Tag Archives: featured

Deep Wading

High-Water Fishing Tips for the Wading Angler

Spring run-off in the west and heavy rain storms in the east cause rivers to rise quickly and often without warning, raising the cubic-feet-per-second by many times, on occasion resulting in water levels reaching that particular river’s flood stage, which is when a river is commonly considered “blown-out.” While many anglers consider fishing high water to be hopeless, in actuality this situation can grant you the opportunity to catch fish you might never have a crack at otherwise. Before reading the following tips, however, remember that fishing high water presents safety risks. Therefore, it’s a good idea to fish with a friend and to not only know your limits as a wader, but to understand how the high water will affect the river’s “wadeability.” For example, if you usually wade a certain spot up to your thighs in normal cfs (cubic feet per second) flows, don’t attempt to wade it in high flows, as the current there will likely be too forceful to safely stand in and cast from. The three tips below will help you turn the tables to your advantage during high water flows.

  1. Up the diameter of your leader and tippet. When the water is high and off-colored, there is no need to fish 5x or 6x fluorocarbon in most rivers. A general rule of thumb is to downsize by at least 2x. So if you usually fish 6x, try up-sizing to 4x, or even 2x fluorocarbon if the river is dingy (some anglers I know use 12 pound test and higher, which you can often get away with). When the water isn’t clear, the trout can’t see your line well, so you should take advantage and use a heavier pound test, which will help you fight a fish out of a blown out river’s stronger than normal currents.
  2. Target the banks and secondary currents. When the water is up, the main current is often too strong for the trout to lie in. As a result, they tend to push toward the banks, where the flow isn’t as strong and the water isn’t as deep. Here, they can comfortably face upstream or circulate through the current and pick off food items. Trout often seek refuge in eddies as well, which is another spot to try. In large rivers, try targeting back channels or river braids when the water is up. You’ll be amazed at how many fish will stack in what looks to be just a small riffle along the flooded bank. If the eddy is suitable, you may even see trout facing downstream in the current, waiting for the eddy current to wash food up to them from below. If this is the case, you want to get a high-stick drift in the current, so your flies will be sucked down by the eddy and circulated back upstream.
  3. Give them the Good Stuff. When the water rises, the proverbial trout buffet opens for business. All kinds of goodies are washed into the water for the trout to eat, not to mention the various hatches that a rise in water will sometimes set off. High water is a classic time to fish a big, nasty-looking streamer (such as a double bunny or sculpzilla), but it is also time to fish heavily weighted nymphs (such as stoneflies and prince nymphs), as well as San Juan worms in a wide array of colors—just think of all the worms and grubs the high water dislodges from the banks and river bottom. For nymphing, be sure to put on a lot of split shot (so much that your cast may look kind of clumsy even) and move your indicator high up on your leader to adjust for the high water. Then try to find an eddy or a smaller offshoot of the main current and fish away. When you see that indicator twitch, give a firm hook-set to the downstream side, then hold tight…big trout are notorious for eating when the water is high and off-color.

 

Brown Trout

Catching the Spring Creeks Off Guard

Should a Woolly Bugger kind-of-guy celebrate March Madness in Paradise Valley at a BWO hatch?

I used to look forward to a week of skiing in Montana at the end of every March.  And somewhere along the line, probably as I passed through Livingston -  with the sun shining and the Yellowstone River underneath the Interstate – I got to wondering about the fishing.

As it turns out, it’s pretty darn good.  The crowds are gone, the rivers are in good shape -  ‘cause it’s pre-runoff  – and the temperature is likely to be 50 or 60 degrees.

So a few weeks ago, on our way to ski, my girlfriend and I stopped by the Yellowstone Angler in Livingston.  They pointed us toward Armstrong’s Spring Creek and stuffed our fly box with egg imitations, BWO’s, and midges.

A day on Armstrong’s during the height of the summer PMD hatch means booking a year in advance and paying a $100 rod fee.  We got there on a gorgeous Sunday morning and paid the off-season rate of $40.  And had the river all to ourselves.  All the snow was on the ski hill and would have to wait…

I have to admit.  I was a little apprehensive.  Spring creeks and their technical, flat water are a bit of a mecca for small fly gurus.  But I’m no small fly guru.  To me, finesse is replacing the big split shot under my indicator with a small split shot.

Nevertheless, for every flat water glide, there was a deeper, rumpled run.  A 20 mile per hour wind was keeping the BWO hatch at bay.  We tied on indicators, beadhead zebra midges underneath eggs, and a split shot.  I must have been in finesse mode; it was a small indicator and a tiny split shot.

