May 2, 2012 in What's Happening
The sand lance, or sand eel, is one of the predominant baits on the east coast, providing forage for striped bass, bluefish, blue fin tuna, false albacore and whales to name just a few species that target this bait. While its name infers a connection to the common eel, there is no relation. Science has determined that there may be two families of this fish, an offshore species (Ammodytes dubius) and an inshore species (Ammodytes americanus). The only difference between the two, for our purposes, is in the size. The offshore species can grow to be 15” in length but generally average about 8” to 9”. The inshore species is most often found in the 4” to 6” range. Sand eels will shoal in groups of like size.
Along the east coast, the range of the sand eel runs from Cape Hatteras north to Labrador and out to Greenland. The sand eel is generally found inside the 120’ line, on top of off-shore banks such as Stellwagen and Georges and inshore near estuarine water. They will gravitate toward areas rich in plankton as well as areas with a sandy or light gravel bottom which they can bury themselves in to escape predators. Sand eels do not seem to seek deeper, water warmer water as winter sets in like so many other bait species. I’ve found sand eels in my home waters of the North and South Rivers in Massachusetts right up to the first freezing.
The sand eel has a slender, tubular body with a pointed snout and an almost oversized eye for its body size. They are usually found with a light green back, pearlescent belly and silvery sides but will take on color characteristics of their environment. Sand eels on the flats with light colored bottoms may take on a tannish color while those in darker water and estuaries may have more of a dark olive back and purple hue to their sides. They will generally school in large groups out on the flats or in deeper water during daylight hours and then break into small groups and seek shelter in the shallows along shorelines and structure in the dark. They will also burrow themselves into sandy bottoms as the tide drops and remain in the exposed sand until the water floods the area on the incoming tide.
The profile of the sand eel makes it one of the easiest baits to imitate at the vise. In reality, a clump of white bucktail or a couple of narrow hackles tied on the hook shank is probably all that is needed to repeatedly catch fish feeding on sand eels. There are many, many sand eel patterns out there. The classic chartreuse and white Clouser, Skok’s Whitebait Mushy, Popovics’ Surf Candy and Salt Candy, the Gartside Sand Eel. The list goes on.
I like simple flies that are quick to tie. The Bucktail Sand Eel is essentially just a version of the Rhode Island classic fly, the Ray’s Fly originated by Ray Bondorew. It has proven itself nearly anywhere there are sand eels. The most effective color schemes I’ve found are what you would imagine; white tail with white wing, olive wing or chartreuse wing. As an aside, we have found the all white version very effective on bass and blues feeding on peanut bunker if you trim the entire fly so that just an inch or so of material extends beyond the hook bend.
Hook: Favorite 1/0 or 2/0 standard shank
Thread: Danville’s Fine Monofilament
Tail: White Bucktail
Body: Pearl Saltwater Flashabou or Bill’s Bodi-braid
Wing: Olive Bucktail
Topping: Peacock Herl
Flash: Pearl Krystal Flash
Throat: Red Krystal Flash
Eyes: 3/16 molded holographic, black pupil on silver
1. Cover hook shank with thread, Tie in a clump of white bucktail on top of the hook shank. Wrap the bucktail with thread back to just above the hook point.
2. Tie in a strand of saltwater flashabou or bodi-braid at the end of the bucktail wraps, coat the bucktail wraps with head cement and palmar wrap the flashabou forward to the hook eye. I like to use saltwater flashabou because it’s more cost effective per fly and the flashabou will take on the colors of the materials around it.
3. Fold in two strands of pearly krystal flash at the hook eye.
4. Tie in a clump of olive bucktail (or your color choice for the wing).
5. Turn the fly over and tie in a few strands of red krystal flash at the throat.
6. Turn the fly back over and tied in a few strands of peacock herl on top of the wing. Wrap back softly about and 1/8” in back of the hook eye and then tie off/
7. Attach eyes with Goop and let set up.
8. Epoxy the head or cement it.
9. Go slay.
Mike Rice of Mud Dog Flies is one of the Northeast’s top custom fly tier’s. His flies are amazingly tied and work! We can vouch for that! Mud Dog Flies is also a sponsor for the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Tournament.
If you are interested in getting custom flies or want to check out some of Mike’s patterns go to http://www.muddogflies.com