Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Tying Tutorial: The Alley-Oop Minnow

Necessity is the mother of invention, so the saying goes.  The fly (as yet still unnamed) I posted in a tutorial a while back ((This one) continued to catch a lot of fish throughout the fall.  But, as the water temperatures in SE Ohio continued to fall and cool, I wanted to try a slight modification to the pattern to make it "hang" a bit more on the pause.  When I need more buoyancy I typically turn to deer hair, and this case was no exception.  By using a slightly longer hook shank and adding a touch of buoyancy at the head, the fly still sinks but at a slower rate.  When the fly is stripped, then paused, it almost suspends in the water like an alley-oop pass waiting to be thrown down with authority.  And that's when this fly is getting eaten for me right now, on that pause.  It creates such an inviting target that even more lethargic fish in cold water are eating it readily.  At a glance this pattern might look complex but it's pretty straight forward. 

Hook - Gamakatsu B10S (size 6)
Thread - 6/0, 100den GSP
Tail - Kiley's Thin Finz (small)
Flash - Lateral scale
Hot Spot/Gills - Ice Dub 
Body - Laser Dub or Bruiser Blend (your streamer dubbing of choice) 
Collar - Deer hair 
Head - Fish Mask (4mm)

Begin by tying in the Thin Finz.  In my experience, it doesn't matter which side of the hook they go on.  Secure the tail down by the tab with several tight turns of thread.

Next, add a piece of Lateral Scale to each side of the tail.  I trim the scale to be a little more than half of the length of the tail.

I prefer to add the Ice Dub for the hot spot/gills in a dubbing loop.  Small size Ice Chenille or Estaz would probably also work.  On larger versions I have used Polar Chenille.  I create the short dubbing loop, add a sparse amount of Ice Dub, spin and wrap it.

I try to end the Ice Dub at about the half way mark on the shank.  Once it's tied in, I like to brush it back a bit to pick it out and sweep it back.  When the fly gets wet, this hot spot bleeds through very nicely.

I use contrasting colors of streamer dubbing for the body.  Here I used Bruiser Blend in Alpha Wolf over White.  I measure the length of the dubbing to be about the distance from the tie in point to the end of the Lateral Scale.  Tie this in facing forward.  Be sure to leave ample space between the tie in point and the hook eye for the collar.

Sweep the dubbing back over the fly, veiling it around the hook point on the bottom, and tie it down. 

I often choose to add some barring or other "artwork" to these.  Here I used a fine black barring on the back of the fly.  I now tie off the 6/0, cut it, and switch to GSP thread for the deer hair.

Clean and stack some deer hair, either belly or body hair, to form your collar.  Measure the length of the deer hair to be about the length of the hook and trim the butts off clean.  Tie in the deer hair with loose wraps to get it situated, then tighten down to flare the hair.  On this version I used gray body hair over white belly hair.  It will not take much deer hair to form this collar, as you still need to be sure you can fit a Fish Mask over the collar on the last step.  Getting a feel for how much hair to use is the toughest aspect of this fly, in my opinion.  Whip finish and cut the GSP.

Sweep the deer hair tips back like you are going to form a bullet head and give the Fish Mask a test fitting.  The fit is typically snug and you might need to use some pressure to fit it on.  I add a little super glue to the inside of the Mask, push it on, and put a small thread dam between the mask and hook eye with the 6/0 thread.

Glue on the appropriate sized eyes for the mask, and the fly is complete.

My experience with this fly so far is that it casts very easily (I fish this size on 3wt glass often), behaves a lot like a soft plastic jerk bait in the water, and the fish love it.  It's now December in Ohio, far from prime fishing weather and conditions, and this fly is still raking in fish.  The Thin Finz twitch and wiggle with the slightest movement, and the extremely slow fall of this pattern has been too much for the resident river crappies to take.  I have tied this fly in both sizes 6 and 2, and plan to add it to my bass arsenal for next spring.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Small, Chilly Streams and Trout

When it comes to target species, I take a very seasonal approach to fly fishing.  During the spring, I try to take advantage of big crappies in the local waters, as well as bass.  Summer time is carp and small stream bass fishing time.  Fall brings back some of the good crappie fishing as the bass start to slow down.  Bluegill are available all year, provided there's no ice.  During the colder months, I focus more on trout opportunities.  The week of Thanksgiving has become a traditional trout time for me, and this year was no different. 

Before the holiday, I took a day off and made the long pre-dawn drive into the mountains of eastern WV for small stream trout.  I made one of my typical day trips, starting the day off looking for a streamer bite in larger water before switching over to small streams for the bulk of the day.  On this day the streamer bite was non-existent.  I moved no fish, had zero strikes, and spent most of the morning dealing with the effects of 22 degree air temperatures while fishing. 

