Monday, June 29, 2015

Step-By-Step Tutorial: Salmon Fly Bodies (Variation on Fulsher & Krom)

Hanging out with Keith in his tying room (2011)

When it comes to tying hairwing Atlantic salmon flies, one of my favorite reference books is Hair-Wing Atlantic Salmon Flies by Keith Fulsher and Charlie Krom (Fly Tyer Inc., 1981). Though the book has been out of print for several years, used copies can found relatively easily and for a reasonable price. Many books are just a collection of patterns. Hair-Wing Atlantic Salmon Flies has dressings for more wet flies than anyone needs, but also has great tying instruction (as well as some good stories).

I have been very influenced by the way Mr. Fulsher and Mr. Krom tie wet fly bodies in their book. The first thing that stood out to me was their use of wool in place of floss in the instruction fly. My good friend Bob Skowronski, an innovative fly tyer and superb angler, ties many of his salmon flies with wool instead of floss. Over the years, Bob has schooled me on the merits of a wool body. A few years back, I made the switch from floss to Uni-Stretch. Not long after, I began using wool in place of both in all but a few scenarios. 

Wool holds up better to a salmon's teeth and to rough treatment with hemostats. Also, it absorbs water better, so the flies sink a little more easily. If I want a fly to fish on the surface (i.e., riffling hitch), I still use floss or Uni-Stretch since they absorb less water than wool yarn. Also, some patterns just need floss. I can't imagine tying a Rusty Rat with yarn. 

The other aspect of the Fulsher and Krom body that I have adopted is the tapered, cigar-like shape. By creating a downwards taper towards the head of the fly, the wing lays low and can be tied in over a minimum amount of bulk. Giving thought to material tie-in points and cut-off points go a long way in creating an underbody that enhances the taper. 

Shown below is an illustrated step-by-step of a Fulsher and Krom style wool body. It's not exactly how Fulsher and Krom demonstrate in their book. It's a derivative of their technique that has worked well for me. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask. 


Step 1: Start with white thread and tie in a tinsel tip. Tie the butt ends of the tinsel almost to the thread's starting point. Tie in a piece of fluorescent wool yarn for the butt. The tie-in point is about flush with the end of the hook eye's return. 

Step 2: Wrap the butt and tie down the tag end of the wool. The tie-off point should be just behind the tie-in point.

Step 3: Switch to black thread to go underneath the black portion of the body. Tie in the oval silver tinsel rib just behind the tie-off point of the fluorescent yarn. Typically, I would tie in the tail before the rib, but this yarn is a little bulky and I want a higher thread base to keep the angle of the tail down.

Step 4: Tie in the hackle fiber tail just behind the tie-in point of the tinsel. Staggering the tie-in points of the materials helps to create our finished body taper. 

Step 5: Tie in a piece of yarn for the body (black, in this case). The tie in point should be just behind the tie in point of the tail. 

Step 6: Advance the thread to the point where the body will end. Wind the wool forwards, but not all the way to the thread. 

Step 7: Reverse the direction of the wool. Wrap it backwards over the small section of forwards-wrapped wool. Stop at the fluorescent butt. 

Step 8: Wind the yarn towards the eye. Note that the last couple of turns will be over the little bit of thread that isn't covered with wool. Tie off the wool. 

Step 9: Wrap the oval tinsel rib with five even turns and tie off. Notice the body's distinct downward taper. This will help prevent the wing from kicking up. Also make note of how much space is left between the completed body and the eye. There should be enough room that the eye is not crowded when finished. 

Step 10: Tie a throat hackle over the few turns of thread used to tie down the tinsel. Tie the wing to an appropriate length, make a neat thread head, and finish the fly with two coats of lacquer. 

Black Bear Green Butt (sz. 6)
The wing is fox mask (dyed black) subbed for bear hair

Monday, June 22, 2015

Fun With New Gear

Orvis Hydros 966-4 and Islander IR4
I love this combo!

As stated in previous gear reviews, I'm not always going to talk about the latest and/or greatest. In the case of high priced items like rods and reels, I'm usually pretty far from being on the cutting edge. I think I can offer some perspective on reasonably priced gear though. In addition to a couple of old standbys, I fished two new combos this spring.

