Monday, January 15, 2018

Spade Flies for Trout

Rootbeer Spade ~ Henry Loiseau
     So what do you get when you combine elements of the soft-hackle styles with the classic salmon/steelhead styles? Well, yeah, something that looks a lot like a low-water steelhead fly – & the low-water patterns do provide a good design frame for wetflies meant to be swung for trout.

The ‘Spade’ low-water steelhead design is an excellent example. Northwest angling legend holds that the Spade design was originated by Bob Arnold, who needed something less invasive than the popular standards for meeting finicky low water summer steelhead on the Stillaguamish.  Bob Arnold’s Spade was composed of a deer hair tail, black chenille body, & grizzly spade hackle tied in-the-round. The deer hair tailing (which produced an underbody when tied in) was meant to give the fly some buoyancy, & the flared tailing aiding in deflecting the hook bend from catching the bottom. Yet, while Mr. Arnold’s purpose of the deer hair in this design may have been original to him, a look at sea trout designs from Europe evidences that the wingless design frame is not. The defining characteristic of the American Spade designs is that they are tied with the spade hackle taken from a hen’s back. And Bob Arnold’s greatest contribution beyond his original pattern is the name he gave it, which has now come to define a recognizable design frame.

Alec Jackson Spade ~ Jeff Cottrell
Word swiftly got around that Bob Arnold’s Spade pattern was killing, & this was not missed by Alec Jackson (ironically) a native of Yorkshire, transplanted to the Pacific Northwest. Hailing from the Yorkshire Dales, the Mecca of soft-hackle flies, the Spade design no doubt resonated with Alec Jackson, & he set about refining the style, tying & fishing a number of the wingless designs, which he called ‘Spade’ flies, firmly defining & putting a stamp on the style. And it wasn’t long before Northwest steelheaders started taking the design frame even further, & I’ve seen some examples that approach Atlantic salmon designs in detail (fun!).  

The Spade design may have come full circle, having origins in trout fishing, been expanded upon & defined through anadromous fishing, then come back to trouting as a nattily dressed attractor pattern. To my mind, the Spade design frame holds the potential for creating wetflies just as elegant, yet more effective, than the old paired-quill wing lures that have all but disappeared from modern fly boxes (& way easier to tie). Spade flies are designed for swinging, which makes them a good choice for soft-hacklers wanting to swing something when no insect activity is apparent, & a perfect choice for Trout Spey.             

Black & White Spade ~ Jeff Cottrell
 Though drab colorations may serve to simulate the larger natural food forms – sculpin, crayfish, stoneflies, drake nymphs – generally Spade flies are tied as attractor patterns (lures), dressed on #6 through #10 hooks. Although there have always been wee attractor-style spiders used for trouting, in the Spade designs we see the frame expanded both in hook size, and the creative potential a larger hook size presents (not exactly a new concept in soft-hackle flies for trout, the venerable Carey Special is an example of a big one that’s been in service for a long time). Most often, I tie Spade flies on #6 to #10 TMC 200R or low-water steelhead hooks. In any case we want a straight or up-eye hook for best tracking. To some soft-hackle purists that might seem like a big fly, but compare a #6 fly to the wee spoons & spinners used to fish even the smallest streams, & we see that a #6 is at the smallest end of the lure spectrum, & a #10 seems tiny in comparison. This is the size range the old winged wetflies were most often tied in, for perspective. The Spade designs fill the size gap between streamers & wee soft-hackles.   

To ensure good surface penetration, tracking and hooking, the bodies of Spade trout flies do not crowd the hook, ending adjacent to or just ahead of the hook point. Typically, a thorax of dubbing is built to flare the hackle collar and create profile and body mass. Hackle collars are full. A spade hackle from a hen back has fatter barbs than hackle taken from the neck. On larger flies, #6 & #8, I’ll wind up to four turns of hackle.

The Spade design frame is perfect for those tiers prone to fanciful creations, or those who would like to branch out from tying & swinging drab wee flies meant to simulate insects, applying the same principle & method to tying & fishing attractor patterns.  

Rootbeer Spade ~ Steven Bird
Rootbeer Spade

Hook: #6 - #10 TMC 200R

Thread: rust-brown UNI 8/0

Hackle: craw (rusty-orange) hen

Tip: copper tinsel

Tail: rusty-brown deer hair; bit of rust-brown flue taken from the base of the hackle; nub of pink yarn

Rib: copper wire

Body: peacock herl; thorax: 50/50 mix of Hareline UV Pink Shrimp & dark brown antron dubbing

Horn: 4 or 5 bronze waterfowl flank fibers tied in as a ‘wing’ before winding the hackle ~ & finish.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

A Fly Line for Lake Dredging

   Easily entertained & happy to fish, I like it all. Though there are some things I like better than others.

