Sunday, March 31, 2013

It Was Wet on Both Sides of The Thin Line Today

After a late morning brunch with family and friends, I headed out on my annual Easter Sunday fishing excursion.  I started this traditional with my oldest daughter Megan sixteen years ago, when she was 10, and I've made it out every year since.  Although my kids no longer join me, they are always with me in spirit when I fish.  That first year, Vinnie and I took Megan to a trout filled lake on a warm, windless Easter after an early dinner that made she and I restless.  She landed 8 trout while Vinnie and I coached her through the process.  I still remember the day like it was yesterday; her ear-to-ear, dimple-cheeked smile as she held up each trout by the leader just after she fought and landed it.  We released each of the fish, much to her delight. Megan was so happy they were going to live....and that she didn't have to touch them.

And today I continued the tradition by heading out to a PA limestone creek for a few hours.  When I arrived I was surprised to see no one else on the stream.  Trout rose freely up and down the river to the tiny, gray-winged Blue-winged Olive duns floating on the steely surface. The chilly, gray skies were spitting, and a fairly good breeze blew the hatching flies at will once they became airborne.  This was perfect weather for Olives; they abhor bright sunlight, preferring conditions many anglers avoid, thus many fishers miss out on good fishing days like today.      

(Click on photos to enlarge)
The fishing was good, and it improved as the rains become steadier and the air temperature dropped.  Before the hatch fizzled out around five, I landed about a dozen wild brown trout.  All of them came to a simple pheasant tail snowshoe rabbit emerger, size #18, fished on a 12 foot leader tapered to 7x.  I started with 6x tippet, but these fish have seen it all and a perfect, drag-free drift, is a requirement on many days when the flies are small and the water is as clear as the vodka that went into my Bloody Mary at brunch this morning.

And finally, here's the fly pattern that brought all of my fish to hand today.  It's a simple fly, and I believe that is part of what makes it so attractive to the trout.  On these creeks the trout see every manner and style of fly, and I think because of this, they soon learn to avoid overdressed facsimiles.  Less is often more, particularly on heavily fished waters.  I used two flies today, the first one I lost early on to a heavy-handed hook set, and this one.  A hook and two materials - the perfect fly most often is the simplest.


Hope you all enjoyed your holidays.    

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Promise of Spring

I don't know about you, but this year spring seems to be taking its darn time getting here.  Normally, it seems that by now, frequent spring rains have raised the level of our rivers, and colored them a dark, coffee-with-milk hue.  This year, the Blue-winged Olive hatch has been coming off strong the last few weeks, and it seems many river rats I know are anticipating the Hendrickson hatch very soon, sooner than normal. Really?  Although my records show some stragglers here and there this early in the year, the hatch usually begins the 7-10th of April in recent years, here in beautiful Northern New Jersey.  I say recent, because not so long ago we didn't see them until somewhat later in the month. The theories for this change vary; an emotional debate for another time.

The deep green daffodil leaf clusters on the hill behind the house are only about 4-5 inches high, and I have yet to see the tell-tale elongated bulbs within, ready to pop into a brilliant yellow trumpet.  And what about the forsythias?  They to are not yet in flower. So why are some anglers convinced that the Hendricksons will hatch any day now in our region?  Usually the aforementioned bright flowers of spring are filling the hillsides, glens and yard borders when the Hendricksons begin their annual metamorphosis into terrestrial insects.  

Is Mother Nature's clock off, or is our mental clock just so tired of winter's dull edge that our minds are wishing the life-cycle of one of our favorite aquatic insects into the fore?  The Hendrickson hatch after all is that which tells every angler that spring has finally sprung, and the parade of mayfly and caddis hatches we dream about while the snow flies, has finally begun.

And what of the prognosticators of bugs and their confidence the trout will see Hendricksons any day now?  While I'm not yet convinced, just a quick glance at our relatively low, clear rivers and streams, tells me they may be right that this year's hatch will be early.  After all, low, clear water tends to warm more quickly than high, turbid flows, and it allows the energy of the sun to penetrate to the bottom where the nymphs are maturing.  This is the fuel that hastens the metabolism of growth and change from a bottom dwelling nymph, to a surface riding winged insect, whose fate may rest in the jaws of a trout or songbird, or if its lucky, to ensure the cycle of life continues.     

All I know is when the Hendricksons do begin to hatch, another promise will become reality.  I can wait, things move much too fast for my liking as it is...........

Enjoy the journey.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Thin Line?

I wrote a post the other day titled, "The Thin Line...Madness", and a bunch of readers emailed me asking what inspired the post, and why The Thin Line?   Some of you wondered "what the hell the title had to do with the post?" They got the Madness part - but found the rest obtuse.  AND, some of you chided me about the possibility that I was stoned, drunk, or both, when I wrote the post.  None of the aforementioned is true, I was simply writing the stuff that flows down from the gray matter between my ears to my fingers, and onto the screen.  It wasn't so long ago paper would have been the terminus of these thoughts.   

The Thin Line, is the surface of the water.  It is that fine line which separates the air breathing, reasoning (this is open to debate), perceptive angler, from the water breathing, instinctively willed trout.  Our world is as harsh to the trout, as their world is to us.  And it is that which defines the difference between how we approach the act of angling, and how the trout reacts to our approach.  The essence of the thin line is the difference between the thinking being, and the reactive being - cognitive vs. instinctual.  It is a metaphor that can be expressed in many ways, but what really matters is this: The better we can understand the ways trout behave, the better we can adapt our approach to achieve a positive reaction from the fish to our offering.  And finally, isn't it fascinating that for us the thin line - the water surface - reflects our environment back at us, and that it does the same for the trout?  The water surface on both sides is a mirror of our respective worlds.           

With respect to the content of the post, here you go:  I try to work on my book every night, and sometimes I lose the caboose on my train of thought, and head off to another destination.  That post was one of those instances; although I think the caboose managed to stay put in this case, and that is why I posted it.  Other times when I write stuff, my stream of conscientiousness goes all Thom Yorke (Radiohead) on me, and it gets saved in the junk file.  Nothing gets deleted though, because you never know when you might reread it, and find something within the text that brings you to your senses, or maybe even a new one.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Spring Is Sneaking Up On Us

I'll explain the Thin Line post later............

We had a wonderful day on the river with friends, rising fish, and the sounds and smells that signal spring is about to bloom, despite the chill pushing back.  You may remember that after the Fly Tying Symposium, I posted some flies tied by a young fly tyer and fly fisherman named Doug.  When I saw him at the Lancaster Fly Fishing Show, I promised I would meet up with him on the water to fish, and today was the day.  He brought along his good friend Ben, who was visiting from Germany for the week, and his mom, who provided support and transportation (and thankfully, extra clothes).  She stayed around to enjoy the day with this bunch of overgrown kids (maybe one) that spent the day standing in a cold stream waving a stick.

It was a typical early spring day where winter just wasn't quite ready to give up its chill.  The thin, gray skies kept the sun at bay, and the air chilly, a slight breeze reminded us continually that we needed to keep our jackets on.  The water was crystal clear, and at a perfect level for early season fishing - my stiff, aching toes told me it was still very cold. But not too cold for the bugs!

Despite plenty of trout rising to a good hatch of blue-winged olives, Doug preferred to fish nymphs, and did well.  The photo above is his first fish of the day, a nice rainbow.  He got a few more after that, all of them on flies he tied himself.  Ben is new to the game, and gave it his all with lots of energy, and a constant smile.  Even a spill at the end of the day that soaked him, didn't change his disposition.

One the best things about being out on the water today, was the sound of the various songbirds all around us urging spring to hurry along.  I could describe it, but the sound on this short video Doug's mom took of Sasquatch today, captures it much better than words ever could.


What could be better than that?  When I was the boys' age, my mom often took me fishing, and a couple of seasoned anglers that fished the same waters shared their knowledge and experience with me.  And today I got to pass it on (honor them), by doing the same for Doug and Ben - truthfully, today the boys didn't need much of my help, they had a grand time on their own.  We will do it again, there's plenty more for each of us to learn.

Tis a gift.    

