Friday, December 28, 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

Fly Tying: Hotwire Sidekick Streamer

A tandem rig with two articulated streamers is not for everyone.  It is risky business to say the least, and I have multiple experiences to prove it.  I remember all too well the time I had this very pattern embedded in the back of my head.  But the risk is worth it in my own humble opinion, because the tandem setup picks up fish consistently.  It's like a well shorn mullet.  Sometimes people go for the business up front, and sometimes they prefer the party in back.  I like options, and so do the fish.

Usually the setup is to place a beefy streamer up front as the lead fly and then follow it up with a small black trailer.  The go-to trailer fly used to be a simple wooly bugger, and it would often do the trick.  But the more I fished that setup, the more I would get frustrated with lost fish.  Often they would stick, but only for a moment.  I started thinking about the advantages of articulated streamers and how the extra hook can play to the anglers favor.  After a little tinkering, this pattern was born.  It is stupid simple, and it could even be called a glorified wooly bugger.  Either way, it works.

The Hotwire Sidekick Streamer


  Hook: Dai Riki #730, Size 8, 2xLong Shank
  Cone Head: Dan Bailey, Gold, Small (tungsten is a great option if you are fishing this solo and want a deeper presentation)
  Rabbit Strip: Black
  Ultra Wire: Medium Chartreuse (hotwire)
  Polar UV Chenille: Black
  AZ Simi Seal Dubbing: Peacock
  20lb Mono or Beadalon for articulation connection
There are actually two ways I like to tie this pattern.  For a bit less flashy look here are the alternative materials. These replace the "Polar UV Chenille: Black"

  Regular Chenille: Dark Olive/Black
  Hackle Feather: Black Schlappen

(Simply tie in the Schlappen and the regular chenille on the step the Polar UV Chenille is tied in.  Wrap the chenille forward first, then the Schlappen feather, and then counter-wrap forward with the hotwire.)

The Polar UV Chenille does not retain water and rides higher on the retrieve.  It is great when fishing this pattern as a trailer, because it does not ride lower than your lead fly.  I prefer the less flashy pattern when I use this fly by itself, unless I am fishing it at night.  In the dark I also prefer the Polar UV Chenille pattern because of how high it rides.  There is another pattern I call "Night Rider" that incorporates the Polar Chenille for that same reason and is used for night fishing.  That tutorial is still in the works.

Some of the resulting goods.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Priorities...a battle

It is a tough balance between what matters and what should matter in life.  Just like a river, life has an ebb and flow.  Circumstances change and even good friends come and go.  There are so many things that demand our time. Jobs, schooling, service to others, hobbies/entertainment, and family are just a few that come to mind.  With the constant bombardment of information and the easy access to entertainment, it is easy to lose sight of the things that truly require our attention, such as our families.  I have heard it told that there often exists a good, better, and best to most things.  Internet entertainment may be good.  Taking that same time and hitting the water is even better, but doing so with your family is the best.

For those who begin families, and have a passion for the outdoors, a constant internal battle goes on.  How often do you take your children or whole family with you to fish?  Should you stop fishing altogether and spend that time at home?  Do you fish too much for your family activities?  Maybe this is only something that I confront in my particular circumstances.  Who knows.  What I do know is this; my family is the most important thing and always should be.  Children will not always be young and desire your constant company and attention.  Its the struggle that has defined much of my married life, going back and forth between a love (my family) and a passion (fishing).  Balance...  I'm still working on it.

I first saw this video shortly after it was published, and it left a remarkable impression on me then.  It is centered around a guy who loves to hunt, and though I do not now hunt the message is the same.  (I would hunt, but I find it difficult pulling myself away from the water long enough to really consider it.)  Hunting aside, these guys "get it."  Sometimes getting your ducks in a row requires a step back.  I find myself taking that step back repeatedly as I try to reign in my enthusiasm for the rod and reel.  The video is a bit long, but well worth the time.

Searching for West from Helio Collective on Vimeo.

I love these stinking kids.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The little things save it for everyone.

"By small and simple things are great things brought to pass."

Cold cold cold.  Time to break out the longjohns and wear a coat.  Every year when the snow starts falling and water freezes, the canals all around these parts shut down.  With two magnificent forks to the Snake River, there are canals everywhere around these parts.  As the gates are shut and the leftover water recedes to puddles, thousands of fish are trapped.  It is amazing the number of fish that are swept through the diversion gates and get stuck in the many canals throughout SE Idaho.  Most of these fish die when the water is cut off, and are left to rot or be eaten by a lucky racoon.