I love lake fishing. But admit I’m no big fan of the bobber-midging approach so popular on the Northwest lakes I fish. Sure, that does have its day, but I don’t like staring at a bobber all day, my attention focused there while the world happens. If I look away for a moment (which I’m often prone to do) sure-nuff that’s when the bobber goes under. Attention deficit aside, I prefer to dredge, most of the time fishing a big Leech, Dragonfly Nymph, or Carey Special. These usually bring a smashing take while stripped, & I like that. Also, dredging seems to bring a better grade of trout than midging does, generally (though certainly not always).

Luckily, the lakes I fish most often harbor wall-to-wall populations of dragonflies & leeches, so one can seldom go wrong with these. My favorite lakes drop off quickly from shoreline weed beds. As long as the water is cool enough, the drop-off in front of the weeds is the favored hunting zone of ‘gators’ (big trout) routinely cruising the lush zone seeking edible critters. There on the weedy drop-offs is where I like to intercept them. Do some gator hunting.
Carey Special

In early spring, then again in late fall when the water cools enough, trout are in shallow, so I go with a full-floating line rigged with a 15’ fluoro leader. When employing the floating line I use flies weighted with wire under the body. A bead may be used, though take care it isn’t so heavy that it sinks the fly too quickly or tips it off the horizontal plane. I cast the fly to the weed line, let it sink a bit, then retrieve it very slowly with a hand-twist retrieve, pausing often to let the fly sink as it fishes down the drop-off. Trout will take the fly during a pause, & the floating line acts as an indicator, suddenly surging ahead, signaling the take. You watch the floating line when you’re operating with this method. If I can’t get a visual on the drop-off, I’ll cast & count down before starting to work the retrieve, starting with a 10-count, then going ten seconds deeper with each cast until finding the sweet zone. I like the ease of the floating line set-up, as it allows me to meet the chance calibaetis or midge hatch (yes midges without a bobber) without the need to change lines or carry an extra rod. But that early & late season fishing might be better met with a slow-sinking line, which will accomplish the same result, while allowing for a faster retrieve without lifting the fly out of the strike zone, as the floating line will if the fly is retrieved rapidly – & sometimes they want it moving fast. So…

As the season proceeds & the water warms, the fish move deeper. Though a sink tip line with a slow sink-rate will cover the shallows, there comes a point in the season when a faster sinking line gets the first nod. I’m currently using the Cortland Compact Sink lines with 28’ sinking heads, in Type 3, 6, & 9. The Type 9 has a 9ips sink rate; & if I could only have one it would be the Type 9 (I would miss the Type 6) – but each will have its day as ideal, & all three would pretty much cover the spectrum of still-water situations a serious dredger might encounter. Each Compact sink-rate is a different color for easy identification, & all have a black, sinking head section. All feature a moderate sink-rate running line, which helps to keep the fly down in the zone when stripped. The 28’ sinking head gets down & fishes like a full-sinking line, yet casts a helluva lot better. The fairly aggressive (yet forgiving) head configuration turns over & lays out heavy Bugger & Leech patterns with ease. I think anybody considering a good dredging line for the lake would be more than satisfied with the Cortland Compact Sink lines.

When fishing sinking lines I like my flies non-weighted for better suspension. Even with an innocuous black sink-tip, when fishing lakes I like at least an 8’ fluoro leader. A longer leader doesn’t hurt in clear lakes, particularly if the trout are seeing some pressure – & if the line bellies down onto the weed tops, the longer leader & non-weighted fly are less likely to get dragged through.

Here's a catalogue of the Cortland Compact lines: 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I Can Tell By Your Outfit That You Are A Cowboy

   Ladies and gentlemen, the swamp has been drained into the cabinet and we have now arrived at entropy. A threshold, if you will. In this moment we must choose what America is going to be.

Are we going to be a republic based on ideology, exceptionalism and myth? The cultural value set of Mike Pence's ‘American Identity’ movement?

Or are we going forward stewarding a nation based on a consilience of the sciences, arts, humanities, liberty and justice for all?

