I sat in my car…. wet, cold, shivering, smiling! It had been raining on and off since last night. The air was that cold heavy fall air that chills you all the way to your bones even though the temperature gauge would indicate otherwise. I had been standing in a cold river since 6:30AM making countless drifts and even more mends. My shoulder was sore but again I was smiling.
At one point I saw a group of guys behind me watching. I turned around to ask the omnipresent question that one asks whenever a stranger happens upon you in a river holding a fly rod… Do any good? Nah…. they shook their heads….. telling me it was too blown out and they were heading home. I gave them the obligatory wave and my internal smirk broadened. You see, I knew something that they didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the day was far from prolific and they were right. The creek was totally blown out. It was like fishing in chocolate milk. As soon as my fly hit the water it disappeared from sight.
Truth be told, I was struggling. I was picking up leaves on every third cast. There was so much debris in the water that it was almost impossible to get a decent drift. My secret was not that I had already hooked up with five good fish and landed two. (although I wasn’t about to broadcast that fact) Nor did I know about some secret stretch of water immune from the onslaught of rain and silt. I had no magic fly.
My secret (which I will share with you now) is the most valuable piece of advice that was ever bestowed upon me as a fly fisher. There are very few certainties in this great pursuit of ours (other than your guide telling you that you should have been here last week). But this is the Yin the Yang and the Kung Fu all wrapped up into one. So here it is…..
REGARDLESS OF THE CONDITIONS, GO FLY FISHING! and fish till you can’t make another cast.
Why? Why on earth would I want to do such a thing Lee? Because……. This is what will make you a better fly fisher. Anyone can fish a day with no wind, not rain, no high water, no unbearable temperatures, no swarms of biting insects, etc…. But if you do, if you can…. You will begin a journey to a place that far too few get to go. This is how you become a Jedi master. This is how we learn, how we evolve. Persevere and you will learn. The next time you encounter the same situation you will be rewarded with your experience.
We live in a society today that is largely built around a controlled environment. We air condition, sanitize, sterilize, safety check, and then consult with a large firm of highly paid individuals to make sure our logic is sound. Sometimes It’s OK to give it a go just to see what you can make out of a crappy situation. Falling on your face builds character and character is far too uncommon on the river or anywhere else.
I absolutely loved today. Although not quite as much, I would have loved today had I been skunked. So next time you are staring out the window and the wind is howling or the rain is spitting, get in the car and go fly fishing instead of going back to bed. I promise you that you will begin to surprise yourself and the things that you will learn will make you a better fly fisher every day thereafter.
I also wanted to wish everyone a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving and let all of you who follow and read this blog know how much I appreciate the support.
Tight Lines and Loose Pants,
I just wrote this blog post for International Angler and I thought some of you who might not follow their blog might enjoy it as well….. Stay Fishy My Friends!
Tight Lines and Loose Pants,
So the last couple weeks were a bit crazy. My father was taken in for an unexpected triple bypass surgery. There was no massive heart attack, no stroke, no drama. Just the worry of watching your father face the fact that at 70 plus, certain parts need some repair work. I am not a tremendous sky is falling worry kind of person by nature but I’d be a liar if the thoughts of my father laying there with his chest cut open as they used veins harvested from his leg to fix his heart didn’t scare me.
My brother and I both made arrangements to go down and stay with him for a few days to help out. My dad called me a few days before my departure and tells me that he has arranged for his friend Barry to take me out Bass fishing for a few hours on Sunday morning. At first I argued a bit but he was firm about having already arranged the plans. Perhaps I could have argued harder but I could tell it made him as happy as it made me to be on the water.
I am sure it bothered him not to be able to be there…. truthfully it bothered me. Fishing was the glue that held my father and I together through many years where we didn’t see eye to eye on much else. As Barry and I walked the shoreline of multiple Boca Raton water hazards my mind wandered through many of the fishing adventures that my father and I had been on through the years. Hail storms in the middle of Raystown Lake…. Busting bronze and pike in the Georgian Bay….. Watching my bobber disappear as my dad helped me get the tiny hook out of the 100th bluegill we caught on Lake Arthur.