There were six or seven browns and rainbows in those deeper, rumpled runs that definitely wanted to play.  The browns smacked the eggs and the rainbows sucked in the midges.  The browns bent the rods double and went deep.  A couple ‘bows did cartwheels.   The biggest fish was a solid 16 inches.  Not a spectacular day’s fishing, but extremely satisfying.  Especially when fishing back home would be not much more than gazing at an eight inch hole in the ice.

Next year, we may just forget about the skiing altogether…

(We actually spent the next day wading the big, broad Yellowstone River.  There were risers in the slack water by the bank as we pulled up.  I was eager to work on my small fly skills but a 30 mile per hour wind came up and ended the hatch.  So back to an indicator rig with zebra midges and small pheasant tails.  A few eager rainbows and cutthroats soon found our flies.  Unfortunately, after a couple hours, the wind started to feel like a gale and it was time to quit.  Or at least think about going skiing.)

Creativity At the Vice

Do you ever have days at the vice where you just sit and think… ” What can I come up with that’s new, cool, catches fish, and will put a new spin on my flies?” This thought is what makes fly tying the backbone of this technical sport. That day where you’re sitting at your vice wondering… “What can I come up with? What is that one thing that no one else has?”. You’re sitting letting the wheels in your brain turn as you think of what you should put on a hook whether its big or small, light or dark, even if it is going to be nothing but flash or no flash at all. The creative minds that people have for fly tying is what makes this art form so great. There is no end to the flies that will be created on this planet. Though this article is not about how to tie a new fly, but a tip on making your flies totally different from what they are. I’m talking about blending your feathers. That’s right… Making your feathers to the color combinations that you want them to be without trying to dye every little bit of the feather. Taking anywhere from 2-4 different colored feathers and blending them together to turn them into a multi-colored feather blend.

The one thing that I have learned by doing this is that it makes some of the best streamers. The option of having a fly that is different from everything else just by having a different color scheme. I have had days of fishing where it did not matter what I put in front of the fishes face they would not hit it. Then I would switch to the blended flies and I would hook something. It’s that little bit of color change that can make a big difference when your throwing streamers. For example on a day were I have had no luck with an olive fly I will throw an Olive/Dark Olive/Chartreuse blend. That little change can be the key.

How to make a Blended Feather. First take your marabou feather and clip the tip and butt so you have the main base of the feather. Do this for how ever many feathers your going to put in your blend. Second take a piece of wire long enough so that when you fold it in half it has a loop at the front and enough tail to put in your vice. size BR or MED is best color to match if you want to. A rotary vice is needed. Third put the butt end of the feathers with the wire in your vice. Fourth take a tool or something that you can put in the loop then spin your vice. Every 5-7 turns pull the tips out so that its not all bunched up and spins evenly. You can also do this with hackle feathers to make wings or for wrapping bodies on woolly buggers.

This is a great thing for Steelhead flies and just big swing flies that have a lot of color. I also do these for Clousers a lot. I have my basic colors then my blends. My favorite Clouser blends for salt water are.

1: Rust/Tan/brown
2: Olive/Dark Olive/Chartreuse
3: White/Gray with Peacock hurl.

Those three Examples great color blends, but remember with this your blends are endless for what colors you want to put in them. One tip: Do not go over four feathers. They get hard to spin.

Remember the things you can do with your vice are endless. The vice is a tool that you have that enables you to take an idea that is floating in your mind down on a hook. Always try your ideas even though some might be a bit out there, you never know if it can be the next hot fly on the market.

Humbled by the King!

The Silver King. In my extremely humble opinion this fish is the epitome of saltwater fly-fishing. Of course I am talking about the Tarpon. These unique mysterious fish are simply breathtaking. I recently had an opportunity to travel to the Florida Keys to fish for Tarpon and these are my thoughts about the experience.

Now I consider my self a pretty confident and competent fly fisherman let me rephrase that, I consider myself a pretty confident and competent trout fisherman.  However I learned quickly that saltwater fly-fishing is a totally different ballgame. Instead of throwing size 20 Midges on a 4wt I found myself using a rod unlike anything I have ever really utilized before. Comparatively 12wt fly rods are a gargantuan and the flies utilized are much the same way.

In preparation for this trip I did quite a bit of practicing to try and familiarize myself with the larger saltwater gear. I felt as I had done a fair job for preparing for this experience but alas I was gravely mistaken. Casting on top of a milk crate in a grassy field with little to no wind was beneficial but once I found myself on the front of that skiff with the boat rocking and the wind blowing directly into my face I knew I was in for a humbling trip.

