Saturday, January 30, 2016

Early Outings and New Tools

Public domain picture of 1904 by Edmund Davis "Her First Forty Pound Salmon."

I not sure how that skirt fits into the waders;but, she's awfully dry for such a large fish. The rod in her hand does double duty as the centerpole of the excursion tent.

First outing of 2016 today: Mill Creek in Dexter, Michigan.

One of the Amber Liquid guys - Chip - came along and we enjoyed a nice outing in forty-five degree plus weather. Won't hold; but, it was sure nice.

I saw a midge fly down the stream in front of me as I walked. We saw a rock bass and a trout. The trout was in the stream behind a rock presumably feeding in just a couple feet of water. It didn't reach freezing here yesterday but the fish were out today.

I worked on the dreaded French Leader.

My apologies for not have a good photo myself. There is a link here to a great picture of one as deployed. Louis Cahill shot the image and I wish I knew Louis to ask if I could use it.

I used a 10' 3wt Echo fiberglass two-hander as a rod for tight-line nymphing (short line, more probably) with just a couple feet of line out on a leader I built myself last night. I made a "curley-q" French leader from some 15 lb. Stren hi-vis.

It works.

Now, the casting is a bit tricky. The curley-q business introduces slack in the system so a strong, brisk water-haul works great. An oval cast - as in Tenkara - works okay but just okay. A sharp roll cast work like garbage.

You need a good bit of line tension so the water-haul is the one.

I fished upstream using a #1 shot and a weighted hare's ear in 14.  I rigged the shot about 18" ahead of the fly and casting upstream in light current allowed this rig to roll over obstacles, pull free on snags, and still keep the fly in "floating" motion 4" - 8" off the bottom.

This was more learning than catching session and I learned plenty.

Short curley-q works best ... 18" is too long. I'll next try just 12".  Tight lining with the indicator bit tied-in somewhere around 6' down the leader is a good place with the 10' rod.

The French leader is sensitive ...I could tell by watching when the shot/fly was ticking over rock, when over obstacle, when over sand. It's super sensitive and with a little observation and practice, you catch right on to "normal" versus "fish."

I will develop a better nymph feel using this crutch. My goal is to sharpen my knowledge of the subsurface take then eliminate the French leader enabler. I'm just too damn ignorant now to hook fish who are not hooking themselves.

I'm an unskilled nymph fisherman.

Strikes with small sharp hooks are pulls - not jerks. Don't let that fly and weight come out of the water on a hook-set. The bloody rig is tangle prone. Smooth authoritative lifts. Not jerks.

We went to a local ale house run by a brewery after fishing. Chip broke ice on the side of the stream so I could get out easier - damn nice.

The water is cold. The sunshine is fine. The fish are out and about.

Early days are as nice as mid-season days. Maybe nicer, as I dream of spring.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

They're In The Water

Displaying 20160124_095325.jpg

At left, the Bearfly: a black-dubbed gold-ribbed hare's ear in 16 with rusty hen hackle "leg-things". No, I didn't see the stray fiber hanging down until after the photos. It's almost invisible without the flash: a piece of the SLF fiber from Wotton's SLF in black.

There's a conventional herl thorax in there that didn't show distinctly in the photo but does show distinctly when it is in my hand.

Yes, it does have a bit of a fat ass. The black SLF is a little "stiff" and doesn't settle-in like natural.

For whatever reason, the black SLF is slightly obnoxious to work with when compared to the same brand in hare's ear  or the white.

I like the dark color of this fly and will tie them about 2:1  versus standard light grey hare's ear this winter. I just like it.

I'm tired of tying the standard hare. This pattern is easier for me to see to work on when tying without turning my desk lamp to "tanning."

Looks buggy to me.

I'm a dry fly guy. I like fishing the surface and watching the takes.

I don't catch a ton of fish using that technique.

Last year, I started using versions of the North County Spiders as soft-hackled flies I tie myself and ...boom: I started catching more fish.

I started having more fun subsurface, too.

I learned two styles of fly fishing - meaning using a fly rod. I could throw a woolly buggar subsurface or throw bushy flies on the top. I was experimental and cut off the bottom of hackle to make "splatt" flies on the surface film and did well on nutrient-poor high-county streams.

