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. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Worm Hooks for Bass Flies

When I was going through my hook drawers and taking inventory last week, I came across a few packs of Texas-rigged worm style hooks for bass that I hadn't played with in a long time.  There's not a lot of real estate on these hooks to tie material on, so you have to do what you can with a small amount of space.  I've seen several flies by guys like Sam Looper and Gunner Brammar using worm hooks lately, and it got the ball rolling on something new.

What I really wanted to do was incorporate a Slow Rolla tail somehow, but the problem was going to be fouling.  How could the tail be added...and where on the minimize fouling and make it look natural?  My solution was to use some heavy mono, doubled over and tied in so that the mono would not interfere with the hook point but still position the tail behind the hook.  I did this using 20lb mono, doubled over, and secured in the vise.  I tied the Slow Rolla to the stub of doubled mono (about 1/2" section).

When tied in, the mono does the primary goal quite well: positioning the tail.  It's stiff enough to keep the tail where it needs to be, but flexible enough to easily push out of the way of the hook on a strike.  The extra benefit to this is snag resistance.  When I tested this fly in a pond yesterday, I purposely casted the fly into cover, both woody and vegetation.  This fly did not hang on cover one time.

The remainder of the fly is actually quite simple.  I tied in a small amount of bucktail to provide a little body to the fly.  The only flash I added was a single piece of lateral scale to each side on top of the bucktail.  I then topped the fly off with craft fur reverse tied, and added a little barring and 3D eyes.   

The bass in the pond yesterday were very sluggish after back-to-back nights with lows in the low 30's.  I had virtually no strikes on any of the standard bass fodder, my usual Murdich Minnows and other streamer patterns.  This fly did provoke two strikes, but both were tentative short strikes at the tail.  They were just not fully committed, but the fact that this pattern did get a few strikes and some interest was a good sign, to me.  I tied the test patterns on a 1/0 extra wide gap bass worm hook, which seems to be the "wheel house" size for this pattern.  It's tough to go smaller because worm hooks don't come much smaller.  I did try a 3/0 version last night which turned out fine, but is a bit bigger than most bass flies I use.

The recipe for the original is as follows:

Hook - extra wide gap worm hook 1/0
Tail - Slow Rolla medium size tied to 20lb mono
Body - bucktail
Flash - Lateral Scale
Head - craft fir/Psuedo Hair
Eyes - 3D

Monday, April 3, 2017

Jig and Pig for Fly Rods

There are a few "bass jig" flies out there, but having tied and fished the known patterns I was never fully satisfied with them.  I decided to try and come up with an alternative that fished the way I wanted.  Since I fish more shallow water for bass (ponds and lakes), I wanted: a slower fall, the tail of the fly up at rest, and to try to better match the outline/profile of the conventional jig and pig.

As is usually the case, Attempt #1 was a near miss.  I was tying a fairly large bass fly on a 2/0 60 degree jig hook, and used standard rabbit strips instead of magnum strips, which I should have used.  I also trimmed the rabbit strips a touch too short for my liking.  Otherwise, I liked the rest of the fly.  In the tank, the fall was correct and the tail stood up, as hoped.

I remedied those issues on the next version, sticking with the same color combination of olive/brown/craw orange.  The updated version with the magnum zonkers in the tail also tank tested really well.  In order to "spread" the zonker strips like crayfish claws, I utilized the deer hair technique I use in the HD Craw.  This also provides a little buoyancy in the tail, as well as slows the fall of the fly a bit.

Satisfied that I had the pattern the way I wanted it, I wanted to tie a test pattern in my favorite bass jig color: black and blue.  I just had one problem...I didn't have black or blue magnum zonker strips.  My solution was to take some grizzly zonker and dye it in dark blue dye.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I was pretty happy with the way these turned out.

Here's the official recipe that I followed for this pattern.  One thing I think a lot of folks would add, that I did not, was a rattle to the underbody.  This would be a very easy addition, so if you want a rattle, tie one in.  The rubber legs I use are actually made for bass jigs, from a brand called Boss.  I get these skirts from Bass Pro Shops, and they are a great value.  5 full skirts are under $4, and the colors are really awesome.

