Monday, August 16, 2010

The B.C. Strike Indicator

The dry/dropper combination is one of the most effective ways to approach fish in shallow water or suspended just beneath the surface.  First of all, the dry fly tends to spook less fish than the bobber.   Sometimes fish prefer the dry, and the dropper can be eliminated.  At other times, fish key in on the dropper.
Fishing in British Columbia presents another challenge.  Anglers may only fish one fly per rod.  The dry/dropper rig is illegal.  I developed the yarn indicators below for fishing in British Columbia, but I believe that they will be quite effective on spring creeks, tailwaters, and desert lakes.  

I am a big fan of parachute flies, so I designed this indicator to be a parachute fly without a body or a hook.  The best hook for this rig has light wire and a large eye.  To construct the indicator, secure a clump of yarn about 2 inches long and the diameter of a large pen to the front 1/3 of the hook shank.  Then double the yarn back so that both ends are secured parallel to the hook shank, sort of like a trude style fly.  Unlike the trude style fly, the yarn should extend along both sides of the hook.  Sometimes, I add dry fly hackle before I finish the indicator.  Sometimes, I just build a neat head at the hook eye. Next, I use a pair of wire pliers to cut off as much of the hook as possible.  The result is a parachute tied parallel, rather than perpendicular to the hook shank. I add super glue and/or head cement to the indicator following each step in the process. 

On a my recent trip in July to the Upper Columbia River in British Columbia, I found a pod of rainbows rising along a gentle seam.  The first couple of fish rose aggressively to an X-Caddis, but soon the others began to ignore my fly.  I picked us a few more fish on a CDC caddis.  However, there were several fish that would not eat my dry fly.  I tied one of my yarn indicators to the end of my leader and added another 24 inches of 4X leading to a size 16 soft hackle.   I made my first cast over a spot where a fish had been rising sporadically.  My little yarn indicator disappeared into the river and I set the hook into a beautiful 17 inch rainbow.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Scotty's Birthday Bonanza

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a carp and smallmouth fishing clinic.  The teacher was my good buddy, Scott, and he schooled me well.  On the two days following his birthday, Scott out fished me 5 to 0 on his own flies.  To think I knew Scotty when he was practically in diapers (9th grade).
Day 1:  Scotty wades out on a gravel flat looking for carp.  Scotty spots a fish. Scotty casts.  Scotty sets the hook.  Scotty tells me he has a small carp on the line.  Turns out to be a 5 lb. smallmouth.  Too bad the camera is in the boat.
Next, Scotty lands a 12 lb. carp.  Luck!
Finally, I get the camera from the boat in time to take a picture of Scott's next carp, a 15 pounder:
 I start asking Scotty where to fish, which flies to use, how to present the fly.  I start looking back at Scotty every few minutes in order to see if he's doing anything differently.  Is he standing in deeper water?  Is he stripping the fly more quickly or slowly?  What size hook is he using?  What color are the dumbbells on his fly? Finally, I snap off a large carp on a San Juan worm.   Scotty responds by hooking another big bass that jumps and throws the fly.
Surprisingly, Scotty is ready to go in for dinner by 4:30.  His arm is sore. 

Day 2:  Scotty lands a 3 lb. smallie on the second cast on a Barr's Bouface he tied over the winter. 
Should be a great day for me!  Not so much.
Next, Scotty lands a 3 1/4 lb. smallmouth on an olive Meat Whistle.
 I finally give in and start fishing with Scotty's flies, but it's too late.  The fish can smell my skunk from deep in the river.
At noon we give up and head back home.  I can't wait to get back out there to show those fish who's the boss!

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Lucky Bobber

Finding the right strike indicator has always been a challenge for me.  When I lived in Montana, I relied on my lucky bobber, a big orange corkie.

