Troy went tutti-frutti. I, chartreuse and white.
Color. It’s the key. Find the right combination and you can fill the boat with rockfish. If not, you’ve got a long day ahead. It’s all about color.
For the most part, fly fishing for stripped bass as they move up the river to spawn has a basic formula; eight or nine weights, 350-500 grain sinking lines (depending on flow) and sizable clousers. Chuck and duck, count it down to the bottom, and retrieve in short, snapping strips until you feel the leader tick into the rod tip that you’ve buried as deep as you can off the side of the boat. Wait for the thump. It’s hard work and a day of it will wear on you.
So us the sun rose, we opened the boxes and ruffled through the deer hair. Troy started with his favorite pink-and-white while I tied on red and yellow. Nothing happened. Troy switched to tutti-frutty (pink and chartreuse) and I pulled out chartreuse and white and we each boated a couple in a five-minute spurt, proving nothing. As quickly as they started, the bites went away.
The river was running high so we drifted, watching the Hummingbird and casting behind us. Two, three miles of water without much going on. So we circled back and ran it again, launch to Big Rock. This time, the blips started showing, fourteen feet down, and we started hooking up, Troy outpacing me three-fish-to-one. Tutti-frutti it was.
I made the switch but the inequity remained. Now, two-to-one on this boat is nothing unusual. I call it the “Troy Factor.” Some folks just have the touch. But tripled was just not right so I compared the two clousers. Both pink and chartreuse, but mine in pale tones while his were electric. I raided his box and the odds evened up. Picky fish.
On this waterway, if you can find the right colors and catch the spawn at its peak, each angler can have a hundred-fish day and slinging heavy lead line and wrestling ten pound stripers from dawn till dusk will leave you sore and satisfied. But you have to find what they want. And what they wanted yesterday may not be what they want today. It usually isn’t.
Through the rest of the morning and early afternoon we drifted and circled back, drifted and circled back, an untold number of times, picking up a handful of rocks with each pass. As it was late in the spawn we only brought fifty or so to the boat, but it was enough to keep the blood pumping and turn the arms to Jell-O by the end of the tutti-frutti day.
An hour or so before we returned to the launch, we heard a shout and some friends motored by. They asked how the day was, had we found fish, and where they might be. They played it coy before asking the important question.
What they really wanted to know was “What color?”