Two presentations at the Marlborough Fly Fishing Show

I’ve been invited again to speak at the 2018 Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough, MA. On Friday, January 19, 1pm, I will be giving a seminar in the Catch Room: “Wet Flies 101.” If you’ve already seen WF101, this is a new version with upgraded content and video, so don’t miss it! For those of you looking to explore the ancient and tradition art of subsurface fly fishing with wet flies, this is a great introduction.

On Saturday, January 20, 11am, I will be in Room A of the Destination Theater for “Trout Fishing for Striped Bass — How to catch the stripers that everyone can’t.” This is a new presentation that focuses on using traditional trout and salmon tactics to catch more striped bass, especially the difficult and larger fish that escape most anglers. Tackle, flies, tactics — this will cover it all.

The Edison, NJ show is the next week. The schedule hasn’t been set, but I’ll give you the details as soon as I know them. Hope to see you in Marlborough!

I love talking about and teaching fly fishing, and wet flies and striped bass are two of my favorite topics.

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The Culture of Can’t

One of my mentors used to tell me, “Say ‘yes’ and then figure out how to do it.” On the surface, it was a little intimidating. But once I got the hang of it, I realized the powerful wisdom of Gini’s words — and all the opportunities it created.

I see far too much “can’t” in fly fishing. Some of it is human nature — “can’t” gives us an easy way to opt out. Some of it derives from negative experience (“I can’t nymph.” Yes, you can. You just need someone to teach you.). Some of it is generated by preconceived mindsets and popular mythology (“Using a five weight rod is unsporting and will put too much stress on a large striper.” No, it isn’t, and not if you fight the fish from the reel and butt of the rod.).

There are two kinds of anglers: those who can’t and those who can. In my experience, the ones who can — or at least believe they can — are the ones having the most fun.

This double-digit pounder was back in the river before she knew what hit her (Herr Blue flatwing, 5-weight rod, 9-weight line, and an angler who said “yes, I can”).

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Last night’s film and upcoming events

I had a splendid time at last night’s showing of “Running the Coast.” I spoke for about ten minutes on the importance of catch-and-release for our distressed striped bass fishery. The main points were:

Catch-and-release best practice begins with tackle. Use a barbless hook and a stout leader (I typically use 20, 25, or 30# nylon).

The two biggest causes of fish mortality are over-stressing the fish and exposure to air. Set your drag tight and get those fish in fast. A 28″ striper should not be taking you into your backing. “To play him long is to play him long.” — Stu Apte. We all like souvenirs of our catch, but do you really need 20 photos of 24″ fish? Keep fish in the water prior to the money shot. Don’t suspend the fish from its mouth. Don’t drag the fish onto dry sand beaches. Use common sense. Please.

Many thanks to the sponsors, benefit organizations, and most of all to Sean Callinan and Ray Luhn for organizing the event, and for their brilliant decision to hold it at Stony Creek Brewery. (Yum.)

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Looking forward: show season is upon us. I will have details on my schedule once it firms up. I will be speaking at the Fly Fishing Show in Marlborough and perhaps in Edison, NJ. I’ll likely be doing the CFFA show here in CT. I may even have a gig in Maine! Fly tying classes, demos …once these get locked up, you’ll be among the first to know. If your club is looking for a speaker, you know where to find me.

The shortest distance between two people is a “hello.” Come say hi if our paths cross this winter.

Hello

 

Striper report: all about adjustments

I fished for 90 minutes today at a very popular late fall spot. Lots of bass around — the spin guys were cleaning up — but I wasn’t getting my fly where it needed to be, which was down deep. Dagnabbit, I left my bag of 3/0 shot in the car. Two sections of T-11 (totaling 10 feet) and a leader shortened to 3 feet solved the problem, along with some upstream casts and active mending. When my fly was ticking bottom, the bottom often fought back. All shorts, but some of them put up a good fight in the current. Wow, the wind! Gusts over 20mph made me glad I was casting with/across it. The dredging is still going on, but any commotion caused by tugs and barges didn’t seem to bother the fish. A glorious day to wet a line and catch a few stripers (and a bonus shad).

No photos, because you all know what a schoolie looks like. You’ll have to settle for a blast from the past on a warm summer night a few years ago…

ElectricSmoke

Salmon River steelhead report: Cruel to be kind

I do my best to understand, dear, but you still mystify — and I don’t think I’ll ever know why.

Why does a cold front always seem to come through on the day I booked months ago?

Why won’t the steelhead take the fly — any fly — on this particular day?

Why do steelhead glom onto only small black stones or only fluorescent orange eggs or…?

Why do I subject myself to this?

These are the questions I ponder at night over a glass of single malt. Finding the answers isn’t necessarily the goal — or even a realistic outcome. It’s just part of the Kabuki known as steelhead madness.

Monday: I call it “Salmon River Sunshine.” It refers to the snow, rain, sleet, and the more esoteric forms of lake-effect precipitation. Today it was white pellets and snow. It started around 7am — we’d launched at 6 — and it went full throttle pretty much all morning. The stuff stuck to the boat, our gear, hoods, gloves —  no horizontal surface was spared. Now, I’ve had plenty of good days fishing in crap weather, but this wasn’t one of them. Not a single touch the entire day. We were surely fishing over steelhead, because Cam hooked five, landing three. Okay, so he was using egg sacks. But shouldn’t I have gotten at least a courtesy tap?

