Monday, August 25, 2014

Micro Conehead Tubes (Snaelda & Frances)

German Snaelda, Red Frances (var.), and Black Snaelda
All are between 1"-1.25" total length

The past few years, my last resort tactic has been ripping a Sunray Shadow through a pool or run. It doesn't work 100% of the time, but sometimes it's just the right thing to shake up a stubborn salmon. At first, I fished the Sunray on a fast swing. After an accidental epiphany with landlocked salmon, I began to strip the tube fly as fast I possibly could. Usually, that meant putting my rod under my arm and stripping with both hands. I tried that technique on the Naugatuck and it worked like a charm. It's an aggressive presentation, no doubt, and it has served me well under most conditions. 

Last fall, the river was low and fairly warm. As we got further into autumn, the river cooled, but the water level continued to drop. My Sunray tactic didn't work all that well. I was surprised. Even if the fish didn't want to take the rapidly moving tube fly, they would at least show for it. After which, they would be in the mood to take a more conventional fly and presentation. But that just wasn't the case last fall. I think the Sunray took four salmon for me last season, but three were right after a raise of water and on the same day. Overall, the technique failed me. 

Why did it stop working? If I had to guess, I would say that it spooked fish. I think the fly was too big and the presentation too belligerent for the extreme low water conditions. 

I'm glad it didn't work. It forced me to find an alternative method for hooking dour salmon. I did just the opposite. Instead of fishing a large, fast fly, I fished deeper and slower with a smaller, heavier tube. Boy, did it pay off! Small Snaeldas (2" total length), tied on copper tubes, were big producers for me last season. They were especially deadly when the fish were holding in fast, turbulent water. 

Anticipating another low water season, possibly even lower than last fall, I decided to go even smaller. Tying on metal tubes would be sort of a pain at this diminutive size. Tying on plastic tubing and using a cone for the body would be easy, however. The total length of the Snaeldas wound up being between 1"-1.25". They should sink well and their small size won't be too off-putting for the salmon. I know exactly where I'm going to try these. I can't wait!

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Micro Conehead Snaelda/Frances

Tube: Small plastic tubing w/junction tubing tied directly on the tube 
Flash/Feelers: 4 strands of pearl Krystal Flash (Snaelda) or 4 stripped hackle stems (Frances)
Tail: Bucktail-tied on top of and wrapped 360º around junction tube (where it covers the small plastic    
tube); color to suit pattern
Cone: Large brass or tungsten cone*
Hackle: Hen or rooster neck; color to suit pattern (Snaelda-hackle after cone; Frances-hackle before cone)


Tying notes: I tie the junction tube directly onto the plastic tubing in order to make a smaller fly. Normally, I use silicone junction tubing. In this case, I use the small size of HMH junction tubing. It's more durable and it seems to hold smaller hooks better than the silicone tubing I use. The downside is, if the junction tube is damaged, the fly will be trashed. I'm not a huge fan of the HMH junction tubing, but I find it's a better solution when it's tied into the body of the fly (as opposed to being slipped onto a completed tube fly). It has a much thicker wall than silicone tubing and should take abuse well. 

This is a really simple fly to tie. It's much easier than tying a conventional Snaelda or Frances. If there is any interest, I can post step-by-step instructions.

*I use cones from Rip Lips Fishing. They are inexpensive and the large size fits well over small sizes of plastic tubing. 


Monday, August 18, 2014

Preparing For Connecticut Broodstock Salmon Season

It's about time to start sorting flies and prepping tackle

I was looking through my notes the other day and realized that the first salmon of last year were stocked in Connecticut waters on September 18. Most years, the salmon went in around the second week of October, give or take. Having an extra three weeks of fishing last season was a nice treat. I have no way of knowing if we'll be fishing around the same time this year or not, but I want to be ready to go as soon as the fish are. You can look through archived blog posts to find details about how to prepare for the upcoming season, but I'll give a few brief tips here, as well. 

My first task is to switch over my fly boxes from the flies I use in Canada during the summer to flies I use in Connecticut in autumn. In Connecticut, only flies with one hook are legal, so I have to remove all flies tied on double hooks from my box. As far as the flies themselves go, I'll probably start the season with a healthy mix of summer flies and fall flies. The biggest difference is the size of the flies. If we have September fishing again, I'll mostly use flies in the size 6-12 range, depending on conditions. As the water cools (and hopefully rises), I'll switch to larger flies, then mainly tube flies at the end of autumn. 