I'm sure I spooked a lot of fish with that bobber.  I remember presenting a tandem nymph rig, with my big lucky bobber, over fish rising to midges on the Madison River.  The bobber would instantly put the fish down.  It took a few trips that spring before I learned that rising fish don't respond well to big orange bobbers floating over their heads.  The midge hatch was fantastic that year starting in February.  Finally, in early May, I started using small dry flies, which led to some success. 

A few years later I started spending several weeks each summer fishing the Bow River in Alberta.  I noticed that individual fish would rise sporadically in some riffles and inside seams.  Upon seeing these random free rising fish, I would continue to cast my hopper/dropper rig or my tandem nymph rig with bobber.  I never had much luck catching these fish.  Finally, I learned to immediately change rigs upon seeing a fish rise.  I would nervously clip off my large hopper, add 3 feet of 4x, and then tie on a size 14 caddis pattern.  90% of the time those random risers would respond to my caddis emerger within the first three casts. Many of these fish turned out to be quite large, including a 23 inch brown I caught on an elk hair caddis just outside of Calgary.

Nowadays I use the Thingamabobber when fishing rivers.  It comes in many sizes and colors (including black, my favorite), and it floats and casts beautifully.

The quick-release strike indicators above work well for fishing chironomids and leeches in stillwaters.  These indicators can be purchased from  Phil Rowley's Fly Craft Angling Shop or Waters West in Port Angeles. With these lovely bobbers, you can fish a fly 25' or more below the indicator.  The only problem arises when they don't release properly.  Nevertheless, I carry a baggy full of them everywhere I fish.

Of course my favorite way to fish is naked, or with no strike indicator at all.  This method is particularly effective on stillwaters in water more than 10' deep.  You feel the strike just as often as you see it, and there is something very satisfying about fishing sans indicator.
In my next post, I will reveal my homemade yarn indicators.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Love the Drake

When Steven Bird told me about the brown drake hatch on the Upper Columbia, I began researching the internet for useful patterns.  I found some Rene Harrop patterns that looked great, but I didn't have all the materials.  Consequently, I designed my own drake patterns using the materials I had.  The flies I tied are not unique.  Each is based on established fly patterns and fly tying concepts. By the way, Steven's unique and effective fly patterns can be found in his new book, Upper Columbia Flyfisher 

The fly below has its roots in the Parachute Adams and the Klinkhammer Emerger.  It also incorporates a trailing shuck much like a Quigley Cripple or Craig Matthew's Sparkle Dun.  I used ostrich herl for the body, poly yarn for the parachute, dun hackle for the wing, and ostrich herl and antron yarn for the tail.  I like to use black poly yarn for my parachute posts because black shows up so well in the evenings and on overcast days.  I also used black booby foam for the parachutes on some of these patterns.  The foam wing is unsinkable. 

White parachute posts show up better on bright days, and in my opinion, the fly below works as an attractor even when the hatch is not occurring.
Finally, although I rarely use them, I like to carry some flies with pink parachutes for those days when black or white wings aren't easy to see, or I just feel like casting my pink parachute fly. The flies above and below are tied with fine and dry dubbing for the body and peacock herl for the thorax.  The trailing shuck or tail is antron.
I have always had confidence in the Quigley Cripple.  The brown drake cripple below has a deer hair wing and a yellow foam wing case.  The rest of the fly is just hackle and ostrich herl (thorax, body, and tail).  Steven Bird and I discovered that we had each independently incorporated the yellow foam wing case.   I'm not sure if I discovered this idea independently or if I saw it somewhere in the past. 
Each of these flies works well for the hatch.  Fish seem more than willing to gobble them up recklessly.  Hooking the fish, however, is a separate challenge.  The key is to allow the fish to eat the fly.  The temptation is to snatch the fly out of the fish's mouth.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

How high's the water, papa?

Hiring a fishing guide is a big deal for me.  I don't have the budget for guided trips and I prefer to do it my way anyway.  Nevertheless, I decided to take advantage of a half-day guided trip for a very reasonable price through Steven Bird of Northport, Washington (Upper Columbia Flyfisher ). Steven has lived on the Upper Columbia since 1974.

