January 2021
Skinny Water Charters Newsletter
As I finish writing this month's newsletter, the New England winter is raging... clear, windy, snow on the ground and a balmy 18F with a "feel like" temperature of -1F. Eeesh!

April seems so far away but actually it will be here in just 61 days... I can live with that (I guess I'll have to). With each passing day, we have about one minute more of light... another reason to celebrate.

This newsletter contains a couple of updates on May and early June striped bass fishing. I'm nearly sold out of days for the Cinder Worm emergence. On the heels of the worm emergence is the wonderful evening/night time fishing we have right here in Newport Harbor. Small sand eels emerge from the harbor's bottom starting about sundown, most nights beginning in mid-June and running to the end of the month. The stripers drive the sand eels into really shallow water and it's a topwater game. This is really fun fishing and many nights it's pretty much non-stop catching.

RIO Products manufactures the best, most innovative and diverse selection of fly lines in the business. Their website also provides a tremendous amount of information and education for the fly angler. I feature a short piece of their offerings togher with links to a lot of very helpful information which I hope you find interesting.

In addition, this month's newsletter offers a variety of general tips for the fly angler. These tips are linked to a variety of websites and short videos that hopefully will assist you to becoming a better angler.

Lastly, I dip back quite a few years with a short story about two experiences on Montana's Missouri River. I hope I don't offend anyone but I wanted to share something personal that I still get a kick out when I recollect parts of my life... I call that piece "I Think I've Been Here Before" .

My best to you, your family and loved ones. Stay safe generally, and particularly with the Corona virus. We are getting closer to coming out the other end of what has been a long, dark and very painful tunnel.

Take care, I hope to see you this coming fishing season.
Worm Hatch Update
My worm hatch reservations started early and by the end of December I was 75% booked beginning in mid-May and ending on June 8. The following prime dates are currently open and based on history are good dates for strong worm emergences with hungry bass chasing them.

May 13, 18
June 2, 3, and 7

The days prior to May 12 can offer good worm hatch fishing if our estuary waters warm up early, however there's no way of forecasting those water temperatures this far out. In mid-March I typically begin monitoring Rhode Island ocean water temperatures that are recorded at a number of weather buoys. I track those temperatures on a weekly basis and compare them to prior years and correlate that data to the first signs of worm emergences in our salt ponds. Based on what I see I will expand or delay the dates for my worm emergence charters. These water temps charts will be published on my "Fly Fishing in Rhode Island" and "Skinny Water Charters" Facebook pages.
June 2021 Sand Eel Emergence
June is sand eel month in Newport area waters and in particular the waters inside Newport Harbor. It's a little known fishery (except by Rhode Islanders) but it's nearly as much fun as fishing the cinder worm hatch in our salt ponds. It doesn't draw much notoriety because it's an evening and night time venue and a lot of anglers just don't like to fish in darkness. That's really a shame because during the low and no light hours is when striped bass prefer to feed.
Sand Eel emergence in Newport Harbor

I won't go into the details on the wade fishing options (of which there are many) because the areas that provide the best access for the wading angler are fairly restricted in terms of space.

We don't have restricted access issues when fishing from a boat however, we basically can fish the entire harbor and have it to ourselves. But, like I say, it's nighttime angling and most anglers prefer to fish in daylight and be with friends and family in the dark hours.

Let me describe how a typical evening of sand eel fishing plays out.

It starts with me meeting my charter guests at the boat ramp in Ft. Adams State Park in Newport Harbor just as it's getting dark, say about 8pm. I tour areas of the harbor very slowly in my Mako 2201 Bay Boat or in my 16' Lund, and orient my guests to those areas we will fish, what fly patterns we will use on our floating fly lines (or on light tackle rods for those folks that don't fly fish). We then get our head lamps secured and await the sunset.

Once the sun is down, typically there is plenty of ambient light in the sky, particularly if it's a clear night and better still if we have a moon showing, and even better still on those evenings closer to a full moon. What little boat traffic there is in the harbor amounts to small dinghy's motoring slowly to moored sailboats, or the harbor shuttle ferrying people to and from their boats from the waterfront bars and restaurants.
Once it's dark, we will begin to see the rise forms of striped bass breaking the surface taking sand eels. (They really aren't eels, they are very thin elongated baitfish.)

