This year has been one of the strongest fishing seasons we have seen in years for the northwestern part of New Jersey. Cooler weather combined with high water has blessed us with remarkable conditions. This has been true for the Shad Run and New Jersey Rainbow Trout fishing. I say Rainbow Trout fishing because New Jersey has not stocked Brown or Brook Trout in a while. This does not mean they cannot be caught; it just limits the scope of locations where they can be caught.
Last season, due to the drought and unseasonably warm weather the Trout season was cut a bit short and barely made it through the end of stocking season. This year we Trout fisherman are winning with the cool and rainy weather. Some of the Trout streams in New Jersey are impressive for their diversity of terrain. The majority of worm dunkers in this state cannot be bothered to walk half a mile to a good hole loaded with fish. Sometimes the best way to locate fish is to find the common stocking spots, go on Google Earth and scope out which way the stream heads deep into the woods then hoof it in.
Tactics that Produce
You cannot go wrong with a basic inline nymph rig in New Jersey Jersey Trout streams. I like to tie on about four (4) feet of 3X tippet material, three (3) feet of 4X tippet material, then 18 inches of 5X tippet material all connected with a blood knot. I place an indicator way at the top, some split shot above the blood knot between the 4X and 5X material. At the end of the 5X tippet I tie on a general attractor pattern or something like a large stonefly. Then I tie a trailing fly onto the first hook with 5X material. This trailing fly is typically a midge or a bead head nymph (Prince, Pheasant Tail or Hare’s Ear).
Another way I recommend to ply the water with various types of Woolly Buggers. Green, brown, red and black all do the trick depending on the water and time of day. The Woolly Buggers work the best swung in waist deep fast water. You can also affix a bit of split shot six (6) inches above the fly, this will pull the fly down in the water column if the fish are feeding closer to the bottom.
In the “wilds” of Northwest Jersey we are blessed with little farm ponds and larger Eutrophic Lakes that produce unbelievable quantities of Bio Mass consisting mostly of sunfish and Largemouth Bass. The commencement of Trout stocking signals the arrival of spring and the official beginning of fishing season. However, the good Fly Fishing really gets going about a month later once the smarter stocked fish have figured out how to actually eat flies. Right at this moment, the Bass start to move into pre-spawn or early spawn mode. .
Seasons of The Bass
Bass have distinct holding patterns and feeding tactics from April through June revolving around water temperature and spawning status. Bass commence feeding in the spring as the water temperature approaches fifty-five degrees. At this point in the season, Bass move from their deep holding positions to the shallows and begin aggressively feeding. If you have ever ice fished for Bass, you will recall in the winter, the deepest holes will contain a Bass if you catch any at all. Bass will at this team strike slowly fished streamers; this is all dependent on the temperature. As a general rule of thumb, the warmer the day, the more active the Bass tend to be.
As the spring continues, the air temperatures stay consistently warmer during the day and night. At this time, the Bass begin staging at the edge of drop offs. The spawning season continues and Bass become more aggressive. They will defend their spawning beds, in the shallows as well as engage in some feeding to support the spawn. True spawning begins when the water temperatures approach sixty-two through sixty-five degrees. Remember be ethical and release all fish caught during the spawn.
Where to find them?
During the winter, Bass seek the deepest location to survive and stay warm. The Bass is not a cold-water fish. As the water warms, during the pre-spawn and early spawn the Bass are located at the edge drop offs or cover. They will seek warmer areas, possibly the parts of the pond with darker soils. Early on you can look in areas of shallow cover, for example weed beds, creek channels, timber, brush piles and pilings. As the Bass begin to spawn, they will concentrate in water depths of one to four feet. Preferably in areas free of weeds with a firm bottom. Silt covered bottoms run the risk of smothering the eggs which the Bass will attempt to avoid.
What to throw at them?
