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Striper Moon's the website of author, artist, flyfisherman, guide, and lecturer Ken Abrames. Ken's original thinking is rooted in classic design and technique. His vision is expansive and richly detailed, making our world just a little more like home.

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Current Article: Overlooking the Obvious by Ken Abrames

I am a proponent of observation. I believe that by paying attention to Nature we can learn many of her secrets. I find myself looking under rocks, digging in the sand, watching all kinds of birds, driving all over the place trying to link events to other events and I have a good time doing it. I love learning things about Nature that I don't know and I love seeing things unfold that I do have some experience with already. To see new things holds my attention. I like it. Still there are many things that I have trouble noticing because I am so familiar with them that I do not see them for what they are and what they may possibly mean.

Human beings are a part of nature. I have found out that by observing them I can find out many ways to catch fish, and if I just observe and not participate, many ways that don't lead to catching fish. The key to this second phase is the phrase, not participate. Let me expand: often if one is observant you can locate large groups of fishermen standing in a group watching a lone fisherman fish. This can be seen at any time of the year but it is most often observed in the fall of the year when many fishermen gather to fish during the fabled fall run. Now you may think that I am going to state the obvious fact that they don't catch fish because they don't fish but -no- that is not the obvious fact that I am going to state. I am going to overlook that.

When observing Human Beings that are gathered in small or large groups along the seashore one must watch their behavior closely to determine if they are in fact fishermen. If they are fishing then the obviousness of their behavior states that they are fishermen. If they are not fishing then perhaps they are not fishermen at all but fishing spectators. It is not always easy to determine this as obvious fact as their attire may be nothing more than an attempt to identify themselves in the eyes of others as fishermen. Many sports enthusiasts do this and it can be seen at large gatherings of say, baseball fans. In the stands of the ballpark where they gather and sit, one may observe many of the spectators wearing clothing that is identical even to the brand name and logo of the clothing which is being worn by the players of the game they are watching. Perhaps the observers of the lone fisherman are not fishermen at all but simply spectators of fishing or watchers of fishermen. This would be a valuable observation of Human Being behavior as it relates to catching fish in the sense of communicating with actual fishermen serious about catching fish rather than communicating with spectators about the casual idea of catching fish. If you want to catch fish then watch the lone fisherman and watch the water but do not participate in the casual conversation of the spectators. To be aware of this hazard is enlightening and it can save you from wasting valuable fishing time; none-the-less, it is easy to overlook this obvious difference.

Serious fishermen seldom try to draw attention to themselves, as a rule they are clandestine and avoid large groups of spectators. They often come out only at night and cannot be identified by the bumper stickers on their vehicles or by the display of rods and reels attached to the front or top or back of their off road 4X4 super duper fishing trucks because they don't often own one. They mostly walk by themselves or with one or sometimes two other serious fishermen that they have known for twenty years or more. They are not actually stand-offish but they are truly going fishing when they appear on a beach and so they are not likely to join in a group of spectators who are there primarily for the companionship of staying out all night with brother 4X4 beach riders. They seldom listen to the radio or watch television when they fish and are more prone to fish than to socialize. They never sit in lawn chairs and their equipment is often old-fashioned which now-a-days means two years old or more. When observing Human Being behavior on a beach it is easy to overlook their movements but for the careful observer the patterns of their behavior and the results they achieve while fishing can identify them as aberrations to the norm. Overlooking the obviousness of their fishing results and speculating about the next blitz will comfort those who prefer the companionship of the herd to the adventure of discovery.