As far as rods and reels go, I'm pretty much ready to go. I use some of the same gear for broodstock salmon as I do for sea run brown trout and smaller Canadian Atlantic salmon. If I had to pick one rod to use all season, it would be my Sage Z-Axis 11' 6wt. switch. For single handers, I prefer my old Sage Graphite II 9' 7wt. Just for kicks, I'm going to try to catch my first salmon of the Connecticut season on my first fly rod, a fiberglass Shakespeare 8' 7/8wt. I bought that rod at Benny's when I was 13 years old. With its foam grip and plastic reel seat, it's about as cheap as a fly rod gets, but I'm really looking to catching some fish with it! 

When fishing with a single handed rod goes, I'm inclined to use a straight piece of mono instead of a tapered leader. I always have a few hand tied leaders with me, but I use them mainly when I'm likely to change fly sizes often. I am going to set up one rod just for fishing the riffling hitch and dries this season. That rig probably won't see anything other than a 7'-11' piece of 8lb. test Maxima.  

Other than that, everything else is pretty much ready to go. I posted regular fishing reports here last season. I will try to do the same this year. Here's hoping we're only a month away...or less!


The L.T. Special and Ally's Shrimp are good autumn flies


I carry a small inventory of flies I sell through my website. If you want a specific fly or size that you don't see listed, contact me and I will try to accommodate you as best I can. Every year, I catch salmon on flies I don't have listed for sale, but what's in the Fly Shop are my main confidence patterns for Connecticut. Get your orders in early...my busiest season for work is in the fall and I can't guarantee a fast turnaround time once the inventory is depleted. 

Also, I will be giving guided salmon fishing tutorial trips on the lower Naugatuck River again this season. These trips are mainly geared towards fly fishers with little-to-no wild Atlantic salmon fishing experience. The tactics I use on Connecticut Rivers are the same thing I use when fishing abroad. The same flies and presentations work really well here. My philosophy is to practice at home so you don't practice on the river while on a salmon fishing trip. This is especially important for those of us who choose to fish without a guide for some or all of their trip abroad. It's not trout fishing and it's important to recognize and react to the often times puzzling behavior of Atlantic salmon. If you don't have an Atlantic salmon fishing trip planned and just want to become a better broodstock salmon angler, I can help with that too. 

Obviously, I can't book dates at the very beginning of the season since we don't know when exactly that will be. However, it is pretty safe to assume the salmon will be in by the second week of October, so feel free to contact me now if you'd like to book something for around that time or later. Visit the Salmon School page on my website for more details. 

For more detailed information on the fishery, tackle, tactics and flies, see these posts:




Monday, August 11, 2014

Almost

The "Pert'near," as it's known in some circles

Usually, I like to provide a little bit of history when I post fly patterns. I have nothing to say in the history department this time. I can't find any information about the origins online. The name of the fly is so generic, Google isn't even helpful. It's not in any salmon fly tying books I own. The only time I've seen it published was in an old W.W. Doak catalog. Maybe the Doaks still sell the Almost in their shop, but it's not listed in their online catalog. I have seen them for sale at Curtis Miramichi Outfitters and I'm fairly certain the fly has Miramichi roots. 

So why the name "Almost?" Is it because there's almost nothing to it? Is it because it's almost all black? Perhaps the name refers to the fact that it takes almost no time to tie? I could probably come up with plenty of guesses if none of those are correct.

In preparation for the upcoming Connecticut broodstock salmon season, I tied a few this afternoon. I have never tried fishing this fly any larger than a size 8. I carry them in sizes 8 to 12, with some tied very small on low water hooks. I've found a size 10 Almost to be the most effective, however. I fish it on a long leader and a light tippet, usually 6lb. test. I use it on both sunny and dark days. It's a very subtle, drab pattern, so it's a good choice when the fish are feeling spooky. 

Give it a shot sometime. It couldn't be much easier to tie. Its simplicity is almost an affront to a culture  accustomed to fishing overindulgent flies for fish who aren't even feeding. Regardless, it works! 


