Saturday, January 20, 2018

Fly Talk: Isonychia, The Drakes

One of the Amber Liquid guys suggested I actually contribute something to the fly fishing codex of our group instead of the "Baked Goods Illustrated" segment.

No cookies for you.

So, Michigan. Let's cover a series of  invertebrates which casual anglers here in the mitten can expect to reasonably encounter in our streams.

I'll start here because the isonychia is one of my favorites; is active as trout food for long stretches of the season; and is found in the types of places anglers love to fish: cobble, boulder, and -- in Michigan -- gravel strewn riffle.

The isonychia is a mayfly.

This genus is common all over the northeast and has a couple sub-species in the Yellowstone area ... though I am not qualified to speak on western insects.

Above, an iso flymph tied today on a new vise. First fly tied on it.

The iso genus has several sub-species. In common names:

  • the Slate Drake (bi-color iso nymph), 
  • the White-Gloved Howdy
  • the Lead Winged Coachmen (yes, just like the classic fly pattern), 
  • and the Mahogany Drake.
The slate drake nymph is famous for its "racing stripe" down the middle of its back from head to tail. Unmistakable identification when you find this trait.

The iso is active in the fastest parts of streams. He is a great swimmer dashing from rock to rock within his habitat.

He perches on rocks in the mainstream or just off it with his back legs gripping tightly while his foreparts and forelegs make a basket from which he catches and consumes bits and pieces.

He's in the water actively from May through September in one form or another and crawls to the slower water on the stream's side to emerge.

I make great generalizations here across all the species because they all behave the same. It really isn't too important to know one from another.

He's a dark beastie in the water 12 - 17 mm long. He's longer than your thumbnail, then. Orvis sells an articulated imitation which gives you an idea of the substantial length of the nymph. ( I'd don't find tying two-piece flies fun and I can't imagine anyone else does either).

So ... the iso is about an inch long. He lives in rocks, gravel beds, and on small boulders. He's in the mainstream. Trout see displaced iso nymphs all year long. He lives in large populations on stretches of Michigan rivers like the Au Sable.

Most hatches occur in the late afternoon towards evening. I'm not covering the fishing of the hatch or the spinner here. I haven't had good luck with either beyond normal "throw an Adams at it" so I can't really say much about chasing during the hatch.

I have had good luck swinging iso nymphs into pools at the end of cobble and gravel runs right about dinner time. Think of the stretch below Powerline on the Upper Branch Au Sable.

The fishing is simple: bottom 1/3 of the water column. 

I like a tight-line swing with small jerky tugs of 1-2" as the swing progresses and I know I'm at depth. It helps the hook-ups and helps the imitation as isonychia do have a jerky style of swimming.

I use other means to get the fly down to that level rather than weighting the nymph. I want the nymph to float free as if lost in the current rather than thump along at the bottom mixed in with the bits of organic detritus.

The color is a bit lost on me though Ann Miller says he is reddish-brown to purplish-brown in body. Sounds good.

The fly above is a #10 3xl heavy U205 umpqua hook.

The fly is tied short way above the curve of the hook. That's important for the swing. You'll get aggressive trout dashing up to take the fly and turning quickly back downstream. I think the exposed hook helps. At least, having the fly tied this way has ended some of my frustration at slow strip-sets.

Tail and abdomen: pheasant.5-6 barbs. Trout cannot count how many tails a fly has.

Thorax: Wotton SLF in dark claret sparsely wound and picked until ragged. I use a dubbing loop and get a good ratty twist with it.

Hackle: Barred hen in black, solid brown, or dun grey. Early season, the barred or all-black hackle seems to help. No, I don't know why.

It's a good fly and I'll have three dozen in the quiver before opener.

I lost four in a row on one stretch of the Mason Tract last year. Took a fat brown on the fifth tie. There was a lot of timber partially buried on the South Branch Au Sable last year. More than I remember previously being partially buried mid-stream. Snaggy.


Hatch Guide for Upper Midwest Streams. Ann Miller. pp 116 - 121.
Nymphs. Ernest Schweibert. pp. 204 - 210. (In my 2nd edition with all the corrections).
Mayflies: An Angler's Study of Trout Water Ephemeroptera. Malcolm Knopp and Robert Cormier. pp. 84 - 91.

