Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Creative Twist to a Sculpin Pattern

If I had to pick one streamer, and one only, to fish for trout, it's a simple little sculpin pattern I like to tie/fish.  It's not overly complex, it's a fast tie, and the fish seem to react pretty well to it.  I admittedly do not streamer fish much for trout, but when I do, I tend to reach for this pattern first.

The recipe is pretty straight forward.

Hook: DaiRiki 700B size 6 (20* bent shank "craw" hook)
Tail: rabbit strip
Body: dubbed, thick, I have used both Arizona Diamond Dub and Cohen's Carp Dub
Pectoral 1: deer hair tips, one clump per side
Pectoral 2: Lazer Dub or Bruiser Blend
Head: Sculpin Helmet

The rationale for the deer hair being included behind the dubbing pectorals is that the deer hair, when flared, will help prop the dubbing "fins" out a bit.  Since I use a small amount of deer hair, it doesn't add noticeable buoyancy to the pattern.  I add a few little touches of detail that are not 100% necessary, but I like to add them in and they don't take me much time.  One is hot-spotting the tip of the zonker strip with a little arctic fox, the other is powder painting the Sculpin Helmets.

So I was thinking about other color combos for this pattern and it hit me...this fly has a real similar profile to a juvenile channel catfish.  I took a few minutes last night and gave this a go.  I like the results, and will fish it soon (I hope) to see if the warmwater fish will eat a baby channel cat.

A couple of little differences I made for the channel cat version include pulling the zonker strip over the dubbed body (lighter color belly) for a more two-toned effect, and obviously adding some rubber legs for whiskers.  The helmet was powder painted in a "Pearl Pepper" color, which is a silvery gray color.  For the long whiskers, I used a strand of medium round rubber leg material, the shorter whiskers were made with small round rubber legs.  I just had to make sure I left enough extra space between the helmet and the hook eye to tie them in.  I used "Minnow Belly" Ice Dub for the dubbed belly of this version.  Here's a view from underneath.

I am planning on getting out for smallies on Friday morning, and I will be taking this little guy with me.  I wouldn't put it past a stream smallie to pounce on a little channel cat. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

"Life Hack" for Fly Tying

The fly tying material market is full of pre-made body pieces made from various materials that you can add to your fly patterns.  Some are made from Ultra Suede, some from silicone rubber, and come in many shapes and sizes.  The bodies I have most experience with are Cohen's Creatures from Pat Cohen and Jonathan Kiley's line of "Skinz" products.  Whenever I use any of these bodies and want the hook point to ride up, I pierce the hook point through the body to keep it on the proper side of the hook.  This has always caused a minor issue for me: the body inevitably ends up slightly kinked up or down, depending on the body being slightly too tight or slightly too loose over the hook.  Getting the body pierced the the most precise spot for it to lay parallel with the hook shank is very difficult for me.  A solution hit me yesterday, which I tested successfully last night.  Use a small hole punch to punch a larger diameter hole for the hook to fit through, allowing you margin of error to keep the body in the proper position once you tie it down.  I already had an 1/8" hole punch I had bought years back while making foam Trouser Worm style carp flies.  Yes, I know the handles are purple, but it was either this or pink at my craft store.

I tested last night with a Kiley's Damzel Tail and a Cohen Creature Hellgramite.

I determined against the hooks I was going to use for each pattern where I wanted the hole, and punched the hole in each body.  I then also colored the Hellgramite black with a Sharpie.  Both body materials are extremely strong, so I have little doubts that punching the holes in them will result in them getting torn up.  I fully expect to snag and lose them before that could ever happen.

The hack worked just as I had hoped.  Having the larger diameter hole meant I did not have to be super precise on aligning the body in order to get the body to lay parallel to the hook shank.  I use the Hellgramite bodies a lot, they are lethal on my local smallmouth populations.  It's a ridiculously simple fly that is quick to tie and really effective.  Lead eyes, dubbing, wire for a rib, and the body.  The Damzel Tail pattern is a variation on a new carp fly I am about to test that I have named the Drag Queen.