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Almost

Hook: Any (pictured above: Partridge Code M sz. 10)
Tail: Golden pheasant crest
Body: Black wool
Wing: Black bear hair or squirrel tail*
Throat: Black hen 
Head: Black

*I use hair from a black-dyed fox mask for my small flies

Monday, August 4, 2014

Wedding Boutonniere Flies


A dapper angler

I was recently commissioned to tie fourteen wedding boutonniere flies for a couple who tyed the knot earlier this month. At first, I submitted a hairwing atlantic salmon fly design in the requested color scheme, pink and blue. The colors were a little off, so the groom sent me a picture of the tie that he and the other groomsmen will be wearing. It was a few different shades of blue with jumping tarpon and little pink tarpon-type flies.

It seemed silly to pair salmon flies with a tarpon tie, so I retied the prototype. The second pattern was a more pleasing design, loosely based on a Florida Keys tarpon fly template. Salmon fly boutonnieres look nice, but they can be a little two dimensional. With its palmered marabou and hackle, a tarpon fly looks more "floral" to me. 

Ready to party!

After a little more tweaking, the third time was the charm. I wish I could have tied them on conventional stainless saltwater hooks, but I could only find brooch pin hooks on modified streamer and salmon irons. Regardless, I like how they turned out.

I bought one extra brooch pin hook. I might tie fly boutonniere for myself one of these days. After wearing it, I figure I can cut it apart and retie one to match another outfit.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Monday, July 7, 2014

Quebec - June 30 -July 4, 2014: A Trip of Opposite Extremes

Sunrise over Les Escoumins


If I had to sum up this trip in one sentence, I’d probably say, “Mother nature had her way with me, but I persevered.” I think “barely persevered” would be a more accurate description. I’ll try to make a long story somewhat shorter…

Part I

This would be my first time fishing in Quebec. The trip started on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River in the town of Les Escoumins, Quebec. The first destination was the Escoumins River. The Escoumins has a small run of salmon, but I’ve been told it’s a fairly predictable run. It was a chance to fish with my friend John again, this time on what he considers his “home river.”

After a long, hard winter, the last scenario I expected to see was low, warm water and with few fish in the river. Apparently, the Escoumins heats up quickly. The air temps were painfully hot and the river felt like bath water. You know it’s bad when our clothes were sweat soaked by 6:30am. The river was almost 70º at the start of the day. 



The falls at high tide


We fished the first pool on the river at high tide. The tide brought cool water in from the bay. Despite being a good tide, it didn’t bring salmon in with it. We decided to call it quits and head upriver to an impassible falls. We did see salmon upstream and some were large. The main problem was that the majority weren’t holding in areas that could be fished. They hung out in the well oxygenated water below the falls. Every once in a while we’d see one try to jump the falls in vain. 


Wet wading...a bad sign while atlantic salmon fishing

The forecast was just as bad for the next day. I was planning on fishing the Escoumins for two and a half days. I decided to cut my losses, book an earlier ferry trip across the St. Lawrence, and head to my next destination a day early. 

Part II

The next stop was the Gaspé Peninsula. It was a very nice ride. I passed many salmon rivers along the way. The highlight was seeing the legendary Restigouche River for the first time. 

I considered stopping at the Matapedia to fish the unlimited rod water for the afternoon, but I decided to drive past it (painful as that was). I was headed to a chalet on the Petite Cascsapedia to reunite with my first salmon fishing partners, Doug and Ray. They had won some November draws for the Petite and the Bonaventure, but had an open day mid-week. It would be great to be reunited on a salmon river after several years. 

I entered the 72 hour draw on the Grand Cascapedia and the 48 hours draws on both the Petite Cascapedia and the Bonaventure. I really wanted to fish the Grand. Besides being one of the world’s great big salmon rivers, it was the only one of the three that was actually fishing well. I didn’t win water on either the Grand or the Petite, unfortunately. 


Bonaventure - D Sector

It looked like I would be on the Bonaventure open water (C & D sectors) for the next five days. On the first day, I drove the entire length of D sector, stopping by almost every pool to scope out the unfamiliar water. To say the Bonaventure is visually stunning is an understatement. I’ve seen pictures and have heard about its crystal clear water for years, but seeing it in person is a whole different story. A common refrain goes something like, “Be careful where you wade. The water is so clear, you’ll think you’re stepping into a two foot hole and you’ll instantly be up too your chest in water.” It’s totally true and I made that mistake a few times. Unless I’m talking about the Bonnie, I’ll never use the term “gin clear” to describe a river ever again. I have fished some clear rivers in the past, but nothing comes close to this. 

I saw some great looking pools, but many should be fished from the far side of the river. Unlike the Escoumins, the water on the Bonaventure was relatively high and cold. Wading across would not be an option. Sight fishing for salmon, which is the Bonaventure’s big draw, would also probably not an option. I would have loved to fish dry flies to spotted fish, but conditions were more conducive to covering water with wet flies. 


Too high to cross, even in the riffles.

An even tougher pill to swallow…the runs on the Bonnie have been horrible this year. The multi sea-winter salmon have largely been absent so far this season. The place was a bit of a ghost town. At least it kept angling pressure down, I guess. 

I have to admit, I was starting to panic a bit. I tried to relax and continued checking out the pools. The first pool produced nothing and was clearly not a good pool to fish in high water. The second pool, however, looked promising. 


The money pool...at least for me it was.

I knew that the grilse were starting to show up, so I went with a #4 white tailed Green Machine. It’s been good to me when there were grilse about. It was a good decision. I hooked into a 6lb. grilse on my first pass through the pool. This pool was tricky one to fish and wade. The grilse went berserk from the minute it was hooked. He sped downstream and ran directly underneath a row of overhanging trees. I managed to keep a tight line to him and, after a little chase downstream, landed him safely. He was probably the best looking and hardest fighting grilse I’ve ever caught. Unfortunately, he was kind of crazy and it was impossible to get a picture of him. I was relieved to be on the board on my first day fishing the Bonaventure…and on my birthday, no less! 

Ray on a nice C Sector pool


The next day, Doug, Ray and I fished C and D Sector together. It was great to be reunited with my old friends again. The only action any of us had was in the first pool we fished. Doug pricked a salmon, but couldn’t get him to come back. I had one roll in front of me while I was fishing the lower end of the pool. I worked the rise with a Bomber for a while but, because of the rotation, I had to move on and leave the fish. 


I was on my own again on day three. We had gotten some heavy rain overnight. The river was a little higher than the day before, but still crystal clear. I went back to the same pool in which I caught the grilse and promptly hooked into another. This time, the fly was a #4 Blue Charm (Mike Crosby style). Despite having fished one for years, I’ve never had any luck with a Blue Charm before. This grilse was the opposite of the first. He really didn’t fight at all. I pretty much reeled him right in. He went berserk when I tried to take the hook out of his mouth though. I probably shouldn’t be surprised…weird trip, weird fish. 


Grilse w/Mike Crosby style Blue Charm

That would be the last of my action for the trip. I could tell the river was coming up and my window for good fishing was pretty much over. Once again, I decided to cut my losses and get back on the road earlier than planned. Hurricane Arthur was ripping through New England and on its way for eastern Canada. It was a good call. The Bonnie was blown out by the next day, trees came down and I heard the whole Peninsula lost power. 

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I certainly wouldn't have refused a canoe ride

The Escoumins was too low and hot. The Bonaventure was cold, higher than normal, and rising. There should have been a lot more fish in the Bonnie, but they just weren’t there. The Bonnie has a good ratio of salmon to grilse, but all I caught was grilse. One fought as hard as any grilse I’ve ever hooked and the other fought worse than any salmon I’ve ever hooked. I thought I would catch fish on the Escoumins and run the risk of getting skunked on the Bonnie. I probably did more driving than fishing on this trip. It was truly a trip of opposite extremes. 

If ever there was a trip to get skunked, this would have been the one. It didn’t happen though. I didn’t hook up with any msw salmon, but at least I had my pair of grilse. Two fish landed in two and a half days of fishing on the Bonaventure actually isn’t bad. Yet another skunking narrowly averted!


Time to head home



Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Anticipation

Brûlé McSprats (sz. 3, 5 & 7)

This is one of my favorite times of year. North American salmon fishermen reconnect with one another. Whether it's by phone, email or even SMS, anglers ask each other, "Where are you going this year and when?" This is the time of year we start to lose sleep thinking about river conditions, run timing and about flies we don't need, but feel compelled to tie anyhow. Some of my friends have already put time in on salmon rivers, most with little to show for it. "Things are late this year" is a common refrain this season.  I'm just starting to lose sleep, hoping that I'll hit it just right. Good luck, friends!