The frequency of rising fish adjacent the boat and towards the shoreline is amazing. The typical casts we make are 20 to 40 feet. We use floating fly lines employing a very slow retrieve and we hook stripers ranging from trout size to 40 inch fish, with the average in the low 20 inch range.
This is pretty much a nightly event and continues through the evening irrespective of tide and breeze, and as an added feature, we are fishing to good music coming from the outdoor patios of the bars on Thames Street. What's not to like about all of this?.... well, for some, it's the fact that it's dark. A normal charter will run about four hours, say from 8 pm to midnight (or shorter if you desire). If you haven't experienced an evening sand eel emergence you should consider adding it to your bucket list.

The prime time for this fishing experience is mid-June to the end of the month.
Night time sand eel emergence
Becoming a Better Fly Caster
Simple Solutions and Tips from RIO Products
The Curve Cast
This fresh water casting technique shows how to bend your fly line around a corner. This cast , known as a positive curve cast, or a Shepherd's Crook Cast, is a great cast to have in your repertoire as it enables you to cast to the side of a weed bed, and bend your fly line so that it and your fly lands in front of a fish (and not over the top of the weed bed)- just as shown in this video. Head to the link below to learn more.

The RIO Products website contains a treasure trove of information on fly fishing and specifically on fly casting techniques. For more information follow this link or click the photo of the angler casting with "tension" and then click "Browse The Library" for tons of additional information.
Fly Fishing Tips from Capt. Jim

When I have guests on board, to be honest many are not very good fly anglers. That’s not meant as criticism, but rather observation. Most could certainly benefit from at least one two-hour casting lesson, others need a lot more help, but again, these are observations, easy for me to say- I’m a professional angler, nearly 100% of my guests are not. At the end of the day, fly fishing is about “enjoyment” and for some, it’s not even about catching a fish, but more about participating in this time-honored sport, enjoying the surroundings and the ambiance of the flyfishing experience, and for some, catching a few fish along the way. In any case it’s all good.

I am attempting to make this periodic newsletter more than an advertisement for increasing Skinny Water Charters business, and admittedly much of the time I fail at that, defaulting into articles that advertise what services and location fishing I have to offer. I will endeavor to be less commercial and more instructional in these newsletters. This and future newsletters will offer more tips on fly fishing, fly casting, and fly tying, as well as other resources designed to assist you. This is not to say there will no longer be the business marketing side of Skinny Water Charters, it’s just that I will strive to offer more balanced content.
General Tips
Approaching and Leaving
Fishing Areas

When walking in the woods or near obstructions with an assembled rod, always carry the rod with the tip facing rearwards. Doing this should completely eliminate the tip section from hitting a tree and breaking or getting the rod caught in a bush.
Align the Rod Sections Perfectly

In conjunction with the tip regarding waxing ferrules, pay attention to how you join the rod sections. Many rod manufacturers paint onto their blanks “assembly dots”. These are designed so the guides are in perfect alignment. After making sure there is adequate wax on each male ferrule, join each section so that the dots are at 90 degrees from one another. Then gently push the rod sections together as you twist them simultaneously to align the dots. This will assure the sections are joined firmly. As you assemble and disassemble each section do not use the guides to better hold the sections, doing so can bend the guides and fracture the epoxy wraps. 
Wax those Ferrules

When you assemble a multi-piece rod (fly or light tackle) take care in how you do it. First (and this particularly applies to new multi-piece fly rods), apply a paraffin-based wax to the tip of the “male” section of the rod. The wax can be as simple as a leftover candle that you keep in the pocket of your fly vest or in your tackle bag.

Rub the wax completely around the blank on each section. Then smooth out the wax by gently rubbing it to generate a little heat so that it completely and uniformly covers that portion of the male rod section that is covered by the “female” ferrule. The wax should be reapplied occasionally. We do this so that with repeated casting, the rod sections do not slowly migrate apart.

One of the quickest ways to cause damage to any fishing rod is to allow the rod sections to migrate apart. When this happens unsupported pressure is exerted on the ferrule from fighting a fish or from simply casting repeatedly.

If you are on the water and without any paraffin wax, a perfectly acceptable technique is to use a little ear wax. If you have ever purchased one of Orvis’ higher quality fly rods, they ship a small tub of paraffin wax with the rod. This cuts down on broken rod sections, benefitting not only their customers but avoiding cutting down on rod repairs.

