Friday, May 19, 2017

Fishing Lunch Breaks

Where have these been all my life?  With a little one at home and life becoming busier and busier, time to fish was getting more and more difficult to find.  I am fortunate to have a decent fishing option within walking distance of work, but the spring rains had it a muddy mess from late February through most of May.  It has finally been getting clean, and coupled with some free lunch hours this week, I took advantage.  All week, I fished my 3wt Moonlit Shadowcast glass rod and packed light with two fly boxes in a little utility pack.  I am desperately trying to get better at not packing and carrying more than I need.  It's a process.  Since this flow is an Ohio River tributary, essentially anything that swims in the Ohio can show up here.  Expected species I run into a lot are all three species of black bass (largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted), crappies, white bass, and the occasional catfish.  Here's a series of photos of the week's lunchtime catches.









Today, I hot a location I usually avoid for a multitude of reasons.  It gets fished heavily, it's a difficult place to cast a fly rod, and there are so many snags it robs me of a lot of flies.  There are, however, a lot of fish there.  I made the decision to try it today, and I was rewarded handsomely for that decision!


Here's a fun little hack I thought of after my first lunch break fishing excursion this week.  Pick up a bottle of Fast Orange hand cleaner to keep at the office.  Fish slime and funk is difficult to get off of your hands.  This stuff works great, you don't have to have water to use it, it's cheap, and a little goes a long ways.  I picked up this bottle at WalMart for under $3, and it will last me quite some time.  You can find it there in the automotive department.


Taking advantage of a spare hour here and there may not seem like much, but it can add up and get you some extra time on the water that you otherwise would not be getting.  My advice is pack light and be ready to hit the ground running to take full advantage of a narrow window of time.  It's not the time to be adding new tippet, assembling gear, and deciding what to carry.  Have a plan and make it happen.  


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Never Stop Improving

Several years ago, a buddy of mine turned me onto a fly pattern I had never heard of called the Bronze Goddess.  He swore by it for creek bass (usually spotted bass, sometimes smallies), so I looked it up and tied a few.  Well, he was right, and now I wouldn't dream of hitting a creek for bass without a box of them.  Early on, I stuck to the script.  I tied the Goddess in craw-style colors, with brown/orange and black/blue being my most productive colors.  I started branching out a little and tied it in more of a baitfish color, gray/white/pink, and really found something golden.  For whatever reason, that fly in that color combo has caught my three biggest small stream bass over the last few years.




Here's what a pile of "standard" Goddesses look like in the hand.  Over the winter, while completing my creek bass box project, I tied this pile in preparation for this coming summer.  As you can see, the head of the fly is tied with estaz/ice chenille.  I utilize the Goddess as my go-to deep fly for these smaller waters.  It's not weighted real heavily, but it's heavy enough to get down faster than the rest of my creek bass flies.  I universally tie this in a size 6.  (The original recipe is found here: Bronze Goddess)


Ever the tweaker of fly design, I had a thought a few weeks back to modify the most productive fly in my box.  Why?  Because it's what I do, I guess.  I love working with deer hair, and thought that a deer hair slider style head might work really well on this pattern.  I have since cranked out a few trial patterns of the deer hair Goddess, and I really dig the results.



I also threw in another color combination, new to this pattern for me.  A really productive color combo everywhere I have fished it for warmwater species that eat streamers is white/bright blue/chartreuse.  If white/gray/pink works so well in this fly, why not add another "baitfishy" color combination and see what happens?


I'm optimistic that the rainy season is dwindling down in SE Ohio now, and with flows starting to clean up, I'm getting antsy.  I discovered some new-to-me water close to home last year that produced one of the large spotted bass above, and I plan to explore the area a little more this summer.  Hopefully I'll have some photos of large creek bass smiling with a mouth full of this pattern in a few months.  Even when you have a pattern that works well for you, never be afraid to experiment with new color combinations or tweaks to the design...you might just turn a base hit into a home run.



Monday, May 8, 2017

Redemption

Saturday began like a day that would be easily forgettable when I checked the weather forecast.  I was going to have the morning on my own to fish, but the conditions were tough.  Cold, windy, with a light rain falling when I got up.  The rain went away quickly, but the cold and wind persisted.  I didn't expect much success, but I wanted to field test the new weedless Murdich Minnow and possibly hit a small public pond.  I loaded the Jeep and headed for the nearest local lake, which is also the only local lake that refuses to muddy up in rainy weather.