I tend to view these situations as a half full/half empty dichotomy: I’m fishing well, my drifts are good, I’m alert and ready to set the hook, and I know there are steelhead below. But as much as I will it to be so, they just won’t take the fly. That’s more than a little frustrating when you’ve driven hours so you can shiver in your boots for the skunk while standing in five inches of slush in the bottom of a boat.

Of course, the salve for this day was how well Cam fished. (He hooked and landed more steelhead than any other angler we saw or spoke to.) Being a proud papa can do wonders for your spirits, so I went all in on that. And I reminded myself that in any multi-day trip, the fighting is in rounds.

When I sent this photo to my wife, her comment was, “Even the fish looks cold.” That’s our guide, James Kirtland of Row Jimmy Guide Service.  I’ve become a much better steelhead angler because of him. Highly recommended.

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Tuesday: Having blanked on two of my four steelhead days this fall, I was ready to negotiate an agreement using my fly fishing soul as collateral. I’m talking, of course, about trout beads. Yes, they are proven steelhead catchers. No, they are not flies. But it’s my trip and I can do whatever the hell I want. Purists among you will be pleased to know that I blanked for the two hours I used them. (I have to confess that I wasn’t all that upset about it, either.)

I’d had some success the previous week on a pattern called a Breaking Skein Glitter Fly. It’s basically a Crystal Meth with a pearl Krystal Flash tail and some white Estaz ribbed between the fluorescent orange braid loops. Wasn’t I the happiest angler on the river when my indicator went under and the line thrummed with energy?

After 11 consecutive hours of skunk, that’ll put a smile on your face. I had to earn this one. It was a fresh, energetic fish, and after a couple line burning runs it decided that the boat was a cut bank and parked underneath it. Picture me leaning over the bow, rod tip in the water, trying to coax it out. Seconds became years, but we finally had our grip and grin.

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This year’s fishing was different for me in that all my steelhead came on bright, flashy patterns. I spent many hours presenting small black stones (Redheads, Copperheads, etc.) and any number of natural-toned soft-hackles to no avail. They wanted the bling. (I did hook and drop a fish on a 60-Second Copperhead). By the time ice in the rod tips was no longer a factor, Cam had boated three, and I’d taken my second on the Breaking Skein Glitter Fly.

It’s a very, very, very good sign.

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It was now early afternoon and time was a thief. I’d gotten a bump on a hot orange Salmon River Rajah fished under an indicator, so I rolled the dice, ditched the yarn, and embarked on a little swinging adventure. I gave it the better part of an hour, but in the end I went back to the Breaking Skein well. My last steelhead ate the fly with fierce conviction, but I whiffed on the set. We got a good look at it when it boiled, and we ruefully concurred that it was the biggest fish of the day. Oh, the cruelty! I kept pounding the slot the fish had been holding in, and ten minutes later the steelhead gods showed their kindness as the fish struck and I buried the hook in the corner of its mouth. Like my first fish, this buck cartwheeled down the pool, then made a beeline for the security of under the boat. At double digit pounds, this steelhead needed some firm pressure to get him to relinquish his position. In the end, the hoop of the net encircled him, and smiles decorated every face.

On Tuesday, November 21st, 2017, the steelhead loved this fly. On Monday, November 20th, 2017, they ignored it. Don’t ask me why.

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Cam was high hook both days and for the trip, with seven total steelhead, three of them in some nasty, difficult conditions. Dad was three-for-five. But as I tell Cam, if I can land just one steelhead, that’s a good day.

Lee Wulff was right. As was Nick Lowe. (In the right measure.) 

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Steelhead soft hackle: the Salmon River Rajah

The Salmon River Rajah is based on an old steelhead pattern called the Rajah. I discovered the Rajah many years ago when I was researching patterns online. The accompanying text referenced the book Fly Patterns of Alaska, a slim but potent volume. Turns out it was previously listed in Trey Combs’ book Steelhead Fly Fishing and Flies. (Combs credits the pattern to one Arthur Solomon.)

I tied up a few Rajahs, but I wasn’t thrilled with the materials: bucktail, chenille (which I consider a lifeless material), polar bear, black thread. So I made some changes: bucktail to hackle fibers, chenille to Estaz, polar bear to Arctic fox, black thread to red. I even ramped up the tinsel factor from flat silver to holographic braid.

The result is the Salmon River Rajah, a flashier fly with far more seductive movement than the original. I named it for the river where I have seen ambivalent steelhead go out of their way to eat it.  I first published the pattern in the Jan/Feb 2015 issue of American Angler, where I wrote: The coldest day I ever went steelheading began with the mercury just a few degrees above zero. By mid-afternoon, it had barely made it into double digits. I was fishing a Salmon River Rajah under an indicator. As the fly completed its drift along the bottom, it began to swing up and downstream. I saw the wake before I ever felt the strike. It was a steelhead that had been in the river a while, its chrome flanks long since transitioned to deep winter hues. Any fly that can urge a dark horse to chase it down in thirty-three degree water on a day that would keep many skiers at home has a permanent spot in my steelhead box.

More recently, I was fishing the Salmon River Rajah when it snagged on the bottom. After freeing the fly, I was stripping it in to check the hook point…WHACK! That’s pretty good stuff.

The Salmon River Rajah

Culton_Rajah 1

Hook: Atlantic Salmon size 6-8
Thread: Red 6/0
Tail: Hot pink hackle fibers
Body: Rear two-thirds Lagartun holographic silver mini-flatbraid, front one-third opal pink Estaz
Hackle: Hot pink
Wing: Sparse white Arctic fox
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Feel free to play around with color. I also like this fly in hot orange (tail, Estaz, hackle).
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The Salmon River Rajah Rogues’ Gallery:

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