If you use these bodies in your tying, give this little trick a shot.  It makes life a little easier when trying to get the bodies properly aligned and tied in. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

Kayak Carpin'

The weather report looked perfect for Saturday morning: very little wind.  No wind kicking up until 10AM, according to the forecast.  As usual, this was inaccurate, and wind is the biggest barrier to me when I am fly fishing for carp in the mud flats on my kayak.  Wind does two things that really hurt my style of carp fishing.  1) It puts chop on the water, which makes spotting fish very difficult and 2) wind pushes the kayak around a lot when you don't want it to, both of which leads to lots of spooked fish and missed opportunities.  Carp fly fishing is very visual.  It's sight fishing for actively feeding fish.  My typical routine is to slowly paddle along the flat watching for mud clouds, bubbles, and/or obvious tailing fish.  Finding tailing fish is a lot less common for me, so being able to spot a strong bubble line to locate fish is vital.  Once I get in range of a fish, it's a drag-and-drop presentation as close to the fishes face as possible, without spooking it.  If the fish sees the fly and wants it, the eat usually happens as soon as the fly hits the bottom.

I arrived to perfect conditions early in the morning.  Glassy, smooth water with no wind and plenty of carp feeding.

The fish were being uncooperative early on, and the one eat I managed to get, I missed on the hookset somehow.  That's a rarity in carp fishing, in my experience.  It wasn't long until the wind started kicking up, slightly after 8AM instead of 10AM, as predicted.  I took a chance and left the mud flat for the start of the main lake which was a little more sheltered from the wind.  It's deeper water, though, with more blowdowns and snags.  I spotted a feeder's bubble line in about 4.5' of water in a sheltered bend and got into position.  The fly was drug near the bubble line and I let it drop.  About the time the fly touched down, the indicator ticked, and it was game on.

This lake produces a lot of 30" and bigger fish for me, and this one barely reached the 30" mark, but gave me a whale of a sleigh ride.  It drug me well down into the main lake and keeping it from the cover along shore was not easy.  Typically, when you get a good carp up to the surface, you have won the battle.

I got this fish quickly onto the kayak, unhooked, snapped a quick picture, and got her back in the water for a quick revival and release.

After releasing this fish, the wind really kicked up and made the game all but impossible.  I cruised past one spot one last time where I had found some feeders earlier in the morning, but spotting bubble lines was not possible.

Although the weather and the fish did not cooperate as well as I'd hoped, it was still a good morning to be out.  The humidity was not as bad as it had been in recent weeks and the overcast skies kept the temperatures down in a more cozy range while I was on the water.  I'm not sure how many more carp outings I'll get this season, but if this was the final one, there are worse ways to end things.  

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Breathing Life Into Dead Wood

There are several trees in my yard, almost all of which I dislike for either having to be mowed around or for dropping leaves in the fall.  The one tree I really liked, a spruce, died over the winter.  My father and I cut it down and removed it from the yard, but an idea for a wood project lead me to retrieve the main portion of the lower trunk and get it drying in my shed.

While at a fly fishing show in Cincinnati last winter, I saw this cool idea for temporary fly storage on your bench.  It was a wooden cylinder on a lazy Susan with rings of foam.  As flies, either completed or partially completed, came off the vise, they could be neatly stored on the foam rings.  I was not about to pay $90 for something I was sure I could make for a lot less money.

After the wood had dried for a few months in the shed, my father and I started working on it to get the piece of wood smoothed down and ready for detail work on the lathe.  That ended up being the hardest part of the project, and dad handled most of that work.  I sketched my plan on a PostIt at work, ordered the materials I did not have (foam, lazy Susan), and got busy making it happen.  Here's a look at the project after some shaping on the lathe.

Once the piece was removed from the lathe and the ends cut and sanded, I gave it three heavy coats of sealer in an effort to keep the piece from splitting, which partially worked.  It did split some, but not drastically.  The piece was stained, lacquered, foam strips were cut and glued in place, and the lazy Susan installed.  Here is the completed project.

I have a pretty extensive collection of shed deer antlers laying around, so I found one that had a straight piece near the base and made that into a handle of sorts to spin the wheel.  Hopefully this device will minimize the amount of flies, both completed and staged, that I accumulate on my bench.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Dr. Enuf and 7X

This past weekend was my first trip back to Tennessee since early last fall.  Coming from my part of Ohio, with trout streams not really being an option for a day of fishing, Tennessee spoils me.  The two main draws in the eastern part of the state are the South Holston and the Watauga Rivers, and both are spectacular tailwater fisheries.  Our hope going into the weekend was to fish the South Holston on Saturday and the Watauga on Sunday.  Being wade fishermen, we need periods of non-generation by the TVA to be able to safely wade and fish both.  The trip started with a 2:30AM alarm Saturday morning to get me out of the house by 3:00AM, to my buddy's place by 4:00AM, en route to TN and fishing before 9:00AM.

