A couple of years ago, I made the suggestion that given the current condition of striper stocks — stressed — and that their future depends greatly on smaller fish getting to be larger — breeder size — might it not benefit everyone if we didn’t try to catch a bajillion small stripers?
Once again, I’m revisiting that energy. Ask yourself this question: Do I really need to catch dozens and dozens of school bass at the mouth of the Hous (or wherever you go this time of year where striped bass congregate)?
I invite you to join me in observing this new, off-the-books reg: When it becomes apparent that it’s a small bass on just about every cast, reel up and stop fishing.
Catching another dozen dinks won’t make you a hero. But walking away will.
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).
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.
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…
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.
…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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…