Thursday, December 17, 2015

Chernobyl Crab

The Chernobyl crab is a modern day classic saltwater pattern designed by Tim Borski.  I love dynamic patterns that you tweak slightly to cover a range of food sources and fishing applications and this fly fits the bill.  The basic design is beautifully simple: a splayed hackle wing tail, flared deer body hair tips as a collar, followed by hackle fibers palmered through loosely spun and trimmed deer hair body for a head, then finished off with some bead chain eyes.  Though named "crab", the fly is more impressionistic and can imitate a minnow, crab, or shrimp all at the same time.  However, changing the amount or positioning of the materials can make the fly more suggestive of one food source over the other.  For example, the pictured fly has splayed hackles that can imitate claws if the fly is fished slowly.  Also, the deer hair collar is large and fanned over the back of the fly like a carapace.  Yes, this fly is intended to be fished more like a crab i.e. retrieved slowly in sight fishing situations.  However, the beauty is that even with crab-like aesthetics, if fished blindly and more erratically, this fly could easily be confused for a shrimp or a mangrove minnow such as a mud minnow or molly.  To be more suggestive of a shrimp or fish rather than a crab, I would tie the hackles cupped (curved in) rather than splayed and I would reduce the size and spread of the deer-hair collar.  This technique would create a narrower profile, suggestive of a minnow or shrimp rather than the wide footprint of a crab.

This versatility also makes the fly a great winter pattern for the back country in southwest Florida.  Typically, during the cooler months, the primary forage base shifts from bait fish to shrimp and crabs.  That is not to say that bait fish aren't present or that predator don't eat bait fish or even key on bait fish during this time but rather that bait fish are not in as high of numbers and the crabs and shrimp presence increases.  So, using a fly that covers a range of food sources can help you cover water more effectively.

Additionally, because of the deer hair and overall design, the fly can be fished slowly in shallow water which allows for proper presentations to cold slow moving fish during winter's negative tides.

Tie up some Chernobyl crabs/shrimp/minnows in olives, tans, blacks and whites with dumbbell and bead chain eyes and be confident that you have a fly that every southwest Florida fish will eat.

Side Bar: If the deer hair body seems like a pain, then large tan, black, olive or pearl crystal chenille is a suitable alternative.  In fact, if you intend to fish the fly deeper in the water column, then crystal chenille may be a preferable alternative.  On that note, if you are fishing a deer hair CC, be sure to squeeze out any trapped air before use.  This is done by gently squeezing the body under water.  By forcing the air out of the fly it will track true and sink faster.

Tight Lines.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Streamers For Browns in Cold Water

Fall is a classic time to throw streamers for Browns.  Before and after the fall spawn Browns throw on the feed bag and it's a great time to stick a big one. However, in winter the giant fly and aggressive strip approach that works early in the fall season and early spring becomes less effective.  Browns seek out soft lies when the water gets cold. These lies mostly consist of soft water on the inside of deep bends and at the elbow of log jams. When I say "elbow" I am referring to the spot where the wood meets the bank. This junction typically creates a soft spot or small back eddy where Browns will sit.  I also love soft flats with wood on the bottom. These spots are some of the primary targets in winter conditions and they require a particular approach to be fished effectively.

With that in mind, the fly selection must change. As an obsessed streamer junkie it pains me to say that the perfectly crafted, double hook, deer-hair head killer needs to go back in the box. The better fly is a smaller pattern designed to sink in a hurry. A smaller weighted pattern is better at this time for a few reasons. First, your fishing window is very small in these circumstances. A deerhair head steamer relies on a long sink type to get down. It takes time and therefore distance/space for this set up to get the fly into the fishing zone. Even then a big fly doesn't get very deep and you need an aggressive fish to come up after it. Conversely, a smaller pattern with heavy weight dives right into the zone into the fishes face. A couple pops of the rod or short strips activate the fly and should trigger a strike. If not, pick it up and fire it at another spot. You could add a bullet weight to the front of the big streamer but  casting starts to get pretty tough to handle at that point.

Second, monster streamers need to fished aggressively to swim properly.  A smaller weighted pattern with breathable materials has inherent movement so it will continue to move while at rest or paused.  This is important because a cold brown is not prone to chase for very long. A slow jigging strip with pregnant pauses has a better chance of getting the bite than a power jerk strip. 

Third, because Browns aren't moving very far for the fly this time of year more accurate casting is required. I'm a decent caster but throwing an articulated behemoth into a target the size of a frisbee from a moving boat with little to no backcast room is a challenge to say the least. A little weighted fly is a dart. While still not easy, it is certainly easier to to deliver a smaller pattern to the target. 

Now, before you get all hot and bothered,  when I say small, I mean 3-5 inches rather than 7-9 (or bigger for some the crazies - myself included). Late season fish are hungry but also cold and tired from spawning. They are definitely in eating mode so it pays to make it easy for them. Put the fly in the face of a brown and give it no choice. 
For example, my last streamer trip I had to make a conscious effort to slow down. Every fish that ate, ate on a substantial pause after the first or second strip. I moved a few big fish with more aggressive retrieves but they abandoned the chase very quickly. If I had a do-over, I would have slowed way down for those fish too. I'm confident that if I had a shot at those big boys (or girls) again they would have been mine.

Something to think about before your next trip.

Tight lines.

P.S. There will certainly be occasions  where fish will be in the mood to chase during cold water conditions so it's always important to experiment with flies and retrieves and adapt to what fish are looking for on a particular day. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Steelhead - Teaching Some Lessons

We swung flies for steelhead last weekend in western Michigan. It is no secret that the run is unusually light this year. When we couple low numbers of fish, high sunny skies, and plenty of human traffic we've got our work cut out for us swinging the fly. The following are some strategies I've learned over the years for putting fish in the net in some difficult conditions.

