Striper Mini Report 9/21/22: Nothin’ Shakin’ (But The Leaves On The Trees)

The rockabilly music scholars among you will no doubt recognize the title as the Eddie Fontaine classic (or the Beatles’ excellent BBC cover, for bonus points). But for our purposes, it’s an apt description of my Wednesday night outing. Surfcaster extraordinaire Toby Lapinski reported several hours of similar non-action the night before, but that was many miles east of the mark I fished. Besides, this was an entirely different type of water (estuary). I fished 90 minutes of incoming, then outgoing tide. Not. A. Touch. No menhaden (juvenile or adult). Only a handful of silversides. I heard three pops and saw one small bass holding in the current. In desperation, I zipped over to another mark, which was also dead as Julius Caesar. So it goes.

Ever feel like this is message the bass are sending you? But, you keep at it. Toby. did, and Thursday night at another coastal mark he was into over a dozen stripers in the 20+ pound range. He was plugging, and he told me that most of the bass were at the extreme edge of his casting range. I suppose that made me feel a little better!

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.

Striper Report 8/29/22: Of dropper rigs, sparse flies, and slot bass

I fished Monday late night into Tuesday early morning in Estuary X in Rhode Island. When I arrived there were clear signs of bait and stripers on the feed. Here’s what happened, in the form of observations and lessons learned and re-learned.

This time of year, the SoCo estuaries are loaded with silversides. In case you didn’t know, silversides go nuts when you shine a light on them. They form tight schools and they congregate in shallows near the shore. There are also juvenile Atlantic Menhaden around, from 2-4″ or so, but silversides are the dominant bait. When there’s that much bait in the water, a dropper rig is your best friend. Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want. They also raise your chances for a hookup because you have more targets in the water.

My first casts were made with a three fly team consisting of a sparse, generic bucktail about 3″ long on top dropper, Mark Gustavson’s Lil’ Bunky in the middle, and a Magog Smelt bucktail on point. There was a substantial current and my presentation was a greased line swing. I had action on every single cast, sometimes on all three flies — except it wasn’t bass. It was weeds. Lots and lots of weeds. When it became clear that flora was all I’d be hooking, I decided to search for fauna elsewhere.

This juvenile menhaden pattern is sparse, simple, and — as you’ll see — highly effective.

At the next mark I switched to a suspension dropper rig — one with a floating fly on point (in this case a Gurgler) — because I was fishing in shallower water with a much slower current. What’s more, there were several rocks in my presentation zone topped with bubble weed. So this rig helped keep my flies away from trouble. While there was an enormous amount of bait, there was not a corresponding number of stripers in the mix. I was having one of those nights where no matter where I moved, the stripers would shift to just out of casting range. By the turn of the tide I was a wee bit frustrated.

But sometimes persistence pays off. I moved to a different location where I’ve had some success before. I spent a few minutes sitting on a rock, savoring the calm of a cigar in the middle of a cloudy, humid night. I could hear the silverside schools working; every once in a while, they’d get agitated. But I wasn’t hearing any slashes or pops that would indicate stripers feeding. Still, they weren’t getting restless for no reason. I was standing upstream of two bait balls; my logic was that bass would be looking for strays to pick off. If I could dangle my rig near the edges of the bait balls, or even equidistant from them, perhaps my fly would get seen.

There are two ways at impact to determine that you’ve hooked a good bass. The first is sheer power of the hit. The second is sound the water makes as the bass rolls on the fly. I got both. I set the hook — never with the tip, always a sharp rearward thrust back toward my hips. Once the bass realized it was hooked, she bolted for deeper water, another positive sign that you’ve got a good ‘un (bigger bass love to sound). Because the night was damp, my old Scientific Anglers System 2’s drag wasn’t at its powerful-run-stopping best. She peeled off 75 feet of line in a jiffy. I managed to stop her run by palming the reel. From then it was a matter of cranking the reel and not letting her breathe. And before too long, I was admiring her substantial flanks and alien-creature mouth. You beautiful striper, you.