I hiked around most of the lower edge of the lake to reach a stretch that usually produces in the spring for me before the weed growth gets out of control.  I worked the rocky shoreline slowly, giving the new streamer some hard twitches, then letting it fall and "die."  Overzealous bluegills were grabbing it by the tail and running with it frequently, and then I finally got the bass strike I had been needing.  I had two concerns for this pattern: would it be as weedless as I had hoped, and would it still hook fish consistently.  Yes, and yes.



I caught no giants there, but having fish strike this fly and get hooked (I was 2/2 on bass strikes) was a positive sign.  On a slow fishing day, the weedless Murdich produced and performed well.  After about 90 minutes, I decided to leave the lake for a change of scenery.  I headed to the pond looking for over sized hybrid sunfish on my 3wt, which I found in small numbers, but found something else much more memorable.



Late last summer, I had discovered a pond on some public ground near home that was a chore to reach.  I bushwhacked through briers, weeds over my head, and spiders to reach the pond.  Long story short, I spotted some really nice bass, and eventually lost one that I'm confident would have been my biggest ever on the fly.  The fly that hooked that fish was a complex twist bugger-style fly with a Laser Dub head and some rubber legs.  Saturday was a different location, but the story started similarly.  I spotted a really large bass on the edge of an old spawning bed, but too late and after it spotted me.  The big bass was alone, and retreated to the far side of a weed line about 25' away where it slowly "paced" back and forth.  It ignored my first two casts with the flashy Murdich, so I switched flies quickly...to the same complex twist fly in a sunfish coloration.  I put the fly right in her face, and watched it disappear.  The initial run was the strongest I have ever had from a largemouth, and the fish tried to bury itself in the weeds.  With steady pressure, I got her out and made a successful first attempt to lip her.


My previous personal best on the fly was 19 1/4", having never topped the 20" plateau.  This fish measured right at 21", trophy citation size for the state of Ohio.  I snapped a few quick photos, got a rod measurement, and sent her back on her way.


Last summer's loss of that big bass when she dove into a tree top and broke me off still stings, and I feel like I have some unfinished business with the large bass of that secluded pond.  Landing this fish, however, relieved some of that sting.  I have waited a long time for a bass like this on the fly in Ohio, and it was worth the wait.  So next time you see a crummy weather forecast and wonder if it's worth going out, remember that you don't stand a chance at a great fish if you stay home.  Until next time!



Thursday, May 4, 2017

Weedless Murdich Minnow SBS

I have had several requests for a SBS for the weedless Murdich Minnow.  Last night, I shot some quick photos showing the tying process, so here goes.  Below is the recipe for the exact version I tied for this demo.

Hook - Size 1 Extra Wide Gap worm hook
Thread - pink 6/0
Weed Guard - 25lb mono
Underwing - gray bucktail
Wing - Orvis Sparkle Hair, Rainbow Pearl (looks purple) over White Pearl
Cheeks - Fuchsia Laser Dub
Body - Silver metallic Estaz
Shank - 20mm Flymen articulated shank
Color - Sharpies to add color to Estaz body (purple/black)
Head - Size 6 Flymen Fish Mask with 6mm silver 3D eyes

I invert the hook in the vise for this pattern.  Lay a light thread base and tie in a single strand mono weed guard.  It helps to mash the mono flat with pliers on the end to be tied in.  This keeps it from rolling.


Next, add a sparse clump of gray bucktail on top of the mono.  The length will be just past the hook.


Tie in the white pearl Sparkle Hair on top of the bucktail and trim to just longer than the bucktail tips.





Tie in rainbow pearl Sparkle Hair, leaving a hook length (minimum) of flash extending out over the eye of the hook.  I tie in excess and trim to length when the collar is formed.  Trim the tail length to just longer than the white pearl Sparkle Hair.


Tie in a clump of fuchsia Laser Dub to each side of the hook.  You can match the body color with the cheeks, or go hot, I went hot spot on this version.




Fold the excess flash from the front of the hook back over the Laser Dub and tie it down.  Trim to about the length of the hook.


Tie in silver metallic Estaz and make a few wraps to cover the material clump, then whip finish and trim your thread.  Try not to trap Estaz into the hook eye, it's easy to do and a cautery or wood burning tool is a great way to clear the eye before moving on.