-Hook: 60 degree jig hook size 2/0
-Eyes: medium dumbbells
-Antennae: rubber legs
-Spreader: deer body hair
-Claws: magnum zonker strips
-Hackle: two schlappen feathers in coordinating colors
-Underbody: Estaz
-Collar: rubber legs


Monday, March 27, 2017

Bullgill Therapy

Several months have passed since the last really good fishing outing for me here in SE Ohio.  I caught some fish here and there through the winter, but nothing consistent and not high numbers.  We've had some warmer weather recently in the area, so a friend and I headed out to hit a few ponds he knew hoping to take advantage.  We planned to bass fish, but I also carried my glass 3wt rigged and ready for bluegill if the bass were not playing along.  Early in the morning, the bass bite was pretty slow, so I decided to test the bluegills out that were rising to small black bugs coming off the pond surface.  I had a subsurface fly rigged, the infamous Squirminator in pink/chartreuse, and it quickly found a player.

I quickly changed to my number one topwater fly for bluegill because I couldn't ignore all the rises.  It's a simple black foam spider with bright yellow legs.  It floats well, is a quick and durable tie, and just plain catches fish.  I had seen a rise under the edge of a shoreline bush, and put a cast right in next to it quickly.  The fly barely landed and got blasted.  I set the hook and the fish didn't really move initially.  This porker put a deep bend in the glass 3wt and is probably the fattest bluegill I have ever caught. 

While my buddy worked hard and finally picked up a decent bass, I was picking out risers and hooking, if not landing, most of them.  It was like easy dry fly fishing for trout.  See a ring, put the fly near it, and the fish will do the rest.  And unlike typical bluegill fishing, when fish run pretty small, these fish were thick and feisty.

We finally moved on to another nearby pond where my friend typically does pretty well on bass.  The water was slightly off color and it felt like the pond was in a Boeing wind tunnel, but we quickly started getting strikes on our bass rods.  I was glad I took the 7wt when we found that wind, it helped to punch some flies out in the breeze along the cattails.  It didn't take long to land my first bass of 2017.

Bass were holding tight to the banks, and seemed concentrated on the wind blown side of the pond.  No large bass were caught, but there was no shortage of action.  We fished along there for about 90 minutes and decided we had enough of the howling wind.  The hot fly for me on the bass was a size 2 Murdich Minnow in my favorite color, an olive over white with some light blue splashed on the cheeks with some Laser Dub.

We discussed what to do next when our third stop fizzled out on us, and we decided to head back to the first pond in hopes the bass would be more "awake" with the warmer temperatures of early afternoon.  However, seeing the massive bug hatch going on and the water almost appear to be boiling with bluegills, I couldn't resist and had to sling the 3wt some more.  My fishing buddy eventually caved and did the same, it was just too easy and too much fun.  

Here's a quick recipe and pic of the fly that did almost all of the damage on the bluegill.  I like to add the little chunk of orange foam to the top as a tiny indicator.  This fly sits really low on thwe water and can be tough to spot at a longer distance.

-Hook: size 14 dry fly hook
-Tail: rubber legs
-Body: 2mm craft foam
-Underbody: Ultra Chenille
-Legs: rubber legs
-Antennae: rubber legs
-Indicator: small chunk of orange 2mm craft foam 


Friday, March 24, 2017

New Damsel Pattern (and Body Technique)

I have often found carp in a few specific locations which prove very difficult to coax into striking.  The locations are very different, but the conditions are very similar: clear, shallow water and spooky/selective fish.  A while back, I picked up some Kiley's Damzel Tails with intentions to create a highly detailed damsel nymph pattern that might coax a few of these fish into eating.  I wanted a detailed, buggy pattern with a slow fall and subtle movement.  I weighted the fly with a single 1/8" bead belly-scratcher style for a slow fall on a size 10 Dai-Riki 700B.