While at work the other day I found myself near one such canal.  The water had been shut off a couple weeks ago.  As I drove by to see what was left I observed the last big puddle.  It was full of fish.  After I was out of classes on Monday I texted Shane asking if he wanted to come with me to net and relocate some fish.  Minutes later we were heading back over to the canal with a cooler, waders, and two big nets.  It was a cold weekend and the puddle had frozen with an inch of ice.  We had to break it out before we could start netting anything.

We're no Trout Unlimited, but everyone can do their part.  It is the individuals that really make a difference; those who make the commitment to maintain and improve our beautiful lands and waters.  Every little piece of garbage we fisherman pick up, every time we follow the set regulations, or anytime we encourage others to do so we are helping.  It really is the little things that make a difference.  Imagine if every individual, who used the same waters and lands you do, left one piece of garbage on the ground each time they were there.  It makes a conscientious person shudder to think about the result.  So thank you, if not for all the times you cleaned up or helped out, for all the times you simply respected the resources we are all grateful to have.

We ended up making four trips back and forth to the river with a full cooler, and still didn't get all the fish.  The following are just a few of the fish we transported back to the river they came from.  It would have been such a shame to lose such beautiful creatures. 

All the trout transported well, the white fish... not so much.  It's no wonder they are an indication of a healthy watershed, they are a lot more sensitive.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Steelhead: Play To Your Strengths

Steelheading in the fall with a single handed fly rod is tricky business, at least it is on the Salmon River in Idaho.  It can be done, but there are precious few places where it is productive.  The fact is, the fish are in deep/fast water that requires a very quick sink rate and the fish hug the bottom.  In the spring when the fish have moved up into the skinnier water there isn't any reason to use a casting setup.  Fly fishing during those times is often more productive anyway.  During the fall, when the the fish are much lower in the river, a casting setup tends to me more productive.  You can fish more places and get deep down to where the fish like to stay.  For this reason I have not been after steelhead in the fall for the past couple of years.  I prefer to fly fish for them.

Shane had expressed some interest in a fall trip and we were both out of classes for the holiday.  The steelhead taste much better in the fall than in the spring, and I have been craving some since the last fall trip (rarely keep them in the spring).  We decided to make one of those crazy (read exhausting) there-and-back-in-a-day trips.  These trips are tiring because it is about a 4 hour drive (one way) to some of the better fishing locations.

We set sail around 10:30pm Tuesday evening.  The plan was to sleep in the truck once we arrived and fish all of Thanksgiving eve.  The roads were nice and clear on the way up, if you do not include the many deer and elk we encountered.  We arrived at almost 2a.m.  Having discussed the idea on the way there, we decided to try a bit of night fishing.  It was relaxing casting in the still of the night under a beautiful starry sky.  After a couple hours and not so much as a bump, we decided to get some sleep.  We kicked the carseats back and hunkered down for a couple hours of rest.  What felt like minutes later we found ourselves getting out of the truck and rerigging our lines.

There are really only two basic rigs that I would consider my go-to setups when using a casting rod for steelies.  I use P-Line CXX 10lb mono, a small piece of pencil lead with a hole punched in it, two swivels (one with and one without a snap), small hot orange corkie, small black curly tailed grub, size 4 Gamakatsu octopus hooks, and pink or orange troutbeads (with toothpicks).  I have tried roe many times, but I have little confidence in it, though it works really well for other anglers.  Plus I prefer to avoid the mess and maintenance of bait if possible.  The setup I use the most is to put the corkie and small black curly tailed grub as the lead, then follow it with a single orange trout bead.  The other setup is just two trout beads.  The top I use a pink and the trailer I use the orange (4mm beads).

The preferred setup

After rigging up we started zinging casts out across the river.  It has so far been a warm winter, and this was evident as the rain clouds slowly worked their way through the canyon.  We were sopping wet within the first hour.  Not too long into our fishing I felt that indescribable steelhead take, and set hard.  Half of the time these takes turn out to be the river bottom, but this was no rock as the heavy throbbing headshakes immediately comfirmed.  I had forgotten how hard they fight in the fall.  After a 5ish minute battle, Shane scooped the net around this dandy of a hatchery buck.  The stress of potential skunk was gone, and I felt the freedom to just fish the rest of the day.  It's amazing how liberating and relaxing landing that first fish can be, especially when steelheading. 

We kept fishing that hole for a couple more hours.  Shane was still trying to get the feel.  It was his first time using anything but a fly rod for steelhead.  We only landed one other fish in that place.  It was a nice wild buck that fought hard.  After a little while longer and no other fish we decided to move upstream.

At our third location we both managed a bit smaller hatchery hen.  The cool thing about Shane's was that he picked his up on his fly rod!  After fishing this spot for a while with no luck, he said "I'm going to try nymphing.  It's what I have confidence in."  The lower section of the hole was pretty deep water and after fishing it for a while I suggested he try the top of the hole where it was shallower before the hole drops off.  He moved up there and after only a handful of casts in the riffles he yelled, "Chris!"  I threw down my rod, picked up the net, and ran up to him.  We netted the bright hen, and though it wasn't the biggest fish of the trip, it was the coolest because it was taken on the fly.  He kept at it for a while, but only managed a small sucker.  We finally decided to move again.  The rest of the day we did more scouting than fishing.

Finally, as dusk was slowly setting in, we stopped at the last fishing location for the trip.  After a few casts on the spinning rod, Shane went back to his fly rod.  I decided to stick with the casting and kept working the opposite bank.  A large snow storm started moving our direction.  Things had cooled down quite a bit and the rain had turned to snow.  It was looking about time to call it a day.  Shane had headed back to the truck to take his waders off and get warm.  I kept telling myself, "one more cast."  It's crazy how far we push ourselves for the things we love to do.  It was now just barely light enough to make out the dark silhouette of things.  I told myself (in honesty this time) that I was making the last cast.  I decided to rocket it over to the known snag of the run, on the other bank (I had already sacrificed one whole setup to it).  I thought to myself, "who cares if I break off, it will save me the time of cutting everything off!"  The line whizzed in the darkness and I heard that characteristic "plunk" in the water.  A few moments into the drift there was a heavy take!  I thought I had snagged a squaw fish or sucker, but seconds after this thought crossed my mind the beauty of a steelhead flew out of the water.  By it's silhouette against the river I could tell it was a respectable fish.  I hollered at Shane for some net help, but he was comfortably in the truck by this point and could not hear the yell.  I picked up the net and proceeded to do my best at netting in the dark.  I pulled the fish to the bank and scooped with the other arm.  It was done.  I was in shock.  Last casts like that don't happen often, but what a great way to end the day.  I was so surprised with the whole thing that I didn't think to get a picture, but it was just as big as the other two dandies from earlier in the day.  A thick and healthy hatchery hen.

We made our way home slowly as the snow was now everywhere.  It was a fun trip and a great way to kick off the Thanksgiving break.  Shane and I are already trying to make it work for a trip back.  We are trying to think of the best way to make it happen with our fly rods.  These last few weeks of school are the busiest, so we'll see, but here's hoping.

The Wild Buck from our first spot.
There is something to be said about confidence and fishing.  They are two interconnected concepts when it comes to the sport.  Rarely is success found when they are separated.  Building confidence in a new approach to fishing can be quite frustrating, but if we stick it out the rewards are fantastic.  The more areas a fisherman can become proficient in, the better angler they become all around.  Fish are fish, and they do not change their behavior according to whether we have a casting, ice, spey, spinning, or fly rod in our hand. They couldn't care less.  So as the angler we ought not to ignore or criticize other methods as long as they are sporting.  I say play to your strengths, but do not be afraid to strengthen your weaknesses through trial and practice.  Enjoy various methods of fishing, and you will be a better fisherman all around.  I think of Jeff Currier as an excellent example here.  That man can catch fish anywhere and everywhere with about any method.  He gets fish and loves catching them, and he.... fishes too!  How cool would it be if we were all that chill, pun intended.  Enough of the soap box, here's the scenery shot.

A gnarly fire ripped through this area.  It seems to have mostly taken the smaller shrubs and grass in these areas, though some trees did not make it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Fly Tying: Magic Dragon Streamer

What's with the name?  The length of the fly and the flowing movement it makes in the water reminded me of the flying dragon in The Neverending Story.  Admittedly the dragon is a bit creepy, but sometimes names have a tendency to stick.  This has been an excellent pattern.  It was killer this past summer and fall.  Almost all of the large browns I picked up this past fall came on this pattern.  It is a variation of both the Provo River Hooker by Collin Carlson and the Circus Peanut by Kelly Galloup.  I usually tie it in olive to mimic a large sculpin. It's 5-6 inches long when finished.  I have had success with it in black but usually for night fishing.  For that I make keep the tail really short (probably 1/4" beyond the tail-hook's bend. For the night pattern I also use little to no weight. 

