Friday, June 26, 2015

San Gabriel

     This is one I came up with back in the 7th grade, during my fanciful period, while still operating with the stuff that came in the Ken E. Bay fly tying kit, road kills, & my mom’s knitting basket. Back then my fly designs were mostly intuitive, chuck & chance propositions. (Not sure anything has really changed, there.) Sometimes I’d get lucky. Turned out, the little wild rainbows of the San Gabriel, where I was a regular at the time, loved this one. I still tie & fish it, & it is the oldest design of my own that I still fish. I like it for prospecting small streams. Brookies like it too.

San Gabriel

Hook: #10-#12 Mustad 3366

Thread: yellow UNI 8/0

Body: silver tinsel with a short thorax of dubbed gold yarn (try it with gold or copper tinsel)

Wing: golden pheasant tippet – about 12 fibers for a #10

Hackle: red/brown hen

Monday, June 22, 2015

Biotic Midge Emerger

     If one earned a sentence to Trouter’s Hell, confined to fishing only chironomids, day in, day out, the larval phase would get the nod for numbers. Around here, most dangle them under bobbers at the lakes. But I get fidgety, my concentration focused down to the pinpoint of a tiny static bobber adrift & lonesome on the vast water (it always goes down when you look away), so I seldom do it, though I do get in a couple rounds of good surface fishing with midges (without a bobber) twice a year – a blood midge emergence at a small lake near my home, in the early season, late afternoons, then again in early fall, when emergences of large #16-#18 buffalo midges will get trout feeding on emerging pupae up top, on the river. If you see a lot of fish rising on midges chances are it is not the adults they are after, but the helpless emergers in the surface film. Blood midge larvae/pupa look like red worms, ¼ to 2 inches long (!) & a simple Gray Hackle Peacock with scarlet tail fished in the surface film kills when meeting an emergence – the scarlet tailing serving to simulate the trailing pupa. During emergence, the pupa retains its coloration until after the adult has completely emerged & water rinses the husk out, so tailing meant to represent the trailing shuck of one caught in the act of emerging should be the color of the living pupa. Other than straight scarlet for blood midges, I like natural or dyed mallard flank or guinea fowl in charcoal, olive & brown for others. Choose the softer feather barbs for these, about a dozen so there's enough bulk to simulate the trailing pupa when wet.  

Biotic Midge Emerger

Hook: #18 Mustad 94842

Thread: gray UNI 8/0

Trailing pupa: olive mallard flank

Emerging wing: pearl midge flash, 4 strands, pulled over the top of the abdomen

Abdomen: tan turkey biot

Thorax: dark gray ostrich herl

Hackle: light brahma hen ~ & finish.         

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

M.H. Light Hendrickson Flymph

Light Hendrickson tied by Mark Hagopian ~ Mark Hagopian photo 
“Magic is supernatural, like talking trout. Do not confuse magic and art. Art escapes from the natural; magic interprets nature, venturing to explain what science cannot see.”    ~Datus Proper 
What the Trout Said’

Wetfly master Pete Hidy coined the term ‘flymph’, needing a word to describe a fly meant to simulate an insect in the process of transitioning from mature nymph to winged adult. Regarding the term, Ernest Shwiebert wrote: “…a creative bit of whimsy never quite accepted.” And that may be true, though I suspect it is the term’s awkward phonetics responsible for the lukewarm acceptance. However, the natural process & approach to meeting it that inspired Pete’s creative wordsmithing is still as important as ever. Nowadays most of us are familiar with the term ‘emerger’ used in describing a fly pattern fished to simulate an insect’s transition to adult, yet, in Pete Hidy’s day, that term had not yet entered the popular lexicon. Also, in the decades prior to the latter half of the 20th century, there were few writer/bait-makers on this side of the Atlantic tying imitations that were, specifically, emergers (really, we can only look back through the perspective of writers, as non-writer fly designers operate, mostly, in secrecy). But, accept his term or not, Pete Hidy was a gifted angler & was onto something that no serious trouter should overlook.

Of course, the benefits of tying wetflies meant to fish for specific insects in the emergent stage is not new, & was not new in Leisenring & Hidy’s time. G.E.M. Skues & other British writers had covered this, describing many patterns designed & fished as emergers, which were well-known in the British Isles, some tied as wingless spiders (‘spider’: a term, I would argue, at least as ambiguous as ‘flymph’) & some winged.

