Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Always Be Prepared...For Carp

Carp have been one of my favorite game fish (yes, I said game fish) for several years.  The obvious list of positive attributes is well-known, but one of the less discussed great qualities is availability.  Simply put, carp can be found just about anywhere.  Lakes, ponds, rivers, creeks, all can hold them.  And they usually do hold them.  Several times I found myself wishing I had a carp box with me when I was fishing for bass or some other species.  A trick that has worked really well for me and paid off with some nice fish is to always have an emergency "stash box" of carp flies in the pack.  What works well for me for this purpose is a converted Altoids tin fly box.

I line the bottom of the tin with slit craft foam to make some cheap and fast mini fly boxes.  I have a couple of these boxes with a small assortment of proven carp flies and I keep them in my fishing packs at all times.  The tins take up practically no space, are extremely light, and come in handy when you find yourself a target of opportunity.  Having an emergency box with me paid off again today on my lunch break.  I was walking the banks and spotted a carp rooting in very shallow water.  I made a quick fly change, and two casts later was hooked up.

Although this was not a large carp by my local standards, it was a hefty handful on 3wt glass.  As usual, the fly that the fish ate was black.  This fish was extremely shallow, but the water was stirred up quite a bit around the fish.  I am a firm believer that the black fly has a more visible outline in these conditions and gets eaten more because it's easier for them to see.  Here are a few other memorable "bonus carp" that fell victim to flies from an Altoids tin.

If you find yourself fishing in warm water environments that are likely to have carp, carry a small stash of flies just in case.  It's easy to find room for them, and you never know when having a good assortment of carp patterns could pay off.  It might save your day, or take your outing from good to memorable. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Fly Tying Tutorial: Craft Fur Minnow

Streamers have accounted for 80% or more of my tying for many years, and somehow I missed the boat on craft fur.  I finally picked up some Hareline Extra Select Craft Fur and have been really impressed with how easy the material is to work with.  The step-by-step below is a ridiculously simple craft fur minnow pattern.  It's nothing too new or original, but it's a fast tie that looks great both in and out of the water.  Here's the recipe:

Hook - Gamakatsu B10S
Thread - 6/0
Flash - Ripple Ice Fiber
Body - Diamond Braid
Wing - Extra Select Craft Fur
Head - Fish Mask

For this tutorial, I am using a Gamakatsu B10S in a size 1.  This is the largest hook size I have tied this pattern on, as it's a good match for the max length of the material.  Get your hook in the vise and start your thread.  I leave the thread at about the halfway point to start the flash.

Tie in a sparse flashy tail of Ripple Ice Fiber.  I start it at this point on the hook because the RIF is not exceptionally long, and I like the flash to extend past the length of the craft fur on the finished fly.

This step is probably unnecessary, but it's easy and, at minimum, it will serve to protect the thread on the hook shank.  Wrap over the shank with Diamond Braid up to about an eye length behind the hook eye.  

The craft fur will be tied in two clumps, a light color for the bottom (white) and a darker color for the top (chartreuse).  You'll need the full length of the fur, so trim as close to the backing material as you can.  It will take a generous clump on top and bottom.  Be sure to use a comb or brush and remove the thick "underfur" at the base of the material.  It's bulk and short fibers you do not need.

Tie in the white clump of craft fur on the underside of the hook, tips facing forward, and trim the butts closely.  

Repeat the cleaning procedure on a clump of chartreuse craft fur and tie that in on the top of the hook shank.  Again, trim the butts closely.

Carefully whip finish, add some half hitches, or cement your thread wraps and cut your thread.  Basically, at this stage, the tying is completed.  Using (preferably) an empty pen or pencil tube, or your fingers, push the craft fur back over the hook.  I like to use a small hair clip to hold the material in place.

Although it is not necessary, I like to add a little barring to the pattern with Sharpies.  You can do as little or as much as you'd like.  Barring, gills, hot spots, that's all up to you.  I like to have my first bar under the Fish Mask, so I add it now before fitting the Mask onto the fly.

Fitting the Fish Mask to the fly is another matter of preference.  My old "stand by" is to use gel CA superglue.  I have also experimented with Rich Strolis' method of using UV cure adhesive smeared on the inside of the Mask, then cured with a UV torch.  Either way will work.  Add some thread wraps in front of the Mask to help hold it in place.

I now add some additional barring to the back of the fly, and add the eyes to the Mask.  This is a 6mm Fish Mask, so 6mm 3D eyes fit them perfectly.  I attach the eyes using gel CA superglue.  And that's a wrap, a completed craft fur minnow.

This pattern can be made smaller by simply using shorter lengths of craft fur and smaller hooks.  So far, I have only tied the pattern in two sizes, size 1 and 6.  On the size 6 version, a 4mm Fish Mask is the perfect size to top the fly.  Other craft fur minnows I have seen use UV cure products to hold the craft fur back and form the head.  Me, I'm a fan of the Fish Masks and love their ease of use and consistency on this fly pattern.  It's a perfect head every time, fast.  Give this one a shot! 

