Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Blue On Steel - A Swinging Fly For Spring Steelhead

I love to fish in a number of different styles.  That said, my top two favorites are the pure swing and dry fly casting for Atlantic Salmon.  The very next would be the two hand swing for steelhead.  

In many ways, steelhead angling is quite a bit harder than some other form of swinging flies.  Except for a few locations out west, we are having to throw large flies and getting them deep.  We must work hard in colder weather and understand the nature of the fish far more intimately.  Let's take some time and look at the features that make a steelhead swinging fly effective.  Here is the recipe for the fly pictured above.  More items like rubber legs and body hackles could be added but not necessary.

Hook-Gamakatsu Light Wire Stainless Long Shank 
Outer Tube-Eumer Large Chartreuse
Inner Tube-Eumer Small Blue
Butt-Chartreuse Short Eztaz
Butt Cover-Blue Charm Blue Arctic Fox wrapped 360
Body-Bill's Bodi-Braid Pearly Blue
Under Collar-Blue Eared Pheasant Long Dyed Black
Wing-Black Arctic Fox Layered With Blue Mirror Crinkle Flash
Collar-Spey Plume Kingfisher Blue
Eyes-Jungle Cock Nails
Head-Black 70 Denier Thread With 4 Coats Head Cement

If we start to analyze each ingredient I think a few things that should remain constant in many steelhead swinging flies will be understood.  Ed Ward's Intruder should also be looked at as a model.

The hook has a longer shank for a reason.  We need to get the hook as far back into the wing as possible and at the same time not create such a heavy back weight that the hook will bend down and  away from the wing when swimming.  Heavy gauge hooks are not desired in these flies and should be avoided.  Gamakatsu makes wonderful lighter wire hooks that are as strong as needed.  I have never broken or bent one.

The tube that I use offers a wide bulbous look from both top and bottom.  After all, the fish don't look at a fly like we do from the side.  They most likely will see it from the back and underneath    I have found that this wide look is by far more effective than building narrow when looking down no matter what the profile.  In order to do this you must have a wide platform.  There are two problems when using the standard way to build a tube.  Most of the time a larger size tube will be used to tie the fly and then a larger junction tube will be placed over the back to hold the hook.  My way is to use the large size tube to tie the fly and insert and glue in a shorter piece of the smaller diameter tubing leaving room in the back for the hook to slide into the larger tying tube.  I find this system is perfect and works very well because the lighter wire hooks are still held firmley..

The use of Eztaz and then the Fox over has the purpose of making sure the wing and collars keep a wide flow.  The larger the butt the larger the effect.  Again because the fishes view of the fly is from behind the Eztax stares them right in the face.  Steelhead love Extaz.

The body on these flies is almout not needed.  I use very sparkly braided or holographic materials so that if the body were to show it has some flash.  You can dub with a palmer style hackle if you like.  For this fly I used the braid and then a collar of Blue Eared Pheasant.  Any material put in as a hackle or under collar has the effect to lift the wing.  It will also have the effect of under flow to the wing as well as acting as the throat.  It will mix in later with the wing and outer collar and is an opening to introduce contrast.  Colors like chartreuse or blue are greatly enhanced by using black under or over.

For the wing I used long Arctic Fox in black.  Temple Dog, Finn Raccoon, Arctic Runner and Icelandic Sheep are some other good materials.   Getting really long hair fox is not that easy and when you see it with four inch hair buy it all.  The best way to get the look is to take a clump of hair and with your thumb and index finger push the top hairs longer and the bottom hairs of the clump shorter.  A simple sliding of the fingers.  You still have the length in the hairs on top and make the trim for the head when the shape is what you want.  First you trim, then place on the top of the tube and then spread out the hairs over the top side to side of the tube to form that wide body look.  As you build the wing you can put in the flash of your choice.  This flash works best if put in the second layer and can be seen from behind and below.