And there were well-known contemporaries of Pete Hidy who were also clued to the emerging nymph’s effectiveness. Polly Rosborough & Al Troth & their nymph patterns tied with half-wings of marabou or ostrich herl tips meant to simulate the unfurling wings of hatching mayflies come immediately to mind – very effective patterns that were a fair departure from earlier winged wetflies; & I think these patterns set the stage for the spectrum of emerger patterns being presented now.

New England compatriot, Mark Hagopian, generously offers us this version of a Hendrickson emerger/stillborn. Mark takes what is useful from tradition, while working from his own observations & creative instinct. His approach is informed, not dogmatic. I like the way he marries natural & synthetic materials while remaining true to the effective principles of the soft-hackle approach. Mark’s Light Hendrickson is foxy indeed. Makes me wish there were Hendricksons in my neighborhood, though his suggestion for a March Brown version is definitely on the ‘Must Try’ list.

M.H. Light Hendrickson Flymph

Hook: Hanak 550 BL

Thread: Pearsall’s silk in salmon or UNI non-stretch floss in pink or tan

Tail: bronze mallard flank

Rib: tan Benecchi 12/0

Body: dubbed red fox – guard hairs & gray underfur removed – as an option, mix in a bit of Spirit River UV2 Dubbing Enhancer (Mark suggests light or rusty brown rabbit with Benecchi tobacco rib to create a March Brown variant of this pattern) 

Wing: pinch of tan rabbit fur topped with a pinch of clear Zelon, available from Blue Ribbon Flies

Hackle: honey-dun hen ~ & finish.           

Friday, June 5, 2015

SHJ Reel Review ~ The Ocean City ‘Wanita’

Neoclassicism On-The-Cheap

Ocean City Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, made a broad spectrum of fresh & saltwater reels between 1923 & 1968, when the company was taken over by Tru Temper. Reel models ranged from affordable to top-end, & many, both well-made & affordable. Ocean City went big, modernizing the manufacturing & marketing process through the early 1900’s, & was prime on the scene mid-century when the growing middle class of America found itself needing more fishing reels. I suspect it is because Ocean City was able to supply affordable gear to the masses that O.C. fly reels are sometimes referred to as ‘blue collar reels’ – & funny, often, after the blue-collar rating is decreed, the rater will grudgingly allow that the reel is a “sturdy workhorse”. If ‘blue collar’ means reliable, sturdy-built & reasonably priced, then nothing wrong with that, though I’ve no doubt, if the Ocean City ‘Wanita’ fly reel had been born to a small maker in Britain, it would surely hold a more esteemed position in the hierarchy of reels.       

The ‘Wanita’ fly reel was introduced in 1924, & versions of it offered until the early 1960’s, with little change to its looks. In appearance, these harken back to an earlier era, looking very similar to the Meisselbach Rainbow & JW Young Condex. There are click-&-pawl versions, some with both click-&-pawl & a spring that provides drag pressure against the spool, & some, silent-operation, equipped with only the drag pressure spring. All are perfectly functional for trouting.

Post/drag spring assembly.
 The models NO.35 & NO.306 pictured here are the silent, spring-only type (same as JW Young Condex). About as simple as you can get. The spool tension spring is pre-set to provide some drag on a fish & to prevent backlash while stripping line from the reel for casting. Drag tension is usually still right on the old reels, though some might need tuning to give a bit more drag, & this can usually be accomplished by placing a shim washer under the spring. 

 For quality, I’d rate Ocean City’s ‘Wanita’ offspring, the NO.35, 36, 305 & 306, as equal to any 150-dollar reel made today. As good as some costing more. For style, I give them near-top rating. These are a meeting of timeless Old World style & American production know-how. Though the finishes may be nearly worn off, you seldom encounter an old one not serviceable, or easily brought back to service. For those who lust after one of the newer click & pawl reels featuring similar old-timey style yet don’t want to pay the big bucks, purchasing an old Ocean City might be a practical alternative.