Non Fly Fishers are always surprised at the smaller things that Bass will eat when tied up in fly form. To a Fly Fisherman it is not at all surprising; Bass are aggressive predators and fear not catching their next meal. Be it a juicy damselfly nymph, a worm or even a frog, Bass have a voracious appetite. Early season and during the spawn, Bass will not eat the poppers that they do in June or July. However, they will eat an assortment of flies. Below is a list of the flies that I tried during the last weekend:
Green Simi Seal Leech
Jan’s Carp Tickler
Large Woolly Bugger (Beaded or Non Beaded)
The issue with the smaller flies is that I find you catch a preposterous amount of Sunfish as by catch. Specifically, the Simi Seal Leach and to a lesser extent Jan’s Carp Tickler seemed to be Sunfish magnets, however the Carp Tickler was a favorite of the Crappie.
Other Fishy Friends
The lake I was fishing in these pictures also contains Crappie in healthy numbers. Crappie are larger than their cousins the Sunfish, they also put up a muscular fight on the fly rod. Similar to Sunfish and Bass, they spawn in shallow water, preferably with a little cover and a solid bottom. As opposed to Bass, they will take whatever spawning ground they can locate. Crappies are one of the first fish that can be caught on the Fly Rod in the early spring. You will need to fish for them when they are in the shallow waters and not following a school of baitfish into the deep water. Woolly Buggers work generally well to catch a Crappie in the shallows, I also experienced luck with Jan’s Carp Tickler when it was allowed to sink.
In lakes and ponds, timing your Fly Fishing to the seasons of the spawn will yield fishy results. During the Pre-Spawn, on warm days, after ice out, the fish are hungry after a frigid winter. The lake or pond water gradually warms during the Pre-Spawn period and the Bass and Pan fish begin to feed even more aggressively. Once the water reaches optimal spawning temperatures, your quarry will head out to its preferred nesting environment. In the case of Largemouth Bass and Crappie, these are shallow waters with some cover. Post-Spawn the fish will eventually leave their nests and seek cover in weedy areas. This is the time of year, when the water is in the 70s that the Bass will start to feed aggressively on poppers.
Moose Knuckle Fishing is proud to announce the formation of winter fly tying courses at Knot Just Flies in Blairstown, NJ. The two-hour sessions will be held on most Sundays (11AM to 1PM) during the winter. They will be progressive in nature, starting with the simplest Brassie, moving through the Hare’s Ear and Pheasant Tail nymph. The courses will culminate in March with dry flies.
These fly tying courses are geared to the beginner and will be helpful to intermediate fly tiers as well. Though the courses will be progressive it is entirely possible to miss one and come to the next course. The textbook to follow through this course will be Charlie Craven’s, “Basic Fly Tying.” We recommend picking up a copy at Knot Just Flies once the course gets started.
I like to fish pretty aggressively. I have little regard for the safety of my flies while I am casting them into some tight spots. With this in mind, I don’t want to worry about losing a fly that took ten minutes to tie up. I need flies that are quick and easy, but will also catch fish. I came up with this pattern two years ago while I was in Telluride, CO for the winter. I was walking a stretch of the San Miguel River and noticed a strong presence of small black winter stoneflies crawling through the snow. After I tied up some up simple stones, it was my most productive fly for the rest of the time I was in Telluride. It worked great in Steamboat Springs, CO this year. The simple stone uses minimal materials and takes no time to tie up. I tied up a weighted version below; however, I also use un-weighted simple stones as well. Give it a go, and mix and match colors to satisfy your local stonefly hatch.
Hook: 12-16 1x Long Nymph
Weight: .025 Round Lead Wire
Legs: Black Goose Biots
Body: Black Superfine Dubbing
Take around 10 wraps of lead wire around the front third of the fly. Secure the lead wire with thread wraps.
Work your thread to the back of the hook shank, and tie in your first set of goose biots. Make sure the goose biots cup away from each other.
Apply dubbing and work your thread to just behind the lead wire base.
Tie in your next set of goose biots, cupped away from each other.
Apply dubbing to the thorax portion of the fly. I use a little more dubbing to build up the body.
Tie in your final set of goose biots, trim the excess, and whip finish. That’s it!
