The Five Minute Purge: Two Simple Steps Towards An Organized Fly Box

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The 5 Minute Purge: 2 Simple Steps to Maintaining Order in Your Fly Box

 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll change flies and/or rigs regularly on the stream. In the heat of the moment, I’ll toss the old fly back into the fly box (and I’ll do it pretty darn quickly!), then quickly tie on the new fly.  Do this several times an hour, all day long, and soon your once- organized box resembles a junk pile, controlled, but barely, chaos.

 

Some anglers, with vague powers of recollection, can control chaos and manage to get through the day. However, I become frustrated when I start the next day (or month or year) with a messy fly box. This is why I spend 5 minutes, after every day’s trip, to “purge” my box. 

 

Step 1: Toss out any worn out patterns. This includes patterns with rusty hooks, bent hook points, or unravelling thread. If I can salvage hooks or beads, I’ll throw them into a recyclable box. If they can’t be saved, I throw them away. I cannot tell you how many boxes I see full of flies, that will never see water again. If you don’t plan to use them, lose them. Now, if you keep “seasonal” flies in separate boxes, that’s one thing, but if you haven’t used a fly in a year, chances are you won’t use it again. Ever. Toss it. 

 

 

Step 2: Dry out wet flies. I take wet flies from my box and stick them on a dry patch, a small rectangular section of a black Yoga mat (thanks Jac Ford for the recommendation), attached with Velcro tape to my truck’s dashboard. Wet patterns stuck on the dashboard, a perfect place to heat and dry them, will be restored in 15-20 minutes. Once I get home, I detach the dry patch from my dashboard, take inside to my office and place the dry patterns back into my working box.  BOOM! Organization (the opposite of chaos), and freedom to search the water, not my fly box.  

 

 My kinda of “organized” small stream fly box.

My kinda of “organized” small stream fly box.

Fishing The Front Side: The Secret Pocket

 X marks the spot. Even submerged boulders will have a soft upstream pocket.

X marks the spot. Even submerged boulders will have a soft upstream pocket.

Rocks and boulders create hydraulic cushions within the stream. They are essentially resting/feeding spots for the trout. Think of rocks and boulders as a trout’s streamside Lazy Boy recliner. The most obvious location to target fish is immediately below (downstream) of a boulder, where it’s easy to see a soft water “pocket” form below the obstruction. These downstream pockets are easy for the angler to locate and target for their presentations. However, what if I were to tell you that there’s a better and more productive pocket? And it holds some of the best trout! 

 

The pocket is, of course, on the front side of the boulder. The experienced angler knows this “secret pocket,” but many beginners fail to notice it. The front side “cushion” creates a primary feeding line, a place that offers protection, rest, and feeding opportunities. Think about it: the fish on the front side will have first dibs on available food, and the larger, more dominant fish know that (probably why they are bigger!) Smaller fish generally hold on the downstream side, feeding on whatever the big ones (the ones we want) pass up. 

 

I’m not recommending that anglers disregard the downstream pocket – it can and sometimes does hold larger fish -- but the front side is worth at least a few passes. It is a primary feeding lie. It should be explored. Sometimes “the grass is greener” in spots we don’t think to fish. Fish it!

 

 Choose wisely. Amidea Daniel’s decision to fish the front side resulted in the fish of the day. Often (not always) the best fish will hold on the front side of a boulder.

Choose wisely. Amidea Daniel’s decision to fish the front side resulted in the fish of the day. Often (not always) the best fish will hold on the front side of a boulder.

Circus Peanut: A Favorite Color Scheme

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The Yellow and Gold Circus Peanut/Peanut Envy: A Proven Color Scheme For Higher Water

 

Although I spent part of my earlier angling days with a streamer attached to the line, it was more of a backup plan, when all other tactics, dry fly, nymph, wet fly, failed. I would clip off the smaller dry fly or nymph, cut back into the leader’s thicker section, attach an “old school” Mickey Finn streamer, start stripping like hell, and hope for the best.  Sometimes it worked, but most of the time it didn’t. And why should such a last ditch effort work? After all, it was, like many of my earlier streamer fishing ventures, a half ass plan.

 

Then, in 2003, I travelled to fish with Russ Madden on his Michigan home waters, and he changed my attitude towards streamers. He showed me a game plan that would work as a primary (not last ditch) approach. I’ll be writing about those lessons in future blog posts. Until then, I wanted to share a color variation of his Circus Peanut, a highly effective streamer for the high, dirty water that defined this 2018 Pennsylvania trout season.  Actually, now when I look at it- the pattern is a mix of Russ’ Circus Peanut and Kelly Galloup’s Peanut Envy. Either way, I wanted to share this color scheme. It has been great (personally and with customers) during the last five months.  Happy Stripping!

 

 

Rear Hook:

Hook: Gama B10S (or similar) #4

Thread: 6/0 Light Olive Uni

Tail: Yellow Olive Marabou

Body: Yellow Polar Reflector Flash

Collar: Yellow Schlappen

Legs: Sili Legs Chrome/Pumpkin

 

Connector:

20LB Maxima with Single Glass Bead

 

Front Hook

Hook: Gama B10S (or similar) #4

Cone: Medium Copper Tungsten Cone with 6-8 wraps of .025 lead wire (snugged inside cone to prevent cone from sliding and to add additional weight).

Thread: 6/0 Light Olive Uni

Overwing (i.e tail section hanging over the articulated section): Yellow Olive Marabou

Body: Yellow Polar Reflector Flash

Collar: Yellow Schlappen

Legs: Sili Legs Chrome/Pumpkin

 

 

October Caddis Soft Hackle

October Caddis Soft Hackle Hare’s Ear

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October Caddis are in full swing and nymphing has been good with the above average flows back home.  I wanted to share a simple yet effective nymph pattern that’s accounted for several good fish within the last week while targeting waters harboring October Caddis. Note: This is not an original pattern. This pattern is my variation of the original Hare’s Ear Soft Hackle-created to mimic the October Caddis. Good Fishing

 

Hook: Hanak 450BL #12

Bead: Black 3.5mm Slotted

Thread: Doesn’t Matter

Tail: Wood Duck Fibers

Body: Hare’s Ear

Rib: Small Hot Orange Ultra Wire

Hackle: Orange Partridge

Collar: Peacock Eye Siman Dubbing

Remembering What I Forgot: Using a Haul for Nymphing Success

It seems when you’re in your teens you can recall just about anything. You haven’t lived long enough to fill your memory bank. You can remember what movie you watched with your girlfriend last weekend or what your mom made for dinner three nights ago. Then your mental hard drive begins filling up by you 30’s and soon your forget your wedding anniversary, can’t remember if you fed the dog, and then you forget the year your son was born when filing out doctor’s form. You get the point. Your memory bank can hold only so many moments/lessons and soon some of your earlier (often more important) memories are no longer in the storage drive between your ears. I’m now seeing this with my limited fishing knowledge.

 Zach St. Amand controls his drift after a perfect nymph cast utilizing a haul.

Zach St. Amand controls his drift after a perfect nymph cast utilizing a haul.

I was recently reminded of this important nymphing tip I let slip away while fishing with a friend, Zach St. Amand on the Farmington River a week ago. The original lesson occurred over 20 years ago while fishing with my mentor, Joe Humphreys. Joe was showing me the importance of punching the nymphs into a pocket by using a short but powerful casting stroke and haul.  I can remember watching Joe perform his famous short casting stroke as he shot his nymphs into a run. The nymphs entered the water as if he was shooting them out of a high powered air rifle. This resulted in his nymphs quickly gaining bottom and a tight connection from the start of presentation. 

 

One of the biggest issues I’ve encounter nymphing fast water is getting the flies to anchor quickly. Obviously adding weight is one course of action to achieve quicker depth with immediate control. However, Joe always reminded me another option was to equal the force of the cast relative to the force of the water you fish. In other words, use less force in slow water but hammer home the nymphs when dealing with faster water.  This is where the haul comes into play.

 

 A Farmington River rainbow taking by Joe-one of Zach’s students I met while fishing the river. Joe was also using the nymphing haul as a result of spending time wit Zach.

A Farmington River rainbow taking by Joe-one of Zach’s students I met while fishing the river. Joe was also using the nymphing haul as a result of spending time wit Zach.

