Monday, July 2, 2018

Atomic Dog v2: Articulated Tube Fly - Part II

The first victim of the full Atomic Dog came from a river stuffed with herring.

     In my last post, I provided the recipe for the front half of the revised Atomic Dog. As I previously mentioned, the idea of an articulated tube fly had eluded me for years. One morning in March, I realized I had been thinking of the design all wrong. All along, I was trying to figure out how to articulate the tubes themselves, which never seemed to produce results that made any sense. Then it hit me...articulate the tube fly hook, not the tube.

     The Atomic Dog was an ideal candidate for an articulated rear section. It didn't take long think of a suitable design. All I needed to do was to tie an articulated, Lefty's Deceiver-style pattern in back, then merge it with the front of the tube fly. The rear section would add length, volume, and would significantly increase the action of the fly. Because it can detach from the tube fly, the articulated section would behave just like a single tube fly hook, except with two hooks. Here is the rear section, followed by the recipe:

Articulated rear section 

Atomic Dog (articulation):

Rear Hook: Egret tube fly hook (sz. 2)
Tail: White saddle hackles, tied Deceiver style 
Collar: EP Ultra Brush 5" - snow white
Wing: White bucktail (or other stiff hair)
Head: White

Front Hook: Owner Aki (sz. 2/0)
Articulation: 40lb. Maxima with a short length of plastic tubing 
Thread: White, covering the hook shank and monofilament, and covered in UV cured resin 

So the entire dressing is in one place, I will repeat the recipe for the tube fly section here....

Atomic Dog, front (tube fly) section

Atomic Dog

Tube: Plastic 1.8 mm 
Junction Tube: Largest inner diameter PVC tubing (old HMH tubing is perfect)
Tail: Fluoro fiber-fluorescent pink, tied on top of the junction tube
Butt: Ice Dub-pearl
Wing 1: White marble fox and pearl Flashabou, tied Temple Dog style; followed by 2-3 turns of EP Ultra Brush 5"-snow white
Wing 2: White marble fox and pearl Angel Hair, tied Temple Dog style; followed by 2-3 turns of EP Ultra Brush 5"-snow white
Wing 3: Light Blue (or other color) cashmere goat over pearl mini Lateral Scale (as long as possible); followed by 2-3 turns of EP Ultra Brush 5"-snow white
Collar: Silver pheasant dyed light blue (or color to match Wing 3)
Eyes: Jungle cock or substitue 
Head: White or cone (optional)

The full Atomic dog, with articulated section joined to tube fly

Some notes on construction and use: 

-The white bucktail topping should extend as far back at the fibers from the EP brush collar. The stiff bucktail fibers help to prop up the wing of the tube fly, preventing it from fouling. Some fouling is inevitable, however, I tested this fly all spring and had minimal problems with fouling (especially after using the length of tubing between hooks). 

-So far, the 40lb. mono has been strong enough to withstand fish pulling on it. That said, it should be checked now and then to make sure it hasn't been compromised. If I remember correctly, most of the fish I caught were hooked with the front hook. 

-Because the rear section takes the brunt of the abuse, I tied two rear sections for every front section. So far, all of the sections have held up pretty well. The front sections definitely show less wear and tear, though. Since the fronts are the labor-intensive part, it's nice to only tie half as many. 

     When I had this idea, the first person to whom I sent a picture was my friend John. At the time, he was tying some Sunray Shadows for Atlantic salmon fishing. He liked the concept and tied some thin, black saddle hackles onto a hook and made and extra long, super mobile Sunray Shadow. I'll check back in with John later this season to see if his articulated Sunray Shadow worked. I will definitely try some for stripers next spring. It might make a good eel pattern. 


     I hope you enjoyed a new look at tube fly design. It definitely opens up some possibilities for those willing to take to experiment. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to fish more flies like this in the future. I have some ideas for a smaller, articulated tube fly for reluctant broodstock Atlantic salmon, so stay tuned...

Monday, June 25, 2018

Atomic Dog v2: Articulated Tube Fly - Part I

The Atomic Dog color scheme was taken from a well worn Beast Fly, tied by R.M. Lytle.