I love stripers. It had been almost a year since I hooked up with one, but my recent annual family trip to Block Island, RI, reminded me how fun they are. Striped bass, stripers for short, are a migratory fish that inhabit the coastal waterways of the mid-Atlantic and northeast. Stripers have a range from North Carolina to Maine. They are aggressive predators who fight hard and can grow quite large. Their annual migration pattern along the most heavily populated part of our country inspires fisherman up and down the eastern seaboard. Strict commercial and recreational restrictions and limitations have brought the fishery back from near extinction in the 1980’s. You can catch stripers all year long; however, the prime time is May-October.
Pursuing stripers on the fly just might be my favorite type of fly-fishing. I don’t think any other fishing gets my heart racing like seeing a striper blitz occur on the surface. Any decent trout angler expects to catch trout every time they hit their favorite river; it is just a matter of size and numbers. This is not true with stripers, and even the best are fooled and puzzled by this amazing game fish. Chasing stripers is a great way to break into saltwater fly fishing without having to pay the big bucks needed in tropical environments pursuing bonefish, tarpon, or permit. Other game fish, such as bluefish, flounder, false albacore, and bonito, also inhabit the same vicinity as stripers, and they are just as fun to catch. My blog post today is intended to help the newbie saltwater fly fisherman get started chasing stripers.
Rod: Medium to fast action 8-9 weight rods in the 9-10’ length. You want a rod that will turn over large flies and not tire your arm out. You will also need a stick that can mend and reach over crashing waves.
Reel: Large arbors with a decent drag system. A solid drag will help you tame the powerful bursts of energy that the stripers can display. A large arbor reel will also help you pick up line more quickly when fighting a fish.
Line: Intermediate. This line will cover 99% of all your striper fishing. I also think this is the most important part of your setup, and I highly recommend paying top dollar on this piece. Get a quality coldwater salt line like RIO’s Intermediate Outbound. Also, you should have around 150-200 yards of solid 30lb. backing attached to your fly line. All saltwater species will push the limits of your tackle.
Stripping Basket: This is the second most important piece of equipment, in my humble opinion. It will keep your line in one place, help you easily shoot casts, and fish more efficiently. You can buy these from any online fly fishing retailer; however, I made my own about 4 years ago with material from Walmart for a total cost of $10.
Leader: I have three different leaders I use given the conditions.
For the crashing surf, heavy rips, or rocky turbulent structures, I surgeon loop both ends of a 2’ strip of 50lb. mono. Then I attach one end to my fly line, the other I will loop to loop connection to another 3’ foot section of 25lb. mono.
For calmer back bays, salt ponds, or tidal creeks. I take the leader mentioned above, and then I will blood knot another 3’ section of 15lb. fluorocarbon to the end of 25lb. mono.
For the flats or extremely picky stripers, I will switch to a store bought 9’ 12lb. bonefish leader.
Flies: Deceivers, Half and Half’s, Snake Flies, and Saltwater Poppers. These flies will get you into the game and as you progress you will branch out. However, the most important thing to keep in mind is size, color, and shape. Use these three characteristics and then work backwards. For example, at Block Island, the main bait or forage in the area are sand eels; moreover, this calls for slender, long, olive/green/chartreuse patterns, i.e. a skinny Half and Half. In New Jersey, menhaden are the main bait, and this calls for large Deceiver style flies with more colors, such as blue and pink.
Match the hatch and use your brain just like you would for trout. Also, in regards to color, the standard dark sky/ dark fly rules apply, so have some all black flies for dusk, dawn, and night. Finally, I always use a non-slip uni-knot to connect my fly to my leader. Lefty Kreh has called this the best way to attach a saltwater fly.
This might be the most intimidating thing for a freshwater fly fisherman to wrap their brain around. When you get to the coastline, your jaw might drop and wonder how you are going to locate fish in this entire ocean, especially if you are fishing without a boat like me. Here are some rules to help guide you and increase your chances:
Stripers love structure, just like any other predatory fish. Structure creates competing currents, eddies, and rips. This creates a natural trap for bait and easy pickings for stripers. When you get to your coastline, look for jetties, sandbars, rocky outcrops, and tidal coves. Anything that can create an ambush spot is game.