Primer on Conditions:

In normal fall conditions the water is relatively warm and steelhead are in the river to feed rather than spawn. So, the fish hold in active lies such as the heads and tailouts of runs. They also tend to hold near to but off of structure and higher in the water column, which is conducive to a swung fly presentation. Moreover, since they are in feeding mode they are more prone to chase a steamer.

As we transition to winter, the water temperatures drop. The fish seek out deeper guts and troughs. Moreover, in the rivers I fish, the steelhead also begin holding very tight to structure. I suspect it's because the material warms ever so slightly and disrupts the current giving the steelhead a comfortable place to sit without having to expend energy. 

As a fisherman we need to be aware of these patterns in order to get the fly in front of fish. 

But what if the conditions throw you a curve ball?

In fall, bright sunny skies and people can quickly alter a fish's pattern. When faced with these factors fall fish will shift into a winter pattern particularly as to in-stream structure.  Here are some strategies I've found to be productive in the past.


Fish lowlight conditions. When the light is low fish feel safe in more open lies. For instance, every fish we hooked on the swing occurred when the sun was below the tree line. When the sun was high we coaxed some pulls but no solid grabs. The fish were there and we got bites on indy rigs but nothing on the swing during the middle of the day.

Early bird gets the worm:

People and boats put player steelhead off the bite. For instance this past weekend there were a number of people running and gunning for brown trout. That means lots of splats, oar strokes, shadows, and movement over the steelheads' head. There is no doubt they hide from the commotion in the wood. During high traffic times being the first fly through the run dramatically improves your odds of a grab.

Tight to cover:

If fish are holding tight to cover, try thinking about how to get the fly to dangle in front of that structure. This may require wading deeper and fishing deeper to allow the fly to be seen by fish holding in or under cover. Fish heavy tips and or heavy flies to get down to the fish in a hurry. We may hook some logs along the way but if the fish never sees the fly we really aren't fishing the water well.

Natural colors (be aware of flash):

Fish on bright days, at least here in the Midwest, key on natural tones. Sculpin or baitfish patterns tend to perform the best. Moreover, give them a chance to see the fly with generous amounts of flash. However, be aware that if the water is extremely clear, then flash can be counter productive. So, in regards to flash play it by ear and try to feel out what the fish are looking for.

Tight lines.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Swim Jig - FLY

When bass guys start talking about fall and spring fishing, the swim jig comes up in conversation.  It's a big, versatile lure that catches fish.  With that said, my mind wandered while I was cutting up some spinner bait skirts for my rubber legged steelhead streamers (topic of another post perhaps) and I began wondering if a swim jig fly was a possibility.  So, what are the essential elements of a classic swim jig?  The main components are: a long baitfish soft-plastic tail with plenty of movement; an upturned hook; a large silicone skirt; and a weighted head.  Ok, so once again the fly guy needs to get creative.  For the tail, 4 large schlappan feathers provide plenty of length, lots of wiggle, and some profile.  I tied the feathers to a short shank hook, which I could use with an articulation point allowing the fly to ride hook point up.  

The foundation shank is a waddington shank.  If you're unfamiliar with a waddington shanks ("WS"), they look like this:
They are popular bases for salmon and steelhead flies.  The reason for the WS is that the side-by-side wire creates a wide base that will solidly hold the rubber skirt when you slide it on.  The skirt is just a regular old silicone spinnerbait skirt. The weighted head is accomplished by medium dumbbell eyes.  There are a couple tricks and techniques, which will be better shown in a video that I hope to post soon.

Let me just say, this fly looks killer in the water and is a proven fish getter too.  The negative is that it is heavy.  The fly is not too much for a 7 or 8 weight but in this size it would be a bear to cast on a 6 weight.  That being said, the fly is 5+ inches long so you are going after the big fish of the bunch.

Monday, November 16, 2015

First Lake Run Brown of Fall

This is my first fish on the swing this season.  She's a cute little lake run brown, pretty fresh from the lake.  Although she had some color, her fins were clean and it appeared she had not been on a bed yet so the brown spawning run isn't over yet.  The most clear indication that she had not transitioned into spawning mode was that she chased down and hammered a 3.5 inch bad hair day tube fly!

I had made a lot of casts that morning with nothing to show for it, so once again persistence pays off in the swing game.  Also, she was sitting in a classic fall holding spot for river bound migrating fish - the tail-out of a relatively long run with moderate current.  However, this particular run had never produced a fish for me - ever.  Even so, I loved (now, even more so) this particular run.  It has the right speed, that slow to moderate walking pace.  It has the right depth, about 4 feet.  There are a few boulders throughout the run that provide current breaks but don't hinder the swing presentation.  The run sits just up from and down from long shallow riffle water so it seems to be a logical holding spot for resting migrating fish.  In short, in a river with limited ideal swinging water it seems perfect.  The fly swings beautifully in the run and you have enough room to make a full true skagit cast (which can be a luxury in midwest streams).  So the run is not only sound on paper it is also a particularly fun run to fish.

Accordingly, in spite of the poor track record, each and every time I go to this river I fish the run.  At first, I fished it because in light of all of its attributes, I was certain I would catch a fish out of it.  Then, after putting up a number of goose eggs - I mean never even a pluck - I just fished the run because I enjoyed fishing it.  Then the other day, a bright sunny day I might add, I approached the run as I had so many times before with excitement but very little confidence.  I worked the run in close, then out further, and progressively down the run as I had so many times before.  With each step, I thought to myself, "there should have been a fish there...and there...and there" as I had so many times before.  But then, this time, at the tail out I made a cast, then a small mend, and when the fly started to swing there she was.  As the line tightened in the current I felt the exhilarating unmistakable pull of an active fish.