     Over the past few seasons, I've had a lot of success with a Temple Dog/Samurai tube fly variation I call the "Samurai Dog". It has caught striped bass, resident trout, sea run brown trout, smallmouth bass, broodstock Atlantic salmon, and a few other fish for me. My friend John fishes the fly more than I do and he has caught all sorts of good stuff with it, including steelhead and some very large trout. Here are some variations I like to use:

The original is almost all white, but the white/chart works well, of course.

An all orange Samurai Dog is my #1 Naugatuck salmon fly for very dirty water. 

Here's one tied Russian Bullet style (3 cones in the body)

Another Russian Bullet hybrid I call the "Surgeon General," which is
based on a fly called the "Back Doctor Special". (shout out to Pär in Sweden!)

     They have all worked great, particularly the original white Samurai Dog, as well as the orange. I use the white in the spring and the orange in the fall. I use the black in both seasons and the white/chartreuse when stripers are around.

     As great of a fly as the Samurai Dog has been, my only gripe is its lack of length. When herring are on the menu in spring, I felt like the fly was too small. I tied a fly I called the "Atomic Dog (now retired)" but, as good as it looked to me, it didn't perform well. I swapped materials and got a little more length and volume out of it. It caught fish, but I wanted an even bigger fly. 

     I had been trying to figure out how to articulate a tube fly for a while. I had all sorts of complicated, impractical ideas. Finally, the solution hit me. I needed to tie the larger Samurai Dog, but with one key modification, then tie a fly on an articulated pair of hooks. It's a lengthy process, so I will explain the first part now and save the back end of the fly for the next post. The original fly works fine on its own with just a single hook. 

Front section of the new Atomic Dog, which can be fished as-is

Atomic Dog

Tube: Plastic 1.8mm 
Junction Tube: Largest inner diameter PVC tubing (old HMH tubing is perfect)
Tail: Fluoro fiber-fluorescent pink, tied on top of the junction tube
Butt: Ice Dub-pearl
Wing 1: White marble fox and pearl Flashabou, tied Temple Dog style; followed by 2-3 turns of EP Ultra Brush 5"-snow white
Wing 2: White marble fox and pearl Angel Hair, tied Temple Dog style; followed by 2-3 turns of EP Ultra Brush 5"-snow white
Wing 3: Light Blue (or other color) cashmere goat over pearl mini Lateral Scale (as long as possible); followed by 2-3 turns of EP Ultra Brush 5"-snow white
Collar: Silver pheasant dyed light blue (or color to match Wing 3)
Eyes: Jungle cock or substitue 
Head: White or cone (optional)

     You can see Håkan Norling tie the original Temple Dog here. This video is very helpful. If you have never tied a Temple Dog, this video is a "must see". The Striper Dog is essentially a Temple Dog, but with no real body. The EP brush takes the place of the wraps of soft hackle that Norling uses in his fly. Instead of nesting tubes, flexible junction tubing is used to hold the  hook. It needs to have a large inner diameter to accept the articulated hooks. When used with a single hook, the hook must be big and stout enough to stay lodged in the junction tube. I use an Owner Aki, size 2/0 or 3/0. It is made with very heavy wire and has a big eye. 

     In the next installment, I will explain the steps to extending this fly by adding an articulated section. Also, I will explain the benefits of the articulated rear section. Click HERE to read Part II.

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Tale of Three Trips

The binoculars are for "seeing trout." 

Trip #1

     Last season, my son and I had a successful trip to the Hammonasset River, targeting trout rising to Quill Gordons. The little guy caught his first trout, a brookie, as well as a rainbow trout. He was bummed that we lost a brown trout and were unable to check it off his list. 

     This season, I vowed that he would get his brown trout. The water was much higher this year, so the little guy had to fish from the bank. Another big difference from last year was that the trout would not rise this time. I suspect the high, cold water had something to do with it. No worries, we had nymphs and wet flies that did the trick. He lost the first fish hooked, an acrobatic rainbow, but I assured him there were more opportunities. A few minutes later, he had his first brown trout in the net and checked off his list! 

