The Law of the Instrument and the Intermediate Line

I recently came across a reference to the Law of the Instrument, and it reminded me of fly fishing with an intermediate line in surf and current — especially since I recently used an intermediate line for two days on Cape Cod.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Law of the Instrument, it’s basically this: If all you have is a hammer, you see everything as a nail.

And why, you may ask, was I fishing with an intermediate line? It was the ideal taper and grain weight for my new two-hander. For test drive casting, it was aces. For fishing, it reminded me why I never choose an intermediate line for current or surf. (For more on this, read Mainly Misunderstood: Five Myths and Realities About Using Floating Lines for Striped Bass.

“The fundamental thing about fly fishing is presentation. It means that you control what’s going on, so that you can bring your fly to the fish. You’re in control. Not the line. Not the accident.” What Ken is saying is simple: use the right tool for the job.

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Perhaps the Law of the Instrument explains so many of the misconceptions about intermediate lines: they are less affected by surf, they are good for presenting deep, they are versatile. (D: none of the above.)

Expand your toolbox with a floating line — and you’ll begin to notice all the screws and nuts and bolts around you.

Fly Fishing for Striped Bass: Meditations, Musings, and Observations

I don’t know about you, but when I’m out fishing I tend to get lost in my thoughts. Some of those thoughts involve the standard issue routine of life. Others, a problem that is currently in want of a solution. Most often, though, I’m thinking about fishing. I’m also doing a lot of observing — conditions, other anglers, how fish are feeding, what the bait is doing. You know. The truly important stuff. Recently, I was fortunate enough to spend eight glorious nights fly fishing for stripers. Here are thirty-six hours and nearly a hundred stripers’ worth of thoughts and observations wrapped up into six hundred words.

~ Stripers often feed like trout. Consequently, you should be prepared to fish for them like trout. Match the hatch (bait). Present your fly (or flies) to the bass in the manner the natural bait is behaving. Target specific rising fish.

~ If you use stealth and caution, you can get remarkably close to actively feeding stripers, especially at night. I have waded to within two rod-lengths of a striper that was rising in three feet of water, and caught him by dapping my sand eel fly in the film.

I love sight fishing on rocky flats at night. After I crept up on his position, I watched this bass feed for several minutes before making a cast. Taken on a chartreuse and olive Eelie.

Block Island Bass

~ Stripers will frequently chase and hit a rapidly stripped fly. The more you fish for stripers, though, the more situations you will encounter where they will ignore a rapidly stripped fly. If you want to catch those fish, you’ll need to have other presentation arrows in your quiver.

One of my favorite ways to catch stripers is by dead drifting a three-fly team. The point fly (in this case a Gurgler) and the floating line stay on the surface; the two droppers are suspended just below. I use this approach when there’s a lot of bait in the water, especially small bait like clam worms or grass shrimp or sand eels. The takes are sublime. Rather than a bull rush smack, the sensation is one of building pressure as the bass, feeding with confidence, sucks the fly into its mouth. The explosion comes moments later at hook set. It is a poetic and beautiful and — when bass are feeding near the surface — highly effective way to catch striped bass.

Sand eel dropper rig

~ A floating line allows you to present deep (and deep in current), on the surface, and all points in between, without having to change lines or tips or flies. You can mend a floating line over the tops of waves along the beach.

~ The notion that a weighted fly is all you need to fish for stripers is like saying that a Woolly Bugger is all you need to fish for trout.

~ Sticky sharp hooks. Always.

~ If stripers are crashing 2”-3” sand eels on the surface, do not be surprised if they ignore a 6” Black Bomber or dumbbell-eyed sand eel fly.

~ Striper fishing spots can be notoriously fickle. The moon changes, the weather changes, winds shift, tides move, bait moves, stripers move. If you’re not getting any action, go find the fish. Make note of the most favorable conditions for a given spot.

~ A fine, hand-rolled Dominican cigar is an effective (not to mention, delicious) way to keep the no-seeums away. Certain botanical sprays, not so much.

~If you want to catch more stripers, fish when other people don’t, fish where other people don’t, and, most importantly, fish how other people don’t.

Pay attention to the little things, and the results can often be measured in pounds.

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The untriumphant return of the five weight.

I don’t think I used the five weight once last spring. Must remedy that. I knew I’d be unable to sleep after my hockey game, so at 10pm I ventured forth into the sultry darkness with a new Rio Outbound 9 weight floating line on the reel and a Crazy Menhaden flatwing to tempt Miss Piggy. I tend to want to get my money’s worth from a line, so I had forgotten how good a new one feels in the hand. The five weight did not disappoint, and conditions were perfect for casting and mending a large fly in the current. Sadly, no bass, no bait. The Meatballs were out in force, though, proudly displaying their coordinates to the world (and perhaps some low flying aircraft) with their headlamps. I must confess to having a smug sense of satisfaction when they left fishless. As did I after two hours of fighting the good fight.