Three things striper fly tyers (and anglers) could learn from Gary LaFontaine

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.

I get this all the time: “That doesn’t look like a squid.” But Ken AbramesMutable Squid isn’t designed to “look like a squid.” It’s designed to create the illusion of life. I don’t know what stripers think it is, but they’ve eaten this fly enough times for me to know that they think it’s something good to eat.

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.

Best of 2020 #6: The Last Blast Live Presentation

As the pandemic began tightening its grip on America, none of us could predict what was coming — or how much our daily lives and routines would be changing. So I had no way of knowing that my presentation of “Trout Fishing For Striped Bass” (here’s the SWE podcast) to the South Shore Fly Casters near the end of February would be my last live presentation of 2020. The evening was both a pleasure and a challenge. The group meets in a brewery (yay!) and the turnout was excellent; at the opposite end, I was battling a miserable sinus infection and thus was lathering on hand sanitizer and keeping social distance before I knew social distancing was going to be all the rage. Here’s the link to my report on the talk. It includes some striper Q&A, so give it a read.

Man, I miss going out and talking to groups live! We’re making do with Zooms, and I’m able to present to a wider geographic range of fly fishing clubs, but there’s nothing like a live audience. Hang in there. Once we get though this madness, we’ll all gather for a beer and some quality face-to-face fly fishing conversation.

Thank you, Nutmeg TU and “Trout Fishing For Stripers” Question of the Day

Many thanks to my friends at the Nutmeg TU chapter for inviting me to Zoom with them. I missed the pizza and the in-person energy, but we made do, and then some. The subject was “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass” and the Q&A session was again excellent. Well done, folks!

Question of the Day: “Do you always fish your Gurgler suspension rig on a dead drift or do you ever strip it?” A: the question refers to my three-fly team with two droppers and a Gurlger on point. If I’m using that rig, it usually means that the stripers have either stopped chasing, or I’m arriving on the scene and I’m fairly certain that the bass will not chase. So the presentation starts with finding a feeder — look for the splashy take or the rise rings — and placing the rig over that position. If there is no earth-shattering kaboom (bonus points if you get the reference) I’ll manage the Gurgler as a dry, fishing the whole team on a dead drift. If that’s not working, I may very slowly begin to gather line. This is less of a strip and more of an extremely slow pull, about 1 inch-per-second. If that doesn’t work, I might try a cast a few pops of the Gurgler. But in my experience, it rarely comes to that. Great question!

I used this articulated Gurgler a few times this summer as the point fly on a three fly team. It got some attention, even on a dead drift.

Candlewood Valley TU awarded the Legion of Zoom and the question of the day (best tides for stripers)

Many thanks to the Candlewood Valley Chapter of TU for hosting me at their virtual meeting last night. My talk was “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass” and we all had a swell time. Since there was no ceremonial pizza and beer — the internet has its limits — I fed myself and washed it down at home. But the group still gets the official Currentseams Legion of Zoom just for being cool.

The Question of the Day: “Do you have a favorite tide for striper fishing?” A: Yes. It’s the best tide for the spot I’m fishing. For example, some of the river marks I fish during the herring run fish better with more water, so a higher or top of the outgoing is best. Others, I can’t get to the sand bar until a couple of hours before low — so bottom of the outgoing tide. Generally speaking, I like moving water. If I had to choose a phase, I’d go with outgoing — and if I had to choose a more specific window, I’d pick dead low tide, which has produced some of the biggest bass I’ve taken on the fly from the shore.

Some meat on those bones: a broad-shouldered, big-backed bass, taken on the dropping tide near dead low.

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It’s another Tuesday Night Zoom! “Trout Fishing For Striped Bass,” 4/28, 8pm

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That about says it all. Hopefully we’ll be relatively glitch-free this time. If not, we’ll figure it out…

For your listening pleasure: “Trout Fishing For Striped Bass with Steve Culton,” a Saltwater Edge podcast

I’m pleased to share a new podcast hosted by the Saltwater Edge. Peter Jenkins, Saltwater Edge owner (and one of the tireless heroes behind the American Saltwater Guides Association) hosts and asks questions. Yours truly does most of the talking. So…what two striper flies can I not live without? Why are intermediate lines so limiting? How important is presentation? Where’s the best place to fish off a jetty? What’s all this trout fishing for striped bass nonsense about anyway? Listen in and enjoy!

Listen: Trout Fishing For Striped Bass With Steve Culton.

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A most excellent evening with the South Shore Fly Casters (and bonus Q&A)

A hale and hearty shout out to the South Shore Fly Casters, who most graciously asked me to speak at their February meeting. The topic was “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass,” which focuses on traditional flies and presentation methods you can use to catch the stripers that everyone can’t. Let’s start with the venue. Any club that holds their meetings at a craft brewery gets bonus pints — er, points — from me. The turnout was strong (almost 50) and it was very passionate, interested group. I appreciated your welcoming nature and for all the kind things you had to say about me and my writing (and the SSFC club swag). Hoping to come back soon!

A very cool space for a meeting. In case you’re wondering, it’s Barrel House Z in Weymouth. That’s my double IPA near the projector. Yummy. (Photo Dan Wells.)

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Three Q&A highlights: Q: What knot do you use to build your three-fly team? A: Triple surgeons. But you should use the knot with which you are most comfortable (a lot of people like the blood knot). I also mentioned that I never go below 20# mono for the rig, and that if bass over 15lbs are in the mix, I’ll typically fish only one fly.

Q: Do you ever tie droppers off the bend of the leading hook? A: Never for striper fishing. I don’t want anything getting in the way of a hookup, but most of all I want the dropper fly to able to swim freely on its own tag.

Q: How do you use a floating line to present an unweighted fly deep? A: I’ll either add a 3/0 shot (or two) to the leader (and I may also lengthen the leader from, say, 7 feet to 10 feet), but most often I’ll use of the following: 1) homemade T-11 sink tips (I carry a bunch from 2-8 feet long in 2-foot increments; or 2) I’ll use an integrated sink-tip line that has a floating running line. Of course, with either of these solutions, you must mend if there is current to help the fly sink. I’ll also shorten the leader to 3 feet.

Hope that helps!

When the stripers are eating small stuff…(raffle swag for tomorrow night’s presentation)

Tomorrow, February 19, I’ll be presenting “Trout Fishing For Striped Bass — How to catch the stripers that everyone can’t” to the South Shore Fly Casters. SSFC is a newly formed group, and they’ve done a terrific job of getting their club up and running in a short amount of time. The gig is from 6pm-9pm at Barrel House Z, Weymouth, MA. Come on down…or up…or across…and you might win this spiffy little collection in their raffle. As always, please come say hello!

When the stripers are keyed on small stuff, it’s hard to go wrong with a well presented team of three. Four options here, clockwise from top: Deer Hair Grass Shrimp, Micro Shrimp Gurgler, Orange Ruthless Clamworm, Eelie. Good luck!

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Many thanks to Hammonasset TU and a question about color

A big round of applause for the Hammonasset chapter of TU for hosting me last night. A small but intimate and involved group made it a fun evening and a smooth presentation. As usual, I forgot many of the names, but I recognized the faces, and I appreciate everyone who came out to talk trout fishing for striped bass. Can’t forget to say thanks for the pizza, and also thanks to the gentleman who gifted me the articulated flies — those will see action next summer for smallies!

The presentation machine keeps rolling with three gigs next week at Thames Valley TU, Capitol District (Albany, NY), and Farmington Valley TU. I’ll post a reminder Monday. Hope to see you there!

I was asked about color in striper flies last night. Without writing an essay: I like a little yellow in any fly that imitates fatty, oily bait like menhaden or herring or anchovies. I like certain colors for certain conditions: some white at the change of light, black in stained water, grey and fluorescent yellow on an easterly blow. I love blending colors using buckail and saddles, and sometimes I choose flies by feeling — as in, that’s the fly that feels right tonight. Sometimes color is irrelevant — it’s profile and presentation. I choose and blend colors that please me. Confidence catches fish!

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Tomorrow night, Thursday Oct. 10: “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass” at Hammonasset TU

Hope to see you tomorrow night for “Trout Fishing For Striped Bass — How to catch the stripers that everyone can’t.”  Hammonasset TU meeting, everyone welcome, 7pm at the QRWA building at 540 Oregon Road in Meriden, CT. For more information, please visit the Hammonasset TU website.

We’re going to talk about some of the tactics and strategies for catching those difficult bass. (If you fish for trout, you’re already ahead in the game.)

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