The highlight of the trip was definitely the sight of a Tarpon 30ft away engulfing my scantly looking crab imitation. However I strip set the hook too early and found myself staring at the backside of a fish going the other way. Honestly that sight freaked me out and I nearly jumped off the front of the boat and that is probably why I screwed up my best shot. I was disappointed yes, but that 40 second experience has to be one of the greatest I have ever had with a fly rod in my hand. I was left standing on the front of that boat in awe of what actions has just transpired before me. The consolation was that I had an opportunity to see some eye-opening places and get a nice tan. So in all reality I am okay with that.

Overall this experience is exactly what I expected going in. Anything that you do for the first time in life is probably not going to turn out pretty and most likely is going to leave you wanting a different outcome. I know thing is for certain. I will be back to tangle with the Silver King. This experience has opened up the metaphorical Pandora’s box of fly-fishing and the best way I try to explain my thought is these fish and the waters in which they reside are new frontier and new way of challenging me as a fly angler. My hat is off to those who have put the time and practice in to become masters of this whole different venue of fly angling. Finally, next time I will be better prepared and will have practiced a lot more.  Because we all know that old motto, practice makes perfect. In this case perfection is embodied in the form of the majestic Tarpon on the end of the line.

Bamboo Fly Rods

Barlows and Bamboo

In my right pocket on most days, I am carrying a knife.  It isn’t a particularly lethal blade even though its carbon steel can be honed enough to shave the hairs from your arm clean as a babies bottom.  The craftsmanship is what you would expect from a mass produced circa 1975 hardware store pocket knife, a brown plastic handle that is slightly off center on one side, the name stamped crooked.  Imperfections abound on this treasure and I would venture to say that if you were to find it along the side of the road you would submit it to a junk drawer if you bothered to pick it up at all.  But this knife holds a great deal of significance to me.

This knife was the first thing I ever purchased with money that I had earned.  I was ten years old and was going door to door asking for people to vote for a man that was running for school superintendent in my home county.  For my half days work I think I was paid ten dollars, and part of that cash payday was used at Smith Hardware to buy myself a Barlow Pocket Knife.  My Grandfather carried a Barlow and so I assumed that it must be the best knife to have on hand.  It was many years before I realized the truth.

I still carry this blade because it means something to me.  It holds significance in that it represents a milestone, a rite of passage, and at the same time it gives me a direct link to the childhood that has long since disappeared into thin and sometimes clouded memory.  Now, I also see the potential future of this knife as I am preparing myself to hand it over someday to my son.  In some respects, he will not carry it with the same significance as I.  The memories he will have surrounding this blade will be of me and not how it came into my possession or what it represents.  Then, many years from now it may go to my Grandson; the memory will be diluted further and perhaps he will place it in some easily forgotten drawer or box, but that is for him to decide.

In much the same way and same circumstances is the esteem in which we regard our Fly Fishing Gear.  Each rod or reel has some sort of memory, some sort of story.  An old worn out hat may reek of sweat and be faded and frayed, but held within the very fabric of the brim may be epic tales of angling adventure that have engrained themselves for a lifetime. Or perhaps it was handed down from the person who introduced you to the sport.  The day that it passed from their hand to yours was a rite of passage that may be told to others, but never really shared with others.

Some of us have been blessed with the luxury of high dollar gear.  Hundreds upon hundreds of dollars laid down for the very best, while others may have old, clunky equipment bought at yard sales or at a big box retail store.  To argue the comparisons in craftsmanship would be pointless and to debate the merits of them would be a waste of breath.  Within each high dollar rod with a historic company pedigree can be found a story, yet within a rod that might be valued equally as a tomato stick or such is at least an equal story.

From this train of thought we can perhaps conclude that the fishing isn’t about the equipment and its limitless accessories.  It isn’t about brand names or price tags.  Fly fishing is about memories and experiences.  Fly  fishing is about the moment, that one shining nugget that is as burned in your mind as a trip to the hardware store just to slap down your money for a knife.  There is a life in our equipment that is dormant until we put it to use, and in the using is familiarity, memory, history.  You just can’t buy those type things.

The smaller knife blade on my Barlow has a permanent glob of model car glue along the bottom of the edge side.  I can look at that and remember, I had a Richard Petty model car that I was building and had used the blade to remove some excess glue that had seeped through the point where the Petty blue rear fender and trunk lid met.  There again, that means absolutely nothing to anyone else but me.  Same situation occurs with imperfections in our equipment.  I may look at the deep gash in the cork handle of your fly rod and not give it another thought, yet you may look at the same gash and remember how you were on a trip with some friends.  You may see a clear mental picture of how you slid down a grassy embankment and caught the handle on a piece of barbed wire…and think of the fish you caught that day.

