Friday, January 11, 2019

New Twist to a Successful Bluegill Bug: Tying Tutorial

I am a stubborn person when it comes to fishing.  For the longest time, I have known that bluegills and panfish love to eat more traditionally styled dry flies.  Why did I always resist fishing them?  In my mind, they were always too "high-maintenance," as well as too fragile.  Panfish are rough on flies, especially if they are not tied well or tied with materials that damage easily.  I don't want to spend time dressing a fly or tying on a replacement because a fly is damaged beyond repair after six fish.  I'd rather fish a robust foam bug that I don't have to mess with and floats all day.  That changed last year when I discovered Jay Zimmerman's Clownshoe Caddis pattern.  I tied a few tweaked versions of the fly and the panfish wrecked it all spring and summer.  It needed dried out, at times.  It would get water logged and start sinking.  They would get torn up by fish.  But through all of that, the little caddis pattern was catching more fish than my traditional foam surface bugs.

Flash forward to this winter, I wanted to revisit the pattern and see if I could bulk up the floatation while maintaining the profile and appeal of the original.  Basically, I swapped out most of the materials that did not aid in floating the fly.  I love Exo Skin on a lot of flies, but it didn't float.  The egg foam hi-vis post, out.  Even the hackle I felt was just not quite as buoyant as it could be.  I settled onto this recipe which is really not all that complicated and has proven (before the ponds all iced up) to be significantly more "floaty."

Hook - Firehole 315 size 14
Thread - 8/0 
Tail - Laser Dub tag/hot spot
Body - Razor Foam (1mm)
Wing - natural select elk hair 
Indicator/Backpack - 2mm orange craft foam
Hackle - CDC (in a dubbing loop using Petitjean Magic Tools)

Begin by taking a thin bundle of Laser Dub and doubling it over your thread, then tying it back towards the hook bend.  Color options here are up to you.  I like hot spots, and with this color combo, I like red.  Trim the tag fairly short.  One of the good attributes of this pattern for panfish is that there's not a lot of extremities for the fish to grab that avoids the hook point.

Cut a piece of the 1mm Razor Foam into a thin strip, roughly a strong 1/8" wide.  Cut an angle on one end (as seen below) to give a small tie in point.  On the longest side of the strip, take a black sharpie and color down the edge.  This will show like ribbing once the foam body is wrapped.  You could also experiment here with other colors like red or orange for a different look.

Tie in the Razor Foam by the angled end near the tag tail of the fly.  Now for an important durability step.  Put a small bead of super glue (I use gel CA) on the thread underbody before wrapping the foam.  This extra adhesive will prolong the life of the bug.

Wrap the Razor Foam over the glue in even wraps to form the body.  Tie off the foam so the body ends directly above the hook point and trim away any extra foam.

Clean and stack a small clump of elk hair.  You could also sub in deer hair for this, and even do a more vibrantly colored belly hair if you'd like.  I stuck to natural elk hair for this one.  Tie in the hair so that the wing extends to about the length of the tag and be sure it's locked down well.

Cut a narrow strip of 2mm orange (or other hi-vis color) craft foam roughly 3/16" wide.  Tie the strip in on top of the hook and run your thread right up to the base of the wing.

I use two black CDC feathers to form the hackle using a Petitjean Magic Tool.  Once the CDC fibers are in the material clamp, trim away the stems and make a dubbing loop with your tying thread.

Insert the CDC fibers into the loop, release the clamp, and spin your dubbing loop to form the CDC hackle.  If fibers look trapped at all, a quick/light brushing will typically free them. 

Wrap the CDC hackle loop forward in tight, touching turns ending at the hook eye.  This will look messy and unruly at this stage, and that's ok.  Tie off the dubbing loop and trim away any excess loop material.

Fold the orange craft foam over the CDC to form the backpack and tie it down with two snug turns of thread.  I leave a small foam "head" by trimming the foam to leave about 1/8" protruding forward from the hook eye.  Any exceptionally long CDC fibers can be shortened by pinching the fibers in your fingers and breaking them off to the desired length.  This will produce a more natural look than cutting them with scissors.

Nearly all of the non-floaty materials have been replaced with buoyant versions, and this pattern has been floating really well in early testing.  Even in January in Ohio, I had fish swiping at this fly when I was merely float testing it last week.  Yes, it will still be a bit more high-maintenance than I prefer, but this profile worked exceptionally well last season.  The fly lands softly and is a tough morsel for a hungry panfish to refuse.  My panfish box will be well-stocked with this one in preparations for the coming spring.  

Tips for a Successful Lunch Outing

Lunch break outings have been a real game changer for me in the last 18 months.  As a father with a toddler at home, my actual time on the water has shrunk considerably.  Weather and schedule willing, sneaking in an additional 45 minutes of fishing at lunch 2-3 times per week adds a couple of extra hours on the water per week that I would not otherwise get.  The most obvious roadblock to everyone enjoying this luxury is proximity to fishable water.  If you are a 20 minute drive from the closest option, travel time alone will eat up your hour and make it an illogical option.  Here's a quick run down of important tips that I have learned through experience that should help you enjoy your lunch breaks on the water, and I will sprinkle in some fish photos from my lunch outings.

Have a Plan

Your time on the water is going to be limited and it is going to go by much quicker than you would like.  Go out there prepared to hit a specific location that is nearby, and be sure to think through how closely you can park.  Time is the premium, and you do not want to spend it driving too far or walking too far to get to the water.  Google Maps can help you pin down an exact location if you're interested in hitting new water.  I prefer to hit known water because it takes the guesswork out of the equation.

Be Prepared to Fish

It is a known fact that the safest place to store a fly rod is in its rod tube.  However, when time is at a premium, spending it by rigging your rod is not a smart usage of your time.  I check my gear the night before I plan to fish at lunch.  If I need a new leader, or new tippet, now is the time to get that rigging done.  Then put your assembled rod (if possible) in the car or break it down to the point that it will fit but is quickly ready to go.

Pack Light

I am as guilty as anyone of over-packing on even short outings.  The outing will last less than an hour, so you do not need to pack several fly boxes.  A little item I like to take advantage of on outings like this is the Tacky Tube.  It can be loaded with a handful of flies you expect to use, pinned where it is easily accessible, and it can eliminate digging through a pack to find the fly you need.  On most lunch outings, I carry either a small camo single strap pack or a Fishpond fanny pack.  All I need room to carry is a couple of fly boxes, a spool or two of tippet, and a place to hang my forceps/nippers.  Even with a small pack, you will likely never need 80% of what is in it.

Dress Appropriately

If your job requires a uniform or professional dress, it's a good idea to carry a change of clothes to fish in.  The places I end up fishing at lunch tend to be a bit dirty, and wearing my work clothes to the water would be a disaster.  I prefer to avoid any areas that would require waders to avoid the time waste of getting in and out of them.  I can typically get by with some old clothes and either a pair of athletic shoes or rubber boots, depending on the weather.

Clean Up

If you do have a successful lunch outing, you will likely have handled a few fish.  In my experience, workplace bathroom soap does NOT cut fish smell very effectively.   A very handy item to keep either in your car or office desk is a bottle of Fast Orange hand cleaner, or any other water-free hand cleaning product.  I have found that a quick use of Fast Orange followed by washing hands in the bathroom gets rid of any fish smell on my hands.  It's also a good plan to keep a spare stick of deodorant in your office desk in case you need it.

Keep an Eye on the Clock

An obvious point of importance is staying within the parameters of your allowed lunch break.  Employers are not going to look favorably on a lunch hour becoming a lunch hour and a half.  I do not often wear a watch but I do wear one quite a bit on lunch outings so I can keep track of the time.  Another option is to set an alarm or timer on your phone.  If you know when you need to be heading back to the office, having the phone reminder can keep you on schedule.  It's very easy to lose track of time on the water, especially if the fishing is good.

One obvious truth stands out in all of that advice: preserving time is of the utmost importance.  If you have an hour for lunch and closely examine your time breakdown (like 7 minutes to the water, 7 minutes back, 45 minutes roughly to fish), you can see how every minute counts.  Excess travel, parking issues, rigging time, every minute that you aren't fishing can add up and cost you a large percentage of your outing.  Lunch outings have taught me to focus on known locations, focus on flies that consistently produce, and get the most out of every minute on the water.  I have picked up a lot of fish on these brief outings that otherwise I wouldn't have caught.  Be mindful of the time and you can pad your fishing time and get more time on the water.