The narrow, one-piece aluminum frames & spools were investment cast, buffed smooth & painted. Early models were gun-blued, a better finish that wears to a fine patina. Investment castings are high quality & precision, & actually stronger than machined bar stock. Strong investment casting frames can be made thinner walled than bar stock & still retain rigidity. These reels are surprisingly light, certainly not heavier than the comparable Pflueger Medalists. Two burly rivets fasten the nickel-plated brass reel foot to the frame. The round, nickel-plated brass line guide is retained by slots milled into the frame. On some of the old reels the guide ring may be a bit loose in the slots, but that is fine, it doesn’t affect the performance & the ring won’t come out. The guide rings on old reels are often grooved, particularly reels used with silk or Dacron lines, but these can be filed & sanded out. A steel bearing sleeve is pressed through the center of the spool, which turns on a generous 3/8 diameter oilyte bronze post. A bit of grease on the post now & then & you have smooth operation indefinitely. If you are a rock diver, this reel can take the punishment.

I like the worn paint finishes on the old, used reels, & these can be buffed with a fine polishing compound to achieve a patina-like finish similar to old bluing. Also, the old paint can be stripped & the reel sanded & buffed to a handsome ‘silver’ finish, or repainted with auto paint. I painted one, an old NO.35, a dark Lotus green, & a friend, a bamboo guy, fell so in love with it I had to give it to him. No problem. Ocean City made a lot of these & they are still fairly easy to find & fun to clean up & fish.

 My main beef with the Ocean City is that I’ve not found any but RHW & the reel’s line guide is not reversible. I like to cast with my right & wind with my left. However, click-pawl & spring drag versions work the same either direction, & the guide ring is not necessary, so the reel can be used LHW, though the guide ring does look a bit lame riding the back of the reel, out of commission. Still, for neoclassicists operating within a budget, these are cool reels. At 3” diameter, the NO.35 works for 5wt & under, & at 3-3/8” diameter, the NO.306 is just right for balancing an 8’, 6wt, glass or bamboo, as well as longer graphite rods, & at a blue collar price. These are old friends not ready to quit fishing. 

Son House sums up the way I feel about it: 

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Few Soft-Hackle & Wetfly Hooks for Trouting

     In building baits ‘form follows function’ is an abiding principle, though, taking the whole affair into consideration, particularly as regards hook choice, form & function often coalesce to equal importance & affect. We want a hook that’ll stick em & hold em throughout the battle, yet also possessing a shape suggestive & appropriate to the critter we seek to imitate.

Flinty old Yankee that I am, my third criteria in hook choice is price. Don’t usually buy a 10 or 25-pack of expensive hooks if I can find the same configuration in Mustad 100-packs at the same price. Guiding & supplying flies to clients we go through a lot of flies, so I tie on utilitarian hooks & fall short of being able to indulge in dropping the names of expensive Anglo hooks as my standard choices. 

The initiated have their decided favorites & for reasons only they can say.

My own choices, the hooks featured here, result from trials & the unique demands of my home water, the upper Columbia River, where wild redband trout average 19 inches & fight like pissed-off loggers on a Saturday night. They go bananas. And they will show you if your wee hook is any good, or not.

The hook choices listed here are based on the criteria laid down & none of these brands are sponsors (though, really, I would like it if they’d all send me some free hooks for the plug). You’ll notice that none of my choices are barbless, & there are some claw-point barbless hooks on the market that I really like the looks of & I’ve resolved to try some, yet, so far, using barbless hooks on my home water mostly results in long-distance releases. Very long-distance, denying anglers that pleasurable moment admiring a trout properly busted, in the net awaiting parole. Most of my hook choices possess mini barbs that back out doing little harm. When I fish water inhabited by a lot of small fish, or where it is required, I simply crush the barb down – & this saves me from having to buy & keep track of different hooks for duplicating the same patterns.   

Like I said, the initiated will have their preferences. My own, hopefully, might serve as a reference or starting point for those wondering what hooks to use in tying soft-hackle & wet flies for trout.