Spey Plumes make wonderful movement in the front of the fly.  Water will flow by the plumes and have the wing dancing.  This movement is one of the most important aspects to a steelhead fly.  The fish are very attracted to the action and is the reason I don't weight my flies.  I will put a baffle on the front at times for added movement but never a cone head.  I use my tips to gain depth and keep the action in the fly.

With this style we are able to keep the hook toward the back of the wing, the width of the body and have a tight hook placement.  Now just create a color group and you have a simple and complete fly for a two hand steelhead swing.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Head? Tip? Poly? One Rod! Head? Tip? Poly? One Rod!

Who carries hundreds of different combinations of line, tip and leader additions to be used on one two hand rod?  The question should be who doesn't.  No need to be confused about this topic as the market and understanding has evolved nicely over the last thirty years.  Line weight is the only part that should be in question as the marketing schemes of the line and rod makers can make things more difficult.  The only way to know if a line matches well to your rod is to try all the options.  Unless your fly shop has all the options to demo you are taking your best guess. Like I said this part of the puzzle is difficult  Don't rely on grain weight windows.  Send off your exact information to the line and rod pro staff members of each company and ask for details.  That is what they are there for and they are testing all these products all the time.  Don't be shy and make sure you give all the information as to where you want to use the items. 

The first time I saw a poly leader was while on a fishing vacation in Scotland.  The gent behind the counter told me you don't fish here without one.  That was some fourteen years ago and I purchased all the sizes that they had in the shop. Today, there isn't a shop that doesn't have a collection available.

In the Pacific North West, the steelheaders like Al Buhr, Mike Kenney and Steve Godshall have been cutting and designing lines suited to short head Skagit style for many years.  When Goran Andersson's father would not let him purchase another line after he cut one back he was forced to add a long leader and change his casting style.  Scandinavian underhand style was invented by him out of shear necessity.

Because no two pieces of water are a like, your willingness to carry many different store bought and home made sinking possibilities will offer great advantage.  It really doesn't matter the species or location when it comes to being prepared.

My swinging kit for a 13 foot 8 weight TFO medium flex rod is as follows.  I also use some of these same lines plus others for a Sage 8 weight switch rod.  Target fish include Atlantic Salmon, Striped Bass and Steelhead.  This list does not include all the leader possibilities and is as complete and accurate as my memory allows.  Now is the time I wish I would have listened to my own advise and marked each item with a code or tag.

Line-AirFlo Delta Spey 55 foot Short for Pure floating Spey Casting Swing
Line-Rio Powerflex Mono Core Shooting Line Quick change between different heads for shooting Skagit, Scandi and Salter.
Line-Teeney 33 foot sinking tip with integrated floating line for Salt water strip back and overhead salmon from a Gaspe Boat.
Line- Rio Windcutter 55 foot for pure swing with 10 foot tips and standard length leaders pure swing
Head-30 foot level floating shooting head
Head-30 foot level intermediate shooting head
Head-30 foot level medium sinking shooting head
Head-30 foot level fast sinking shooting head
Head-Rio 450 grain Scandi Short
Head-Rio 525 grain Skagit Short
Tip- 10 foot level floating
Tip- 10 foot level hover
Tip- 10 foot level intermediate
Tip- 10 foot level slow sinking
Tip- 10 foot level medium sinking
Tip- 10 foot level fast sinking
Tip- 15 foot level T11
Tip- 10 foot T11
Tip- 5 foot level T11
Tip- 3 foot level T11
Tip- 2 foot level T11
Poly- 5 different tapered floating to 7.6ips 5 to 7.5 foot length Rio & AirFlo
Poly- 5 different  tapered floating to 7.6ips 10 foot length Rio & AirFlo
Poly- 5 different  tapered floating to 7.6ips 12 foot length Rio
Poly- 15 foot floating Rio
Plus various cut pieces and shortened tips and lines.

Imagine all the different combinations possible from this collection.  How a math geek would figure it out I have no idea, but I'm sure it is a substantial number.  Do all get used all the time?  No.  Am I ready to link together what might be needed in most situations? Yes.

