The Myth of the Tapered Leader (and other striped bass nonsense)

The subject of saltwater fly fishing leaders comes up all the time on internet forums. The accompanying question is usually “which leader is best?” (Answer: There ain’t no best. Only what’s right for you.) Then, human nature being what it is, people come forward with many suggestions. They describe the leader they use, sometimes in great formulaic detail.

A client from my advertising agency days used to say that the internet is a great resource, but all it does is throw information at you. It doesn’t separate the good from the bad. I know what he means, because during these leader discussions someone invariably states that you need a tapered leader to turn your fly over.

Horse hockey.

For years now I’ve been using striped bass leaders constructed of a straight shot of 20, 25, or 30 pound test mono. (The stuff is called World Wide Sportsman Camouflage, and it’s sensational.) This is also the material I use to build my three-fly striper rig. Somehow, my flies manage to turn over. Somehow, I manage to catch fish. If, as so many internet quarterbacks maintain, a single diameter construction consistently led to the leader landing in a pile, my three fly team would be in a perpetual state of tangle.

This is not to say that tapered leaders don’t help a fly turn over. But if you’ve ever executed a pile cast with a tapered leader, you know that it’s the mechanics of the cast, not the leader, that determine if the fly turns over.

I find stripers to be a fascinating fish. But I have yet to meet one that cared if my fly turned over. Maybe you know one who does.

If so, please send him my way.

My three-fly striper rig, in case you missed it. 



The last thing I’m thinking about on a striper outing is whether or not my flies are turning over. Stripers don’t care, either.





A few odds and ends on a rainy Monday

Happy June. Although today feels more like early April. But we desperately needed this rain. Nature finds a way.

I have the cover story in the current issue of American Angler. The article is called The Little Things, and it’s about seemingly small adjustments, strategies, and practices that can have a significant impact on your fishing. When I get my copy, I’ll post some pictures and devote a post to it.

Come say hi. “Are you Steve Culton?” This has been happening more and more when I’m fishing, and I’m glad for it. People often follow it with something about not wanting to bother me, which is very polite, but unnecessary. You’re not bothering me. If we’re sharing the same water, please say hello. It’s always a treat to put faces to names.

Help me help you. I get a lot of requests like this: “Can you give me the recipe for (fly pattern name)?” I am always happy to help, but many of the flies I mention in my posts are already archived on this site. You can find them by using the currentseams search function on the right side of the page. It looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 4.28.58 PM Just type what you’re looking for in the box, then hit enter or return. If it’s on currentseams, you’ll get a list of links.

Use email or phone to contact me. Many people try to contact me through the comments section of various posts. I respond, then often never hear from them again. If you’re interested in purchasing flies or booking a guide trip, please call me or send an email. You can find that information here.

Speaking of guiding, my schedule should start to open up some in June. June and July are great times to fish the Farmington. As always, I highly recommend weekdays over weekends for a more pleasant, less crowded angling experience.

Closing in on 300 followers. That means another fly giveaway. Of course, we need to hit the magic mark first. In the meantime, this is a good time to thank you for following, thank you for reading, thank you for your positive energy, and thank you for all your kind words. I truly appreciate them.

Presentation menu for fishing clubs and events

One of the more rewarding aspects of being a part of the fishing-industrial complex is sharing experiences and information face-to-face with fellow flyfishers. I’m a national-level speaker who loves teaching, and that positive energy comes across in my highly entertaining and interactive presentations. I also do an audience Q&A session after each seminar. Some clubs like to invite their speaker out to dinner; I try to accommodate those requests whenever possible. Rates vary according to travel time and expenses. And of course, Zoom presentations are the perfect way for us to gather across the miles and time zones. To book an appearance, or for more information, please email me at swculton at, or call 860-918-0228. For references and testimonials, please see the comments section below.


WET FLIES 2.0 (Updated Winter 2021)

Wet Flies 2.0 takes a deeper dive into wet flies and wet fly fishing. Starting with the essential wet fly tackle and toolbox, Wet Flies 2.0 explores topics like matching hatches with wet flies (from caddis to mayflies to midges to stoneflies to terrestrials); searching tactics with wet flies; presentation and rigging options to match conditions and situations; fishing wet flies as nymphs or dry flies; wet flies on small streams; and much more! If your group has not yet seen Wet Flies 101, I strongly recommend you start with that introductory presentation.



