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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Midnight on the Water in Rhode Island

No sightings of the ocean’s daughter. But I did spend some time watching a small pod of stripers move and feed on the tide change. We’ll get to that in a minute.

In the space of three hours, I managed to fish: skinny water on the incoming and outgoing; under a bridge (I love shadow lines at night); the inside of a salt pond; an estuary on a ripping incoming tide; and a snotty beachfront from a jetty. I fished hard and I fished well, and I dearly wish I could tell you that I slayed ’em, but all I could manage was one dink and a few courtesy bumps.

The outside beach continues to vex me. Conditions off the jetty last night were just about perfect:  a good SSW breeze, substantial breakers, surging whitewater wash. But no predators. This particular spot is a serial disappointment; it used to be an I-need-to-catch-a-striper-so-I’ll-fish-here destination. 2016 makes it 4 consecutive years I’ve blanked at it.

The bridge, the estuary, and the salt pond were good places to fish if you wanted to hook weeds. I did not want to, but managed a prodigious haul of vegetal flotsam.

My only bass came on my second cast of the evening on the incoming. After, I drove around to explore the other places, then spent the last hour alternately casting to and watching a small pod of school bass drift into position at the turn of the tide (it was easy to see them in the bright moonlight). But the bait wasn’t there in any volume, and the stripers didn’t bother to stick around.

And once the clock hit the wee small hours, neither did I.

There. That’s what I’m talking about. Failed experiment in night photography aside, that whitewater wash bottom center is prime real estate for casting your fly. The jetty allows you to fish into the pocket formed by the rocks and sand, not to mention a good parallel shot to the trough just off the beach. When the bass are in there, you find yourself in tight line territory pretty fast.

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A striper skunking, appearances, and a rain miss

Last night I fished a spot in Connecticut that, upon further reflection, is having me believe that I’m Einstein insane. It should hold fish. Others have told me they’ve caught fish there. Nonetheless, every time I’ve fished it over the last three years, I’ve blanked. As in not a touch. On the plus side, I had a lovely walk through a salt marsh. And I bombed out some perfect laser shots with my switch rod. But would it be too much to ask for some players? No cigar, as we’re still healing after last week’s oral surgery.

Two appearances this week:  Tuesday, October 11, 7pm: Mianus Chapter TU, “The Little Things 2.0” Waveny House, New Canaan, CT. For more information and directions, visit mianustu.org.

Thursday, October 13: Hammonasset Chapter TU, “The Little Things 1.0” (pretty sure we settled on this — I’ll update if incorrect). Quinnipiac Watershed Association Building, 540 Oregon Road, Meriden, CT. For more information and directions, visit hctu.org.

Finally, the weather. Today’s rain was great for my yard — or any stream in eastern, central, or southern Connecticut. Unfortunately, it almost completely missed the northwestern end of the state — so we’re still talking rock gardens on the Farmington and Hous. Bleah.

Time to fire up the steelhead end of the tying bench.

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And on the 500th cast, a striped bass

It’s been a pretty weird spring for those of us who chase striped bass from the shore on the fly. Ye Olde Striper Shoppe, usually overflowing with eager school bass this time of year, continues to fail to produce. You’ve heard me say it before — every year is different — and as Joe Jackson might say, “so there goes your proof.”

I almost didn’t go yesterday because I simply wasn’t feeling it. But I talked myself into it. Not too hard a sell, since it’s got to turn on sometime, right? In the interest of avoiding crowds and trying something different, I went to a place that had no right to be holding stripers. It wasn’t. But I got my money’s worth of casting practice. Oh. And there was that rip. That paramour-sexy rip with its erotically dancing, undulating surface that made brazen overtures to my weaknesses for such water. Mark my words, there’ll be a bass or ten in it sometime soon.

I forgot my good camera. Usually that means a big striper. But you’ll have to settle for this water, weed and sand sculpture.

April sand bar

Switched from the full sink to the floater for a second piece of water. Nearly two more hours of casting practice. It was rejuvenating to perform a proper greased line swing again. (The poetic majesty of the greased line swing cannot be under-estimated.) But, time on this session had run out. Three more casts. And on the third, as the seven-inch long Crazy Menhaden flatwing swung down and across, a firm take worthy of the year’s first striper. A standard-issue school bass, under twenty inches, still wearing the colors of estuary in winter. But for today, a perfect fish.

I gotta tie some more of these. And some Rock Island flatwings, too.

Crazy CU