The Magic Dragon streamer


-Streamer hook 4x shank, Size 2 (Choose your favorite brand)
-Gamakatsu Octopus hook, Size 1 (02410)

-Ibalz (Size depends on conditions/depth you will be fishing)  The ones in the video are tied with 1/4"
   Any other dumbell eye, or a sculpin helmet would work too.

-Wool (Olive) or Barred Rabbit Strip (Olive) or a sculpin helmet.

-Maribou (Olive, Cream, Brown or Black)
-Barred Rabbit Strip (Olive)
-Dubbing (Brite Blend Red)
-Sili Legs (Barred Olive/Green)
-Cactus Chenille (Olive)
-Polar UV Chenille (Olive)
-Beads (Glass or Troutbeads) Any dark color works. Glass balances the weight a bit better.

Pectoral Fins
-Pheasant Rump (Olive/Green)

-Mono or Beadalon for the articulation connection (I use 20lb P-line CXX mono)

The How To:

A few resulting goods...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Tips: Missing fish? Get sensitive...

A Few Thoughts On Nymphing

Nymphing should be easy.  At least that is what the fly fishing world seems to hint.  I think it is true... that is once you "get it."  However, it can be a definite struggle to "get it."  It was for me at any rate.

When I first began nymphing my abilities were quite dismal.  I'm no pro, and Shane can outnymph me any day, (though I would dare to say he could outnymph anyone) but I am much better now than I was at the beginning.  Here are a couple lessons learned the hard way, and some simple tips.

Depth Is Key.  This I think is the biggest factor to understand when nymphing.  If you aren't right on or near the bottom, you won't be in the zone.  I had a tendency to fish either too shallow or too deep.  Nymphs naturally roll along the bottom of the water column, bouncing in and out of the cracks between rocks.  Sometimes fish pick the stationary bugs up off the bottom, but more often they take them as they drift downstream.

To get into the zone, the proper weight and leader/tippet length is essential.  Water current lifts line, and keeps it suspended more than most people think.  Too little weight and you will occasionally get an aggressive fish, but will miss far more chances than are possible.  Too much weight and you will constantly catch the bottom, keeping you from getting an effective and consistent drift.  Also, if your leader/tippet to indicator distance is too much, fish will be taking your fly and you won't have a clue.

One of the best ways to tell if you are in the zone is to watch your indicator.  If you can see it occasionally bump the bottom or drop down, you are in a good place.  The key word here is "occasionally."  If after multiple casts it doesn't do anything, you need to be deeper.  Either add a little more weight, or move your indicator up the leader.  Knowing which thing to do in which circumstances takes practice and experience, but they both have their places.  When in doubt reevaluate the water depth and add weight or length to your leader in very small increments.  The second way to tell if you are getting in the zone is if you are catching fish.  More often than not, you will catch fish, if you are getting in the zone, even if you aren't using the most effective fly.  If your indicator tanks on every cast you are too deep or have too much weight.  The more vertically your flies present, the more sensitive your indicator will be when a take occurs (think of a 90 degree angle with your indicator as the vertex).

Learn To Read An Indicator.  The second biggest struggle when improving your nymphing is knowing how to read what your indicator is doing.  This is much easier, once you get the idea of proper depth down because you will be setting less and hooking more.  The two main actions I see when using an indicator are a slow lazy sinking motion and an abrupt diving motion.  You can guess which is more likely to be a fish, however either can be a take.  Setting on everything is a good practice, but if you make multiple casts in a run and know right where that rock is that keeps taking the indicator down, you can give a light tug to keep it going while in the zone.  That may get you into the fish behind the rock that you would have missed with a full set taking you out of the zone.

Sometimes fish are suspended and feeding higher in the water column but this is more the exception than the rule.  These times are fun because you know when your indicator tanks it is always a fish.  Sometimes fishing shallow is the only way to avoid losing multiple flies, but you will almost always catch more fish when you go deeper.

Watch out for line drag.  It will always fool with your indicator and pull your flies away from the zone.  The longer you maintain a drag-free drift, the more likely your are to get a hookup.  If you have to mend (which is almost always essential) make it quick and do it right the first time.