Disassembling a Rod- (photo linked)

When disassembling rod sections, if you are unable to do so without grabbing the guides for leverage, put the rod behind you, and lower it to knee level. Bend forward and hold each section firmly, and while gently twisting each section in opposing directions, widen the space between your knees. This technique provides additional, straight line and equal pressure to the rod. If you experience difficulty with breaking down your rod, it’s because you are assembling it too tightly. 

You can also enlist the assistance of a friend and "double team" the rod, just be careful you both are pulling in a straight line. See the linked video for instruction

The Retrieval and
Striking the Fish

In saltwater angling with a flyrod we employ what many refer to as a "Strip Strike" (the name of my Mako). After casting, the angler drops the tip of the flyrod to water level, or even just below the surface. The fly line is pinched against the fly rod grip using the forefinger or middle finger of the “rod hand” and the angler strips the fly line in at the appropriate speed for the fishing conditions.

As each retrieve segment is completed, the line is pinched tightly against the grip and the angler reaches forward with the “line hand” grabbing the line at the point it is pinched against the grip to make the next retrieve. What’s critical here is that the angler needs to put pressure on the line where it’s pinched against the grip, enough so that if a fish strikes the fly, the line will be tight causing the hook to penetrate the fish’s jaw.

Once the angler feels the weight of the fish, the line hand pulls the line rearward with force while simultaneously releasing it from where it is pinched against the grip. This fluid but forceful motion drives the hook home into the fish’s jawbone. Once the line is tight to the fish, the angler raises the rod tip, gathers the slack line by winding it onto the reel while pinching the line again against the grip to control the fish until the angler has regained all the slack line on the reel.

If the angler is used to fishing in freshwater, invariably their hookset will be using a high rod angle, commonly referred to as a “troutset”, and in doing so, miss 75% of their saltwater fish. The jawbone and mouthparts of striped bass, bluefish, false albacore, redfish… the list goes on- are tough stuff and the hookset must be aggressive and powerful. So- strip strike that fish!

  • Use side to side pressure when playing a strong fish, it will tire the fish more quickly.

  • Keep your rod butt at waist level when playing a strong fish. This takes pressure off the tip and transmits more pressure into the lower sections of the rod and into the grip. Playing a fish with the rod tip in a high position is an invitation to break the tip section. I counsel my clients to not raise the rod tip higher than 45 degrees from the water.

  • While playing a fish, do not use your line hand above the grip to provide more leverage. This puts too much pressure on the lower rod section. A flyrod is constructed to flex deep into the handle.

  • If your fly gets hung up on a snag whether it's in the water or a bush or tree- point the rod tip at the snag, cover the reel with your hand so it won't turn and pull the line straight towards you. (Also turn your head away so the line will not hit your face). You will likely break off the fly and have to retie or rebuild a leader/tippet before you can start fishing again but it's better that breaking the rod. Ask me... I once hooked a small branch mid-stream on the Bighorn River in Montana while fishing to a great grasshopper feed. I attempted to free the fly by jigging the rod tip- trying to send pressure down the fly line... SNAP... a broken tip section and a one mile walk back to the truck to get a spare rod.

  • When stripping in your fly line during the retrieve and the fish hits the fly, use a "Strip Strike" to set the hook. Do not use the high tip "trout set". More often than not you will miss the fish. This is a difficult muscle memory puzzle that you will learn the hard way after missing too many strikes.

  • When a strong and fast fish races away from you (like a False Albacore or Bonito), keep pressure on the fish either by palming the fly reel or relying on the reel's drag. Do not attempt to stop or slow the fish aggressively, strong fish will break your leader quickly. When you feel the fish slowing, or it dramatically changes direction, then apply more pressure, but be prepared to reel-up quickly as in many cases the small "tunoids" will charge the boat, making it difficult to take up the slack line.

  • When fighting a heavy fish that is deep and close to the boat, pump the rod up in short (20-25 degree) increments as you wind on line. Drop the rod tip back to horizontal while maintaining a tight line, lift smoothly, wind the slack line as you again drop the rod. These short lifts will quickly tire the fish and avoid you putting too much pressure on your rod.

