Friday, May 15, 2015

Remembering BB

   On the subject of authenticity, which he equates as ‘dead center’, John Gierach writes: ‘There are few things in this world that are truly dead center…’, & then goes on to list BB King as one of the precious agents abiding within that rare space.

With deep regards for BB King, an authentic artist who spent his entire life deeply engaged in his craft & the history of that craft, expanding the tradition, taking it further, while remaining ever true to the abiding core principles.  

Truly a king.

BB King

Hook: #12 Mustad 3366-BR (with the exception of a larger barb on the Mustad, this hook is, near as I can tell, identical in configuration to the Alec Jackson soft-hackle hook, at about 1/10th the cost)

Thread: black UNI 8/0

Body: bronze/black turkey (or crow) tail swords twisted with blue midge flash (I tie versions of this with copper or pearl flash too) – leave a tag of the tying thread to twist with the body materials – & dub over the thorax area with a bit of black rabbit

Hackle: natural bronze/black hen

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Fly Fishing Mommas

     Yup, girls like it too. And in celebration of Mother’s Day we give a nod in their direction.

Advise: best to give the girls attention every day, be nice to them, not just on Mother’s Day. You will live better. You will get more pies, for one thing.

The girl holding the trout is a killer. I know that to be true because I have lived with her for more than half my life. She is Norwegian (awesome baked goods) & would live on fish if I let her kill enough of them. (I have witnessed her blithely suck the eyeballs out of trout fried with the heads on. The Viking in her.)

Here is my all-time favorite fly fishing video, filmed on the home water, Jennifer Mitchell fishing the UC black quill hatch:

Remember, girls & boys, we are in this together & for always. Be kind to one another. Boogie chillen.

Late edit: Quote from my wife after reading the above entry: "You do know how male-centric yer blog is, don't you?"


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Getting Down ~ the Depthcharge Worm

Sometimes you gotta get down.

And though that proclamation might be salient to a spectrum of occasions, it is certainly applicable to fly presentation, in a pragmatic, utilitarian sense. And often.

There are several ways to get down while using a floating line: sink compound applied to the leader; mini-jigs; heavy beadheads; splitshot; & also heavy wire wrapped under the fly body, my own preference.

The wormlike flies in the photo are actually sinkers, meant to be rigged as the front fly on a tandem fly setup (what I call a ‘depthcharge rig’). They contain about a splitshot’s worth of lead & sink like ‘right now’. As there is no hackle or fuzzy material to buoy or sail them, they sink & drift with very little resistance. They are made of rubber bands recycled from the daily newspaper. Being rubber & thin they aren’t as grabby & hitch-y as beads or jigs or shot, probing the bottom & lower water column with a nice, smooth ‘feel’ & seldom snagging. These are the easiest handling & smoothest casting of any type of sinker I’ve tried.

The depthcharge rig with sinking worm is my favorite way to deliver small soft-hackle flies deep. It is the non-weighted trailing fly that I’m trying to catch a fish on, though the sinker catches pretty good too. Generally, about 1 in 3 or 4 gets fooled by the sinker, but there are times the sinker is all they want. And I’ve had it happen more than once, the sinker taking the best fish of the day.

The rubber ‘worm’ simulates a lot of things commonly found in & around trout streams, particularly aquatic worms & beetle larvae & also land-born caterpillars. Trout eat a lot of these (pin a real one on & see what happens) & their obvious bait value to fly fishers is often overlooked for no good reason – & considering the worm shape low in the hierarchy of acceptable baits serves no purpose but a hindrance to fun.    

A simple worm made from a green rubber band works well on streams shaded by a deciduous canopy, where a lot of green caterpillars accumulate & fall into the water through the warm months.

These might be tied smaller or larger but I’ve found a #10 to be handiest for most trouting. I tie worm sinkers on TMC 200R hooks, which serve to give a nice shape, & keel to ride hook-up when weighted. Barbless versions (TMC 200RB) of this hook are available, though in my own experience the design’s shallow bend configuration does not hold fish well in barbless mode. However, the 200R possesses a tiny barb & backs out without doing serious damage – & if one needs to go barbless the barb can be pinched down leaving a nub which helps to keep the hook from falling out of the fish’s mouth or, more important, the trailer tippet slipping off in a fight.