Most folks hire guides in order to catch more fish, a worthy goal.  I've only been able to hire guides on a limited basis, but my goal is always to learn how to do it myself, whatever "it" is. I hired Steve in order to learn about the Upper Columbia River near the U.S. border with Canada.   Most importantly,  I wanted to know about the potential for fishing the Upper Columbia solo.  Do I have the boat that can handle 180,000 cfs?  Are the rumors true about this section's deadly currents? Etc...

When we arrived, Steve remarked that the river was as high as he had seen it, but the caddis hatch was just turning on, and he had landed 6 fish the night before on emergers.  I already was having my doubts.  I've never seen great fishing in high water, especially not great dry fly fishing.  Indeed, the fishing was not so great.  The hatches never seemed to materialize.  A few fish might rise here or there, but most activity was sporadic.  I hooked one fish the first night, and matters just seemed to deteriorate from there.  As Steve floated the river with us, he pointed out that most of the good fishing spots were so far under water that they were impossible to identify.

Finally, on our last night some fish started to rise more consistently.  I hooked and fought a 4 pound rainbow.  What a fish! It took a soft hackle emerger on the swing. I quickly got the fish on the reel, but it came straight at me so fast that I had to stop reeling and strip line as quickly as possible.  Next, the fish went under and around the boat several times.  Finally, I got it back on the reel only to have my 6 lb. tippet fail. Both Scott and I landed smaller fish later that evening. 

So, I fished the Columbia for about three days straight only to land one decent fish.  How would I rate the trip? On a scale of 1 to 10, I would give it a nine.  First, Steven Bird is a fantastic guy and a super guide.  Steven and his wife, Dorris, own a beautiful piece of property along the river where they can accommodate guests with cozy tents and home cooked meals.  The food was wonderful and the hospitality was unprecedented.

As for the fishing, what an experience!   Steven likes fishing spey rods and switch rods.  He recommended that we swing streamers or caddis emergers on our 8 weights.  Meanwhile, I'm a light tackle aficionado, and before this trip, I was not so interested in spey casting.  I know that swinging flies can be effective, but I always figure I can catch more fish on nymphs or dry flies.  I am glad that Steven approaches fishing so differently. Otherwise, I wouldn't have learned nearly as much!

It turns out that swinging wet flies is a superb tactic for this river because, although fish rise and rise often, they move around constantly.  Most of the good fishing on the Upper Columbia is in back eddies.  Multiple currents conflict with each other.  The river is so large that it breathes.  Thus, the water rises and drops several inches over and over again throughout the day.  A dead drift dry fly presentation can be quite challenging.  The wet fly swing allows one to present a fly to more fish more effectively.  The fish often feed in the top foot of the water column on the Upper Columbia, thankfully, because the back eddies are far too deep to present a nymph along the bottom.  Consequently, Steven has found that he has more success with unweighted flies fished with a 12 foot leader dressed with Xink.  The Xink causes the leader to break the surface, and the wet fly swings just under the surface.

Steven just published Upper Columbia Flyfisher, a wonderful book with great stories, unique fly patterns, and good information about the river.  I recommend Steven as a guide and I recommend his book for anyone who loves fishing, the outdoors, and literature. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Columbia River Satisfaction

Sunday, April 18, 2010. Isn't it wonderful when a plan comes together. Yesterday was one of those days. For the last year, my primary objective for fishing has been to outfit a boat that is suitable for the Columbia River. I bought the boat in December, re-painted it despite the blustery winter weather, built platforms/floorboards, glued on carpet, added a double anchor system, and bought a new trailer. I must mention that my buddies, Scott and Mark, helped me at each step along the way.
Scott and I launched the boat just after 9 a.m. The sun was out, the wind was calm, and the temperature would eventually rise to almost 75 degrees. We motored up the river to a protected bay where I thought some smallmouth might be staging for the spawn. I was stripping an olive Barr's Slumpbuster in about 3 to 5 feet of water when I felt a tug. Probably a rock I thought. On the next two casts, I felt that same tug in that same spot. Hmmm. Must be a rock. This time I cast back to the spot where I felt the tug and stripped the fly back faster. My fly stopped as if hung on a rock, and the 4.5 lb. smallmouth pictured began its fight. A few minutes later the fish was in the boat, weighed, photographed, and released. What a way to start the season!

