Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Classic Pflueger Medalist

Old Workhorses ~ Steven Bird photo

A Reel To Meet The Apocalypse

There was a time in trout fishing America when there weren’t a lot of choices in fly reels. A time when it was believed that trout reels need be little more than a conveyance for your flyline. If you owned a Hardy ‘Perfect’ or ‘Princess’ you were considered styling with the epitome of fly reels. The majority of us who didn’t own an English Hardy were fishing the American-made Pflueger Medalist, slightly less refined & a lot less expensive than the Hardy, yet a reliable workhorse nonetheless.

Though well-built, & with utilitarian good looks in basic black, the Pflueger was never an expensive reel, & that may have contributed somewhat to its eventual fade from popularity as our sport started to become more yuppie-fied in the 1970’s. Marketers became canny & the idea floated that more status might be achieved through the use of costlier, lighter, fully-machined reels equipped with technical disc drag systems. Eventually, ever slaves to fashion & the new, flyfishers were shamed out of using the old Pfluegers & put them away.

I said ‘put’ away not ‘thrown’ away. A Pflueger is never thrown away because it never wears out. I’m still using two that I’ve been using since I was a kid, one, my first, purchased in the 1960’s, & the other a rim-drag model I’ve been using since the early 1970’s. Both are imbued with the mojo of a thousand rivers.  And now, ever the crucible of creativity, Washington State has legalized weed & we find ourselves fishing liberated & exhilarated at the verge of apocalypse, assuming a pragmatic frugality & not giving a pfuck about fashion anymore. Guys are breaking out the old Pfluegers & taking them fishing again. Some are stripping down the old reels & having them anodized in creative color combinations, a process Medalist cultists refer to as: “pimpin out de reel.” Yes, apparently the Pflueger Medalist has achieved cult status in the Northwest, & elevation to ‘classic’ can’t be far behind. Those of us who’ve been hiding in the closet fondling our Pfluegers can come out now.    

Flyfish the Upper Columbia/NE Washington with Steven Bird: 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Peacock Depthcharge Nymph

Depthcharge Nymph tied by Steven Bird

     I recently visited an artificials-only, catch & release section of the Kings River in California, where I met a half-dozen locals, all, to a man, fishing bobbers with tiny bead-headed rubber-legged creations or San Juan Worms, also beaded, dangling beneath them. 

Worms dangling under bobbers...

Even though the weather was nice, the only insect fare in evidence was a smattering of midges & micro BWO’s. The locals were all fishing tiny flies & that seemed the order of the day. Yet, to me, much of the segment seemed too rapid & somewhat less than ideal for the bobber presentation. I watched a few guys fishing a run together, their bobbers barreling downstream for a ten second drift & needing to be picked up & casted again. I could see why the heavy bead-heads are favored there, you have to get down quick for those short, fast drifts.

I decided the Kings would be a good place to swing a ‘depthcharge rig’. The depthcharge part of this set-up is a heavily weighted soft-hackle nymph that acts as a sinker. My favorite Depthcharge pattern is some version of a #6 to #10 peacock bodied soft-hackle nymph like the Brown Hackle Peacock or the Partridge & Peacock, generic ‘getters’ that catch trout anywhere. Though it does catch fish, what it really is, is the delivery system for the tiny nymph trailing behind it. I build the rig on a 7 to 71/2 foot tapered fluoro butt section, tapering to 7 or 8 pound test. To the end of that I tie a #2 metal rigging ring (available from Feathercraft), & that gives me a permanent butt section. I tie about 2 feet of 6 pound test fluoro to the rigging ring (can use 8lb test to turn over heavier a Depthcharge) & tie the Depthcharge nymph to that. Next, I tie a 20 inch section of lighter mono to the hook bend of the depthcharge, then tie the little nymph to the end of that, & that gives me about a 10 foot leader all together (I like a 9-10 foot rod for this). The fluoro leader to the depthcharge aids in getting it down, & the mono section attaching the trailer fly buoys slightly to keep the little nymph fishing above the bottom.

All said & done, it was a slow day for numbers, though the size of the fish more than made up for it, & I ended up releasing four trout for the session, all over 5 pounds – two on the depthcharge & two on the BWO nymph trailer. Walking out, I stopped to chat with a few of the bobber guys & discovered it had been an even slower day for them – the hot hand among them with two fish, proving: he who lives by the bobber, dies by the bobber.

Peacock Depthcharge

Hook: #6-#10 down-eye caddis style (This hook keels & rides point up when weighted over the shank)

Thread: Olive 

Tag/Rib: Chartreuse wire 

Body: Peacock herl -- wrap the hook shank with lead wire, full length of the body 

Hackle: Brown partridge, grouse or speckled game hen – & finish with a full head.
Yep, that's a Pflueger Medalist reel. One I bought in the '70's. Retired it years ago but recently broke it out because it is so cool.

Flyfish the Upper Columbia/NE Washington with Steven Bird:

Monday, February 4, 2013

Soft-Hackle Chironomid Emergers

Soft-Hackle Midges tied by Steven Bird

For those of us fishing winter water, midges are often the only game in town. Peacock herl has long been known as a good material for imitating adult midges, & there’s no denying the effectiveness of the Griffith’s Gnat. And I’m certainly far from the first to experiment with wet versions of that old standby, seeking imitations for the chironomid’s emergent stage. That is water already covered, & with some good patterns. Yet it is nice to discover things for yourself, as I did one late afternoon years ago when I encountered a blood midge hatch at a Washington lake right after ice-out. Cutthroat were ringing the surface everywhere, I had no clue what they were eating & nothing I was trying would bring a strike. So of course I started throwing everything I had in the box, which in those days wasn’t much of a variety. Included in the meager collection was a couple of #16 Gray Hackle Peacocks, the old-timey kind with tails of red hackle. I tied one on, casted it & was immediately onto a fish. Then another one, & so on.  Not being one to leave well enough alone (damn near a fish a cast) I decided the fly might work even better minus the ridiculous red tail. Wrong. The catch rate immediately dropped off. I clipped it off & tied on the one remaining unaltered version & was back into fish again. I couldn’t figure it out. The trout were acting very selective, yet were willing to eat an imitation with a red tail, that looked like no insect I knew of. I kept a couple fish for the table, & when I cleaned them at home I checked the stomachs & found them chokablock full of blood-red, wormlike larvae of varying lengths, from a quarter to over an inch long. I later learned that these were blood midge larvae, & that the old Gray Hackle Peacock is a fine imitation of the emerger. Since then, I’ve had good success with variations suitable to different species of midges simply by altering the tailing material to simulate the various nymphal shucks. The tail-less version pictured is a Sylvester Nemes creation, which he describes as a sort of soft-hackle version of the Griffith Gnat.

Soft-Hackle Midge Emerger/Stillborn

Hook: #16-#20 (I tie a lot of my midge imitations on caddis-style hooks, the shorter shank allowing for a larger hook.)

Thread: Black

Tailing (Shuck): Red hackle fibers for blood midge, or natural mallard flank fibers or pearl midge flash for the rest

Ribbing: Fine wire

Body: Peacock herl

Hackle: One turn of gray partridge or grizzly hen hackle, stripped on one side (For smaller sizes, I’ll often clip some fibers from a feather & arrange them around the hook shank as a collar), & finish

Flyfish the Upper Columbia/NE Washington with Steven Bird: