Peace On Earth
Goodwill To Men
Barred Surfperch Season
I admit to being a saltwater junkie & a frequenter of the wet sand. You’ve heard of the Fountain Of Youth? Right there. Over on the other side of HWY 1 spread out to the horizon like a spilled Margarita. Having settled in for winter on the
Cali coast, where jowser barred surfperch hunt the surf line, I’m
heading to the beach on days when the tides are right.
Long rods have always been the choice of surfcasters, & for wet sand fly casters, long, two-handed rods are a fun tool, able to throw heavy flies the necessary distance in the buffeting & often windy conditions encountered on the beach. I’m seeing increasing numbers of two-handed casters on the central & northern
theses days, & a distinct methodology developing. The beaches of California ,
with good fishing for striped bass, halibut, & surfperch, have probably
inspired the greatest refinements to the game.
The cast of choice is the two-handed overhead cast, or ‘switch’ cast. This is essentially the same as the ‘conventional’ overhead cast we make with a single-hand rod, but with the addition of a hand on the rear grip to lever the forward cast. Rods of 10 to 12 feet are best for this. The overhead cast is necessary for throwing the 15 to 30-foot fast-sinking heads needed to get a fly down & keep it down in the turbulent surf zone. It is extremely difficult to pick up & aerialize a 30-foot sink-tip & heavily weighted fly with an anchor-point cast, particularly in the waves – hence the switch cast. Open space for the backcast is not a problem. But watch for Cali mermaids walking their Labs.
Light Spey or switch rods in the #3-#4 weight class are popular in the surf, though I prefer a little more rod, my favorite, a 12’6” #5 Spey. But any longer than that & it becomes difficult to throw the overhead cast.
Sand, & micro-sand, are ever present in the surf environment, & it gets into everything. Having sacrificed a couple of expensive reels equipped with sealed bearings & disc drags, I’ve come to rely on inexpensive click-pawl models lacking those delicate mechanisms subject to ruination.
Though shooting heads are serviceable, most experienced surf casters come to prefer integrated lines. Surfperch are often very close in, requiring the fly to be stripped nearly to the leader connection, & an integrated line accomplishes this without the irritation of loop-to-loop line connections bumping & catching through the guides. Also, windy conditions on the beach raise hell blowing coils of light shooting line out of the stripping basket, & the heavier running sections of integrated lines stay put in the basket & are easier to handle with cold, wet hands. Though shooting heads generally cast farther, the difference in casting distance is negligible, I think. And a well-matched integrated line will cast better than a not-so-well-matched shooting head.
Remember, it takes a lot less weight to load a rod performing the overhead cast than it does to load a rod with an anchor-point cast, so it’s best to choose a designated surf line with a weight rating near the lightest end of a rod’s grain window. For example, my #5 Spey has a grain window of 350-550 grains. The Cortland Compact Type 9 (sink-rate, 9ips) with 30-foot sink-tip I’m using is rated at 375 grains.
The leader is simple. I rig a semi-permanent, 2-foot leader butt of stiff, 20 pound test fluorocarbon with a small barrel swivel attached to the tippet end. (Seagar Red Label is the best I’ve used, & available at any Walmart). The swivel is necessary, as the surf will tumble the fly & twist the casting line without it. A 2 to 3-foot tippet of 12 or 15 pound test fluoro, depending on conditions, is knotted to the swivel. Though I’m not real fond of multiple fly rigs as they do tangle, I often prospect with a second fly tied dropshot style at about the middle of the tippet section. The dropper works best unweighted.
Surfperch baits include Clouser types, Girdle Bugs, Surf Merkins, Mole Crab imitations, & Comet style flies. All but those used as droppers are weighted, either under the body, or with coneheads or dumbells. Shades of dark olive, blue, purple, rootbeer, red & pink, & combinations of these, are good perch colors.
Are surfperch good to eat? No fish better. Surfperch are the ingredient of choice in the original Baja fish taco. They are fairly plentiful & I drop a few in the pack & we enjoy a lot of fresh fish tacos while wintering in
Winter Spade Flies
~ Mark Hagopian
Fellow saltwater junky, SHJ East Coast correspondent, & talented fly designer, Mark Hagopian, kindly shares these two elegant herl-body spiders with us. Though Mark tied them with
Great Lakes steelhead in mind, I think they show promise
as good bait for pre-spawn rainbows, cutthroat, & landlocked salmon as well.
Combinations of various hackle & dyed ostrich herl create a spectrum of
possibilities for colorations on these. Lots of enticing breathe & pulse in
the materials. We all recognize the effectiveness of the soft-hackle design
frame in simulating stream-born insects, but Mark’s flies serve as a good example
of the simple spider design as a wee lure (attractor), an effective & often
overlooked approach to soft-hackle designs. If trout aren’t eating bugs, try
swinging a lure. The dressing is simple: a bit of imagination, an ostrich herl
body, & a soft hackle or two.
The Reel News
The Loss Of Animalness: Experiencing smaller & fewer insect hatches?
