Block Island All-Nighter X preview: not too shabby

I did my tenth Block Island All-Nighter this past Sunday into Monday. My fishing partner was old friend Peter Jenkins from The Saltwater Edge. I’m still in recovery mode (and playing catch-up on a bunch of other projects) so I haven’t had time to do a full write-up. But here are some broad brush strokes.

We flayed the water from 9pm to 6am. The fishing was good enough — 6.5 of 10. No consistent feeding, but stripers did show up in small bunches (and if you were willing to walk to find them). No keepers, a grim reminder that we are in a downturn, but on the flip side no micros: the vast majority of bass were 20-24″ with an occasional 26 mixed in, and those fish are great sport on a fly rod. Sand eels were the bait (and Big Eelies the fly) not present in great numbers but there. And yes, we had a darn good time.

A spunky 22-incher, set against a mosaic tile bottom. We repeatedly marveled at the raw power of these fish. Happy Father’s Day to us!

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Striper Mini-Report 5/30/20: A 10,000:1 bait-to-bass ratio

I fished Salt Marsh B last night for a couple hours with #2 Son, Cam. The water was infested with silversides, crabs, and grass shrimp. Surely this bountiful buffet would summon legions of striped diners. But no. There were a few bass around — we even managed to catch some of them — but the audio feeding tells of a hundred popping mouths was strangely absent.  We fished a team of three shrimp flies, a Micro Gurgler on top, Caddis Shrimp middle dropper, and Black General Practitioner on point. All three flies found favor. Given this season and our general location, we’ll take it.

A fine silhouette to see, even in murky marsh water. 

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Striper Report 5/28/20: Slow, slower, slowest

2020 is shaping up to be my worst striper spring in 15 years. To be fair, I haven’t gone as many times in years past. But, to be fair again, it hasn’t been slightly off — it’s been disaster bad. Last evening we had two-and-a-half hours of casting practice. Conditions were great: falling barometer, outgoing tide (fishing a marshy area), dense cloud cover into dusk. I saw two bass landed among six anglers, split evenly between fly and spin. That ain’t exactly lighting it up. I saw very little bait in the water and no confirmed striper feeding activity. So it goes…

The great thing about June is that it’s prime time for trout fishing. With visions of sulphurs dancing in my head, I direct my attentions to the northwest.

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How To Catch The Stripers Feeding On The Surface That No One Else Can.

I get questions like this all the time: “Last night, I heard and saw a ton of surface activity, but didn’t have a single bite. I was using the usual suspects: Clouser, Deceiver, epoxy baitfish, using every retrieve I could think of — but not a single bump. Can you help me understand what was going on?”

When I’m giving my “Trout Fishing for Stripers” presentation, this is the point where I reference highly frustrated anglers like this one. Scenarios vary, but the solution remains the same: it can be found within traditional trout and salmon tactics and presentations.

Let’s break this down. First: the last fly I’d use for this situation would be a dumbbell eye-weighted pattern. Just as you wouldn’t cast a tungsten cone head bugger to trout that are sipping tiny BWOs on the surface — please tell me you wouldn’t — nor should you plumb the depths with Clousers when the striper action is clearly on top.

So which pattern(s) to use? Well, what are the bass eating? This time of year (May, northeast waters) I’ve got a 20-spot on grass shrimp or clam worms or tiny minnows…essentially something small. Most Deceivers I’ve seen are far bigger than 1-inch long, so that pattern’s not a good choice, either. If it were me I’d fish a team of three, and those small baits I mentioned would be a good place to start.

Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want.

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Finally — and here’s where the treasure is buried — let’s talk about presentation. We have a pretty good idea of what’s being eaten, and how the stripers are eating it (holding on station, feeding in a specific area of the water column, not willing to chase). Now we need to give them the goods the same way the naturals are behaving: on a dead drift.

Think of the current as a conveyor belt. Food is being delivered into open mouths. To make that dead drift presentation, you need to be able to mend, and to be able to mend you need a floating line. Sinking lines will drag, and drag is a death sentence for the dead drift. Forget about “which retrieve?” Your only retrieve should be when you’re at the end of a drift and you’re gathering your line to make another cast. (An exception would be fishing on the dangle, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The stripers are eating. They’re sitting there just waiting to take your fly. Answer the big four questions correctly (What’s the food? How are they eating it? What do I have in my box that looks/acts like that food? How can I present it like the naturals?) and you’ll be turning frustration into exhilaration.

Just don’t forget your floating line.

