|Rattle Eye Minnow|
Break the clouser habit and fool more stripers
The world-class striper fishery on the entire East Coast of the United States has a dirty little secret: The fish have gotten harder to catch. If you started fishing in the early 90s when striper populations began to explode, you know that any Clouser or Deceiver thrown over a school of stripers would turn their heads and open their jaws without hesitation. Even though you can now find striped bass on any beach in the northeast from May to October, they seem to think a minute before eating a fly. Even worse, I’ve watched striped bass in shallow water aggressively chase my fly, only to finally peer at it like a farsighted dowager reading a phone book, then suddenly quiver with apparent fright and swim in the opposite direction with afterburners on. It’s not surprising, as many of these fish are over a decade old. They likely migrate from the Chesapeake to the same haunts in New England every summer, and a dozen-year-old striper has seen hundreds of Chartreuse Clousers in its lifetime.
You can still go offshore in a boat and find stripers that will take every fly thrown at them. But if you spend time wading the accessible beaches or famous flats, you’re going to encounter snotty fish. How can you interest these fish? One way is to fish a fly that no one else uses. I hardly ever use Clouser Minnows and Deceivers for inshore fish anymore. I’ve learned from guides that a fly that acts like food, but does not advertise its presence as a fake is far more likely to draw strikes.
One of the most important aspects of smart fly design is something I learned from George Ryan, who guides the heavily pounded beaches of Cape Cod, particularly Monomoy Island. George’s clients are often the only people on the flats who catch fish, and a few seasons ago George showed me some of the flies he was using. Sparse is an overstatement. They were tiny, size 6 and 8 versions of Clouser Minnows, in dull shades of olive and brown, with barely two dozen hairs of bucktail on them. He also leaves the flash off many of his flies, figuring since most of today’s saltwater flies incorporate some kind of flashy material (they sell better in fly shops that way), a fly without any added flash might arouse less suspicion from the bass. I tied up some copies of George’s flies and my success rate climbed. More fish were eating than running.
Then some local guides started adding little glass rattles to their crab patterns. Crabs and shrimp apparently make tiny clicks as they flee a hungry predator, and the rattles seemed to draw stripers form longer distances without making them spooky. (Some people have been known to add crab scent to their flies, but we won’t go there. And of course I never tried it. Right.)
When looking for new fly-tying products for the Orvis catalog a few years ago, we found some tiny glass dumbbell eyes with rattles inside. It didn’t take a fisheries scientist to figure out that adding these eyes to George’s style of fly should be a winner. And it was. There were some added bonuses to using these smaller, lighter eyes as well. You could still get the big-eye aspect of a baitfish without adding much weight. When these flies hit the water they don’t make a big splash, which is an aspect of standard flies with metal eyes that will spook stripers.
Although there is something about the jigging action of a Clouser Minnow that attracts bass under some conditions, it can sometimes turn them off. Baitfish don’t swim with a jigging action, and neither do shrimp (a very important but under-rated food source for stripers), and the Rattle-Eye Minnow, with its more natural behavior in the water, may just give you an edge when everyone else is throwing Clousers.
There are times for Deceivers, when bass are eating squid or big sand eels offshore; or for Clousers, best when offshore fish are in 30 feet of water. But if you wade-fish the shallows and flats anywhere (the Rattle-Eye Minnow has worked as far away as the Louisiana redfish bayous), I think you’ll find this fly to be your ace-in-the-hole. It has been for me. Just don’t tell your fishing buddies. We don’t want the bass to get wise to this fly!