  • Yes, you should do it, and on a regular basis. It doesn't take much time. Cleaning your fly lines will make them last longer, float higher in the case of a floating line, and enable you to cast further.
  • I would recommend you clean your fly lines about every fourth outing, particularly when fishing in salt water, and in dirty water. When I fish the cinder worm hatch in May and June, I need to clean my floating lines about every second trip, the reason being, the water is typically covered in tree pollen, and the sticky pollen gums up the line drastically limiting casting distance and floatability.
  • At the end of the fishing season I highly recommend you clean all your lines before putting the reels and spare spools away for the winter. The drying effects of salt deposits on your lines can shorten the life of those lines.
  • You don't need any fancy product that many fly fishing company's sell, a simple bath of warm soapy water and a couple of clean towels is all you need, and while you're at it clean and dry your reels and spare spools.
  • Checkout this video from Scientific Anglers for simple instructions on how to clean your fly lines.

During the course of many hours on the water, when you are stripping fly line over your index or middle finger, it's very easy to wear a crease in the flesh, particularly in salt water. These lycra sleeves are cheap, and a whole lot more effective than bandaids or first aid tape.
A couple of years ago during a charter one of my clients wasn't using any finger protection. The foredeck of the boat was spotted with fish blood, except he hadn't caught anything! By then it was too late and I had to pull out my first aid kit.

When retrieving a fly after casting, I see way too many anglers retrieving the line entirely too fast. Oftentimes they retrieve so quickly they are pulling the fly out of the fishes feeding zone. Well, how fast is too fast you ask? This depends on the bait your fly is trying to imitate and the speed at which the natural bait is fleeing, and the speed of the predator in running down the natural… “Let the naturals be your guide”.

The only time I will counsel a client to strip like a madman is when the fish are blitzing on a bait ball. Typically for the waters I fish, that blitz may have the bait spraying out of the water frantically trying to escape the predators. In this instance we do want to strip fast so that the fish don't completely overtake and leave the fly behind. Your retrieval speed needs to change depending on conditions. The key is to keep the fly in the fish's feeding zone.

The fastest swimming fish in our waters is the False Albacore. At full tilt this fish can swim 60 feet/second. The key to catching these fish is to cast far enough ahead so they can see the fly and run it down. The best shot is one where you are casting in line with the direction the fish is swimming. You may get lucky on occasion with a cast that is perpendicular to the Albie, but that's the exception. There are many times however that Albies will circle up the bait into a ball. If you find that situation you want to cast into and around the bait ball, but don't retrieve so quickly that you pull the fly out of their feeding zone.

When fishing for striped bass or bluefish, our most common species… slow down the retrieve, anywhere from a “dead drift”, to 6 inch strips every three seconds to perhaps 18 inch strips every three to five seconds. Again, try and keep the fly in the predators feeding zone. Let your guide assist you in determining the appropriate retrieval speed. If you are fishing crab or shrimp imitations in shallow water on a flat for instance, slow that retrieval speed way down, and crawl the fly in very short increments, sometimes just a tiny movement to make the materials in the pattern move with the current, is all that’s necessary to get a bite.

Fishing the Worm Hatch

If you’re fishing a worm hatch, watch the movement of the naturals. They don’t swim in three-foot increments at a two second interval. Most worm hatches will have the natural swimming in relatively short (a few inches to maybe one foot increments) and oftentimes they will be swimming in erratic directions or even in circles.

With a flyrod, it’s nearly impossible to swim a fly pattern in varying directions during the retrieve, and impossible to swim it in circles- so there are limitations. On that note however, if you are fishing from a boat that allows you to stand while retrieving, and you have cinder worms swimming near you in erratic directions (and circles), you can retrieve the fly line and pattern using a “high stick” approach, almost like you were nymphing in a freshwater stream. I like to call it “dancing the fly”- your casting arm is high over your head and the rod tip is anywhere between the 9 and 12 o’clock position, and your fly is probably no more than ten feet from you body.

This retrieval position enables the angler to impart incredible action to the fly, very closely imitating the swimming patterns of the natural. Of course the problem is, that once a striper eats your fly, with the rod tip held high your hookset is weak, as the tip section(s) of your fly rod don’t typically allow a powerful set. A powerful hookset with the rod in a vertical position can cause you to break your tip section... so you have to be careful using this technique but believe me this technique is very effective and it brings the action right to your doorstep!

