Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fly Tying: The Skullcracker Streamer

Deep roiling water is one of the toughest places for a fly fisherman to access.  The combination of current and water depth keep a fly from getting deep enough, with enough time to actually get a presentation in the hole.  Oftentimes we anglers cast to such places, and when we don't get a take, we assume there is no fish in that particular spot, when in reality we just weren't getting in the zone. In fact, I think many fly anglers poorly understand just how long their subsurface flies spend in the actual fishy zone.  On average I would say that a cast maybe spends about 1/3 to 1/2 the time of the actual drift in the zone, and less when there is increased current or water depth.  Anglers can compensate for this, when they understand the need, by casting further upstream or using more weight.  Casting upstream can allow some access to this deeper roiling water, if there is a place to cast upstream, and if there is not a great likelihood of getting snagged in the water upstream of the hole you are trying to fish.

Adding weight can be a great way to get to the zone quicker, and stay there longer.  The drawback with more weight is it can result in many more snags. With nymphing, getting good at setting indicator depth can help with this issue. With streamers, adding weight can be tricky because they are usually fished on a retrieve, rather than suspended.  Tying more weight into streamers helps them stay in the zone, if you are using a floating line, but can cause anglers to fish a streamer faster than it should be fished, because there is a fear of snagging and those dang things aren't cheap to buy or tie!  This problem made me want to find some way to keep my weight, but lessen my snags. Ultimately this pursuit has lead me to jigs.

My buddies and I always joke that if you want to catch good fish, you have to go where the rednecks go. It's a joke, but we are serious.  On that note, it doesn't hurt to have some redneck in your blood either.  When redneck meets fly fishing, some type of guerrilla warfare results. So dirty, and yet so effective. It's not pretty casts to sipping risers and it's certainly not using silk lines or light tippet.  Those who choose to keep an elitist attitude with fly fishing are more than welcome to their opinion. Everyone has their "this is fly fishing and that isn't" line in the sand.  In the meantime, I'll just be over here, in my redneck ways, enjoying catching fish.  I guess you can't please everyone.  In the end jigs and fly fishing are a unique marriage. They are deadly effective, different to cast, and are becoming quite popular both with nymphs and streamers. One of the unique characteristics about the Skullcracker streamer is that it is tied on a lead-headed jig. 

Fly Tying: The Skullcracker Streamer

The Skullcracker streamer was designed specifically to fish deep, churning water - behind rocks in heavy rapids, below water falls, and fierce eddies.  Since it's creation, I have come to use the pattern in many other circumstances as well, and have found it quite effective.  I even nymph with the pattern, but usually with smaller renditions than is shown here.  It has been a great weapon to add to the arsenal.  I even think it would be killer for bullies in deep pools, but I haven't been able to try that theory out yet. The articulated version has a bull trout's name on it though.

I usually fish it in tandem with an unweighted Skullcracker (Skullchaser) about two feet behind.  The duo is pretty killer, especially in the fall.


Hook - Jig of your choice.  I prefer 1/16 or 1/8oz for my streamer.  Gamakatsu are the best, but pricey. Wapsi makes a "Super Jig Head" jig that is made with Mustad hooks, and they are my main staple because of the lesser price.

Paint - Lead jigs require a painted head for the most part. Protec Powder Paint is probably the toughest option, but applying it requires a heat source (heat gun) and some forceps.  It still chips, but not as quickly as other options.  Nail polish is probably the easiest way to paint a head, but it chips pretty quick.  I have been meaning to try putting a coat of Softex over a painted head to see if it adds to the durability, but I have yet to pick up any Softex.

Body - Olive Barred Rabbit Strip (Or White, Black, Tan, etc depending on the pattern)

Underbelly Tail - Cream Marabou (Or Black, Brown, Tan, Orange, etc depending on the pattern)

Pectoral Fins - Olive/Green Pheasant Rump (I only use this with the sculpin pattern)

Collar - Red Brite Blend Dubbing

Optional Flash - Polar UV Chenille adds a very nice and subtle bit of flash to the fly.  Simply tie it in at the same point where the rabbit is first tied down and wrap it forward alongside the rabbit strip.  Holding them side by side as you wrap makes it easier and keeps from covering up one with the other.

Fly Tying The Skullcracker Streamer from Chris Cutler on Vimeo.

A couple fruits...

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Cabin Fever - a hit and a miss

It's inevitable. Inescapable. And it can hit without warning. When the air outside begins to warm again and the hidden world of growing things reemerges from under a wintry blanket, I start to get fidgety. My focus blurs and grandiose ideas of epic fishing trips flood my mind.  This year it came early, and took me a couple weeks to realize it, but, like my two year old realizing the reason he needs a new diaper, it occurred to me that I have a bad case of cabin fever. And like the my kiddo's diaper, it's a messy business.  I get crazy and start foaming at the proverbial fishing mouth. All I want is to eat, sleep, and be fishing.  Ideas flow, and tentative mental plans are made, many of which I know will not happen due to time, money, and home and garden obligations. But I can still dream. That is where much of the magic happens really. Quite often the anticipation of a thing is more enjoyable than the actual event, not always, but often. And, as a husband, father, son, employee, and neighbor, I will try and keep things balanced, but sometimes it's hard to fight the daydreaming haze of cabin fever.