Break everything down. Attack these structures in segments like you would any trout stream. Be methodical, and take casts on the face of a clock working from 9 to 3 o’clock. Work the drift, and let the currents present your fly in a natural manner.
Know your tides. Tides create moving water. This adds more character to the structure you have already located. When fishing on foot, I find the two hours before and after high tide to have the greatest chance of hooking up with stripers.
Dusk and Dawn. I find these two times of day most productive. There is less boat traffic to put fish down, and predatory fish hunt during these low light conditions.
Hand over hand. After I have cast and when I am starting my retrieve, I put my rod under my armpit and do a hand over hand retrieve stripping line into my stripping basket that is around my waist. This position will seem unnatural to most fly fisherman; however, in my mind, it is the most efficient way to fish by foot along the Northeast Coast. It also allows for constant connection of you to your fly so you do not miss any strikes. You don’t have to worry about your line tangling around your feet or rocks. And it adds distance to your casts.
Do your homework. There is plenty of information out there on striper fishing and spots to hit up. These two books are my favorite and will cover you from New Jersey to Maine. Fly Fisher’s Guide to the Northeast Coast and Fly Fisher’s Guide to the New England Coast: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine
Stay positive. Saltwater fly-fishing is a pure dedication. It’s a little frustrating watching a guy a next to you cast a plug 200 feet out on a convention surf rod. As a fly fisherman, casting distance may seem like a huge handicap; however, I view it as an opportunity. The 20-40 foot range is where most of my hookups with stripers occur. Conventional guys are too concerned with getting their plugs out a country mile that they never fully work the close structure. This is where you can shine. Your biggest pro will be that you can present a more life-like fly (besides live bait) to these fish. Conventional guys say stripers are not picky. I say that is bull. I had a great view one calm morning this past week as 5 different stripers followed and then refused my fly. These fish are not stupid. Measure success not only in fish landed, but also in fish that you rolled on your fly or any missed strikes. Kelly Galloup says if you can get the fish to roll on your fly, you are doing everything right. There will be plenty of skunks, but one successful day will make up for it.
It took me over a year to land my first striper. Looking back, I didn’t have a clue to what I was doing that first year. But I eventually, got my bearings and learned through the school of hard knocks. I even had my best trip to Block Island this past week with 8 stripers and 3 bluefish landed, breaking off another 3 fish, and about a dozen and half missed swipes/rolls/refusals on my fly. My time hitting the salt has been paying off.
This post is not the end all of fly fishing for stripers; however, it is merely intended to cut down the learning curve that I experienced. Once you feel the power of the strike, the pull of the fight, and the joy of landing a striped bass. I promise you will be addicted.
For further inspiration, read The Blitz: Fly Fishing the Atlantic Migration. It’s a great book of two fly fishermen who for one year followed the entire Atlantic migration from North Carolina to Maine. They documented the places they went, the people they met, and the fish along the way. Here is also a link to their ten-minute you tube trailer of the book.
I am big believer of throwing flies that are different from what everyone else is throwing. Fish are wise and will educate themselves to a size 14 Adams quickly. Well, the Vladi Worm is a completely different and unique fly. It was founded in Poland by Vladi Trzebunia, who 20 years ago compiled more points in the World Fly Fishing Championships then three national teams combined. Vladi has tutored many famous American fly fishermen, such as Jackson Hole’s Jack Dennis, as well as many American national fly-fishing teams.
About three years ago, anytime I would fish, I would rig this fly up. As I have gotten away from tight line nymphing, this fly has taken a back seat in my fly box. I don’t think I even tied the Vladi Worm onto the end of my line all of last year. That all changed about a two weeks ago when Zach and I hit up the West Branch of the Ausable during very high water. My first choice was for streamers but the high water and tight pockets kept leading to missed swipes from the trout. I needed to get down the water column very quickly. The correct choice was for tight line nymphing. I re-rigged, tied on Vladi Worm as my anchor fly, and crushed it while many other anglers watched in frustration. The Vladi Worm will catch trout anywhere, period. If you fly fish for pure numbers, then this fly should be your go to fly. The Vladi Worm is heavily weighted and designed for short casts with little to no false casting. The fly rides hook point up, bounces of any rock or obstruction, and will rarely get caught up. This is one of my confidence flies that I know will catch trout anywhere, and I will always have a few in my fly box.