Orvis Hydros 966-4 and Islander IR4

The reel came first in this combo. It was very lightly used and came with an extra spool. I am very happy with my other Islander reel, an LX 3.6, which I used last season on my old Sage 9' 7wt. rod. I wanted to bounce that reel over to my Sage 11' 6 wt. switch rod. I decided to replace it with a used Islander IR4, which is Islander's click and pawl model. The reel wound up being way too light for the old, tip-heavy Sage 7wt. I was pretty disappointed, but not for long. The only solution was to buy a new rod! 

I didn't want to buy another 7 wt. rod. I already have one I love, plus a nice backup. I had two 9' six weights already, but neither has a fighting butt, so I looked around for a "saltwater 6wt." I found myself at the Orvis outlet one afternoon and tried an Access and a Hydros, both 9' 6" 6 wts. The reel balanced better on the Hydros despite the fact that that the Access was actually lighter. The Access felt sort of clunky, but the Hydros 966-4 casted beautifully. It's a shame the Hydros is no longer made (I don't think it was made for very long to begin with). 

The proof is in the pudding, as they say. This combo became my primary rig for American shad fishing this season. And what a combo it was! The rod and reel are a nearly perfect fit. They are light in the hand and perform flawlessly. The rod is a 6 wt. with some backbone and it handled both weighted shad flies and strong fish admirably. If I had to pick one, however, I'd say the Islander IR4 reel is the true star of the pair. Man, this reel SINGS! I will never get tired of this sound. Like its more expensive siblings, it's a solid piece of gear, beautifully machined and pretty to boot. Given the favorable exchange rate, I ordered the large arbor spool to use the reel with my 5 wt. trout rod. 

I had such fun with this pair, it will probably become my primary single handed rig for the Naugatuck salmon season this fall. It was such a blast fishing this combo, I'm looking into suitable summer quarry just so I can keep using it. Carp, perhaps? 

Ross Reach 7119-4 and Danielsson L5W 6nine

Ross Reach 7119-4 and Danielsson L5W 6nine

Technically, I began fishing this combo last December. I think I only fished it once, though. I definitely didn't hook anything with it until this spring. This rig was supposed to be my main setup for fishing small stripers and large sea run browns. If you read my last post, you'd know that never materialized. I did catch some smallmouth bass and American shad with it though. 

I bought the rod on Sierra Trading Post at the insistence of my friend, "The Good Doctor." The doctor has several rods from this line, but raves about the Ross Reach 11'9" 7 wt. switch in particular. With a 40% off coupon, I figured I'd buy it to replace the Redington CPX 11'3" 7 wt. I had borrowed for several years. I used it with two lines: a Vision Ace Scandi F/I  (28' & 380 gr.) and a Rio Steelhead Scandi that started at 31' and 410gr., but I lopped 2' off the front taper to help throw heavy polyleaders better. The line modification worked well and the rod had no problem throwing a moderately weighted fly and a 7.0 ips Versileader. The rod is very light and a pleasure to cast. I look forward to using it with an uncut scandi head and small, unweighted flies, preferably for Canadian salmon this summer (plans not definite). 

I already owned an old, Loop-era Danielsson LW 6nine, which is a very similar reel. I sold off my old Orvis reels and needed a few replacements. I bounced the older Danielsson over to my 8 wt. single handed set up. The new L5W 6nine pairs well with the Ross switch rod. It is a very lightweight reel, so it needs a suitably lightweight rod. According to the specs, the new reel has a slightly larger capacity than the old reel. To me, the range of adjustment in the drag is noticeably wider in the new reel. It's a very smooth reel, especially upon startup. If you absolutely need to keep a fish in the pool, you can really crank down the drag on a Danielsson. Plus, the entire range of drag adjustment can be changed easily, providing an overall lighter or stronger drag range. The outgoing click is very quiet, which some people might not like. It doesn't sing like a click and pawl reel, or even my disc drag Islander, but I don't mind. It does its job extremely well and is a very versatile reel. I've never heard one bad word spoken about Danielsson reels. 

It's a shame this Swedish reel company isn't more of a presence in North America. Reels can be purchased directly from the Danielsson webshop. They are very reasonably priced*. With the relative strength of the USD, now's the time to buy to save a few bucks. 

*Use the webshop prices, not the prices on the main site. The former reflect the current exchange rate and are lower than the prices listed on the main site (for now).


Other than a Beulah Platinum 9' 5wt., that's it...for now...Yikes! Time to offload more old gear on eBay!

The American shad season is pretty much over.
I need to find another fishery for this combo, asap!