My trip down amnesia lane was rudely interrupted as my black wooly bugger came tight and the dance was on. It was far from the largest bass we have ever pulled out of these waters but it put a smile on my face. I am not much of a religious guy but I found myself giving a nod to the fish gods for the gift and a nod to the man upstairs for the gift of time with my dad.
Dad, get well… get strong…. and keep fishing. You wouldn’t want your kid to show you up with a fly rod next time I am in Florida.
Tight Lines and Loose Pants,
I have been told that I am just a hair on the crazy side on more than one occasion. The tendency to take the path less traveled somehow seems to find me even when I am not actively searching for it. So began this journey. If you knew me as a kid, you would know that I grew up chucking plugs from an 18′ Lund V Hull that my fathers employees aptly named “The Master Baiter”. (mom was so proud) My father ended up selling the boat as I got older and have been a walk and wade fly fisher for over 20 years. Deep down I have always missed having the boat and would often lament to my wife about the day that the kids grow up and I can buy my dream boat.
Long long long story short, I decided that that time was now. No… the kids are not grown up. No I don’t have the budget for the boat I had my eye on…. and I truly had no clue what I was going to do. As luck would have it, my friend Dale Fogg is a pretty handy guy and makes beautiful hand crafted fly tying stations. He turned me on to J and J Dream Boats (https://www.facebook.com/JJDreamBoatsImagineThat on FB) up in Union City, PA. Jim and Joan are truly amazing folks and not only do they sell beautiful hand crafted drift boats, but they offer classes for the novice (like me) who would like to build their own.
Now, if you have read any of my previous posts you’d know that I had purchased a small hull with the notion of rehabbing it. After some sense was talked into my head by Mark Sikora up at International Angler, I realized that the boat did not have enough displacement to carry the weight of what I wanted to do…. So at that fateful moment, a skiff was born! I found a perfect set of plans for what I wanted to build on Bateau for a fair price but if you look hard enough, there are plenty of free plans available in books or on the web.
My journey started with a FaceBook message and then a phone conversation with Jim and Joan. They were not only helpful and insightful, but they agreed to schedule a class to accommodate my crazy schedule. In a full day, Jim walked me though each and every step with hands on experience and patient explanation.
Not only did I walk away with knowledge, confidence, and excitement, but Jim fed me a lunch of some of the best deep fried blue gill fillets I have ever had! According to Jim, Joan caught most of them and is deadly with light tackle.
J and J have sold boats to all different kinds of folks, including some of the most well known guides in Pennsylvania.
So building a 16′ boat is at times not a one man operation so I recruited my good buddy CW and my neighbor Rich to give me some much needed help. (I pay in beer, but always really really good beer!) So this week it began with the goal to have the boat in the water for our late May pilgrimage to Presque Isle Bay.
Yes… I know, I know… It doesn’t look like a boat yet. The early stages are a ton of prep and joining of boards. Stay tuned for more to come as things take shape. We are still searching for a fishy name so if any of you have some cool ideas, let us know!
Tight Lines and Loose Pants,
I know… I know. Much to the dismay of many, I am still alive and kicking. The last 12 months of life is a sad state of affairs from a fly fishing perspective. I suppose this is what happens when two little people pop into the world, you buy a 100 year old house in need of major renovations, and start a basically new job all at the same time.
OK… I am done making crappy ass excuses for being a very bad blogger. Wait, sorry, one more lame excuse… COULD THIS WINTER SUCK ANY WORSE? It probably couldn’t but a cool thing happened on the way to Excuseville. This past weekend I showed my sad face at the Penn’s Wood West Trout Unlimited Cabin Fever Expo in Cranberry, PA. Did I see any new gear that I didn’t know about? Nope…. Did I find any super duper deals that I couldn’t pass up? Nope….. So what did you see Mr. Brownliner?
I thought you’d never ask. I saw a few thousand folks just like me that have been dying to get out on the water and it totally ignited a spark. I saw some friends like Dale, Rob, Jim, Jeff etc… who I haven’t talked with in a while. I saw my good buddies from International Angler (my local shop). But the cherry on my hot fudge sundae was having a super cool talk with the infamous Tom Rosenbauer from Orvis.