I have a very old bamboo rod.  If the hunches are correct, it was build sometime in the mid 1930’s which makes it as old as or older than my Dad.  This rod has survived, and perhaps at times thrived through some of the greatest moments in human history, and also through personal worries and concerns.  I sometimes wonder if any of the previous rod owners are still alive, where they were, where they fished.  When I obtained the rod, it was found in the trunk of an abandoned 1950’s era Ford sedan that had spent several years rusting away behind this elderly couple’s barn.  Trust me, when I fish this rod- the weight of its history (or potential history) is very present in my mind.

The relationship we have with our gear, no matter the price or the name is internal, and it should never be expected that anyone else should ever understand its significance.  All that really matters is that we have something in the present which harkens us back to a time of which we will never return, and to a future that rests in the dimpled surface of a river where fish are rising and new memories await.




One Beautiful Day

There’s something special about Spring. It’s so special in fact, that I frequently capitalize the word out of sheer joy. Dogwood trees in bloom, bass falling in love, and carpenter bees trying to duke it out for who knows what.

On a small dirt path that was once a road for jeeps and the like, I carry a fly rod, a small pack and a bottle of water. A few Canadian geese, who obviously missed the signs that spring was back, honk in the distance. As I turn the corner and the little pond comes into view, a Great Blue Heron takes flight. As he skims the surface, barely gaining altitude for a dozen yards or so, several bass are startled from the shallow grass flat.

“Hey now…just what I was hoping for…”

As I approach the edge of the shallow flat, two more “rolls” of water leave the bank to my left and I fire a quick cast in that direction. A small 4 inch worm on an equally small #4 hook sails across the sky, cartwheeling it’s way towards it’s own imminent doom. It’s almost as if the worm is in slow motion with the 6 pound test line trailing along behind it in ever widening coils.

The little black and purple worm lands with a splat and suddenly there’s a small, suspicious bulge in the water near it. I hold my breath and give it a twitch. Then another. Then a third. Nothing happens so instead of another twitch, I wiggle the rod slightly. Suddenly there is a bigger bulge and a whirlpool erupts where the line enters the water. The eager large-mouth rather miraculously hooks itself and high-tails it for a nearby stump. The line “tings” as it strains against the rod. I raise it high and begin a battle which, to the fish, is a life and death struggle.

Just one minute later I’m looking at the hungry bass eye to eye, face to face, man to fish. He put up a short but inspired fight, but ultimately I hold his fate between my fist and thumb. I removed the hook, admire him for just a few seconds and then slip him back beneath the glassy surface. He promptly thanks me with a flip of his tail, spraying water on my legs and, for whatever reason – making me smile in the process.

No doubt about it. It was one beautiful day.




The Best Advice

“One final paragraph of advice: Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am-a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.” ― Edward Abbey

Rafting the Gallatin...

Fly Fishing and the Teenage Adrenaline Junkie

My teenage daughter, Kerri,  likes to fish.   Once a year, we catch a few crappie on spinning gear and she’s happy.  Especially if I bring along her favorite junk food.  However, she LOVES big, scary roller coasters.  Or anything that sends her equilibrium for a loop – quite literally.

Last summer, I suggested a trip to Yellowstone Park.   My exact words:  “Geysers, waterfalls, white-water rafting, zip-lining – that’s what we’ll be doing.”  She was excited.  I also asked her if she’d like to try fly-fishing.   From a boat… Drifting down at river…  With rapids…  She said sure.

I booked a float trip with guide Hank Bechard and asked him if he thought Kerri would be better off with a spinning rod.  He replied, “When in Rome…”  He was confident the fly rod would work.

We spent a day white-water rafting down the Gallatin River.  And another day zip-lining over it.  One afternoon we waded a gentle run and I taught Kerri how to roll cast, mend line, and control slack.   She wasn’t Lefty Kreh, but she could flip an indicator rig 20 feet upstream and let it drift back down.

After a day sight-seeing in Yellowstone, I phoned the guide to check arrangements for the float trip.  Hank told me our original destination, the upper Yellowstone, was still clearing up; we would be fishing the Boulder River instead.  He promised whitewater rafting with fly rods.  Kerri was pumped!  (And so was I!)

