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.

Monday, May 8, 2017


Saturday began like a day that would be easily forgettable when I checked the weather forecast.  I was going to have the morning on my own to fish, but the conditions were tough.  Cold, windy, with a light rain falling when I got up.  The rain went away quickly, but the cold and wind persisted.  I didn't expect much success, but I wanted to field test the new weedless Murdich Minnow and possibly hit a small public pond.  I loaded the Jeep and headed for the nearest local lake, which is also the only local lake that refuses to muddy up in rainy weather.

I hiked around most of the lower edge of the lake to reach a stretch that usually produces in the spring for me before the weed growth gets out of control.  I worked the rocky shoreline slowly, giving the new streamer some hard twitches, then letting it fall and "die."  Overzealous bluegills were grabbing it by the tail and running with it frequently, and then I finally got the bass strike I had been needing.  I had two concerns for this pattern: would it be as weedless as I had hoped, and would it still hook fish consistently.  Yes, and yes.

I caught no giants there, but having fish strike this fly and get hooked (I was 2/2 on bass strikes) was a positive sign.  On a slow fishing day, the weedless Murdich produced and performed well.  After about 90 minutes, I decided to leave the lake for a change of scenery.  I headed to the pond looking for over sized hybrid sunfish on my 3wt, which I found in small numbers, but found something else much more memorable.

Late last summer, I had discovered a pond on some public ground near home that was a chore to reach.  I bushwhacked through briers, weeds over my head, and spiders to reach the pond.  Long story short, I spotted some really nice bass, and eventually lost one that I'm confident would have been my biggest ever on the fly.  The fly that hooked that fish was a complex twist bugger-style fly with a Laser Dub head and some rubber legs.  Saturday was a different location, but the story started similarly.  I spotted a really large bass on the edge of an old spawning bed, but too late and after it spotted me.  The big bass was alone, and retreated to the far side of a weed line about 25' away where it slowly "paced" back and forth.  It ignored my first two casts with the flashy Murdich, so I switched flies the same complex twist fly in a sunfish coloration.  I put the fly right in her face, and watched it disappear.  The initial run was the strongest I have ever had from a largemouth, and the fish tried to bury itself in the weeds.  With steady pressure, I got her out and made a successful first attempt to lip her.

My previous personal best on the fly was 19 1/4", having never topped the 20" plateau.  This fish measured right at 21", trophy citation size for the state of Ohio.  I snapped a few quick photos, got a rod measurement, and sent her back on her way.

Last summer's loss of that big bass when she dove into a tree top and broke me off still stings, and I feel like I have some unfinished business with the large bass of that secluded pond.  Landing this fish, however, relieved some of that sting.  I have waited a long time for a bass like this on the fly in Ohio, and it was worth the wait.  So next time you see a crummy weather forecast and wonder if it's worth going out, remember that you don't stand a chance at a great fish if you stay home.  Until next time!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Weedless Murdich Minnow SBS

I have had several requests for a SBS for the weedless Murdich Minnow.  Last night, I shot some quick photos showing the tying process, so here goes.  Below is the recipe for the exact version I tied for this demo.

Hook - Size 1 Extra Wide Gap worm hook
Thread - pink 6/0
Weed Guard - 25lb mono
Underwing - gray bucktail
Wing - Orvis Sparkle Hair, Rainbow Pearl (looks purple) over White Pearl
Cheeks - Fuchsia Laser Dub
Body - Silver metallic Estaz
Shank - 20mm Flymen articulated shank
Color - Sharpies to add color to Estaz body (purple/black)
Head - Size 6 Flymen Fish Mask with 6mm silver 3D eyes

I invert the hook in the vise for this pattern.  Lay a light thread base and tie in a single strand mono weed guard.  It helps to mash the mono flat with pliers on the end to be tied in.  This keeps it from rolling.

Next, add a sparse clump of gray bucktail on top of the mono.  The length will be just past the hook.

Tie in the white pearl Sparkle Hair on top of the bucktail and trim to just longer than the bucktail tips.

Tie in rainbow pearl Sparkle Hair, leaving a hook length (minimum) of flash extending out over the eye of the hook.  I tie in excess and trim to length when the collar is formed.  Trim the tail length to just longer than the white pearl Sparkle Hair.

Tie in a clump of fuchsia Laser Dub to each side of the hook.  You can match the body color with the cheeks, or go hot, I went hot spot on this version.

Fold the excess flash from the front of the hook back over the Laser Dub and tie it down.  Trim to about the length of the hook.

Tie in silver metallic Estaz and make a few wraps to cover the material clump, then whip finish and trim your thread.  Try not to trap Estaz into the hook eye, it's easy to do and a cautery or wood burning tool is a great way to clear the eye before moving on.

Slide the 20mm shank over the hook eye and clamp it in the vise.  Secure the shank closed with thread.  I like to cover a good ways back over the open loop end to restrict the worm hook from moving too much which could lead to fouling.  The ability of the two parts of this fly to articulate and move is actually not that important to me.  The purpose behind articulating it is to utilize the snag-free nature of the EWG worm hook and still reproduce the profile and design of the traditional Murdich Minnow.

Tie in more silver metallic Estaz to the shank and tightly wrap the front of the body with touching wraps of Estaz.  Tie it off at the eye, whip finish, and cut the thread.

Now you can add some color, if desired.  For this pattern, I added some purple to the black and some light black barring/spotting on the purple.

Slide your Fish Mask on to test the fit, then I use a healthy dose of gel superglue on the bottom of the shank to help hold the Mask in place.  Build a thread dam in front of the Mask, glue on the 6mm eyes, and you're done!  These are my top three colors in the Murdich Minnow, so my test/trial patterns for the weedless version are in those colors.  Enjoy!

Monday, May 1, 2017

Interesting (and Fun) Lessons from Recent Outings

My last two trips out, I have the first case re-learned I guess...a couple of fun little lessons.  Last week, on a rare week night of fishing for me, I had some bass chasing streamers but not eating.  A few times they nipped at the tail, but failed to get the hook on a larger 4-5" streamer.  I was getting frustrated, and decided to go extreme in the opposite direction: small.  I dug into my creek bass box for the smallest Murdich Minnow I had.  It was a size 6 coming in about 2" long, possibly a hair longer.  But still, small.  The switch paid dividends quickly with the better of only two bass I would land on the night.

Almost at dark, after I had switched back to a larger streamer again, an average bass came chasing my larger Murdich but wouldn't commit.  After a few more casts, I went small again.  When I saw the take, I thought this fish was bigger than he was, he just had a large head for his size.

The more interesting part of the second outing was at the pond where, a few weeks earlier, I caught one of the larger bluegills of my life.  For the better part of two hours, I whacked big bluegills on a foam topwater spider/beetle.  On this trip, the pond had some green algae in it, and the fish were acting very lethargic.  Whether it was the algae or what, I don't know, but I caught nothing on top.  Not even a strike at the same fly they terrorized recently.  I switched to a small subsurface fly I call the "Nothin' Special," under an indicator, and fished it just off the bank past the old spawning beds (which are still visible).  I immediately caught a big bluegill.  I tested the areas a little deeper, or where there were no visible beds in the same general depths, and caught nothing.  If I found beds, fished just off of them a little deeper, I popped good fish.  My only guess was that they were "staging" in these areas in preparation for the spawn.  Whatever the case, it was great action when I found the fish!