As the title suggests, Wet Flies 101 is my introductory presentation on wet fly fishing. Wet flies have been taking trout for centuries — and the fish aren’t getting any smarter. More and more anglers are discovering that a wet fly is often the best way to match a hatch. Explore the wonders of the wet fly as we cover basics like wet fly types, leader construction, where to fish wet flies, and how to fish them.



The Little Things is a series of some of my most popular presentations. There are currently three The Little Things, each one different and loaded with priceless information that will up your catch rate in fresh or saltwater. This is the original seminar. They say that 10% of the anglers catch 90% of the fish. If that’s true, it’s not because those 10% are supernaturally gifted angling demigods. It’s not because they are lucky. It’s because they do a lot of little things that other anglers don’t. As a guide, I have the opportunity to observe how people fish. I see their mistakes as well as their triumphs. When I’m fishing, I am constantly making adjustments and trying new approaches. That’s what The Little Things is all about – seemingly insignificant practices that can make a big difference in your fishing.



If you liked the original, you’re going to love the sequel. We’re all looking for an edge when it comes to catching more fish. It is my firm belief that the little things are largely responsible for the fabled 10% of the anglers who catch 90% of the fish. The Little Things 2.0 builds on the theme of seemingly insignificant things you can do make your time on the water more productive. As with all seminars in this series, the lessons apply to multiple species fly fishing in fresh or saltwater.




The Little Things 3.0: In this third installment, we cover more of the seemingly insignificant things that can have a huge impact on your catch rate. This is all new material, geared for both veteran and rookie fly anglers, covering fresh and saltwater, and popular species from trout to stripers to steelhead to smallmouth and more. Pay attention to the little things, and you may become one of the 10% who catches 90% of the fish.




Anyone can catch aggressive, willing-to-chase striped bass. But what about the stripers that are holding on station, feeding on a specific bait? What about the larger bass — those that are measured in pounds instead of inches — that are not willing to chase a stripped fly? Many of the answers can be found within traditional trout and salmon tactics. Trout Fishing For Striped Bass reveals that stripers behave very much like trout. By taking a more analytic approach to striper fishing, matching flies to bait, and harnessing the power of the floating line, anglers can present flies like the naturals the stripers are feeding on — and begin to catch the striped bass that everyone can’t.



Updated in Fall 2019 with new video, photos, and content. Those who live in or near southern New England are fortunate to be close to one of the finest trout streams on the east coast. The secret is out — this is blue ribbon trout water. There’s something for everyone on the Farmington: Classic dry fly pools. Mysterious pockets for nymphing. Spirited runs for swinging wets and deep holes for drifting streamers. A classic tailwater, the Farmington fishes well year round, and offers anglers an opportunity to catch stocked as well as holdover and stream-born wild trout.



The only trout that is native to most of the eastern U.S., the brook trout — technically a char — has inspired generations of anglers with its stunning colors, aggressive nature, and often lovely habitat. The Eastern Brook Trout gives an overview of the species, its habitat and habits, and then the basics of small stream wild brookie fishing — from tackle to presentations to where to find brook trout water. Eastern brook trout populations continue to decline, and the more you know about these precious jewels, the better an environmental steward you’ll be.

To my First Fifty: Thank You

Fifty people following currentseams? That just blows my mind. When I started this site in late January, I had no idea what to expect, let alone that dozens of people (technically, there are 53 of you) would want to regularly follow my fly fishing and fly tying chronicles. And here we  are.

So, thank you. Thank you for your interest. Your readership. Your questions. And your positive energy.

I would also like to ask you a favor.

Please tell me what you like about currentseams. My goal has always been to provide you with a source of information about fly tying and fly fishing you might not see elsewhere — not to mention writing that (hopefully) doesn’t suck. What draws you to this site? What would you like to see more of?  How can I make it better?  I’d love to hear from you. You can do it publicly in the comments section or privately via an e-mail. And you don’t have to be a follower to play. Everyone is welcome.

Thanks. I really appreciate it.