Balloon Indicators Are Sensitive.  Using a small water balloon for an indicator is nothing new to the fly fishing world, but I thought re-mentioning its benefit wouldn't hurt.  If you keep missing fish, or are fairly certain you are in the zone but aren't recognizing bites, you might give this method a try.  You can see even the slightest bumps when using them, just try it and you will see.  One disadvantage to using them is that the method kinks up your leader pretty bad.  They can also pop if you have weak balloons.  Despite these potential cons, they can be a great go to when the fishing is tough due to a light bite.

Weight Types And Placement.  When fishing faster water, getting down deep requires weight.  Some guys prefer to put it into the fly, others prefer to use shot.  I do both.  When using a rubber-legs (or any other largeish imitation) I usually tie the weight into the fly.  When fishing smaller bugs, I often use shot.  Tungsten is an excellent way to get weight into smaller flies as well, just a bit more pricey.

When using shot, there are different ways to fish it.  Some put it above the lead fly.  Others place it between their lead and trailer flies.  When using an indicator I usually opt for the in-between flies approach.  However, when high-sticking or swinging I prefer to attach a very light section of tippet to the trailer fly, tie a simple overhand knot in the end and put a shot just above the knot.  I find I get fewer snags with this approach, and when I do get snagged it is usually on the shot.  It breaks free, I tie a new knot and add another shot.  If you are fishing a pretty "snaggy" run with an indicator, but still need to get down, this method can also be effective.  Another thing to note is that multiple smaller pieces of shot will give you less snags than one larger shot will.

Ultimately the "feel" that is so essential in fly fishing comes through experience, so get out there and try something new.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Steroid Bows and Small Hooks

Why is there never enough time when the fishing is excellent?  I have to keep reminding myself that there will always be good fishing somewhere, and big fish to catch even if I can't get after them right at the moment.  I really can't complain considering I was fortunate enough to make it out last week for a bit more fall fun.

Brent, Shane, and I had been trying to make plans to chase some beefy bows, but kept struggling to synchronize our schedules.  The hope was to tackle some spunky spitfire bows with streamers.  We finally managed to get a day set in stone. 

Once we were on the water the streamer plan quickly changed.  Shane had been a few days before (Oh the life of a bachelor.  He gives me a hard time about it too.  Every now and then I have to remind him of the perks of being married.  That usually shuts him up pretty quick... ha ha), and found that streamers weren't necessarily the best approach.  We picked up some healthy bows on our black fish jewelry, but the real ticket was found in good old fashioned nymphing. 

My first for the day, picked up on a black streamer.

 This sweet hybrid Shane picked up already had three copper johns stuck into it.  Two were in the mouth and one on the fin!!!

 As much as I love picking up fish on streamers, it feels fantastic to have a hard fighting fish on the other end of your 5 weight!

Of all the guys I have fished with, I have to say that Shane has some of the best facial expressions!  
Locked and loaded.

One drawback to fighting big fish with little nymphs is the stress of losing fish.  Confidence levels are much higher when bringing a fish in on a size 2 hook, as compared to a 14, 16, or 18.  In the first run we were fishing I set into a huge fish and my mind immediately when into freak-out mode.  The stress of landing the monster was tangible and what made things worse, I had given my net to Shane who was on the other side of the river!  I kept the fish in the water as Shane began making his way over, but while I was holding the fish in the slack water she popped off.  Those losses are always a bit devastating, but the losses make the times we land them that much better.

Brent, with a solid fish.

GoPro glamour.

As dark was setting in I decided to switch back to streamers thinking they would be more productive.  I slowly worked down the run in the failing light.  The sunset was beautiful.  Bump, set, miss.  As the sky grew darker the fish began to key in more on the big stuff.  I cast across the river, let it swing, and then began a steady slow strip.  A few long strips in I felt the familiar throb on the other end and strip-set hard.  The fish responded with slow, heavy head shakes.  I thought I had foul hooked a carp!  After a fantastic bull-dog fight the beautiful brown came to hand.  Brent came to my aid with his net and relieved the stress of landing the fish with one good scoop.   A beautiful brown with a beautiful sunset.  I was satisfied.  Shane and I picked up a few more in the dark, but then we all decided to call it a day, and what a day it was.

It was a pleasure fishing with Brent and Shane, as always.  They are headed back out again tomorrow.  Sure wish I could go, blasted biology test!