Calling all Blockheads! (Read all about it.)

Great news for Block Island striper fans: Author Dennis Zambrotta is putting together a followup to his classic Surfcasting Around The Block — and he’s asked me to contribute a chapter. I’m totally stoked. But jeez…I have so many good stories to tell…how do I pick just one? Not to worry. I already have a good idea about what I’m going to write about…

In case you’re unfamiliar, the original Surfcasting Around The Block is “a collection of memoirs and short stories about Block Island, surfcasting, and striped bass.” Even if you’re strictly a fly angler (like me), it’s loaded with pearls and gems. The followup will have plenty about fly fishing.

Yes, I Guide/Teach for Striped Bass

Do I guide for striped bass? The short answer is yes. But, these sessions are non-traditional in the sense of a typical guide trip/lesson. The focus is rarely on catching stripers in the moment; rather, it is to prepare you to catch stripers in the future. Depending on time/tide/conditions/season/luck, we may indeed catch some bass. But there is also a high probability that we won’t see a fish.

There are several reason for this. For starters, I do not guide at night. No exceptions. That leaves us with daylight hours, which in the abstract usually means fewer hookups. We’re also in the midst of striper downturn — there are far less fish than there were, say, 15 years ago. I can’t take you to Block Island or Cape Cod, which typically have an in-season abundance of stripers — you’d have to pay for my time and travel, and that would be cost-prohibitive. I’m shore wading only, so we can’t quickly zip off in a boat a few miles away to find the next blitz. Finally, my lessons are usually two hour sessions. Tides and time being ever-changing, that means we may not hit a strong bite window (if we do, good on us!). So, if you’re OK with trading immediate gratification for success down the road, read on.

What do I teach? A lot of good stuff you won’t find anywhere else. Most of you know me as a guide who fishes for stripers in a traditional and (in modern popular practice) unconventional manner. I primarily use floating lines. You should have one, too. My focus is on rigging, presentation, fly selection, and more presentation. You might want to spend a couple hours with me if you’re interested in learning traditional trout and salmon presentations like the greased line swing; how to tie and fish dropper rigs; fishing with multiple flies at or near the surface; reading water; fishing with your two-hand setup (sorry, I can’t supply you with a rod); and plenty of little things that sometimes make the difference between fishing and catching stripers.

I hope this clarifies what I do. My rate will vary depending on location. If you’re interested in setting up a trip, or need more information, please call me at 860-918-0228 or email swculton@yahoo.com.

Not all Gurgler-type flies are meant to be stripped. I caught this handsome Block bass on a dead drift — the Gurgling Sand Eel was point fly on a team of three — and showing you how to do the same is just one of the things I teach.

If you want to catch more stripers, learn presentations other than cast-and-strip

One of my goals with currentseams is to help you become a better angler — and hopefully catch more fish. So if I could somehow distill a “Top Ten Tips” out of my brain’s fly fishing storehouse, one of them would certainly be: Learn presentations other than cast and strip. Especially if you want to catch more stripers.

When I see questions like, “How fast do you retrieve the fly?” or “Do you strip with one or two hands?” — and I see these questions a lot — I despair. Rarely does anyone ask the question, “Does it have to be a retrieve?” The answer would open many doors to greater fish-catching glory.

Even if you were going to fish for stripers using only retrieves — and there are many outings over the course of a season where I do just that — there are an abundance of retrieve options that are rarely used or discussed. For example, for sand eels, I like a hyper short (1-2″) rapid pulsing strip. For a large squid fly like the Mutable Squid, I like a slow hand-twist retrieve. Last week I fished a large deer-hair head fly with a fast strip-strip-strip-strip….pause….wait for it….then strip action. And there’s always the surface popper trick of landing the fly with a splat….then doing nothing. Once the landing rings dissipate, give that bug a twitch. You could present in randomly timed, spaced, and distanced strips, creating the drunken action of wounded prey. The list goes on. And the stripers will always tell you when you get it right.

Ultimately, you’ll need to learn presentations other than cast-and-strip for those outings where the stripers will not chase. One of my recent trips included a puzzle where school bass were cruising and feeding, but would not move to a stripped fly. The answer was found within traditional salmon presentation tactics. Those willing to invest in the floating line — I’m not talking money, but rather in taking the time to learn how to harness its power and master a few basic presentations — will see their catch rates soar. And while you’re at it, pick up a used copy of “Greased Line Fishing for Salmon [and Steelhead] by Jock Scott.

Fly fishing is all about line control. So take charge. Presentation is not difficult to learn. Remember that a fly rod and line is only, as Ken Abrames once observed, “a stick and a string.”

Learn presentation and start bringing your fly to the fish — not vice versa.