An hour later we were casting to schooling carp back in the same bay. First, Scott hooked a 15lb. carp that he fought for about 20 minutes until his tippet gave way. Later, he landed a 13 pounder on an olive Meatwhistle. The water was still around 50 to 53 degrees, so I am not sure how much these fish were really feeding. Nevertheless, they fought quite well.
This Columbia River fishery is fantastic. Miles of rocky shoreline with world class smallmouth fishing. Carp from 10 to 40 pounds. Drop offs, flats, islands.
I've fished this reservoir over half a dozen times and yesterday was the first time I've seen another fisherman, a gentleman fly fishing for carp from a jon boat. On the water, we gave this guy plenty of room. Later, we met our competition at the boat ramp.
We spoke for about 15 minutes as he told me about several spots I will have to try in the future. Later that afternoon we got in the truck to head home when Scott noticed a note on the windshield. I assumed that someone was angry with us for parking in the wrong spot or some other violation. Instead, it was a note from Steve, the other angler. He left us his e-mail and invited us to meet up with him sometime this year to fish the river together. What a great day!

You are lost
in miles of land without people, without
one fear of being found, in the dash
of rabbits, soar of antelope, swirl
merge and clatter of streams.

"Driving Montana" by Richard Hugo

Sunday, March 7, 2010

My New Boat Part 3

Scott and I finished the paint job around February 21st. We took my son Daniel out on Lake Washington after his birthday party for a test drive. I was quite pleased with how well the boat planes and how it cuts through the chop We zipped from Magnuson Park in Seattle all the way across the lake to Kirkland in no time. My 15hp motor feels like 115hp to me.

Over the last 2 weeks I've installed Scotty Anchor Mounts at the bow and the stern. Also, with some help from my buddies, Scott and Mark, I am constructing plywood platforms between the bench seats. Next, I will carpet the platforms. Future goals include getting oars and oar locks, wiring an electrical system, adding a bow mount trolling motor, and installing a permanent depth finder.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Newest Boat, Part 2

The first thing I decided to change about my new boat was the trailer. I am wary of traveling long distances with an inferior trailer. Moreover, once I finish my boat project, I sort of want my trailer to look as good as my boat. Here is the original trailer. It's for sale right now on Craig's List.

I'm thrilled with my new trailer. Also, my boat looks much better with the outside paint job finished. My buddy, Scott, and I will finish painting the interior tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

My newest boat

Here are some photos of my new boat. I'm in the process of painting it right now. Then I will add a platform between the front two bench seats. Also, I will install anchor systems at the bow and stern. Finally, I hope to get a bow mount trolling motor.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The jig and pig

Last May I took my buddy, Kevin, fishing for smallmouth on a nearby lake. I met Kevin in Groveland, California, just outside Yosemite Park, back in 1990. He and I were both working for the Forest Service. I had been trying to learn to fly fish all summer in northeastern California. So far, all I had managed were a few dinky largemouth bass. I remember that Kevin gave me a few simple tips. On my next excursion to the Tuolumne River, I caught several small rainbows on dry flies. Some time soon after that fall--a fall in both the seasonal and the biblical sense--I retired my spinning outfit.

So, Kevin joined me for a warm sunny day on a local lake. He asked to watch me fish for a while, which was fine with me. We were in my 10 foot inflatable, so it was easier for just one person to cast. I was using a crawdad colored Meatwhistle (see Barr Flies, by John Barr) since I had recently tied a dozen.

