The Tip of the Spearing by Robert S. Nelson (+ How-to Tie)
We have all had that moment.
The bite either stopped or never happened in the first place or maybe the conditions are turning from mediocre to downright awful or your fishing luck seems to have just run out for the day, so you turn your back to the water and begin to chalk it up to it being just one of those trips and that’s when it happens. There’s that little voice from deep in the back of your fishing-oblongata that whispers, “Turn around, turn - make just one more cast, just one more.” And just like we have all had that same moment, we all know that sometimes, that little whisper of a voice is just so right.
Such a moment occurred on a gray morning in August.
For the better part of the summer we had been saddled with a rather nasty red tide in the back section of New York’s Raritan Bay. The water was rusty, we had to contend with heavy headwinds most days, the baitfish (particularly peanut bunker) were nowhere to be found, and as a result the fishing was awful. That meant that a staple summer fly fishing target, bluefish, were also nowhere to be found. They may not be GT’s or bonefish, but I assure you when a 10-pound bluefish crushes a top-water fly you will understand why we miss them. But after two months of bad conditions, this day had some promise.
The wind that was holding the red tide in place most of the summer had shifted for a few days. The tides were just right to make a nice sandbar accessible and it was forecast to be warm and overcast. At least these were all the factors that could be determined from my study.
Once on the beach, things were a bit different. The rust-red water was clearing, but was nowhere near clear. What had been predicted to be an overcast day was turning into a misty-about-to-be-rainy day. The only thing that held true was the tide. The bar was still accessible and wet-wading in the mugginess of August seemed somewhat appealing. So I stepped into the bathtub hot bay and, with more than a few pounds of doubt weighing me down, trudged out to the sandbar. From the start, the bay seemed all too happy to affirm my feelings.
A dozen casts each of the standard progression of Raritan Bay saltwater flies - Bob’s Banger, Hollow Fleye, and Clouser - yielded little more than some seaweed, half a small oyster shell, and what might have been a hit or could have been just a crab that reached up out of aggravation.
The mist was modulating into a steadier rain, the water was only marginally clearer now than before, and there were no signs of fish anywhere. If the bluefish were patrolling, the bait would be frantic and even if they didn’t rush up to the surface, they would confuse the water just enough for you to see where the blues might be.
Sprawling before me was a dark mirror speckled with the finest drops of rain. A dozen or so more casts, this time working the progression backwards - Clouser, Hollow, Banger - was just as productive as the first. I turned off the bar, my thoughts already heading to the tying bench to prepare for the fall striper run, when I heard it.
Somewhere in the back of my head, somewhere far back indeed, came the whisper. “One more.” I paused to listen and to make sure it wasn’t saying, “Nevermore.” As I hesitated, I looked down and caught a glimpse of silver and olive, then another, then another. Glinting over the bar, barely visible in the stained water was a big school of spearing. “One more.” There it was again and I had to concur.
With Bangers, Hollows, and Clousers having failed to make anything happen and with evidence of spearing, I pulled my fly box and searched for a prototype I had been toying with on the bench a few days earlier. Originally intended for the sandeel run in the fall, this little experiment had yet to see water, but given what I had just witnessed and with nothing else to lose, I tied it on and let it roll out in the rain. It hit softly and caused a visible ripple allowing me to track it back as I stripped with stops and starts, stops and...It wasn’t a hit, it wasn’t even a take per se, it was just a light tick, then another heavier one, then weight, and then a dive. I strip-set hard not knowing what I had, but just thankful I had a fish on. I lifted the rod and it bent deep. I retrieved as quickly as I could only to have what I collected in my stripping basket peel out as the fish pulled but without a head-shake or run to the right or left, just a long, strong, dive and pull for deeper water.
With that, a single word - FLUKE - telegraphed up the line into my nerves and then as my 9 weight groaned - another registered in thumps and dives - DOORMAT. I was amazed that even hip deep in the water, I had started to sweat all over.
The fight was nothing more than a tug of war.
With bluefish, they will try and draw a circle around you as they struggle. One friend once described watching me try and land a big blue on the fly as watching a very poorly made stopwatch try to time a race.
Stripers will run parallel for a bit then in and maybe out again. This was none of that. This was a pull out, a hurried reel back in, another pull out, and so on for a minute or two at least. When a huge mottled brown back showed itself for the first time, all the hair on my arms stood up. It was a true beast. I finally brought him in close enough to leader him and, despite the fight he was still fairly green, and he used his big flat tail to shower me in sand, but I did not care. This was the biggest fluke I had seen in some years, the biggest I had ever seen on the fly, and the first fly caught fluke I ever had in Raritan Bay. My Boga scale clocked him in at just under 5.5 pounds and I didn’t want to waste more time by measuring him, but he was certainly a keeper. I released him and he scuttled over the bar and was gone. “One more.” Who was I to argue?
Three more casts landed three more fluke of slightly lesser size, but bringing equal joy. Each time it was the same.
A long rolling cast with a soft landing followed by a slight pause to let the fly fall. Then a steady moderately paced strip with the occasional pause. It was always on that pause when the first tick would occur. A click of teeth on metal. Then the second tick and the weight of a flat fish trying to undulate its way free of the hook. They would run for the deeper water too, but with less umph than the first one. Each successive one came to hand a little faster. “One more.” The final four fish hit so close that it was tough to even stripset, let alone fight them. I would make long casts and work the fly back in the same manner as before, except this time the hits would come a leader’s length away. Then I said out loud, “One more.” That little voice replied, “Pushing your luck.”