A short but powerful haul in combination with a standard nymph cast can help you achieve depth and control with less weight. The advantage of a light rig is once the nymphs achieve depth, the rig is light enough to drift the flies naturally. Too often we rely on using more weight to counter faster water, which I feel results in having to drag your patterns during the presentation to avoid hanging up. The lesson of increasing the force of the cast was a lesson I used for years, but sometime with the last 5 years I had gotten away from using the haul. Then Zach St. Amand invited me to show me around and help me better understand the Farmington River before doing a video shoot with Orvis Fly Fishing. He not only only provided me with the info to help make for a good video shoot, but he also reminded me of the importance of using the haul to sink your nymphs. 

 Zach and another good friend of mine, Antoine Bissieux are the two busiest guides on the River, and they are both excellent nymph fishers.  Watching Zach use a violent but smooth haul on his cast to gain immediate depth of the Farmington’s pools reminded me of my lessons with Joe in my earlier days. I observed Zach pick up several good fish with his impressive nymphing cast, and left me yearning to begin using the haul again.  Thanks Joe for the original lesson and thanks to Zach for the reminder!

Don't Be a Jane Kangaroo Nymph Fisher

 Torrey Collins will exhaust all nymphing possibility before moving to another location. His patience on the water and willingness to change his tactical approach is one reason he’s so successful.

Torrey Collins will exhaust all nymphing possibility before moving to another location. His patience on the water and willingness to change his tactical approach is one reason he’s so successful.

While watching Horton Hears a Who with my kid, I was reminded of the difference in tactical approach between a nympher blindly fishing a run versus a dry fly angler targeting a rising fish.  The latter situation the angler can see a target but the former is simply anticipating a fish is there. I feel this difference of actually seeing a trout rising versus hoping a fish is near may determine how much effort an angler puts in their presentation. 

 There’s a great quote from the movie that mirrors my attitude when blindly nymphing a run. The quote is from Jane Kangaroo exchanging words with Horton, who thinks he hears a who but Jane can’t see or hear what Horton is speaking of. The quote goes something like “If you can't see, hear or feel something, it doesn't exist.”  This made me think about the difference in tempo in which some anglers blindly nymph a run versus targeting a rising fish with dry fly. 

 There’s some sort of focus button that turns on when an angler sees a rising trout, especially one that consistently rises. When an angler fails to fool a consistent riser, they’ll switch patterns or tactics due to constant refusals. They know the fish is there but understand they need to change tactics as the result of the trout refusing their offering. I know I’ve spent over an hour targeting a specific rising trout but will move within five minutes if I fail to nymph up a fish in a good run.

 But there are few nymph anglers who exhaust the same effort (i.e. staying in one play exhausting all presentation possibilities) when nymphing a run. So often I hear myself or clients saying while unsuccessfully catching a fish in a good looking run, “HUH, I can’t believe there’s not a fish there.” Meaning, we assume we’re doing everything correct so we need to move to another location to find a fish. We need to change the wording we tell ourselves.

 This is why I’ve been changing my nymphing psychology over the years. I can’t assume I’m doing everything correct when failing to catch a fish in a spot I know holds fish. Instead, I need to assume there’s a fish feeding on the bottom (just as the same fish would be fishing on the surface) and need to make a change. I can add weight, decrease weight, change the angle I cast my nymph, change patterns, or maybe change my position. Approach high probability areas the same as you would if you see a steady surface feeder-assume you’re getting a subsurface refusal and begin to change tactics as you would to a rising fish. Again, this applies to spots you know hold fish all day and year round. 

 And maybe one’s nymphing success would increase if the sub surface angler developed the same patience of a typical dry fly angler targeting a riser? Just remember not to loose confidence in a high probability area when blindly fishing a spot. You know there’s a feeding fish there, so assume something is wrong with your current approach and make the change. In short, don’t be a Jane Kangaroo. 

 

Good Fishing!

 

 Changing casting angles pays off for Torrey Collins.

Changing casting angles pays off for Torrey Collins.

Arrick's Flying Ant-a must have for the fall dry fly angler

Before I begin making the trip back east back tomorrow morning, I want to share a new favorite terrestrial pattern I picked up on my travels while fishing in MT. The pattern is called Arrick’s Flying Ant and it’s been a favorite ant pattern among both resident anglers and guides for years. I recall my brother talking about this pattern over 6 years ago, but I became reacquainted with this pattern while fishing the Madison River two days ago. While I believe good tactics trump patterns, this fly saved the day while fishing near the $3 Bridge area with Charles Boinske, Cline Hickok, and Blue Ribbon Fly Shop Guide Drew Mentzer.  