As we approached perhaps the third dock we would fish that day, I saw a 3.5 lb. smallmouth suspended in the shade just under the dock. I made a lousy cast that landed at least 6 feet short of the target, and around the corner from where the fish was suspended. As my Meatwhistle hit the water and sank into the depths, I saw the smallmouth swim off in our direction and disappear. I watched my line intently as the tip took a slow dive. I set the hook like Bill Dance and started yelling, "Son, what a fish!"

We had a blast that day going through my supply of Meatwhistles. Kevin caught a beautiful 3lb. smallie, a photo of which I finally recovered from my archaic cell phone.

The magic behind this fly is that it looks like a jig and pig. As it slowly sinks to the bottom, the marabou, flashabou, rabbit strip, and rubber legs all pulsate sexily. The rabbit strip plays the part of the pork rind, while the marabou, flashabou, and rubber legs substitute for the rubber skirt.

I tied these black Meatwhistles on Gamakatsu 60 degree jig hooks. Flies tied on a jig hook? Yes.
My good buddy, Scott, recently asked an employee at a fly shop if he had jig hooks. This brilliant young salesman turned his nose up and proclaimed, "We sell fly fishing equipment exclusively." Scott and I agreed that this young man might have offered some alternative. Rather, he jeopardized a lifetime of our business by trying to outsmart-ass the customer. After all, we can easily purchase jig hooks online.

To the left, the black Meatwhistle soaked with water. Notice the slim profile.

The Meatwhistle in a bowl of water. Notice how the hook rides with the point up and the rabbit strip hovers above the fly. See how the marabou, flashabou, and rubber legs pulsate. Tasty, boy!

This Meatwhistle has chartreuse/black flake Sili Legs. It is tied with a 90 degree jig hook. I used glass beads secured with burnt monofilament for the eyes

The olive Meatwhistle soaked with water. This fly uses bead chain eyes. I just need to tie another dozen Meatwhistles in crawdad orange and I will be set for the spring.

Barr Flies
, by John Barr, has become my favorite fly tying book. Barr provides step by step photographs with great tips for the intermediate or advanced fly tyer. For his streamers, Barr uses simple ingredients: marabou, rabbit strips, squirrel strips, flashabou, diamond braid, and rubber legs. Barr's flies are not complicated, but they appeal to to trophy fish.

More Clousers

Here are a few more Clousers I dug out of my new streamer box. I need to triple my supply soon!
The fly below is on a size 6 or 8 streamer hook. The larger dumbbells make it a good fly for deep water or heavy currents.

Here it is wet. The profile is perfect.

Below is a Clouser tied with bead chain eyes. I would use this fly to fish shallow water and lakes. The less weight on the fly, the slower you can make the presentation, provided there is no current.

A couple of more brightly colored clousers nestled in my streamer box. Chartreuse and white work well for smallmouth. Who knows what I was thinking when I tied the orange fly on top. As they say, it will catch fish!

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Marabou Clouser

I found out about the "Clouserbou" on a guided trip on the Bow River in Alberta in 1999 or so. My guide told me to strip this fly as fast as possible with long, sharp strips. I was rewarded that day with a 24inch bullet of a rainbow. The following summer I spent 3 weeks floating the Bow over and over again. I would launch in the city of Calgary and float all the way to Carseland Weir in 3 to 5 days. On one trip my brother, Jake, and my dad joined me for an overnight float. I gave Jake a Clouser Minnow at the tailout of a run as I went up ahead to fish nymphs. Within a few minutes I heard a scream down below me. Jake had hooked a 4 pound Bow River rainbow and he was about to have a coronary. Jake continued to hook big fish on the Clouserbou that evening. Each time he hooked up he went through the same heart attack routine. Jake's nerves were jangled and he was having the time of his life.