Subsequent trips to the same sandbar yielded additional fluke on the same fly and some very useful information.
The water, with the help of a stiff north wind for a few days, cleared to near aquarium-level visibility which allowed me to partake in one of my favorite parts of fishing - just standing and observing. In breaks between casting and sometimes catching, I was able to watch huge schools of spearing darting in and out of the cove behind my sandbar. They would, as a school, maintain a uniform depth and swim tight save for two or three fish. These fish would break right or left and rise and fall slowly. It all came into focus. I had made a very passable imitation of a spearing separated from the school. One that would tilt or tip up or down as it was stripped. It turned out to be a fly that fluke, and as the water cooled, stripers, seemed to be unable to resist.
What I would eventually nick-name “The Tip of the Spearing” fly is a modified clouser pattern using a monofilament thread, a size 2 90 degree jig hook, bead-chain, olive saltwater-style bucktail, white Flymen Fishing faux bucktail, pearl flat-braid, silver saltwater Flashabou, and a Flymen Fishing FishMask.
Monofilament is key to this pattern as it allows you to wrap over other elements without obscuring them and does not add weight to the fly.
The beadchain and the jig hook pair up nicely to give the fly a steady fall rate through the water on the pause and a slow straight rise on the strip.
I do not use dumbbell eyes on this pattern as I noticed that they fall too fast no matter how small the dumbbell.
By wrapping flat-braid around the hook shank and adding Flashabou to the sides, the spearing’s lateral line is pronounced giving the fly just enough flash in just the right place to make it visible in murky water, but not too flashy in clearer water. I have found that faux bucktail from Flymen Fishing works best for the underbelly for several reasons.
The faux hair has more shine than natural bucktail, it collects easier under wraps, and allows you to conserve your natural bucktail for patterns that require more movement. Olive long-haired bucktail is used for the back and paired, sometimes, with black and silver flash for the illusion of scales.
Unlike a clouser, several soft wraps are made behind the beadchain to bring the bucktail down and streamline the body a bit more. Soft wraps behind the beadchain are vital. You want the olive bucktail close, but not flat. It may take some practice to find just the right tension.
Once the body is complete you may choose to finish it off with a mask or leave the beadchain bare.
I have masked all of my versions, but a friend did have some success with an unmasked one. While the original prototype used UV resin to build the head around the beadchain, I did find Flymen FishMasks (size 5 or 6) were far more durable. I also opt to use WTP flat silver eyes as they present the closest representation of a spearing’s wide eye more so than other 3d eyes.
This pattern is easy to tie, highly adaptable (there’s a bull redfish in the Chesapeake somewhere with a tan, copper, white version in his maw after a poor tippet choice was made), and effective in a variety of situations for a variety of fish.
I have tied, but have yet to test, white curly-tailed version for crappie and perch in freshwater as well. With other color choices, it would work for speckled trout (pink), bonefish (silver), and most definitely snook (red/brown). As an imitator, I believe it is more than a reasonable facsimile. As a fly, once learned, the pattern takes minutes to tie and with minimal materials. It is also easily scalable. I have tied and fished this pattern on jig hooks up to 3/0, but prefer the #2 Mustad for its size and weight. It is fairly slim fly and, as such, is not affected by the wind as other saltwater patterns. With one tied on, I almost always hear that little voice whispering, “One more.”
Hook: Mustad REF 32833NP-BN
Thread: Uni-Mono 4m
Body: Veevus MF 20 / 4m silver
Eyes: Dumbell / WTP 3/16” Flat Silver Eyes
Tail: Saltwater Flashabou #1605
Throat: Olive Bucktail
FishMask: Flymen Fishing FS-FM-06
1 Secure a #2 jig hook in your vise and wrap down the hook shank to the bend with monofilament thread (Uni-Mono 4m). Cut a hook-shank length piece of flat braid (Veevus MF 20 / 4m silver) and tie it in at the bend. Work the thread to about 1/8 of an inch from the eye. Make touching wraps of the flat braid up to and then pass the thread. Secure the flat braid leaving a small tag of braid free.
2 Clip off and secure a bead chain dumbbell to the hook 1/8 of an inch from the eye. Then wrap the flat braid back over the dumbbell and secure. Head cement or CA glue will help at this stage but is not a requirement.
3 Rotate the hook, clip a hook-shank’s length of faux bucktail and align so that the tips are roughly half an inch from the bend of the hook and tie in by wrapping back to the hook bend and forward again to in front of the bead chain.
4 Rotate the hook back, clip and align the flashabou (Saltwater Flashabou #1605) with the sides of the hook. Wrap thread back to secure the flash and return the thread to in front of the bead chain.
5 Clip and align olive bucktail (avoid the hollow low hairs and use hair from the middle to avoid spinning) with the white underbelly faux bucktail and tie in making several wraps to the hook eye and back to the bead chain until the nose is clean. Take soft wraps over the olive bucktail behind the bead chain to bring the olive bucktail down a bit and then wrap forward, whip finish, and cut the thread.
6 Fit the FishMask (Flymen Fishing FS-FM-06) over the eye and the beadchain. This may take more than a little effort and using a bodkin to manipulate the mask may be required, but they do fit. Apply a small amount of head cement or CA glue to secure the mask.
7 Add eyes (WTP 3/16” Flat Silver Eyes) and secure with glue or UV resin.
- written by Robert S. Nelson