Anyone who fly-fishes the cooler waters of the Northeast knows the benefits of the prolific sand eel population. Sand eels are a natural striped bass magnet and can be readily imitated by a variety of simple fly patterns that cast easily. Cape Cod and the surrounding areas are blessed with an abundance of the small snakelike fish for the entire striper season. In fact, most fly-fishers can't wait to begin stalking the crystal-clear flats in the spring, as they cast to hordes of migrating stripers. The action remains consistent from early spring through late fall.
This Dowel Stick Sand Eel is one of many eel patterns I have created to take advantage of these baits. This particular one is patterned after the Sand Eel Jiggy shown on the Atlantic Saltwater Flyrodders Web site, www.aswf.org. It differs in that instead of tying the pattern over a tungsten cone or cone/bead combination, you tie it over a cone of wood cut from the tip of a dowel stick. Tying over the wood causes the fly to swim without the jigging motion the tungsten cone produces. All you need to do is sharpen a dowel stick (3¼16 or 1¼4 inch) in a pencil sharpener and then cut off the tip using a penknife. A range of sizes can be cut to suit the size and profile of the sand eel you want to imitate. I've tied them from 2 inches long on a #8 hook up to 8 inches on a 3/0 hook. I prefer long-shank hooks, but they are not necessary. You can even tie the pattern in a bend-back style. If you do bend the shank, make sure you leave enough of it unbent by the eye to accommodate the length of the wood cone.
One other note: Many flats veterans talk of "standing" sand eels - ones that appear to be standing on their heads. By using a jig hook and adding brass hourglass eyes at the 60-degree bend of the hook, you can easily modify this pattern to create a fly that stands vertically when it drops to the bottom. Add a bent length of stiff mono (20-pound will do) over the top of the fly between the tip of the dowel and the brass eyes, perpendicular to the hook shank to form a bipod. Add a touch of head cement for durability. The fly will rest on its nose because of the weight, and the added mono "legs" will keep the fly upright. The fly will inch forward in a standing position on a slow strip, but during a standard retrieve it will swim normally and then drop nose down when stopped.