Monday, March 30, 2015

Atlantic Salmon Flies from Maine

Tales from a bygone era
Last fall, I bought several used books to help me get through the long, cold winter months. I added every reasonably priced Atlantic salmon fishing book I could find to my Amazon cart. I got an awful lot of books for my money. Despite the common subject, it was a diverse selection of books. Given the number of salmon fishing books I already own, a few were redundant. They were given to friends. Of the eight or so books I bought, my favorite was the simplest book of the bunch. It's not necessarily better written than the rest, but the subject appealed to me the most. 

Published in 1996, Atlantic Salmon Fishing in Maine, by Paul C. Rzasa (1939-2010), is a collection of stories and information about the subsequently closed Atlantic salmon fishery in Maine. A couple of years ago, I posted a brief interview with Topher Browne on this blog. When asked if there was one destination he'd like to fish for Atlantic salmon more than anywhere else, he answered "Maine." I was slightly taken aback by his reply. Had I been asked the question, it would not have been my first choice. 

At least in post-colonial times, I can't imagine Maine's salmon rivers ever equaling the Miramichi or the Restigouche (in terms of run size and fish size, respectively). Even in its heyday, Maine's most prolific river, the Penobscot, was probably no match for the Restigouche, which is one of the world's great big-salmon rivers. The draw is that Maine is the only state in America with a run of wild Atlantic salmon. Their genetic integrity is still intact. It has been that way for about two hundred years. 

Atlantic Salmon Fishing in Maine definitely didn't make the state sound like salmon fishing utopia. Nevertheless, Rzasa caught plenty of salmon in his home state. I have a couple of older friends who have both told me they used to "knock 'em dead" on the Penobscot decades ago. Rzasa wrote about catching salmon in the Downeast rivers, too. It wasn't just the Penobscot. A salmon fisherman had options back then. 

Now I understand why Topher Browne answered my question the way he did. There was a brief period of time in my salmon fishing history when I could have fished the Penobscot in autumn. I drove past it on my way to Canada. I wish I had at least stopped for a day or two. Who knows when I'll have that chance again, if ever? I still want to visit Iceland and fish more Russian rivers but, after reading Atlantic Salmon Fishing in Maine, I agree with Topher. If I could fish for Atlantic salmon anywhere in the world, it would be in New England. 


Atlantic Salmon Flies of Maine

Here are a few patterns that were devised specifically for fishing in Maine. The vast majority of the flies I found were designed for the Penobscot fishery. From what I gather, the Penobscot River had the earliest run of salmon, so it's no surprise that many of the Penobscot flies I found were big and brightly colored. I found a fair number of fall colored patterns, as well. 

One distinct trait I found in Maine's salmon flies is the use of the color pink as an accent color. There is no shortage of flies with pink components. Given how infrequently pink is seen in Atlantic salmon flies from the rest of the world, the high percentage of partially pink flies from Maine definitely stood out to me. 

Sidewinder (sz. 2) - Colburn Special (sz. 4)
Ruhlin's Riot (sz. 2/0)

Sidewinder (Gayland Hatchey & Gary Dinkins - Veazie, Maine)

Tag: Flat gold tinsel and fluorescent yellow floss
Tail: Fluorescent orange hackle over golden pheasant crest
Butt: Fluorescent yellow ostrich herl
Rib: Oval gold tinsel
Body: Peacock herl
Wing: Fluorescent yellow calf tail 
Collar Hackle: Fluorescent yellow
Cheeks: Fluorescent orange hackle tips
Head: Black

Colburn Special (Walter O. Colburn - Bangor, Maine)

Tag: Oval silver tinsel
Tail: Black monga tail over green monga tail (sparse)*
Body: Fluorescent green floss, butted in the middle with black ostrich herl
Wing: Black monga tail over green monga tail (sparse)*
Collar Hackle: Yellow (sparse)
Head: Black

*Often substituted with grey squirrel tail dyed green

Ruhlin's Riot (Dick Ruhlin - Brewer, Maine)

Tag: Flat silver tinsel
Tail: Red hackle fibers
Body: Fluorescent green wool
Wing: Yellow bucktail, fine
Collar Hackle: Yellow
Head: Black

Down East Special (sz. 2) - Pinkent (sz. 8)
Verdict (sz. 4)

Downeast Special (Phil Foster - Farmnington, Maine)

Tag: Flat silver tinsel
Tail: Golden pheasant crest
Butt: Black ostrich herl
Body: Gray chenille or wool
Wing: Fitch tail or red squirrel tail
Collar Hackle: Bright orange
Head: Black

Pinkent (Robert Ent - Bangor, Maine)

Tag: Oval silver tinsel
Body: Rear half - fluorescent pink wool; Front half - bronze peacock herl
Wing: Grey squirrel tail
Collar Hackle: Orange and yellow
Head: Black

Verdict (Jerry Clapp - Bangor, Maine)

Tag: Flat gold tinsel and fluorescent pink yarn
Tail: Golden pheasant crest
Rib: Flat gold tinsel
Body: Black floss
Wing: Black squirrel tail
Collar Hackle: Hot orange
Head: Black

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Post #150 & Giveaway: Atwells Avenue Cosseboom

Buona Festa di San Giuseppe

Happy St. Joseph's day to all my Italian and Italian-descended friends!

This is post #150. If you would like to win this fly and a few others, leave a comment or send me an email. The comment doesn't have to be about anything specific. I'll pick a random winner at the end of the month. Thanks for reading! 

Atwells Avenue Cosseboom

Hook: Dai-eech 2441
Tip: Flat tinsel - Italian white gold
Tail: Pesto green floss
Rib: Flat tinsel - Italian white gold
Body: Pesto green floss
Wing: White veal tail 
Collar Hackle: Sangiovese Red
Head: Dark black

Monday, March 16, 2015

Atomic Dog (now retired)

One from the Mothership

The Atomic Dog is the next step in the evolution of the Samurai Dog, a fly that made last spring for my friend John and me. John really killed it with the Samurai Dog, catching a pile of striped bass, smallmouth bass, and trout (including a 5lb. brown trout from the upper Farmington River). According to John, he tied the fly on in spring and didn't take it off until summer. I didn't fish the Samurai Dog nearly as much as John did, but I managed to do pretty well despite my busy schedule. I caught several stripers and lost a good sized sea run brown (a leader length away...gah!!).

I wanted to retain the basic characteristics of the Samurai Dog, which is essentially a Temple Dog x Samurai hybrid, but add a few enhancements. The new pattern has a base layer of bucktail to keep the wing propped up more, a grizzly hackle tied flatwing style, an underwing to fatten up the profile of the fly, and a fluorescent pink Fluoro Fiber throat.

I recently heard someone extol the virtues of fluorescent pink Fluoro Fiber, especially in flies for striped bass. John mentioned how the local spin fishermen do well on pink Sluggos. I figured a little pink couldn't hurt. 

This fly is fished when alewives and herring are present. I wanted to bulk up the fly to give it a better herring/alewife-like shape. It's still small for an alewife imitation, but the fish in this river seem to like smaller flies and baits. Maybe its relatively small size makes it especially vulnerable? 

The only sea run brown I hooked last year took a Samurai Dog on the dangle while I pumped my rod up and downstream. The most difficult aspect of where I hooked the trout is that fish have to be hauled in directly upstream, so the angler fights both the fish and the strong current. A weak take or poor hookset is the kiss of death. It would have been better if the big trout took the fly on the swing or strip, but beggars can't be choosers. I decided to add the flatwing hackle to give the fly a more snake-like movement when held stationary in the current. I'd rather a fish take on the dangle than not take at all. 

I have high hopes for this fly. I'm counting down the days until the ice clears, the flow in the river drops, temperatures warm up, and the anadromous fish begin to run. May can't get here soon enough! 

Below is the dressing for the Atomic Dog and a link to the George Clinton song of the same name. 


Atomic Dog

Thread: White
Tube: 1" 3 mm plastic tube; 1.8 mm plastic tube,  nested inside
Rear Body: Pearl flat braid
Weight (optional): Lead tape, wire, or non-lead alternative
Base Wing: White bucktail tied on top of the front portion of the body
Front Body: UV Pearl Ice Dub (heavy & loose) over bucktail butts, picked out
Wing 1: White marble fox tail and light blue Flashabou
Wing 2: White marble fox tail and polar ice Angel Hair
Wing 3: White snow runner topped with micro mirage Lateral Scale
Wing 4: White snow runner topped with several strands of peacock herl
Underwing: White marble fox or skunk tied to the under side of the tube
Topping: Natural grizzly hackle tied flatwing style
Sides: Jungle cock
Head: Large ball of Pearl UV Ice Dub, tied loosely over wing butts and picked out
Throat: Fluorescent pink Fluoro Fiber
Collar Hackle: White schlappen
Cone: Silver turbo cone (small)

Monday, March 9, 2015

Snaelda & Red Frances Var. (Tied on SRFS Shrimp Tubes)

German Snaelda & Red Frances Var.

I pride myself on being able to tie a durable and reasonably good looking Snaelda on a basic metal tube. Before I tied my first, I figured how hard could it be? It's a simple enough fly. My first attempts were so poorly tied, the tinsel rib slipped and the body self destructed, and that was just from casting. I went back to the drawing board and tied a few Snaeldas that held up to casting, but were not durable enough to stand up to the teeth of a salmon. It took a while and a lot of experimentation, but I found a way to tie a very durable Snaelda, one that could stand up to casting and sharp teeth. I hate tying them, but I know they're built to last.

I became aware of Sean Stanton's "Fran N Snaelda" a year or two ago. Sean's specially designed brass signature tubes were catching on like wildfire in Europe. Due to their tapered shape and flanged end, they supposedly made tying a Snaelda or a Frances easier and faster. I could tie a strong Snaelda or Frances on cheap hobby store tubing. Why would I spend a good deal more money for Sean's tubes? I thought I should try them before I knocked them, but the only place to get them was in the UK and I didn't want to bother with the exchange rate or the shipping. 

At the end of this past January, I decided to buy some Snow Runner from Skeena River Fly Supply. I noticed that they were selling what are essentially Sean Stanton signature tubes under the name of "shrimp tubes." They had shrimp tubes with or without a flange, plus shrimp tubes with an integrated conehead. I don't use cones on my Snaelda or Frances, but I was curious about the flanged shrimp tubes. Since I had the exchange rate going in my favor, I added a variety of sizes to my cart. 

I was a skeptic, but I have to say, I don't hate tying the Snaelda or the Frances nearly as much on the shrimp tubes as on conventional metal tubing. Most of the minor annoyances are taken out of the equation. They're definitely a quicker tie. I imagine the flange helps to protect the hackle, which seems to be the most delicate part of even a well-tied Snaelda. 

Top to bottom: Shrimp Tube Heavy (19 mm) - 1.3 g
Thick Walled Copper Tube (19 mm) - 1 g
Shrimp Tube (19 mm) - 0.9 g
Thin Walled Copper Tube (19 mm) - 0.4 g

I was curious about what the shrimp tubes weighed in relation to the cut-to-length copper tubes I normally use. Most of my Snaeldas tied on .5" and .75" copper tubes, both thick and thin walled. The shrimp tubes are measured in millimeters, but come in sizes comparable to what I have already been using. A 19 mm tube is essentially .75" long. As you can see in the picture above, the thick walled copper tube and the regular shrimp tube weigh about the same amount. The thin walled copper tube is much lighter than I expected it to be compared to the others. The heavy shrimp tube weighs a fair amount, but its shape is conducive to tying a good Snaelda or Frances body. Except in certain scenarios, I prefer a lighter fly. I wish someone made a shrimp tube in the shape and size of the SRFS heavy shrimp tube, but out of a lighter metal (like aluminum). Regardless, I'm excited to see how the flanged shrimp tubes hold up.


German Snaelda - 19 mm SRFS Heavy Shrimp Tube (w/flange)

German Snaelda

Tube: Shrimp tube w/flange (lined with 1.8 mm plastic tubing)
Tail: Yellow, orange and black bucktail; pearl Krystal Flash and Krinkle Flash
Rib: Oval silver tinsel
Body: Black Uni-Yarn
Hackle: Black hen
Head: Black

Red Frances Var. - 19 mm SRFS Heavy Shrimp Tube (w/flange)

Red Frances (Variation)

Tube: Shrimp tube w/flange (lined with 1.8 mm plastic tubing)
Feelers: 20# Maxima Chameleon and Ultragreen
Tail: Pine squirrel tail 
Body: Chinese red Uni-Yarn
Hackle: Brown
Rib: Oval gold tinsel
Head: Red

Monday, March 2, 2015

Manny's Salmon

Congrats, Manny! 

My friend and fly customer, Bill, keeps me well updated on how the salmon fishing is going on eastern Connecticut's Shetucket River. Between Bill and his sons, it seems like someone is always hooked up to a salmon. A few months ago, Bill sent me a picture of his son Manny's first Atlantic salmon. It is a really nice picture. So nice, it was recently chosen as the cover of the 2015 Connecticut's Angler's Guide! Here is Bill's account of Manny's salmon:

"After seeing what appeared to be a rolling salmon downstream of the riffle, my son Immanuel, better known as Manny, focused and determined, made what seemed like a thousand casts as he methodically swung a Mickey Finn through the run. At last the he felt the solid pull at the end of his line. The fight was on! Like a seasoned veteran, Manny finessed the fish and brought his first Atlantic Salmon to hand. Manny released this fish back into the Shetucket River unharmed."

Way to go, Manny! Especially the catch and release part.

In the words of the friend who introduced me to Atlantic salmon fishing, "Another life ruined!" Bill was last seen booking a family salmon fishing trip to Iceland.

Here are some pics of some of the family's catches...