Most of these items come ready with welded loops to link together.  Loops sometimes get a bad rap and to think that way is not being open minded.  Having fused loops on all the above is required to make the system complete.  This involves taking thinner fly line cuts and fusing them to the thicker ends.  There is no need to fold over the end of a cut line.  A great book called How to Design Fly Lines is written by Al Buhr.  It might only be a pamphlet but it is a complete understanding of how and why.  Al told me that he thinks of the floating portion of his line like your hand and the different style of tips as fingers dipping down into the river to act as a probe.  Each situation requires a different finger to reach the target.  How many fingers do you have?  How many do you want?  How many do you need?

There is a perfect presentation to each and every fish we find.  Trying to understand and cause that swing can only be performed if we have the tools to do so.  Having the tools will open your mind to making it happen.

By going to a well stocked fly shop where they understand Spey and Switch and having one of each of these items in your hand will clear up a lot of the mystery.  Making the purchases, learning to build your own loop end tips and lines and getting out to try each will open the door to a greater number of fingers to probe your favorite run.


Monday, January 14, 2013

January Thaw And A Few Trout

It was time for a change today.  For one, the air temperatures started where they usually end up for a high.  The other is that with the slight up tick in water temperature the fish moved from steak and eggs to small nymph patterns.

This is when you will move to thinner tippets as well as changing fly size.

I started this day in the usual way getting up so that I can be on the river just before the dark is passing.  I had worked on some flies the day before and had my collection of Orange Blood Dot Eggs all ready as they were the top fly on Thursday.  The first pool with the eggs produced nothing.  I was puzzled.  Off to stop number two.

Making a short walk through the woods gave me a great feeling.  Calm air with the snows condensation rising to the warmer air above was very peaceful.   The river flow was steady and clear and I had the confidence of knowing there were more than a few good fish to be captured.  I continued throwing the eggs.

After watching a fellow angler take two fish from river right I decided that a change was needed.  Switching out the dropper to a size eighteen Olive Turkey Biot proved true and I landed three beautiful winter bows from the run.  Then switching over to an Olive Sparkle Top Jailbird continued to take two more.

As the day moved so did I.  Up to a favorite run that was sure to be productive.  I had the right flies but the pool produced nothing.   Back to stop number two where I released one more for the day.

I completed my time a bit early.  Six Rainbow Trout, with the smallest measuring sixteen inches, is good enough on a warm spring day let alone January 13.  The small flies will continue and then start to get a bit larger as we move toward spring.  The first hatches will come and the regeneration to small will be in place again until the last hatch finds each species beneath the rocks for another years cycle.

For right now, find some open water and think of the winter as a perfect season all to itself.  After the fish start to shun the meat flies just think small.  Dry fly season will be here soon enough and the warm sun will trend other changes.  Carpi Diem.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Little Black Caddis

Ever been in the middle of a Caddis hatch.  You know the one where the tan and brown adults are dancing all over the surface.  So many that it is hard to understand why your perfectly tied #14 Elk Hair or Henryville isn't getting the time of day from the fish.

Next time it happens look very carefully into the surface film.  The Little Black Caddis makes no commotion as it sits on the surface laying its eggs.  The trout seem to be lazily sipping while hundreds of the little ones brethren dancing all around.   I am a firm believer that trout eat what tastes best at that moment.  If you are given a choice you will eat the one that tastes best as well.  Have a few of these tied in sizes 16 and 18 in the box and look to see what might be hidden.

Click on the photo for the tying video

Monday, January 7, 2013

New York Spring Steelhead

There comes a time when the forward edge of winter is at hand.  Right now is the time to get ready before that time passes by as it will be upon us very soon.   I noticed today that the light of day is stretching just a bit longer.  Makes me feel good all over.

This new beginning will see flows constant and clear, steady and even air temperatures and a fresh run of the largest fish of the year to keep things interesting.  The exact start and conclusion, before the melt  and spawn begins, can not be exactly predicted.  It must be recognized and acted upon.  I make sure I am ready by the middle of February and most likely look to the first week of March.