I'm cleaning up my go-to-stream boxes from all of last season. You should do the same.


Thursday, January 18, 2018


I'm wussing out.

The photo at left hosted on wikicommons is from MIKI Yoshihito from Sapporo City, Japan. MIKI allows its use here for just the attribution. Nice. And, nice snapshot!

Winter camping breakfast/lunch/supper/snack. Who knows? Looks mighty tasty to a bear.

I have toyed with the idea of winter camping and doing some fishing on the South Branch Au Sable.

I've decided to pass this year. If the winter warms a little, I might go. We're crossing our third week without rising above freezing and it has been considerably colder up in trout country (interior basin so ... cold).

March. I'll make a dash in March.

I haven't got an expedition quality bag.

I'm cool in my bag and bag liner at the mid twenties even using mid-weight layering and, as always, sleeping in a wool hat. I could use a better low-temperature bag; but,  I'm not sure I really want to be fishing when the nights drop to twenty or below.

The first four or five hours with a 40 oz canteen of hot water makes for good sleeping. The last two hours before dawn can be rough.

Apart from cold -- and the persistent ice-over -- the winter here has been fine.

I'm concerned for my friends in the Old World after the winds and storm blew through. Power outages can be a real problem where electric heat or electric-glycol systems are employed.

Hope all of you are warm, powered, and dry.

Or, at least the pub is two of the three.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?

 Practicing for camp.

At left, Jiffy blueberry buckle cake (added cup of frozen blueberries horded from this summer, fresh nutmeg, cinnamon)  whipped up for breakfast here on "forbidden food" weekend.

My wife is in Palm Springs. It's in the desert. No fish. Desert.

Not my kind of place.

That's a 6" anodized baking round.
 Comes out pretty well. Butter knife for scale.
And, blueberries. It's great bear food for camp. Makes too much for one so I might have to share if any of my Michigan native black bears show up in camp. Will however be a camping hit for whoever shows up!

Might have to feed this and some scrambled eggs to Beargirl if I take here camping.

Now ... to talk the Ritz into using their kitchen because that's the sort of "roughing it" my wife likes. No complaints from me.

I love a bar with a selection of 21-year old scotches.

I'm tuning up for season. I pulled the gear out this morning and did an inventory check for trout.

This little 1492 1/2 Medalist has been hanging around for five years, unspooled.

It's a right-hand retrieve only and is the tail-end-charlie of my 3-wt appropriate reels. Cute as a kitten, though.

Well, hello daring!

I have a 3wt 3-piece Fenwick of the new S2 glass. I got it last winter for brookie brush-busting outings and then decided to push through and complete my 12 Streams of Michigan tour. I didn't do much dedicated 3 wt work. My loss.

2018 is my year-of-brookies given that I am going on my Fox and Two-Hearted dash this year.

I have a Galvan Brookie reel that I love on my Trout Bum. That rod is however both special and graphite. It isn't a rod to take dashing down fifty feet of slope. The Fenwick is such a rod.

I'm spooling the 1492 1/2 with about 30 feet of dacron and a  little mono-core running line (maybe 60 feet, maybe 70 ) to use with a 150 grain OPST head. I'll either mount the Galvan Brookie with the 3wt Wulff TT which is wonderful stuff for accurate, delicate presentation or I'll mount this 1492 1/2 with the OPST head for less delicate and longer-reach outings.

I'll admit it: a 4 wt is overkill for most of the fish I catch. There it is.

My big brown of the year was just shy of 14". I caught a bigger brookie as the first fish of the '17 season. Neither of those fish would be unplayable in any sporting sense on this Fenwick 3wt.

Sure, I might not be able to horse a 14" brown out of cover with a glass 3 wt. Better than 50-50 I can. Even if I fail, that's a problem I'll take any day.

I use single-handed Spey techniques for most of my fishing, now. It the mechanism to use when slowing stepping through a "tree-tunnel" and you still want to reach the nice cut alongside the far bank. Adding an OPST head system for my lightweight work is just putting another tool in the tool box.

I'm a wet fly guy most of the time. If I were a dry fly guy most of the time, I'd stick with just the Triangle Taper and my hand-tied leaders.