Striper Report and props for CT’s ASMFC reps

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s scathing menhaden management commentary comes a shout out to the Connecticut members of the ASMFC. This is from a post made by Charles Witek on Facebook: “The New England states are worried about lobster bait. Virginia is worried about Omega. Everyone is worried about cutting fishermen’s income. It’s probably no coincidence that–with the exception of Connecticut and Rhode Island–the states seeking a larger cut in menhaden landings were southern–North Carolina, Georgia and Florida–which have neither a lobster fishery nor a big menhaden fishery. Connecticut made a noteworthy effort to convince the Management Board to do the right thing, and Rhode Island has long been a leader for better menhaden management. Folks in those states–particularly in Connecticut–ought to thank their fisheries managers if they get the chance.” Huzzah! If you want to send them a thank you email, you can find their contact info here. Please comment here if you send an email!

On to striper fishing. I’ve spent a significant amount of time this fall learning a new mark. The going’s been slow, but on Tuesday night I finally had some action — about a dozen hits, and the water was so calm I could also see several follow-the-fly wakes. Nothing big, but the big fish potential remains. Then there was last night. Specifically, the fog. It came in on big galumphing herds of elephant feet. We’re talking horror-movie density fog. I hate fishing in fog. With a few notable exceptions, it’s always been a bite killer. And so it was last night. Still, I got to stand in the ocean and fish and smoke a cigar and you know, that ain’t all so bad…

If there is a defining line between heavy fog and actually rainfall, I think we reached that threshold.

Striper Report 10/8/20: the beat goes on

The hunt for big bass continues…slowly. I’ll make this brief. I fished last night with Toby Lapinski for about two hours at mark in southeast CT. Toby was on spin gear, I had the big two-hander. Not a touch for me, and Toby managed a single hello tap from a smaller fish. And that’s about all I have to say about that, other than this: the more you put in your time, and the more you learn the particulars of a potential big bass spot, the more big bass you’re going to catch. Looking forward to round three.

The water was a little milky due to surf/sand/wind, but plenty of visibility; certainly enough to see a fly like this. Mmmmmm. Squidcicle.

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.

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.

Tying the Gurgling Sand Eel

By popular demand, I present the recipe for the Gurgling Sand Eel — a kind of love child of Ken Abrames, Jack Gartside, and Kelly Galloup.

Here’s the backstory. A couple years ago, the guys at Block Island Fishworks (either Hank or Eliot, I can’t remember, but I think it was Eliot) showed me a prototype of an articulated sand eel Gurgler at the Edison Fly Fishing Show. I was given one, fished it that summer, and I resolved to tie a few of my own.

Here’s the prototype from Fishworks. Their shank is a little shorter, and the stinger hook smaller. I used a longer shank and a bigger stinger hoping that they would discourage dink hookups; I’m pleased to say that that was the result during this summer’s field testing. They use a strategically placed double layer of foam; I went for the simplicity of one (although Jack Gartside’s Sand Eel Gurgler uses the double layer). I deemed the eyes unnecessary. And since I like the action of saddle hackles — think Abrames’ Big Eelie — I incorporated them into my variant.

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The Gurgling Sand Eel

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Thread: 6/0, tyer’s choice of color
Stinger hook: Eagle Claw 253 1/0 or Gamakatsu SC15 2/0
Tail: 30 hairs bucktail; next, a 4″ pencil-thin saddle; next, 4 strands Flashabou; next, two 4″ pencil-thin saddles; next, 6 strands Krystal Flash. Tyer’s choice of colors.
Body: Pearl braid
Front shank: Fish Skull 35mm articulated shank
Underbody: Medium Polar Chenille
Shell: 3mm fly foam trimmed 1/4″-5/8″ wide, tyer’s choice of color

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Tying notes: Tie the stinger assembly first. If you want to reinforce the thread wraps on the articulated shank, you can add cement. Start the shell just behind the eye, and bind down well. Attach the Polar Chenille near the butt end, and wind forward. Pull the foam over the top of the shank and secure with three wraps of thread just behind the eye.  Bring the thread underneath the lip and whip finish. Trim lip.

Yup. It works. I think the articulation adds another layer of action when you fish this with short, jerky strips. Bonus: it also works on the dead drift or on long pauses between strip sequences.

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Gurgling Sand Eel

Here’s something I played around with on Block Island this summer. For now I’m calling it a Gurgling Sand Eel. I stole the idea from one of the guys at Block Island Fishworks, either Hank or Eliot — I can’t remember — but thanks for the inspiration! I made a few changes to suit my style, and here it is. If there is interest I can post a recipe.

I tied two prototypes with different trailing hooks.

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The bass said yes!

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Another great essay by Charles Witek on striped bass management policy failure

If you fish for and love striped bass, Charles Witek is a national treasure. He stays on top of nearly every important meeting, issue, and decision regarding striped bass stock management, and reports back to us. Here’s a terrific essay from his blog, One Angler’s Voyage, “ASA Striped Bass Webinar Omits Key Rebuilding Issue.”

I can’t remember the last time I took a legal fish. Might have been Block last summer.

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