Monday, October 24, 2016

Recent Deer Hair Bugs

What good is Bobcat Hollow if I don't post some hollow hair flies?  Flash back to about 5 year ago, and deer hair was my biggest fly tying fear.  After reading an article about Pat Cohen in a fly fishing magazine, I decided to get serious and learn how to tie good hair bugs.  Now, after a lot of practice, razor blades, and patience, I feel like I can tie a pretty solid bug.  I also find myself trying to work deer hair into a lot of my patterns, surface fly or not.  It's an extremely versatile material that can be used in a lot more ways than just tying bass bugs.

Lately, the "craze" I have noticed online is for the Double Barrel popper heads from Flymen.  I'm sure they are a fine product, I use and swear by a ton of the stuff that Flymen sells.  Don't get me wrong, I am not anti-foam...I'm just pro-deer hair.  I know that premade heads are faster, easier, probably get a louder pop with the cupped face, etc..., but I still would rather spend the time and make a deer hair bug.  So, I sat down and decided to mimic the head shape and profile of the Double Barrel heads using some deer hair.  Ordinarily, I tie bass bugs finishing with the deer hair, but I went opposite on this one.  I wanted to be sure the deer hair didn't mash down the collar I planned to use, so I tied the deer hair head first.

The tail on this bug is a mix of three colors of marabou.  I simultaneously wrapped white and pink to blend the two colors together a bit, and topped it with gray marabou.  I used a complex twist for the collar on this bug, combining white and gray schlappen with silver Polar Chenille.  Once the tying was complete, I used my face gluing technique to finish off the bug.

And here is the finished product, with the glued face trimmed down, eyes added, and rubber legs threaded through the body.

Next on my agenda was a trial pattern for something I have been pondering for a while.  Sliders like the Sneaky Pete are tremendously effective, but I wanted to make the body of a slider much longer to more closely imitate the profile of a baitfish.  To do this without using an extremely long-shanked hook, I used a 55mm Flymen articulated shank with a size 4 octopus hook trailing off the back.  The tail is arctic fox, a little Flashabou, and a sparse Estaz collar tied onto the hook.  The larger collar is the same complex twist from the bug above tied onto the rear of the 55mm shank.  The tungsten bead is secured "belly scratcher" style with mono to both keel the fly and to promote a little more weight near the head.

And here is the finished product.  As with all "new" fly patterns I test, I'll stop at less than 2 flies to be sure the fly behaves the way I want it to behave in the water.  If it tests well, I'll make more to fish with.  I'd like to get this fly in front of some fish before the weather really cools down, but I'm not so sure that will happen this year.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bunny Game Changer

There's no question that Blane Chocklett's Game Changer has made a massive impact on the streamer world.  It's a great pattern and concept, but even the "smaller" versions of the pattern as it is traditionally tied is a bit big for the water I fish most often.  I wanted to downsize it a bit more for the creeks I often fish, make it castable on a 3-4wt rod, and maintain the fly's action in the water.  My first attempt at this idea made use of four hooks: two mustad 3366's in size 10, a 3366 in size 6, and a Gamakatsu B10S in size 6.  The tail hook and third hook used would both have their points snipped.

I chose to use rabbit strip and some fine Ice Dub in holographic silver, combined in a dubbing loop, spun and wrapped for the body.  My thought was to use a Petitjean material clamp to bind the fur and flash together, and also to adjust the length of the fur used in the loops to maintain some taper to the fly.  I used some Laser Dub coated in UV Knot Sense for the tail, and topped the fly with a size 6 Fish Mask.  Flash forward to the first trial, and this was the solid white version, 3" long on the button.

Immediately after snapping a few quick photos, I had to see this thing in the test tank.  I was pretty pleased when I got the fly in the water.  Below is a short video of the Bunny Changer swimming in my small test tank.

Last night, to test another thought with this pattern, I tied a yellow version that I wanted to attempt two-toning with permanent markers.  After testing a small chunk of rabbit strip, I was convinced that the fur would take the inking.  I also swapped the second size 10 3366 with a B10S in size 10 so that the tail hook would have a little bigger gap.  Here's a sequence of photos as the fly went together, starting with some rabbit and flash clamped together in the material clamp.

I'm going to stop at these two versions for testing on the water, hopefully this weekend.  The fly should cast easily with the lighter rods I like using in the smaller streams, and if the fly behaves in the water as it did in the test tank, I expect the Bunny Changer to snare a few fish.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Another Life Hack: Burr Removal

In the past few weeks, I have rediscovered how much I hate burrs being caked onto my clothes and gear.  The secluded public pond I have fished a handful of times this fall is surrounded by fields of burrs.  Despite my best efforts to be careful, my fishing pants became caked with them.  My Internet searches have told me the kind I hate the most are called beggar ticks, and removing them is a royal pain.  The burr is pronged on the end, and they hold on tight.  Brushing at them with your hands does nothing, and the thought of plucking them all individually was frightening.

I was trying to figure out an easier way to remove the little devils when it hit me, a potential life-saving solution.  I ran upstairs and dug into the pet care box under the counter and grabbed the slicker brush we use to remove shedding hair from the cat.