My first attempt was a flop, in my eyes.  I tried a new body wrapping technique, and that part actually worked, but the front half of the fly wasn't what I wanted.  The end result was too skinny in the thorax area, the Thin Skin (even though it's olive in color) was too dark, and I wasn't a fan of the rubber legs.

The leg technique I came up with was to combine a dubbing loop idea with a complex twist.  How I accomplished this was to tie in a pair of rubber legs, and use those rubber legs as a dubbing loop with a sparse dubbing layer in between the rubber legs.  Here's how it looks in pictures.

Once you've got it spun, wrap it forward and brush it lightly towards the rear of the fly.  The resulting body is a rubbery segmented body with a buggy "veil" of dubbing over the body.  The changes I made to the front of the fly were to skip the nymph dubbing and rubber legs in favor of a combination of both: Cohen's Carp Dub.  This awesome stuff is a buggy dubbing with tiny spandex rubber legs mixed in.  It picks out really well with a dubbing brush.  I also scrapped the dark thin skin for some basic brown scud back that I topped with Loon Thick UV resin.  Here's the final product.

I think it will destroy large panfish in the right environments, but I'm really anxious to see how the clear water carp react to it.  Hopefully the weather continues to warm up and I can put this fly to the test sooner rather than later.  The final recipe:

-Hook: Dai-Riki 700B size 10
-Tail: Kiley's Damzel Tail
-Weight: 1/8" brass bead (belly scratcher style to keel the hook point-up)
-Eyes: Small mono eyes
-Abdomen: rubber legs spun with Spectrablend Nymph dubbing
-Shellback: scud back
-Thorax: Cohen's Carp Dub
-Shellback Top Coat: Loon Thick UV resin 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Carp on the Brain

The recent acquisition of the paddle board has got nothing but shallow water carp on my mind.  Due to the little guy being sick for much of the past week, vise time was non-existent for several days.  I was finally able to sit down and play yesterday, adding to my carp box a few new colors of the carp mop fly I posted a few months back.

My only "mops" I have been able to locate were a gray color, and a bright green.  I played yesterday with a quick dye job on the gray mop segments, hoping to turn gray into a couple of other usable colors for carp patterns.  I used some Rit liquid dye, in a dark blue and a bright orange, to produce these "new" colors.  I was immediately happy with the dark blue, the orange-dyed segments I wasn't sure about until they dried.  I really dig the way that color came out.

The key method I use in this carp fly is sort of a complex twist method, made famous by the Fly Fish Food boys, but due to the materials I use more of a composite loop technique to make it work.  I'm still combining feather and flash, but since India hen back feathers are so delicate, I put the materials in a loop.  I lay some Arizona Diamond Dub on a feather I prep by trimming the tip and fluffy stem.

That combination of material is then inserted into a dubbing loop, spun, picked out, and wrapped.  It usually needs an additional brushing once it's all wrapped and tied off, also.  The end result is a really buggy combination of the feather and flashy dubbing.

Of course, rubber legs had to be added because I can't tie a carp fly without them.  The fly is then finished off with a sparse dubbing loop of just the Diamond Dub, wrapped over the lead eyes and tied off at the hook eye.  This fly looks great in the test tank, and any fly I have tested on carp that has an appendage that sticks up off the bottom tends to produce carp.  I'm really excited to put this fly in front of some tailing fish this spring!

New Fishing Platform for 2017

Throughout the last six years, I have immensely enjoyed the world of kayak fly fishing.  Having a fishing kayak opened a lot of doors of opportunity for me that simply aren't there for a shore angler.  It was pretty easy to transport, could be launched in tons of locations where you couldn't dream of launching a full size boat, can function in very shallow water, and was virtually maintenance free.  Over the last 18 months or so, I became very intrigued with fly fishing from a stand-up paddle board (SUP).  I have been on a few SUP's in a recreation setting and enjoyed them, and I could see vivid advantages as a fly fishing platform in situations where I had previously used my kayak.  The most important realization was that better than 80% of the time, when I fly fish from my kayak, it's for shallow water carp.

