Ken Abrames’ Eelie: the sand eel pattern where thin is in

Many of you know that Ken Abrames’ Big Eelie is my favorite sand eel fly. I use it primarily when the bait is at least 3″ long, or when I’m fishing an open beach or need a sand eel searching pattern. Oh, did I mention that it’s my favorite fly for Block Island? But smaller bait requires a smaller fly. Enter Ken’s Eelie, little brother to the Big one. The Eelie is basically a Big Eelie minus a saddle and the soft hackle. I rarely tie the Eelie longer than 4″; 3″ seems just about right. I love this fly as part of a three fly team; that’s how I most often fish it. Like the Big Eelie, the Eelie lends itself to all manner of color variations (try white, chartreuse, and olive, with a chartreuse body).

The Eelie is an exercise in sparse construction (some bucktail and a few hackles), simplicity (it’s a fast, easy tie), and impressionism (no eyes). The key to the Eelie is its thinness. I’ll quote Ken from Striper Moon: “The secret of tying effective sand eel flies is how thin you make them. Sometimes, an eighth of an inch thick is too heavily dressed.” You’ve been so advised by the master himself.

Ken Abrames’ Eelie. Hook: Eagle Claw 254 sz 2-1/0. Tail: White bucktail, then a white saddle, then pearl flashabou, then a yellow saddle, then an olive saddle. Body: Pearl mylar tubing. Wing: None

Tying notes: Ken’s original recipe is listed above. I make a few changes when I tie the Eelie. For years, I’ve been using the Eagle Claw 253 1/0 and some smaller hooks from brands like Gamakatsu; the key is to find hooks that are short shank, wide gap, light and strong. I match thread color to body color (here I used UNI 6/0 white). Instead of tubing, I use pearl braid for the body. Follow Ken’s instructions for thinness, and you’ll make the bass — and yourself — very happy.

For sand eel flies like the Eelie, thin is always in.

Steve Culton’s Grass Shrimp Solution featured in On The Water’s “Guide Flies”

Another year, another appearance in On The Water magazine‘s “Guide Flies” column, written by Tony Lolli. You’re familiar with he concept of a guide fly — a pattern that is typically simple to tie and is a consistent producer. I’d like to introduce the Grass Shrimp Solution as Exhibit A: some bucktail, a few wraps of braid, palmered wet fly hackle, and then you’re fishing. You can see the wet fly influence in its construction. I like this pattern at night when the grass shrimp are forming mating swarms, and are being carried out of an estuary on current. Make it part of your three fly team, and hang on! This pattern was originally published in the old American Angler magazine, Nov/Dec 2015, “Soft Hackles For Striped Bass.”

Here’s a pdf of the article:

Striper Report: All you can eat (grass shrimp)!

Last week, while you were asleep — certainly some of you were, as the tide widows crept into the wee hours — I was banging around several marshes and estuaries looking for stripers feeding on grass shrimp. I found substantial numberqs of grass shrimp in every mark I visited, and varying numbers of bass. Grass shrimp are present year round, but they spawn when the water warms, and it’s getting to be that time of year. You can find grass shrimp swimming around if you shine your light in the shallows, but they mostly prefer to skulk along the bottom. They’re translucent creatures, so they’re not as easy to see as, say, a green crab. Their eyes reflect your headlamp beam, so that’s an easy way to spot them.

I see your beady little eyes. These guys are in less than six inches of water.

I almost always fish the grass shrimp swarm with a team of three. The patterns vary, and sometimes I’ll throw a clam worm like the Orange Ruthless into the mix, but last week I fished a deer-hair head on top dropper, a black General Practitioner on middle dropper, and Micro Gurgling Shrimp on point. I took fish on all three flies, although I was intrigued that I only caught bass on the black GP on the one night when I had bright moonlight. (The lessons are never-ending.) The fish weren’t very large — 20″ was the best I could manage — but I could tell from some of the feeding pops that there were bigger bass around.

My most recent three-fly grass shrimp team. L-R: Black GP, Caddis Shrimp, Micro Gurgling Shrimp. This gives you a good idea of the size of the naturals, which are the size of these flies or smaller. Note that none of these flies attempt to be a carbon-copy of the actual bait. They’re simply designed to match size and profile, to look alive, and create a favorable impression on the stripers. Ultra-realistic flies are to be admired for their craftsmanship, but not necessarily for their fish-catching ability.

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 Reports: a little shrimping, a little herringing, tonight’s Zoom

“Herringing” may not be a word (or even the formal name of your German neighbor), but that’s what I was doing last night while you were sleeping. But let’s back up a day, to the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning.

A-shrimping I did go. I didn’t like the cold air or the east wind, but we’re getting near the May new moon, which is, if you keep track of this sort of thing, primo grass shrimp time in these parts. I fished two marks. The shrimp mating swarm tally at both was disappointing — I’d give it a 3 out of 10 — and the striper action was correspondingly below par. Nonetheless, I fished and hooked up and had a blast. There’s something about the “ploink!” and “squsplish” noises the feeders make that makes me cackle.

Sunday’s rig was Micro Shrimp Gurgler on top, Caddis Shrimp middle dropper, and RLS Black General Practitioner on point. I liked that my first grass shrimp bass of the year came on the GP. So much for the importance of casting distance — the take came about 20 feet away. When stripers are focused on feeding, you can often wade comically close to their position if you’re careful about it. What a hoot to be catching stripers on size 6 and 8 hooks!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

Last night’s outing was a fine way to spend the evening, if you place a premium practicing your Perry Poke and short backcast two-hand overhead volley — not to mention nursing an expertly crafted cigar. I fished one mark, a trib known to hold herring and stripers, neither of which were present in any great numbers. So. I covered lots of water. I greased line swung. I swam my Razzle Dazzle in short, staccato bursts. I set a hard stop of very early AM, and made it into bed before 3am.

So goes the night shift.

Hope to see you for tonight’s Zoom. Some of you asked yesterday about getting on the list and haven’t yet sent me an email.  (To be clear, leaving a comment on this site is NOT an email. To get on the list, you send an email to swculton@yahoo.com asking to do so. I hope that helps.)

The Hunt for Striped October

It was 9:30pm and everyone was drowsy. So when my wife and son announced they were going to bed, I decided it would be a good time to load up the Jeep and head to points salty. I’d failed in my first attempt to catch my October bass on the fly from the shore, and now there were now less than two weeks remaining to accomplish that mission.

At first it seemed like the wrong decision. A stiff, gusty breeze was blowing off the Sound,  and it didn’t look (or smell) very fishy. So I settled in with my cigar and waited for a more favorable tide. I passed the time with a few swings and dangles, and that’s how I uncovered my first clue: a peanut bunker snagged on my point fly. A few casts later, another snagged peanut. This gave me hope. The old saw of “find the bait, find the fish” ain’t always true, but at least I knew that stripers would have a reason for being here, even if I couldn’t see them.

At the turn of the tide I moved to another nearby location. Still no signs of bass (or even worried bait). But this is a universal truth: flies in the water catch more fish. I made a cast and let the flies swing around into a dangle. BAM! The hit came out of nowhere, but it was unmistakably a bass. No surprise — it took the peanut bunker bucktail fly on the team of three (the other two were silverside and anchovy). I made one more cast after I landed the 20″er, thought better of it, reeled up, and decided that I’d done exactly what I wanted to. I whooped and hollered and cackled all the way back to the Jeep.

The two are not mutually exclusive, but it is far more important to be a good angler than a good caster — or a distance caster. Which location? What tide? Where are the bass likely to be? What’s the bait? How can I present my flies in a way that makes it easy for the bass to eat? The cast that took this fish was all of 20 feet (and that includes 10-and-a-half feet of rod).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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. 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

~

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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