Monday, June 5, 2017


During the past several years, I have become addicted to small stream bass.  While most anglers flock to larger flows with easy access points, a friend and I have been sampling some different stretches of smaller flows with good populations of spotted and largemouth bass that require a lot more work and effort to reach.  Typically, this effort is handsomely rewarded with fish who rarely, if ever, see other anglers.  Last week, on Memorial Day, I tried to hit a new stretch I located on Google Earth, but was quickly let down when I reached the stream and saw it in this condition: mocha.

Unfortunately, this is one stream near me that does not have an online USGS gauge for flow and height.  I guessed, based on recent weather, and guessed wrong.  I let it rest about a week without rain and returned to find it much more agreeable in terms of water clarity and flow.  It wasn't perfect, but it was fishable for the first time for me this year.  The trek to get there is not overly long, but does lead through the middle of nowhere on a single lane gravel road.

Getting there is the easy part.  The hard part is trekking through thick weeds, old flood debris, and various unseen (probably for the best) woodland critters to reach the water.  The banks of these streams are typically coated in what I call death mud.  You don't sink in it, but you go down in a hurry if you make a bad foot placement on it.  Sometimes the creeks are wade-able, sometimes there are deep stretches that have to be walked around.  But the "paths" along the streams almost always look like this. 

I found gorgeous water with depth, cover, and light current flow.  The scenery was good, everything looked perfect, but the bass did not want to cooperate at all.  Well, the spots and largemouths, anyway.  The rock bass were attacking the fly with reckless abandon.  I think I caught more rock bass in 3 hours that morning than I have caught in the last 3 years combined.  Some of the rock bass were fairly large, also.  Here's a glimpse at what the water looked like in the new stretch.

The popular fly on the outing was the HD Craw in both black/blue and brown. Getting the fly near any cover with a little depth produced rock bass all morning.  I did manage 2 largemouths on the trip, but both were very small.  My assumption is that the bass were not cooperating due to the recent water conditions and potentially being in a post-spawn pattern.  Given the cover, depth, and the presence of other species, I think the bass had to be there, as well.

I'll definitely be returning to this stretch in a few weeks or later into the summer.  It's very rewarding to battle through the cover, mosquitoes, and other hazards to reach waters that don't see much attention and have the place all to yourself.  I came back cut and bruised thanks to all the trail blazing that had to be done, but I feel it's going to be worth the effort to get back in there and find a big spot that will make the 3wt Moonlit glass buckle and beg for mercy.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

First Impressions

You never get a second chance to make that first one.  Several weeks ago, browsing the web looking at materials and flies, I stumbled onto Hareline's new Ripple Ice Fiber.  This stuff was hot.  I immediately saw this as a material that could potentially take the place of Orvis Sparkle Hair flash as the primary ingredient in my favorite streamer, the Murdich Minnow.  What I love about the Sparkle Hair is how "krinkly" the flash appears, allowing for the appearance of bulk without a lot of material, combined with the intense flashy effect.  I somehow managed to forget about wanting to try the Ripple Ice Fiber until recently, and now that I have it, I'm solidly hooked.  A little goes a long way with this material and it's intensely flashy.  It's a perfect match for the Murdich, which is not a subtle streamer.  I first tied a few smaller Murdich's with the new flash in a size 6, my favorite size for small stream bass and crappie fishing.

Next on the idea list was to experiment with a deeper Murdich design.  I wanted it lightly weighted, but weighted enough to reach deeper than the top foot of the water column where the unweighted version excels.  I opted for a size 6 30* jig hook and a set of extra small dumbbells.  I obviously inverted the pattern to ride point-up.  The other slight change I made was to use Ice Dub in the body of this version instead of the customary Ice Chenille or Estaz.  I liked the effect and result, and went to bed last night hoping for a field test soon.

That chance was to come much quicker than expected.  My wife cancelled lunch plans on me due to the weather.  A steady rain was going to make eating with our young son outside a bad option.  Luckily for me, having gear in my Jeep and being prepared offered me the chance to fish over my lunch break instead.  I studied the radar situation, which didn't look good.

It appeared there was a slight break coming in the rain, and the USGS online gauge for the river still showed a very good level.  I took the chance and went for it.  As the old basketball saying goes, you don't make 100% of the shots you don't take.  I got wet, I got cold, and I also had a pretty good 45 minute test for the new fly.

Ironically, I seldom catch many spotted bass in this stretch of water, but that's the intended target of the streamer design I was testing.  We find a lot of nice spots in smaller creeks in my area, and I thought this pattern would be perfect for them.  I managed to catch 4 spots in just about 45 minutes of fishing.  Not too bad for a last minute change of plans and roughing out the weather.  And who says trout are the only fish with pretty markings?

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 might just turn a base hit into a home run.