People often say "it's all about the grab!" That's true, the grab is addictive and what ultimately converts people to the swing game. But what I love even more is the chess match between the fish and the angler that often occurs prior to the grab.  Sometimes the fish just hits the fly.  I've had many a steelhead do that.  In fact, we had an epic day in Michigan where a number of steelhead just hammered the fly.  One moment the fly was swinging through the run the the next a steelhead was ripping line.  This sort of take often happens at the end of the swing or the first strip or two as you set up your next cast.  Many other times the however the fish plays with its food a bit.  This commonly plays out with a pluck, a jab, a pull, generally any sort of quick tug on the end of the line.  My favorite scenario occurs when a pluck occurs at the beginning of a swing.  At that point you can visualize a steelhead tracking the fly setting up the kill but you have no idea when its going to happen - the anticipation is awesome!  However, the grab is not guaranteed and I have come across a couple tricks that have helped me seal the deal when a fish plucked but wouldn't commit.

1.  Extend your rod a bit during the hang-down.  If you got a pluck during the swing the odds are the fish is still sitting behind the fly as it dangles at the end to the swing.  By extending your rod and dropping the fly back I've found you can trigger a strike (I don't pretend to know why but it works).
2. Pop the rod tip - just short quick pops.  This will make the fly accelerate forward and up in the water column.  Presumably this makes the fly seems like a last ditch effort to escape triggering the kill instinct.
3. Some people change color I prefer to change size.  My position is they've committed to the color but the fly may be too long or large such that if the fish was able to hit the fly but miss the hook.  The point seems to be easier to get a hold of on a smaller pattern.
4. Take a small step down.  I've found if a fish hits a fly particularly hard and does not hook up it often times drops back in the run.  If I was taking a 3 steps down through the run I switch to 1 step.  so I make sure not to fish over an active fish that has dropped back.
5.  Fish the entire run and start over.  If I've located an active fish I fish that run at least one more time.  This is when I change the color or style of pattern.

The grab is exciting but enticing the grab is the fun part.  Once you know that there is a fish willing to chase a streamer it can be a challenge to convince it to eat but incredibly rewarding if you succeed.  In the case of this little brown the chess match was short lived.  She plucked early but sealed the deal a moment later about midway through the swing - love it.

Tight lines.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Craft Beer + Neighbor + Fly Fishing DVDs ='s Big Streamers

Rear Hook: 2461 Size 1
Rear Body: Reverse tied extra select craft fur (3-4 clumps tied from the hook bend to the hook eye)
Articulation: Beadalon and 3 small red craft beads
Front Hook: 2461 Size 1
Front Body: Reverse tied extra select craft fun (3 clumps but tied closer together than the rear body to add the appearance of bulk)
Gills: Red hackle flash
Head: Deer body hair over wool and a 3D eye.

So my wife had a girls night in the city this past weekend.  That meant the fly tying material could sneak out of the basement.  Fly tying is always better in the company of friends and beer, so I summoned my neighbor and fellow fly fishing junkie.  Nothing was on the agenda other than letting the creative juices flow.

We both started playing around with hollow tied craft fur.  The pictured fly started as a single then the beadalon came out.  But what to do with the head? My neighbor was using craft fur and flash for the head of his flies (he added some blue ice dub in front of a dark olive craft fur head, which looked awesome!).

When I got to the head stage of the process I wasn't sure what to do.  Initially, we talked about all wool, which would push a lot of water as with craft fur but would add undesired weight.  Then we discussed deer hair, which would add some movement to the fly but by the same token buoyancy.  After some additional thinking juice, I came to a deer hair over wool combo.  Fly designs incorporating this tying strategy have popped up on the web from time to time.  In fact, I believe Orvis carries a pattern with this style of head.  This design will push water and add some additional movement to the fly but in less tying time and with less buoyancy.  Moreover, The hollow tied body gives a cool, realistic "in the round" baitfish profile.

Fortunately, craft fur, wool and deer body hair are all materials that are cheap, easy to get a hold of, and come in a variety of colors so your creativity can go wild with this one.  As an added bonus, this is an articulated pattern that you can create without the end product using $30 of material.  As an aside, you can certainly tie this as a single rather than a double to have a 3 inch fly when 6 inches seems a bit excessive.

P.S. This is the prototype. For those into critiquing flies, I admit there are plenty of imperfections.  This one was more about seeing where the design went for fun rather than business.  Imperfections aside, I'm confident this dog will hunt.

Friday, July 10, 2015

9 months until Tarpon Season 2016

Ok, it's a long way away. But may as well start filling boxes. This fly is near and dear to me. Certainly nothing special, just a classic splayed wing keys style fly in the notorious black and purple combination.  Just a couple inches long but an absolute killer. I like to put eyes on everything but this style of fly; for no reason other than I like how they look without eyes.  Also, I don't like filling the shank with thread as some tiers do, again for no substantive reason. 

There are a couple things to keep in mind when tying these flies, which I believe enhance their fishability. First, try to tie the tail feathers straight back (or propped up slightly for a shrimpy effect) as inline and even as possible. When wet, these feathers wiggle all over the place so perfection is not necessary. However, feathers that are extremely off line may cause the fly to spin and that is no bueno. Also, the front hackle is made in two parts. The first hackle, which is fluffy, is the base or after shaft of a saddle hackle. The fluffy after shaft feathers are like short marabou fibers and when palmered they give the small fly some extra movement and bulk. The front hackle is the tip of the hackle. When palmered the tip creates a stiff front that pushes water. They combine to add movement and bulk helping the tail feathers swim when stripped. 

This pattern got me my very first poon and I have loved it ever since.

Hook choice is a matter of personal preference. However, when tarpon fishing  the weight of the hook can be a factor.  So, I like to tie flies on owner Aki hooks (heavy), sc15-2h (almost as heavy), and sc15 (light). The 2h hooks are big for their  size designation which is also something to consider.  Tarpon can be all over the water column and getting the flies in front of their face quickly is critical. And you never know what mood they will be in until you get there.

Whether you're fishing the beach or the back this fly is tough to beat.