Some are looking for the mythical cowboy to ride in and save America. Some fancy themselves the mythical cowboy. Some are just pretending.

Roy Moore
 Presidential Adviser-For-A-Minute and RW mule driver Steve Bannon made a heroic flight down to Alabama intending to cinch the deal for candidate Roy Moore, but that effort didn’t fly. Saw a picture of them together on a stage, Bannon looking disheveled and boozy, Roy Moore dressed in his cowboy outfit and six-gun, looking like a problematic five year old at a kid’s birthday party.     

My paradox-absorbing faculties, working overtime, are sorely taxed and approaching tilt. 

I’m sure all of you who have been awake this past year are aware there are a lot of fires burning right now, both physical and metaphorical. What’s maddening is that the conflagration is not coincidental but the result of long-planned and far-reaching cause and affect. And it’s not all about Trump. He just recently stepped into it and only reflects what’s been fed to him. You are what you eat.  

The Trump administration and congressional Republicans are moving ahead with their plan to systematically deconstruct programs in place designed to combat climate change and bring us online with clean energy. Trump and the Republicans in congress are eating away at commonwealth lands and the public safety net and funneling those resources and monies toward their most powerful donors, the American oligarchs who account for 90% of their campaign donations. Again, follow the money trail and it will lead you to the truth. Regarding the new U.S. tax overhaul, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) said to his fellows: “If we can’t get this done, the donations will stop.” Leaving me to wonder how a man who has taken an oath to serve the people would think such a thing, much less presume to say it out loud.   

This is supposed to be an outdoor journal about tying flies and flyfishing, so, all things being connected, here are a few things congressional Republicans, Trump and his appointees are working on that will affect the outdoors, hence angling and anglers, over the long term:

The EPA is working to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the United States’ leading vehicle for reducing carbon emissions. (The EPA is now a gutted shell, headed by Trump appointee Scott Pruitt who, prior to his appointment, speaking figuratively, vowed to “blow up” the Environmental Protection Agency).

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is calling for the elimination of tax incentives for producers of wind and solar energy, and this reflected in the new Republican tax plan (which, ironically, gives a massive tax cut to producers of coal, uranium and gas).

Pruitt bars scientists who receive EPA grants from the agency’s advisory boards, replacing them with industry-funded scientists.

In the name of “grid resiliency,” the Department of Energy (now headed by Trump appointee Rick Perry who, prior to his appointment, vowed to “get rid of” the agency he now heads, though at the time couldn’t recall the name of the agency he wanted to get rid of) wants a higher value placed on energy produced from coal and nuclear plants, a move that could cost taxpayer/consumers $10.6 billion a year.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (now under the control of dissembling Trump operatives) is denying endangered species status to 25 imperiled creatures formerly nominated for listing.

The Interior Department has been instructed to halt a study of the public health effects of mountaintop-removal coal mining; and is also offering 77 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling, the largest such lease sale in the department’s history.  

The National Park Service has been instructed to double the price of admission to the most popular national parks, raising it to $70. (I suspect this is designed to sour public opinion against the idea of maintaining national parks, ensuring less resistance to eventually selling them off).

Trump appointee, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, working in conjunction with Energy Fuels Resources, a uranium mining company, Utah Senator Orin Hatch and other Republicans, have vastly reduced the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments, clearing these public lands for sale to extractive gas, coal and uranium interests. Despite a poll taken in deep red Utah revealing 60% polled oppose the sale of the Monuments.    

Ryan Zinke attempting to cast, his right arm overextended,
rod dropped below the loading point, his backcast
severely drooping, the line coming out of the back of his
reel indicating it is mounted backwards. 
 Ryan Zinke is a twisty piece of work. Just prior to his appointment he vowed again and again to protect our public lands and ensure that they remain intact. Yet, he is a long-time operative and known nature faker with a record of saying one thing while actually doing the opposite. Zinke is fond of projecting a conservationist image. If you go to his website you’ll find a picture of him fly fishing. Like Roy Moore, Zinke wants you to know that he is a cowboy hero, complete with cowboy suit, hat and horse. He wants you to know that he is a rugged, independent, salt-of-the-earth, man of the country. Of course that aint really what he is. In reality he is a radical RW ideologue and mechanic for extractive interests, a tool. A tool placed where he can go to work dissembling our public lands so they can eventually be wholesaled to extracting interests.