The South Holston schedule was very wade-friendly all weekend, but that schedule couple with very nice weather on a weekend seemed to bring out all the fishermen.  Our usual sections we liked to fish were very competitive with other anglers, and the fishing was very difficult for us.  I scratched out a few fish but it was very tough.  We headed to a diner for lunch to fuel up and locate a little confidence, and chance was on our side.  We met up with a local gentleman there, had some friendly small talk about the fishing, and the conversation ended with him offering to take us to some private access he had along the river.  Thanks to this man's generosity, we hit some water free of fishermen with a lot more enthusiasm.  I found some deeper runs and chutes through the rock that begged to be high-stick nymphed and rigged up with a #14 sulphur soft hackle trailed by a #16 Ice Hare's Ear nymph in pheasant tail-colored Ice Dub.  Once I got the weight right with the split shot to get the flies down deep enough, I immediately found fish.  It was about 50/50 on the nymph and soft hackle.  No giants, but the action was steady.

We worked a long stretch of the private water access, picking up fish in all the juicy looking water, and I finally hooked a good sized fish on the soft hackle.  It was a deep chute between a large rock and a log, and after several drifts through the run with no takes, I finally got a strike.  On the hook set, which was light, I popped the fish off.  I saw it shake its head a few times after I broke off, enough to see it was a rainbow in the upper teens, at least.  Anyone who knows me knows there are few things I hate more than light tippet, but unfortunately this stuff seems to be necessary on these rivers.  My strike rates go up with small tippet and 12' leaders, neither of which I like to fish. 

That night, after being up all day and fishing hard, we relaxed by the camp fire and told lies to our fishing buddies in camp for several hours.  It was a good way to unwind after such a packed day of travel and fishing.  Unfortunately, our hopes were dashed when we checked the TVA schedule to see the Watauga would be generating all day long.  I enjoy the dark arts of nymph fishing for trout, and the Watauga is an absolute blast to high-stick nymph.  It was not going to happen on this trip, so we hit some familiar water on the South Holston, instead, to close out the trip.  There was not much surface activity early on, so I tied on a small #10 bugger-ish fly I tied for this trip and immediately started hooking fish.  I'm not usually a big fan of what I consider mindless fly fishing, casting a small streamer across the current and letting it swing and having the trout do the rest, but it was working.  Unfortunately, I only had three of those flies with me in the color combo that was working (black/olive/brown), lost the first two on deeply hooked fish, and lost the third on a hook set.  Have I mentioned I hate small tippet?  Luckily, standard olive buggers seemed to work just fine.

Before returning to Ohio, we had to stop at a local grocery store and stock up on a local favorite that I can't buy in Ohio, Dr. Enuf herbal cherry soda.  It's life-altering stuff.

It was a good weekend getaway with enough fish thrown in to take care of the trout fix I needed desperately.  The only disappointment was that I failed to catch a trout on a dry fly.  There were some sulfurs and a few BWO's coming off while we were there, but the fish did not want the dries I showed them.  Emergers did catch a few fish, but nymphing and swinging buggers were the methods that put more fish in the net.  Hopefully, a return trip will be in order this fall to get us on the Watauga and maybe a few smaller streams in the area for brookies, bows, and browns. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Line Maintenance and Warm Water Fishing

As a fisherman who lives in SE Ohio, I do not spend a lot of time fishing cool, clean, flowing water for trout.  My time is spent in ponds, lakes, and slow flowing rivers that can leave a lot of filth on your gear.  Last night I was prepping some gear for a trout trip coming up soon, and saw that the line on my 3wt reel was filthy.  Beyond dirty.  All of the exposure to algae, silt, mud, etc... in the whopping 2 months since the line's last cleaning had left it a disgusting mess.

Line cleaning is a pretty simple, inexpensive way to improve the performance of your line and prolong its life.  I know a lot of folks who fish primarily clean trout streams who tell me line cleaning is not nearly as necessary, but if you are fishing similar environments that I find in Ohio, cleaning your line can be a big help.  I have been using Loon Line Speed for a few years, and the $7-8 bottle lasts quite a while.  Cleaning your line should only take a few minutes.  I prefer to stretch my line across the yard (above the grass, of course) between two points.  Once the line is secured above the ground, apply a liberal dose of Line Speed to the applicator pad.

Enclose the pad around your fly line, and walk along the line, sliding the applicator pad over the fly line.  I prefer to walk down and back, being sure to get a good coating of Line Speed on my line.  I let that sit for a few minutes, then take a clean piece of cloth (I use cut up bits of old t-shirts), fold it around the fly line, pinch, and walk the length of line down and back again.  What you will see when you take the piece of cloth off your line might shock you.  Here's my cloth from last night before I started.

And after.