Despite attending quite a few industry events we had never met. I travel for a living and Tom has made many a boring drive pretty darn interesting for this cowboy so getting a chance to talk for a few was pretty cool. Speaking of Cabin Fever and making it through a long winter, if you are not listening to Tom’s podcast you are missing out. Not only is he talking about some pretty timely stuff but he has a catalog of podcasts from days gone by that are always fun to listen to. You can check him out at http://www.orvis.com/intro.aspx?subject=4047. And don’t be shy about calling or emailing him with questions because he answers many of them in great detail.
The other thing I am totally pumped about is coming around very very soon is the F3T! Yep, the Fly Fishing Film Tour. More fish porn than you can handle in one evening. I am looking forward to seeing many familiar faces coming up in March so don’t miss it!
As soon as I can get out to my garage, CW and I will be starting to re-glass the yet to be named micro-skiff so if any of you have any irreverent snarky name ideas for a carp chasing micro, let me know. I promise not to be absent for so long next time!
Tight Lines and Loose Pants,
Said Jeff Spicoli to his surfer bro prior to rescuing Brooke Shields from drowning….
Ok… maybe he never said that but he probably would have had he taken a look at how many fly boxes most of our fly fishing brethren carry for a day on the water! So today is all about the box. How many do you carry? What is in yours? How do you organize them? What kind works best for you?
I must confess, I used to be one of those guys that put on a virtual flak jacket with pockets filled to the zipper with every kind and size of fly imaginable to make sure I never missed an opportunity. After light dawned on marble skull I came to realize that 98% of the time, I fished the same 4 or 5 patterns in a couple of sizes and colors for most scenarios. It also became apparent that it is almost impossible to be stealthy when you have more gear hanging off of you than a small infantry division would carry. Some might paint me with a minimalist brush, but that is probably a bit of an exaggeration. I do however perform a litmus test for each and every piece of gear that I carry and it is a very simple rule to follow:
- When is the last time you used said gear, fly, tippet, etc….?
- Is there something else that you are carrying that can get the job done in similar fashion?
As most of you could imagine, it was amazing how much gear now sits in the gear box in my car rather than stuffing my bag, vest, waders, etc…. Now let me make a small disclaimer. If you are in a boat with a good sized boat bag this is a much less compelling discussion. If you are a wading fly fisher primarily this may be a revelation that is nothing short of life changing. Almost as mind blowing as realizing that Justin Bieber is really just a Monsanto project that used modified DNA from Vanilla Ice and Clay Aiken.
So fast forward to today. I have ditched the vest and tend to fish three basic configurations. Which of the three is most effective is often dictated by several variables such as, water, species, weather, etc…
If I am only on the water for a few hours or on a river I know well and know what I will be fishing for, I will most often be seen in my waders, a lanyard and one medium or two small fly boxes in my wader pocket along with two spools of tippet. A good lanyard will hold the basic necessities.
- Split shot
If weather dictates a wading jacket the above scenario doesn’t change dramatically other than the addition of some weather specific gear and maybe one extra fly box. This might include items like:
This is most often used for a full day on the water for multiple species in varied water conditions. A sling pack is my pack of choice but a vest waist pack can do the same job. My gear list typically looks something like:
- 3 spools of tippet
- leader wallet (don’t forget sink tips!)
