It’s hard to improve on Ecclesiastes — let alone the Byrds — so I won’t even make the attempt. To every thing there is a season. And this is time of year I like to fish for stripers who are feeding on grass shrimp.
The grass shrimp swarm to the surface in brackish waters by the tens of thousands. Diminutive (about an inch, inch-and-a-half long) translucent creatures with eyes that reflect ambient light. From a distance, their mating dance looks like so many tiny raindrops. Then the surface boils from below, followed by a resounding pop! I get goose bumps just thinking about it.
Because there’s so much bait in the water, I like to up my odds by fishing a team of flies. Not only will I be presenting the bass with more targets, I will also be giving them a choice of patterns. Stripers never lie. They always tell you what they do — or don’t like. This weekend, I fished a three fly team consisting of Grease Liner variant on the top dropper, a pink Crazy Charlie on the middle dropper, and an Orange Ruthless clam worm on point. Of course, I am using a floating line should I need to throw a series of mends to fish the flies on a cross-stream dead drift.
Shrimp. It’s what’s for dinner. This fly is a variant of Harry Lemire’s classic steelhead fly, the Grease Liner. A little rabbit fur, a little deer hair, and you’re fooling fish.
I made two trips this weekend under the cover of darkness. The tides were in that weak quarter moon netherworld, but what the place lacked in current, it made up for in splendid isolation. Not another soul in sight, both nights. It amazes me the things you notice when you’re sitting alone on a rock in the dark and the air is completely still. You see the reflections of an airplane’s lights in the water long before you hear the distant drone of its engine. The sound of the building tide seems to increase exponentially. And the reports of feeding bass travel quite well over water.
Friday night was the slower of the two; instead of bass, I hooked and landed several hickory shad. After an hour, I moved upstream to see if creatures were stirring at a bottleneck; they were, but out of casting range. Resigned to trespassing, I did so with the rationale that what goes unseen remains harmless. I can’t tell you exactly where I was fishing, but let’s just say that between structure and trees, any form of traditional casting was out of the question. I could, however, dangle my flies in the current a rod’s length away. You can get really close to a fish that is holding on station, feeding as the current brings food to his waiting mouth, as long as you exercise caution and keep movement to a minimum. Twice, I hooked the striper that was chowing down ten feet away from me. Twice, I was unable to set the hook.
As I drove home in the wee hours, I was already plotting my return.
Saturday night, the tide hadn’t quite topped out when I reached the spot. I was pleasantly surprised to see the place was empty. The shrimp were already doing their dance, but otherwise it was quiet. Once the tide turned, the game was afoot. I saw a delicate swirl forty feet out. A few casts and a mended swing were ignored. Then, off in the distance, I began to hear the pops of feeding bass. Since the fish were in spinning rod range, I switched tactics and started dumping fly line into the current, all they way to the backing, and then some. Let the flies come tight, plane up, and swing around. Whap! Fish on. I could tell from the way it was fighting that it was another shad, until I brought it into the murky shallows and saw it was a foot-long striper. That made me happy.
I caught a bunch more in the 12 to 16-inch range, most on the dangle and swing, a few while stripping the whole smash back in. It wasn’t easy fishing; far more presentations were refused than taken, which is the way it should be when you’re fishing the grass shrimp hatch. But, now I had to return to the scene of Friday night’s robbery. By the time I got there, the current was just beginning to crawl toward the Sound. I lit a new cigar to keep the mosquitos at bay. I waited. Nothing. No micro swirls or dots painted on the surface by the bait. No earth-shattering pops. I decided to get my flies in the water anyway. You know, just in case.
Finally, a pop, though it was well out of casting range. To combat the boredom — and to create some wakes on the surface — I began manipulating the rod upstream and side-to-side. Still, nothing. And then, with the flies just sitting there, a building pressure on the line, then a series of sharp tugs. Seemingly out of nowhere, I was on. Bass for sure. Yes. Eighteen inches, the king of the weekend’s haul, taken on the clam worm.
By the time I got back to the truck, I had enough cigar to keep me busy all the way home. But I decided to extinguish it. I kept the windows rolled down, and the air on this warm summer night tasted sweet as it coursed through my mouth and filled my lungs.
Droppers are the fastest way to find out what the fish want. I tied this one using 20 pound test World Wide Sportsman Camo mono. I learned a few things on this trip. Top to bottom: 1) Harry Lemire’s Grease Liner is a darn good striper fly, even if it was created for steelhead. 2) Charlie Smith’s Crazy Charlie is a darn good northeast grass shrimp imitation, even if it was intended for bonefish in the Bahamas. 3) It is almost never a bad idea to include Ken Abrames’ Orange Ruthless clam worm fly on your team of flies, even if clam worms aren’t the predominant bait.