I didn't stop there with the line, I also took a few minutes to wipe down the rod and reel, which were also quite dirty.  Both the rod blank and the guides pick up some of the dirt and grime from the fly line.  I clean my line and gear fairly often, and it still surprises me how dirty in can get so quickly.  Not only will your line shoot and float better when it's clean, but it will also last longer.  The last fly line I replaced was my 5wt line, which was a good SA Mastery Trout floating line that I cleaned regularly.  I got nearly 8 years out of that fly line, which seemed pretty good considering how often that rod gets used.  Line maintenance will only cost you a few bucks and a few minutes of your time, and could save you a lot of money on fly lines on top of the improved performance. 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Powder Paint and Fly Tying

Something that I have been experimenting with a lot this summer (with good results) is powder paint.  It's a really fast, simple, durable method for adding some color and/or detail to your flies.  Essentially any hard, weighted item you can add to a fly can be powder painted.  Beads, Sculpin Helmets, Fish Skulls, cone heads, dumbbells, and bead chain can all be powder painted.  I have stuck with the ProTec brand powder paint for all of my needs, and there is a pretty impressive assortment of colors available.  Some are solid colors, some are "flecked" with glitter, and powder paints can be mixed/blended for unique color results.  The most common item I powder paint is the Pocket Eye Cone.  I love these cones for bigger variants of the Bow River Bugger and a few other streamer designs I am tinkering with.

Powder paint is easy to use.  You simply heat the item you want to paint, quickly dip in the powder paint, reheat the item, and it's done.  For added durability, I have read you can bake the paint on by heating your oven to the recommended temperatures (it's on the ProTec bottles and site) and baking them for a few minutes.  I have not found this to be necessary, I have not had the paint chip on flies yet.  You might wonder how you heat the cones or beads and dip them without burning yourself, and that's where toothpicks come in handy.  I wedge toothpicks into the cones or beads, heat them over a candle, and dip in the paint.

Here's a sample of a two-toned powder paint job.  I dipped the cone in all yellow paint, then reheated, and dipped only the top of the cone in a rootbeer colored paint for the two-toned effect.

Below is a pic of the staged HD Craw hooks I prepped before tying the flies.  I powder painted both the Cray Tails and the beads for belly weight to match the body of the fly.  Painting the bead makes it disappear into the dubbed body.

Something that is really nice about painting all of these coneheads and beads is that the color of the bead or cone really doesn't seem to matter.  I no longer need to purchase nickel, black, or copper cones because they will almost all be painted a different color, anyway.  There are a few exceptions to that, absolutely, but it has greatly reduced the need for several packs of different finish cones or beads and makes it easier to buy them because the specific color (which may or may not be in stock at your shop) no longer matters to me.  

If you want to give an extra level of detail or splash of color to your fly patterns, consider powder painting for your cones, beads, and eyes.  It's extremely easy, fast to apply and dry, and a single jar of ProTec is going to last you a very long time.  Having painted several dozen heads, I have hardly scratched the surface of my jars of paint.  A little truly goes a long ways.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Preparation work for Tennessee

A trip that was a thought, then became a tentative plan, then became recently solidified has gotten me in trout bug mode at the vise for the first time in a while.  I'm prepping for a weekend trip to Eastern TN to fish a couple of the more popular tailwaters in the area.  Sulphur dries, emergers, small pheasant tails, and lots of midges are in order to refill boxes I depleted on last year's trips to the area.  Here's a sample of what has been hatching in SE Ohio in my tying room.

This soft hackle/emerger is a somewhat new-to-me idea, hybridizing a shotglass-style emerger pattern into a sulphur soft hackle.  The translucent yellow bead is meant to represent the emergent gas bubble.  I have high hopes for this one.

Lots and lots and lots of midges have been cranked out, and this box is my new midge box to supplement the already full C&F midge box.  Zebra midges in multiple colors, including a new-to-me attractor orange zebra midge and a tandem midge pattern tied on a Daiichi "swimming nymph" hook.  There's also a few small bunny midges and some Shop Vac pattern in size 20 thrown in there.  I'll add some $3 Dip midges to this box and it will be done.

Lastly, I cranked out a few more small (size 6) Bow River Buggers in locally popular bugger/leech color combos of brown/black/olive.  I don't usually throw a lot of streamer patterns there during non-generation periods, but I might give these a swim test if bug activity is slow.

Hopefully there will be a good follow-up post to this one with some of these patterns (and others) stuck in the jaws of rainbows and browns.  I have actually not yet caught a trout in 2016, so crossing some coldwater fishing off the to-do list will be a good experience either way.