And I wonder why the rush to sell commonwealth lands when the lease system already in place presents a level opportunity for grazing and extraction while still keeping the public lands under the ownership and oversight of the American people? Are we experiencing a lack of raw materials because we have denied access to them? I’m not seeing the evidence of it. I once worked as range manager for a 3000 acre BLM range lease. At the time, the ranch I worked for paid $1.46 per year, per cow/calf unit (the fee Cliven Bundy refuses to pay), and made 900 times the fee on a season’s weight gain, per unit. Not a bad return.

Cliven Bundy
 And I don’t know many ranchers who would be exactly in accord with Cliven Bundy, yet, somehow, he has become a sort of darling among Republican politicians, particularly in the West and South. During several appearances on Fox News Bundy was treated like an American folk hero. The last election, the county where I live elected a new commissioner who, in a meeting, called for and performed a minute of silence for “American hero” Lavoy Finicum, killed during a confrontation with police while participating in the armed take-over of an Oregon wildlife sanctuary led by Ammon Bundy. (Ironically, Lavoy Finicum of Utah lived in a rented apartment where he and his wife made a living from the State, taking in foster children while Lavoy ran a few head of cows on public land – that, while devoting his life and eventually martyring himself in the cause of dissembling government programs and privatizing the public lands).   

 Interestingly, the RW dominionist militiamen who took over the reserve were exonerated in an Oregon court. And now a Nevada judge has declared a mistrial in the armed standoff case against Cliven Bundy. Leaves one to wonder: why are these people getting off so lightly? Well, I suspect it is because they, dressed in their cowboy outfits and military gear (more paradox to absorb) serve as folk icons supporting deeply held cultural myths, making them useful tools in the hands of a wealthy class with whom they actually have nothing in common with. Here’s some enlightening commentary from Utah:                  

And here’s a well-written plea from Montana guide/writer Todd Tanner. Todd reflects the way a lot of us are feeling right now, and I don’t think he is exaggerating the need for hunters and anglers to get active.   

If you’re experiencing some indiscriminate rage, maybe it’s a good time to focus, set your sights, draw a deep breath, and let fly in a worthwhile direction. Speak to power. Write. If we don’t write the script, K Street and the likes of Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh, Steve Bannon and Alex Jones will.

Yours Truly

The Lone Soft-Hackler

Friday, November 10, 2017

Memories Of Glass

The Old Days:

Sometime around 1952, the year I was born, Heddon introduced a line of fiberglass/resin flyrods. These were a beautiful tobacco color as organic as a willow branch, & had the old silk line designations printed on them. As there was no metric for glass rod actions at the time, Heddon attempted to match the actions of the fine bamboo ‘Heddon Pal’ rods they were known for, & succeeded admirably.    

We lived on Tucker Lake in 1960, the year fatty boom-boom Danny Cody, the mean kid down the lane, broke the old bamboo flyrod my grandfather had given me. Danny had a new push-button outfit & we were fishing (nightcrawlers), & he was feeling pretty smug thinking he owned the superior rig, & when I caught a seventeen inch brown he sulked, convinced the trout was actually meant for him & that I’d somehow usurped his chance at it. Then when I capped the brownie with a nice brookie Danny, still fish-less, broke, grabbed the rod out of my hand & busted it over his knee. He laughed. I was eight & Danny was ten & better than a head taller & with sixty pounds on me, easy. Heartbroken, furious, I rushed him – & that got me a pounding to go with the broken rod.    

As a replacement, my dad bought me a glass casting rod & Zebco push-button reel. The outfit was cool, but I was a flyrodder, & my grandfather stood in appreciation & full support of that fact, & came through with a new 8’ 6wt Shakespeare Wonderod glass flyrod. The Wonderod was white with red wraps, the blank taped in a unique spiral pattern. Though I liked the casting outfit okay – like for tying to the family dock overnight baited with small bluegills meant to catch the big bullhead catfish I occasionally sold to the ancient Goose Lady – I discovered the flyrod a better tool for delivering wee poppers to smallmouth bass, which I considered ultimate fun.  

Thus equipped, I was feeling well-turned-out & dangerous when we moved to Millbury the following year, where the Wonderod earned me the distinction of being the only kid in 4th grade busted three times in one month for ditching school to go fishing. I was unstoppable, having discovered the smallies spawning in a back cove of Dorothy Pond, & the poppers turning the trick. The Millbury cop who’d already caught me twice was so pissed the third time he purposely ran over my bike intending to put me out of business once & for all. He also confiscated the Wonderod, then, red-faced & grinning like a crazy man, broke it twice over his knee while I watched in horror. Probably a blessing in disguise because my dad (who I suspect was secretly proud) was so angry the cop had destroyed my bike & rod that he let me go unpunished, pretty much, & even went as far as smoothing things over with the school authorities, somehow.