I'm not.

I'll let you know how spring training goes with the light heads.

I have to go and test my dirty-rice made with smoked turkey sausage.  I'm training for all aspects of the season including the critical "chow time." [ UPDATE: I used a popular box mix for the dirty rice base. Huge mistake. 500 mg of sodium per cup. Tasted like a salt bowl. Low grade dog food .... with added salt. As always, shortcuts usually turn out not to be. ]

Hope your training includes a plan for "tasty."


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Monday Night Fly

Jim and Brian tying steelhead flies. Lauren in the background talking to another local business owner. Ed is hidden by Brian who is looking at one of his feathers.

We tie on Monday nights at the Beer Grotto in Dexter. It's a way to pass the winter.

Might as well be called the bear grotto.

Wednesday night in the spring will see "casting night" at some local retention ponds. It isn't the fine facilities of the  San Francisco Casting Club but then it's Dexter, Michigan. Snake roll, single spey, the parachute, the steeple. It's a way to get some folks out with rods in their hands and maybe practice some skills that matter in the sorts of places we fish around here.

The all-purpose early-season twin-hackled Jingler.

This Jingler has a sliver of closed-cell foam lashed to its back then wrapped with pheasant tail. Should float all day in dry-dropper rigs.

I tied these Monday night on size 13 and size 15 barbless hooks. This early season version is drab though the rust soft-hackle does a nice job. I'll dub olive and light olive bodied versions here shortly as well as a coachman style afterbody.

We'll see. I tied too few of these last year. I'll tie five dozen this winter.

Show and tell. The is the box of my new 4" Bougle. Nice box.
  The case and reel. Nice leather. I'm going to have Chris Lantzy whip up a utility leather case. The case that came with it is really nice but I want more padding. Chris does a great job with the padding.

Late picture of some of my resident turkey at the "flock block" during Christmas week.

Practicing for season. Hammy-Cheesy biscuits I made for breakfast Sunday. Cathead biscuits with half a cup of shredded Tillamook cheddar and a cup of ham toasted in a skillet added at the final mix.

Even Beargirl thought these were pretty good. At camp, they'll be a huge hit. It's a ham sandwich breakfast style. Goes great with coffee.

Biscuit porn.

Fifty here on Thursday. We'll see if any of the ice on the Huron breaks. My bet is it won't.


Thursday, January 4, 2018

Dreams May Come

At left, dreams.

Again tonight the temperatures will be below zero. What we have as anglers are those dreams we've been saving all season long.

I'll spend tonight with the echo of fat raindrops on my tent fly from last May while I'm under a down comforter and a couple quilts. Maybe one of my wife's heater cats. Probably.

It's what I've got.

I've not tied a fly in three weeks. I've made a tentative schedule for travel next season. I've picked-up my new 4" Bougle from the local which will replace my Medalist shown at left. I need to cut new leather for the drag and somehow a Bougle seemed an easier solution this year.

The Cascapedia -- trout sized -- will be here before spring.

I had a fishing buddy who also has been my writing partner for the last several years. Engineer. Recreational fly fisher. Writer. Novelist.

He died before Christmas following a very short illness. Alarmingly short, actually.

I drank the last round he'll ever buy me here on Christmas eve: whiskey he'd brought back from a summer trip to Ireland. Seemed the time so I dispatched a sampler bottle.

I don't know how much time I might have left myself. Who does?

I took some of that angst and put it into legacy gear that will cause knife-fights at the wake three generations on.

I'm swinging for trout this year. I'll mount the Bougle for trout on a #3 10'6" glass by Echo and -- with different heads -- mount it on a #7 11'6" Echo as well for steelhead.  The reel is a little heavy but a couple ounces probably won't do too much to me. I'm not a "gram weenie" in most things.

I started back with the pen after a few weeks off  a couple nights ago. I'll start tying flies for the Driftless on Monday night.

Life goes on. A good bit of it goes on in our dreams. Maybe the most meaningful parts go on in our dreams.

I'll let you know for sure when I too am but a stray smile on a character you see once in a while in your dreams. If I wink and raise a glass, you'll be sure and remember why.