On one trip to South Sandy Creek in New York I had fished most of a day without much luck.  One fish had come to hand yet I continued working hard.  The snow was high on the banks and the river was flowing normal and clear.  To look at the river you might have the word perfect pass your lips.  It was about two o'clock and the magic started.  For one full hour I hooked eleven fish all with the same chartreuse eztaz egg pattern.  It was like a switch had been thrown and the sky parted and heaven was shinning on me.

This was that time of pre spawn when the fish are waiting for the water to feel just right.  The snow in the hills hasn't started to fill the rivers and the daytime temperatures don't cause what is on the banks to melt in and cause colder flow.  The range of air temperature you are looking for will be in the mid twenties at night and raise to thirty nine during the day.  This will cause a gradual rise in water temperature from the deep winters blast that can be measured in very small increases per day.  It is these quarter degree increases that will put the fish on the bite.  Too warm and the melt reduces the water temperature.  Too cold and the water stays that way.

This is also a time when the big waters will have an ice cover and the ability to make lake effect snow will be diminished.  The rivers will have the greatest number for the season in the runs and pools and the males will start to get aggressive.

This short window can produce some of the best action of the winter and will only last a very short time.  As the sun gets higher and days warm the rivers will start to fill and the fish have spawning on their minds.  By the beginning of the third week of March, depending on water conditions, some of the fish will have spawned.  They become very hungry and will take a fly with passion.  Drop back season through the middle of April becomes a great opportunity for hooking numbers of fish per day.

Within each and every season there a window that can be open.  Sometimes for a day and maybe a bit more.  Sometimes as short as an hour.  The keys to taking advantage of these times is our willingness to study and make the trip happen.  If the window closes, don't worry, it will open again for the post spawn drop back frenzy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years Day 2013

I woke at four dark thirty, New Years Day 2013.  I have a full day fishing ahead and am very eager to feel every minute possible.  Sun up till down offers me a sense of life that no other experience can.  There is something cathartic for me and if I can throw in a few fish all the better.

The water gauge was up for the last month with rain and snow.  This is just the situation that pushes the salmon and trout out of the lake and spills them at our feet in the river below.  If the lake has had a good fall then the river should have a good winter.  I have been watching the gauge all week as it made a steady downward fall and then an abrupt fall to perfect.

Arriving on the river at 6:30am the cold that is on the way will hold off for most of the day.  Single digits are in the near future but for the morning a balmy 35 degrees greeted me and it feels good.  I decided to cross and start below the falls.

Two hand switch, 5 weight, 10' 4", ultra short 12' Skagit, indicator to swivel, 3X Seaguar FX, bead head olive leech with a black Ghost Finn Raccoon.

Normally I like to start off swinging but I decided to leave that rig in the car.  With the temperatures expected to decline through the day I also expected the water to move downward.  It that happens the fish will not chase.  I decided to dead drift and feed them.

Within the first hour and a half I had six fish hooked and four landed and released.  The best was twenty inches, a bit milky colored and must have been in the river for a while.  After the action died with that tandem I started to change flies.  This is January and meat is usually what works best.  Eggs, worms, spawn, roe, streamers.  I continued to take another two fish and resided to move up river.   The orange egg was on and in the middle of the pool the best fish of the day came to net.  Perfect and fat as can be.  She measured 21 inches and everything a deep shouldered beautifully colored trout should be.  We released her in the shallows and watched as she gently swam away.

A couple more here and there and the day slowed in tempo and was complete.  The wind was blowing, the temperature had dropped fifteen degrees and calling it a day after hooking eleven fish was joyful.   The very feeling I had been thinking about for two months was real and all I could have expected.  The very best way to start the year and the most important thing was I did it with friends.

Happy New Year everyone.  I want to thank all of you who have found this blog.  I can't believe the numbers of readers each day from so many countries around the world.  I never dreamed having a little fun could travel so far.

Always the very best,