Saturday, January 31, 2015

January odds and ends

Bro's first fly-tie

a woolly burger

chia willie, my only plant

sometimes the fish just ain't bitin

Friday, January 30, 2015

Tyin' Friday: V-Rib Damsel

If only Tyin' Friday stayed this consistent all year!  Today's fly is a much quicker damsel pattern than my Mr. Wiggles fly that I've typically used in the past.  Mr. Wiggles is a great fly, but it looks best with a dubbing loop, and it can be a bit time consuming.  With a V-Rib body, this pattern is tied up in about half the time, making for a great guide fly*, and the semi-transparent V-Rib material also allows for subtle variations in body color depending on thread choice.  I'm using black thread here, which gives the body a nice, dark olive hue.  An olive thread gives it a straight, light olive look that is also appealing.  I'll start out with the materials list and then go right into the step-by-step.

*I'll be opening up to a handful of half-day guided carp trips in May and June of this year.  Check out my new Guide Page for more info.

Hook: Gamakatsu SL-45
Thread: black UNI-Thread, 6/0 (but vary depending on desired body color)
Eyes: black bead-chain
Tail: chickabou feather from Whiting Farms speckled brahma hen soft hackle cape with chickabou
Abdomen: Yellowstone Fly Goods "Olive" V-Rib
Thorax: Cohen's Carp Dub, "Cray-Zee Olive" in dubbing brush
Hackle: soft-hackle feather from same Whiting Farms speckled brahma cape
Head: option of thread finish, or figure-eighted dubbing around eyes (I do thread head if olive thread, dubbing with black thread)

Start your thread and then tie in the eyes by figure-eighting the thread over them, as well as making a handful of wraps under the eyes to secure your figure-eight wraps.  I don't glue my eyes in, typically.  This does mean that it's easier for a fish (or you) to rotate them while landing a fish and taking the fly out, but it also means that it's easier to rotate them back into position.

Once the eyes are in, work your thread back to about the bend of the hook.  At this point you will tie in the chickabou feather.

I wrap my chickabou feather almost up to the eyes so that the body will be more even (i.e. no bump in the rear from too many materials).

Wrapping the marabou all the way up to the hook eyes is important the way that I tie them, because I like to use as little V-Rib as possible.  this means tying it in in the back and then using thread wraps to even out a bit of the body.

Once you've established a nice, tapered appearance with your thread wraps (much like you would for a Copper John), begin wrapping the V-Rib towards the eyes.  Rotary function is especially nice for ensuring smooth, even wraps during this stage, but it's still very manageable manually.

Wrap to just behind the bead-chain eyes.  You don't need to be quite as close as I am here, but it's okay.

At this point, tie in the dubbing brush.  You could just use standard dubbing techniques here as well, but Cohen's Carp dub works really well in dubbing brushes, and a dubbing brush will actually make tying a bunch of these flies at a time go much faster because you won't have to dub every time.

Make one wrap and trim the excess dubbing brush.

Just as I did for tying the Drowned Ant, I tie my brahma hen soft-hackle feather in Dave Hughes style.  To do this, the concave side of the feather will be facing you, and with that side facing you, the fibers on the top half of the feather are stripped off.

I typically make one-and-a-half wraps and then tie off the feather on the bottom side of the fly (i.e. with the hook-point up).  Next dub a small amount of the same dubbing used for the thorax and finish the head.  I typically only do this when I use a black thread, opting for a thread-head if I use olive.

Finish fly.  Fish.  And enjoy!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tyin' Friday: Annear's Drowned Ant

It's been a typically long time between Tyin' Fridays, but I'm very happy to announce this one.  As usual, it's a pattern that I find myself fishing quite a lot, and, as is a requirement for the flies that I post, it can't be a fly whose instructions can be readily found elsewhere.  This particular fly is one of my own patterns, and after a couple of very successful summers fishing it, I've decided to share it.