Daiichi 1150
Those who read SHJ have probably noticed that I use this hook a lot in tying soft-hackle flymphs & spiders. Though it is short-shanked with a wide gape & the overall shape lending itself to simulating the characteristic C-shape of caddis larvae, I don’t classify the 1150 as a ‘caddis’ style hook, exactly. In configuration it is, more precisely, an ‘octopus’ style hook, the same style popular with salmon/steelhead/trout bait fishers, & for good reason. The ‘octopus’ style is a faithful hooker & holder. When fishing precincts where large trout on wee flies is the game, the reliably strong Daiichi 1150 is a good choice for wingless patterns, #12-#18, as the short shank allows me a standard #16 on a #14 hook, affording a larger working end for maximum iron to hold larger, heavier fish. The short shank of a #18 works fine for tying midges down to about #22, while still allowing sensible iron for holding larger trout. The 1150 keels nicely, & the needle-sharp offset hook point makes it a consistent getter when fished on the swing. But for the tiny barb, the configuration is pretty much the same as the new barbless designs sold as ‘soft-hackle’ hooks. I prefer a straight or up-eye, & the slightly upturned nose of the 1150 is as elegant as it is utilitarian.

Mustad 3366-BR
A sproat style all-purpose hook, heavy wire, with a straight eye, short shank & wide hook gape with a deep, fish-holding pocket in the bend. The 3366-BR is a classic configuration for soft-hackle flies & winged wets. This style is a favorite of North Country traditionalists, who claim it tracks like the eyeless hooks of old, considering it preferable to modern down-eye styles for tying Tummel & Clyde style wets & North Country spiders. Its spacious, straight eye is easy to thread in failing light. A straight eye & wide gape ensure the hook keels smartly. In shape, it is identical to the Alec Jackson ‘traditional’ soft-hackle hooks, at about 1/10th the cost. Mustad hooks aren't heat-treated as brittle hard as a lot of the English brands, so the barb can be crimped without fracturing the hook point, & when crimped, the generous barb maintains a good, fish-holding hump. These are sized smaller than standard wetfly, a #10 equal to a standard #12. I tie #12 & #14 on a #10, & #14-#16 on a #12 3366BR If I could have only one hook for tying soft-hackles & winged wets, this would be my choice. Good for nymphs, terrestrials & too. The Mustad 3366-BR is a good-looking, well-tempered, reliable hook at a bargain price.

Mustad R50-94840
The classic sproat, down-eye hook many prefer for soft-hackle & wet flies. Though billed as a dryfly hook, it is heavy-wired (& well-tempered) by modern dryfly standards, the configuration identical to the Tiemco 2487 & Gaelic Supreme Jim Bashline wetfly hooks, at a fraction of the cost. If you like the down-eye style, the Mustad R50-94840 is a good one for the money.

Mustad 3906B
An old style wetfly sproat with a slightly longer hook shank than the Mustad R50-94840. Good for winged wets, stoneflies & patterns requiring a bit more body length. Also good for wee flies meant to be swung in fast water, tied short on the hook shank with a lot of hook extended behind. Some tie North Country spiders on these, the heavier iron fishing them deeper in the water column.

Mustad 94842
This is the graceful, old-timey up-eye sproat style James Leisenring, Pete Hidy & Sylvester Nemes favored for soft-hackle flies. I used to tie on this one a lot before switching to the stronger, shorter shanked, wider-gaped Daiichi 1150 & Mustad 3366-BR, which are more reliable against the hook-bending trout of my home water. Still, this hook makes any fly look good – & hooks as good as it looks. My choice for wee flies fished in the slow clear precincts of discerning, educated trout.

Tiemco 200R
An elegant hook, similar to Spey/salmon hook designs. The dropped, York bend of the 3x long 200R creates a deep keel to keep the fly tracking upright while swinging. I like this one for winged wets & bucktails. I also like the 200R for stonefly, dragon & damselfly imitations, Carey Specials, leeches & buggers. Marabou tailing doesn’t get wrapped as much with the dropped bend out of the way.

Daiichi 1120              
A caddis-style hook. Some like these for tying North Country spiders; though, as a hook for soft-hackle & wet flies, my only practical use for this design is in tying depthcharges meant to sink droppers bearing wee soft-hackles to the lower water column. If any weight is added to the curved shank it keels over & fishes point up, a desired posture in a weighted depthcharge, rending it less apt to snag obstructions on the stream bottom. For this purpose I use #8-#10, heavily weighted on the shank & dressed as a latex worm or nondescript-brown soft-hackle nymph.

And, naturally, SHJ's favorite catfish hook: