Fish Untamed Podcast Ep 55: “Trout Fishing for Stripers with Steve Culton”

Fish Untamed is website that’s run by Katie. She is self-described as “obsessed with chasing fish” — so right away, we like her! Katie also does podcasts, and yours truly is the subject of her current offering. Or, more specifically, the broad concepts of what I call “trout fishing for stripers.” We talk about that and lots of other things. But enough rambling; you want to listen. Here’s Fish Untamed Podcast Episode 55: Trout Fishing For Stripers With Steve Culton.

A floating line, a striped bass, and a very happy angler.

“Sensei Elmer & The 50-Fish Nights” in the current issue of Surfcaster’s Journal

Surfcaster’s Journal 68 is live right now — it’s an online-only ‘zine — and within its fantastic digital walls you can find my latest story, “Sensei Elmer & The 50-Fish Nights.” This is a piece I wrote a long time ago, revisited, rewrote, re-edited — and now, instead of hiding on my hard drive, it can be yours to read and enjoy. You get to see some decent photos taken by me, and some extraordinary shots from my immensely talented brother David . (You can see more of David’s work on Instagram @theplayoflight.) “Sensei Elmer” is about two memorable fly fishing nights I had one October. Or is it about something far deeper than catching fish?

Most of what I write eventually ends up here, but this piece won’t — so if you want to read it, you’ll have to subscribe to the Surfcaster’s Journal. It’s only $20 a year and you get six issues. Tell ’em Steve sent ya.

Get your Elmers here!

Reorganizing and replenishing the striper box

I’ve been meaning to do this for a good, long time. I started by taking out every fly from the left side of my box — this is the working side that gets the most use. I returned a few of the smaller bugs to the lower slots, but the others, mostly sand eels, got straightened out (flies tend to get gershtunkled after years of non-use) under a running hot water bath, followed by a hang drying on corks, and then finally laid out on a sheet of paper. From there I took inventory to see which patterns needed replacing and replenishing. So, right now I’m in the middle of a massive sand eel tying blitz. And did I mention squid? Golly, I ‘ve got to tie a few more of those. And then my experiments! I’m going to be playing around with some Gurgling Sand Eel variants this summer. To the vise! To the water!

Steve Culton’s Grass Shrimp Solution featured in On The Water’s “Guide Flies”

Another year, another appearance in On The Water magazine‘s “Guide Flies” column, written by Tony Lolli. You’re familiar with he concept of a guide fly — a pattern that is typically simple to tie and is a consistent producer. I’d like to introduce the Grass Shrimp Solution as Exhibit A: some bucktail, a few wraps of braid, palmered wet fly hackle, and then you’re fishing. You can see the wet fly influence in its construction. I like this pattern at night when the grass shrimp are forming mating swarms, and are being carried out of an estuary on current. Make it part of your three fly team, and hang on! This pattern was originally published in the old American Angler magazine, Nov/Dec 2015, “Soft Hackles For Striped Bass.”

Here’s a pdf of the article: