Monday, April 17, 2017

My Best Guide Trip Yet

M's first trip - 2013 (4 mos. old)

     A few months after my son, "M," was born, I was ready to get on the water. 2013 was a brutal winter and I had a pretty serious case of cabin fever. Even if it hadn't snowed so much, I just needed to get out of the house. Seeing how a newborn would be confined to his carrier, I figured a quick fishing trip might be possible. I timed it for the Quill Gordon hatch on a local river. 

     Things didn't go according to plan. As a baby, M demanded to be held and walked around almost all the time. It was exhausting. I thought he might be distracted enough by the sights and sounds of nature for me to catch a fish or two. I had only made a few casts before M cried. He didn't want to be in the carrier. He wanted to be held, just like at home. So much for my brilliant plan. 

    After the first trip, I decided to wait a bit before trying again. A few months later, a stroller trip to Connecticut's Salmon River ended pretty much the same way. After that, I decided to pull the plug on fishing with M in year one. In his second year, we made a couple successful trips to the Naugatuck, largely due to the novelty of a toddler carrier backpack. By the time M was old enough to run around, he had gotten sort of wild, that way little boys often do. He was too wild to bring fishing. It just wasn't enough action for him and it would have been dangerous to leave him on the bank. I fished on my own for the next two years. 

The apprentice

     This winter, four year old M developed an interest in fly tying. I showed him some basics and he soon asked, "Where are all of my tools?" I laughed, but he didn't let me off the hook. I had to get him his own set of tools. I had enough of the basics at home, but we made a special trip to UpCountry Sportfishing to fill his box with tools and some bargain bin materials. It was still too cold to fish, but the seed had been planted...

     ...Fast forward to last Friday. The weather had been warm enough to make a local Quill Gordon hatch a possibility. I had a much needed day off and had planned on fishing alone that day. However, my plans change suddenly,  as they often do. I called an audible and brought M back to the original river. We returned to the pool he last visited when he was four months old. I told M that I would do the casting and he would fight the fish, just like we had practiced in the basement two weeks prior (on the rod and reel he claimed were his). 

Fish on!

     As expected, there was a Quill Gordon hatch, albeit a light one. We hooked up on a cripple pattern, but lost the brown trout early in the fight. The other trout didn't have much interest in a dry fly, but they nipped at a sz. 14 Hare's Ear wet fly. It seemed too small, so I switched to a larger wet fly, a sz. 10 Leading Coachman. 

     Bingo! It wasn't long before we hooked up in the tail of the pool. I handed the rod to M. He reeled the wrong way at first, but got it right after I offered some expert advice. It wasn't long before I netted M's first trout, a nice little brookie. Unfortunately, the fish slipped out of my hand when I tried to take its picture. Shortly after the excitement of landing his first trout, M dropped my 20-compartment dry fly box into the river. I fished it out of the current with the tip of my rod. 

M's second trout

     After laying the fly box out to dry, we went back to it. It wasn't long before we hooked up again. After another urgent lesson in which direction to reel, M brought his second trout close, this time a little rainbow. After landing the first fish, M really wanted to net a fish himself. That wasn't going to happen, so I handed him the net with the rainbow in it. The fish kicked, startled M, and he dropped the net into the river. I jumped in after the net and the water went over my hip boots. Like my fly box, my right leg was totally soaked. It was a small price to pay for the memories. 

     We had to leave shortly thereafter, so we packed up and headed out. I took off my soaked socks and put on a pair of flip flops. After putting M in his car seat, I congratulated him on a job well done, catching two of the three species of local trout. He whined loudly,  "But I wanted to catch a brown trout, too!" 

The lucky fly, set aside for safe keeping

Monday, April 10, 2017

Deploying the Troops

Headed to the Queen of Rivers, Norway's Alta

     This coming August marks my tenth wedding anniversary. It has been a great ten years. I couldn't ask for a better wife. Due the milestone, I think I'll be on the outside looking in this salmon season.

     My favorite kind of fly tying is tying for a trip. If it's not for my own trip, second best is someone else's trip. After taking a fishing/tying break in January and February, I have been busy tying for anglers taking some interesting trips in 2018. Among the more interesting orders was a dozen Governors, headed for the big, powerful, early June salmon of Middle Camp's pools on the Cascapedia. Another few dozen are headed for the Rivers Tay, Spey, Nairn, and Ness in Scotland. I've  never fished in the UK, but would love to someday. 

Governors for outsized Cascapedia salmon

     The order that got me the most pumped was a dozen tubes, headed to Norway. There are many great Norwegian rivers, but none as revered as the River Alta, home of the world's largest strain of Atlantic salmon. While tying the other orders, I watched some Dave Chapelle specials and listened to a podcast about crime and corruption in Providence, RI (some familiar characters!). While tying Alta flies, I watched Alta videos. Sometimes I stopped tying to give the videos my full attention. I realized that it's a place I need to see at least once in my life.

    Fueled by over an hour of huge salmon videos, I marched into the room my wife was in and declared, "I'm going to start entering the Alta lottery. If I actually win water, I'll figure out what to do later. But I'm telling you right now, one day I'm going to say that I'm going to Norway. It might be next year. It might be fifteen years from now. But it will happen eventually. I have to fish this place before I die."

     She was sort of caught off guard by how abruptly I delivered my "serious" message, but she got it. I think she'd actually like to come along for that trip, which is great. I tried to pitch a tenth anniversary trip to Iceland, but she saw right through it. She knows next to nothing about fly fishing, but I think she understands how this river is different from all the rest. 

Willie Gunns, headed home to Scotland

     I'll probably be living vicariously through some of you guys this season, but that's okay. I still have to tie a bunch of Miramichi flies. It has been a few years since I was last there. Maybe I'll tie a few extra Undertakers and Butterflies for myself. Maybe I can sneak away for a quick trip if the opportunity presents itself...

Cockburn Shrimp for high water on the Miramichi

Monday, April 3, 2017

Boston Event: Sippin' Suds for Atlantic Salmon

click to enlarge

      A couple weeks ago, New England on the Fly's Ben Carmichael sent me a heads up about an upcoming event. I checked my calendar to make sure I don't have a gig on the evening of April 26. I do not, so I immediately purchased a ticket online.

     Some friends and I have causally talked about having a meet up of local Atlantic salmon anglers. Evidentially, we are not good enough organizers to make such a thing happen. Thank goodness guys like Ben Carmichael are! Ben mentioned that it will be a way to get hopeful and inexperienced Atlantic salmon anglers in the same room with experienced salmon anglers. 

     Recently, while I was talking with a friend of mine who is a very experienced fly fisherman, but new to Atlantic salmon fishing, we talked about conversations that happen between Atlantic salmon anglers. I mentioned how I noticed how Atlantic salmon fishers have their own unique "dialect" within the larger language of fly fishing. When salmon anglers get talking amongst a larger group of fly anglers, it doesn't take long before the Atlantic salmon guys and gals begin speaking in what sounds like a sort of "code" to everyone else. It can be hard to follow for those who have yet to participate in this branch of the sport. 

     The way I see it, Sippin' Suds for Atlantic Salmon is an event that was created to break down such walls. I have plenty of salmon fishing friends my age and younger, but most don't live in the U.S. Most of my American salmon fishing friends are older than I am. A lot of American anglers consider the Atlantic out-of-reach, either financially, in terms of proximity, or otherwise. Nothing could be further from the truth. An event such as this allows connections to be made and information to be passed along to the next generation of Atlantic salmon anglers. Let's face it, the Atlantic salmon needs as many advocates it can get. 

     If you are free, I encourage you to attend this event. I am very much looking forward to it. If you happen to go, I look forward to meeting you and talking salmon. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

"Sector E2" - A Painting by Val Kropiwnicki

A fish, a fly, a river, a run

     I have a basement music studio I use for practice, teaching, and rehearsals. It's a bigger room than what I need so, a few months ago, I decided to make it a more comfortable place to hang out. I added a couch, a chair, house plants, and a couple of tables. It's a great little spot to relax and listen to music. The walls were too bare, though. I have a painting and framed fly by my fishing buddy, visual artist Val Kropiwnicki, as well as some other decorative odds and ends. I felt like the room needed another big piece, so I called Val and asked him to paint something else for me. I described the scene to him in great detail and told him to interpret it however he wanted. 

     Val's summary of the work is far more to the point than was my description. He called the painting "Sector E2" and said it's about "A fish, a fly, a river, a run." Below is Val's process, followed by the finished painting. As you will see, there was some editing involved, which implies improvisation...perfect for a jazz musician's practice studio. 

(click images to enlarge and view as a slideshow)

     The image below is the completed painting as it hangs on my wall. It's hard to capture the detail in a small, crude picture. The texture can only be fully appreciated in person. The close-up scales of the salmon are incredible. While I enjoy more traditional pieces of angling art, this is not a traditional room, at least not in terms of its use. Val's "Sector E2" perfectly complements the attitude of the space it's in. 

Sector E2

Monday, March 20, 2017

An Introduction to Tube Fly Tying Tools

The vast majority of my tube flies are tied on either a tapered
needle or a modified hook shank. 

     I've received a few questions about tube fly tying tools recently. Instead of writing a new article, I am going to post an excerpt from my ebook Flies for Connecticut Atlantic Salmon: How to Tie and Fish Them. There is a plenty of information about tying salmon flies of all varieties, and not just for broodstock salmon fishing here in Connecticut. In fact, most of the flies are common Atlantic salmon patterns used in either North America or Europe. For those new to tying and fishing tube flies, rigging, tools, materials, fishing strategies, and fly recipes are covered in depth. The text below is a small part of Chapter 1: Tools, Materials & Salmon Fly Anatomy. 


Additional Tools for Tying Tube Flies

     Since tubes are not held directly in the jaws of a vise, a means with which to hold them is necessary. Most tube fly systems use either tapered mandrels or tapered needles. The taper is important because it prevents the fly from rotating under thread tension. Special tube vises can cost $150 or more. On the other end of the spectrum, objects found around the house might work as well as anything and they don’t cost a penny. I am not going to explain every brand and option. There are books and websites that can weigh all the options for you. Instead, I will tell you what works well for me. I take a sort of “middle of the road” approach. Listed below are the tube fly tools I use on a regular basis.

ProTube Flexineedle

     Tapered Needle - It helps to have a tapered needle with a flat profile. The flat profile helps prevent the tube from spinning under thread tension. My needle of choice is the Pro Tube Flexineedle. There are no additional tools required to hold the needle. It fits into the jaws of any conventional fly tying vise. The Flexineedle works best for medium sized tube flies, both plastic and metal. The vast majority of my tube flies are tied on this $17 item.

Blind eye and modified hooks for tying different size tube flies

     Modified Hooks - When tying very short tube flies, I prefer to use modified hooks. A short tube sits too far back on the Flexineedle to make tying comfortable. A hook shank is much shorter than a tapered needle. It’s easier to wrap thread on a short tube when there isn’t two inches of tapered needle extending from the open- ing of the tube fly. 

     In my experience, the most suitable hooks are large double hooks. Because the wire eventually splits to form both hook bends, a natural taper exists. A tube can easily be pushed back against the taper. Old blind eye hooks work well too, especially large, heavy iron hooks.

     Almost any large fishing hook will work, though. With a Dremel tool, I remove the eye and grind the side of the shank flat. If the hook doesn’t already have a taper built in, I grind one with the Dremel. Also, I cut the hook points off to avoid catching the thread. I had suitable hooks laying around, so these tube tools didn’t cost me anything.

HMH Standard vise with tube vise converter jaws 

      Tube Vise Tool or Converter Jaws - This is the least useful tool of the three, but it is the most expensive. I use the HMH Tube Vise Converter. It is a set of “jaws” that screw directly into my HMH Standard vise. The converter costs $65, but is only useful for those who already own an HMH vise. In lieu of buying new jaws or a dedicated tube vise, the most economical option is to buy what’s known as a “tube tool.” These tools come with pins or tapered mandrels and fit in the securely jaws of most standard vises. They can be usually be found for $20-$45.

     I only use my HMH tube jaws for tying one specific type of fly (the Snaelda/Frances, found in Chapter 4). The HMH converter works perfectly for those flies. If I didn’t need to tie either the Snaelda or the Frances, I would have no use for the HMH jaw. Other than those two flies, all of my Atlantic salmon tube flies are tied on the Flexineedle or on a modified hook shank.

     The only other tools needed to tie tube flies are a lighter (or candle) and a supply of single edge razor blades. If you use a whip finish tool, an extended-reach model is helpful. As you can see, making the leap to tying tube flies doesn’t have to cost much money.


The Frances and Snaelda (pictured above) are the only flies I don't tie
on either a tapered needle or modified hook shank. 

     As always, don't hesitate to comment below or  contact me with any questions you might have about tying tube flies or anything else. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Product Review: Loon Outdoors Ergo Bobbin

The Loon Ergo Bobbin fits nicely in hand.

     They say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Despite the recent influx of premium bobbins, I've used only basic bobbins since I began tying flies at age 13. The spectrum of premium bobbins is vast. A standard Rite Bobbin costs about $25, while an Ekich Ultimate Bobbin can set the tyer back over $100. I usually don't spend more than $8 or so on a basic bobbin, but I decided to give the new Loon Outdoors Ergo Bobbin a shot. 

     The Ergo Bobbins retails for $19.95. It doesn't offer any sort of fancy thread tension adjustment like the Rite or Ekich bobbins. In that sense, the Ergo Bobbin is more similar to a basic bobbin than what we consider a "premium bobbin." That's fine, I use my hand to fine tune thread tension when necessary (more on that later). What sets the Ergo Bobbin apart from other basic bobbins, as well as some premium models, is the shape of the handle. Instead of wrapping one's fingers around a fine metal tube, the tyer's fingers grip a wide yellow handle. 

     I wasn't sure how much I'd like the handle, but I wound up loving it. I was amazed at how much more control I had over my thread when my hand was gripping the bobbin in a more natural position. I felt like I could lay down wraps of thread with more precision than I could with a standard bobbin. The Ergo Bobbin was just the right size for my hand. My thumb and index fingers grip the handle, while my pinky finger can rest on, or next to, the spool. 

Only 1 inch of thread separates the hook from the pedestal. 
     There was one big "strike" against the Ergo Bobbin, however. Look at the picture above. Because the Ergo Bobbin is so long, there was very little room between the bottom of the bobbin and the top of my vise pedestal when the bobbin was perpendicular to the hook shank. This was a problem when securing materials such as an oval tinsel rib. After wrapping an oval tinsel tip or rib, I try to keep as much tension on the material as possible until I get about three tight wraps of thread over it. I tend to move the bobbin back and forth between hands to keep maximum tension on both the material and the thread. Because of this, I need more than 1" of thread out of the tip of the bobbin. Also, I need to be able to totally stop the spool from spinning, which I do by squeezing the spool between my pinky and my palm. Because of the length of the Ergo Bobbin, this was an impossible move when switching hands and trying to keep tension on the tinsel. The bobbin was too long and the vise's pedestal base kept getting in the way.

     This would cease to be an issue if I had more room between the vise head and the pedestal (or if I used a C-clamp instead of a pedestal). I've considered adding a 3" vise stem extension for a while, mainly to get the hook closer to my eye level. This should solve the Ergo Bobbin length "problem." However, it might be nice to have the option of buying a smaller, "midge" sized Ergo Bobbin for when I need more clearance. 

     In all, the positives far outweighed the negatives. The enhanced thread control was so noticeable, I figure I can devise a solution for the above problem. The Ergo Bobbin is noticeably more comfortable than any other bobbin I've ever used. The Ekich S-Bobbin looks quite comfortable, too. But for a quarter of the price, I think I will stick with Loon's Ergo Bobbin. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Ernest Crosfield: His Salmon Flies and Fishing (C. Innes)

     Ernest Crosfield is one of those people who should be more widely known than he actually is. Of the anglers active in the late-to-post Victoria era, it seems like Arthur H.E. Wood gets most of the press. It is understandable, given Wood's contributions to fly fishing. A book about Wood's greased line technique has been widely available since it was first published in 1935. Crosfield's exploits, on the other hand, were not as well recorded as Wood's, despite being a very important contributor to the sport. 

     Ernest Crosfield: His Salmon Flies and Fishing, compiled and edited by Colin Innes, is a collection of the relatively few pieces written by or about Crosfield. Those of us who were previously aware of Crosfield have read most of the contents of the book already. Many of the pieces within the book can be found either online or in other books, such as Fly Tying for Salmon by Eric Taverner and  Greased Line Fishing for Salmon by "Jock Scott" (Donald G. Ferris Rudd). Prior to reading Innes's book, I had already done the research and read most of the pieces. There were a few that had previously escaped me, the piece from Fisherman's Pie being one of them. 

     In my opinion, the best part of the book were the pictures of flies actually tied by Crosfield. I hadn't seen most of them before. Crosfield had a very unique style of dressing flies, later emulated by luminaries such as Dr. T.E. Pryce-Tannatt and Syd Glasso. Crosfield's flies had one foot in the past and one foot in the future. His basic method came from the Rogan school of Irish fly tying, but with a slimmer, sparser, and more streamlined appearance, one that would eventually become the norm, paving the way for modern salmon fly tyers. Innes book has pictures of a dozen or so Crosfield originals and adaptations, as well as the dressings for each. 

     Ernest Crosfield: His Salmon Flies and Fishing is a good read. Like I said, most of it is already available. The beauty of Innes's book is that it is now available all in one place. I was on a Crosfield kick a few years ago. I went through a lot of trouble to dig up the information found in Innes's book and I didn't even find it all. It would have been much easier (and less expensive) to buy this book if it was available back then! For those interested in learning about Ernest Crosfield, his fishing methods, and flies, I highly recommend this book. It is a short, quick read, but contains as much information about Crosfield as any of us are likely to find on our own. 

Crosfield's Black Silk

Monday, February 13, 2017

Read a Book

Winter reading

     Interpret this post however you choose. Read a book. Please. Maybe read a few books. Fiction or non-fiction, just read a book. If you don't want to spend the money, go to your local library. If your local library has nothing of interest, find a book via interlibrary loan. A library card costs nothing. Where else can you find a free entertainment/education?

     The internet is a great research tool, especially for those who have developed good research skills. It is easy to find answers (or opinions) with a Google search. Writing a book takes mores of a commitment than writing a few Facebook comments or, dare I say, blog posts. Most of the non-fiction angling books I have read have been very helpful. Some weren't so great, but they were in the minority. Most fly fishing authors have extensive experience in the subject matter of their books. They write books so anglers like you and I can learn things more quickly than if we were to do it entirely on our own.

     There are more important reasons to read books, however. Reading reduces stress. Reading helps build the ability to concentrate, which is essential in fly fishing. Reading also hones our critical thinking skills which, unfortunately, seem to be at an all-time low at the moment.

   I didn't plan it, but my winter reading list is completely focused on saltwater angling. The change of pace will probably serve me well. Seemingly unrelated bits of information have a way of "cross-pollinating" in our minds. Study, mixed with creativity, ultimately leads to innovation.

Here is my winter fly fishing/tying reading list:

Pop Fleyes by Ed Jaworowski and Bob Popovics (Stackpole Books)

A Passion for Tarpon by Andy Mill (Wild River Press)

Fly Rodding Estuaries by Ed Mitchell (Stackpole Books)

Fly-Fishing the Saltwater Shoreline by Ed Mitchell (Stackpole Books)

Read a book. Please.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Governor & "Modern Atlantic Salmon Flies" by Paul C. Marriner

This is one Governor for whom I would vote. 

     Last June, while I was fishing the Cascapedia, my friend sent me an update on his trip there the week prior. He did well, but his boat partner crushed it. I can't remember the exact details. I think his partner landed seven or eight fish. I can't remember how many were over twenty pounds, but I think it was most of them. I believe two or three were over thirty pounds. There are two details I distinctly remember. First, his partner's largest salmon topped the forty pound mark. Also, the Governor was the killer arrow in this angler's quiver. 

     Created by Motel Restigouche proprietor Peter Dubé, the Governor is a primarily Matapedia/Restigouche fly. I have not yet fished either of those rivers and had not been exposed to the pattern prior to my friend asking me to tie him a half dozen for next season. Being a "book guy,"  I tend to research the old fashioned way before I do a Google search. 

Marriner's book is on my "must have" list.

     When I need to find the recipe for a Miramichi fly, I have several places to look. I like Stewart & Allen's book, Flies for Atlantic Salmon, Fulsher and Krom's book, Hair-Wing Atlantic Salmon Flies, and Col. Joseph Bates' book, Atlantic Salmon Flies & Fishing. When I need the dressing for a more recent Miramichi tie, I consult the Dieppe Fly Tying Club's book, Atlantic Salmon Flies. In my opinion, there are no shortage of resources for Miramichi/New Brunswick salmon fly patterns. 

     Fly recipes for the other provinces are not as well documented. The other provinces are represented in the first three books mentioned above but, since these books are old, the patterns are fairly old. Of course, new flies are being created all the time and it is impossible to keep up with all of them. For the most diverse selection of contemporary Canadian salmon flies, my go-to book is Modern Atlantic Salmon Flies by Paul C. Marriner.  

     When I needed the recipe for the Governor, Modern Atlantic Salmon Flies is where I found it. Marriner's book is the best source for many of the patterns used in Canadian rivers right now. Each fly has some biographical information and some tips on when and where it works best. Best of all, many of the flies pictured were tied by their creators, so we can see the flies' exact dressings and proportions. When the fly wasn't tied by its originator, it was tied by an expert known for tying that particular type of fly.  Modern Atlantic Salmon Flies is the only book I know of in which the reader can see a Jones Special tied by Marc LeBlanc, a Carter Bug tied by Bill Carter, or a Ghost Stonefly tied by Todd Cochrane. 

     Unfortunately, the second edition of Marriner's book is out-of-print. There are probably a few copies out there for sale somewhere. The good news is that a new digital edition is now available. I highly recommend this book. As many times as I've read it, I realize that there are some patterns I've glossed over which inevitably surface in the future (i.e. the Governor). Actually, it's probably time I look the book over again, so I am going to put it on my bedside table as soon as I'm done here. 


Governor on a size 2 Sprite double

Anyhow, back to the Governor. Here is Dubé's dressing from Marriner's book (with my substitutions in parentheses):


Hook: Partridge CS10/1, sizes 3/0 - 8 (Alec Jackson Steelhead Iron, sizes 3/0-7)
Thread: Black 6/0 Uni-Thread
Tag: Gold oval tinsel and rust floss
Tail: Rust floss
Butt: Black ostrich herl
Rib: Gold oval tinsel
Body: Gold embossed tinsel (gold flat diamond braid)
Throat: Mixed bucktail (arctic fox), half orange, half chartreuse 
Wing: Mixed, three-quarters black bucktail (arctic fox), one-quarter gold Krystal Flash 
Cheek: Jungle cock

The only thing left to do is to find a fresh forty-pounder! 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Blue Charm: Salmon Fishing in Scotland with Ian Gordon

Ian Gordon - your host on a tour of Scottish salmon rivers

     It took longer than normal for the annual holiday binge/purge cycle to go away this year. Last night, I finally had enough of it. I decided to dig out my running shoes and dust off the treadmill. I hate the treadmill. I don't really like running outside, either. I always preferred playing a sport to running. I miss living near the beach and going surfing. I've been considering getting my tennis skills back together this summer and possibly joining an indoor tennis club next winter. Anyhow...

     The treadmill is much more pleasant when I have angling videos to watch. I've been aware of Ian Gordon's movie Blue Charm for a while, but never saw more than the trailer. Last night was as good as any to watch it, so I found it streaming on

     Based on the trailer, I knew I would see beautiful footage of Scottish salmon rivers. The movie did not disappoint. I got a good look at the Rivers Dee, Spey, and Findhorn. At 84 minutes, Gordon's movie is a combination of history lessons, interviews, fishing strategy, and traditional spey casting instruction. Gordon even demonstrates fishing with an antique 15' greenheart rod, which was particularly interesting.

     In the past, Scotland was never at the top of my list of salmon fishing destinations, but I have been reconsidering it. The beauty of the landscape and the wealth of angling history is starting to push Scotland near the top of my list (Iceland is still #1). Watching Blue Charm reinforced this my changing opinion. With the USD to GBP exchange rate still favorable, the gears in my mind are turning.

     I'm glad I rented this movie and didn't purchase it. I'm not sure how often I would rewatch it. However, the DVD would be a wise purchase for a beginning Atlantic salmon angler. Gordon covers the rudiments of Atlantic salmon fishing in a way that is easy to understand, yet still entertaining. In my opinion, the best part was how he broke down pool coverage. Sometimes the longest cast isn't the best cast!

     In all, it was about as enjoyable as a treadmill workout can be. Every fly angler should watch this at least once. For those who are curious about or just beginning to fish for Atlantic salmon, I recommend buying the Blue Charm DVD and watching it a few times. After some time watching Ian Gordon present the basics, DVDs with alternative/advanced strategies (i.e. Henrik Mortensen's Fly Fishing Academy series) will makes more sense.

Monday, January 23, 2017

American Shad Flies - Part II: Flies, Darts, and Data

Handful of shad soft hackles (sz. 8-10)

     In Part I of this short series, I demonstrated how to tie my standard, bread and butter shad fly. It is a simple, effective, and easy to tie pattern. In addition to that fly, I have a few other patterns I like to use. However, before I describe the others, let's take a look at some shard darts, the standard lure used for American shad fishing.

A seclection of Eagle Claw shad darts in common color schemes

     Shad darts and willow leaf spoons are the most widely used lures for American shad fishing. While willow leaves have no relation to flies, most darts involve a small degree of fly tying technique. Many traditional darts have a contrasting color scheme which can be easily replicated when tying shad flies. Darts, most often made with lead, can vary greatly in weight, from 1/64 oz up to 3/4 oz or more. The smallest darts can be used with a fly rod. The largest darts can put a hole in someone's head!

Mike Taylor shad dart

     In addition to being a great fisherman, my friend Mike Taylor ties some excellent tin (non-toxic) shad darts. The dart pictured above is tied in form of a traditional dart, but with some modern touches, such as Krystal Flash and glitter paint. Mike's darts are well constructed and very durable. Most importantly, they are excellent fish catchers. Notice how Mike's darts are tied on light wire, gold jig hooks.

Mike's "no frills" mini darts

     Mike gave me a couple of his mini darts last season when I needed to get down quickly. The red one (pictured above) caught a shad on its first cast. With no additional materials to slow down their descent, these mini darts are great sinkers. They also work well when shad nip at the back end of a traditional dart or long-tailed fly. This type of dart could easily be converted to a fly by using tungsten cone headsand tiny bit of material to hold it in place. A more esoteric option would be to use undressed bottle tubes, such as Shumakov Long Range or Skittle tubes.

My standard, bread and butter shad fly

     The pink fly above is my basic pattern. This was the pattern shown in last week's step-by-step tutorial. My favorite colors are fluorescent orange, pink, green, blue, and red. They can be tied in bulk in next to no time at all.

The bread and butter fly, tied "low water" style

     Sometimes shad get "nippy," grabbing onto the rearmost part of a fly or dart. This happens often near the end of the run. It can also happen during severe weather/pressure changes. When shad refuse to commit, I switch to a pattern tied in the Atlantic salmon "low water" style. Basically, I tie a fly one size smaller than the hook I am using. In the picture above, I tied a size 6 fly on a a size 4 hook. I usually tie a short tail. In this case, the tail doesn't even extend past the bend of the hook. I haven't tried omitting the tail entirely but, if Mike's mini darts work, I don't see why a tailless fly would not.

     Another option is to trim the tail on flies and darts. If possible, cut the material back to a point shy of the hook bend. Even if the shad doesn't grab onto the whole fly, hopefully it will get the business end of the hook in its mouth. Sometimes shad absolutely cream a fly, sometimes you'll barely know a fish is on. Be aware of those little taps.

UV resin shad fly

     When I want a tiny bit of extra weight, I use a fly coated with Solarez UV cured resin. Honestly, until I weighed the flies, I thought the resin added more weight than it actually does (refer to the table below). It's sort of like going up one size of brass eyes without actually going up one size. I'm not sure it makes that much of a difference. This fly takes about twice as long to tie as my standard pattern. Despite the extra work, the blue version of this fly was an absolute killer for me last season, so now I'm afraid not to have some with me at all times. 

    This is essentially the same fly as the one posted in last week's tutorial other than the body. Instead of wool yarn, I make a tapered underbody with Uni-Stretch, then wrap over it with Veevus holographic tinsel. The tinsel is slippery, so wrap carefully and under sufficient tension. After whip finishing, apply a coat of UV cured resin to the entire fly. I coat it all the way up to the head.

Beadhead shad soft hackle

     When the water is low, the fish are heavily pressured, or both, I opt for a small bead head soft hackle wet fly. This fly has been very good to me. The toughest, most memorable shad I ever hooked was caught on the pink and yellow wet fly pictured above. Though I tie these on standard wet fly hooks, I would like to try the jig-style nymph hooks to keep the hook point riding up. Here is the dressing:

Bead Head Shad Soft Hackle

Hook: Mustad 3399A or equivalent (sz. 8-10)
Bead: Brass or tungsten (1/8"-5/32")
Weight: Non-toxic wire
Tail: Hackle fibers or Krystal Flash
Body: Fluorescent wool yarn
Thorax: Ice Dub (to match tail)
Hackle: Hen neck (to match tail)
Head: Ice Dub (to match tail)

Favorite color combinations (body/hackle): pink/yellow, orange/green, orange/yellow, green/darker green

Tandem rig, the top fly a variation on the basic pattern (chenille head)

     I have been using sinking Scandi heads to get my flies down and to help keep them in the zone longer. It has worked really well so far. However, there are times when I prefer to fish with a single handed rod, floating line, and mono leader. When I feel like I need more weight to get down with that rig, I use a long leader and two heavy flies. This has gotten me into the zone and into fish when one fly just wasn't cutting it. Tandem rigs are also good to see if the shad are keying in on one particular color or size of fly. I've had great success with the combo pictured above. I the larger fly seems to get the smaller fly into the strike zone. Some shad take the big fly, but most seem to grab the soft hackle. 

Size/weight chart for the flies featured in this post (click to enlarge)

     Sometimes I get curious about how much flies weigh, so I use my handy little scale. I weighed all the flies and darts featured in this post (with the exception of the Eagle Claw darts). I prefer to weigh in grams since it's easier to compare light weight flies than when using ounces. As stated above, I was surprised how little weight the UV cured resin added to the fly, though purely by coincidence, it moved proportionally with the increase in brass eye sizes. It also weighed slightly more than my heaviest dart, which also surprised me. Some flies were too light to register on my scale,  but I don't concern myself with weight when I'm fishing flies that small.

     Besides the non-toxic wire used on the soft hackles, the only metal I used was brass. Tungsten would make for much heavier flies. Heavier flies might require using heavier tackle, which might make a 2-6 lb fish less fun to catch. Overall, I am happy with the size and weights of these flies, particularly when sinking lines, heads, and tips get the flies down well enough. 


     I hope this post helps some of you. Shad are an often overlooked local gamefish. If you tied a fresh American shad and a comparably sized trout tail to tail, the shad would drown the trout in a heartbeat. Fighting a big, tough roe shad can be very exciting, especially on appropriately sized fly tackle. Give it a shot this spring! 

Looking forward to spring...

Monday, January 16, 2017

American Shad Flies - Part I: Simple Shad Fly Step-By-Step

American shad are loads of fun on light tackle. 

     What I enjoy most about the spring fishing season is its diversity. Spring is a time when unrelated species of anadramous game fish cross paths with each other as they travel upriver. At sea, however, they are scattered all over the Atlantic. American shad migrate to the Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada. Atlantic salmon migrate to the feeding grounds around Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Striped bass head north from Chesapeake Bay. I have no idea where our alien sea-run brown trout go, but I imagine they stay fairly close to home. The one thing they all have in common is the last leg of their respective journeys. Spring is a time when an angler might not know what is on the end of his or her line but, if it is fresh from the sea, chances are it will be an exciting battle. 

     The past couple of seasons, American shad fishing has caused me to put my normal routine on hold. The Connecticut River run has been around 300,000-400,000+ shad the past couple years, which is significantly more fish than the rest of the spring gamefish run combined. After a long winter, it can be nice to catch a lot of fish. A lot of hard fighting fish, as the case may be. Enough fish to decimate a fly box if an angler isn't careful. Shad don't have teeth, but catching twenty, thirty, forty, or more, in a day will destroy flies. If the fish don't wreck them, the bottom will, since most shad like a fly presented low in the water column.

     As such, it doesn't pay to spend much time tying shad flies. The fish aren't too picky. They're not eating. Even if they were, they feed on plankton, which is much smaller than our flies. They seem to lock into certain colors at times, so I like to tie a few different flies in several different colors. When the water is low, I like to fish a small beadhead softhackle (tied in psychedelic color schemes). When I need to get down quicker, I use a fly with a UV resin body to sink quickly. My bread and butter fly, the simplest of them all, is the subject of this post. 

