Day 1 Slam 1: Ray Rapino
Ray’s species: Bluefish, Black Seabass, Striped bass.
Ray and I had an interesting day, catching more than a dozen bluefish on the fly from stand up paddleboards (SUPS) on our way out to an island where I wanted to take lunch, walk around, fish and look for albies. We fished a rip off the island where almost every cast we were hooking striped bass for more than an hour.
The sun began to set and we’re paddling in, talking about how incredible the day was. I brought up how he had two species, one from shore and one from SUP, so not quite a slam, albeit I had two species on the fly from my board under my belt.
Van Morrison’s “Slim Slow Rider” came on, we were laughing and smiling ear to ear and I was busting his chops about how he had one species on the SUP. At that moment while paddling on the glass, fish started going off on the surface 15 yards to our right next to an island halfway from shore. I mean how could we not cast a line. Ray’s first laser beam was on point, he was on, I dropped my rod with the line still in the water and reached for the long lens. A bottom dweller black sea bass on topwater? Yes, please. I’ve only heard of people on boats witnessing such a sight. Everything came together for the photos, the golden hour shining through those beautiful fins but that was not the end.
In the same area, moments after the sea bass’ release, we heard what sounded like cannonballs on the surface. We both knew those were not sea bass, but striped bass. It was one of those rare moments when you just don’t say anything about what might happen next (3 species). One water haul, cast, strip, strip, strip, set! Ray was on and our mouths were still shut. The only noise was the drag peeling off his reel, my camera shutter and The Infamous Stringdusters “Walking on the Moon”. A few minutes and a short sleigh ride later, he pulled that 30-inch striped bass out of the water, I snapped a few photos, we both gave it thanks and sent it on its way. Day 1 slam in the bag.
The guy is truly a humble legend. He’s the fun uncle I never had.
Day 2 Slam 2: Chad Phillips
Where are you from? Where and when did you start fly fishing?
I was born and raised in a small town at the foot of the Smokey Mountains in Tennessee, and have spent the last decade in Fort Collins, Colorado. I first started to fly fish when I was 10 years old in the small creeks of eastern Tennessee. I’d grab over-sized duck-hunting waders, steal my mom’s Orvis fly rod, and slip into Abram’s Creek shortly after sunrise. I would stand thigh-deep for hours in those cold, uninsulated waders trying to figure out what flies those fish would inhale.
Did you have any idea moving to CT what the fishing would be like? Did you know SUP fly fishing was “a thing” in New England?
I was surprised that a paddle-sports game existed, much less how large it had become in New England. I had no idea the Northeast Coast was so easily accessible for fly fishermen, especially for the variety of species in what normally would be considered big water. The ability to quickly get onto fish by launching a SUP from shore and using only light tackle has produced a season I could have never hoped for only surfcasting.
What are your favorite species to target from shore (fresh or salt)? SUP?
After spending over 10 years in Colorado, I’ve been spoiled with wade fishing for trout compared to Connecticut waters. Over the last five years, my focus has been primarily salt both here as well as in the Caribbean. From shore, stripers are my target species due to the challenging structure they inhabit. But from a SUP, I’m an albie guy, there’s nothing more exciting than sight-casting to fish that can empty your backing in less than 10 seconds, especially on a board.
At what moment did you know you had the big three (Bluefish, striped bass, False Albacore in that order) SUP fly slam under your belt? Favorite moment?
With an albie on fly tackle, I didn’t know If I would land him. So, I really didn’t know until I had a hardtail in hand. We had been catching stripers and blues since sunrise and never really expected to get a shot at a third species, much less seeing them sipping topwater in a foam line that late in the season.
I knew it was an albie from the strip set. You don’t even get a chance to really set, you just strip, strip, and bang you are quickly into your backing. These fish possess amazing strength and speed for such a small package, ‘footballs,’ as it were. I love the species – the huge initial runs and the vicious head shakes as they’re drawn near. You’re never guaranteed a landed fish until one is in both hands.
My favorite moment was when I first sighted the albies on top and within paddling range, my heart jumped into my throat because I never know what’s about to happen next.
Next? Well, I have been fortunate to meet an amazing group of fly fishermen here in Connecticut, our small dream team is looking to chase sailfish in Florida in the next couple of months, so I will keep you posted.
Sean Callinan is a Fly Fishing and Fly Tying Instructor at Yale University. Check out more of his content @seancallinan on Instagram!