The original inspiration came from two sources.  The first was Dave Hughes's book Wet Flies: Tying and Fishing Soft-Hackles, Winged and Wingless Wets, and Fuzzy Nymphs.  This is a great book, and definitely one that anybody who enjoys the history of the sport should read.  Hughes lays everything out very nicely, but most importantly, it really gets you thinking about and excited to fish soft-hackles (and wet flies).  At some point, my thinking about soft-hackles intersected with the second source - a distinct memory of a fifteen-inch trout rising up to slow-sinking, blackish scud pattern that I had tied up one time.  I'm not sure why I thought to tie up a blackish scud pattern, but it later occurred to me that the trout probably thought that my blackish fly was a drowned ant, and that if I tied up more drowned ants I could probably catch fish on them as well.  Turns out I was pretty right about that.

My favorite thing about this fly is that it is incredibly simple, as you can see from the pictures below.  you need five things, and that includes thread and a hook:
Hook:  #12 Mustad standard length, 3X heavy (S80-3906, I think)
Thread: 6/0 black Uni-Thread
Body: Peacock herl
Tinsel: any tinsel
Hackle: Hungarian partridge

1)  After you've got your hook in the vise and started your thread, tie in two strands of peacock herl and wrap your thread forward to about mid-shank.

2)  Wrap the peacock herl foward.  Then tie in tinsel and advance your thread forward to about a hook-eye's distance behind the eye of the hook.

3)  Wap in a spot of tinsel, and then tie in the second half of the two strands of peacock herl you used for the first body segment.

4)  Finish front body segment, and tie in soft-hackle.  I tie my soft hackles in using the method described in Hughes's book Wet Flies.  To do this, first hold a single feather by the tip (not the stem) and with the concave side facing you (that is, the side that dips in), strip off the fibers on the top half of the feather.  Then use a pair of hackle pliers to hold the stem, tie in the feather by the stem with the concave side still facing you, and wrap thread back to the front body segment.  Wrapping the feather back towards the thread, and then carefully wrapping your thread forward over and through the fibers will make for a much more durable soft-hackle portion.

This tie-in method will ensure that the hackle wraps around the hook with all the fibers leaning elegantly towards the back of the hook.  One-and-a-half wraps will give you a fully covered, but delightfully sparse looking fly.

5)  Whip finish and lacquer if desired.

Oh, and go fish it.

sight fished

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Few Rods to Rule them All

Three rods for the fisherman who lives outside,
Seven for the business man with a wife at home,
Nine for the gear junkie who loves to buy,
One for the zen master, who I do not know.

Fly fishing can be a bit of a gear-addict culture.  Or maybe it's not even so much of a stretch to say that it is a gear-addict culture.  Besides guided trips, fly shops really depend on selling the newest, hottest rods to people to keep afloat, and that is of course dependent on our desire to keep up with the market and technology.  We want the newest and the hottest, and we really don't think too often about how much more the newest and the hottest is actually giving us.

Paul Puckett said it pretty well in his Gink and Gasoline post, "Is the Fly Fishing Industry Making Us Soft?"  My interpretation of the problem is that we all tend to have (myself most certainly included) a desire for our tackle to be over-specified.  That is we want a tool for every single situation we might find ourselves in, rather than learning how to make a few tools work in whatever situation we might find ourselves in.  This can also lead to paralysis when making decisions about what gear to take on a trip.  We simply end up having too many options.  If we're looking to cover all of our bases, we too often want to bring too much, because we want to be prepared for any situation.  
The same is true for fly selection.  Puckett also made a post about using one fly for an entire season, regardless of species.  We have all had that fishing trip where you came home saying if you had to do it again, you wouldn't bring as many flies.  I also tend to come back from fishing trips having mostly fished only one rod, saying I didn't need three.

Puckett's two posts got me thinking, what would I do if I could only use one rod for an entire season?  Maybe a bit more correctly, it made me realize that I'd often thought at times that it would be very possible for me to use my Cabela's CGR seven/eight weight for just about every fish that I target.  In fact, I have used it for trout (even with dries), smallmouth bass, pike, and carp, which are the primary fish that I target.  I could probably use this rod all season.  At seven-feet six-inches, it's a dynamite small-stream streamer rod for trout and smallmouth when you need a fly that can get down.  It can definitely handle carp, and you will feel them all the way down to the cork when fighting them.  Lined up with a Hydros seven-weight bass line it can do medium-sized pike flies, and is a delight for throwing topwater flies for smallmouth.  It even does a great job protecting lighter tippets.  One of my better trout of 2014 was caught using this rod with 5X tippet connecting my trailing nymph.