In Ireland, my Uncle tied big hair-wing streamers for me to use for trout. He fished salmon, exclusively. None of his flies survive; but, the smallest would have been a generous 6. No, I didn't catch a lot of trout in that period either but I did become a good flat-water slow-current dry fly stalker.

This was my first introduction to the meaning of presentation.

I'm working again this year on my sub-surface action.

I'm going to use some lighter feather-wing streamers this year. I have high hopes that I'll be able to do better at controlling these lighter angler-driven flies to entice takes better than my unimaginative "swing" of a buggar. I took three nice fish last fall on smallish hair-wings (size 12) with very little weight that I "pulled" or "snap-jigged" through the water. The takes were fun.

I'm at the vise just like everyone else. I'm thinking of spring. I'm revising my "must tie" list for '16.

My walleye buddies with whom I enjoyed years of fly-in fishing to back-county Ontario tell the story of one outfitter who dropped them off at the cabin and turned around after unloading the gear to crawl back into the float plane.

My buddies expected the usual "secret sauce" briefing from the outfitter as is customary in these trips so they asked "where are the fish right now?"

As the outfitter started the engine, he yelled out the window "They're in the water."

Haha. Everyone laughs. The crew never used that outfitter again, however. Service matters.

I have trouble detecting takes sub-surface when I don't have a good view of the leader in the water. It makes my nymphing poor.

I'm going to use some small 6 mm in-line bead indicators I tie-in myself into my nymphing leaders to help with this. I'm not a brave enough wader to keep all my leader off the water when nymphing holes and so I need a crutch. I cannot "tight line" everywhere I want to fish.

I hate "bobber" but I do need the help getting a better feel. A little visual aid may make the difference. I have a Bearfly to prove out so, I have to do better.

More soft hackled flies, this year.

I have been adding some beaver dubbing to some versions to create a natural "scum" class that will help when there is distinct surface action - without resorting to true dry fly. I get dry-fly refusal even moving down two sizes and 7x tippet. Last year I discovered the very real difference between "the film" type of emerger presentation and surface dry-fly style presentations.

I fished a pool too long having each fish refuse my drift and fly several times. They kept feeding, though - so I didn't hose it up completely. I switched to a spider with beaver dubbing that hung on the surface.  I took two of the fish before sending the others down.

Scum won out. I was too slow in being a full fledged scum practitioner first. I wasted half a year.

My technique this year : Scum First. I won't jump back to dry when I see the first few hatches pop in the warm of the afternoon. I'll move to film-style soft-hackled flies.

I'm getting better. I hope to make my buddies better, too. More upstream work this year. More water study. Less thrash, more fishing like a heron.

I'm going to eat more smoked clams while watching the water on quiet afternoons. I'm going to see if I can listen for the trout.

Back to the vise.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016



Above, the usual suspects in a U.S. Government photo dated June 1973 hosted on wikicommons.

My trout buddies thought my "Libraries" post might have been a little "preachy."

Ain't seen nothing yet.

Can we have a little gear detente among the members of the Trout Industrial Complex, please?


First, line manufacturers: WTF? 


I tried to find a double taper line in 6wt and nearly was blinded on the Airflow site. Rio ... you're right there too. 


That's what I have to say. 

Does every line have to "do something for me", really? I have yet to see one cast itself. 

How many Bass Bug specialty lines can any one firm sell? If I'm throwing a HulaPopper, I'm not fly fishing!

Lastly, does no one mend?  I'll end up with a very nice Airflow Elite DT because my local fly shop owner will sell it to me with a cup of coffee, spool it on my reel, and tell me the best grease to use all in one transaction. 


There is nothing I can say here without sounding like I'm standing on the corner screaming that gas used to cost a quarter a gallon and I could buy a coke for a dime when I started college. [ I spent a long time in school.]

I'll pay a lot for gear because good gear lasts 20 years. I bought a Hardy rod last year my buddies will fight over the day they put me in the kiln.

$400+ for a mid-grade rod seems a bad thing for the sport, however. I'm known to have more money than brains yet somehow basing my business plan on such individuals appears unsound. 

What do I know? They're not giving golf clubs away, either. Seems to be the new fly fishing model.

Wading Boots

Felt works and the rest of it is just awful. No, I won't put bars on my boots and grind up all the rocks in my river. 

I will however put on my Vibram soles which are great for the hike to the river, get in, and spend most of the day slipping on rocks like a pig on ice.

There's a special place in hell for the designers of wading boot soles. It's in the section where they only serve weak coffee.

I do wear felt bootfoot on my home river. Works fine. Home waters only for those soles.


No one at Megastore has ever offered me a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning or a beer on a Thursday evening as I bought tippet on the way to the stream.

I know how commerce works.

I also know something about building brands.

You get farther with a rod dealer and a cup of coffee than a rod dealer alone. If you work for Sage and read this: there's your takeaway. 

Megastores are just rod dealers. Sure, nice guys do work there. 

They won't however tell me there is nothing wrong with my existing 5 wt that can't be cured by learning to use a dynamic roll cast in splash-and-go mode. 

They'll sell me a new broomstick. Latest thing. Sexy.


What Does It Mean? 

Jockey matters as much as the horse. 

It isn't the gear as much as it is the skill of the fellow using it.

There is a consistent effort on the part of the T.I.C. to obscure the roll of education, practice, and proficiency on the part of the angler as the primary contributor to enjoyment and success. 

Sure, Sebastian Vettel drives for Fararri which is a pretty nice piece of gear. He'd also beat most of us to the airport though traffic in a Prius. He's a better wheelman.

Keep the existing 5 wt. 

Learn something new. 

I thought I was a fine fisherman when I came to Michigan because I could float a dry for a foot or so drift-free after the cast - well enough to take starved summer trout on the Big Thompson.

I didn't know Jack Shit.

I'm going to master tight-line nymphing before I go in the grave. Subsurface,  Jack says. The fish eat things in the water more than things on the water.

I've got to go tie.


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Sunday Fish Porn Returns

There is little as sexy as a good snake roll. Pete from Orvis has a pretty foolproof explanation, here.

Thanks Orvis!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Library, Winter

At left, public domain image of the New York Yacht Club library. Wikicommons hosts the picture now out of copyright.

The Library at the Amber Angler's club is somewhat more compact. We do however serve a very fine scotch and several decent bourbons.

I'm in the library. It isn't just for storing books and tying flies (along with plotting world domination). It is a place to read undisturbed by spouse or some pets.

Page 160 of my edition. I quote:
The trout really do take to designs better than patterns. That is to say, they look at how a fly is behaving before they consider its color. The concept of design makes sense when you hear what the trout say, and therefore is the title of this book.
Datus Proper, What the Trout Said, (Knopf, New York, 1982).

I'm at the vise and tying. I am tying for the '16 season with an eye of being one of those anglers who -- when dropped on any stream in North America -- has at his disposal the flies on hand to imitate the actions of the predominant food source on a stream regardless of species or season.

To some anglers, this means six boxes and a vault back in the car. To me it means 20 - 30 drys, and an equal number of wets in two small shirt pocket boxes. Oh, a note on boxes.

Last year, I stumbled on Chris Lantzy [here] He's a fishing traditionalist, rod maker, gear maker, and damn decent human being. I haven't had the pleasure of spending time on the water in his company, but I will. He's down the road in Pennsylvania.

Chris makes some wonderful soft fly wallets that are ideal fly gear. I used both the mini and the full size last year and gave a mini to all the Amber Anglers at spring camp. Excellent gear.

I like the mini fly wallet better than my small-sized Orvis aluminum day box ...though the shirt-pocket day box protects intricate dry flies quite well, too. I used mostly soft-hackled flies as scum-film wets last year an a little crush makes them even more useful on the water.

Anyway, your day boxes for success. Back on topic ...

I love fly shops. I love to stop and talk about what is going on with the river.

I don't think I need "Mark's Tiny Purple Sorensan with a Double Pike One-and-a-half Gainer."

I need a dark spider in size 16 with a Gnat dropper in 18 fished about 24" below the spider.  

The goal is to have at hand a ready selection of flies to account for being two hours from the car when rain sets in and the Hendrickson's start popping off in size 18-16. Sounds like an olive partridge in 16 with 8 inch tag hare's ear in 18 fished upstream in riffled seams coming off rocks and logs.

That last part is the important part. More important that anything else. Let's play Professor for a moment and analyze that sentence.
Sounds like an olive partridge in 16 with 8 inch tag hare's ear in 18 fished upstream in riffled seams coming off rocks and logs.
What Dataus Proper is saying, and what many others have said, is that the behavior of the fly is the critical part. The trout having to make up his mind on "food" or "not food" very quickly uses some sort of crude instinctive logic. Remember ... he has the brain of a frog. Yep, a frog. He's not very smart. He doesn't have "reasoning" skills. He has instinct. He's hardwired. He doesn't have adaptable programming.