Used tandem with a trailer fly on 12 to 20 inches of tippet tied to the hook bend, depthcharges can be fished dead-drift on an upstream cast, or quartered & swung, & are good for plunking pocket water on swift freestone streams. The Depthcharge Worm is a zen-clean way to present & fish a wee soft-hackle fly in the lower water column where it is likely to serve best most of the time.

Depthcharge Worm

Hook: #10 TMC 200R

Thread: yellow or choice

Body: rubber band – tied in well down the hook bend & wound to the hook eye – these can be painted with colored markers, the mottled effect is achieved by marking the rubber strip before stretching – cut the strip end at a steep angle & tie in by the tip for a neat rear taper – prior to winding the body, apply two layers of .015 lead wire, the top layer slightly shorter & centered over the base layer (specimen in the photo shows extent of leading), then shape with thread or floss until the lead is covered & an elongated cigar shape is achieved – apply cement to the thread body, then wind the rubber when the cement is tacky  ~ & finish.        

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Yak Sardina

     I keep saying tailing is the simplest way to achieve articulation. So here is an example of a design that is all the way there – about as simple as you can get.

Ever notice that the good flies, the true workhorses, are usually fairly simple? Idiotic-simple in some cases. I’m all about idiotic-simple. I consider it a goal & an ideal.

Also, probably too often, I *spew about the superiority of natural hair fibers. Here is why: it is because natural hair is superior to synthetic hair for most bait-making applications. Wild hair is constructed on a ‘spine’ & has memory. It can also be ‘trained’ & will keep & return to the desired shape. Natural hair possesses nuance of coloration; gathers & reflects UV light; allows obfuscating light to pass through; breathes & undulates lasciviously when wet; does not tangle with itself requiring combing out &, this is important, unlike synthetic, wild hair doesn’t droop when the fly is paused. Not saying I don’t use synthetics because I do. But in hair streamers I prefer to use it as a lateral line sandwiched between layers of natural hair. Non-crinkly synthetic fibers, tending to lie together without much flare, work really well as a lateral coloration in an all-hair baitfish pattern.

Natural hair gives baitfish designs the same mojo that natural materials give insect imitations. Nothing mimics life better than life.        

*Spew: It’s my karma work. Made a deal with the thing that lives on my shoulder (not sure if it’s a devil or angel) & it gave me this. The affect is similar to tourette’s I think. No worries. Avoid eye contact, I won’t come up to you at the parking lot.

My take on the Sardina is based on the pattern as tied by Captain Vaughn Podmore.

Can be adapted to simulate most any baitfish. I tie mine with clear mono tying thread. Before adding the eyes & cementing the head, I hold the fly in a stream of hot water under the sink faucet for a minute to shape it, as you would a bucktail or flatwing.  

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Damn Near Straight Rabbit Leech

     I got the first leech on me at the age of eight, the summer I’d amassed enough sand to swim from the family dock out to the island in the center of Tucker Pond. A nice one. About two inches long. Noticed it there, dangling alien spade-headed wormlike critter, undulating from the center of my chest as I emerged gasping from the pond aiming to claim the island’s fabled blueberries. I ripped it away & a drop of blood streamed down. That was ikky, I thought. Took the celebratory juice out of my right-of-passage swim-to-the-island victory for a minute.

That was also the summer of my first truly big bass, taken on a black/blue flake rubber worm, a new thing. And I later learned that a lot of other fish besides largemouth bass like the black/blue combination.

The rabbit ‘leech’ (DNSR Leech) pattern featured here has become one of my staples for dredging Eastside Washington lakes, I like a #4, makes about a two-inch ‘leech’, & I doubt that it is taken for a leech, in that size, as the real leeches I’m seeing in the local lakes are under an inch long – which accounts for the popularity of mini-leeches, I think – & this pattern can be tied on a #12 & fished as a mini-leech. But I like the big ole #4 tied on a TMC 200R drop-bend hook (which serves to keel the fly – lake fish don’t want to see it rolling & screwing through the water) fished deep on a full-sinking line or 15’ sinking head.

Size & silhouette reminds me more of a dragonfly nymph or a sculpin than a leech…

Good smallmouth bass fly. Brookies & browns too. And it does travel to running water as well.

DNSR Leech

Hook: #4 TMC 200R

Thread: wine UNI 8/0

Tailing: black rabbit fur (taken from a strip or whole hide) layered with 2 strands blue flash/2, red flash – tie in ahead of the hook point – apply a drop of penetrating cement at the tie-in point (I keep saying it: tailing is the simplest way to achieve articulation.)