The biggest disadvantage to the kayak as a fishing platform in this situation is the difficulty in spotting fish from a seated position close to the water.  The carp fly fishing game is all about sight fishing, and being higher off the water (even if seated on a cooler and not standing) would be a big advantage.  

The next advantage to the SUP option vs. my current kayak would be transportation ease.  At 13.5' long and 70+ pounds, my fishing kayak was not the easiest thing to throw on top of my Jeep.  I resorted, at times, to using a hitch extender and sticking the kayak out the back of the Jeep, and even though it was well-secured, it never felt truly safe or "right" to me.  Going along with the transport advantage of a shorter (and lighter) SUP would be maneuverability in smaller water.  Some feeder creeks and smaller streams where I had used my kayak, I barely had enough space to turn it around in the water.  The more I thought about it, the more it made sense to me to try a SUP as a fishing platform.

Prior to going on vacation last week, I ordered a Kaku Kahuna ( 12' SUP from Austin Kayak (  I got a great deal on the board, and free shipping was the icing on the cake.  Due to being out of town for a week, I had it shipped to a family member, and brought it home earlier this week.  I was never so happy to see an ugly box!

Since the board was packaged, and I didn't have my roof rack on the Jeep (plus I was in a hurry), I used the bed extender to get the SUP home.

The Kahuna comes in at 12' long and 60lbs, 34" wide at the widest point for stability.  Although it is not substantially lighter than my kayak, it feels less bulky and easier to carry/lift than my kayak ever felt.  The 12' length also allows me to store the board inside, whereas I never had room to keep my kayak out of the weather.  I have small plans to add a cooler (both as a seat and storage) and to build my own push/stake out pole for carpin' the mud flats.  The one thing I am yet to figure out completely is where/how to mount a static video camera for filming.  I plan to continue using a wearable action camera, but like to have a static mount camera to get a second filming angle, as well.  

Our recent cold snap in SE Ohio has put hard water back in play, but as soon as we have thawed and I have the board rigged, I can't wait to get out on the water.  I truly believe this will be the perfect watercraft for sight fishing carp with fly gear, as well as exploring some small streams for bass close to home that are difficult to wade or fish from the bank.  I expect big things from the Kahuna this year!


Monday, March 13, 2017

Florida Sunshine

I tend to fall into the same mental trap on most family vacations...delusional thoughts that I'm going to get to fish a lot.  It doesn't happen.  Last week, we went to the Bradenton area in Florida to visit family.  As usual, I packed some gear and a few boxes of flies just in case I found time to wet a line.  We spent the majority of our time outdoors looking for shark teeth along the gorgeous beaches of the Venice area.  We found a little over 200 teeth in our two trips to the beaches, so we did pretty well.  This was one of the better specimens I found.

We did make a stop at Jiggs Landing, a historic fish camp on the Braden River not far from where my parents live down there.  It was a neat place, and I would have loved to have had a kayak or paddle board (or time to rent one), but I did catch a few fish from the boardwalk area on the fly.

Pretty much the entire time we were down there, the wind was brutally strong.  It was blowing consistently in the upper teens, with lots of gusts over 20MPH.  Jiggs Landing was a pretty exposed area, at least where I was fishing, so casting and strike detection were chores.

The heart-breaking portion of the trip was when we went to the Riverwalk in Bradenton, located along the Manatee River.  I didn't take my fly rod, unsure of what to expect.  We didn't spot much in the water, but did see a few stingrays making their way along the bottom.

But then we came to the marina area, where there were tons of small baitfish in huge schools.  Of course, I had to spot the school of 1-2lb snook stalking and then blasting these baitfish.  I'm convinced those snook would have attacked about anything that hit the water, and there I was, with nothing.  Look closely and you can see all the shadowy snook about 12-15' away from me.

It was a great time, regardless of the fishing aspect of the trip.  We got to spend some time with my parents, who we had not seen in several months.  My son also got to experience Florida and the beach for the first time.  He really enjoyed trying to taste-test everything he could pick up at the beach.  He also got to rock some shades for the first time in the bright Florida sunshine.