My grandfather, ever reliable, came through with a replacement, the sweet caramel colored, 8’ 6wt Heddon Pal glass that made the move to California & lived up to its name through ten seasons of hard use until meeting its demise somewhere near Eugene, Oregon, when it blew out of the back of a badly loaded pickup speeding north on I-5 on a day of high winds, strapped to my backpack frame, & shattered on the road (along with the pack).

After the road mishap, old enough to work & able to afford them (barely), I owned several Fenwick glass rods, & loved them all. But the crowning glory of my strictly glass career was the beautiful, deep-amber Cortland Leon Chandler S-glass, 9’ 6wt; a feather-light dream & long-caster that upped my game considerably. By then graphite was coming in &, young & stupid, I felt I needed to ‘upgrade’ to graphite. Couldn’t afford a new one so I traded the Leon Chandler toward a clubby first-run Fenwick graphite that I never got used to. I still suffer an irritating twinge whenever recalling that sorry trade.   

A Couple Years Ago:

Some might remember I posted something about finding a vintage1952, 8’ Heddon Pal Thorobred glass rod at a garage sale a couple years ago. Though the wraps & guides were rotted beyond use, the blank, reel-seat & grip were still very good. I finally got around to re-wrapping it, mounted my old high school Medalist to it, & took it up to the river for trials. Though rated for a D- HDH silk line, I found it throws an AFTMA 5 or 6wt equally well. And maybe it’s just me, but I think this is the best casting rod of its class I’ve ever casted. Seriously.

While re-wrapping the old Heddon, I went ahead & replaced the guides & wraps on the Russ Peak 7'6" 5wt pictured at left. Russ Peak was known as the 'Stradivarius of Glass', & a day on the water casting this sweetie leaves you with no doubt why.  

Has there actually been real improvement in the castability of trout rods since 1952? Well, some might argue: no, not really.

This Past Summer:

We got back to glass in earnest this past summer. My friend Jeff Cottrell is an ambassador for Red Truck, & they sent him a 7’6”, 4wt glass to try out. Caramel colored & nicely appointed with quality components, & very light weight, it came equipped with a matching, click-pawl, Red Truck Diesel reel. It is a classic glass outfit with timeless good looks. Jeff lined it with a WF 4wt Cortland Trout Boss floating line. We took it fishing during the Drake hatch &, to my surprise, after slowing down enough to catch its load rhythm, Jeff was able to throw distance equal to the 9’ graphite he’d been fishing, & looked a hell of a lot more graceful doing it. Once into the groove Jeff smiled the smile of serene satisfaction, & I was reminded that the slow yoga of casting glass & the serenity it engenders was once an integral aspect of our game. Quite different than the hyper-rhythm, first-strike intensity of speed fast-action graphite brought to casting. Every time Jeff hooked a trout & it would run, we’d whoop to the sound of the reel’s screaming clicker. 

Jeff Cottrell with UC redband & Red Truck glass 4wt
 Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to imply glass is better than graphite. I should parse this by saying graphite definitely has its place, particularly in big game rods & rods over, say, 9’ in length. Graphite really comes into its own in longer rods. I’ve not met a glass Spey rod that I’d trade my graphites for. But does graphite outperform glass in trout-weight rods in lengths most commonly used? As regards the average caster, I’d have to say no. Guiding, the problem I see most often is anglers unable to cast 30 feet. As it takes 30 feet of line beyond the rod tip to even load the rod, you’d think being able to lay out 30 feet is a given. But no. Variables of excited expectations, fatigue, wind, boat movement, bad casting habits, you name it, conspire to somehow truncate that minimal 30-foot distance into a dreadful heap on the too-nearby water. Guy has a $700 rod, only gets out six times a year (or less), & has a hard time throwing 30 feet of line. My solution? The old refurbished Heddon Pal, which I began carrying as an extra rod. When I see somebody having trouble I have them try the Pal, & in most cases their casting distance improves immediately. It’s not that this rod eliminates bad habits, but that the load-holding glass is more forgiving of them. And once the client is slowed a bit, I’m better able to observe the cast & help with the problem(s).