It worked like a charm at removing the beggar ticks.  In a few short minutes of brushing, I managed to remove at least 90% of them.  This was a major time saver, and something I will certainly be doing after every upcoming trip to that pond.  If you look close enough, you can see where my feet were, surrounded by a shower of burrs.  If your fishing excursions take you through burr country, remember this little trick. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fishing the Ohio River on the Fly

Nearly my entire life, I have lived near the Ohio River.  For reasons I can't explain, I never fished it with fly gear until late last year.  Once again this year, I neglected the Ohio until fall, making my first trip of 2016 just this past Sunday with a friend.  The water was a bit off color, and the Racine Dam was generating a lot of water, but the fish were in there and on the feed.  Massive schools of minnows and shad were all over the rocks below the tailrace.  I went with two rods rigged: a 5wt for smaller streamers and a 7wt for the bigger meals.  Skipjack were blasting bait with reckless abandon but were very inaccurate when it came to getting the hook on my flies.  Some casts would result in 3-5 strikes by flashing skippies, but I only managed to hook and land two smaller ones.  Skipjack, for those who fish for catfish on the Ohio, are pure gold.  Every skipjack we landed went into a bucket and then to my buddy's freezer for next spring.

Also feeding heavily below the dam were white bass and hybrid stripers.  While skipjack wanted the streamers fast and furious near the surface, the same streamer slowed down and allowed to "die" beneath the schools of bait was getting picked up by white bass or smaller hybrids.  The average size of the smaller whites were about like this fish below.  Not large fish, but good fun on a 5wt.

Having never caught a hybrid striper on the fly, that was my primary goal for the trip.  It was a tough scene for me to watch, because large hybrids were absolutely crushing schools of shad along the hydro platform...out of reach for me.  Directly behind where I had to stand in the rip rap was a large, steep rocky bank, which severely limited my back casts.  Casting a weighted streamer, coupled with all the violent current near the hydro, made it impossible (for me) to get any sort of roll cast out that far.  I could get my fly within 8-10' of the platform, which was 8-10' too far away.  I did manage one smaller hybrid before we left, but the bigger fish eluded me.

The one thing I have never enjoyed about fishing the tailrace is walking the rocks.  I have never been considered sure-footed, and walking on sometimes shifting, sometimes slippery rocks looks like a broken ankle waiting to happen.  Carrying some pricey fly rods only added to my panic.  Stumbling on a grenade didn't help matters, either.

All in all, it was a great afternoon spent on the water.  There was certainly no shortage of action or tugs on the line.  To top it off, it was a perfect fall afternoon with comfortable temperatures and plenty of sunshine.  Hopefully I can make it back down there before the colder weather hits to try for a big hybrid one more time.

Friday, October 7, 2016

If You Can't Buy It, Dye It

Over the past few years of fly tying, I come across materials I'd like to have in certain colors that are not available commercially.  Instead of admitting defeat and wishing for things to be available, I decided to try dyeing materials.  For the most part, I feel like it's been a pretty successful venture.  Those who know me know that my favorite streamer color for Ohio warmwater species is a combination of gray/white/pink.  I have been tying multiple streamer patterns this year using the Fly Fish Food complex twist body design, so naturally I had to do gray/white/pink.  Just one problem, I couldn't find gray schlappen at any of my normal online retailers.  I was ordering anyway, so I ordered an extra pack of white schlappen and made a quick stop at Joann Fabric.  There, I grabbed a cheap package of Rit powdered dye in Pearl Gray color.  I have used both the powdered and liquid Rit dye, both work equally well.  You do get a lot more dye in the liquid bottles, though.

The process for dyeing I follow is pretty simple. I recommend you do this outside on a grill burner if your significant other is the least bit squeamish about this happening in the kitchen.  My wife also found an old used pot at a yard sale which is now my designated dye pot.  The basic ingredients are the material, dye, a stirring utensil, pot, some white vinegar, a container of cold water for a setting rinse, and I recommend some rubber gloves.

I try to use just enough water to easily cover the material.  I mix in the dye and add a splash of vinegar, which I have read helps set the dye.  Bring the mixture to a boil and submerse the material in the dye bath.  Feathers, such as the schlappen from last night, dye very quickly.  I have found that hair, like bucktail, takes a long time in the dye bath for me to get a good color.  If the color looks good on the material, I give it a cold rinse in the clean water.  If the color looks right to me, I set it aside to dry and the job is done.  If the material needs more color, it goes back in the dye bath and the process is repeated until the desired color is achieved.

The materials I have dyed in this manner include: schlappen, dry fly hackle, snowshoe hare's foot, bucktail, mallard flank, and dubbing.  Bucktail was by far the most difficult for me to dye.  It took longer time (approximately half an hour as opposed to a few minutes) and more dye.  The dubbing and feathers are dyed quite easily, and I have had no bleeding color issues when I use this process.  There are other methods for dyeing materials, including using packets of Kool-Aid or dye in the microwave, but the process above is what has worked well for me.  It isn't especially hard, or expensive, and can get you the exact materials you want for fly tying.  Don't be afraid to give it a shot.