It would be an adventure fishing only that rod for a season, and although I consider it one of my must-have rods, I'm not sure I could go to the extreme of only fishing that rod forever.  Another must-have rod would be my 7'6", Orvis Clearwater three-weight.  A 7'6" three-weight rod was my first fly rod, so maybe I'm a bit predisposed to shorter rods.  Nonetheless, fishing the driftless, it's about the best way to go.  I've cast pretty absurdly heavy flies with it at times, and of course it is perfect for the smaller stuff.  I've been able to cast in tight spots that friends haven't been able to, and I only rarely wish I had a little more length on it.  Certainly not as often as I would wish I had a shorter rod if I were to fish a nine-footer on our streams.  It's the perfect driftless rod, what more is there to say?

The Clearwater doing it's drfitless duty

Seven-and-a-half foot love
The last in my list of must-have rods would be my 9'0" Sage Flight nine-weight.  If it's big water, big flies, or big fish that I'm after, it's my rod.  Okay, as long as big fish doesn't mean small-stream trout.  I think of it as my work-horse rod.  If I want to fish a lake and have my bases covered, I take the Sage.  I have an Echo Ion reel with a floating bass line on one spool, and a clear intermediate on the other.  Combine those two options with a sink-tip that works well on either line, and I can do just about whatever I want.  It serves a host of duties in the Boundary Waters - namely getting big flies out to sixty-plus feet - and was my go-to rod for smallmouth up north this summer.  And believe me, when you're dealing with chunky northern Wisconsin smalljaws all day, a nine-weight isn't too much.

The Sage is always happy after the first fish of the day
So there they are, the three keepers if I had to sell all the rest and fish Wisconsin (or most places) my entire life.  I'm no zen master, so three will have to do.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Tyin' Friday: Recycling

If you tie flies, chances are you tie more than you need.  And when you tie more than you need, you tend to only use the ones that turned out really well - at least I do.  What I end up with is a bunch of flies that sit around and I will never use.  What this also means is that I have a bunch of valuable hooks that aren't being used.  Or, an even more negative spin on things, a bunch of hooks AND materials that are going to waste.  To clean up space and recycle those hooks back into the tying supply, here are a few things I like to (try) to do.

1)  Get some sharp razors - This is step one in cleaning things up.  You're not trimming deer hair here, so get a lot of razors - they dull fast.  Materials will come off the hook a lot faster with a sharp razor, and you'll actually be less likely to injure yourself if you're not having to use a lot of force to get materials off.

TIP:  To make the razors last longer, make sure to use all of the razor.  Once they get dull in the center, use the edges - they'll still have an edge and will make the razor last a fly or two longer.

2)  Make a day out of it - Or at least a few hours.  Spending some quality time cleaning up hooks isn't as fun as tying, but you'll love the pile of hooks that you end up with at the end.  Not to mention how much cleaner your tying area (or apartment, car, etc.) is when you're done.

3)  Organize - My natural state is not an organized one, believe me.  But if you can find even some way to organize your cleaning process, it'll make things a lot nicer for you.  Some simple things that I try to do to keep organized are to do my cleaning by hook type (there are a few common hooks that I tend to use).  So I'll do carp flies in one go.  For me these hooks tend to be Gamakatsu SL-45s and CarpPro Gaper hooks.  Once they've been, shaved I set them in a small pile or zip-lock bag to keep them all together.  Then I move on to streamers, which for me are mostly Gamakatsu B10s Stinger hooks and 4X long streamer hooks (usually Orvis).  The list goes on, but you get the point.

If you really want to step it up, you'll have little labeled containers to put all of these shaved hooks into.  I don't, but it's something I plan on doing at some point (edit: since beginning to write this post I have obtained an organizer with labels).

4) Make it fun - Grab a favorite beverage and snack, put on some music, a TV show (I highly recommend Battlestar Galactica), or fly fishing video on in the background and enjoy.  It's winter, and this is a great way to save yourself some money.

5) Reap the rewards - Make sure to re-use these hooks by learning from your mistakes.  Rather than doing some experimental ties, I try to reuse hooks by tying flies that I know and love, and take my time to make them look like a fly I want to fish.