To be honest, I wasted too much time there dealing with ice and moving no fish.  Two hours of misery was too long, and I made the move to a small stream that always treats me well.  It did not take long to find fish, and the warming day had fish willing to come to the surface.  A Klinkhamer-style version of Lance Egan's red dart was the only fly I needed all day long on the smaller water.  Mostly rainbows came to hand, with a few small brook trout sprinkled in.  

One stretch of water in particular on this stream has always haunted me.  It's a long, slow pool that always holds trout, but there's always one fish that has to sit at the tail of the pool.  It's tough under low water conditions to sneak close enough for a good cast and drift, and the casting quarter are tight.  Sure enough, as I snuck into position, I spotted the brookie sitting in the tail of the pool.  This photo was taken after the encounter, but the fish was not far from the base of the stick (the stick in the water) in this photo.

I carefully made a backhand cast in there, but my cast fell a little short of the fish...and I snagged on the stick before I could pick up the line.  The fly popped off, but tangled in the tree behind me, prompting me to retie.  I watched, and the fish still happily sat there.  I watched it take a small bug off the surface while I tied my fly back on.  The next cast was better, leading the fish by 2'.  The brookie inspected and refused my fly.  I waited a few seconds and made another cast, this one slightly more in line with the fish.  It rose, inspected, and ate.  Small victories can be sweet on the water, and this one was pure sugar.

After fishing that stream, I hiked into a new-to-me stretch of water on a creek I fish often.  I quickly found willing fish here, as well.  I located a long, deep run with a lot of overhead cover.  It was a classic location for holding several fish, and the first fish out of that run was the biggest and prettiest wild rainbow of my day.

After Thanksgiving, a fishing friend called and asked about hitting our closest trout flow in Ohio for the morning.  It's another small stream that has gorgeous scenery, but the creek only has trout through a stocking program.  Small brown trout are stocked yearly in the fall, and the holdover rates are not good past summer.  Fish run pretty small, but they are trout that can be caught when it's not a great time of year to target other species.  As always, the scenery did not disappoint.

The morning started off very slow for me, only picking up a few oversized shiners on my tandem nymph rig.  I switched out my bottom fly for Egan's red dart and it was like flipping the switch to On.  That fly has some kind of voodoo mojo.  I'm not sure what it is about it, but fish love to eat it.  Most of the browns were in the 6-7" range, with a few slightly larger ones brought to hand.

One of the final fish I caught on the day was my best trout of the day.  It was also my only trout caught all day on the guide's choice hare's ear, the other nymph in my tandem rig.  This fish was sitting in a small side channel run under a log.  I watched as the fish turned towards my flies and ate.  Most of the browns caught in this creek are very dull or very pale in color, but this fish had some color.

These two trips reminded me why I love small stream fly fishing so much.  Manageable wading, good numbers of fish willing to eat, and seeing very few other anglers.  I saw no other anglers during my day in WV, and only one pair of gentlemen on the Ohio stream that we passed as they were leaving.  It's a fun change of pace to cast small flies on light rods to fish like these.  Hopefully I can sneak in one or two more days of trout fishing before the calendar flips to 2018. 


Monday, November 13, 2017

Video: Finishing the Face on Deer Hair Poppers

After having been asked many, many times about my technique for finishing the face on deer hair poppers, here's the short video tutorial.  This process works for me on all sizes of poppers, from 12 all the way to 1/0.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Hocking River Roller Coaster

No matter how many positive attributes I throw out regarding my local flow, the Hocking River, it can all be outweighed by a single negative attribute.  This river does not handle rain well.  Historically, the fishing around Ohio University is phenomenal in the spring...when it's in stable enough condition to fish.  Spring time is rainy time in SE Ohio, and this spring was a complete washout for me on the Hocking.  Spring brings heavy numbers of large crappies, bass of all three black bass varieties, sauger, panfish, etc...  The Hocking is an Ohio River tributary and there are no significant obstructions between Athens and the mouth where it meets the Ohio.  If it can swim in the Ohio, it might show up here.  Summer through fall can bring good fishing, but most importantly, it typically brings stable water conditions.  In my experience, getting past the month of May usually means good water conditions on the river. 

My recent lunch time outings had produced some fish, but I wanted to explore some local sections of the river I typically ignore.  I took the afternoon off this past Friday and fished those spots I had in my mental list to test.  The fishing, given that it was November in SE Ohio, was great.  Water conditions could not have been more perfect.  Slow flows, very clean water, very easy fishing.  I found large numbers of fish everywhere I found depth and some current break.  The fish were so aggressive it was like they haven't been fished at all.  Crappies, bass, and bluegills were all very aggressive.  I will never be caught complaining about 30+ fish outings during November for warm water species here, regardless of the size of the fish.  The unnamed streamer (Thin Finz tail), the Jig Candy, and the Murdich Jig Minnow all produced very well.

