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. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Tying Tutorial: *Name to be determined*

Several weeks ago, browsing the web, I came across Kiley's Thin Finz.  Thin Finz are a new tailing product designed to look like a baitfish tail made by the same company (Flyskinz, by Jonathan Kiley) which produces a few of my favorite tying materials: Exo Skin and Slow Rolla tails.  What makes these Finz different is their material.  Instead of being a rubbery product, they are extremely thin nylon.  In hand, they weigh absolutely nothing.  It's as if they are made of paper but seem to be quite durable given their thickness and weight.  They also take marker well if you want to add detail (all Thin Finz come in white).

As soon as I found them available online, I ordered a few packs for some simple streamer ideas.  My "wheelhouse" for streamer size, given where I fish most often, is usually in the 2-3" range.  That size has proven big enough to tempt some larger fish but also is small enough that small stream bass and crappies have little trouble eating them.  My initial test pattern with the Thin Finz looked great on the vise and in hand, but I wasn't sold until I saw the fly swim on my lunch outing a few days ago.  The tails kick and flutter very well on the strip.  I immediately knew I had something good for my style of fishing, and I didn't even need to see a fish eat the fly to know that.  It was icing on the proverbial cake, though, when it happened.  A lot.  Here's a quick SBS on the pattern as I have tied it.  A clever name will have to wait.

Hook - Size 4 Octopus hook
Thread - 6/0
Tail - Kiley's Thin Finz (size small)
Flash - Lateral Scale
Gills/Hot Spot - Ice Dub
Body - Laser Dub or Bruiser Blend (streamer dubbing of your choice)
Head - Fish Mask size 4

Lay a thread base on the hook shank, ending at about the hook point.  I have been asked about the upturned eye of the Octopus hook, but I feel it doesn't make much difference in this fly.  A straight eyed hook with a short shank would also work great.  I'm just using what I have.

Tie in the Thin Finz by the small tab to the side of the hook.  Keep the Thin Finz in line with the shank of the hook.

I add one piece of standard size Lateral Scale to each side of the fly, extending about halfway down the length of the tail.  This will shine and bleed through nicely when you're done.

Insert a small clump of Ice Dub, red in this case, into a dubbing loop.  Spin it fairly tight, then wrap it forward, leaving about a Fish Mask length of space between the material and the hook eye.

Use a dubbing brush to pick out some of the Ice Dub and coax it backwards towards the tail of the fly.

Tie in a clump of Laser Dub/Bruiser Blend on the top and another equal length clump on the bottom, tied in with the tips facing forward.  I measure the length before tying it in so that it will extend about halfway back over the Thin Finz tail.  Color choice is up to you.  I went classic olive over white for this demo.  You can now whip finish and cut your thread.

Brush the streamer dubbing rearward, being careful to work the belly material around the hook point.  You can also add some barring or other artwork via marker at this stage if your heart desires.

Add the Fish Mask head to top off the fly.  I like to add a small dab of gel super glue to the streamer dubbing on the belly side before adding the Mask.  It's a little extra insurance that it stays put.  Add a thread dam in front of the Mask, glue on some 3D eyes, and you're done.

I have tied these in several colors known to produce for me.  They all look great in the water, cast very easily, and have a slow seductive sink rate for fishing still waters or light current in flowing water.  One of the most impressive attributes, to me, is the lack of the tail fouling.  Thus far, it has not been an issue, and that was my biggest concern.  If you get your hands on some Thin Finz, give this simple streamer a shot.  It's a fast, pretty easy tie that the fish like.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Forgetting Successful Flies

Why is it that we forget about flies that work?  I assume the reasoning falls on the notion that what is new is always better.  Without question, I am guilty as charged when it comes to forgetting about flies that work in favor of something new to try.  Several years ago, the Murdich Minnow was my #1 bass streamer.  That pattern caught countless fish for me, and then, I mysteriously found myself getting away from it in favor of other streamers.  I "rediscovered" the effectiveness of the Murdich and now have it back in my regular rotation of streamers for bass and other warmwater species. 

Winding the clock back seven long years to 2010, a good friend and I were coyote hunting during the winter and managed to call in and kill a gorgeous coyote.  I did the calling, my buddy did the shooting.  My reward for the hunt was the tail and some body fur for fly tying.  Back in those days my flies were all simplistic, "known" patterns.  The obvious fly to tie with some coyote tail was a coyote Clouser deep minnow, which I tied with white bucktail, coyote tail, and some copper flash.  Why this combination proved so successful I will never know, but I caught a ton of fish on this fly.  The coyote Clouser claimed one of the most unique and best Ohio fish on the fly of my life that year.  Fishing from my kayak I caught a 26" saugeye on this fly, my first official "sleigh ride" in a kayak.

The species list caught on the coyote Clouser expanded constantly.  Bass and crappie were the primary victims of this fly that seemed to have some extra mojo.  Other panfish species were also caught on the innocent looking little streamer.

Flash forward to 2017, and before last week I could not begin to tell you the last time I tied the coyote Clouser onto my tippet.  I still had them in a few boxes, but somehow the majority of them wound up in a little-used fly box I carry for steelhead around Lake Erie.  Last Friday, by sheer luck, I had that box with me on my local flow.  I had seen a lot of smallmouth buffalo in the river, and one of the few flies I had caught them on in the past were egg patterns.  Therefore, I grabbed that steelhead box which had eggs and sucker spawn flies in it...along with the 'yote Clouser minnows.  Facing a difficult afternoon with bites few and far between, I tied one on.  Almost immediately I caught a few dinky smallmouth.  

Several minutes later, I made a long cast downstream along a deep weeded bank.  Water clarity was excellent and I could see the fly fairly well even at a decent distance.  A few strips in, I saw a chunky shadow creep out off the bank behind the fly.  Although I didn't feel the take, I saw the fly disappear and gave a strip set.  I had hooked a gorgeous 15" spotted bass, minimum size for trophy citation in Ohio, and it was a handful on a glass 3wt.  

Still to this day I don't know what it is about this combination of material that fish find so tempting.  I've never seen a baitfish in the area that is tan/white like this fly.  The coyote also holds a bit more bulk in the water than bucktail, so the fly has a little less slender shape in the water.  All I know for sure is that the fish like it, and that fly again saved my outing after several years of neglect.  I need to do a better job of using what is known to work, so the coyote Clouser might rise to prominence in my boxes again.