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Thin Line.............Madness

When you boil it down to its simplest form, fly fishing is hunting – a predator pursuing prey.  Instead of a gun, or an arrow, we present artificial food forms (flies) that are tied to the end of a specialized nylon string, to trout, in an effort to get them to eat our offering.  More precisely, a fly constructed of fur, feathers and hair, bound with thread onto a specially fabricated steel hook, to imitate an insect, fish or some other food form.  And in some cases, the fly we use is something attractive to us, and hopefully, a trout. The Royal Coachman comes to mind.  Either way, our goal is to catch a trout and bring it to net, or hand.  Sometimes the fish is harvested (bummer), or it is released back into its watery world, perhaps to be caught another day, or live out its life a little smarter for the experience. 
Volumes have been written, films and videos made, lectures spoken, classes taught and madness purveyed, all in an effort to pass along the latest secretive and not-so-secretive information on how to get a trout to take a fly, as opposed to just fishing.  Seriously, I have first-hand knowledge of all the above and, your honor, I am guilty not only of fly fishing, but of writing and speaking about this madness.  And truth be told, I, along with thousands of others, enjoy it without apology.  Of course, like most unconventional endeavors in life, there are a few (perhaps more) among us that wave the rod, wade the water, and in some cases, dress the look (it’s odd, but some think to look good, is to fish good), all in an effort to catch a trout that does not even know it is a trout.  And all of this may seem really silly, because the reality is that there is no norm when it comes to fly fishing; and that’s the point.  
Through the ages, more so recently than in the past, sages, masters, and so-called experts have come up with adjectives and expressions to describe a particular trait they have designed into their own flies, or the presentation of, that they believe attracts a trout to eat it; triggers, footprint, life imparting bubbles or sparkle, life-like movement, jointed or articulated nymphs and streamers, upside-down, cripple, still-borne, knocked-down, and so forth and so on.    Understand, I am not knocking it; I do the same whenever a particular situation on the stream (not catching fish)  compels me to find something new in a fly, or with my presentation,  that might make a difference in my success next time a similar situation arises.   That is part of the attraction; thinking out of the box, when thinking within in the box, has failed.  In fact, for most of us, that is the impetus for developing new or altered fly patterns, and/or methods of presenting them.
And so it goes.  We always learn more from failure than success.  It keeps us from becoming complacent and forces us to look at what we are doing, and how we are doing it, in order to prevent failing again.  When you step back and look at it from afar, fly fishing is not so eccentric, as my mother has insisted since I first showed her my earliest fur and feathered creations.  Instead, fly fishing is like any other passion one might have; the pursuit of doing what we love and everything that may encompass.  It expands our mind, provides a sense of well-being, and feeds our soul like nectar fuels a hummingbird’s wings.  It gives us a buzz……….

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Hendrickson Sparkle Duns

Here's a trio of Hendrickson sparkle duns tied in anticipation of this year's mid-April to early May angling festivities. Tie some up, you'll need them very soon.

(Click photo to enlarge)
Sharpen your hooks.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tying the CB Stocker

Here's another tying video by Tim Flagler, showing how he ties Chally Bates' CB Stocker streamer.  Chally has been a fixture at Shannon's Fly Shop for years, and has developed a number of effective patterns for New Jersey streams and beyond.  

For more early season patterns, be sure to check out the Tightline Productions Practical Patterns video page.  There Tim has posted a bunch of videos he has made in recent weeks on how he ties a few different nymphs that will take fish now, and throughout the year. 
Tie a few of each up, and good luck when while out on the water.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Separating the Men From the Boys

What’s with some people?   

The other day I received an email from a young man who lives in Pennsylvania that I've had the pleasure of talking with at a couple of the fly fishing shows. He had a few questions for me, and also related an experience he had with another angler while fishing one of the Lehigh Valley limestone creeks. At the time he was teaching his buddy how to fly fish.

He and his friend were fishing fairly close together, which is what you do when you are helping someone learn the finer points of fly fishing. They had the entire run to themselves, as it was very early in the morning, and few anglers were about. Shortly after they started fishing, his friend hooked and landed a nice trout, on a flashback fly that our friend had tied. Awesome right?

It was not till three minutes later that a man walked in-between us (we were ten feet apart) and started fishing with the whole rest of the stream empty. His encroachment resulted in my buddy getting a nasty tangle because he had no room to cast. To their credit, the boys minded their manners, and left after their lines were freed. Soon they were fishing another section of creek.

Ever the persistent one, the man eventually found the boys:  About an hour later we ran into him again, this time about 40 feet ahead of me. He drifted his flies down to around my feet and as he attempted to recast, almost put a hole in my waders. Eventually he crossed lines with me and as I nicely attempted to disentangle the lines, he yanked them out of my hand resulting in a birds nest.

The boys had had enough, and so they had mom take them to fish another stretch well upstream from where the adult model of good behavior was fishing. And fortunately, after a short while, our friend was successful. He took a trout on a fly he tied himself.  It was a good end to a day he said had been aggravating. 

That’s all.  I hope the guy reads this and sees how silly he was acting.  And kudos to the boys for acting more his age, than he did.

It's just fishing.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Early Season Blue-winged Olives

On Saturday I headed out to PA to fish a couple of limestone creeks in the Lehigh Valley area.  It was a perfect late winter day hurrying spring along after too many gray days, for too many months.   A light, intermittent breeze cooled the mid-fifties air temperature somewhat, but not enough to be chilly.  Bright sunshine cast shadows of bare trees on the still hibernating ocher grasses that filled the fields along the stream.   
At the first creek, I met a couple of friends in the morning, and we spent more time bullshitting than we did wetting a line.  No bugs were on the water, and none of us wanted to fish nymphs, so we half-heartedly plied holding water with emergers and dries, to trout that showed zero interest in our offerings.  After a fishless couple of hours, my two companions decided it would be wise to hit a local watering hole for lunch and brew.  I wanted to fish instead, so I headed to another creek I was fairly certain I would see Olives hatching.  By the time I got to my destination, the guys had called to tell me they were well into their first beer, and I was crazy for not joining them.  I prefer to think they were crazy, and after spending a few hours on the stream, I knew they were.
When I first started fishing the very clear, even flowing creek, nothing was going on on the surface. But there were signs of activity below - trout flashed and moved in their lies; the white interior of their mouths showing in brief moments, signaling feeding behavior.  I tied a size #22, dark midge pupa onto the end of my 6x tippet, and secured a small split shot about 6 inches above it.  I cast the fly a few feet above a feeding fish and followed its drift with my rod tip, keeping my line and leader just short of  pulling the fly while still maintaining direct contact.  A few casts later, the trout moved to its left, I saw the white of its mouth, and lifted my rod just as the white disappeared.  After a brief, spirited fight, I brought the 12-13 inch brown trout to hand and quickly released it.

Shortly after I landed that fish, I started to see Blue-winged Olives clumsily flying on and just above the water after hatching.  And trout were taking them fairly aggressively in their attempt to grab the flies before the breeze would quickly take them across the currents.  So I quickly tied on new 6x tippet, and a size #20, Improved Baetis Sparkle Dun, and cast it to rising fish.   And they came to my offering, but did not take it.  Refusals, the sure sign that the trout are interested in the fly but something is not quite right.  DRAG!

So I removed the tippet, and then I tied on a 2 foot section of 7x tippet, and the same fly.  The first fish I presented the fly to, took it.  It was a nice, wild 8-inch brown with bright scarlet spots among many black ones on a background of butterscotch brown.  I then walked the stream bank, and as I went, I'd stop and cast my fly whenever a trout showed their eagerness to take a natural off the surface.  Most of them took my fly when I got it to drift drag-free into their feeding lane.  I caught a bunch of browns over the next hour and a half this way, covering a 1/2 mile or so of creek without ever getting my feet wet.
On my way back upstream, the fish stopped taking my Sparkle Dun. The rise forms had changed to soft, leisurely sips.  So I changed my fly to a CDC Baetis spinner, and that did the trick.  I took a few more browns, all wild, the biggest being about 12 inches long.  When I got back to where I had started, I broke down my rod and sat on a rock for a bit watching the water, and a pair of red-tail hawks gliding over the willows and hardwoods that lined the opposite bank.

It was just the kind of late winter day that gets your blood warm, and hopes high, for the upcoming spring season.  Crazy?  Maybe. But I think the guys missed more than I did. 

So call me crazy.

Monday, March 11, 2013


Check out this incredible video of a tuna feeding frenzy off of Panama.  One of the guys filming it even goes into the water with the swimming mass of tuna, bait fish, and even porpoise.  I think I even saw a shark in the mix.

