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’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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another short and sweet (or bitter, depending on your POV) striper report: fished the mouth of the Housatonic today for two hours. We had a good tide, overcast skies, and a falling barometer, three elements that should have made for a terrific outing. Unfortunately, Mother Nature forgot to CC the bass on the memo. Not a touch for me, both deep and on the surface. In fact, I saw only three three teens-inch bass caught in two hours among ten or so anglers, and it was all two guys fishing one small pocket. Deciding that you cannot catch what isn’t there, and having had enough two-handed casting practice, I skedaddled just before low tide.
Not from today. In fact, it was as warm a November day as I can remember down there. The most excitement I had was when a bird went fishing for my fly. I was relieved that the pull produced no hookup.
I fished three marks in SoCo last night, and while the striper action was slow, the bait story was consistent: smallish to tiny, and lots of it. Confirmed sightings: silversides, anchovies, peanut bunker, and I may have seen a stray finger mullet.
My night began in the surf, but the meatball factor (bright headlamps used early and often) and a lack of action had me moving to Spot B, an estuary with a moving tide. Lots of bait, too few marauders.
I finished the evening at Spot C, some skinny water on flat, just as the tide began to flow out. Lots of worried bait in this location, and it’s a perfect place to fish a team of three. I had 2″ long Ray’s fly on top dropper, a Magog Smelt bucktail in the middle, and a micro Gurgler on point to do double duty as a suspender and waking fly. I was disappointed with the number of assembled diners, but it is what it is and you do your best. Two fish to hand in 45 minutes and I was satisfied, abetted in no small amount by a Rocky Patel Vintage 1990 corona and a come-from-behind Mets victory.
In case you haven’t seen it, here’s a quick refresher.
Those of us who grew up with off-the-boat Scots grandparents know the song “Wee Deoch an Doris” well. For the uninitiated, as you have not heard it, I shall proceed to translate and offer context. The song is about having one more drink before you head home. “If you can say it’s a braw bricht moonlicht nicht” (if you can say it’s a good bright moonlit night), then you’re a’ richt, ye ken (not nearly as intoxicated as you may think). So, have another.
That also made me think of Chip Diller getting his paddling in the Omega initiation scene from Animal House. I might as well have been saying “Thank you sir, may I have another,” to the moon this past week, because when it was out and braw and bricht I took a right spanking.
To misquote Starbuck, moonlight feels wrong. I lost the moon lottery big time — quarter going into full is by far my least favorite time to fish for stripers at night.
I won’t bore you with the minutia, but here’s the story in numbers: Seven nights. Three skunks, including two in a row. The last time I took such a beating was 2012 or 2013. For context, I had one skunk in my last 15 Block outings over the past two years. I ran into an angler — I’ll call him “J” — whose response to me telling him that I hated fishing under the full moon was, and I quote, “you’re crazy.” Now, I appreciate J’s enthusiasm and confidence. And I desperately wanted to be proven wrong. But the fact is, whether flat or surf or dredging deep bottom, I scored a big, fat zero — not even a courtesy tap — on every night the moon was out.
To continue the kvetching, size — or lack of it — continued to be an issue. Used to be that I could count on Block to produce a high percentage of legal fish. Heck, in 2018, a third of the bass I landed were over 28″. This year, not a one. OK, so there were no micros in the mix, and a 24″ Block bass battles like a 30″er from the Hous…but the continued lack of bigger striped bass from the shore is disturbing, although not surprising.
Was it all misery? Heck, no! I had four fun-filled nights, three with double-digit numbers. I played around with my fishing schedule and was able to beat the moonlight — even this old dog can adjust. One night the weather gods appointed a magnificent cloud bank to shroud the Island. The stripers said yes. And I got in some seriously wonderful trout fishing for stripers.
I’ll tell you more about it soon.
This just arrived in the mail and it seems like an artifact from another age. While I’m proud to say that I’m a three-time member (all on the fly while wading, which makes it even more of a challenge) it didn’t happen last year and I don’t see it going down this year, either. Of course, I’m quite willing to be proven wrong.
In case you’re unfamiliar, Stripers Forever is an organization whose mission is to make the striped bass a gamefish. The “Release A Breeder Club” was started years ago to encourage anglers to release stripers over 36″. In today’s climate, that’s a no-brainer. Plus, you get a spiffy certificate to display your worthiness. Keep the fight short, keep ’em wet, let them do their job to repopulate the East coast!
Tucked away in the back pages of Ken Abrames’ masterwork A Perfect Fish are three squid patterns you should have in your box: the R.L.S Indigo Squid, the R.L.S. Orange and Blue Squidazzle, and today’s tying feature, the R.L.S. Mutable Squid. Don’t be mislead by the fact that these patterns didn’t make the main squid chapter of the book; Ken thinks highly of them, particularly the Orange and Blue Squidazzle. Perhaps the under-rated gem of the bunch is the Mutable Squid.
If you do know diddley-squid, you know they can change their colors in an instant, so the name is apropos. I only fished this fly once, and it produced — stripers love squid — so I figured it was time to have another in my box. And here it is, hot off the vise, for your viewing and tying pleasure.
R.L.S. Mutable Squid
Tying Notes: Construction should be intuitive. I used 6/0 thread and a 3/0 hook. I chose hair from the lower part of the bucktail for the collar and wing to get a bit of flaring action (the fly has not yet been shaped). The flash is 1″ longer than the saddles, giving this tie a total length of 8 1/2″.
You never know what you’re going to get on a Block Island All-Nighter. My tenth reminded me that I’m not young anymore. The spirit is willing, but after nine straight hours and no sleep, the body protests. The last time I did this was 2015 — I had to look it up — but the conditions were perfect in terms of tide (high at dusk), moon (new) and weather (consistent SW flow), so going was almost an imperative on principle alone. Besides, I’d have company, old pal Peter Jenkins, owner of The Saltwater Edge. So off we went aboard the 7pm ferry.
Logistics were a challenge. Be advised that fewer ferries are running and passenger numbers are limited. We couldn’t get a car reservation, and taxi service on the Island was deemed spotty due to the current situation. That meant renting a Jeep, which worked out just right. Here’s Jenks doing some leader prep as we sail past Crescent Beach. I like a simple 7’6″ straight shot of 25# or 30# mono. Block bass are not leader shy.
Angler traffic was light throughout night, as a few hardy souls came and went. The bass traffic was similar: not here. Then here. Then gone. No large schools or consistent feeding. But the fish that showed came to eat. I had the early hot hand with a half dozen bass by midnight. Then Jenks caught fire. No keepers in the mix — I had bass in the 20″-24″ range with a couple 26″ers thrown in. What the fish lacked in size was made up for in pugnacity. Here’s a scrapper from early on.
I’m often asked, “How do you figure out what the bait is?” I suppose by now I qualify as a old salt, and old salts know that this time of year on Block it’s sand eels, sand eels, sand eels. You can feel then plinking and ploinking against your waders if you shuffle your feet. And sometimes the answer can be found in a photograph (look along the lateral line).
The Big Eelie is a high-confidence pattern for me on Block. I fish it on a floating line on a dead drift, or with very short (6″) erratic, drunken strips. It doesn’t matter what color I choose (and I fish everything from dark to lighter fluorescents to dull hues) — it’s a profile and action pattern. And, as you can see, the bass love it. This used to be a beautiful Crazy Menhaden Big Eelie. Now it’s missing two saddles and most of the marabou collar. I was still catching on it when I switched it out at false dawn for a…wait for it…Big Eelie in RLS False Dawn colors.
We did some surf fishing on the west side after midnight and again at sunrise. Conditions were about as good as you could hope for: a moving tide, moderate surf, and best of all, no weeds. Fish were present both times: stripers in the dark, and bass, bluefish, and shad in daylight. Here’s one that went bump in the night.
There comes a point in the wee hours — for me, it’s usually around 2:30-3:00am — where the gas tank nears empty and the boilers almost out of steam. That’s when I take five (literally). It may seem counterintuitive to introduce a central nervous system depressant into the equation, but after closing my eyes I poured a wee drap of Highland whisky (Old Pulteney Navigator, which seemed highly apropos). I re-slogged out to the beach just before false dawn, and wouldn’t you know? I had hits on my first four casts. Never underestimate the mojo of single malt and a cigar!
7:00am. Breakfast at Ernie’s. Hungryman Special: two eggs, two pancakes, bacon, and toast. (Thank you, Jenks, for being such a swell fishing partner.) It feels amazing to have your first real meal in 12 hours. That hard wood bench on the ferry is going to feel even more amazing. I was lights out before we left the harbor. I don’t remember if I had any dreams, but right now I’m drifting off to a place where that sharp tug tells you the bass has committed to your fly and the ensuing battle is a bulldogging fight that only a Block Island striper can produce.
