The Crab Hatch

                During  May and into early June as water temperatures rise Clam Worm hatches take the spotlight. Many fly rodders seek out worm hatches and the often spectacular striper fishing they bring. I’m not one who looks forward to or tries to figure out where or when worms will emerge or “hatch” as they say. If it happens when I’m fishing , great  I’ll surely  try my worm patterns.   I don’t however go out of my way to find them.  However,  there  is one  hatch I look forward to each year in mid- June. It’s the little known and seldom talked about “Crab Hatch.”

                Here in Narragansett Bay R.I. around mid-June  tiny crabs begin to appear scattered  all about the surface . With each passing day more and more appear until  eventually toward month’s end there’s  a Bi-zillion of them throughout the bay.  Also with each passing day more of them become drawn into the main current areas  and are less scattered, Striped bass favor them just as they do worms hatches. Schools of stripers can be seen swimming leisurely about sipping these tiny crustaceans from just below the surface. Stripers feeding on these small crabs are just as selective as when they’re on worms, in fact  I believe even more so or so it seems. These small crustaceans are slightly smaller than your small finger nail. Trying to imitate these small crustaceans with fur and feathers is difficult to say the least. I don’t even try to mimic them. However this year I have ideas for a pattern I think will work. Tying it up will be the easy part. Having the patience to fish it , well that’s going to be the hard part. Unlike clam worms that zip about all over the place, the crabs seem to flounder about and drift with the current. They appear almost lifeless but a close look will reveal their little legs paddling away a mile a minute as they drift along.  Just drifting a fly the size of a No.10 freshwater nymph pattern would take some doing and patience.

                It takes some really calm days to realize what’s going on. By calm, I mean a flat surface w/ relatively little or no wind to cause small wavelets. The glassier the better as any amount of chop makes seeing the rising bass nearly impossible. Stripers feeding on crabs are usually in pods or small schools. They swim slowly about, usually a foot or so below the surface and rise up toward the surface to take the helpless crabs drifting about. They behave much like freshwater trout making a “ bulging rise.” Despite their intensely selective feeding while on crabs, I’ve found they can be taken on streamer flies. It just takes lots and lots of patience.  I call stripers feeding on crabs to be fish of “countless casts.”  This is because you can make what seems like hundreds of casts to them and not even get a chase never mind a strike. Then suddenly, an arm wrenching strike and it’s fish on. While their mindset is only on the tiny crabs there’s always a few stripers in the pack that decide the heck with the popcorn I’m grabbing the prime rib. These fish are usually well worth the time spent, as they’re normally some really  good ones. My fly of choice for this is without hesitation is a 5-6” long Bondorew Bucktail.  I usually take my time and look things over and try and figure the striper’s speed and line of travel. I then cast to try and  put the fly just above their line of travel so it passes just in front of the bass on the retrieve. The stripers are so absorbed in feeding on crabs that little seems to bother them. However, an errant cast directly over them will surely spook them.  Once spooked they’ll quickly return to to the surface  feeding again but it’s usually out of reach and requires repositioning or waiting till they return to be in within casting range.

                Fishing from a boat is surely best but they’re close enough to shore to make fishing near shore from a canoe or kayak possible. However they often come within reach of the shore angler at certain locations. Regardless of boat, kayak or shore fishing the key is finding the stripers. Take the time to slowly and carefully scan the water for the slightest sign feeding stripers. A quick once over won’t do, only carefull observation will.   I believe that this hatch is not localized to just Rhode island but probably occurs all along from Buzzards Bay, MA   down  to the eastern end  Connecticut.  For those of you from R.I.  I’ll list some spots where I’ve taken stripers from shore during the crab hatch in the next few days so check back again. I might even have my simple tiny crab fly tied and will post some pics of it.  I will try fishing it t but I don’t think I’ll keep it on that long.  So check back soon for updates to this ”Crab Hatch”post—Ray

© R.J. Bondorew June 2012