…I was standing in a river, practicing my greased line swings with a floating line and a 10″ Rock Island flatwing. My casting was good enough. My presentations were spot on. The bass were…not there. At least not in any numbers. We saw some wakes and swirls made by herring, but nothing to suggest that they were present en masse. We heard a couple reports of bass crashing bait, but they were in the first 30 minutes of our 2+ hour session, and then nothing. So it goes. This is why it’s called putting in your time.
As I continue to pore through Gary LaFontaine’s masterwork Caddisflies, I’m reminded of the sheer volume of universal concepts that apply to fly fishing. So, even though he’s talking about fishing for trout that are feeding on caddisflies, LaFontaine could easily be talking about stripers feeding on sand eels or grass shrimp. A true maverick, he isn’t afraid to think or act differently, to challenge conventional wisdom, or conduct experiments to prove his theories. (Listen to the science. You’ve heard that one before) The more you fish for trout and stripers, the more you begin to see patterns and similarities between the species and how you should be fishing for them. Here are three themes in Caddisflies from which I think striper anglers and fly tyers who want to dramatically elevate their game could benefit.
Realism is the least important factor in fly design. I don’t have the actual stat, but I’m comfortable in saying that nine out of ten striper baitfish patterns feature glued on, ultra-realistic eyes. (Other than on these pages, when was the last time you saw a squid fly without big googly eyes?) If realism, from eyes to full-bodied profile to opacity to exact coloring, etc., is so important, how come my baitfish flies (and yours, and everyone else’s) continue to catch stripers long after they’ve literally been ripped to shreds? It’s a rhetorical question, but I’ll answer anyway. It’s because the bass are keying on certain bait or environmental characteristics that serve as bite triggers, and those triggers are still present in the remnants of the fly. LaFontaine knew that making a favorable impression on the fish — by showing them at least one primary feature or action that identified the fly as something that looked like what they were eating — was far more important than rendering a carbon copy.
Energy efficiency is the reason for selective feeding. Fish, especially bigger ones, are essentially lazy. So when they’re glommed onto grass shrimp in a feeding lane, you can engage in the futile activity of ripping and stripping a big fly past them, or deliver what they’re eating to their waiting mouths. This is why there is no one-size-fits-all “go-to” striper fly — and why learning presentation with a floating line is so important. Match the hatch, learn its nuances, make it easy for the stripers to feed, and you’ll catch more bass.
Fish are not intelligent. There is no such thing as an educated striped bass. Fish cannot reason. They are programmed for survival, and these primal forces have nothing to do with fly fishing or why you can’t fool that lunker. The fish is simply doing what’s it’s doing, and it’s up to you to crack the code.
This one’s going to be brief, folks, because I have nothing good to report. Well, that’s not entirely true. I got to meet up with old striper partner-in-crime Bob. We each enjoyed a cigar on the walk out. And I got to shake some of the rust off my two-handed casting. Beyond that, it was cold, the wind was blasting out of the east at 15mph (with higher gusts), it rained most of the time we fished, seaweed and grassy detritus was an issue, and neither of us got a single touch. I saw one striper caught by a spin angler. I talked to another fly angler in the parking lot who said he caught two small fish, and that it had been fairly slow thus far. I wish I could tell tales of the Bass-O-Matic, but that will have to wait for another day.
If you care about building a sustainable striped bass fishery, please take a few minutes to send your comments. Here’s the link to last week’s post that gives you everything you need to know about the ASGA’s position/plan, and how to submit a comment. Thank you.
Want to book a date with a big striped bass? Put in on the calendar! Read my most recent piece, Why Making a Tide Calendar for Striper Fishing Will Help You Land More Bass, currently in Field & Stream Online, and you’ll learn how to build a calendar that notes the best times and tides for fishing the striper marks that you love.
Put it in the books.
In case you missed it, the ASMFC’s Striped Bass Board met last week. You gotta love this group. The Commission’s inability to grasp that striper stocks are in trouble, and that they are charged with recovering that stock, is almost staggering in its perfection. That unspoiled incompetence was on full display during the proceedings. The Commission is, as Bobby Knight said, “a legless man who teaches running.” Do you know what they did for 2 1/2 hours? They performed a deep dive into the urgent matter of tube-and-worm rigs. Or, as Charles Witek of One Angler’s Voyage described it, debating “how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.” Never mind those pesky issues of collapsing bass stocks and overfishing.
Meanwhile, rogue ASMFC states like Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey maintain their laser-like focus on how they can kill more stripers. (You know, out of mercy. They don’t want any stripers to starve to death.)
What’s a concerned angler to do? First, read this excellent essay from the ASGA’s (American Saltwater Guides Association) Tony Friedrich. Next, don’t give up hope. We all know the ASMFC’s process is irreparably broken. The ASGA is our current best hope to effect change within and for the ASMFC. So, finally, support the ASGA. They’re doing good work. They have a plan. They need you to be involved.
Q: How many ASMFC Striped Bass Board members does it take to change a light bulb? A: C’mon. The ASMCF can’t change a damn thing.
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.
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 email@example.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.
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.
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.