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."