I’d just started carrying the old Heddon when John Gierach came to fish with me this past summer, & hadn’t had the chance to catch a fish on it yet. If you’ve read his books but never fished with him I can assure you Gierach really is That Guy. He is light, confident & fun to be with, as accomplished an angler as he is a writer (he gets a lot of practice). We were doing pretty good on the UC redbands until just about dark when John’s dry & dropper rig became hopelessly tangled. Quickly running out of light & with not much time left before we needed to get off the water, rather than re-tie a new rig I handed him the old Heddon set up with an emerger version of the Black Quill Drake we were fishing over. Second cast, John put the emerger right on the seam, gathered line just fast enough to keep contact with the fly while it swung, & wham-O, the old Pal awoke to a new life in the hands of John Gierach, bent into a wild, 20” UC rainbow gone ballistic. I netted the trout in near dark & we admired it for a moment while praising the 65 year old glass rod, both agreeing it possessed great mojo.

Cortland Trout Boss
A Good Trout Line:

Got to try out quite a few trout lines through the past season & feel compelled to mention Cortland’s Trout Boss line as the best of show for delivering dry & soft-hackle flies. This is the line Jeff Cottrell & I settled on for lining our glass rods, though it performs equally well with graphite. The WF Trout Boss casts like a good weight-forward, yet presents with the delicacy of a double-taper. The Trout Boss floats dutifully through long sessions, while the low-memory running line remains supple & tangle-free. Simply, a good, no-bullshit, all-around trout line at any distance – the Cortland Trout Boss is true to its name. I think most soft-hacklers would really like this line. And a bonus: it comes nested in a handsome, utilitarian tin.                         

Sunday, September 24, 2017

A Few October Caddis

Hook: #6 TMC 200R; Thread: rust-brown UNI 8/0; Hackle: rust-brown
brahma hen; Body: ginger antron with a pinch of orange trilobal;
Wing: gadwall, dyed with orange marker, wound as a collar, fibers on top
painted with a black marker.

Gary LaFontaine held the opinion that October Caddis (Dicosmocus) is the most important “big fish insect” of the West, & I agree, insofar as it reflects my own experience. For what that’s worth. I’ve been fortunate to have lived for a long time beside a river where that is certainly a truth.     

Not only does the big fall sedge bring up some of the best trout of the year, its emergence occurs during my favorite time of year, September & October, in Northeast Washington; its russet coloration true to autumn’s palette & begging simulation. It's size, coloration & habits seem to leave October Caddis wide open to interpretation.

Hook: #6 TMC 200R; Thread: rust-brown UNI 8/0; Body: ginger antron
with a pinch of orange trilobal; Wing: turkey tail fibers, rolled; Hackle:
rust-brown brahma hen fronted with guinea hen.

Though the cased larvae might be an important food source to trout in some streams, particularly streams with finer gravels, they aren’t generally available to trout in streams with heavy rubble bottoms that afford larvae sheltering crevices.  On my home water, with a bottom mostly composed of rounded, skull-sized glacial till, it’s the uncased pupa & winged adult stages that get the important play. 

Dropper Pupa - Hook: #4 Gamakatsu octopus; Thread: rust-brown UNI 8/0;
Rib: gold wire;  Body: ginger antron with a pinch of orange trilobal;
Antennae: turkey tail fibers; Hackle: tannish-orange brahma hen.
The heavy hook sinks this one without dragging the dryfly under. And
swims better than a beadhead.

Of its many desirable attributes, the giant fall sedge lends itself to the spectrum of presentations – as a dropper fished under a dryfly or bobber, as a dryfly, or a wetfly, either winged or wingless. 

Designs meant to be swung or skated are often effective when OC are present, providing a good opportunity for trout spey.            

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Low Light Caddis

    It’s been a fairly apocalyptic season. 

On the personal side, a hectic guiding schedule has kept me rowing & mostly fishing vicariously.  

In the broader picture, things started with a nearly record spate that put a damper on spring & early summer mayfly hatches. Then, beginning in June, the air temps soared to 100 degrees & have hovered in that range ever since. B.C. began to burn in June &, as of now, August, continues to burn. The smoke is barely tolerable along the U.S./Canada border & if it gets any worse we might be advised to evacuate. 

I’m seriously considering evacuating to GreenlandArctic char.  No trees to catch fire or foul your backcast.