Then came Sunday.  Sunday brought with it heavy, prolonged rain through most of the afternoon and into the night.  I knew this was a death blow to the Hocking and the remainder of 2017 fishing the river.  Little did I know just how bad it was going to be when the sun came up on Monday.  The small creek, a Hocking tributary, that runs through the cattle pasture behind my house looked like a lake.  The line on the USGS river gauge looked like the drawing of a cliff.  More rain would come last night, further jacking up the Hocking.  Here's what the USGS gauge at Athens looks like currently.

The locations I was fishing beside the river on Friday are now under approximately thirteen FEET of water.  That water appears to have the consistency of Yoohoo.  As quickly as the river came up, it will fall and clear much slower.  Assuming we get no more rain soon, the river might fish sometime in December.  Out of curiosity, I pulled the USGS gauge and changed the date range to begin on March 1, 2017.  This date range only worked for CFS, not feet, so keep in mind the Hocking fishes well for me when it's under about 450-500CFS.  The lower, the better, but that's a good baseline for me.  

Now you can see the roller coaster nature of this river.  Roughly March-June the river was not fishable for me.  Large periods of July and August were similar.  2017 has been a strange weather year in SE Ohio, as we have had long stretches of dry weather but the storms that have broken up those stretches have been severe.  I have always known that you have to strike "while the iron is hot" in the spring, so to speak.  I'm hoping that 2018 brings at least a short window of a warm iron, because 2017's was ice cold during the peak fishing time.  For the foreseeable future, the Hocking is off limits for me and my lunchtime excursions will end for a while.  Hopefully dry weather returns so I get one more shot at the Hocking before 2018 hits. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Tying Tutorial: The Jig Candy

Sometimes I have too many fly ideas rolling around in my head and I forget one for a while.  A few months ago, surfing YouTube at lunch, I came across the following version of the famous Surf Candy, tied by Matt Wirt: 

It wasn't the first time I had seen this video.  I had tied this pattern just like this a few years back for a saltwater trip and really liked this style of fly.  The thought crossed my mind several times that this fly, in smaller sizes, could be deadly on warmwater fish near me.  Flash forward to a few months back when I discovered Ripple Ice Fiber, and I thought the Ripple Ice could make one deadly Surf Candy.  Several weeks later, I remembered the fly at the vise and made a last-second change to the fly by utilizing my new favorite hook.  The DoIt Molds Wacky Jig hook had been producing really well for me this year, so it made sense to use it on this fly, as well.  The end result looked like this:

This fly is extremely simple and requires very few materials.  The tying process is not too difficult, either, and the fly has proven to be very durable.  The recipe is as follows:

Hook - DoIt Molds Wacky Jig hook (size 6)
Thread - mono
Belly - Ripple Ice Fiber
Weight/Rattle - 3mm glass rattle
Back - contrasting color of Ripple Ice Fiber
Coating - Loon UV (Thick or even Knot Sense)
Eyes - 4mm 3D eyes
Top Coating - Hard as Hull or Sally Hansen's Hard as Nails

Begin by starting your mono thread on the shank.  Avoid wraps on the jig bend at this point.  The mono thread is important because it will virtually disappear when coated with UV cure products.

Tie in a liberal clump of Ripple Ice Fiber by the butts to the top (which will be the belly side) of the hook.  Here, I use pearl Ripple Ice.  Stop your thread wraps at the 30* bend in the hook.  It takes a generous amount of material because you'll be covering the rattle with it.  The material should extend out over the hook eye several inches.

Next, the trickiest part, tie in the rattle.  I use plenty of tight thread wraps to secure the rattle, all along its length.  There's typically a "fat" end, and I make that to the rear of the fly.  Rattles will tend to want to roll a bit to one side, but anchoring it well with thread wraps all along its length will keep it in place.

Fold the white Ripple Ice back over the rattle and tie it in with a few wraps of thread.  Try to be sure the material is spread evenly over the rattle.  Sometimes it can want to end up mostly on one side if you're not careful.

Tie in a more sparse clump of a contrasting color of Ripple Ice (olive, here) by the butts, with the material extending out over the hook eye.  Advance your thread to just in front of the rattle on the jig bend of the hook.  Make a secure whip finish and cut your thread.

To secure the Ripple Ice over the back, instead of using thread, I use the UV Knot Sense.  Fold the material back, evenly disperse it around the hook point, and smear in some UV cure to each side.  I use as little as possible to coat the sides of the fly, one side at a time, and cure it with a UV torch.  You can then add UV cure wherever you need it to lightly coat the fly in a smooth plate of clear armor.