Via: Moldy Chum

Friday, March 8, 2013

Flies of Innocence and Experience

Here's a really nice, short piece about one man's fly tying evolution by Dave Karczynski, I found posted on Midcurrent. He clearly has thought out the process, and along with an artistic bent, he offers some good points that I think every fly fisherman/fly tyer can apply to their own approach.

Click here, and enjoy: Flies of Innocence and Experience

The only thing I might do differently than Mr. Karczynski, would be my approach to having just one "hot fly of the day" left.  He opines that he would fish the fly tentatively, for fear of losing it.  Conversely, it wouldn't matter to me whether I have ten, or only one, of the fly the trout are taking like candy. I would fish that one fly with the same zeal and abandon I would if I had a boatload of them.  I'd rather give myself every opportunity to catch fish with that one fly, then end the day with that fly still on the end of my tippet, and lost chances in my head.  Besides, if you do lose the fly, it's just another opportunity to learn something.          

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A New Rod, Part Duo

And the ramble continues. You didn't think I was done yesterday, did you?  Don't cringe, this one is going to be shorter. I think.

I pretty much covered why I have used the same few rods for many years yesterday, so today I'm off and running on what it is that has me thinking about getting a new stick.  On Sunday morning, friend and fellow show tyer, Al, handed me a Hardy Bros. Zenith fly rod as I walked by the casting pond at the Lancaster Fly Fishing Show.  He said in his usual, this is important half whisper, "Dude, you gotta try this thing!  There's nothin' like it."  So I took the rod from him.
I first looked the rod over while Al gave me the particulars on what I was about to cast.  "It's a Hardy Zen-ith!" As in Zen; enlightenment, spiritual, calming.  He continued, while still trying not to speak too loud. Like this was the biggest secret of his adult life, "It's a 9 footer, 4 piece, 5 weight.  IT IS SWEET!"
So I started to cast it, thinking; Okay, Al gets excited pretty easily at most things fly fishing.  But I'll give it shot since his eyes are bulging out, he's drooling, and he appears to be sweating and hyperventilating. 
I cast the rod.  Gently at first, trying to get a feel for the action and balance between the rod and the line.   As I put more into the cast, the better it performed.  Al could see it in my face, "Dude!  Can you believe this thing!"  I couldn't believe it (see yesterday's post about new rods), it was different, in a good way. 

And then I tried, as best as I could given that this "pond" was only ten feet wide, to do some short casts, puddle casts, roll casts and finally, mending line with the rod.  I also cast out to the 15-inch diameter targets floating at about 60-65 feet out, and landed the poly tuft at the end of the short leader, in or near the target, with more control and less effort than I expected.  Then I smiled and handed the rod back to Al, "I need to think about this one."  I may have been in shock.  I went back to the tying table and pondered the ying and the yang of what had just transpired.   

A few hours later, when things in the hall slowed, I went back to the Hardy Bros. booth and picked up the rod to cast it some more.  I wondered if the rod was actually as nice as I had thought that morning. It was not an illusion.  This rod is a wonder of modern technology, and not just another stick in the mud that casts line like a rocket launcher.

Apparently, I am not alone in this.  I Googled this specific rod, and I found out it won the Yellowstone 5-weight Shootout last year, by a wide margin.  Good to know.

So, after casting various makes and models of 9ft 4pc 5wts over the years in my search to replace my 2 piece model that doesn't travel so well thanks to Osama and friends, I think know I have found a great replacement, and then some.   Cha-ching.

Something to keep in mind: Rod preference is very personal and subjective, and always requires an asterisk, as no two casters are alike.   

End of ramble.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A New Rod? Why Now?

A bunch of readers have emailed me and asked why I haven't bought new rod in 20+ years.  It seems that some readers think that because I am passionate about all things fly fishing, and truthfully the outdoors as well, that I would be passionate about the equipment I use.  Those readers are correct, too.  I am passionate about my equipment, and that's why when I find a rod or reel that suits my style, and that feels right in my hand, I stick with it.  Not only is the rod I primarily use 20+ years old, the reel I prefer is at least that old and no longer made - a Streamline.  