Marking Fly Lines for Weight

  • Now that you have bought that new fly line and spooled it onto your reel, you know that it is an 8 weight line because you just spent $90 and you cannot wait to cast it. You have removed the sticker from the plastic spool cartridge and affixed it to the inside of your reel spool... there's no forgetting it's an 8 weight, that is until the sticker washes away and you no longer remember the line size...so how do we eliminate that problem?

  • We mark the fly line near the end closest to the loop that connects to the leader. It's a simple system using dots and short lines you mark onto the fly line with a black Sharpie. One dot is a 1 weight line, two dots is a 2 weight line... up to and including four dots for, you guessed it- a 4 weight line. If it's a five weight line I draw a quarter inch line. A six weight line is a quarter inch line and one dot. When I get to a ten weight line, it's two quarter inch lines. Simple but effective.

Marking Fly Lines to find
the "Sweet Spot"

  • A typical fly line (head and running line) is about 90-100 feet in length.
  • The head section length varies by the type of line and manufacturer, but generally it is 30- 40 feet in length.
The Casting Stroke/ Sweet Spot

  • For those of you who play tennis you're probably familiar with a tennis racquet's sweet spot. It's generally in the center of the racquet face- it's that spot where you feel the awesome power of the racquet when hitting the ball.
  • A fly line also has a sweet spot where the caster can feel the power of the fly line during the casting stroke. Without getting into too much detail about fly line construction, for the sake of this newsletter let's think of a fly line being comprised of two sections: 1. The head portion (the front of the line closest to the fly), and 2. The running line portion (the remaining section of the line before it ends and joins to the backing). I like to think of the fly line's sweet spot as the point two feet beyond where the head section joins the running line portion of the fly line.

Loading the Rod

  • Fly lines generally are not unidimensional in thickness. In a weight-forward line, the head portion of the line is thicker if you will, and best thought of as "heavier" than the running portion of the line. During the casting stroke it is this head that pulls the slack running line on it's way to the target.
  • During the casting stroke, more precisely the false casting stroke(s), in order to properly "load" (bend) the fly rod with the weight of the fly line, which alternately stores and dissipates energy in the rod, the caster must have the head of the fly line plus about two feet of the running line outside the rod's tip top guide. It's when the combination of the head and the (short) running line section of the fly line is aerialized that the caster begins to feel that "sweet spot". That portion of the fly line plus a varying amount of slack "running line" at the casters feet, enables an effective cast. Whew!
Marking the Fly Line
for the "Overhang"

  • So, where does the "marking" of the fly line come into play you ask? Answer: If the caster marks their fly line with a Sharpie at that magical spot- two feet beyond the head into the running line (we call that the "overhang"), as they go about the process of false casting, once they get that line two feet beyond the rod tip- the rod is typically "loading" and when ready the caster can shoot (release) the flyline to the target... watch the following video to better understand...Marking Fly Lines

  • (If you really want to get into the weeds about fly line construction, visit the following link for probably a lot more information that the average fly angler cares to know...but then again, maybe not.

Hand Casting
I Think I've Been Here Before
I was solo wade fishing in the Missouri River near Craig, MT in August of 1995. I waded into the river in the late afternoon to catch an awesome black caddis emergence and there were big rainbow trout rising very close to the riverbank. It was tricky wading as the bottom dropped off quickly and the water was very cold as it is a bottom-release fishery from the dam that was just upstream from my position. The trout were very skittish and getting a take was difficult. It required a pinpoint accurate cast and with the brush behind me the only cast that would work was a roll cast, which at the time I wasn't very good at making. I caught a few nice rainbows and inhaled more than my share of caddis that evening they were so thick. As the sun went down it wasn't long before darkness set in, just enough time to carefully back out of the water, turn and fight my way through the heavy brush, keeping an eye and ear out for rattlesnakes of which this part of Montana is famous for. I made my way up the embankment to a level area and sat on a large flat rock where I broke down my rod and took in the awesome view of the river and the golden sunset.