Since those days on the Bow, I've used this pattern to land smallmouth bass, brown trout, rainbows, lake trout, bull trout, dolly varden, northern pike, walleye, pink salmon, and some species I've probably forgotten about. My wife caught a 24 inch brown on the Clouserbou on the Bow River just below Fish Creek.

The beauty of this fly is in its simplicity. Strap the dumbbell eyes to your hook, lash on two marabou feathers, whip finish, and go fishing. I go through dozens of Clouserbous each season. I've tied inch-long versions on size 8 or 10 hooks, and I've tied 4 inch long versions on 2/0 hooks. The dumbbell eyes I use range from very light chain beads to very heavy tungsten, depending on where I am fishing.

My favorite color combination is green over white, but I've also had success with pink over pink (for pink salmon), chartreuse over white, and brown over white. I always put the darker color on the top of the fly (the fly rides upside down), so that the lighter color looks like the belly of a bait fish. This fly slims down significantly when wet so that it looks like a delicious little minnow.

When fishing for bass, try 4 to 6 inch strips with long pauses. As the fly falls to the bottom, you may feel your line tighten.

When northern pike are hunkered down due to a cold front, try the Clouserbou. The key is to let the fly sink to the bottom. Then strip it sharply from the bottom a couple of times and let it fall. If there are pike around, you will notice a sudden change in the way your rod and line feel. Set the hook immediately.

For trout in rivers, try stripping the fly away from the bank as fast as possible with long, sharp strips. Use heavy monofilament so that the fish don't break you off on the strike.

Tie up two dozen Clouserbous, put them in your fly box, and know that you are prepared.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

2009: Smallmouth I have known

2009 was not a bad year for fishing. I started fishing more local waters to fish for bass. In one small bass lake, my fishing buddy, Scott, and I found a small cove with about 20 largemouth bass cruising around it. They seemed to all be in the 3 to 5 pound range. I think we spooked them before we ever started casting. These beautiful bass ignored our offerings for the better part of 2 hours. I think they must have been in the spawning or post-spawn stage. This year I'll hit the same lake a litter earlier, and I'll approach the fish more tactfully. You live; you learn.

In another lake, around 500 Acres, just over the hill from the previous lake, I enjoyed several good outings. This lake has a healthy population of smallmouth bass. I know that some of these fish run up to 5 to 7 pounds, but I never landed anything over 4.

I caught the fish above on John Barr's pattern, the Top Cat. Scott and I met a friendly gear fisherman who told us that he had seen several nice bass on a flat that extends from a point. He had had no luck on this flat, but I managed to entice one fish. I have yet to see another angler fly fishing for bass in Washington, but I have benefited from the friendly advice of many a spin/cast fisherman. My advice to fly fisherman: befriend the gear guys, find out how they present their lures, ask them what depth they are fishing, offer them a beer. Talking to gear guys can be a pleasant surprise if you have experienced the snobbery of some fly fishermen.

Speaking of advice from gear fisherman, lately I have been recording some fishing shows on my DVR. Bill Dance is still around! And he still wears his Tennesse ball cap on every episode. This guy catches some huge bass. Meanwhile, I have also recorded "Seasons on the Fly," a fly fishing show usually features waters in Alaska, Washington, or Oregon. While Bill Dance never tells the viewer where he is fishing, he gives detailed descriptions of how he is fishing. He includes depth, lure choice, barometric pressure, air temperature, and water temperature in each episode. He provides graphics to show the viewer the structure he fishes during different times of the year.

Meanwhile, "Seasons on the Fly" is more about the destination and less about the methods. In each episode, the narrator and his buddies fish with a guide from a different lodge. Based on the music and production, you would think that these guys are fighting a war or climbing K2. "Seasons on the Fly" is more of an advertorial than an instructive fishing show.
So, if you are a poor chump like me who wants to be a master angler, watch Bill Dance, but if you have plenty of money and want to go to an exotic location to catch some real hawgs, watch "Seasons on the Fly."