 

After a good morning nymphing up a few fish, the crew wanted to get some dry fly action in. With little to no signs of any hatches, Drew suggested that if we wanted to fish dry flies then we should try one of his “go to” ant patterns-Arricks’s Two Tone Flying Ant. The originator of the pattern is Arrick Swanson, owner of Arrick’s Fly Shop in West Yellowstone MT. Long story short-this pattern outperformed any dry fly pattern I had previously used that day. 

 

The quality I like about the pattern is it’s visible, easy to tie, and floats like cork. As with some of my favorite trout patterns, this fly (i.e. this is the two tone variation) has contrasting colors built into the fly. Other colors options Arrick uses are straight black and straight cinnamon. Below is short but very informative YouTube video showing how Arrick ties this simple but deadly ant pattern.  

Whether you tie your own flies or prefer to buy them from Arrick’s Fly Shop, I would humbly suggest adding a few to your dry fly arsenal this fall.

 

Happy Dry Fly Fishing

For more information on buying Arrick’s Flying Ant, please go to https://www.arricks.com

For information on how to tie Arrick’s Flying Ant, please click on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fza-VWpwjOA

 

 

 This is Arrick’s Two Tone Variation.

This is Arrick’s Two Tone Variation.

 Blue Ribbon Guide Drew Mentzer holds up a quality brown trout taken on an Arrick’s Ant by Charles Boinske.

Blue Ribbon Guide Drew Mentzer holds up a quality brown trout taken on an Arrick’s Ant by Charles Boinske.

"Hitting the Head" while Nymphing

No, this is not about your bladder and its relation to fishing. Instead, it’s a fishing bum’s opinion on where some of the best fish hold during peak hatch season. Here in central Pennsylvania, some of our peak hatches occur from late April through early June. The largest trout in the stream get that way by taking up the best feeding lie in the stream. During this time, I’ve observed that some of the best fish take feeding position at the head (i.e. top part) of most runs and riffles. This may mean a twenty-inch fish holding in just three or four inches of water.

Why? One possible explanation is that the majority of our insects live in heavily riffled sections, and the head of such runs or riffles acts a food funnel for the trout. This can be especially important during hatches when insects dislodge from stream bottom as they migrate toward the surface to hatch. In these situations, the head of a run concentrates a lot of food within a small area.

These fish are more prone to spook because they are holding in a skinny water, where predators have easier access, so take extra caution when approaching such water. There’s a reason why a quality fish will continuously fight a strong current while holding in only inches of water: there’s abundance of food. The return on investment is worth the potential danger.

Recently I fished a popular stretch of a central-Pennsylvania spring creek. Both tan caddisflies and sulfurs were hatching in the early afternoon, and after catching a couple trout, I decided to sit down along a high bank to see if I could find a few trout to sight-fish to. At the top of a run was a 16-to-17-inch brown trout (a large trout for that stretch), in three inches of water. Seeing trout hold in skinny water isn’t necessarily unusual on this stream; what was interesting was the frequency with which this fish was feeding. Every four or five seconds, this fish was sliding right or left picking off drifting nymphs. This went on for five minutes before I couldn’t resist and made a cast to fish. The trout immediately pulled left and inhaled my nymph the moment it came in contact with the water.

The lesson here is to be ready for the strike to occur the moment the fly lands, especially when you’re fishing the head of a run or riffle. Things will happen fast, often faster than the angler can react to. This is why I prefer to use a tight-line nymphing rig, where you are in contact the moment the nymphs land on the water. You might think you’ve hit bottom because you’re using a heavy nymph in skinning water, but my limited experience that tells me it’s likely a trout instantly jumping on a nymph.

While this feeding position can take place throughout the year on my home waters, springtime is when I see it occur with the most consistently. However, I urge you to experiment “hitting the head” on your home waters during peak hatch season. You may be surprised to see some of the actively feeding big fish take position at the head.



 Hitting the Head is a good approach during peak insect activity when trout position themselves at the head of the runs to intercept drifting insects.

Hitting the Head is a good approach during peak insect activity when trout position themselves at the head of the runs to intercept drifting insects.