Taking the month of August off. Finally getting to fish & that’s making me happy, even if the only productive time is generally only for that hour right up against dark. And by “productive” I don’t mean wide-open. I mean productive compared to nothing. One or two trout per night. Maybe a handful on a particularly good night. 

There’s not a lot showing up top, just a quick shooter of risers feeding on the short spritzes of caddis hatches beginning just before dark. Satisfying fishing just the same. The wild redband are summer-schooled & extra canny, presenting a difficult challenge calling for a 12’ leader, 3lb test tippet & a perfectly presented sedge emerger. This has given me the opportunity to play with some patterns that might be reliable in low light.

I’m fairly certain that size & profile are necessary constants, but is matching the natural’s coloration the best approach in low light? Well, to answer my own question (like a crazy man): yes & no. According to my own experience & observations, too fanciful or gaudy is not an entirely reliable approach, & neither is too drab. There’s a balance. And that seems to lie with designs that simulate the natural’s coloration in an exaggerated manner & in a way that incorporates light, or, more precisely, relying on material choices that gather & reflect light. Not only does such a design work better in low light, but also during heavy sedge hatches when the imitation must compete with a bazillion naturals. Oftentimes the pattern, I think, must stand out, yet in a way that is enticing without being overly intrusive. That’s where the creative fun arises to challenge the designer.

Here’s one that is turning the trick on some well-educated trout, late evenings:

Low Light Sedge

Hook: #12 Daiichi 1150

Thread: Camel UNI 8/0

Hackle: brahma hen, stripped on one side, 2 turns

Body: 4 strands of pearl midge flash, twisted to a rope – Over-body: Hareline Ice Dub UV Shrimp Pink (this stuff is enticingly ambiguous & doesn’t look actually pink but rather a tannish-salmon with lots of green, blue, & rootbeer highlights, for lack of a better description) tied in as a collar –  Thorax: pine squirrel dubbing mixed with a bit of mahogany or ginger antron

Topping: 2 gadwall flank fibers tied in prior to winding the hackle ~ & finish.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Some Green Drake Variations

Green Drake Emerger/Cripple
Hook: #10 TMC 200R
Thread: yellow Pearsall's
Hackle: olive grizzly
Tail: barred waterfowl flank dyed with yellow highlighter pen
Body: olive hare's mask dubbed on a loop of the tying silk
Half-wing: barred waterfowl flank dyed with yellow highlighter
     Green Drake is the first big mayfly of the year to show. They are sporadic, initially. Maybe we’ll spot one drifting like a battle cruiser among the bum-boats of small Grannom riding the flow. Or perhaps we catch sight of one paddling through the air like a B-52 among the kamikaze sedges.

The first Green Drake of the season we see is always an exciting event because we know when there’s one, there’s more to follow. Once the tap is open, trout know it. The fish were probably onto them even before we saw that one.  We think: Oh Boy. It’s on!

Rene Harrop's Drake
Hook: #10 TMC 200R
Thread: black
Hackle: olive grizzly hen fronted with black hen
Tail: barred lemon wood duck
Body: olive turkey biot & olive dubbed thorax touched with gray rabbit 
The scene might play out on any of the rivers & streams of the West Slope where the line-up of Drake species occur in their respective hatch seasons, late spring through summer.  And for swingers of flies this is fortunate, as trout enjoy & appreciate soft-hackled imitations of the big mayflies, drifted & swung – a fact observed by Rene Harrop, whose killing Green Drake pattern has become a standard for meeting the famed Henry’s Fork hatch.   

Hare's Lug & Plover Drake
Hook: #10 TMC 200R
Thread: yellow Pearsalls or UNI 8/0
Hackle: golden plover (or olive grizzly)
Tail: bronze waterfowl flank
Body: olive hare's mask dubbed on a loop of the tying silk, gray rabbit
touched over the thorax
On another fork of the Columbia Drainage, several hundred miles from the Henry’s Fork, before I’d heard of Harrop’s Drake, I was mining a similar vein, & I smiled when I first saw the patt, because I recognized Harrop’s dressing was not dictated by fancy, but straight from the authentic mojo of experience & close observation. It is built on an ancient frame, tested & true, incorporating the sound principles & elements of the soft-hackle tradition. It is a workhorse bait.

These designs hunt the top of the water column, where they may be taken as a pre-emerger, cripple, or drowned adult. Without a lot of bulk to buoy & sail the fly, they bust the surface tension immediately, then hover & track well; the flowing soft hackle coalescing the illusion of (moving) body mass & nuance of coloration.