Tight lines.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Tarpon 2015

Well, Tarpon 2015 was as bad as Tarpon 2014 was great. Saltwater fish, especially migrating tarpon, are particularly sensitive to tides and the weather. Tides vary but are perdictable; the weather is not. A consistent weather pattern is good, a changing weather pattern is bad. Unfortunately, our weather was in a state of flux, a cold front rolled in when we got down to south Florida and rolled out as we are leaving. The front brought in unusual winds, waves, and cloudy water. If we were fishing for a resident species these conditions are tough. However, when you are fishing for migrating fish these conditions are impossible. The tarpon which were around in huge numbers a week ago, vanished. My dad fished 5 days, had 6 shots and jumped 1. I fished 2 days, had 4 shots and got 2 eats but didn't pin either, nothing you can do about that. These fish were small juveniles, we didn't see a mature adult.
The backcountry is such a special place so it really doesn't matter but Mother Nature screwed us this year.
If you are heading to south Florida now, not to worry. Winds have stabilized and returned to an east north east pattern. In turn the water has started to clear. I'm confident the tarpon will be back in force in a day or two. 
Until next year . . . F*cking bummer.

On the flip side I got to fish with my dad, a great guide and friend, in my favorite place in the world, and doing what I love to do - hard to complain about that.

Tight lines.

Silver lining(ish): got a cool new hat out of the deal.
Them tarpon are in for a world of hurt next year.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Worm Hook Shad (or Bluegill or Alewife) Streamer

I can't wait to take this fly for a swim!  I have played with worm hooks as a base for streamers before.  Over the years, fly tyers have turned to conventional hooks to create unique keeled fly patterns.  Most recently Hud's Bushwacker has gained some notoriety.  The Bushwacker is an unweighted streamer tied on a wide gap worm hook.  However, the Bushwacker was not the first to take advantage of the keel-hook design.  For instance, a few years ago Kelly Galloup devised the Stacked Blonde and the Peeler (a cone-head Stacked Blonde), both of which were tied on a now extinct keeled hook and are now tied on off-set worm hooks.  And I believe east coast striper guys have been tying these kinds of flies for years.  There are many more examples as any simple google search will prove.  In any event, with these flies as my inspiration I have developed the fly pictured above.  

This particular fly is designed to imitate a shad or alewife.  By adjusting the colors you could easily have a bluegill, crappie, or any deeper bodied bait fish (a pin fish or sardine for the florida flats).  The fly's length is relatively short - only about 3" - 3.5".  However,  the wide gap hook gives the fly a particularly deep profile (though it will certainly slim down in the water).  I envision a large lake brown taking particular interest as they cruise the nearby harbors for food.  Or a largemouth bass cruising the shallows of a lake.  I do not have a Flymen Fish Mask but using a mask instead of a skull would probably make a great slow sinking version.  Coupled with a jerk-strip retrieve, this fly should dart, dip, and weave like a prize fighter (or better yet a fleeing baitfish!).  Here is the recipe and tying instructions:

Hook: VMC Extra Long Neck Wide Gap Hook (the extra long neck is pretty critical for an adequate base) 3/0
Belly: Medium Krystal Chenille in pearl
Gills: Pink Ice Dub
Under Wing: Three sparse bunches of white buck tail and pearl flash 
Second Under Wing: 2 gray saddle hackles
Over Wing: Gray Marabou
Hear: Medium Fish Skull
Eyes: 7/32" Silver 3D Eyes

Place the hook in the vice. Secure the chenille and wrap towards the hook eye.  Tie off the chenille where the off-set of the hook begins.  Cover the off-set with a small rope of pink ice dub.  At this point all that should remain bare is the neck of the hook.  Note, with this fly it is critical to be in control of the amount of material and thread.  At the beginning of the neck, tie in a sparse bunch of buck tail.  Tie in the buck tail on the side of the hook that faces you.  Do the same on the opposite side.  Then, add the third bunch of buck tail on the top of the first two, using the secured buck tail as a base.  The buck tail that is covered by thread should take up about 1/2 to 2/3s of the neck of the hook.  Secure a bit of flash over top of the buck tail.  Secure one saddle on each side of the hook.  The saddle feather should be tied again using the thread covered buck tail as a base. Moving slightly forward towards the eye, secure a tuft of marabou on top of the hook.  Whip finish the fly and cut the thread.  If you have maintained discipline with the amount of material and thread, then the Skull should slide over without event.  If necessary add a thread dam in front of the Skull if desired.

The tying sequence is a little tough to explain.  I will try to post a Step-By-Step in the coming days.

Tight Lines. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Don't Be Afraid of Flash

If you can't tell, I love Flashabou.  It moves great in the water and is easy for fish to track down.  I caught my personal best steelhead swinging the tube fly pictured above - when the water temp was hovering right around freezing!  I call the fly an egg sucking prom dress.  The fly pattern stems from designs by Scott Howell, Kevin Feenstra, and Jeff Hubbard.  Funny story about this fly, I tied it because I was bored.  I like tube flies for patterns that are tied in the round, that is they look the same from every angle and do not have a clear top or bottom.  For example, the flash fly pictured above or a marabou spey.  This is a simple tie and is very effective.

First, secure the tube to the vice.

Second, create a small dubbing loop of arctic fox and make two or three wraps stroking the fibers back with each wrap.

Third, tie in a strung saddle hackle feather directly in front of the arctic fox, leaving no space between the two materials.  Palmer the hackle feather forward with 4-6 wraps.  The fox and feather form a base that keeps the flash from collapsing when wet giving the fly a fuller profile.

Fourth, cut a generous portion of Flashabou.  Tie in the Flashabou reverse or hollow style all the way around the tube.  Pull back the flash fibers and make a VERY small thread dam to hold the fibers in place.

Fifth, tie in and palmer a mallard flank feather in front of the flashabou - two or three turns.  Again, stroke the feather fibers back with each wrap.