Slide the 20mm shank over the hook eye and clamp it in the vise.  Secure the shank closed with thread.  I like to cover a good ways back over the open loop end to restrict the worm hook from moving too much which could lead to fouling.  The ability of the two parts of this fly to articulate and move is actually not that important to me.  The purpose behind articulating it is to utilize the snag-free nature of the EWG worm hook and still reproduce the profile and design of the traditional Murdich Minnow.


Tie in more silver metallic Estaz to the shank and tightly wrap the front of the body with touching wraps of Estaz.  Tie it off at the eye, whip finish, and cut the thread.





Now you can add some color, if desired.  For this pattern, I added some purple to the black and some light black barring/spotting on the purple.





Slide your Fish Mask on to test the fit, then I use a healthy dose of gel superglue on the bottom of the shank to help hold the Mask in place.  Build a thread dam in front of the Mask, glue on the 6mm eyes, and you're done!  These are my top three colors in the Murdich Minnow, so my test/trial patterns for the weedless version are in those colors.  Enjoy!



Monday, May 1, 2017

Interesting (and Fun) Lessons from Recent Outings

My last two trips out, I have learned...in the first case re-learned I guess...a couple of fun little lessons.  Last week, on a rare week night of fishing for me, I had some bass chasing streamers but not eating.  A few times they nipped at the tail, but failed to get the hook on a larger 4-5" streamer.  I was getting frustrated, and decided to go extreme in the opposite direction: small.  I dug into my creek bass box for the smallest Murdich Minnow I had.  It was a size 6 coming in about 2" long, possibly a hair longer.  But still, small.  The switch paid dividends quickly with the better of only two bass I would land on the night.




Almost at dark, after I had switched back to a larger streamer again, an average bass came chasing my larger Murdich but wouldn't commit.  After a few more casts, I went small again.  When I saw the take, I thought this fish was bigger than he was, he just had a large head for his size.



The more interesting part of the second outing was at the pond where, a few weeks earlier, I caught one of the larger bluegills of my life.  For the better part of two hours, I whacked big bluegills on a foam topwater spider/beetle.  On this trip, the pond had some green algae in it, and the fish were acting very lethargic.  Whether it was the algae or what, I don't know, but I caught nothing on top.  Not even a strike at the same fly they terrorized recently.  I switched to a small subsurface fly I call the "Nothin' Special," under an indicator, and fished it just off the bank past the old spawning beds (which are still visible).  I immediately caught a big bluegill.  I tested the areas a little deeper, or where there were no visible beds in the same general depths, and caught nothing.  If I found beds, fished just off of them a little deeper, I popped good fish.  My only guess was that they were "staging" in these areas in preparation for the spawn.  Whatever the case, it was great action when I found the fish!





Monday, April 24, 2017

Jig Fly Field Testing (And some Field Testing Tips)

On Saturday morning I headed out to a nearby secluded public pond for some field testing of a new (to me, at least) jig style fly.  The rationale behind the newer design was to maintain the "bass jig" profile, but reduce the overall weight.  I wanted the fly to be more easily castable, as well as slowing the sink rate down.  My thought was that this could be fished as a traditional jig, hopping along the bottom, or also be fished fast like a swim-style bass jig.  I ditched the tandem craw style tails which cut out one magnum rabbit strip, slimmed down the underbody by avoiding the deer hair from previous jig flies I have tied, and reduced the weight in the head.  Instead of a medium set of dumbbells, I tied a single 3/16" tungsten bead belly scratcher style at the 60* bend on the hook.  I also added a set of 3D eyes to top it off.


The official recipe of this fly is as follows.

Hook - 60* jig hook 2/0
Tail - Magnum zonker strip/sparse flash, short tuft of arctic fox underneath the zonker
Weight - 3/16" tungsten bead, bell scratcher style, at the bend of the jig hook
Body - Ice Chenille (or Estaz), two colors of Schlappen
Eyes - 3D 
Wing - Rubber legs

Testing this fly on Saturday is what started me thinking about this post, how to better test and trial your patterns to get the most bang for your buck, so to speak.  Here's a short list of things I do and items I carry to help make the process work well.  