I had a rough night with the camera, so please believe me when I tell you that this shot doesn’t do her justice. 32″ and faaaat. Easily 15 pounds. I was truly impressed with her girth. She’s been eating well! The other thing to note is the silversides in the water. There weren’t any bait schools nearby — these are all random silversides, which gives you an indication of how much bait was in the water. As you’ve probably guessed by now, she ate the Lil’ Bunky.

How do you set the hook with a striper dropper rig?

Here’s a great question from Will: When you are running your gurgler/eel dropper setup, how are you setting the hook on a dropper take? Trout land tells me to set down and across the direction of the drift, but saltwater land is telling me to strip set. He’s referring to my suspension dropper rig where I’ve got a floating fly on point and two smaller flies on dropper tags.

This is a question to which there is no simple answer. My best attempt at a distilled response would be: Strip set. (Kindof.)

Here’s why it’s a little complicated. There are multiple factors to consider, such as conditions; current; the type of take (feeding frenzy slam, gentle sipping take, greased line swing inhale?); the position of the rig relative to you, etc.

When I’m fishing a suspension dropper ring, I am rarely using a stripped presentation (the closest I’m getting to stripping is something akin to a slow gathering of slack line) — so I’m not doing a traditional strip set. Instead, when I need to set the hook, I most often hold the line against the cork and thrust the rod back toward my hips, essentially mimicking a strip set. Depending on the ferocity of the take and the size of the fish, I may set the hook in this manner multiple times. I always set and reset multiple times with a large bass. Even if I am doing a static presentation like a straight dangle, I have the line in one hand and am ready to spring into action.

Sometimes the striper eats the fly, turns and swims away, thus setting the hook himself. (This is why I preach sticky sharp hooks, and checking your hook points often.) You may need to reset; wait until the fish stops moving, then point the rod at the bass, and set as outlined above.

And sometimes you feel the pressure of the fly being sucked in, or maybe a just a small tap. You should wait to feel the weight of the fish before you do any setting — otherwise you may come up with nothing. This is especially true during a greased line swing or when you’re on the dangle.

A near-slot bass taken this summer on an Orange Ruthless, part of a three-fly team. The strike came just as the presentation transitioned from swing to dangle, about 50 feet below my position in a moderate current. In this case, she was feeding with confidence and blasted the fly, setting herself. I executed a thrust set to drive the hook further home, and a couple minutes later I was taking this photo.

Time to tie up some September Nights

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but suddenly it’s fall. The shadows have started getting longer earlier. There’s an early morning nip in the air. (At least my wife tells me so — I’m still sleeping when she’s out running.) There are even a few leaves on the ground, although that can be attributed to drought as much as anything. Nonetheless, fall has begun, and for striper anglers in the northeast fall means finger mullet. The September Night pattern can be found in Ken Abrames’ classic Striper Moon. It was one of the featured patterns in my 2015 American Angler article Soft Hackles For Striped Bass.) You don’t even need long flatwing saddles to tie it — I’ve gotten away with stung hackle in a pinch. Just look for chubby, webby feathers.

Ken Abrames’ September Night

Hook: Eagle Claw 253, 1/0-3/0; Thread: white 6/0; Tail: 30 gray bucktail hairs, then two white saddle hackles tied in flat, then two strands silver Flashabou; Body: silver braid; Throat: sparse, long white bucktail tied as a 3/4 collar, both sides and bottom; Collar: white marabou, folded or doubled 3-4 turns; Wing: 30 long white bucktail hairs, then 15 purple bucktail hairs, then 2 strands blue Flashabou, then one natural black saddle hackle.

More “Surfcasting Around The Block II” news

I almost forgot — I’m be contributing another chapter to Dennis Zambrotta’s followup to “Surfcasting Around The Block.” It will be a brief chapter on what you need gear-wise to fly fish the island. Of course I’ll have my own opinions, but my goal, as always, is to help you get the most out of your fishing experience. I believe Dennis is hoping for a late fall publish date.