 Our sentence.

"Olive" - hrmph. Half of all food in the stream is light or dark olive and the other half is dark brown-black. Hardly too distinguishing, then. This description tells us to make sure the fly does not resemble "Not" food. Don't screw the pooch. Got it.

"Partridge" - in context, resembling any sparse emerger or dun. Bugs have wings and legs but these aren't off a 747 and do not resemble a seven-bladed Sikorsky. The bits that "stick out" are few and sparse. So, partridge doesn't matter and starling or hen could do as well. Maribou or Bunny Strips are however right out. Also, we're talking about things in the first 1 - 4 inches of water when we talk partridge. A drop of floatant and we're talking scum. So, this word means a lot to us ...because we expect it to alert fish to "food" floating.

"16" - size matters. Fish eat size 4 hex. Yes. They do not eat size 4 bat-wing hex in April. Size is a key.

"8 inch tag" - we're in the surface film with the partridge. We're toward the top of the top 1/3 of the water column with the dropper. Important. It means we expect the fish to be following food "up" from the bottom 1/3 where they hang about. Current breaks happen at the bottom more than the top and trout are ...lazy.

"Hare's ear" ... any suitable non-distinct larvae/pupae here. Caddis? check. Iso? check. Mayfly? check. Remember, the trout has about a second to recognize it in the water. He's not going to Ann Miller's fine book [ Hatch Guide for Upper Michigan Streams ] for any comparisons. The modifier "about" in the phrase "looks about like ..." in a trout's go/no-go logic circuit is key. Hare's Ear really does "look about like" a great deal. You knew that, though.

"In 18" ... again, most than half of a trout's early season sub-surface food is size 16 -18. I'd say 3/4 of everything a trout less than 14" - 16" eats is subsurface in 16-18 but I'm not a fisheries biologist. Haven't got the right hat.

 "fished upstream in riffled seams coming off rocks and logs."  The meat of our sentence lies here. Everything else hangs from it.  Upstream ... so the drift works best at our target point of presentation, the hook-ups go best from the take, and the odds of spooking the fish go way down.

Success in a single word right there: upstream.

Riffled seams? Hendrickson's drift for a bit in the surface film. They drown easily in turbulent flow ...thus riffles. Just downstream, fish eat in the concentrated flow of bugs that now are easy to catch ...remember: trout are lazy.

So, the assertion is that we could manage this hatch situation in several forms with a wide variety of patterns providing our flies act like the natural insect. Behavior, then size.

Color or true resemblance?

It's a fly. The trout sees the big hook. You see the shiny pointy thing, don't you? Think the trout doesn't? He earns his living looking at food. He KNOWS your fly has a hook.

What he cannot do is form a reasoned appreciation of your hook. Food vs. Not Food.

Fly acts like food (most important job)?
Fly appears in portion of stream with most currently available food source?
Fly is roughly size and shape of food source?
Fly does not possess a color which detracts from its appearance as food source when in the water?

Fish thinks it is food.

Presentation in the best form for hooking success with minimized chances of spooking fish?

Successful trout outing.

We're in the library. We're getting smarter. We're tying utility flies that catch fish in many situations.

We're staying away from flies that include the description "and a one-and-a-half gainer."

Have you read Datus? You should. Ask at your local bookstore. It's out of print. They'll get it though.

My bookstore: Motte and Bailey. [ here ] Oh, be nice to Gene. He's lived with me and that takes a certain toll.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Outings Plan - 2016

At left, public domain image (thanks, Anjbe) on wikicommons of a classic excursion tent famed in the 50's and 60's. Weighs about a ton wet or dry.

Nice basecamp, though. I wonder if they come pre-impregnated with skunk odor or that's just how they end up over the years?

I'm planning my 2016 outings. Never too early.

For the Amber Liquid guys, here's what I am planning. Where dates are known, I've put them down.