Getting back to the rod question, there are three reasons I have not bought a new rod in years:
1.    Simply put, I like the couple of rods I have been using, and nothing has come along in the last 20+ years that suits my fishing sensibilities.  I primarily use a Winston IM6, 8ft 6in 3pc 5 wt, I purchased in 1981 - it is a medium action rod that allows me to cast with little physical and mental effort, which permits me to focus on my fishing.  I know the rod is going to do exactly what I ask without thought, and I can hit my target with my fly most every time........almost.  And when I hook a fish, I can feel everything the fish is doing.  This allows me to get it to hand or my net fairly quickly, and released with a minimum of stress.
2.    Over the years I have cast many of each year's latest and greatest rods, and from my perspective, none have broken through the invisible mental barrier that has been established by the rods I currently use.  I'm not a "have to have the latest" rod, reel or waders, etc., kind of guy.  Just about every rod manufacturer comes up with a new marketing ploy every year to sell more rods to mostly people who do not need a new rod, but who get sucked in by wordsmithing and the latest technical bullshit, or even a super-duper "new" finish.
3.   In my opinion, in the last 20 year or so, rod design has focused on reducing weight and casting further - witness that every person at the casting pond this weekend worked the rod they were "testing" for distance only.  No one I watched cast it the normal trout average fishing distance  - 25 to 35 feet.  No one I saw tried to roll cast, puddle cast, or mend line with the rod they were putting through the paces.   Sure, I like to see how far a rod will cast, but mostly I like to see how a rod will perform in my hand when doing the things I normally do when fishing.  Isn't that the point?  Placing your size #16 sulphur emerger on the water 20 inches above a rhythmically feeding rainbow trout from 35 feet away is a thrill I'll never tire of.  Especially, when the trout raises up and sips your fly in like it was a natural.

Poetry in Motion!      

That ends my ramble.   Your mileage may vary.           

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What Happens in Lancaster.......

Let's just say we had a great time at the show as expected.  Friday night we  prepped by going out to Characters Pub and enjoying a good meal, good beer and got caught up with each other before hitting the pillow early.  Saturday the show was very busy with lots of folks stopping by to chat, ask tying and fishing questions, and just talk about fly fishing.  My presentations were very well attended, which is always a never wants to become passe', do they?  There were a couple of highlights to the day, one being a visit by my college buddy Gary, stopping by and surprising me after a couple of decades of involuntary incommunicado.  He and I hung out all the time at what was then, Mansfield State College (now University), and fished whenever we could; somehow we lost touch after a couple of years.  Saturday it was like we saw each other yesterday......
And then there was Doug Freemann showing up with his mom - he is the young fly tyer and fisherman you may remember from my Somerset Fly Fishing Show post.  He brought a few more of his flies.  Here's a couple of Frenchie nymphs he tied after watching the Tightline Productions video on how to tie them.  As you can see below, he does a great job, and in the tradition of all great tyers, he altered the fly to his own liking by using a peacock quill coated with Hard as Nails for the abdomen.  (Tim tied his Frenchie nymph in the video with the traditional pheasant tail and wire rib.)  Now we just need to get Doug out on the stream to see if he can fish as well as he ties.  I'm betting he does.  (I may have to bum a few of his flies off him, too, so I can catch a few....) 
(Click on image to enlarge) 
And here's an aerial view of one half of Tyers Row - some great fly tyers and good people all around.  I'd show you the other half of the bunch, but my camera skills rival that of a drunk that's blind in one eye, and wears a patch on the other.

And here's my tying table, complete with the latest spool of Danville 6/0 Olive thread winding down (unwinding?) to the end.  You can see the next spool not far away, anxiously awaiting it's turn on the Rite Bobbin.      

Sunday was somewhat quieter, with a smaller crowd, and another good turnout at my presentation.   I cast the new Hardy Zenith rod, a 9ft 4pc 5 wt, and after not buying a new rod for 20 years+, I'm adding this one to my modest collection.  The rod cast with very good line control, and not so much speed that I couldn't forget about my casting stroke and focus on my target.  A very nice fishing rod (as opposed to being just a good casting rod) for medium to big waters.
Oh, and Doug, have fun tying the rest of the March Brown on the winged hook I gave you.  I'm looking forward to the result, and posting it here for everyone to see.....
Everything else stays in Lancaster........ ; )