     He was at least as proud of himself as I was of him. He asked what the next kind of trout he will catch next. Short of flying him out west to chase cutthroats, the only thing I could come up with was tiger trout. I warned him that they are few and far between, but it was no use. A new quest has emerged. Time to distract him with sunfish! 

The elusive brown trout

Trip #2

     It had been far too long since the last time I fished with my friend Mark (Fishing Small Streams). Mark and I used to fish the Hendrickson hatch on the Farmington at least once a season, but I have been distracted by migratory fish the past two springs. I knew it was time to revisit our old haunts before Mark moves. 

     Before the hatch started, I caught my first trout of the season on a #2 Grey Ghost. I was using a 6 wt. switch rod, so it wasn't much of a battle. I soon caught another, which didn't put much of a bend in the rod. Then I lost a third, which did put a bend in the 11' Sage Z-Axis. It put a big bend in the rod before it thrashed on the surface, threw the fly, and swam back to the depths. Oh well, there was more action to come...

      The hatch materialized, but the fish weren't too keen to rise. I picked off one on a wet fly after changing pools. I didn't see many rises. The rises I saw were isolated. I went back to the streamer while we waited for a potential spinner fall. 

     I wasn't too optimistic about a good spinner fall considering how windy it was. But, low and behold, we saw a ton of spinners over the water. The popular pool we chose was too crowded for my comfort, so I moved to the next pool upstream. It's a small pool, and two anglers were already in it,  but I was able to sneak in at the tail. 

      It wound up being a good choice. It was quite a spinner fall...the most prolonged spinner fall I've fished in quite a long time. The trout were plentiful but small. I even caught some while fishing from the bank. Finally, I hooked a better fish, but lost him as he raced towards the tail of the pool. No worries, the action was far from over. 

     There was a decent trout rising in the very fast water at the extreme edge of the tail, just above the rapids. I drifted a spinner over it a few times before it ate. I got the fish close to me but, once it saw me, it bolted. I had been catching all small fish and hauling them in, so my feisty fish senses were a little dull when I hooked this one. This trout was absolutely not going to give up easily and it escaped into the fast water below. It was time to put on my running shoes. I kept tight on the trout for a good distance downstream. I thought I could land it in one of the pockets, but no dice. The fish didn't stop running until it crossed into the next pool downstream. 

Not particularly large, but full of piss and vinegar! 

     I was able to land the fiery fish in the soft water of the new pool. It was well hooked and thrashed wildly while I tried to remove my spinner from its mouth. I thought the fight was over, but this trout didn't get the memo. It wasn't a particularly large trout, maybe 17"-18" at best, but fought like a demon. I was happy I didn't break my ankle. Whatever I hooked next probably wouldn't have been that exciting, so I decided to call it a night! 

Shad fight tough, but are a delicate fish. Whenever possible, I now release shad without touching them. 

Trip #3

     Data! Data doesn't lie. I knew I could have a good day of shad fishing if the water fell below a certain level on the gauge after Mother's Day. I've been trying to fish closer to home more often and only wanted to make one trip this year, as long as it was a good enough trip. It wasn't the most spectacular day of American shad fishing I've ever had, but it was good enough to scratch the itch for the season. There were some fairly large fish in the mix too, so that was a bonus. Actually, I hooked a few real tough ones. 

     It pays to keep track of data throughout a few seasons. It can make trips successful when time is limited, as it has been for me the past year or so. I had no specific local intel on this spot, but I've fished it enough to know when it should produce. It produced as expected. It was fun. I'll go back next year, after Mother's Day, when the water is below a certain level...

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Don't Lose It, Reuse It - Part II (Shaving Brush Restorations)

Premium quality badger knots from Elite Razor

     After salvaging my old badger knot for flies and reknotting its handle, I realized I had enjoyed the process. The flies weren't much different from others I had tied before, but the brush restoration was new to me. It was interesting, fun, and it was a new skill to learn. Plus, I needed a little break from fly tying at that point. This project started when winter returned in late February, so I didn't miss much fishing.