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Great Day of American Shad Fishing

A good way to start the day
(picture by B. Smyrnow)

I don't post about every fishing trip I make, but I like to document the particularly memorable ones. Last Wednesday afternoon was definitely a memorable one. I met up with my friend Bill and his two sons to introduce them to fly fishing for American shad. The river has been fishing well the past couple of weeks. The action wasn't as fast paced on Wednesday, but the average size of the shad was larger and there were some real tough ones mixed in.

I'd rather not use split shot if I don't have to, so I've been fishing a two fly rig (mainly for weight) in all but the fastest and/or deepest water. I lead with a fly with heavy dumbbell eyes and, most of the time, use a small beadhead wet fly for a dropper. When the water was really low, I used just the soft hackle fly, which was preferable. Either way, these beadhead soft hackles have been a real killer this season and this trip was no exception. 

Killer combo

I landed several shad (and lost almost as many) before the real fun began. Bill and his sons had ventured upstream to check out another pool. I was fishing near the top of a run when my line went tight. The fish gave a few tugs, then bolted down and across stream. The fish just wouldn't stop running, then began to run even faster. My Islander reel went from a steady hum to an urgent wail in seconds. It didn't take long until all of my fly line was gone. I got to see my new Hatch backing for the first time since spooling the reel last March. 

Then the fish jumped. Yikes! I thought she was much closer to me than she actually was. She ran again and off came a lot more backing, probably 40 or 50 yards total. And then another jump. Wait...was that my fish? It was, but she wasn't anywhere near where she was before. In vain, I tried to regain my backing, but we were at a stalemate. She positioned her self broadside to the current and wasn't budging. It was time to chase this fish. 

I waded briskly downstream and reeled up backing as fast as I could. The fish held in position, but started leaping again. The only way I could gain positive yardage was by moving towards the fish. I began to worry that this shad was foul hooked. Even though it fought like a fair hooked fish, I had very little control over her. After several stressful minutes, I was 50 yards downstream from where I hooked the fish and I had finally managed to recover all of my backing. 

I started to reel the fish in through calmer water. The fish took several shorter runs and began jumping more frequently. After what seemed like an eternity, the shad began to tire enough for me to reel it close. Eventually, I got the fish close enough to see that she was fair hooked, securely in the roof of her mouth. At some point in the fracas, Bill showed up and I asked him to come downstream to help net her. With a little difficulty, I was able to net the fish myself. To my surprise, she took the top fly, not the dropper. I let out a huge sigh of relief. The shad was on for long enough for me to fear losing her, but I didn't.  That fish was the craziest fish I have hooked since last summer when an extremely rowdy Bonaventure grilse ran me under a row of low hanging trees, almost clotheslining me in the process. 

The last of three demons

I've caught a fair number of shad this season and have had a few decent scraps, but that was the first one to take me into my backing. Bill and his sons left shortly after I landed that fish. About fifteen minutes later, another took me into the backing, but I lost it shortly thereafter.

The action slowed down quite a bit as the sun sank beneath the treetops. There were sporadic hookups and fish landed. Around 6:30, lightening struck again in roughly the same spot. Another shad off to the races and I was into my backing for the third time in a couple hours. It was almost a repeat of the first demonic shad I hooked. When the fish jumped, I would realize how far it actually was from me, which was much further than I thought. With any fish, that feeling can be a little unnerving, but I love it! If I learned anything from the first crazy shad, it's that I should have chased sooner. That's what I did. As a result, this fight, while still completely manic, wasn't quite so out of control. Again, the fish was landed well downstream from where it was hooked. This time, the dropper did the trick, as it did with most of the other, more tame, fish I caught that day. 

Phew! Numbers wise, I've had better days, though this day was still very respectable in that department. That said, I would trade quality for quantity anyway of the week. I don't know what got into these fish. Why were they so full of piss and vinegar that day? I don't know the answer. What I do know is that a hot fish on a swung fly is a thing of beauty, even that fish is just a big herring. 

Shad box: Some winners, some losers, & flies tied by friends.
Also, plenty of interlopers and experiments.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Recap: Spring 2015

The first/last salmon of the season, depending on how you look at it

I'm not even sure if I should call this a "spring recap" since spring was virtually nonexistent this year, at least it wasn't during the period of time it should have happened. The best way to sum up my season is probably "strikes and gutters." There were some major disappointments for sure. However, when one door closes, another door opens.

Broodstock Atlantic Salmon

I was itching to get back on the Naugatuck all winter. Last spring, I was able to fish a few times in March before the salmon season closed until opening day. The river wasn't suitable for fishing until after the April 1 closing, so that wasn't an option this season.