Body: black rabbit w/guard hairs mixed with chopped red & blue flash, on a dubbing loop of the tying thread, or wine 3/0 or sewing thread on larger sizes, if you like           

Collar: black rabbit fur spread around the hook shank as a collar ~ & finish.

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Soft-Hackle Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear

     Though I have featured the Hare’s Lug & Plover, a popular British version, it occurred to me that three years into writing the Soft~Hackle Journal & I have not yet archived my own take on the Hare’s Ear. Versions of the Hare’s Ear have been in use for the entire history of Anglo fishing literature, & no doubt were fooling English trout well before the advent of print. I’ve overlooked the ancient pattern, fearing redundancy, considering it already covered ad infinitum. Forgive me. And some things do bear repetition. There might be kids reading who really need to know this.

Example: Once had a guy show up to fish with a boxful of neatly tied flies (beadheads on all of em) & not a single plain old Hare’s Ear wet of any kind in his box. The guy had strong ideas about what works. He let me know he’d fished Patagonia every year for twenty years. But the upper Columbia redband, being canny wild trout, were not appreciating his impressive resume or his beaded enticements. Spotted sedge stormed from the reach, & the trout preferring the emerging pupae accumulating just beneath the surface film. The beadhead caddis ‘emerger’ the guy insisted on did not present the way the trout wanted it, the gold beadhead serving to sink the fly too quickly out of the preferred zone, & that soon became obvious while fish tailed all around us. He made a face when I opened my box & offered him the wee Hare’s Ear, but took it without a word, tied it on, & was soon into a nice UC redband. To be fair, the guy was a passionate angler, he was simply temporarily stuck in a frame.  

Moral of the story (if I may paraphrase): He who lives by one thing will, on some days, die by that thing.

If you don't already, I’d suggest you carry a couple beadless Hare’s Ears with you & be able to meet a spectrum of circumstances & hatches they will cover. Can’t go wrong with a soft-hackle Hare’s Ear when meeting spotted sedge hatches – & the same pattern tied with an olive abdomen covers grannom, as well as others. And the pattern is equally useful fished for both mayflies & the smaller stonefly species. The Hare’s Ear imitates nothing, yet looks like everything – a delightfully utilitarian, ambiguously dangerous combination, bottom to top.     

There is no disputing the fish catching mojo of rabbit face as a tying material, evidenced by the many versions of the Hare’s Ear we see – with & without hackle or tails – with hare’s mask the only material in common.  And I think there may be as many versions of this fly as there are tyers interpreting it. 

The version featured here is my own take, though I doubt the material list is original. It may be tied without tailing to simulate sedge larvae & pre-emergent pupae, though I fish the tailed version as an emerger during sedge hatches, as the tailing serves to represent a trailing nymphal shuck. I tie them both weighted & not.

S-H Gold-Ribbed Hare’s Ear

Hook: #10-#18 Daiichi 1150

Thread: tan UNI 8/0

Tail: mallard flank, wood duck or gadwall – 3 to 5 fibers (This is a departure from the popular guard hair tailing, & I think an improvement.)

Rib: oval gold tinsel – metallic rod-wrapping thread is good

Body: reddish hare’s mask taken from the base of the ears, dubbed on a loop of the tying thread, wound to the head – overwrap with gold ribbing to the head, then add a bit of dubbing mixed with guard hairs from the ear & wind on a short thorax (I wind a short thorax on all my soft-hackle nymphs to create silhouette & mass & to keep the hackle flared away from the body.)

Hackle: ruffed grouse, & partridge or brahma hen are good – & finish.

Flyfish NE Washington with Steven Bird:      

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Secret Beach

     Early morning, the coast road is salted & barren north of Cambria; the peaks of the Santa Lucia just receiving the rouge of first sun.   

I park on a gravel shoulder, unload my pack & rod & squeeze through the access turnstile allowing passage through the barbed wire fence then move swiftly down through the Hearst bull pasture to the bluff. I pause to survey.

Eternal tao sea. Long, long sky. Up from the beach, the breeze smells like fish.

It is a small crescent of a beach. No more than half a mile long. Typical of beaches along this tilted segment of coast. On the north end, a ragged headland projects to block the prevailing northwesterly, & a similar point to the south. Sheltered from the wind, it is a good casting beach. I have it to myself.  