     I went to antique stores and searched eBay for vintage shaving brushes in need of restoration. The first couple were sort of rough, but I caught on quickly and learned what to look for. I have done a lot of grinding and sanding the past couple of months. I would actually love to do more, but I only need so many brushes. I probably don't need as many as I currently own, but I have been enjoying the process and learning about the subtleties of brush making and restoration. Here are some pics of restorations completed this winter and early spring:

Rubberset 200-3 w/24mm mixed badger and boar knot
This scrubby, barber-style brush is a my top three

Ever-Ready 100 w/22mm two band badger fan knot
Magnets are installed in the handle to hang dry w/o a stand

Century mini-brush w/16mm synthetic knot

Rubberset 153 w/22mm two band badger bulb knot
This one was made for my friend Frank,
who might as well have been shaving with a roadkill brush. 

Ever-Ready 650PB w/22mm Tuxedo synthetic knot

Ever-Ready 150 w/26mm Plissoft synthetic knot

Made Rite 303L (ivory) w/22mm Silvertip badger knot

Made Rite 303L (black) w/22mm two band badger fan knot
I didn't plan on buying this, but it was a good companion
to the ivory-colored brush above. 

Rubberset 754 w/20mm Tuxedo synthetic knot
This one fits in a large pill bottle and now lives in my carry-on bag.

Rubberset 203 w/24mm Manchurian White badger fan knot

Erskine 120 w/24mm High Mountain White badger knot
Along with my original restore and the Rubberset 200-3 above,
this one rounds out my top three. Pillowy soft! 

     Most of this work was leading up to restoring a coveted Rubberset 400. Sanding these old resin brushes is not too hard. Sanding and polishing aluminum is a lot more work, so I wanted to be sure my technique was sound before putting in 4-5 hours worth of work on this. In the end, it came out pretty good! I might remove the knot I installed and have a super premium knot installed by Declaration Grooming. Here is a progression of sanding...

Original, well used condition w/boar bristles

Before sanding - 400 grit wet sanding

600 - 1500 grit wet sanding

2000-3000 grit wet sanding and first polishing

5 hours later...with a mirror finish and a 24mm B5 knot from Declaration Grooming

     Like flies, I have way more brushes than I need, but I like variety. Want one? Let me know...I'm fishing again now that spring has sprung, but would gladly take a break for an excuse to work on some old brushes. Based on a recent comment from my wife, I won't be restoring any more for myself anytime soon! Thanks for indulging this slight departure. More fishing content coming soon...

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Don't Lose It, Reuse It - Part I

The old badger hair knot, repurposed 

     "Don't lose it, reuse it!" It's a rally cry of Rocky, the mixed breed, recycling truck-driving pup from the Nickelodeon cartoon, "Paw Patrol." I know this because I have a young child who enjoys the show and the toys. As mind numbing as the show can be for adults, there are some pretty solid messages for both young and old viewers. Lately, I've tried to be more conscious about throwing away less and reusing and repurposing items more.

    Fast forward to the day my trusty Vulfix 2234 Super Badger shaving brush bit the dust. I had used this brush for the past fifteen years, at least. I knew I was long overdue for a new brush, but the badger hair knot could easily be used for tying flies. 

     I tied a handful of flies, with which I will catch trout this season. I picked some "sure winners," like a Rusty Spinner, an Ausable Bomber, and a Cahill-colored Wulff, along with a bucktail-type streamer. I saved the knot. Maybe I'll tie some salmon flies with it, too. 

Not perfectly round, but it will do

     The brush handle seemed like it could be salvaged. I ordered an inexpensive replacement Vulfix while I studied brush reknotting. After lots of reading, I decided to enlarge the socket to accept a larger knot than the original. I ground the hole with a Dremel tool and sanded it smooth. I purchased a new knot from The Golden Nib. I realized I had drilled the hole a little too deep, so I epoxied a couple nickels in the socket to help raise the knot. The nickels actually added a nice weight to the old handle.

Knot loft set with nickels 

     As soon as the new badger hair knot arrived, I epoxied it into the handle. I was shaving with my revamped brush the following evening. Not only was I happy that I didn't throw the handle away, but I was shocked at how much better the recycled brush worked than its predecessor. It was like night and day. I was disappointed that I hadn't thought to get a new brush years ago. With use, over a matter of weeks, the new brush knot broke in nicely and it makes a terrific lather. I actually enjoyed the project so much, I decided to attempt further restorations with vintage brushes. Fly tying actually went on hold while I got my bearings. More on that next week...

The "recycled" brush, now with a 222 mm Finest bulb knot from the Golden Nib

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Portable Kit for Tying Salmon Flies "In-Hand"

Getting back into the swing of things  

     As a professional musician, a lot of time is spent waiting around. We wait before and after sound checks. We wait during travel. We wait for our perpetually tardy colleagues to show up for rehearsal. I figured there had to be a better way to kill time. With a little inspiration from Adrian Cortes, who seems to tie flies in the most unlikely places, I decided to make a portable kit for tying salmon flies "in-hand." 

Old fly box, repurposed

     I needed to use minimal tools and materials. The first step was portioning out materials that can be used in many different patterns. I gutted an old fly box, lined half of it with cork, and filled it with thread, tinsels, dubbing, floss, wax, etc. I can stick hooks into the cork and keep a pair of scissors, hackle pliers, tweezers, and a bodkin inside and still manage to close the box. If I know the pattern I want to tie, I pre-portion the materials, put them inside a small baggie, and store them in the fly box. This is truly portable.

Time to kill...

The main kit

     To store more materials, I repurposed a case for a portable DVD player. The DVD player is long gone, but the case is still useful. In it, I keep hackle, more hooks, feathers of all sorts, etc. The fly box fits inside this case, so everything is right where I need it. I keep the case in the back of my car, just in case I find myself waiting.

Portable lighting

      Since most of my work happens at night, one issue that has arisen is a lack of light. I bought a small USB power bank from Marshall's and a couple of small USB lamps from Ikea. They don't produce a ton of light, but they're not too back as long as the fly is held directly beneath them. The power bank and lamps fit in the DVD player case. 

Small and very portable

     Viola...a better way to wait around. I'd rather fish in those waiting times, but I'm not usually near bodies of water. Tying can be done virtually the car, backstage, or at the train station. I can even stash the kit in my cymbal bag. I wish I had thought to do this sooner! 

Black Silk and Rosy Dawn...ready to fish!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Good Riddance, Winter!

First fish of 2018

     Whew! Spring is finally here! Prior to February, I hadn't wet a line since Christmas Eve. A brief, but intense, February warmup made us think that spring would be very early this year. I was able to take advantage of ice out by hitting a local carp pond. It took a little while for the water to warm up enough for the carp to feed, but I waited patiently. It was a good day, bringing three common carp to the net. I didn't move any grass carp, a fish that has been taunting me since last summer, but that's a different story...

      Shortly thereafter, winter returned with a vengeance. March was pretty much awash in snow. I think it has snowed three times in April so far. Unbelievable! But, it melted quick and it was time to start the hunt for spring migrators. Schoolies were on the menu on my first trip, which was fun. Unfortunately, the keeper-sized holdovers moved out a few days before I was able to get to the river, but the migratory fish will be here soon enough. The river is COLD. That might be slowing things down a bit. 

First striper of the year

     I went out today for a couple hours. The river was lower, clearer, and slightly warmer. Today, April 12, the Connecticut River was 41º, which is quite cold for April 12. The schoolies had vanished, but had been replaced with good sized smallmouth bass. It was the "wrong" species but, at that size, I am not complaining. 

     I'm sure it will only get better from here. I haven't felt like writing much, but I do have a few posts planned when I get a moment. I'm experimenting with a new tube fly that I'll test out and, if it works out, will post here. Anyhow, enjoy your spring fishing. I know I will! 

First smallie of the year