And with perfect timing, I located an online supplier of gray schlappen the morning after I went through the process of dyeing my own.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Material and Meal Collection

When the temperatures begin to cool and the leaves start to change, my time outside becomes conflicted.  I have to find a balance between fishing and bow hunting, which in recent years has amounted to less hunting and more fishing.  Last season in Ohio was arguably my worst as an archery hunter.  I narrowly avoided going deer-less, tagging a doe with my bow on the final morning of Ohio's archery season.  I decided this year was going to be different.  I had gained a lot of knowledge on the new property I hunted last year that I felt was going to get me some action earlier this season.  Deer hunting is a two-for-one deal for me: I get the meat for the freezer and fly tying materials.  I have not had to buy white bucktail in years.  Saturday afternoon was my first stand sit of the year, and I never sat at all.  My ritual begins with smoking my clothes and gear with my Scent Smoker.

I got to the property plenty early, or so I thought.  I was in the stand slightly before 4PM, and as I was screwing my bow hanger into the tree, spotted two does in the bottom below me.  They had either heard me getting in or heard me getting my hanger started in the tree, either way, they walked off away from me.

I barely had my bow pulled up and hung up when I heard deer coming into the woods from the field behind me...the same field where I had my Jeep parked not 100 yards from the stand.  With my back to them, I had to wait until they were practically under me before I could grab my bow.  The three does fed under an oak tree 15 yards from my tree for a couple of minutes, then the big doe worked her way back up the bank parallel with my tree.  At 12 yards, I let fly and instantly knew the deer was dead on her feet.  I had not been in the stand 10 minutes!

My stand site is on the edge of a pretty steep little ravine with a dry creek bed at the bottom.  Of course, the deer I shot had to end up down there.  She stood for a few seconds on the edge of the bank before staggering and rolling all the way to the bottom.  The great news was the deer was down quickly and effectively, and the freezer would be stocked. The bad news was the work that was about to begin.

Even though it felt like hours, I was able to get the deer drug out to the Jeep up and out of the ravine in fairly short order.  I made a second trip to retrieve my gear and was home far earlier than expected.  I was disappointed with the coat on this deer, the body hair was pretty much unusable for me.  The hair was extremely short and fine, the shortest body hair I have ever seen on a deer kill of mine.  I was able to save the tail, and that is drying out via Borax now.  After enduring what I did the previous season, it feels great to have the pressure off for this year so quickly.  Now I can focus on tracking down a buck and will probably spend the next few weeks fishing until the rut activity starts to heat up.  


Saturday, October 1, 2016

Almost Rewarded for Persistence

Due to weekend work, I was able to get Friday off.  I decided to head back to the secluded pond I had explored the previous week, since rains had affected the local flow I had hoped to fish.  At the suggestion of a fishing buddy, I tied a couple of small deer hair mice to toss around at the pond.  I had high hopes I could hook one of the larger bass I saw the previous week, only this time I'd be better prepared.  No 3wt, I carried a 7wt and an assortment of bigger, meatier flies.  Before I could even get out of the Jeep, a massive downpour hit and I had to sit out the storm for several minutes.

Once the rains passed, I got rigged up and started the hike in through the overgrown field.  I know a lot of fishermen, and I don't know too many who are crazy enough, or determined enough, to plow through stuff like this to reach fishable water.

My heart sank a bit when I reached the pond because it had been stained up a bit by the rains.  I immediately reversed thought on that, hoping the slightly reduced visibility might make it easier to get a strike from one of the larger bass swimming in the murkier water.  I started off throwing one of the deer hair mice, and had two explosions on it, hooking one small bass.

After a while, I switched over to some different streamers, picking up more smaller bass.  Having already made a few laps around the pond and hitting the most likely looking holding spots in and near cover, I was starting to think my big bite may not come.  

I switched over to a new streamer pattern I had been wanting to test, and only four or five casts in, my heart rate got kicked up several notches.  I made a cast along some small pads in a corner near some wood cover, and immediately saw not one, but two large shadows lurking behind the streamer.  I gave a couple of quick strips on the fly, and let it slowly fall.  One of the shadows came up behind the fly, and I saw the white flash of the mouth opening and shutting.  I gave a hard set, and my 7wt buckled hard.  The fish at first ran towards me, giving me a great view of what would be my best ever bass on the fly, then lunged hard for the wood cover in front of me.  I was unable to put the brakes on the fish, it got me into the wood, and the next thing I knew my fly-less leader came sailing back over my head.  In the course of maybe 10-12 seconds, I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows.  At this point in the season, with deer season underway, I'm not sure I will make it back there until spring.  But rest assured, there's a score to be settled, and I will be back.  Here's the streamer that got the big fish hooked.

Having seen the way this streamer looked in the water, caught a couple of smaller bass on it and losing the piggie, I'll probably be doing a video tutorial on this pattern in the near future.  When I get one done, it will be posted here.