Ken Abrames taught me how to fly fish for stripers. (He taught me a lot more than that, but those are stories for another day.) He would tell you that it all came from within me, but clearly the striper angler I am today was formed by Ken’s hand. That stuff I post about striper fishing with five weight rods and three-fly teams and flies that are not much more than a few strands of bucktail and the hint of a suggestion of what the bait might look like? That’s all Ken’s influence. He recently wrote something on his website (stripermoon.com) that I liked so much, I wanted to share it with you. Even if you don’t fish for stripers, there are many pearls within. So, enough from me. Here it is:
“The tiny crabs are coming down the rivers
One-eighth to three-sixteenths across
They are translucent gold
And Fish eat them one at a time
no matter what you may have heard, they do not take them in mouthfulls
even though our reason says they must.
They are not burdened by reason as we are.
Size sixteen hooks and tiny goldish flies work
Isopods, tiny crustaceans that look like fresh water shrimp are swarming on the rock bars in the open ocean
The bass gorge on them
again, about a half- to three-quarters of an inch long
Dont be afraid of trout tackle.
Heavy leaders wont go throuugh the eyes of the trout hooks.
There is a major clam worm hatch going on in the open ocean too
These worms are of several kinds
One is yellow another is red
and another is red and yellow
They are thin from three quarter to two inches long and move like speed boats
and the squid and the bass are feeding on them.
So now you know
There are other ways to fish in the ocean than with standard gear…
it is always good to think outside of the box that marketing presents.
It doesn’t ever know how to lead
and when it leads it likes to control opinion
that is business
but it is not fishing.
Fish do not read magazines or blogs.
Fishing is discovery not formula.”
Thirty-pounder on the fly. All because someone took the time to teach me how present a flatwing on a greased line swing.
We dip into the obscure 80s movie vault for that opening. But if you remember the first segment of Creepshow, you know from whence I quote. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. The first day of summer comes riding in on a white charger to banish the memories of the miserable spring that was striper fishing from the shore in Connecticut.
This was my first-ever solo BIAN (Block Island All-Nighter, for the uninitiated). A couple last-minute cancellations saw to that, and I couldn’t take Cam this year because he’s recuperating from an injury. You never know what you’re going to get on the BIAN. But there’s only one way to find out.
Getting ready. Big Eelies are a high-confidence pattern for me on the Block in June and July. The bass don’t have a color preference — it’s a profile and presentation fly — so I like to play around with different palettes. Crazy Menhaden colors on the paper, False Dawn on the cork. The entire top row left of the box is assorted other Big Eelies.
I was sitting in my Jeep in the ferry lot. It was tropical for a June in Point Judith, so I had the door open. A squadron of passing gulls (if you’ll pardon the expression) evacuated their bowels over my position; most of it ended up on the truck, but a good tablespoonful got me square on the left leg. I took this as a sign. Yep. It was going to be a good night’s fishing.
Over the course of the night, I bounced around to several spots and found sand eels and stripers everywhere. I started fishing at 8:30; by midnight I had caught more bass than I had the entire spring in Connecticut. Plus, it was Father’s Day. That called for a celebration. A wee drap of Highland Park 12 year-old paired with a Gispert Churchill. (Sold separately.)
My first encounter of the night was with bluefish — it did not end favorably for my leader or my fly. After that, it was bass after bass after bass. The vast majority were scrappy pugs in the 20-24″ class, but there were a few keepers in the mix. It took me until June 22 this year (my longest stretch since I started fishing for stripers) to catch a legal fish. He she is, about to dash off to freedom. Note the curious observer to the right of her gill plate.
My best fish of the night, twenty pounds, just shy of 37″. She surprised me when I started hand stripping her in. The next thing I knew, line was hurtling through my fingertips and noisily chattering off the reel. The power of these larger bass is almost irrational, although they have a distinctive flight pattern: head for deeper water, and, failing at that, swim at attack speed in a broad half-moon arc. I’m trying to be as photo-friendly as I can with fish these days, and that translates to keeping them in the water as much as possible, even if it means not getting a classic hero shot. I encourage you to do the same.
Stripers often feed like like trout taking emergers or sipping spinners. I witnessed both rise forms. Here’s the back end of a spinner sip. Look in the foreground for worried water and a caddis-like leap by a sand eel. That spot erupted moments after I took this photo.
The beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad. But I did not have another for dessert. That was reserved for Ernie’s. Scrambled eggs, bacon, pancakes and toast, my first real food since those sublime fried scallops at Finn’s twelve hours earlier.
You know the fishing is good when your fly ends up like this. In it’s heyday it was an L&L Big Eelie. Now it’s a testament to the potential of primal carnage and a top-ten-ever night of fly fishing for striped bass.
BIAN IX is awarded the official Currentseams seal of approval.