My first outing of 2015 was with my brother.  I had just cleaned up some hooks the week before and on one of them, a #4 streamer hook, I tied a tungsten cone-head Muddy Buddy - one of my favorite flies for trout, pike, and smallmouth bass.  We were fishing for cold-weather pike, and I was rewarded with this small beauty.  It swam up out of a deep hole as I was jigging my fly up at the end of the retrieve, casually ate my fly, and made my day.

The rewards of recycling

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Upcoming events

Three of the best parts of winter are coming up here in Wisconsin.  If you've never gone to any of these events, I'd highly recommend any and all of them.  They're a great way to get connected with others that share our passion for this lifestyle.  Plus you'll have a chance to win or purchase a lot of cool gear that can be either hard to find, or is hand-made by a local master.  Of course if you have gone, you shouldn't need convincing.

Wisconsin Trout Unlimited's Ice Breaker is this coming Saturday, the 17th of January.

The Badger Fly Fishers Spring Opener will be held Saturday, February 4th.

And last, though far from least, the Fly Fish Film Tour (AKA F3T) will return to Madison, WI on Wednesday, March 4th.  Lots of good stuff!

p.s./edit:  Madison Fly Casters will be getting together at the Keva Center in Madison, February 7th at 4 p.m.  Get your cast on!

Monday, January 12, 2015

The fish that made 2014

I decided a while back that I wasn't going to do a year-in-review type post.  At least not like I had in the past.  Instead I thought I'd highlight a few fish (and days) that made it all worth it.  They're the ones that you think back on while dreaming about what the upcoming season has in store.  They're also the ones that you often least expect - checking out a new spot, deciding to go for it despite the conditions, or just those days you stuck with it and were rewarded.

My first truly memorable day came on opening day of the regular season when I decided to fish a section of water that, two years prior, had become a hydrous wasteland (with respect to trout).  The drought and warm weather of 2012 had heated it up beyond what the trout could handle and we didn't really see any fish through 2013 either.  Nonetheless I was feeling confident and curious so decided to check it out.  Wondrously, I was rewarded with three beautiful fish out of an idyllic run, each larger than the last, and the last fighting better than the previous two.

Near the end of May, we were still wondering if the water was ever going to get above fifty degrees in the Northwoods.  The days had been fine, but the nights exceedingly cool.  Especially up north, where we wanted to be.  To top it off, the water had been really high, and we just weren't sure what to expect.  But a word here and there about a few smallmouth caught, and a slight rise in temps (in tandem with a slight drop in flows) made us decide to go for it.  It sounds like it makes a heck of a lot of sense now, but when I started out by fishing a 4/0 bucktail streamer with a sink-tip I did so thinking both,  "I might find a musky", and, "What is there to lose?"  It just wasn't how we usually fish up there.  But I finished the day with my new go-to high water smallmouth set-up and my biggest fish to date, including one fish over twenty inches.

There were lots of other great days and other great fish, but there are two other (groups of) outings that defined my year.  Surprisingly, these outings don't include the first time I saw my backing (I'm not sure how it took two years for a carp to finally take me into my backing, but hey), nor do they include my high number trout days (though those were some fantastic days).  And as much as I wanted to include them, it doesn't include my first successful mouse outings.

The days that it does include were discovering some new carp water, and a fine, fall musky trip.  For most of the summer my go-to carp water was running so stained that it was un-fishable (for carp).  It was with a sense of wonder and delight one hot August day that me and a friend found ourselves a new section of water to target carp on.  Flows were low, the water was warm, and there were carp.  Beautiful carp.

It wouldn't make much sense in making a list of fish that made a year to not include my first musky, and the two-day float that yielded it.  Late September, the inception of Autumn, six takes, and two landed.  It was awesome.  But I wouldn't be a fisherman if I told you that the one that got away wasn't almost more memorable than the one I landed.  It was the first musky I ever connected with.  My line stopped, I pulled hard, and got a brief glimpse at the top half of a musky before it spit the fly and disappeared back down where it came from.  It was an incredible trip, and my final note for memorable fish of 2014.  What a great year.

photo by Nathan Jandl

photo by Nathan Jandl