In 1971, twenty-four years earlier than this beautiful evening on the Missouri, I was in Augusta, Montana, about 45 miles up the road from Craig. I had just graduated from UMass and hadn't yet started working at a serious job. Four of us had driven west from Massachusetts for the summer to raise some hell, spend time in the mountains camping and hiking in the high country of Montana and Wyoming to see if they might be places we wanted to settle-in for a while. Before transferring to UMass, I had spent my freshman and sophomore years majoring in Forestry at the University of Montana in Missoula and while there heard stories from a couple of my fraternity brothers about a wild-ass weekend rodeo that took place every summer in Augusta, Montana. It was commonly thought that the success of the rodeo was measured by how deep the flattened beer cans were on main street on Sunday morning.

We had just popped out of the mountains from having spent a couple of weeks in the Glacier National Park backcountry and were primed for beer, women and a noisy bar... and it just so happened that the timing was perfect for us to take in the infamous Augusta rodeo. When we weren't camping in the mountains, we were living out of a van and staying in campgrounds. We all had long hair and beards and dressed in hiking boots and pretty shabby clothes. We drove into this little town called Polebridge, MT which is on the west side of Glacier. Polebridge is a classic western cowboy town, probably not much has changed there since the days of gold prospectors. As we got out of the van, flipping back our long hair and scratching our beards, this old timer (the guy must have been 90) approached us, propped his hands on his waist and declared... "you boys look like a bunch of saints!). Well I was far from being St. James, but we all had a laugh and welcomed ourselves back to "civilization".
In time we found Augusta on the road atlas and decided to give it a shot. Saturday evening had us arriving in town (with no prearranged place to stay that night I might add) and the place was just starting to spin up. I've never been to the Sturgis Rally, but downtown Augusta that night was wall to wall staggering cowboys in plaid shirts and pearl snap buttons, hippies, wild running dogs, pick up trucks, low riders, open beer containers, bar bands a'blazin and people dancing in the streets.... and already there was a thin collection of flattened beer cans starting to mount up on Main street. Holy shit just like in the book I exclaimed...and right before my very eyes, bare chested and dancing on the hood of a pickup was one of my old fraternity brothers, how could this be I asked. This is GREAT!

We had no plan but quickly patched one together. We needed to make two stops- some place quick to get a sandwich and then of course, a beer store. The mission... drink a lot of beer, go dancing in a cowboy bar or at the fairgrounds, find women, romance them (after all we were studs from "back east") and then convince them that they should leave town with us to spend the night at our campground (which of course we didn't have- but Montana has a lot of open and remote spaces- we'd find a place). Easy We decided to rendezvous at the van with our dates at midnight, and then blow town. We promised them a nice campground with showers and a hearty breakfast in the morning, before returning to Augusta for Sunday church services.

I guess it was about midnight, and after searching too long we found our last buddy and his date in the bed of a dump truck, passed out. We all piled into the van (8 of us) and faked trying to find our campground as we drove south. After driving about an hour and not having passed another vehicle in almost an hour, we gave up our feigned search and pulled over to the side of the road at a turn-out rest area. We grabbed our dates and sleeping bags and most of the group crossed over a barbed wire fence and staggered into the Montana plains, through the sage brush and around cow pies and settled-in for the night. (Classy)
As for me, I grabbed by sleeping bag and escorted my date in the opposite direction, and down an embankment, and voila- there was this beautiful river and after a short search we found this flat area next to a wide flat rock. When I awoke at sunrise, my date was gone as were the other women captives. The boys had a great laugh, then found a cafe with a cheap breakfast next to a store that sold Burgy Beer, in short order we were headed back to Augusta to begin tuning up for rodeo night #2.

So twenty-four years later there I was sitting on that exact same rock, a veritable time machine, breaking down my fly rod readying for the walk back to the car and the 45 mile drive north to my motel in Augusta.
Fly Fishing Quote
"Certainly no aspect of fly fishing is as enjoyable as those which have a good, firmly based and well established myth or two for company."

Conrad Voss Bark
A Fly On the Water (1986)
I hope this newsletter was fun and perhaps contained information of interest to you, and again I welcome input for future topics you may be interested in knowing more about.

Sorry for any misspelled words and lousy sentence structure. I try!

Newsletters are produced whenever I can find the time. An archive of prior issues can be found on my website.
My best, and I hope to see you on the water.
Capt. Jim Barr
Skinny Water Charters