Considering my current state, it is only natural to assume that there is some fishing going on. Not really any more than I normally am fortunate enough to do, but the cabin fever is made evident by the last two trips.

Two weeks ago the forecast was slated to warm about 20 degrees, and stay that way for a few days.  This warming trend has often produced good results in a few areas where the golden lips are known to hang out.  I invited a couple friends, but my preference of hitting the water midweek to avoid crowds does not coincide easily with other people's schedules. So it was to be a solitary mission. Fishing alone used to really bother me, however, the older I get the more I find I enjoy taking things at my own pace and the fresh air and open space give me a good place to think. Besides, the older we get, the slower our bodies go, and the more we realize how important it is to take time to think. I'm getting off topic though.

As I pulled up to the muddy-banked stretch of water, I noticed the sun was going to be temperamental and only give me a wink every now and then between the overcasting clouds. It even looked like rain off in the distant hills might pay me a visit later in the day.

I hopped out of the car and, not even getting ready, decided to take a walk along the water to spy things out and come up with a plan of action. Even though a few-day warming trend has often shown good results in the spring for carping on the fly, it does not always guarantee that the carp got the memo. With that in mind I wanted to see if there were any carp around.  I walked for a ways, beginning to think that my pilgrimage had been in vain. The water was clear enough to see to the bottom in most areas and the sun was playing nice, but there was not a carp in sight, and none rolling in the distance. Being the doggedly stubborn fisherman that I am, I kept walking. Then it happened. I came up on the last stretch of water that would provide any hope, and to my surprise there was not a couple fish here and there, but what looked more like a thousand all schooled together in two big clumps. There were smaller groups of three and four swimming around the edges, working the banks for any potential morsel. I was in shock and it took every ounce of self control I possessed not to run down the bank and dive into the mix, trying to wrestle a couple to the bank. Though the sheer manliness of that act would probably increase my chest hair and muscle size three times, I thought it better to take the long walk back to the car, get my gear together and approach the situation in a more traditional manner.

After having difficulty focusing enough to wader up, put my rod together, and tie on a fly I began the long walk back. Knowing my personal tendency to not take the necessary time to sneak up on fish without spooking them, with restraint I slowly crept down the bank and got into position. I decided that it was better to work the very edge, a little away from the school, so as not to spook the whole group.  This approach proved very effective. I saw my first target slowing working along the bank about ten feet away, and coming my direction. I lightly cast my crawdad pattern a couple feet passed the cruising missile, then steadily pulled the fly a few inches in front of it's head and let it sink once more.  The carp greedily burst forward and went head down.  I tried waiting that painful extra moment before the set and the hesitancy paid off. Strip-set, rod-lift, and it was game on.  That initial burst that carp make is one of the most fun things about hooking into a carp.  I spent the next few hours fighting carp, with only a couple minutes reprieve in between hookups.

There were so many fish cycling through that I became more selective. I would choose one because its bright shiny scales made it stick out like a sore thumb, then I would aim for a particularly large looking specimen, and then again to what looked like a dark unscaled mirror. 

 It was a fun game and I began laughing out loud with enjoyment. Carp are strong, and wrestling one into position for a picture when you are alone and trying not to get your DSLR wet/muddy is tricky. I got covered in mud, but loved every bit of it. Once satisfied and nearing time to leave I decided to venture over to the heart of the school for fun. I managed to stick a couple fish before the horde moved to deeper water. After that smaller groups still kept cycling along the bank, but with more time in between groups. 

Satisfied with an excellent outing I tried for a couple trout and then headed home.  Cabin fever attempt numero uno = WIN (Epic Win in fact).

The second and more recent attempt to assuage my rising desire to fish in nonwintry ways occurred last night. I tied up a few Artimouse patterns and hit the road about 9pm. The temperatures outside had me hopeful.  While I drove I noticed a couple mice scurrying across the road and it gave me hope.  Once to the water I got ready and began creeping around the waters edge, listening for any rolling fish. Owls, beavers, and coyotes were heard quite clearly, and a few smaller fish jumped, but none of the brutes of the night were on the prowl for big meat. I think it's still just a bit early and the mouse hatch is not in full swing. Cabin fever attempt numero dos = FAIL. Still, it was wonderful to be out in the dark of night again, despite the scary noises and splashes in the water from unknown creatures moving to and fro.

You win some and you lose some, and every little bit helps keep the cabin fever under wraps. Cheers to all my fellow anglers, and here's to a great coming year on the water.  Whether we meet in cyber space, or in person on the river, I look forward to some great stories, even better fishing, and new friends. I love you guys... or that could be the cabin fever talking.