Striper report: Nine down. Three to go.

Last night’s mission was September bass. Success! But I had to work for it, which made it even sweeter. Got to the spot in plenty of time for the turn of the tide. The water was loaded with worried bait (silversides, peanuts, and even a few rogue mullet) but not a corresponding number of predators. I could hear an occasional frantic bait shower and a pop here and there, but where was that telltale tug? There. Fish on. Then: fish off. Despair. I kept at it, but nothing.

With rain and wind forecast for Monday, I made up my mind that I was staying out until I secured my prize. Off to Spot B which was dead as Julius Caesar. On my way to Spot C I passed Spot A and thought, wouldn’t it be funny if I made a couple casts and caught a bass? What a fine tale that would make. First cast, mend, nibble-nibble. Second, bump! I could tell what was going on: school bass were making hit-and-run passes through the bait balls. It was either a hair trigger hook set or wait for the weight of the fish. No right answer, only the one that works. I went with option B. And on my third cast, I caught a striper on the fly from the shore for nine consecutive months.

School bass like this that are feeding on bait balls can be devilishly hard to catch. Persistence, passive presentation, and a team of three flies are your ally.

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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. 

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~

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.

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How To Tie And Fish Dropper Rigs For Stripers

“How to Tie and Fish Dropper Rigs for Stripers” first appeared in a 2010 issue of Mid Atlantic Fly Fishing Guide

Not every day is April on the lower Housatonic when the stripers are ready to pounce on your fly with reckless abandon. No, this was an August evening in Rhode Island, and while the bass were open for business, hookups were few and far between.

I was fishing a spot where a rocky bar merged with a shallow sand flat before dropping off into a deep channel. Pop! Tock! Every few minutes, I could hear the distinctive tells of feeding fish, all within casting range. The water was loaded with dense schools of silversides. Peanut bunker were in the mix, and I had even seen clamworms earlier in the week. But what were the stripers feeding on tonight? Within a few minutes, I would have my answer. I cast my dropper rig into a surface seam, and started mending for a greased line swing.

As the flies swam across the current, the water exploded. I set the hook, and soon a fine striped bass was in my hands. With the dropper rig, he had three fly choices: a clamworm, a small bucktail menhaden, and a Ray’s Fly. He chose the menhaden. A few casts later, bap! Another striper on the menhaden. Satisfied, I clipped the other flies off the leader. Once again, droppers had proven to be the fastest way to find out what the fish wanted.

Dropper rigs take a little more effort than store-bought tapered leaders, but they’re easy to tie and the rewards can be great. A dropper rig is a terrific searching tool, giving the bass multiple targets, and letting you present at different depths on a single drift. I’ve always been the curious sort, and I like the surprise a dropper rig provides when I discover which fly fooled the fish. And, as an angler who embraces traditional methods, the dropper rig has proven itself — you’ve heard of a brace of wet flies — over the course of hundreds of years.

The original article had an illustration of a three fly team by Ken Abrames;  I’m replacing it with a detailed rigging diagram. It’s a simple leader — you’re basically making a triple surgeon’s loop and then tying two triple surgeon’s knots.

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Here’s a pdf: Striper Dropper Rig

A basic dropper rig is about seven to eight feet long, with two dropper flies and one fly on point. The flies are spaced 18 to 24 inches apart, and the dropper flies are tied on tags that extend a few inches out from the leader. I use 20, 25, or 30 pound mono to build my dropper rigs. Start with a length of mono a little over four feet long. Tie a loop about the circumference of a baseball at one end; this will be the butt of the leader. I use a triple surgeon’s knot, but you can use the knot of your choice. Always wet the mono before you tighten your knots, and remember the wisdom that no knot is worthy of your trust. I test every knot I make before I fish any leader system.

Next, take a three-foot section of mono and attach it to the butt section with a triple surgeon’s or double uni-knot. The tag of the butt section will form the first dropper, so be sure to leave plenty of material (about 8”) for it. Snug that knot up good and tight, then repeat the process to form the second dropper. You should now have a length of mono with two tags, spaced about two feet apart, extending toward the point fly end of the leader. All you need to do now is tie on some flies. I like them between four and six inches away from the leader.

What flies? Think different: Different sizes. Different colors. Different species. Give the fish a choice. They will tell you when you’ve made the right one. In my experience, this rig fishes and casts best with the largest fly in the point position. Don’t be afraid of fouling or tangles. You can cut down on their incidence by slowing down your casting stroke, and making sure the line straightens out on your back cast before making the forward stroke.

Here are a few simple guidelines to help you decide if a dropper rig is a good idea. Use one when:
• You’re searching for fish.
• There are multiple baits in the water and you’re not sure what the stripers are feeding on.
• There is an abundance of small bait in the water, i.e. anchovies, grass shrimp, clam worms, sand eels.

A dropper rig might not be the best choice if:
• There are bigger fish about (landing multiple large fish on a single leader can be a dicey proposition).
• You’re having difficulty casting into a strong wind (use a shorter leader and a single fly).
• You start consistently hooking doubles or triples.

Droppers aren’t a magic bullet solution. But if you want to catch more fish, they are an excellent arrow to have in your quiver.

Striper Report: A little grass shrimp goes a long way

And then there was Plan B. Fished an estuary over the past two nights with mixed results. The first night I missed the tide and most of the fish, although I did get a courtesy tap. There were grass shrimp and a surprising number of small (inch, inch-and-a-half?) clam worms milling about. How nice to see some actual bait and receive the suggestion that there might be something about with stripes other than the skunk.

Last night I was able to negotiate a more favorable tide window. No worms, but a few more shrimp, some silversides, and — what was that? That old familiar pock! echoing across the water. The rise ring was easy to see, and although it took several drifts and dangles over his position, I saw the take and heard the splash before I felt the tug. Lost the next one to a lousy trout hook set, and then all was quiet.

I reconnoitered upstream and sat in the dark, listening for mischief. There it was, though well out of casting range. Then more mischief from the opposite direction. I scrambled into position, but by the time I got set the fish had departed for parts unknown. I gave it another half hour, then decided that I did not want to test the will of the mosquitoes over my fading vitola.

Yeah mon, I caught a striped bass on a bonefish fly. A Crazy Charlie (tan, not the pink you see here) was the middle dropper above an Orange Ruthless clam worm and below a deer hair grass shrimp.

Pink Crazy Charlie

My three fly team looked like this one from last year.

StriperShrimpDropperRig