Fly fishermen have discovered salt-water striper fishing. That is an obvious self-evident truth. They have engaged it with ferocity of intent that is truly remarkable. I have noticed while observing their behavior that they often appear to have only an awareness of other fly-fishermen and their methods and overlook or disregard the results that other methods of striper fishing are producing at the moment or have historically produced say twenty minutes ago. There are many factual observations about striped bass behavior and their routines that have been noted and accepted as true in the traditions of other forms of angling. These facts about striped bass seem to be outside of the observations about striper fishing that are currently popular in the fly fishing media. To overlook the obvious truths about striped bass behavior that have been known to striper fishermen for generations is peculiar to fly fishing alone but interestingly it is in fact singularly true. It seems that fly fishermen focus on equipment and trying to catch fish through a methodology that justifies and enhances the correctness of the equipment over whether it may or may not be appropriate for the situation. They overlook the obvious behavior of the bass in order to use what equipment is popular and disregard their personal results when those results are abysmal when compared to other methods of angling in the same situations. This is understandable as it is not pleasant to experience this but most fly-fishermen do not try to change their methods after having had this experience but blame their casting or their flies or their lack of skill with the equipment they are using as the cause of the event. They are in an equipment trance and do not seem to know it. This trance is obvious to everyone who striper fishes except to those fly-fishermen who choose to overlook it.

Here are just a few obvious facts that are often overlooked by fly-fishermen that if noticed will totally change the way you fly-fish for stripers:

  • Big fish are different than little fish. If you try to catch big fish using little fish methods then you will continue to have the success that you are having now. Most fly-fishermen overlook this.
  • There are two documented stripers over forty pounds that have been caught on sinking lines from the shore in the last ten years. One on an intermediate with a straight retrieve on a sand eel pattern, 48 lbs., and one on a Teeny line in a river mouth on a deep swing with a weighted flatwing with no retrieve, 49 1/2 lbs.
  • During this same period of time conventional fishermen have caught thousands of large stripers off the shore using large swimming plugs that fish no deeper than 16" on slow retrieves.
  • During this same period of time eel fisherman have caught even more thousands of large stripers off the shore by casting their eels out and finessing them back slowly. I do not know of a single large bass that was caught on a live eel that measured three inches long and was retrieved quickly so it wouldn't hang on the bottom.
  • Commercial rod and reel fishermen, those that stay in the business, catch their quotas of large fish regularly. They do not cast and retrieve small lures where small fish are dominant to do this. They pinpoint their effort and drift or live line their baits, live and cut, in the current to where the large fish are holding.
  • If the fish are small they leave and try to locate a school of large fish. They cannot waste the time culling through small fish hoping for a keeper. They do not depend on the fish to come to their baited hooks but bring their hooks to the fish as a rule. There are exceptions to this but it is the normal pattern that produces large fish in marketable quantities.
  • Fish move into current.
  • Fish move when there is no current.
  • Fish feed by facing into the current and intercept their food as it is carried to them.
  • Surf fishing is practiced in the current from the breaking waves not the tide.
  • Drag is the single most important energy to understand in saltwater fly fishing both from the shore and from a boat as it is in any form of fly fishing in moving water.
  • Sinking lines are affected as powerfully by drag as floating lines and they will not cut through currents and cancel out the effects of drag. Hence two fish over forty pounds caught on sinking lines from the shore in ten years.
  • Fishing deep for stripers that are feeding high in the water is not intelligent although it has become the normal methodology with a fly rod.
  • Trying to make a fish move to your fly by retrieving it through the water when that fish is holding in a feeding lane waiting for food to come to it is a low percentage tactic.
  • Using weighted flies will not catch fish that are feeding on the surface.
  • Casting the line all the way out is not the solution to catching fish that are feeding close.
  • Droppers are a good way to find out what the fish prefer quickly.
  • Fish that are focused on one size and type of bait can be aggressive but are caught by using methods borrowed from selective tactics.
  • The energy level of the water that a fish is feeding in will tell you its energy level in feeding. Slow water relaxed fish. Fast water fast fish.

These are simple observations that are easily overlooked. See if you can notice them yourself and find your own meanings for them. Overlook them and nothing will change. The fish do not change but we can. If you are not satisfied with the results that you have been getting by believing in the tales told by fellow fly-fishermen about equipment then perhaps it is time to pay attention to the older striper stories told by those who pay attention to results. The path of the obvious is perhaps the most difficult path of all to find and unravel, but it is well worth the effort and the results are measurable in pounds not inches.


© 2001