Next, add the eyes to each side.  I like to use Loon Thin to "tack" the eyes in place so they don't move for the final coating.

Now take several seconds to thoroughly cure the fly's UV coating with your UV torch.

Finally, trim the tail to the desired length.  I also like to angle the cut shallower to the belly to taper the tail a bit.  The final step is to coat the body in either Hard as Hull or Sally Hansen's Hard as Nails to really make this thing bullet-proof.  I put the finish on thick and use a drying wheel to evenly cure it.

This may seem like a lot of work for a simple fly, but it really does go fast.  UV cure products speed it up.  Adding that UV coating over the glass rattle and mono thread gives the fly a very translucent look, much like small baitfish.  This fly has fished really well for me this fall and will be a staple in my boxes for next year.  It's durable, has a great slow sink rate, and the fish really respond well to it.   

Monday, October 30, 2017

It Always Rains in Tennessee

Why does it always rain in Tennessee?  At least, every time I visit the state it rains.  A friend and I had a weekend trip planned for tailwater and small stream trout, but the forecast was looking rough.  Saturday was looking like a washout from the early afternoon on, and then temperatures were to plummet overnight and produce a possibility of white fluffy stuff falling from the sky.  The one constant for every trip I have made to Tennessee to fly fish has been needing rain gear.  Fortunately, it doesn't always hurt the fishing much where we like to go, so the trip went on as planned.  I was up by 2:30AM, on the road by 3:00AM, and at my friend's house by about 4:00AM ready to hit the road.  The sunrise over the mountains in WV was a nice sight.

Typically, we spend most of our time on larger water, but I have a serious addiction to small stream fishing and had been hoping for a while to explore some new water.  Our first stop on the trip would be a small stream not far from our primary destination.  The scenery of the area, with leaves changing colors and the natural beauty of the stream, was spectacular.  My hopes of dry fly fishing were quickly dashed, as it was obvious that the fish didn't want surface offerings.  I settled on a tandem nymph rig of an Ice Hare's Ear and Egan's Red Dart, which produced quite well.  Most of the fish were smaller rainbows.

I approached a juicy looking run below a riffle and positioned myself for a good drift.  I briefly saw the flash of a fish as it came a few inches to the right to intercept my rig and quickly came tight to a solid fish that flexed the 3wt nicely.  What came to hand several seconds later was one of the prettier wild brown trout I have ever landed.  The little chunker eagerly took the Red Dart I had tied a few days prior to the trip.

Trout do live in some beautiful settings.  It doesn't get much better than this, especially having it to yourselves the entire morning.

After fishing most of the morning on small water, we changed venues over to the primary destination: the South Holston River.  To that point in the day, the weather had mildly cooperated.  It wasn't all that cold, and the rain had mostly held off.  Not long after arriving at the South Holston, that all changed.

As the rain picked up and the air temperatures began to drop, the fishing remained constant.  Fish were still rising on sulfurs and were willing to eat a well presented fly.  My typical top two flies for the area, a small bugger-ish concoction and a yellow Mil-Spec (see for Mil Spec info) soft hackle, produced a lot of aggressive rainbows.  That soft hackle swung through rising fish produced a lot of action...and a lot of frustration with breaking off on 6X tippet.

Approaching dusk, we were wet and cold.  Rain gear had kept some of the water off of me, but a not-so-planned little swim I took early on at the South Holston had me pretty damp and chilled.  My friend and I returned to our cabin and changed into warm clothes, then made the trip a town over to our favorite local pizza place, Jiggy Ray's.  As always, Jiggy Ray's did not disappoint.

Overnight the temperatures continued to fall, and so did the rain.  Our plan for the morning was to fish the Watauga River, but we quickly found this plan to be nixed when we saw the river.  Upon arrival, the Watauga was murky and nasty looking.  Off color water would have been fine to fish, but we chose not to brave the muddy conditions and instead returned to the South Holston near the dam to find some cleaner water.  The trout there were feeding, but were very selective and "being a__holes," as I sometimes say.  A few fish came to chilly hands, but the fishing was not as great as we had hoped.  My friend did manage to catch a gorgeous brown on an emerger pattern, only to have the fish self-release as I was preparing to snap a photo.  We picked up a few fish, then the bitter cold claimed victory.

I don't believe the heat was tuned down n the truck until we left the state, as neither of us could get warmed up.  It was especially rough on my friend who had leaky waders to contend with on a 30 degree morning.  Although the weather was rough at times, the trip did not disappoint.  We caught our share of gorgeous trout, enjoyed some amazing pizza, and unplugged for two days in some of the most gorgeous scenery you can find.  I'll be back in the area again next year, and I really hope the rain can stay away when that time comes.