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Fly-fishing isn't as hard as some make it out to be, but it does demand your full attention, so if you're worried that your investments are going south or that your wife is cheating on you, chances are you won't fish well. It sounds like heresy, but there really are days when you should have stayed home to take care of business instead of going fishing.

-John Gierach, A Fly Rod of Your Own

I'm considering framing this quotation and putting it up in my office.

Spring is tough. 2019 was no different. As a teacher, by April I'm running on a quarter tank and my students are itching to run out the door. It's not an ideal combo. I have to work extra hard to remain patient, plan good lessons, and have productive days. This makes fishing sessions, especially during the week, tough. Like Gierach said, some days it's best to stay home and take care of business.

My dad put it to us another way: First things first.

Anyway, I still managed to complete a few springtime rituals.

I caught my first striped bass of 2019 on April 7. I was next to my brother on the sod banks of Raritan Bay. Catching that first fish by fishing bait on the bay's mudflats is a ritual I've grown to love. It marks the start of a new season. On April 22, I coaxed a few beachfront stripers to eat a new lure. And on May 16, I traveled back up to the bayshore hunting for bluefish. I scored. That didn't happen for me last year.

April 7 Screenshot

In my area, the first striped bass each season are caught in Raritan Bay. The drill is to wait for the bay to reach 45 degrees and then fish bait on the mudflats. Above is a screenshot from the night my brother and I fished, April 7. I threw sandworms using a rig I learned about at Surf Day a few years back. Here's a simple sketch of the rig from my notebook.

Raritan Bay Bait Rig: I learned about this rig by attending a seminar at Surf Day that focused on fishing Raritan Bay. The presenters were a father and son team of Raritan Bay locals.

There are a few benefits to this rig. First, the weight is on the bottom, so it casts well. Also, once the sinker settles and you get tight, you're in direct contact with the baits. Meaning, there's no weight between you and the baits. This makes feeling subtle hits, which are common in the spring, much easier. But the best thing, and this was explained to us at Surf Day, is that both baits are held off the bottom a bit. This keeps the baits from getting buried in the mud bottom. Instead, each bait is held up and in the face of cruising fish. It worked.

My First Striped Bass of 2019

Then on April 22, Earth Day, I caught a few small striped bass in my local surf. I hooked these fish using a new lure that I'm really excited about, the 360GT Searchbait. It comes in a wide variety of sizes and colors.

Storm 360GT Searchbait

The 4.5" size is my favorite. The 4.5" paddle tail body fits both the 1/4 and 3/8 oz. Storm 360GT jigheads.

What's important is that these jig weights are just the jighead alone. When you thread the body on the jig, the overall weight jumps up considerably. The 1/4 oz. jig with the 4.5" body weighs over 1/2 oz. and the 3/8 oz. jig with the 4.5" body weighs over 3/4 oz. I can easily throw both of these lures with my summer surf rod that is rated 1/2 oz. - 2 oz. These are great little lures and some fish fully inhaled them.

Small Striped Bass That Inhaled The Storm 360GT Searchbait
(I was able to pop it free with pliers.)

Finally, on May 16, I got my bluefish fix.

When Raritan Bay's water temperature reaches 55 degrees and stays there, there's a good chance the blues will arrive in force. What's interesting is that mid-May seems to be the time everything comes together. Looking back, I've experienced really memorable Raritan Bay bluefish bites on 5/15/14, 5/16/15, and now 5/16/19.

High Tide Raritan Bay Bluefish
High Tide Raritan Bay Bluefish

What made the 5/16/19 trip unique is that I was wetsuiting. It was dead high tide and my suit allowed me to frog kick across a creek mouth and fully separate myself from the crowd. Above are some of the fish I managed to catch and the photos below show what I saw to the right and left of me.

Looking To My Right
Looking To My Left

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My last four trips have been skunks. I fished my local beach and rocks on 10/15, 10/21, 11/8, and 11/21. This time of year I plug for striped bass. I'd be happy to hook anything that'll eat.

On Monday, 10/15, I scouted during the late afternoon. Then I came back and fished at night. Nothing. One highlight is below. During the afternoon scout, I saw this small blitz. Birds were so packed and distant they looked like bugs. Unfortunately, they never moved to the beach and broke up in minutes.

10/21, 11/8, and 11/21 were all morning trips. I fished in the dark into first light. On 10/21, I did find a dead bunker on the beach. While surfing this fall, I've shared the lineup with single, belly up bunker more than once. This fall, a friend has caught huge fish snagging and dropping bunker from boats, so it all lines up.

Like a lot of surfcasters, I fish teaser rigs in the fall. It hasn't happened recently, but I've caught plenty of fish on them.