- stripping guards
- 2 medium or large sized fly boxes
- Shock tippet or wire
- Split Shot
Most of the bulk and wight you can drop is going to come down to fly selection. Start to think about the flies you use most often that are representative of multiple prey species. Also think about covering different parts of the water column. Depending on your species, water, etc… this list will vary drastically for the individual. Here is a basic example. My local warm water river/creek supports smallmouth, carp, drum, channel cat, sauger, walleye, etc…. The maximum depth is about 5-6 feet. I can fish this water effectively with a handful of flies that read something like this:
- Sculpin patterns
- Can be used to fish for smallies, sauger, drum, walleye, channel cat, and are fantastic for getting down fast and covering the bottom of the water column
- Black and brown will cover 99% of your fishing needs
- Clouser Minnows or Wooly Buggers
- Also can be used for all of the above species and can be fished for the middle and bottom of the water column with amazing effectiveness
- Olive over white and Chartreuse over white cover the vast majority of fishing situations for clousers
- Black, brown, or olive wooly buggers are my colors of choice
- Blood Dot / Egg patterns
- Absolutely killer carp pattern and can be fished on the surface with desiccant to imitate mulberries, cottonwood fluff, etc…
- Carp Soft Hackle Hybrid
- Killer on carp as well as drum. Will also play well for bass and channel cats when not in aggressive feeding modes
- Gartside Gurgler
- I always make sure to have a few of these in my box for when the smallies get active up top
- I don’t think color matters all that much but will typically carry in either black or white
All of the above flies can fit in one medium sized box for a day on the water! One of the most valuable fly fishing lessons I have ever learned is that the 80/20 rule of life applies to fly fishing as well. 20% of your success may very well rest in having the right fly. The other 80% is vested in your ability to read water, approach the fish without alerting it to your presence, and lastly to make a presentation with your fly that looks natural enough to resemble something edible.
The above is my “meat box” that I travel with. Prior to hitting the water, I will pull from this box and fill 1 or 2 fly boxes for what is appropriate for the water and conditions I am about to fish. As fly fishers we all love gear and I am no different. Just remember most of it is designed to catch you rather than catch fish. A very successful Erie steelhead fly fisher I know jokes that he carries two fly boxes. One is for the two or three flies he uses with regularity and the other is the decoy box he shows whoever walks up and asks what he was using to catch all of those fish!
So once we have pared down our flies to a reasonable selection, how do we go about organizing what we carry? Remember, you have a 0% chance of catching fish if your fly isn’t in the water so a successful fly fisher will look for ways to maximize that time. This again is a very personal thing but what works for me is to organize by water column. I start with surface flies and end with flies that work bottom. I know some people that organize by species but I never quite found that to be an intuitive way to think about what I was doing. I guess the key here is to have a system that works for you so when you need a specific fly that you know exactly where it is and can easily get to it.
Now we have all fished a situation where we just didn’t have the right fly for the moment and I am not telling you to leave your best weapons at home. Go through the above exercise with your own fly boxes and I think you will be shocked how much lighter and stealthier you can fish. The last thing I would want to do is insult you, but Dude….. that is some serious box!
Heading out to Vegas for the iCast show so if any of you are going to be in Vegas look me up! A friend is launching a very cool new product so for any of you who do any significant wading and chase big fish, this is for you! Carp, Chrome, etc…..
I will be posting a full product review from Dale Fogg after his trip to the Colorado next week.
Next to hockey goalies, fly fishers could be the most superstitious group of people around. I wish I could tell you that I have somehow transcended such foolishness, but that is just not the case. Perhaps it is my OCD kicking in or being a creature of strange habits, but it goes deeper than that. I have a firm belief that runs deeper than a salmon’s desire to return to their birth place that if I don’t perform certain activities that the fishing will not be very good… or worse yet if I do perform certain activities that things will be a disaster! Not sure if this qualifies as fly fishing religion or not but it is as close as that gets for me so here are a few of mine….
Beef Jerky!!!!!! Jack’s Links Teriyaki in particular. If salted beef products are not present I might as well go home because not only will I not catch anything but chances are I will close my rod tip in my car door and drop my keys and iphone in the fastest flowing water in the river.
Fly Boxers! Yes, now you all know, I am a boxer guy. Probably TMI but if I don’t wear my favorite fly boxers then not only will I break the biggest fish off of the day as I reach for the leader but I will realize about half way through the day that my favorite pair of hemostats have somehow fallen off of my sling pack and are nowhere to be found.
Dual Fish Pendant! Yes, at 43 years old you would think I would have graduated to jewelry that wasn’t attached with rope or hemp but I haven’t. This is actually my second yak bone fish set. The first one broke off while in the river and I never saw it again. The rest of my season was a struggle after that. CW hooked me up with this one and my yin and yang seem to be much more in balance ever since.
So these are just a few of the things that I must do or have! Some things I will NEVER do are things like….