Sixth, add clumps of ice dub.  If you wanted to add weight to the fly you could slip on a cone or add small dumbbell eyes.

The color combination pictured above is great in winter but experiment.  Don't be afraid of flash.  Think about a spoon or in-line spinner.  Those create far more flash and commotion than a this fly ever could and those are two of the most effective lure designs ever created.

Tie some up and give them a swim.

Tight lines.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Evolution of Modern Streamers

Large predatory fish such as bass, trout, and pike species eat smaller fish. Predatory fish are the target of anglers for their strength and sport and have been for centuries. Over time, fly fishermen developed flies to take advantage of a predatory fish's ferocious tendencies.  While I am no fly fishing historian, I believe it was Isaac Walton who coined the term artificial fly in his book the Compleat Angler written in the 17th century.  However, I understand fishing with feathers tied to hooks dates to earlier human history.   Isaac Walton referred to the palmer fly giving rise to the venerable Woolly Worm.  The Woolly Worm, evolved into the ubiquitous and ambiguous Woolly Bugger, which may be the most common or at least most recognized streamer available.

The Woolly Bugger can imitate a minnow or swimming insect depending on the size of hook and color scheme.  Suffice to say, the use of flies to imitate smaller fish or swimming prey dates back to the beginning of fly fishing history.
Beyond the Woolly Bugger, fly fishermen developed feather-wing streamers ("featherwings"), which were far more complicated and either represented a particular baitfish or worked as an attractor pattern such as the images below. 
(obtained from
Classic featherwings were as much pieces of art as they were fishing tools. The flies were sparse and tied on extremely long shanked hooks.  From my informal research, this style of fly represented a fly angler's attempt to engineer a longer streamer with a larger profile*.

A practical observation reveals a few structural weaknesses in these flies.  First, extra long shanked hooks create a lever which can pry the hook loose from a fishes jaw during the fight.  Second, these flies do not use materials which allow for inherent motion with or without angler encouragement. And third, the fly is relatively two dimensional with very little footprint in the water and insubstantial profile.  Featherwings simply swim horizontally through the water and if paused the fly will remain motionless and slowly sink; relatively static.  The Woolly Bugger incorporates marabou as a tail which never stops moving, each fiber appears to wiggle when in the water.  However, like feather-wing streamers, the Woolly Bugger swims horizontally through the water and its size is limited to the length of the hook shank.  Both feather-wing streamers and the Woolly Bugger and its family tree caught fish, however the effectiveness of the fly patterns was limited.

In my opinion, the next major evolution of streamer patterns was the Clouser Minnow created by Bob Clouser for smallmouth bass.
Bob Clouser added weight to the front of a bucktail streamer two create a jigging effect.  This design allowed a streamer to dive when the angler stops imparting action to the fly, thus the fly could swim horizontally then vertically.   The added weight also allow the fly to be fished at a variety of depths.  Additionally, the jigging effect gave an erratic wounded effect to the fly, which would stimulate an attack.

While incorporating weight certainly advanced streamers and streamer fishing, there was still room to grow - enter Kelly Galloup and company**.  Mr. Galloup operated the now closed Troutsman Fly Shop out of Traverse City Michigan.  I believe that shop really started to change the streamer game.  Michigan trout streams do not generate the volume of big trout as western streams.  Probably because the western streams have more prolific bug life.  However, when a brown gets to be a certain size (in Michigan and out west) they primarily eat other fish and ignore insects but for a few select hatches.  Big browns do not eat very often but when they do they will eat other trout, lampreys, mice, frogs, basically anything that will fit in their mouth and Michigan fly tires started experimenting with streamer design to trigger a feeding instinct.  For instance, Galloup's Zoo Couger is a basic Muddler style pattern with an extremely large deer hair head that pushes water and a mallard flank feather along its back.  These two designs cause the fly to cut through the water in erratic and unpredictable ways, dipping, diving, wobbling, gliding at odd angles when stripped giving it both a large auditor footprint as well as a life like action.  Unlike the Clouser Minnow, the Zoo Couger didn't simply "jig" but it fought the water and struggled against the current giving it a truly attractive swimming motion.

Next came articulation.  By using a wire or monofilament loop glued to the hook, a fly tier could create a jointed fly that resembled the swimming motion of a deadly jointed Rapala and more importantly an injured baitfish.  This design was revolutionary for two reasons.  One, the articulation point gave the fly exceptionally lifelike movement in the water.  When coupled with materials such as marabou like the Woolly Bugger, and weight like the Clouser Minnow, the fly tier can design a fly that appear to swim mostly on its own without much intervention by the angler.  And two, the angler can make an extremely large fly with short shanked hooks, thus increasing the hook to catch ratio, thereby eliminating some of the structural issues of the classic featherwings.

The articulated streamer is the most recently evolution and tyers are continuing to tweak the design. A recent modification was created by Tommy Lynch, a fly called the Drunk & Disorderly ("D&D"). This fly takes designs from the Heifer Groomer (an articulated Zoo Cougar), the Swimmin' Jimmy (a Heifer Groom that uses an offset front hook).  Below are some of my versions of a D&D.

 What's different about this fly is the use of an inverted wide gap swimbait hook upon which the deerhair head is tied.  Also, the wide deerhair head is cut at a sharp angle causing it to dive and swim erratically.

I'm finding that the use of nontraditional fly hooks is perhaps the most recent small step in the evolution of the streamer.  With the flow of information now, I can't wait to see what comes next.

Here is a video which shows how to tie a D&D:

Tight Lines.

*There is a history to these flies, a history that has been well developed by academics and one that I am not qualified to discuss.  My observations regarding these flies are purely based on my fishing experience.

