Striped bass are such aggressive fish that if something is making noise on a flat, they just have to punish it. They simply can’t resist. Sometimes I feel like they aren’t even trying to eat it. During small-bait hatches, you’ll get a lot of tail-slaps, boils and other attempts, but the fish are just “punishing” rather than “eating.” You’ve got to have crazy will power when this happens. That means not trying to hook-strike on a fish after every boil, and letting it sit there for three or four seconds before beginning your retrieve. During such retrieves, stripers will eventually find the hook on that stunned, obnoxious noisemaker.
Fly-fishers have a distinct advantage for casting to stripers and weakfish during shrimp hatches. For one thing, they can keep a fly suspended longer than with a heavy lure cast using spin gear. Real grass shrimp swim suspended in the water most of the time. Plus, assuming you need to match the hatch, flies generally do a much better job. Take a look at Bob Popovics’ Ultra Shrimp fly — it’s about as close to the real thing as you can get. Furthermore, when the fish seem to be very skittish, laying a fly out on the water is often much less intrusive than casting baits. Keep in mind that any time you fish a grass-shrimp imitation, your retrieve should be very slow and erratic.
As far as attention-getters go, you’ll want something small that makes a lot of noise. I tie a 2/0 Boiler Maker foam popper with a few feathers or bucktail on the back of a 4/0 hook. Perhaps one of the best flies to use during a grass-shrimp hatch is the Gartside Gurgler tied in tan or dark brown. This fly is small and can be tied to look just like a grass shrimp. When stripped through the water and then paused, it makes appealing splashes that attract lots of attention. Grass-shrimp hatches are awesome: Be prepared, know how to fish them, and you will be rewarded.
Create Your Own Hatch
Some tackle shops sell live grass shrimp by the quart.
“For a full tide, you’ll need four or five quarts,” notes Barnegat Bay’s Capt. Gene Quigley.
He recommends anchoring up off of a sod bank or creek mouth, and then “spiking the water” by tossing in eight or 10 shrimp at a time. Quigley uses a bobber system, putting one or two shrimp on a No. 2 or 4 hook, 4 to 6 feet down, and drifting it back in the slick. He also recommends a small, ³⁄8-ounce bucktail, impaling a couple of shrimp on the hook and slowly working it back through the slick.
About the Author Capt. John McMurray is the owner and operator of One More Cast Guide Service (nycflyfishing.com) in Jamaica Bay, New York. He is also the director of grant programs at the Norcross Wildlife Foundation and represents New York Anglers on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council.