Hook: Daichi 1870 Swimming Larva Size 6
Weight: .025 Round Lead Wire
Thread: Pink 210 Danville
Ribbing: 4x Monofilament
Flash: Pearl Magic Shrimp Foil
Body: Pink Crown Latex Condom
Place hook into your vice and wrap two layers of lead wire at the back hook bend.
Start your thread at the front of the hook and continue to wrap over all the lead wire so that there is a nice thread layer down.
Tie in your monofilament, shrimp foil, and latex material. When working with the condom, start with one condom and then cut it in half. Take one of those halves and cut it in half again. You can use one condom to make four Vladi Worms.
Take you tying thread to the front of the hook. Begin wrapping your latex up to the front of the hook. When you get there, take two thread wraps around the latex. Then wrap the latex all the way to the back of the hook again.
Pull your shrimp foil forward and secure at the the fron of the hook.
Wrap the latex material back to the front of the hook one last time, covering the shrimp foil. Secure latex at the front of the hook. Cut off excess, latex and shrimp foil.
Take your monofilament and begin wrapping the ribbing all the way to the front of the hook. Try and pull pretty tight on the mono to create the ribbing effect. Secure at front, clip excess, and take a few whip finishes to finish!
Note: We did not invent this pattern; it has been pieced together from various popper and ocean shrimp patterns I have seen over the years. It is unique enough that we will claim credit to the Bass Popper version being fished in Warren and Sussex County, NJ.
Umpqua U301 SZ4
Ultra Thread FL. Fire Orange 210
Krystal Flash Olive
3MM Yellow Foam
1MM Orange Foam
Estaz Opalescent White
Red or Orange Hackle
Zap A Gap
1/8 Flat Eyes
Essie 825 Hip-Anema
Step 1 – Creating the Tail:
During May and June Bass begin to feed upon top water poppers. For a Trout fisherman this is equivalent to the hopper season, when huge Trout gobble ungainly foam hoppers whole. The bucket mouths will emerge from below to grab a popper at such speed you will see an underwater wake racing towards your popper. The tail creates life like action to mimic an amphibian racing across the surface of the water.
Start the thread right before the hook bend; cover a small area with the thread to create a base for the tail.
Select the Yellow Bucktail, cut a pinch of hair fibers (around 25), and tie in on top of the base you created in the previous step. The tail should be 1 and ½ times the length of the hook shank.
Step 1 C:
Select four pieces of Crystal Flash, place along the tail on one side of the hook shank, loop the strands around the top of the shank and run along the other side of the hook shank. Trim to match the length of the tail, be careful not to cut the bucktail.
Step 1 D:
Select the Green Bucktail, cut a pinch of hair fibers (around 25), and tie in on top of the Yellow Bucktail. Align to the existing tail length. Remember to always cut the butt end of the fibers off at a 45-degree angle; this makes it easier to cover with thread.
Step 1 E:
Tie in four more pieces of Crystal Flash in manner similar to my description in Step 1 C.
Step 2 – Building the Body
The concept for the body on this fly comes from a shrimp popper pattern Captain Daniel Andrews handed Brenton on our guided trip while staying at Sanibel Island. The shrimp in the bay will hop along the surface of the water especially to avoid predators. This is the same popping sound that entices Bass to strike.
Step 2 A (prepping the foam):
First you need to pre-cut a piece if yellow foam, then the orange foam. Yellow serves as the belly, orange as an indicator for your ability to detect a strike while floating on the water surface. Yellow foam should be 1-½ inches long by ½ inch wide. The orange foam should be trimmed to ¾ inch long and ½ inch wide. Now your foam is ready for attachment to the body.