My friend Roger and I drifted part of the river when the water was up. At least for salmon fishing, that was probably a better idea on paper than in reality. It's hard to get nice, long swings from the boat. The boat makes for great transportation though. I saw one salmon hooked that day, before we started fishing, so at least we knew there were some still around.

I did a little trout fishing the next week, but I couldn't manage to get excited about it. I figured I'd give salmon fishing another shot and see how late in the spring I could catch one. There was a very brief period of time when conditions were just right. The river was at a decent level, dropping nicely, clear and 58ºF. I was able to fish the evening of April 29. I didn't have a lot of time, so I had to fish each spot quickly. The third hole was the one I was most confident about. A friend had caught a few in that area the week before. The first pass through the run yielded a small, but handsome, salmon. The fish took a sz. 2 Sugerman Shrimp, fished on a floating Scandi head and hover/intermediate polyleader.

I thought I would be able to catch salmon into May, but a lack of rain must have made the stragglers dour and reluctant to take a fly. The water didn't come up again until June, so that was the end of that. Regardless, I've never caught a broodstock salmon as late as I did this year, so I was happy about that.

I saw a squirrel cross this bone dry section of river

Sea Run Brown Trout & Striped Bass

There's not much to report here. This "season" was a huge bust at my favorite spring river. I say "season" because what usually lasts about 6-8 weeks took place in about 8-10 days this year. I was there on day one, but got skunked. My friend caught a couple of schoolie sized bass, however. I missed the next 8 days and then it was all over. Since we got no rain and summer temperatures throughout May, the river was a trickle during what should have been the best part of the season.

The river bounced back with the heavy rain at the beginning of June, but it was too late. I fished ideal conditions (in terms of water level, temperature and "normal" timing), but only caught smallmouth bass. There were no stripers, trout, or bait to be found.

Just because I rolled snake eyes doesn't mean that everyone else did. A friend of mine landed a nice 6.5lb sea run brown and caught several stripers. I heard of two other large trout caught by spin fishermen, but those reports weren't confirmed. Even in bad years, a few people are still going to have good timing.

What a drag...I waited all winter for this. I'll probably go catch some stripers elsewhere this summer, but nothing can beat fishing them in a place where just about anything could be on the end of the line. It could be a bass, a large trout, or...??? The mystery is the most exciting part.

My first American shad (the "silver lining")

American Shad

This spring wasn't all doom and gloom. This was my first season fishing for American shad. What made for a terrible season at the striper/sea trout river made for a pretty good season of shad fishing. The water was low and the shad had little trouble ascending the river. They seem to be active at a wider range of temperatures than other local anadromous species. Of course, there way more shad than anything else, so maybe that has something to do with it. 

There was a bit of a learning curve I had to deal with before I started putting up decent numbers of shad. I expected it to be more like Atlantic salmon fishing than it actually was, so my mental hangups were probably responsible for my limited success in the first two trips. I got skunked the first trip, but landed one on the next. I landed several on the third trip, and then into double digits just about every trip thereafter. I figure it took three trips to fully shake off my preconceptions. I went through this when making the jump from trout fishing to Atlantic salmon fishing, so it was a lot easier to identify and correct this time around. 

Another thing that helped was going with my gut instincts and breaking away from the crowd. Though there are many differences between shad fishing and salmon fishing, there were enough similarities to reward some hunches that I had. I erased the salmon fishing part of my brain until I was ready to accept American shad fishing for what it is, then I brought the salmon part back. It worked well and I had some very good days mid-to-late May and early June. 

Because shad run along the river bottom, I lost a fair amount of flies. As such, the only fly tying I've been doing lately has been for shad, mainly to replace flies I've lost. As the water dropped, I did better on small, beadhead wet flies in bright colors. I would tie a half dozen before every trip and would usually lose them all by the end of the day. Note to self: Tie lots of shad flies next winter! 

Shad fishing is definitely tapering off, but I'm going to keep trying until I stop catching them. What a fun fish to catch. I wish I knew about them sooner. Once I found good swinging water I was really hooked. They are great fighters for their size. I guess that should come as no surprise given their lifecycle. It's great to have another option for future spring seasons. 

Killer flies in low water


Last year, I mentioned how I was going to try to post weekly. I actually kept up with it for a lot longer than I expected to. I probably won't get back to that pace until fall. I have some projects that will (hopefully) begin to roll out by the end of the summer, however. They should help fill in the space left by sporadic posts here.