Striper report 10/6/21: Daytime bliss, nighttime suffering

On Wednesday Alex took a striper lesson with me. He did a fantastic job. The point of these short (2 hours) lessons is to give students feel for how to approach multiple situations involving current — and especially for them to discover the expansive fly fishing life beyond cast-and-strip. We do it in the daytime (the better to eyeball things) and while the immediate goal isn’t to catch — that will come later — I have the highest amount of respect for those who want to invest in upping their game. Alex did a tremendous job; he has an intuitive feel for current and presentation. Now all he needs is some bass to play with.

As it turns out, so do I. I drove to Rhode Island that night to fish two different marks and, once again, I was disappointed by the paucity of striped things that swim. The first mark was one of my “guaranteed” spots. You know — a place you go to save a night when you desperately need a fish. No longer. I’ve fished it three times this year, blanked all three times, and it’s the first year in decades that I have not caught a bass there. Fooey. Not to be outdone, the second mark had plenty of bait, and not a single striper. So I casted, mended, and tried to pretend that maybe a bass would show up. Instead, I stayed out way too late. I won’t be going back this year (he said bitterly).

Alex really nailed the greased line swing. What a lovely day to be out fishing.

Fish Untamed Podcast Ep 55: “Trout Fishing for Stripers with Steve Culton”

Fish Untamed is website that’s run by Katie. She is self-described as “obsessed with chasing fish” — so right away, we like her! Katie also does podcasts, and yours truly is the subject of her current offering. Or, more specifically, the broad concepts of what I call “trout fishing for stripers.” We talk about that and lots of other things. But enough rambling; you want to listen. Here’s Fish Untamed Podcast Episode 55: Trout Fishing For Stripers With Steve Culton.

A floating line, a striped bass, and a very happy angler.

Block Island Report, photo edition

Twelve stripers to hand, and not a single picture of any of them? It’s true. We’ve all seen enough cookie-cutter bass photos; the one striper that was photo-worthy escaped into the waves; and several of them were landed in very fish-photo-unfriendly conditions. So, you have to settle for this (slightly) humorous photo essay of my week on the Block. Oh! You may also learn something…

It helps to have a 4WD vehicle on Block. Some of the better fishing can be found along the dirtier of its many dirt roads.
Here’s a little lesson in scouting a new mark. This is a section of beach on the south side. I planned to fish it at high tide, so I first visited it at dead low. This gives me an opportunity to see what and where the structure is that will be covered by water. (Of course, I also visited it in daylight at the corresponding tide I’d be fishing). Also, note the tremendous drop-off between where I’m standing and the rock pile-of-a-beach lip at the left. Where I’m standing will be filled at flood, creating a trough through which stripers can cruise for bait. It also tells me two more critical pieces of information. First, I won’t have to cast far to reach viable water. And two, under no circumstances do I want to get too close to the edge, or wade into this trough. Sadly, the surf was too big for the fly rod when I actually fished it, but I believe this mark will produce bass for me in the future.
Fine, but I just caught a bass after four hours of banging all over this island, and now I’m going home to have a late night beer.
Elsa’s remnants produced some impressive surf. To give you some perspective, those waves are hundreds of feet away and well overhead high. In my experience, an approaching tropical storm/hurricane on Block can turn the bass on big time the night before (nope, didn’t happen this time) and then completly mess up the fishing the next night (yep, that did happen). To be fair, the fishing stunk all week, so it made little difference.
Electrical storms were an almost constant threat that week. Here I am keeping my eye on a system that was moving over the mainland. I’m also celebrating my only bass of the night, which is always a cigar-worthy occasion.
“Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.” I remember these retro-cans from the 70s. To Block Island: you’re a truly special place to fish.

Striper lessons

I took Don out for a striper lesson this week. Rather than give you a “Dear Diary” account, I thought I would tell you about some of the striper lessons we covered.

Cast and strip is ultimately limiting. You will catch the aggressive, willing-to-chase fish with that approach. But eventually you will encounter bass that are holding on station, feeding on a particular bait, and cast-and-strip will fail you. Learn the art of presentation. Dead drifts, greased line swings, dangles and mends — all of these will serve you well when the going gets tough. If you want to learn presentation, and you value line control, you need a floating line. Period. Find the line taper and grain weight that’s best suited to your rod, how you cast, and how you want to fish. Hint: it isn’t necessarily what’s printed on the blank. You don’t need to cast far to catch stripers. I taught Don what I call the “zero foot cast,” and by using the current, you can delivery your fly to fish over 100 feet away. When the fish are on something small, droppers are your best friend. Multiple baits mean multiple catching opportunities. And as always, droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want. If you want to catch more stripers, learn how to read water. Just like you do with trout. And last but not least, alway scope out a new mark in daylight so you can see what’s going on.

Don, shown working on his greased line swings and dangles, is a keen student of fly fishing. All he needs now is some cooperative stripers!

Striper mini-report 5/5/21: Last night, while you were sleeping…

…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.

In between casts, I found my mind wandering toward Block Island: plans and schemes and hopes and dreams. I could use a striper rainbow right about now.

Striper mini-report 4/24/21: Slow she goes

Toby Lasinski and I spent a few hours Saturday night banging around the shores of LIS looking for stripers. It was a slow night, with only one fish to hand, silvery sub-slot bass that nailed Toby’s surface swimmer. Not a touch for me, fishing a Rock Island flatwing/bucktail, and then a deer hair head whatchamacallit. There’s not much for me to tell, other than I saw some new water and got in some casting practice. (OK, the company and the cigar were pretty swell, so that counts for something.) Every day is different, and at some point this slowness will surely change. At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

It felt good to taste saltwater on my fingertips. After a briny session like this, everything — rod, reel, flies — gets a good rinsing with tap water, then an air drying. Some of the water we fished reminded me of the Cape and Block Island, and I’m looking forward to fishing those places again.

Three things striper fly tyers (and anglers) could learn from Gary LaFontaine

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.

I get this all the time: “That doesn’t look like a squid.” But Ken AbramesMutable Squid isn’t designed to “look like a squid.” It’s designed to create the illusion of life. I don’t know what stripers think it is, but they’ve eaten this fly enough times for me to know that they think it’s something good to eat.

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.

Reminder: ASMFC Striped Bass Amendment 7 PID comments due Friday, April 9

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.

Words flowing through the writing pipeline

Busy-busy-busy is the word around currentseams headquarters these days. I’m pleased to announce that I have a couple projects in the works for Field & Stream. Both are striped bass related. The first is how to make a best fishing days striper calendar; the second on lessons that striper fly anglers can glean from surfcasters. I’ll let you know when they come out and how you can read them. But since I have not yet taken fingers to keyboard, off I go to my lonely writer’s garret…

I’ll be tethered to my laptop for the next several hours.

The Return of the Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom! “Lessons of 2020” Jan 5, 8pm.

I’m excited to announce the first Currentseams Tuesday Night Zoom of 2021: tomorrow, January 5, 8pm. This is a free event. I want to talk about some of the lessons I learned and re-learned last year, and how you can use that information to catch more fish. I’ve got some cool video to share, so you don’t want to miss this one. Feel free to share with your friends or on social media. See you Tuesday night!

If you’re already on my Zoom email list from last year, you know the drill. I’ll send out the Zoom link tomorrow. If you’re new to currentseams and want to get on the Zoom email list, please send me a request at swculton@yahoo.com.