The next day, we were in his raft, heading down the Boulder River.  Big, ugly rubber-legged nymphs were hanging underneath big, ugly foam indicator flies.   I have to admit that I thought I made a mistake for about the first ten minutes.  I’d been in drift boats before but I wasn’t used to my rear end hanging WAY out over the back of the raft.  The targets were zipping past as we bounced down the river; I had a mess of line in my lap and not much in the river.  I had NO idea how Kerri was doing at the front of the boat.

Finally, I shortened up my line and starting dropping the fly where it was supposed to go.  Hank stopped the boat in a calm spot and gave Kerri a few quick casting lessons.  In no time, he had her picking the fly up and slapping it back down about 20 feet away.  (Forget about roll casts!)

The rest of the day was tremendous!  The raft rocked and rolled through riffles and rapids.  The casts were short and the fish were eager.  Kerri caught her first fly rod fish – a 15” ‘bow – and at least 6 or 7 more.

Crappie fishing will never be the same…

PIC-26-Featured

Fly Tying Tutorial : Nehil’s Foam Stone Fly

A few years ago I saw a foam wing salmon fly nymph pattern that was killer looking and very popular on the Yellowstone River in Montana. The fly was called “Real Black Stone” if I remember, but I never found the pattern available commercially and never saw a recipe or a tutorial. The fly was more complicated with eyes, individually cut wing case segments, knotted rubber legs, and all black dubbing of some sort. This is my version, but I added the tan dubbing, and brown rib for better contrast and realism, and simplified the pattern by deleting the eyes, the knotted legs, and forming the wing case out of one piece of foam instead of several pieces.

Notes; if you are worried about the foam adding to much buoyancy, don’t. The added lead more than makes up for the foam. If you are still worried, add more lead, if you are still worried add a 3.2 mm tungsten bead behind antennae, if you are still worried use .5 mm foam for wing case instead of 1mm, and if you are still worried use thin skin and forget about the foam altogether.

Hook; TMC 200R #6
Thread; 6/0 or 140 Denier Tan and Black
Tail; Black Goose Biots
Abdomen; Tan Micro Chenille, Waspi Antron dubbing Chestnut
Rib; Small Brown Holo Tinsel
Thorax; Light Tan Waspi Sow Scud dubbing
Wing Case; 1mm Black Foam
Rear Legs; Black Flexi Floss
Front Legs; extra-small Black Round rubber
Antennae; extra-small Black Round rubber
Weight; .025 lead wire

   

Step 1; tie on antennae, form a small head and whip finish if you are tying several flies or continue to step 2

Step 2; tie on lead wire down one side of hook shank, and leave a gap near the hook eye. If you want a heavier fly tie on an additional length of lead wire on the opposite side too.

Step 3; twist off extra lead and wrap thread several times to secure

Step 4; tie a long length of micro chenille on top of hook, this forms the anal gills and adds bulk to the fly

Step 5; tie on a long length of brown holo tinsel

Step 6; wrap chenille fwd and trim at the point of the gap. Note; wrap one wrap of chenille behind rib, so the rib doesn’t slip off the chenille and loosen. This is basic fly tying technique but a lot of tiers still miss this important step.

Step 7; tie in goose biots for the tail, stop the thread about 1/8 inch fwd of the end of the chenille to form the anal gills

Step 8; apply, chestnut Antron dubbing evenly and sparsely to thread

Step 9; dub fwd covering the tan chenille, stop dubbing at about ½ the hook shank length

Step 10; wrap the tinsel fwd about 6-8 turns and tie off

Step 11; tie in rear legs so that they angle back, trim to desired length. I leave them long for more movement

Step 12; whip finish black thread, and go have a drink, you’re about half done

Step 13; start your tan thread

Step 14; dub a sparse amount of tan dubbing to the end of the chenille

Step 14a; prepare a 1/4  inch strip of 1mm black foam at least 2 inches long and cut a small notch in one end. I use a small Chernobyl cutter

Step 15; tie in notched end of foam wing case, the apex  of the notch should be at the transition point of the tan and brown dubbing

Step 16; tie in middle legs with flexi floss, angle almost straight out

Step 17; dub around legs with additional tan dubbing and whip finish

Step 18; start your black thread again, fold foam wing case back, loop forward and tie off at the end of your tan dubbing

Step 19; begin tying down foam fwd toward hook eye

Step 19a; advance thread to just behind hook eye

Step 20; tie in front legs (round rubber) and angle slightly fwd

Step 21; fill in the gap, and around the front legs with chestnut Antron dubbing

Step 22; fold foam wing case back and secure with a few wraps of thread

Step 23; add a small amount of chestnut Antron dubbing to cover thread wraps and whip finish. Trim off excess foam in a semi-circle shape. Trim all legs and antennae to desired length.