**Again, I am no historian and I am certain there were a number of creative streamer tying evolutions between the Wooly Bugger and Kelly Galloup, which I have omitted but such detail is for another post.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Lessons From Late Winter Steelheading

Last weekend was spent swinging flies for steelhead in northwest Michigan.  Leading up to the weekend the fishing reports were sketchy, mostly because Michigan's rivers were choked with ice and not fishable.  When I arrived, the air temperatures were in the mid-teens and the river flows were tight with shelf ice - not promising.  

 I'm dedicated to swinging flies for steelhead - I love everything about it.  While I will employ other techniques such as using an indicator (that's fun too), and if the conditions require I will stoop to chuck-n-duck (although that is only a last resort), if given a choice I will swing flies.  In Michigan, the spring spawning run is not a particularly good time to swing flies.  Although you have high concentrations of fish, the fish are either concentrated on spawning or they have keyed on the nymphs and eggs that are kicked up by spawning steelhead and so they are not inclined to chase a streamer.  Moreover, the rivers get very crowded with people which tends to hurt the swing bite as even an aggressive, player, steelhead will get turned off by heavy human traffic. There is of course the drop-back steelhead but that's another topic all together. 

Gold of Winter
So, I like to head north at the end of winter to avoid the crowds and get some swinging in before the fish transition to their spring pattern.  The best case scenario for this pattern is a mild winter that lingers so the fish numbers increase in anticipation of the spawning run but the temperatures remain cold enough to keep the fish from hitting the gravel.  In that case you will have good numbers fresh aggressive fish and typically far less people. There are two worst case scenarios: (1) spring comes early with an abrupt late winter warm-up that blows out the river; and (2) the winter is brutally cold and the ice prevents both the fish from entering the river and the fisherman from fishing.  If the first worst-case scenario occurs, you will have no choice but to employ the dreaded and infamous chuck-n-duck!  Moreover, very high water early in spring will shorten the run as the fish may quickly and easily spawn in the high flows and drop back to the lake just as fast.  In the second scenario, you are very cold and there are just a few fish in the river, fish that have been in the river for at a month or more.  In short, you will have your work cut out for you.  I was faced with the second scenario.

On the water, the air was cold; mid-teens to start the day and looking forward to mid-twenties.   The river was cold as well and nearly covered in ice in some narrow spots. Water temperatures maxed out around 33.8 degrees!  Naturally, the water was low, clear, and appeared to be dropping as the river was contracting into a solid form.  The only positive factor was a lack of fishing pressure.  Swinging flies in these conditions is technical and will teach you a number of things.

First Lesson: You Don't Always Have to Make a True Spey Cast

For a casting junkie this is a hard lesson.  You are getting into the swing game.  You've become proficient at the snap-t cast and the double spey cast, which makes you finally feel legitimate and not just another poser with a two-hander.  The last thing you want to do is quietly slop roll cast your fly all day!  Don't let yourself get wrapped up in the process - you are out there to fish not just to cast. Many Midwest streams are small and narrow to begin with and with low water and shelf ice they are even more so.  A typical skagit head plus a ten foot sink tip and leader may be enough length to swing a hole or run (probably even too much).  Also, to fish a run properly you may be forced to stand right on the edges of runs; right on top of the fish.  In those conditions, the rip of a heavy shooting head to form a proper d-loop can and will spook fish.  Instead, simply roll cast the fly to your spot.  Such a cast is stealthy and will get the job done. Sure, the cast won't look pretty but do you really care?  When you approach a run in all but especially low, clear, and cold conditions think about distance and what it will take to get the fly in front of the fish.  Don't do more than you have to to get the fly to the right spot. 

Second Lesson: Don't Always Mend

In low, clear water, depth and current can be less of an issue.  When swinging flies you get into a routine: cast - mend - swing - repeat.  The cadence is hypnotic.  However, the mend has a particular purpose and is not always necessary.  The mend is typically used to allow a fly to achieve the proper depth before it begins to swing.  In shallow water a sink tip and weighted fly will likely get the job done without the assistance of a mend.  Unnecessary mends will cause you to snag and the added commotion on the surface may spook fish in low clear water.  At times in these conditions a mend may be necessary, but as with the first lesson, think "what do I need to do to get the fly in front of a fish?" before you cast.

Third Lesson: Fish Your Feet

This applies in all conditions.  I hooked the Buck pictured below with less than a full shooting head out of the rod tip.  He was sitting in the gut of a hole that begins with a steep ledge and tapers into a long tail out.  The gut is closer to the top of the hole.  The hole is in a relatively wide section of river and the tail out looks awesome - finally a chance to bust out a snap-t!  NO!  Especially in winter, fish seek out the gut of holes (especially alpha fish).  They will also sit at the base of a ledge at the head of a run.  Take your time and fish the water throughly.  When faced with a steep ledge dropping into a gut, fish close and let your fly drop over the ledge.  You never know when that stud may be right at your feet.  

Hammered an egg sucking prom dress tube as the fly passed through the gut of the run in 33 degree water

Tight Lines

Monday, March 9, 2015

Chuck-n-Duck Gravel - There is More to Steelheading


Time for some ranting and rambling from atop my high horse. While fishing this past weekend I witnessed a guy attempting to chuck-n-duck gravel (the water was 33-34 degrees) with a Sage Z-Axis switch rod and a Hardy reel - COME ON!  I am confident I know how this scene came to be, let me tell you what happened.  The following is a hypothetical.  Guy likes fly fishing for trout and bass here in the Midwest and wants to try steelhead - you go get some Guy.  Guy goes on the Internet, googles steelhead fly fishing rod and reel, and up pops a beautiful two-hander and a classic click-pawl reel - great, that was easy and Guy is nearly set.  Guy goes to Fly Shop and buys the best two-hander in the store and that sweet Hardy reel.  Fly Shop is very happy ($$$$) and Guy is equally happy but confused - now what!?  Maybe Guy talks to Fly Shop about how to use the rod and reel but more likely, Guy goes to Friend.  Friend has been "steelheading" for years, and every March and April he returns with stories of days of huge numbers and pictures of big dark green steelhead with deep red gill plates, and awesome bold red stripes. Some fish are bright silver but most look like giant toothy rainbows that remind Guy of the eight to twelve inch rainbows from Guy's local trout stream.  So, naturally, Guy goes to Friend for advice.  Wise and experienced Friend, shows Guy how to fish for steelhead using a chuck-n-duck technique. Perhaps, Guy thinks about the technique and wonders why this technique is so different than the fly fishing Guy knows and loves but who is Guy to argue.  So, Guy goes out and loads that Hardy with Zip Line (a thin running line), buys a bunch of slinkies, lead, swivels, glo-bugs, and purple egg-sucking woolly buggers.  That April, Friend takes Guy to some revered steelhead grounds.  Friend points to a shallow riffle.  Beneath the surface, Guy sees a massive pod of fish that appear to be jockeying for position.  Loaded with lead weight and egg fly patterns, Guy and Friend start wailing on that pod of fish.  Sure, some of the fish Friend and Guy land are hooked in the tail, the back, or on the gill plate but some are hooked in the corner of the mouth.  And oh the fight! That Hardy reel is screaming with every fish as the fish thrashes and rolls on the surface heading down stream with the current.  There appear to be so many fish, Guy and Friend even take home a few.  Another Midwest steelheader is born.

What is wrong with this hypothetical?  First and foremost, Guy and Friend were fishing for actively spawning steelhead on gravel.  Steelhead spawn on gravel beds.  Most strains spawn when the water temperatures are around 40 degrees.  When fish are on gravel they are easy to see and since they are interested in spawning the fish don't spook easily so anglers can fish for them tirelessly.  In predominantly wild rivers, those fish are creating the next generation of steelhead in a fragile ecosystem and should be left alone.  In stocked fisheries this is less of a problem.  Second, they are using a chuck-n-duck technique, which is, as explained below, at best quasi-fly fishing.  Third, the steelhead, exhausted from spawning, is hardly at its peak fighting form and the "reel screaming" runs result from  an improperly used click-pawl reel, which relies on the angler's hand to apply drag in combination with the rivers heavy spring flows rather than the fishes strength.  Plus, fighting a spawning fish puts unnecessary stress on the animal - steelhead can be repeat spawners if we let them.  Fourth, keeping a fish obviously kills the fish and snagging a fish may kill it as well.  Finally, the nature of the chuck-n-duck technique ends up leaving a ton of snagged monofilament and hooks on the river bottom and in the trees in the riparian zone.  This waste inadvertently kills a lot of other fish and wildlife.  While Guy and Friend may have caught a lot of fish, if they were irresponsible and disrespectful they may have done a lot of damage as well and employed few skills other than perhaps good vision.  Nevertheless, they have lots of trophies.

The chuck-n-duck technique involves a fly rod/reel rigged with a thin running line attached directly to the leader (or even straight monofilament like conventional tackle).  Heavy lead weight is attached to the leader and one or two flies, typically eggs, trail behind the lead.  The rig is cast by "chucking" the weight overhead which propels the flies to the target.  The heavy weight gets the flies to the bottom in a hurry and keeps them there in deep and or heavy current.  How is this considered fly fishing?  I say it is not.  In simplest terms, fly fishing uses the weight of the line to flex the rod and propel the fly because the fly doesn't have enough weight to do so on its own.  Your spinning rod relies on the weight of the terminal tackle or lure to generate enough flex in the rod to propel the lure to the target.  While the typical chuck-n-duck rig uses a fly rod and reel and flies, the rod is cast and fished just like a spinning rod.  At best you can call chuck-n-duck a hybrid between fly fishing and conventional tackle but it is not fly fishing.  Plus, people typically use this technique to fish actively spawning fish on gravel (giving rise to the local term "raking the gravel").  This is bad for the fish because the angler often ends up either snagging the fish or lining the fish. Lining the fish occurs when the line drifts into a fishes mouth and the fly is pulled into the side of the fish's face rather than the fish eating the fly and becoming hooked inside of the mouth.  Lining is an unacceptable form of fishing; it is dressed up snagging and should not be done.

My understanding is that this technique was developed in the Midwest as an effective way to present flies to fish in deep, heavy, and often swirling currents, which are common in Midwest waters.  Fly fishermen borrowed techniques from bait fishermen and an efficient technique was born.  Is it fly fishing? Is using a fly rod to cast a worm under a bobber a form of fly fishing?  No one cared because  chuck-n-duck caught fish, especially fish on spawning gravel. While fishing the gravel an angler can "sight fish" for steelhead but the angler ends up lining or snagging as many fish as he or she fairly hooks.   Next time you go fishing in the spring find the spawning gravel and observe.  There will be crowds of people and lots of action but most of the action is not legitimate.  There may be a time and place for the technique but only in extreme circumstances.  People overuse the technique and thereby limit themselves, their growth as anglers, their understanding of the water, and their understand of the fish and they litter the river in the process.

Hopping off my high horse, I am a fisherman first and a fly fisherman second and if the water is extremely high and fast when I have the opportunity to be on the water I will choose to fish over staying at home.  So, if the water is extremely high, dirty, and fast a fisherman has no choice but to chuck-n-duck.  I will use the technique, the technique is far and away the most effective if not the only way to catch a steelhead with flies in high, fast, muddy water, and like all pleasurable wrongs I feel guilty and dirty afterwards.  If I had more time to fish, I would have the luxury of being a purist.  I have the potential to be the most arrogant purist on the water but I'm not because I can't be.