8/2/13 Farmington River Report: The obesity crisis among rainbow trout

If you went fishing Friday on the Farmington, you won the weather lottery. Low humidity,  temps in the low 80s, plenty of sunshine, and not a lot of other anglers(!) on the water. I guided Matt from noon into the early evening. We had a mixed bag of success, with a fish on our first couple casts, then a long time with nuthin’. It wasn’t for lack of effort. We bounced around the river, and Matt fished his wets well from top to bottom. Very little bug activity, with water temps in the mid-60s. In the last run we fished, success! This chubby rainbow was the best of the bunch.

This is what a steady diet of cheeseburgers and fries will do to your figure.


She took a Starling and Herl on the swing. What a terrific fight in the current, complete with aerials. Matt hand-stripped her in. Well done, Matt! I helped him celebrate by smoking the Punch Punch he had offered me.

After Matt left, I fished solo for a half hour. I almost bagged it, as there were precious few bugs coming off. But a pod of fish gently sipping in the twilight talked me into it. Nothing on a size 22 Sulphur spinner. Switched over to a size 20 Pale Watery wingless wet that I fish dry and got two takers, one a brown and the other this dark matter rainbow.

I think this rainbow has been in the river a while. Besides its dramatic coloring, it did not want to come to net. Strong fish. Look at those pectoral fins. Profuse black spots, and then some.


OK, so I did have a cheeseburger on the way home. But I made up for it with oatmeal for breakfast this morning, and some interval training on the bike this afternoon.

Thanks to today’s Wet Flies 101 Class/Farmington River Report

Many thanks to John and Matt who attended today’s Wet Flies 101 class. We were blessed with outstanding weather, and the river was in terrific condition: clear, 64 degrees in the upper TMA,  and running at just under 400cfs. Although bugs were few and far between, we did find a bunch of fish that were willing to jump on. It’s exciting to witness someone landing their first trout on a wet fly. Well done, gentlemen.

A wild brookie that fell to the charms of a Light Cahill winged wet. Been catching more of these gems this year than in recent memory.


Friday, I fished the river with friend Jon from 4pm-9pm. We found trout everywhere, first on wets, then on wets and dries. Jon took an assortment of browns and an exquisitely parr-marked wild brookie. He also put on a wet fly clinic, catching two fish in a pod of rising trout in just a few minutes. I, on the other hand, chose to be tortured by trout feeding on emerging Summer Stenos (this hatch has yet to pick up any steam where I’ve been fishing). I spent over an hour stubbornly trying to catch this one fish that was holding hard up against an obstruction — not to mention the triple black diamond current seams I had to mend across. I’d say maybe one in six presentations was good. You can probably still hear the echoes of my hoot when he finally took.

I ODed on the Farmington this week, five days on the water. What a way to go.

This may look like a big honking stonefly, but it’s actually a cleverly disguised top-secret NSA drone. (Joke courtesy of Matt.)


Chunky Farmington browns on streamers

On Thursday night, the Farmington crested in the upper TMA at around 1,500cfs. By this afternoon, is was still pumping out 750. Winds were gusting to 30mph. What a great day for some streamers.

I felt like fishing something new, so this morning I went down to the bench and pulled out a size 6 streamer hook. Since I didn’t know how much the water had cleared, I went for high-visibility. On went a gold bead, seated with some heavy wire. Made a tail out of marabou and gold Krystal flash, a body of gold mylar braid, and a doubled white marabou collar as long as the fly. On top, some silver Krystal flash. Any self-respecting ambush predator should be able to see that.

Line choice was a bit of a puzzler. I hemmed and hawed, and finally decided to go with an integrated full-sink tip, not so much to get the fly down — that would certainly be welcomed in areas where the current slowed — but mostly for casting in the banshee wind, and to keep the line below the flotsam that was sure to be bobbing merrily on its way downriver.

Yowzah, it was cold. I immediately regretted leaving my fleece vest in the truck. The wind chill had to be in the 40s or 30s. Some pinhole leaks in my waders and 53 degree water certainly didn’t help. But at least I was no longer slinging mulch in my garden. Even if I was able to do that in the comfort of a t-shirt.