  1. I tank test everything before I ever go to fish them.  A sink or tub can also work, especially if you don't need current flow to fully test the pattern.  I built my own test tank for about $10 out of my pocket.  I got a free clear plastic hamster cage that was in a family member's basement, and the water pump I ordered on Amazon for about $10.  Tank testing showed the weighting for the first version of this jig fly was too light, and the fly rolled point-down.  I was able to fix the issue right in my tying room before ever hitting the water.  Not every fault will be found in the tank, but it catches a lot of them.
  2. Carry a spool of lead or non-lead wire with you.  I read this tip from Blane Chocklett, and it's a big help.  It's a clever way to, on the run, add some additional weight to a pattern if it needs it.
  3. Carry a pair of scissors for anything that might need trimmed.  In the case of this jig fly, the skirt was a bit too long.  After casting and retrieving the fly a few times, I saw the skirt was tangling/fouling around the hook.  I pulled the scissors out and trimmed about half an inch from the legs.  The look and profile of the pattern was unaffected, but the legs stopped fouling after the trim.
  4. This is the hardest of all for me to stick to: don't go overboard on different color combos or tie a dozen of an untested pattern.  It's a recipe for material waste disaster.  After I have tank tested, I tie no more than 3 color combos of a pattern until I have proven it is worth the time and material investment.
On a chilly, slow day at the pond, the new jig pattern put a couple of fish in hand.  I was pretty pleased with how the testing went, and now will go forward with tying a few more colors to add to the box.  For anyone who uses a lot of rubber legs, look into the Boss brand bass skirts.  There's a great array of colors, and they are priced pretty well.  The color combo above used a Boss skirt in "Crazy Gill."


 



Monday, April 17, 2017

Paddle Board Carpin'

About a month ago, I made the jump from a sit on top (SOT) kayak to a stand up paddle board (SUP).  I have been (not so) patiently waiting for the weather conditions to be fair enough to bring some carp into the shallow mud flats of the local lakes so I could give the board its first good trial run.  Saturday morning was that time.  The weather looked perfect for carp fishing with warm air temperatures and light winds, but the water was still chilly and very cloudy from the barrage of recent rains.  Nevertheless, I loaded the Kahuna onto my Jeep and headed for the lake.


The board was not the only new product I was trying for the first time.  Because I want to limit how often I am reaching for my gear bag or fly boxes while on the board, I bought a Tacky Tube over the winter to keep the flies I expect to use easily at hand.  After I reached the water, I loaded up the tube and clipped it to my belt loop.  This gave me quick and easy access to whichever black fly I wanted to try.  In murky conditions, I typically don't fish any other color.


Once I got the board on the water, I spent the first 10-12 minutes just paddling around, standing a little, and generally getting a feel for the board.  I was highly impressed with how easy the Kahuna paddled and at the stability while standing.  


Although the weather conditions were perfect for a glassy surface, usually making it easier to spot fish, the fish just weren't feeding aggressively.  I did not get many targets to cast to until I changed my location slightly to a small bay off the main flat.  There, I blew my first shot by incorrectly guessing which position the fish was in.  That's where murky water comes into play in a major way.  Instead of my fly dropping right in front of the fish's face, it hit his body.  Game over.  As I was slowly paddling back to the main flat, I spotted a good bubble line close to the boat.  I quickly dropped the fly in there and the indicator twitched.  Fish on!


I used my stake out/push pole to anchor myself in place while I fought the fish.  Early in the season, with the water temps being cool, this fish did not put up the typical fight with big runs.  Instead, it dogged on the bottom, pulled some drag, but never too much.  On the 2nd attempt, I got the fish to the net and onto the board.


Shortly after releasing the fish, my father-in-law showed up with his drone hoping to get some fun aerial action shots, but I never hooked up again while he was there.  He missed the action by a few minutes.  This shot, however, shows you just how murky the water was.


The fly that tricked that carp was my #1 carp producer, a fly I nicknamed Smaug after the giant dragon from the Hobbit movies.  My assumption is they take it for a large dragonfly nymph, but it could be mistaken for a small fish, leech, or craw.  This fly accomplishes a couple of very important things for a carp fly on a mud flat.  It has a strong/bold outline to help fish see it, has a slow sink rate, and its tail stands upright at rest.  My most productive carp patterns typically have a buoyant tail that stands up.  


It was a great first test of the Kahuna SUP.  I never got dunked, I was able to cruise the flats quietly and get on fish, and the perspective being higher on the water is going to be a huge help in spotting fish.  Once the weather really warms up here, it should be game on.