     There are many step-by-step fly tying tutorials out there. What I want to focus on here is the reasons why I have made the decision to use certain materials or techniques. Some of the reasons may be obvious, some may not. Since this generic fly template is an easy tie for all skill levels, I hope the reader will key in on why decisions were made in addition to how the fly is constructed.

The killer fly, tied in Chinese Red
This is why it pays to use easy, inexpensive flies.  

Simple Shad Fly

Hook: Crappie/panfish hook- light wire, gold, Aberdeen bend (i.e. Mustad 3260B or Eagle Claw equivalent);    sizes 4-8
Thread: Danville Flymaster 3/0 (210 denier)
Eyes: Dumbbell or bead chain eyes 
Body: Danville flourescent nylon wool (blue, green, pink, & orange) or Uni-Yarn (Chinese red)

Fig. I: Gold panfish/crappie hooks

Fig. I:  When it comes to hook choice, I take my cue from those who tie shad darts. Darts are often tied on light wire, gold, crappie/panfish hooks with an Aberdeen bend. Shad often lie close to the bottom and/or in rocky areas. When a very light wire hooks hangs up, a tug or two will usually bend the hook and free it from the snag. With a pair of pliers or hemostats, the hook can be bent back very easily. Another reason to use these hooks is the "flex factor." Shad have very thin, fragile mouths. When they pull on a tight line, the hook flexes a bit with the tension. 

Fig. II: Making a thread bump

Fig. II:  I like a heavy thread with which to lock down the thick brass dumbbell eyes. Making a little ant-shaped thread bump helps keep the eyes seated correctly when tying them in.

Fig. III: Adding brass dumbbell eyes

Fig. III:   Similar to the Clouser Deep Minnow, dumbbell or bead chain eyes are added to the top of the hook shank to force the point to ride upwards, thus helping to avoid snags. These heavy eyes also help to sinker a fly quicker. On a size 4 hook, I use either 3/16" or 5/32" eyes. On a size 6 hook, I use 1/8" eyes. On a size 8 hook, I use either 3/32" brass eyes or small bead chain eyes.

     When tying in the eyes, use a figure eight motion to lock them in. After they are seated, I like to use a lot of thread tension to keep them in place (hence the 3/0 thread). I pull as hard as I can without breaking the thread. After the eyes are tied in, I add a drop of super glue to the thread. After catching a ton of fish, the eyes will eventually move around. The goal is to keep them firmly in place for as long as possible. 

     If you are tying a lot of shad flies at one time, it makes sense to tie up to this step, then place the hook aside and wait for the glue to dry. I usually pre-tie a bunch of eyes and keep them in a compartment-style fly box. When I need a certain color fly in a certain size, I take the eyed hook out and the rest of the fly can be finished in a minute or so. 

Fig. IV: Laying down a thread base

Fig. IV:  Lay down a base of thread for your tail material. If I am tying on pre-assembled eyed hooks, I usually switch to a smaller size thread to finish off the fly.

Fig. V: Adding a short tail of flash

Fig. V:  Color contrast is a staple in many shad darts. Often times, a bright color is offset with a white tail. For the tail of this fly, I like to use pearlescent Crystal Mirror/Electra flash. The pearl color contrasts well with the body of fluorescent wool. Crystal Mirror flash is like Krystal Flash on steroids. It's thicker, shinier, and really throws off a lot of light. 

     Since it is common for American shad to nip at the rear end of a fly, I like to keep my tails short. I don't tie them any longer than in the fly pictured above, and often times I tie the whole fly shorter. To tie it "low water style," start the body just above the hook point and cut the tail flush with the bend of the hook. As much as possible, I try to avoid the shad grabbing the rearmost part of the fly without grabbing any of the hook. A fly tied a bit undersized for the hook helps prevent the nipping.

Fig. VI: Tying in wool for the body

Fig. VI:  I like to use wool yarn for the body of this fly. It absorbs water and tends to get buggier looking as the fly gets chewed on. My favorite yarn is Danville's fluorescent nylon wool. The colors are spectacular for shad flies. I like their fire orange, green, blue, and fluorescent red (pictured here, which is really more like fuchsia than actual red). Since Danville doesn't make a real red color, I use Chinese red Uni-Yarn instead. It is a truly deadly color.

Fig. VII: The completed shad fly

Fig. VII:  Wrap the yarn up the hook shank and figure eight the yarn around the eyes several times. Tie it off, whip finish, and add head cement. Sometimes I tie two whip finishes and skip the cement. If desired, a contrasting fluorescent color can be used for the head. Just make sure the thread color lighter than the color of the body material so it doesn't show through when the fly gets wet.


     Well, that's about as easy to tie as it gets. They are cheap, easy, durable, and very effective. If you live near a shad run, give it a try. In an upcoming post, I will explain the other two pattern templates I use. For lots of good information about fly fishing for American shad, click here to check out my buddy Sonny's blog! 

Releasing a fresh one back into the Connecticut River
(photo by M. Taylor)