You can be sure I’ll mention a good pack, a shooting basket, and a floating line. And a headlamp that has a red light!

Summertime fishing, writing, guiding, and other news

Hello, all. My apologies for the lack of regular posts, but it’s summertime, and I’m working hard, playing hard. And so much to write about! Here’s what’s going on.

First, the fishing. I am in hard-core summer mode, which usually means long afternoons into nights. I know you won’t begrudge me the chance to get out and fish at the expense of writing here. I hope you’re getting out too. I’m also doing a bit of guiding. Then, there’s the yard and the garden. Speaking of which…

…we need rain! They’ve dropped the flow from the dam on the Farmington to 85cfs. The Still is currently a warm trickle. Ugh! The good news is that what’s coming out of the dam is plenty cold. I suppose we’ll have to rejoice in that.

Hot bronze, baby! Fortunately, smallmouth like warmer water.

I’m currently writing a piece for Surfcasters Journal on fishing the sand eel hatch with a floating line. It’s going to be loaded with tips on how to catch those stripers that not everyone can. Naturally, I’ll let you know when it comes out.

Last but not least, I am now officially a Scientific Anglers Pro. I’m a big fan of their Mastery Anadro line, and I’m waiting to give the Mastery Bass line a whirl. As always, I never hump products that I don’t use and love!

Fish on!

Another disappointing Block Island performance

Ugh. That seems like a fair enough description of the the state of the Block Island fishery from shore. Like last year, it was very slow, giving us two consecutive years of ugh. I was able to catch fish every night (save one) only because I was hopping around the island from mark to mark in a desperate search for stripers. The most I could manage on any night was three, sometimes only one, and this is now three consecutive years without a slot or legal bass(!?!). Sure, the boat bite has been good — Cam scored a couple junior cows off the south side on a boat trip — but since mid-June, for both pluggers and fly anglers, the shore bite has been lousy. I saw very few bass cruising the east side beaches during daylight. There were sand eels scattered here and there, but no substantial schools. And no schools of cruising bass — just an occasional lone wolf. Stay tuned for a more detailed report/photo essay.

Spotlight on you, gorgeous. This near-slot striper hammered my Big Eelie as it drifted across a sandbar on the outgoing tide. It was one of three fish on that night. Every time I thought the bite was going to pick up, it didn’t. I say again: Ugh.

Bonus Summer Striper Box: The Sight-Fishing/Flats Box

I don’t typically do a lot of flats or sight fishing on the beach for stripers in the summer. But on those rare occasions when I do, I have a small box ready to go. This is a small Orvis Day’s Worth Box (sadly no longer available). I also like this box a lot. The dimensions are roughly 4 1/4″ x 3″ x 1 1/4″. It’s not waterproof, but its clamshell snaps shut tight thanks to some strong magnets. Smooth foam on one side, and scalloped foam on the other.

In which we keep it simple: dumbbell- and bead chain-eyed crabby stuff on one side; ditto slender, sparse baitfish on the other side. Oh! And a bonus small jiggy-thingy just in case. Now we just need the right light and surf conditions…wait…I see you…

Re-Stocking The Summer Striper Box, Part Two: The Bigger Stuff

Okay. We’ve got the left side filled in with all kinds of sand eel patterns and smaller shrimp, crustaceans, and other tidbits. What goes into the right side? Much, as it turns out.

The right side of the box is a hodge-podge of patterns: a few more tiny shrimp and baitfish, some smaller bucktails and single feather flatwings, some weighted patterns just in case, a Gurgler and some already used Big Eelies if bluefish are around. Time to fill in that top row.
The top row gets the bigger stuff: squid patterns, Gurgling Sand Eels, Eel Punts, etc. I usually keep a dropper rig in my chest pack, pre-tied and ready to go, sealed in a zip-lock baggie. And there you have it. Let’s hit the surf! And the flats. And the salt ponds. And the estuaries. And the boulder fields…