Billy Mitchell podcast: Steve Culton talks fly fishing

For your listening pleasure, a 50-minute podcast featuring yours truly. I haven’t heard it yet, but I am boldly going forward and posting the link. Here’s what Mr. Mitchell had to say about it: “We talk (the sometimes technical) trout fishing on the Farmington, catching stripers on the fly year-round, and using THE FORCE to find fish.”

You can listen to it here.

He speaks!

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Stripers from the surf

Better late than never goes the saying. So last night at 11pm I was walking with a skip in my step as I headed toward a jetty somewhere in SoCo. The SW breeze was light and warm coming off the water (it was much chillier in the interior of the salt pond I visited later) and I began casting into the pocket formed by beach and rocks.

I thought I felt a bit of odd pressure on a drift, but it wasn’t until I felt a sharp tug a few casts later that my suspicions were confirmed. Once I realized I’d left my Korkers in the car, I walked the bass along the rocks and landed it on the beach. I wasn’t up for doing that all night, so I waded into the surf proper and had at it, casting parallel to beach break and mending my line over the sets. Sure enough, there was a school of two-year olds in close. What they lacked in size they made up for in ferocity. I was fishing a three fly team of a clam worm on top dropper, a small sand eel in the middle, and a Magog Smelt soft hackle on point. They liked the two baitfish flies.

It would have been nice if they were a little bigger, but I hadn’t caught a striped bass in the surf in Rhode Island in years. So these schooligans were a treat.

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Why I like cheap (but good) cigars for fishing. Known among the cigar cognoscenti as canoeing, this is what happens when the wind is at an unfavorable angle to your stick. 

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A lousy photo of a peanut bunker bait ball. Stripers were darting in and out of its shape-shifting mass, picking off strays at will.

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Cape Stripahs

Up at the Cape this weekend for my son’s soccer tournament, but they don’t play at night…so I did.

Saturday I hit two spots. The tides weren’t ideal, but I wanted to see how one in particular looked on the incoming (I’ve only fished it on the outgoing). Last year, same time, it was lit up like a Christmas tree. This year it was dead as Julius Caesar. I gave it 45 minutes of due diligence, then headed to a second mark. First cast, my line got all discombobulated. After I straighten things out, I pulled it in for a re-cast. Wait. Was that pressure a fish or some weeds? The answer was fish. I proceeded to get into a batch of micro bass, and one of their bigger brothers. Fished a three fly team and took fish on all three flies. Both the air and the water on the incoming tide were cold! I wished I’d brought my neoprenes.

Sunday met old UK pal Mike who got the outing off to a proper start by taking a bass on his first cast. We had schools of stripers, mostly 1-2 year-olds, come through in waves, so the action was either red hot or non-existent. There were a few larger — by that I mean sub-20″ers — in the mix. To cull these pipsqueaks, I tied on a 7″ Eel Punt on a 3/0 hook. (I should mention at this point that I’d forgotten my headlamp, so I did all this dancing in the dark). So while I still had bumps, I was spared the tedium of stripping in trout-sized bass. Meantime, the Meatballs showed up with their 40,000 watt headlamps lighting up the ocean, and — my personal favorite — into my face when I was playing a fish. I’d like to tell you I was sorry when they left, but that would be a lie.

I finally connected with a sub-legal fish that had aspirations of going on the reel, but I had other plans. A catch, a photo, a release, and a good way to end the festivities.

I haven’t fished an Eel Punt in years. This striper reminded me why it’s such a good fly, especially on the swing on a dark, mysterious night.

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Block Island report: Three steps forward, one giant leap back

Block Island used to be the the place I’d go to restore my faith in the ocean. The late spring striper fishing in Connecticut would inevitably fade, and mainland Rhode Island would become a crap shoot. But Block Island would be as reliable as sunrise in the east.

Over the course of a week, I could expect between 60 and 100 bass, with a healthy percentage of legal fish in the mix. Many were the years when my largest striper would be a summer resident of the Block. And while there might be a night of skunking, the Island would always quickly repay me with an off-the-charts outing. (I still fondly recall the night in the mid-two thousand oughts when my friend John and I encountered a school of 15-25 pound bass within casting range. John took a striper on 11 consecutive casts — work that out in your head — and I managed the largest fish of the night with a junior cow that went nearly 40 inches. I don’t think the drags on our reels were ever the same after that.)

Then came 2011. I landed eight stripers over the course of a week. Incredibly, 2012 was worse: four bass over seven nights. 2013 was much better, albeit spotty, 2014 better still and more consistent, and then last year I surpassed the 75 fish mark without a single skunk.