All that said, the chuck-n-duck method is a great way to get your hands on a steelhead if you are getting into the sport.  It is not complicated, it doesn't require expensive equipment, and it will catch you boat loads of fish.  But remember the chuck-n-duck is just the beginning of a steelheaders growth.   Use it, get some fish under your belt, fall in love with steelhead and move on.  Trust me when I say the first steelhead that chases and hammers your swung fly, a fly which you tied with the intent that it will swim in a particular way, and elicit a strike.  When you refine your casting and mending, and your ability to read and cover the entire river.  When you can find and anticipate where a steelhead might be once it enters a river.  When all that happens and you get that beautiful chrome steelhead on the swing, a steelhead that you had planned for, a steelhead that is yours, you will never want to go anywhere near that gravel again.

Tight Lines

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Craft Fur Minnow

This is a fly that needs to be in all fly boxes. The craft fur minnow is easy to tie, easy to use, and catches fish.  When tied small in length but on a light saltwater hook the fly can catch a smallmouth in a cold northern lake and then trick a snook cruising the beach.  Moreover, the fly can be manipulated using permanent marker, which takes well to craft fur. I recommend tying many in all white and dress them up with different colors as the need arises.
Hook: TMC 800s size 2-8 (choose a hook to suit your needs)
Body: Flashabou (color is up to you)
Wing/belly: craft fur reverse tied (hollow tied)
Eyes: your choice of size and  color to match the fly profile and design

You may coat the head with some UV adhesive for extra durability.

Steps (I omit the obvious steps e.g. secure thread to hook):
1) lash 2-5 strands of flashabou to the hook above the point - tie in the flash at its midpoint so that the same length of fibers are laying towards the hook eye as towards the bend of the hook;
2) double over the flash fibers so that all are pointing towards the bend the hook and trailing off the back (flash should be 1-1.5 times the length of the hook shank);
3) wrap the thread to the eye of the hook;
4) cut two bundles of craft fur - each bundle should be roughly the size of two match sticks*;
5) tie in the craft fur by the butt ends with the tips of the craft fur point towards the direction of and draping over the hook eye;
6) hollow tie the craft fur by stoking the fibers toward the back of the hook**;
7) hold the craft fur in place and make a few thread wraps behind the hook eye to secure the fibers;
8) whip finish and glue*** on 3D eyes on either side.

The hollow tie technique creates an elongated teardrop shape reminiscent of the typical minnow or fry. The glue and eyes will hold the fly together. The number of steps listed is deceptive. Most of the steps occur seemlessly and in close succession. 

* Tying Tip: ideally the bundles should be indentical, however in practice such a goal is not practical; the bundles should be as close to the same size as possible. Nevertheless, if one bundle is going to contain more material than the other make sure said bundle is secured to the top of the fly. Having more material on the top of the fly helps the fly track correctly (hook point down in this case). For example, this technique is employed for unweighted bonefish flies to allow the flies to track hook point up without the addition of dumbbell eyes or other weight. 
** an Internet search will provide step by step instructions on how to "hollow tie" a fly.
***Use Super Glue Gel.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

DH Pass Crab

The deer hair ("DH") pass crab.  This pattern is another Tarpon crab fly I put together.  I'm sure other crab eaters would take a bite as well but the structure and style is directed at enticing Tarpon.

Hook: Gamakatsu SC-15 2H  size 3/0
Tail: Two pair of tan grizzly neck hackles plus one tan and one purple rubber leg (doubled over)
Eyes: EP mono eyes
Body: Tan (natural) deer hair with purple and blue ice dub fibers mixed in.  The deer hair is spun and trimmed to a crab shape

Deer hair crabs are nothing new to the world of saltwater fly fishing.  This particular crab pattern is my recipe only to the extent that I didn't follow a previously designed crab recipe when I was tying (though the addition of the ice dub to the deer hair may be a new twist).  You may substitute the ice dub with bits of Krystal Flash for the same effect.

This crab pattern designed for ocean side or beach side Tarpon, which are cruising outside or near passes in southwest Florida (the "mud" line).  I suspect it could double as a permit fly when permit are cruising with the Tarpon in the same context (big permit will do that from time to time).

Full disclosure, I have no idea if this fly actually works but it swims properly and looks "fishy" so I suspect it will.

Please let me know if you have any questions.

Tight lines.

Dreaming of Warmer Days

Like much of the country, the Midwest is trapped under a relentless cold and never ending sheet of ice - not particularly conducive to fly fishing.  So, as with my brothers in arms around here, I am forced to dream of warmer days, of flowing water, of tides, tails, and a savage tug at the end of the line rather than experience the same. Metaphorically, I was recently laid off, so I also dream of warmer, more certain times and more viable futures.  Under the circumstances, I've had some time to read, get behind the vice, and ponder new patterns, fishing techniques and destinations.  Having Florida and Tarpon on the brain, I have been reading up on flies and techniques tailored to Southwest Florida.  The following posts will discuss a great book and some new flies destined for the King.

Here's to warmer days.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

New Swinging Rig

This is a weight rig that I have been playing with for swinging flies. The use of small worm weights for fishing streamers and swinging flies may be relatively new but this rig is certainly not novel. However, I strung a rubber band through the weight as a peg. Using the rubber band allows me to move the weight up and down the leader without damaging it and the rubber band will hold the weight in place. 

Here, in the Midwest, we come across some narrow, relatively short runs and the "fishable window" (for lack of a better term) can often be quite small. Incorporating worm weights with long leaders and floating or intermediate tips can allow you to get your fly into that fishable zone quickly and get it out without hanging up.

Also, the weight is in front of a modified prom dress with a hackle collar. It hasn't caught a fish yet but it looks great in the water. It is intended for dropbacks in high water but it could be a good deep winter fly.

Tight Lines.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Getting Back Into The Blogging Game

2014 was a big year - just not for fishing.  Between weddings, a yellow lab puppy, and life generally things just got in the way of time on the water. We did get out to swing some flies at the end of the year so it wasn't a total loss:

In any event, 2015 is a new year. I miss fishing and have challenged myself to get out on the water or behind the vice as much as possible:
Getting off to a good start - some tarpon killers for the upcoming season. Perhaps a tutorial is in order.

Tight lines.