I've been tying for years. And after tying trout flies down to size 22, tying bucktail teasers on 1/0 and 2/0 hooks feels like a vacation.

In this post, I wanted to share my philosophy when tying teasers and also highlight a material that's vital, but often taken for granted.

In his striped bass fly fishing book, Stripers and Streamers, Ray Bondorew points out that many baitfish are translucent. Because of this fact, he warns to not overdress the fly. Meaning, go light on the bucktail. I've taken that to heart. He also notes that most fish, whether bait or gamefish, have a dark back and a light belly.Those two points guide my teaser tying. The only thing I'll add is this: I tie them short to imitate small bait like rainfish, and long to imitate larger, slimmer baits like sand eels. All I'm going for is a general match. I think that's enough.

The smaller teasers.

The materials, going from the top/back of the fly to the bottom/belly: 3-4 peacock herls, olive bucktail, a few strands of crystal flash and finally, white bucktail. After whip finishing the head, I stick on eyes and coat the head in UV resin and cure it. If I can, I also put them out in the sun for a bit.

The longer version.

The longer version wet. Not a bad sand eel.

The vital but overlooked material I mentioned earlier is thread. You gotta admit, after a hook, it's the most important fly tying material. And when tying big flies, using thick thread is a game changer. 

When starting the fly, heavier thread helps you cover those big hook shanks quicker. And when tying, you can really crank down on materials with confidence. Heavy thread won't snap like the light stuff. It really helps.

On the flip side, it's also a good idea to go with a thinner thread when tying tiny flies, like midges for trout. The thin thread helps minimize thread bulk. Something that can become a problem when you're tying the really small stuff, like 20s and smaller.     

Anyway, most of my trout flies are tied with 70 denier thread. My streamers and saltwater teasers are tied with 140 denier thread. If I had heavier, I'd use it. But owning 140 denier thread in white, olive, and black covers most of my streamer and teaser bases.

As you can see, the higher the denier number, the heavier the thread. The ought sizes are a bit more confusing. 10/0 is lighter than 8/0 and so on. 8/0 is equivalent to 70 denier. I attached a video that explains it better than I ever could. As usual, New Jersey's own Tim Flagler and Tightlines nail it. To me, his videos are literally perfect.

Date: 8/11/18

Time: 5 - 8 am

This turned out to be a snapper blitz. The baby blues were annihilating bay anchovies.

Location: New Jersey Beachfront

Tide and Weather: Dead High 7:47 am, Cloudy, Rain Predicted, Air Temperature 75, Water Temperature Mid 70s, Very Light South Wind, Flat Surf, Moon 0% Visible, Pressure 29.89

Catch: I caught nothing, but it was a very interesting morning. I witnessed an incredible amount of bait in the surf. They were bay anchovies. Also known as rainfish.

A very distinct feature of the bay anchovy is their over-sized mouth. They're filter feeders and their mouths help them feed. If you zoom in on the picture you can make it out.

Bay Anchovy

While standing on the base of a jetty, I did see one striped bass swim right at me, hit the north jetty pocket at my feet, and make a lighting fast turn before bolting out along the rocks.

Anchovies, swimming for their lives.

But I believe the bait was mostly getting eaten by snapper bluefish. At points, the baby blues had the anchovies hopelessly pinned against the beach and jetty rocks. I squatted in knee deep water, dunked my waterproof camera, and took a few pictures. The bait was so thick that even the snappers were picky. Snapper zappers, a solid match for small rainfish, didn't get touched. Even my Gulp! baits were mostly left alone. That was a first.

Weather Rolling In

By the end of my trip the predicted weather showed up. A wind switch brought cool air and it was clear that mother nature was pushing me to pack it in. No argument here.

*On 8/15/18 I was surfing a few towns south. A similar scene played out both tight to the beach and well outside the jetty tips. I saw bigger splashes in the blitz that was offshore. Something bigger was throwing water.

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Date: 7/31/18

Time: 6 - 9 am

Morning glass.

Location: Assunpink Lake

Weather: Scattered Clouds, Morning Air Temperature 70 - 75, Water Temperature In The Shallows Felt Like 80+, No Wind Early, Picked Up Around 8:15 Out of the East 5 - 10 mph, Moon: Waning Gibbous Approximately 80% Visible, Pressure 30.14

Damselfly nymph on the deck of my SUP.

Catch and Thoughts: Fly fishing local ponds and lakes is an absolute blast. Today I fished from my stand up paddle board (SUP). The conditions were ideal. No wind. Instead of getting blown around, I easily stayed in one place. I could also stand and fish, instead of casting from my knees.

When I put in at the boat ramp, I paddled north, straight across the lake. Once I reached the opposite shoreline I turned right. I figured I'd take advantage of my SUP and slowly paddle the shallows, casting poppers and small streamers close to shoreline structure. I was in water most boats couldn't access.

I ended up with two bass. One ate a large popper. The other I hooked on a small streamer that I tied off the hook bend of a different popper. This second set up is just like the dry dropper rigs used when trout fishing moving water. Similar set ups can be used in still water, whether you're chasing trout or bass and panfish. When bass fishing, popper dropper rigs have a lot going for them. First, they allow you to suspend your dropper fly over weeds in shallow water. Also, the bass popper works double duty. It can fool fish on its own while also acting as a bobber/indicator that lets you know when a fish eats your dropper fly.

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Date: 6/26/18

Time: 6 - 10 am

Location: South Branch of the Raritan River, Ken Lockwood Gorge

Weather: Partly Sunny Sky, Morning Air Temperature 56, Water Temperature 64 - 65, Flow: 51 CFS (Mean for the South Branch: 211 CFS), Light Wind, Moon 98% Visible

Catch and Thoughts: I thought of today as my last Jersey trout fishing trip before summer sets in. In July and August, our freestone rivers can get low and warm. This might be old news to readers, but you don't want to fish for trout when the water reaches 70 degrees or higher. A lot of fly fishers, including myself, lay off once it hits 68. At these higher temperatures, water holds less oxygen and the fish get stressed. Even if you catch and release a trout in warm water, they may die.

On this day, cool temperatures were predicted. I arrived at 6 am and my dashboard was reading an air temperature of 56. Good stuff. The water was 64 - 65, so I was in the clear. But at 51 CFS, it was low. I stuck to my plan of contact nymphing and given the low water, I ended up doing pretty well. That's what I tell myself anyway.  

I landed 3 fish and lost another to a bad knot. Live and learn. I also either pricked another fish, or just bumped it with my rig. I thought I had a take, I set, and knocked a good size fish off balance and saw it.   

The two flies that worked were weighted and tied on size 14 jig hook - a Frenchie with a pink hot spot and a Sexy Walt's Worm.

Now's the time to either travel for trout or fish for other fish.

Date: 6/10/18

Time: 5:45 - 7:45 pm

Location: New Jersey Beachfront

Tide and Weather: Dead High 5:13 pm 5.12 feet, Grey Sky and Drizzling, Onshore Wind, Air Temp 60, Water Temp 55+ and Slightly Dirty, Sunset 8:25 pm, Moon 20%

Catch: The conditions were super fishy. There wasn't much swell or current, so I started with a Gulp! sandworm on a Carolina rig. I've caught both striped bass and fluke on it in the past. On this trip, I watched a fluke hang onto it, but he missed the hook.

I ended up fishing mole crabs on that same rig and had a lot of action. I landed a 20" fluke and 3 striped bass. The biggest bass was 26" and pulled hard. I hooked another striper, but lost it.

All the fish were in the small, shoreline out-sucks. These small rips flowed down the beach lip and into the trough that runs parallel to the beach between the dry sand and the first sandbar. At points I was underhand flipping my bait 10 - 15 feet out and focusing on that zone.

Date: 5/26/18

Time: 4:30 - 9 am

Location: New Jersey Beachfront and Raritan Bayshore

Tide and Weather: For Beachfront: Dead High 5:32 am, Clear Sky and Warm, Air Temperature - While Fishing About 70, Day's High 90, Water Temperature 56-57, Wind SW, Small Surf Struggling To Break, Moon 85% Visible, Pressure 29.90 and Rising

Catch: The only fish I held was a shad. It ate a teaser I tied. I saw an osprey nab a bunker in the middle of the beach, but casting there didn't change my luck.

After a few hours on the beach, I drove up to the Raritan Bay. I was hoping to find bluefish. That wasn't happening either. The Bayshore was crowded with fishermen. Almost all were chunking bunker and I didn't see a fish caught. While walking the shoreline I noticed one forked tail sticking out of a bucket.

Right before leaving for home I spoke to a group of guys. They'd been fishing all night. Their hard work earned them one blue between 8 of them. It was far from hot and heavy.

The most positive takeaway for me today was my teaser rig. I've experimented with lots of different teaser rig configurations and I'm really happy with this one. Leave it to John Skinner to nail it. He explains the set up in the video below.

To me, the best thing about this rig is that you can quickly add or subtract the teaser. It doesn't require a dropper loop and you don't have to cut anything off or tie any knots. I love the efficiency.