Sadly, the resurgence was short-lived. A paltry ten bass this year, four in one night. (This  indicates a dearth of schools of feeding bass. Instead, you get lone wolves, which means you need to be in the right place at the right time. Certainly some of that is calculable, but much of it is left to the whims of chance.) I had to work my butt off for those stripers, too — a typical night had me bouncing around the island hitting multiple spots. On of my two single-fish nights, my striper came on the last cast. I saw less than a dozen sand eels all week. The family goes to the beach nearly every day, yet I could only find one bass cruising the shore break. Even more telling was the hardcore-wetsuit-plugger who relayed his tale of woe. Fishing on his favorite boulders from the southeast to southwest sides, he managed a single bass over four nights.

My local spies tell me that the beach bite never materialized this year (the second half of June/first half of July is typically prime time), and the boat bite has likewise been poor. The big question is: why? For one, no bait, indicated by a paucity of shore birds scavenging the beach on the receding tides. Some locals are pointing to the wholesale wanton slaughter of larger bass at the Ledge over the last half-decade as a contributing factor. Meanwhile, Cape Cod has been en fuego this year. Could it be that for some reason, large numbers of bass ignored the right turn to the Block and continued on to the cozy confines of Chatham?

One thing is certain. A new normal for fly fishing Block Island from the shore has been established. And it is:  you pays your money and you takes your chances.

Good times on the first night. This fish was part of the only school (if you can call a half dozen bass a school) of actively feeding fish I found all week. What he lacked in size — this is a 24-incher — he made up for in ferocity. My presentation was short strips across a slow current, and he hammered the fly with such power that I put him on the reel. The Big Eelie in various color schemes accounted for all my bass. One constant on Block Island remains: the remarkable clarity of the water. 

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Iron meets water and air. Oxidation ensues. Taken on the northwest side.

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Darkness falls across the land. (And sea.) I took this shot while perched on a rock as the waves rolled in at my feet. I was sure I was going to score a 15-pounder here — there was a nice rip line moving across the current — but I blanked. A bit of a tricky wade as this flat is a weed-covered boulder field, so I was thankful to make it back to shore on the incoming tide.

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I saw you, feeding noisily near that boulder pile. The best striper of the trip, and my only keepah. I had to reposition myself to properly present to this fish. On the second cast, bang! What? I couldn’t believe I missed him. So I ripped my line in to make another cast. In the moment it took to raise the rod tip, slack formed in the line. When I lifted the line off the water, the fish was on. To reiterate: I’d rather be lucky than good.

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Things to do in your Jeep during an electrical storm

I had a brilliant plan for last night’s striper expedition. Really. It would have been perfect. Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to fire up some major thunder and lightning action just as I pulled into the spot. Not wanting to be a statistic, I cooled my heels in the truck with a Liga Privada No. 9 Double Corona (a cigar of immense depth and power) while the storm raged overhead. I turned on the Mets game, and since they were murdering the Cubs, it made the 90 minutes of prime lost tide slightly more bearable. I decided to amuse myself by trying some artsy no-flash-in-the-dark selfies. Here’s a trippy Jimi Hendrix acid light show rendering of your humble scribe:

ElectricSmoke

As soon as the storm passed, I raced to the beach where I managed two stripers in the last gasp of the outgoing tide.

A reminder that no fish is worth chasing in an electrical storm. Please get off the water and take cover when you hear thunder.

 

Back on the striper night shift

Last night’s striper adventure returned me to some favored waters along the Sound. There were grass shrimp and mummies, and as the tide began to pull back toward the sea, the estuary suddenly came alive with the random staccato of carnivores on the prowl. The assembled diners were only in the 12″-18″ range, but what they lacked in sized they more than made up for in gusto — and in eagerness to jump on the fly.

I fished a three fly team last night, and caught stripers on all three patterns (top dropper = sz 10 Deer Hair Shrimp, middle dropper = sz 6 pink Crazy Charlie, point fly = 2″ Orange Ruthless clam worm). The bass favored the top dropper and point fly. I caught them on the strip, the swing, and the dangle.

We went low budget (but thoroughly enjoyable) on the cigar, a JR Cuban Alternate Cohiba Esplendido.

Now begins the internal debate: do I get a good night’s sleep tonight? Or do I venture out into the very wee small hours again?

Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want.

StriperShrimpDropperRig

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How to tie a dropper rig for stripers. (Just in case you missed it the first time.)

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