Long a staple of soft-hackle tyers, Pearsall’s is no longer selling Gossamer Silk. Huge bummer, to be sure. But don’t worry, necessity is the mother of substitutions. Embroidery thread can be useful. And though it may not be the perfect substitute, I’ve found size ‘A’ rod wrapping thread to be a fine substitute for silk applications, & at a fraction of the cost. ‘A’ thread has the strength & gloss of silk, though slightly larger in diameter, & is available in every color imaginable. It can be dubbed on & is perfect for split-thread dubbing. I use it in ‘A’ & also the larger ‘D’, which is excellent for bodies or ribbing on larger patterns. And the metallic rod threads are as good as the finest French oval, yet less expensive & available in many more colors. Check out the threads from Pac Bay.
In a correspondence with the estimable Bill Shuck, I suggested rod wrapping thread for tying, but of course he was already on to it, & sent the two examples featured here, tied with ‘A’ thread. As you can see, the bodies are a bit heavier than those tied with Pearsall’s, though not overly fat to my eye, with a ‘juicy’, segmented look. Bill’s version of the Tup’s Indispensable looks like it’d be at least as effective as the original.
Fortunately for us, Bill picked up the cue &, in addition to the rod thread examples, sent along the following two articles. Bill is one of the great Mid-Atlantic tyers in the Leisenring/Hidy tradition. For those interested in how James Leisenring constructed his flies & the philosophy behind them, Bill Shuck’s flies serve as stellar examples. I’ll let Bill take it from here:
Baby Sunfly ~ Bill Shuck
An English clergyman, Rev. Edward Powell, fished streams in the Shropshire region in the Welsh borderlands of
on a regular basis during the 1920’s – 1950’s. He is credited by author
Christopher Knowles in his book (Orange
Otter, Medlar Press, England 2006)
and others with developing as many as 26 fly patterns that were especially
killing on these waters. He named one of these the “Baby Sunfly” since it was a
smaller, slightly modified version of a D. Lewis pattern called “Sunfly”. It
was strictly a generic pattern, as Powell was convinced that fish mostly just
wanted black and brown flies. The original dry fly pattern was (more or less)
as follows: Ellesmere,
Hook: Sizes 12 – 18
Thread: Brown or black
Tail: Black or coch-y-bondhu cock hackle barbs
Body: Dubbed rabbit face, from triangle of nose & eyes, very dark, tied full
Rib: Brown thread, 3 turns
Hackle: Black or coch-y-bondhu cock hackle, as many turns as possible
It is interesting to note that the fur used for the body of the fly was the quite dark underfur found on the face of the English rabbit, not the better-known-to-fly-tiers English hare -- a different critter. It is necessary to trim away the grey/tan outer portion of the fur to get at the dark, bluish black underfur.
Answering the challenge of a fellow member on the Flymph Forum site, I’ve attempted to tie this pattern as a soft hackle wet fly. I’ve tied it on a vintage Herter’s 423 TDE hook, Size #14 using Pearsall’s Gossamer #17 brown thread. The tail whisks were taken from an iridescent black feather found at the back of a coch-y-bondhu hen saddle and the collar is a combination of that same black feather and a black and 'red' feather from further up the saddle. Since I do not have an English rabbit mask, the body is a blend of hare’s poll and black wool spun in #17 Gossamer on a
Hen Saddle Palmer ~ Bill Shuck
Hen ‘saddle’, or elongate hen neck hackle, is a choice feather for dressing flymphs or palmered flies. Bill gives us a fine example serving as a short tutorial on how it’s done. The method Bill describes here is the basic palmering method I use for all types of flies.
The nondescript brown buzz-hackle looks like a lot of things one might encounter on a freestone, & a worthwhile type to carry. These fish well drifted or swung. Also a good pattern fished deep to simulate medium sized stonefly nymphs. Bill describes the dressing:
Hook: Vintage Mustad 38932 #10
Thread: Pearsall’s Gossamer #6a, light orange; leave long (6” or so) thread tag for use as reinforcing rib over the palmered hackle.
Hackle: Tip section from webby, pointed hen saddle feather (base of hen neck) tied in slightly behind the hook eye, by the stem w/tip extended out over the eye. Wrap tying silk to rear, leaving the tag hanging at the start of the hook bend.
Shank Tag: Tying silk wraps
Tail: Light ginger cock hackle barbs, longish
Body: Blend of 80% hare’s poll dyed gold and 20% brownish-orange wool spun on #6a on Clark’s block; tie in just in front of tail and bring tying thread forward to just behind the hackle and tie off/trim excess hackle – wind thread tag forward as a rib over (through) the palmered hackle to the front.
Head: Thread wraps, preferably conical shape per Leisenring/Hidy
See more examples of Bill’s fine work here: https://soft-hacklejournal.blogspot.com/2016/04/bill-shuck-form-function.html
Thanks for sharing, Mark & Bill.
Wishing all of you & yours health & happiness through the Holidays & in the coming New Year. ~Steve