With winter comes the cold. And with the cold comes beer, as well as the time to crank out three-dozen saltwater flies for the start of the striper run (T-Minus 100-something days!).
Many an angler (specifically, those who self-style as “trout bums”) will claim that there is no greater sight in fly fishing than watching a wild fish rise to take a dry fly. I will concede that it is a sight to behold … but unfortunately, it doesn’t happen on my home water. For the flats, marshes, and tidal rivers of southernmost New England, delicate dries are not a particularly effective option. Streamers, specifically those that are articulated and tied with synthetics, seem to dominate.
At first, I was reluctant to jump onto the synthetics train: I have always had an affinity for classic tying materials like bucktail and I’ve been inclined to only use sparse strands of flash… But then I saw how light, versatile, and “clean” certain materials like EP Fibers or craft fur could be.
As always, you should brush up on tying ‘classic’ patterns like Deceivers and Clousers, but you should also your hand at crafting your own streamers. Here, I review a few of my own patterns (and some of my attempts at re-creating more traditional patterns like Gurglers) all of which have proven to be productive for striped bass, bluefish, and even various warm-water species such as pike.
The Craft Fur Baitfish
Super easy, quick tie that larger predatory fish cannot ignore. Unlike most other patterns, I tie a medium or large rattle underneath the craft fur. I always top the fly off with a pencil-sized clump of Hareline’s Ice Fur.
I almost exclusively will tie these in natural colors or white. Why? Well, Sharpies exist, and these can be used to make on-the-spot modifications to your streamer patterns so that they match local fish (e.g., there are three different anadromous baitfish in my home river, all of which are roughly the same size, but they vary in their coloration; I can use navy, or chartreuse, or even pink sharpies to “match the hatch” and re-color my streamers). Also, lateral scales are dope, and I suggest tying some red cactus chenille underneath the white craft fur: this shines through when the fly is wet.
A Fistful of Gartside Gurglers (**Vince’s Variants**)
Jack Gartside (who apparently was taught how to tie flies by the legendary Ted Williams) was known in his day for an unparalleled command of building lifelike flies with only natural materials. For this reason, it’s a bit ironic that his most famous pattern, the Gartside Gurgler, is one that uses closed-cell foam. My versions of the Gurgler pretty much follow the standard pattern except: (1) I use two pieces of foam, and tie these on a size 2/0 Gamakatsu B10S stinger hooks instead of a traditional O’Shaughnessy, (2) I build my tails using UV Hackle and Hareline Dubbin’s Ice Fur, around which I spin a clump of bucktail or craft fur as a ‘veil,’ and (3) I wrap cactus chenille around the neck of the fly.
Depending on the type of environment you’re fishing, you might find that you need to adjust the size or angle of the foam “cuff” in order to move the appropriate amount of water: for example, a larger cuff might be better for more turbulent water (e.g., the Lower Housatonic during a tidal change), and a smaller cuff might be better for salt ponds and estuaries like on Martha’s or Rhode Island (Hint: if you ever fish a cinder worm hatch, tie one of these Gurglers with a red cactus chenille body, trailed by some red material like Ice Fur or a rabbit strip).
The Hammonasset Flatwing
I came up with this pattern a few years back for fishing off tombolos and jetties in Southern Connecticut (such as Mieg’s Point and Charles Island), Rhode Island (shouts out to the Block) and even Long Island. It’s a bit different from the Flatwing patterns designed to mimic menhaden, etc., as this is supposed to swim like a sand eel or lamprey. I tend to use natural materials for these, but as always, you can substitute synthetics, forgo the dumbbell eyes, and fish these on floating lines if you want a more neutrally-weighted streamer.
To tie this pattern, fix a heavy pair of dumbbell eyes beneath the hook shank of a size 1 to 2/0 O’Shaughnessy-style hook (use extra super glue!). Towards the base of the shank, tie on several strands of crystal flash, and 2 to 3 white UV hackles. Tie on a small clump of white bucktail, and then spin on some chartreuse bucktail; at this point, it’s basically a lengthened deceiver. Tie on a few strands of red flash in front of the eyes, and then affix 8 to 10 pieces of peacock herl with pearl flashabou. Finish off with a cone of flat waxed thread and Cold Fusion. You can crank out about a half-dozen of these in an hour.
Okay, so you’re going to think that this fly is like … “cheating.” Yes, it’s dirty, but its a quick tie and it works wonders.
Start with a size 1 to 2/0 O’Shaughnessy hook, affix two strands of lateral scale and three strands of crystal flash and flashabou (doubled over). Take a clump of rubber legs, wrap these around the hook shank, and then do three wraps of swimming chenille or predator wrap. Put a bunch of lead wraps around the hook shank, and cover with thread and superglue. Create a conical head using pearl (or another appropriate color) EZ body, finish with at least a 6x whip, and superglue the living daylights out of it. Then, use stick-on eyes, and sealing everything off with epoxy.
Now, these things are just fun to tie and you can pretty much do anything you want in terms of coloration, patterning, length, etc. I have found, however, that my local stripers, blues, AND pike have responded really well to this color combination of olive, pink, and violet. My only tips are as follows: (1) use “big game” articulated shanks, heavy thread, and ample super-glue, (2) alternate colors/materials in a systematic manner, and (3) make sure your tailing hook is smaller than your ‘front’ hook. Here, I started with a size 2 B10S, and used three shanks that I fixed atop a 4/0 Mustad UltraPoint O’Shaughnessy (extra short) hook.
In conclusion … get out there, have fun, and don’t forget to crush your barbs!
Follow Vince on Instagram: @vindianabones
New England native and PhD student at the University of Michigan. I throw heavy streamers on sinking tips. Quality over quantity, any day of the week.