Bananas! Boat or no boat a sure fire way to ruin a good outing is with bananas. You might as well say, Hey he is pitching a no hitter! OR wow, he is only 2 minutes away from posting a shut out! I won’t even eat them for breakfast before because even a partially digested banana can do serious damage.
Store bought flies…. In some very desperate moments I have fished store bought flies but not by choice. If a fly wasn’t tied by me or a friend it will sit in a box in the car for years before it sees the end of my tippet. I don’t know why…. they look and fish just fine. In many cases they look better than my own ties but there is something about fishing my own work that feels vital to the process for me.
So I would love to hear from all of you… what are your quirks and beliefs about what is essential to your fishing success? Do you eat the same breakfast every time? Wear the same shirt or hat? Let’s hear it!
As fly fishers, we have already accepted that in most situations we will catch fewer fish than our bait chucking cousins (second cousins twice removed) and for most of us we are just fine with that. My steelheading roots are here in the heart of Western PA’s Steelhead Alley along the shores of Lake Erie. Most of the fly fishers tend to dead drift eggs, nymphs, and small streamers under an indicator for two primary reasons. The first is that some of the tributaries we fish are just not big enough or are too crowded to swing flies. The second reason is that you flat out hook more fish. So why with runs that “aint what they used to be”, crowds that are ten fold what they used to be, and mother nature making life even more difficult…. why would you want to chase chrome on the swing?
I thought you’d never ask. Up until this year, I had always looked at spey casters and two handed rods with equal parts envy and ignorance. I had no idea how to do it and I had never figured out where to start. It seemed less complicated to run a drug detox program for Lindsay Lohan that it was to incorporate an entire new dictionary with terms like grain weights, skagit, single spey, double spey, snap-t, perry poke, sustained anchor, yadda yadda yadda…. (you yadda yadda’d over the best part, oh I mentioned the bisque) So last year I purchased a switch rod, a skagit set up, took a class, watched a bunch of video, and have practiced as much as I had time to. Do I look like Simon Gawesworth or Ed Ward? Ummmm, not really but I am starting to get the hang of it! I owe a big debt of gratitude to Bob and the guys up at International Angler for my intro spey class. I also owe a huge shout out to April Vokey over at Fly Gal Ventures for an outstanding class on intruder style flies and teaching me how to tie tubes.
So the past 12 months has bought a few pretty cool firsts. Back in the fall I caught my first salmon on the swing and I felt like there was perhaps a light at the end of the tunnel. This week was huge as I caught my first steelhead on the swing. It was far from the largest steelie I have ever caught and with near arctic temps the fight was a bit subdued as well but I have to tell you…. THE TAKE WAS ABSOLUTELY FRIGGING AMAZING!
As my 10 feet of T14 and intruder came to the end of the swing, I paused on the dangle. Not because of my spey casting prowess, but because my fingers felt like they were about to fall off. It was 21 degrees not including the wind chill. As I attempted to breathe life into my frozen fingers my rod lurched forward and was almost ripped from my hand. I recovered and after a spirited battle, my first steelie on the swing was complete.
So after losing my swing cherry, I took a day to meet up with CW in Erie. It was supposed to be cold so I figured the crowds would be at a minimum. As I drove through Ohio, the snow began to fall and fall it did. It came down so hard and fast that I sought shelter off the road and waited it out till morning. Morning came and it was still coming down. By the time I met up with CW, this is what the parking lot looked like….
Yes, those are the cars of two crazy fly fishers who for most of the day were the only people on the water. Why were we the only people on the water? Well it wasn’t really water at that point. The best way I can describe it is attempting to fish in a slushee. Nine casts out of ten I couldn’t get my three split shot or my fly to sink down below the slush. Other than foul hooking a sad looking hen, the day pretty much went like this….
Ice cubes anyone????? The day was still a win as we took a beautiful walk up miles of snow covered creek, talked like old friends do when they haven’t seen one another for some time and laughed about crap that only guys spending the day without their wives/girlfriends can laugh about. So if you have yet to pick up a two hander, give it a try and remember…
The swing is the thing, the tug is the drug, and ice pretty well just sucks.
Tight Frozen Lines,