The river was off-color, more of a tea-stain than muddy. As I suspected, lots of leaves/branches/twigs combos in the water. There were bugs out, but their presence was mostly belied by the legions of swallows working overhead. And yes, there were trout.

I spent most of my two hours working the banks, casting and stripping in short bursts. In my first cycle through the run, I took four browns and dropped a couple more. The trout weren’t particularly big, but most of them were chunky holdovers that fought well in the current. (Sorry, no pictures. Left the camera at home. Too cold/lazy to get the iPhone out.) I had a few swipe, miss, and come back for seconds. That’s always good for a thrill.

Dropped a handful more on my second and third go-rounds, and that was it. Pretty soon it will be time for streamers under cover of the night. And if I’m lucky, I’ll be fishing in shirtsleeves.

Paul’s First Brook Trout

I had the pleasure of guiding Paul for four hours today on the Farmington River. Paul told me he wanted to concentrate on fishing streamers, so we set off for the upper TMA rigged with a beadhead black and grey bunny thingy fly. Believe it or not, before today Paul had never caught a brook trout. We took care of that in the first half hour with a kype-jawed buck.

The size of the fins on this brookie lead me to believe that he’s lived in the Farmington his entire life.


Today the trout took the fly on the dangle and on the strip. It rained on us, but we both found it relaxing and beautiful. Either way, it beats sitting at a desk. Adding a couple more notes: water was about 430cfs (that figure has gone way up with the afternoon rains), lightly stained, and temp was low/mid-fifties. Very little in the way of hatch activity: a few clunky light colored caddis and a smattering of tiny BWOs. We saw only one rise.

Lousy fishing, terrific class

Many thanks to Mark, Ron, and Ted for taking my Wet Fly 101 class yesterday. We had excellent weather and a good group of anglers who came loaded with questions. Unfortunately, we didn’t find too many cooperative trout (I found the wet fly fishing to be slow on Friday, too).  But the day will come when those bashful fish be racing to get to that soft-hackled fly, and then it will all fall into place. We learned some new water, and plenty of new fishing tactics. Thanks again, guys.

Farmington holdover browns on wet flies

Spent a few hours today doing some advance scouting for Saturday’s wet fly class. Found fish everywhere I went. Gloriously alone today, but that won’t be the case on Saturday. Water was a crisp 50 degrees, skies overcast, and a few showers here and there. We need more rain than this.

Not a lot going on bug or rising fish-wise, but I did see some light tan caddis, about a size 16, a few lonely Paralepts, and mounds of miniscule midges. I was fishing a Squirrel and Ginger as the top dropper, Leisenring’s classic Iron Blue Dun in the middle, and a black bead head grey soft-hackle nymph on point. The trout were split right down the middle, half of them on the Squirrel and Ginger, half on the point fly. They took the fly with gusto. Powerful, demonstrative hits.

A lovely Farmington River holdover brown that took the top dropper, a Squirrel and Ginger, on the dead drift.


Two trout of note. The first came where a riffle dumps into a long, deep pool. I was being lazy, mindlessly fishing wets downstream, when I looked above me and saw this pocket that I’d swung flies through a thousand times before. I made an upstream cast to it, letting the flies dead drift, when I saw a trout flash at an emerger just below the surface. Just as my brain was forming the thought, “Must cast there again,” I realized the emerger was my Squirrel and Ginger. It was a  handsome holdover brown, metallic and buttery.

A little farther upstream, there’s a sapling that hangs over the river like a drunk caught in mid-stagger. Its branches drag in the current, and the shade from its leaves clouds the already mysterious waters beneath it. It’s one of those spots where there’s always a fish. But not today. Well, not on the upstream side. Just below, whack! This brown did her finest impersonation of a steelhead, cartwheeling out of the water multiple times. I could see it wasn’t a big trout, but I almost put her on the reel. Up and down the pool she went. Foul hooked, I wondered? Nope. Just a fat, obstreperous holdover brown, about 14″,  with the Squirrel and Ginger lodged neatly in the corner of her mouth.

For a moment, I considered putting her on the reel. She had some shoulders, this one.


Now, if the trout will only cooperate Saturday.

It’s wildflower season on the Farmy. I don’t know what these are, but they’re everywhere.