Use Limp Sighter Material for Drifting Lighter Rigs

We all have opinions about our fly-fishing tools and how we use them. Anglers develop confidence in certain tools that have produced positive results on the stream and often stick with those tools for some time. In some ways, we become creatures of habit, operating on a philosophy of “Why fix something that isn’t broken?”

But with all things fly fishing, I’m a tinkerer. Much of my enjoyment comes from experimenting with tactics and equipment and trying to better understand why some tools and tactics work better than others. I, too, occasionally get stuck in a rut and continue to use older methods and tools that worked for me in the past, but I like to experiment, believing that I can always get a little better with my technique and better match my tools with the task at hand.

For instance, I have tinkered quite a bit with sighter material, a colored section of monofilament placed within the leader to aid in strike detection. Before I go any further, let me make it clear that any material on the market today will work. What I’m going to do is advocate using a softer monofilament sighter when drifting lighter weight nymph rigs.

By drifting, I’m referring to using a lightweight nymphing rig, which essentially drifts in the water column by itself (without the angler needing to pull it down stream) while the angler stays ahead of the drift with the rod tip. You’re leading the drift-not pulling it. I feel one of the biggest misconceptions about tight-line nymphing is that you need to keep a “tight line” for strike detection by placing heavy weights on the nymphing rig, dragging it through the drift, and looking to feel the strike. Often a heavily weighted rig under tension is a good idea (see Tightline-Nymphing Tips: When in Doubt, Drag ‘Em), but there are situations where drifting a nymph is more effective than dragging. And a softer monofilament sighter may aid in detecting strikes while drifting light weight rigs.

Softer sighter material can be stretched easily, which makes it quite sensitive.

For example, while excellent fishing opportunities can be had year round in central Pennsylvania, April through mid-June is peak hatch season—when most anglers travel to our area to chase the bugs. When trout are looking upward for food, drifting a lighter-weight nymph rig may produce better results. A trout strike is going to be softer with such a light rig, so what I’m looking for is a sighter material that allows me to see (not feel) these softer strikes. Enter softer sighter material.

During the drift, softer monofilament will twitch nervously–going in and out of tension. When the twitching stops, which indicates the rig has encountered resistance, it’s time to set the hook. You can stretch this softer material with a light pull and see how it flexes like a rubber band; it’s this quality that offers an advantage when seeing soft strikes on light weigh rigs. This lesson has proven successful for catching species other than trout, as well.

Boiling Orvis sighter material for six minutes produces the right softness.

I have a quarter-acre pond on my property, which holds small perch and blue gill. Every day, my kids and I spend about an hour fishing with Tenkara rods and micro perch jigs (i.e. lightly weighted) on a level nymphing leader. At first our leaders were 6 feet of level 8-pound Gold Stren ( stiffer sighter material) attached to a 4-foot section of 5X tippet. But I would often see a perch inhale my jig with a strike that barely registered anything on the Gold Stren sighter material. Stren is highly visible but not limp. My kids were catching fish, but I wanted to see if a softer material could allow them to see the strike better. So I switched from using Gold Stren to using a 6-foot level section of soft sighter material, and the difference was immediate. Both my kids and I were able to see the soft perch takes by simply waiting for the nervous twitch to stop, and our catch rates increased.

I’ve experimented with my clients over the last two years by changing sighter material throughout the day while pursuing trout, and I’ve found that most anglers are quicker to register strikes when fishing lighter weight nymphing rigs by watching for the softer sighter to tighten. Remember that you’re more likely to see the strike rather than feel it when fishing with lighter weight rigs.

You can create a softer sighter material by boiling short sections of sighter material in pot for 5 or 6 minutes. Recently, I’ve been boiling 30-inch sections of Orvis Tactical Sighter material for 6 minutes. This drastically softens the material and creates a rubber-band-like stretch, which I feel is helpful for drifting light nymph rigs. Then I tie in the 30-inch sighter section into my favorite nymphing leader for drifting lighter nymph rigs. So give it a shot, and happy drifting!

 Softer Sighter Material will tighten and then relax during the drift…like a nervous twitch. A reason to set the hook is when the the twitching stops.

Softer Sighter Material will tighten and then relax during the drift…like a nervous twitch. A reason to set the hook is when the the twitching stops.