I look for structure – gravel spots; humps; current rips moving straight out from the beach indicating deeper water; convergences where intersecting waves indicate a trough. I watch the waves rise, claw up the beach & recede. There is a strong current rip flowing out from the center of the crescent. The most outstanding structure of the beach. Fish will gather there. If there are any. I check my watch. Plenty of time. The tide peaking in two & a half hours, at 10:30 AM. Morning tides are best. Today is a 5.2 high tide with a moderate swell at a quick interval. A quick interval means the water will stay up & working.  The sea beyond the cove is calm, spread out like milk to the horizon. Hint of an offshore breeze. Nearly perfect conditions, & rare, as this is a windy coast. Why I like the big rod here. One reason.

I admit that I am a saltwater junkie. In this case the fish are barred surfperch, mainly. But there are others. On this same beach I’ve caught starry flounder; lemon sole; halibut; steelhead; striped bass; leopard shark; guitarfish – yet they are the odd fish & not the expected. Far more common are the surfperch. Mostly barred perch.        

As a brawler, pound for pound, Cali barred surfperch will go head to head with
anything. The world record at close to five pounds came from the area I fish, though most are one & a half to two & a half pound models, with some bigger fish in the mix. A three pound barred perch will convert you. Sand crabs (mole crabs) are their major prey, & these fish have evolved muscle for feeding on them in the turbulent rips of the surf zone. Canny as any wild trout. They are also fond of shrimp, worms & small baitfish. Clouser & bonefish styles work well. Rootbeer colorations.

The rip is out in front of a gravel hump. I start there, dumping the line for a long cast. I like the two-hander – a  12’6” 5/6 spey – it’s a cannon in the surf set up with a 9wt, integrated, fast-sink tip with medium sink running line. I make a two-handed overhead cast & throw the whole line.

Not long into it, I feel a tapping grab, & the first fish succumbs quick. A shiner
perch, about the size of my hand, big-eyed, round & hubcap bright. A good sign. There’s life.

Water on the inside rises & holds, pregnant, I am there, & I hook something that I know is not a perch. I check its run & feel the big rod strain into the butt. Can’t stop it yet. I think it’s a leopard shark. Halfway into the backing the spool slows & I check the fish again & it arcs from the surf & shows itself to be a steelhead. A nice one, about eight pounds I figure. It goes bananas ripping off some more line then jumps again out in heavy surf & throws the hook.

Shaken, I step back from the water.

A triad of vultures ride a thermal above the wind tortured cypress lining the bluff.

Perhaps the little trace from the hills emptying to the cove, now a streak of dry gravel, was the natal stream of the long distance released steelhead. I wonder if the rains will come. I am almost glad the steelhead got away.    

I make another half dozen casts to the shoulder of the rip and another fish loads the rod – it feels like a good one – & I figure I’ve hit the jackpot on steelhead but the fish doesn’t jump, it bulldogs. I work it up into the skim. A striped bass. I’m surprised. About a three pounder.  I admire it and slip the hook quickly. Schoolie size. There should be more. I fish fast, expectant, yet a dozen casts both sides of the rip & nothing.

I wind in & retreat to a driftwood log up against the toe of the bluff & chew an apple.

The Big Sur headlands rise abrupt & desolate from the brightening sea, close, to the north. It is as wild & lonesome as any place I’ve fished.     

High tide. The rip looks even better. I walk down & get back to it.

The water is right & I let the cast go & by the time I’ve gathered the slack the fly has reached bottom & the first barred perch of the day finds it. And then the perch are there, & fairly steady. I catch a handful; high shouldered, bronzed, mature fish. And then they are gone.

The wind comes in with the tide. It’s already white-capping on the outside. I climb
the trail leading up the bluff toward the coast road.

A young woman, on her way down to the beach, greets me on the trail. She is lovely, sun streaked & browned, accompanied by a friendly Lab. She smiles, stops, looks out to the sea & says: “Isn’t it the best day ever!” She rises onto her tiptoes when she says “ever”.   

She seems confidant in that, her words a statement not a question. And though, I guess, in some circumstances her greeting might be considered odd, in the moment it makes perfect sense, & I am in accord.

“Yes,” I say, “I’d consider this one of the best.” ~