  1. Trout Camp -> Mason Tract South Branch Au Sable. Canoe Harbor Campground featuring Ol' Delano as base camp. (Thanks, Big Bear!). May. The Mason Tract is good brown trout fishing. Car camping.
  2. Father's Day Camp -> Mason Tract South Branch Au Sable. Canoe Harbor Campground. June. Brown Tout summer outing. Dry Fly and Soft hackled flies in the surface film fishing. Probably another up-on-Thursday and back-on-Sunday affair. Car camping.
  3. Deward Dry Camp. -> Upper Manistee.= for wilderness brook trout.You can camp in the Deward tract within 50 feet of the roads so: car camping. No facilities so I will bring my own water. However, I need transport help to make it down the two-tracts.  My trout car is a BMW Z4 ... not exactly a two-track champ. It does attract  my wife who likes fast rides in a convertible and ice cream outings on warm summer evenings. Outing is definitely SUV camping.
  4. Keystone Landing Camp -> Main Branch Au Sable and North Branch Outing. Keystone is a great evening wade on the Au Sable at dusk and dawn (no canoes ...water calms) during the summer proper. My North branch outing is from Powerline to Lovells and then the area around Dam 4 lower down. I've not fished Dam 4 before and so will be adding it to the trip. Car camping.
  5. Adams Fly Origin -> Up to the Boardman River and Scheck's Place trail camp. Some say the Boardman is off these years. I have to try. If I leave Michigan without fishing the birthplace of the Adams fly, what stories can I actually tell?  This has good July possibilities when the Au Sable has its annual canoe marathon outbreak. Car camping.
  6. Trout Dash Manistee - Upper Manistee River Campground. I need a good place to make a dash and during last fall's Manistee outing I enjoyed the gentle bends of the river along the campground. Sure, there are canoes. Always canoes in Michigan. However, the river had a nice turn here and I think dawn/dusk will offer a lot in the summer. I plan on most dashing to involve the Mason Tract and the South Branch but this is a campground area is a nice spot for a little outing, too. Car camping ( 100 yard walk-in).
  7. Sturgeon Surgeon Wilderness Prescription -> Green Timbers on the Sturgeon River. This is a wilderness hike-in and camp on the Sturgeon river. It isn't much of hike as I intend (less than 3 miles) but it is unimproved wilderness dispersed camping along a spring-creek style river. I still want to hike-in and fish the Jordan but the river is tough - very tough - and not the sort of place I'm inclined to go alone. Bears (just black bears) and very treacherous wades wait on the Jordan and so might just wait another year for me. The Sturgeon has some open, gentle, seldom visited sections and this wilderness park is one. How much pressure can a river have if you hike-in two to three miles? As much holiday and solace as trout outing, this trip has a great deal to offer in less-visited parts of Michigan. Great when everyone is on the Au Sable accessible parts! This is a hike and pack-in trip. 
So, there is plenty here beyond smallmouth in the Huron and trout fishing in the evening on my local Mill Creek restoration stream. Mill Creek offers bar-b-que supper (Hotel Hickman cowboy cooking ... tasty ribs and pork) and the Beer Grotto (craft beer watering hole) as well as the Null Taproom and soon: grub pub annex. Right now it is beer only from the Northern Brewing Alliance - including Jolly Pumpkin and North Peak.

Plenty of trout fishing to make happen.

Next year: Northern Michigan Fox River and the Fox River Pathway Trail.

First dash to the Mason Tract ... late March? We'll check the weather. Certainly there will be a trip in April.

All welcome to join. Spending the night even on a one-day up-and-back really makes the trip easier. Extra tent and cot available for use.


Wednesday, January 6, 2016

At The Bench

At left, and image from Michael Maggs of a Durham Ranger from wikicommons. Michael is good enough to let us share the image for just the price of a nice attribution.

Great image - but then it is one of the best on wilicommons. Pretty high praise.

I'm tying.

Right now, I'm tying a Klinkhammers which will be my go-to dry this year along with the Deer Hair Caddis.

The Klinkhammer will let me see the take when there is almost enough light to fish and will let me suspend my duo beneath for early season nymphing. I'm still on the soft hackles. The Klinkhammer tied by me becomes a horizontally registered soft-hackled fly.

There isn't much else to say.

I'm looking towards the weekend where I may get an hour of high-stick nymphing in out on Mill Creek. We're not iced-up yet.

I'm drinking decaf coffee and tying flies.

I'm dreaming of spring outings.

I'm looking forward to the early season trout dashes up north. Hot food this year: that'll be something new.

Stay off the sauce. Stay on the vise.

Dream of spring days.