For the kind of striped bass fishing I most enjoy, a lot of things have to fall into place.
I like little or no wind, both for easy casting and seeing tell-tale splashes. I like the tide to be halfway out on my favorite Long Island estuary.
I very much prefer that there not be much boat traffic. And now that we’re slipping into summer, the season of the nighttime bite, I want all these conditions to exist at sundown.
It’s a lot to ask for, but it all came
together over the weekend. The results of the two outings were very different. I may deserve the credit for that. Then again, it may be like the new song on the pop stations: “We’re up all night to get lucky.”
Saturday night: The orange and pink glow on the western horizon faded to darkness, and the waist-deep water facing me came to life. Bass were “rising” like trout to a Hendrickson hatch for as far as I could see.
There was just enough ambient light that the swirls of surfacing bass were sudden black bursts on the silvery sheen. There were dozens and dozens of swirls in easy casting distance during my three hours on the water.
It was simple to cast to where I had just seen a swirl, like you would cast a fly to where a trout had just risen, but I knew stripers didn’t hold steady positions, at least not the way trout do. So the bass that made the swirl may well have been gone by the time my fly drifted over the spot.
The consolation was that while that bass may have been gone, another may have wandered into the same area. They were everywhere; the wide river was full of stripers. And they were feeding feeding very much like trout — picking off what drifted down to them, rather than chasing prey.
What they were picking off, I have no idea. Their behavior made me wonder if there was a hatch of cinder worms, but when I shined my light on the water, I didn’t see any, only a smattering of tiny baitfish here and there.
I was fishing slim, three-inch Seaducers, a fly that I’m experimenting with extensively this summer in both fresh and salt water. Despite being surrounded by recklessly feeding bass, I got only two bites, and bungled them both.
The next day, I began to think the bass simply hadn’t seen my fly most of the time. So I made some bigger ones — and turned the Seaducer’s hackle feather tail on its side, so it was lying horizontally instead of vertically.
In other words, I made it into a flatwing. The tail was four-inch-long, olive-dyed grizzly hackles. Rather than the brushy palmered hackle of a traditional Seaducer, I gave the front of the fly a Woolly Bugger treatment, with a chenille body and a more widely spiraled hackle of the same webby grizzly feather.
Flatwings are designed to be seen from below, and the bass on Saturday night had clearly been looking up.
Sunday night: The conditions were the same, the result very different. I brought five striped bass to hand, most of them close to keeper size (28 inches) — not bad when fly-fishing from shore.
Each fish ran me into my backing (I winced as the Albright knot scraped through the guides, both on the way out and the way back), and each gave up gracefully at my feet, shiny as chrome in the glare of my headlamp.
I only quit because it was nearly midnight and I had to be at work in the morning. I heard rise after rise as I walked back to the car.
The take-away? Maybe it’s that when stripers are feeding near the surface, use a fly with a wide profile so they’ll notice
Or maybe it’s simply that once in a while, you have one of those nights where everything comes together just right. You just get lucky.