Step 2 B (Tying in the body components):
Prepare the tie in area by wrapping thread over the butt ends of the Bucktail, work up and down the tail mound a few times to make an even though sloping surface.
Step 2 C (Tying in the body components):
Pick up your piece of yellow foam; hold the piece on top of the shank, and slide the foam down so only a small portion is on covering the base area you just created. Begin to tie the foam in tightly over the tail mound of thread, to tie on, pinch the foam around the shank making it create a U shape. This action will ease getting your initial wraps in place. Tie in and cover evenly, leave a tiny area at the back of the mound without thread so you will be able to roll the foam over in later steps.
Step 2 D (Tying in the body components):
Now take the Estaz and cut an eight-inch piece. Tie this piece in on at the tail end of the mount we just created with the foam. Cover the butt piece completely. Now wrap a base layer of thread forward to one hook eye from the hook eye. This prevents slippage and allows you to evenly wrap the estaz forward up the shank. Once you have wrapped the Estaz up the shank, tie off and cut excess one hook eye’s distance from the hook eye.
Step 2 E (Tying in the body components):
Now pinch the overhanging piece of foam between your thumb and forefinger. Flip it up, over the tie in point towards the hook eye where the thread is hanging. In the same manner that you secured it to the shank in Step 3 B, secure it at the front tie in point. Try not to crowd the hook eye, as there are additional components that need to be added.
Step 3 – The Head
I like to give the fly a lifelike appearance, closely modeling it after a live amphibian that the bass are seeing in the pond or lake you are fishing. Does this really matter? The jury is still out on that; Bass strike mainly for the sound and movement. Its similar to the Trout fly concept of size first, shape of flies next and then color last. Adding the lifelike features helps me as an angler to visualize a strike. That being said, you can build a Bass popper out of a 1-inch PVC pipe filled with BBs with a treble hook attached. Bass are not going to give you an award for the most life like fly. As opposed to Trout, Bass are consumed with a fear of missing their next meal.
Step 3 A:
Flip the popper upside down in the vice, being careful as to not allow your handy work to unwind. Pinch 10 to 15 fibers in your thumb and forefinger. Tie in at the front point where we pinched the foam in. Optimally you will create a fanned out beard for the popper. Once you have secured, trim the excess butt end fiber crowding the hook eye.
Step 3 B:
Now we will secure the orange indicator foam. This foam serves two purposes first as an indicator and secondly a surface for water to flip up against and make the popping or splashing to woo the Bass. Align the front of the foam with the front of the yellow foam, the yellow foam will stick out (trimmed later). Pinch and wrap in through the same band as they yellow foam. Use Zap a Gap to glue the orange foam’s shank end against the yellow foam. Do not glue the front end of the foam.
Step 3 C:
Trim the front foam, what we will refer to as the “mouth” equal to each other.
Step 4 – Finishing Touches
Now that the primary components of making the popper look life like are complete we can move onto the finishing touches.
Step 4 A:
Whip finish the fly by lifting up the foam and completing the four wraps right behind the eye of the hook.
Step 4 B:
Take two flat eyes and gently stick them to the top of the orange foam.
Step 4 C:
Use the Essie nail polish. Paint a mouth between the yellow and orange foam. This resembles one of Fred Arbogast’s Hula Poppers or a frog with its mouth wide open.
How to Fish A Popper
Bass aggressively attack poppers, they fear missing a tasty morsel of food. Try to limit false casting of these large flies, two to three false casts should be enough force to fire them out there. Use the double- hauling technique to give the cast more power.
Look for dark spots in the water and breaks in the weeds, don’t line the fish, instead, cast in a way that allows you to pull along the edge of the coloration changes.
The popper will land with a hard splash; let it sit for a minute until the ripples are gone. Then begin retrieving with two-inch jerk strips. Between every strip, allow the ripples to dissipate. If a Bass is coming at it, don’t stop stripping maintain the same retrieve speed. If she wants it, she will get it!
If you are unable to entice any strikes or interest attempt a different retrieve. For example, sometimes the Bass will attack a continuous slow retrieve. The key is to experiment and figure out where the Bass are hiding.