About cjsflybox

Retired school teacher now marketing fishing flies that I tie.

Winter Fly Fishing Revised – Again

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Winter is upon us again, and it seems to have arrived earlier this year.  Every year I put together a box of flies that I really like to use during this season, and every year I change it up a little.  This year’s box is made up of some dependable flies that I have used for quite a while, some other regular patterns that I have refined a little, and a few new patterns that I have found or have developed at the tying bench.  All have been working well so far this season.

CJ’s Sparkle BWO, sizes 18 – 20

Patterned after the Parachute BWO, this one uses olive Veevus Iridescent thread instead of dubbing for the abdomen.  It gives the body a little bit of flash.

BQ Baetis Nymph, sizes 18 – 20

After receiving a sample of Veevus Body Quill, I looked online for some ideas of how to use it in my tying.  It earned a spot in my Winter box this year.

Radiation Baetis, sizes 20 – 22

I tied this pattern a couple of years ago for one of my customers, and have had a lot of success fishing it myself since then.  The tungsten bead gets it down quickly, and the orange collar is a great hot spot on the fly.

Griffith’s Gnat, sizes 18 – 20

This is a traditional midge dry fly that has proven itself over the years.  It’s simple, easy to tie, and a deadly fish attractor.

Hacklestacker Midge, sizes 18 – 20

This has always been a great dry/emerger pattern for those days when you find some surface action going on.

Zebra Midge, sizes 18 – 20

This year I am sticking with black for the Zebra, and bringing the other colors out in some different patterns.  This fly also sports a tungsten bead.  Red and olive are still great color options for the Zebra.

Poison Tung, sizes 18 – 20

This is the variation that I tie using a black tungsten bead and a chartreuse flash for the abdomen.  It’ simple, it’s slender, and it always catches fish.

CJ’s Tungsten Blood Midge, size 18

I have been working for a while on a weighted blood midge pattern, switching off materials until I developed this pattern.  With a little flash and some UV material incorporated into it, I have had some great days fishing this fly.

CJ’s ULTRAviolet Midge, size 18

After a customer asked if I could do a midge pattern in purple for his home waters, I started working on this fly, working off the success of the Blood Midge.  The first two days of testing it on the water resulted in over two dozen fish being brought to the net.

 

If you think this sounds like a good combination of flies for the season, I have decided to add it to my shop.  It’s a collection of 32 flies, two flies of each pattern in each size listed.  To check it out, just click here.

Finally, if you get the chance to do some winter fly fishing, stay warm and comfortable, and play it safe.  Dress in layers.  Start with a good wicking layer next to your body that will move the perspiration away from you.  There are lots of good technical materials in different weights that will keep you dry and warm in almost any temperature.  Follow that with something warm but breathable.  Wool is always a good choice, but again there are lots of other materials that can really get the job done.  Finally, the outer layer should be wind and water resistant.  When you are out there, keep some snacks in your pocket or your pack.  It will help keep your energy up and will also help maintain your body warmth.  Also have something to drink.  You will be surprised how much perspiration you give off by being active on a cold day.  And for safety’s sake, fish with a buddy.  Better safe than sorry in this weather.

Tight lines.

CJ

Time To Take a Stand In Iowa

I received the following information about a bill that has been introduced in the Iowa House this past week.  A similar bill (SSB 1212) has been introduced in the Iowa Senate.  These two bills have the potential to bring environmental conservation and preservation to a crashing halt in our state.  It could also signal a reversal of the progress that has been made here in Iowa.  It’s time to stand up to the political machine that intends to only use the environment to enrich themselves and their “friends”.  Call or write your local representatives.  This is all going to start happening this next week if we don’t stop it now!

SAY NO TO HF542

House File 542 was introduced by Rep. David Sieck into the House on Tuesday and referred to the Natural Resources Committee. We are awaiting notice of a subcommittee hearing, but it will likely be early next week. Be prepared to show up at the Capitol to support public land!

HF542 is a direct attack on public lands and conservation in Iowa. It should be opposed in its entirety.

* In this bill, counties would be prohibited from expanding parks, wildlife habitat areas and trails by any amount. Funding the cities and counties have relied on would be restricted, and could not be used for expansion of open spaces and new recreational amenities, including public museums. The state would not be able to purchase land for state parks, wildlife areas or strategic water quality projects.

* This bill makes it harder for private landowners to donate land for public use or do conservation protection on their own land.

* As Iowa strives to attract and maintain people to live, work and raise families in our state, we need to provide quality of life features that they demand. At the top of list —along with good jobs — is a clean, healthy environment and outdoor recreation opportunities.

* Public land plays a special role in the lives of Iowans. For generations, Iowans have made memories in parks, on trails, in woodlands and prairies. We need to continue that legacy for future Iowans. We need to support our existing parks, trails and wildlife areas and continue to look for ways to expand our outdoor opportunities.

* Rural communities rely on the jobs, consumer spending and public health benefits that outdoor recreation provides. Iowa is already 47th in the nation in the percentage of public land available to its residents. This bill puts us in a race for the bottom.

* Instead of strangling our ability to grow healthy, happy communities, we should be embracing the opportunities the outdoors present. We should be investing more in conservation, not less.

Call and write to your legislators. Ask them to oppose House File 542. Tell them it’s time to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

Another Look at Winter Fly Fishing for Trout

A few years ago, I wrote about fly fishing for Trout in the winter.  I thought it’s img_0070about time to revisit that topic again.  In doing so, I have to say that some things change, and some things stay the same.

Cold weather trout, as well as old farts like me, tend to move slower.  I used to be a crack-of-dawn fisherman in warmer seasons when I was younger, but I usually don’t hurry that much anymore.  In fact, for cold weather fishing, I’m closer to a crack-of-noon fisherman.  I believe in giving the day, and the water, enough time to warm up and encourage some activity.  When I do get on the water, I fish my flies slower, letting them drift comfortably along in the current.  Unless it’s an unusually pleasant day that might trigger a hatch, I fish entirely subsurface and usually as deep as possible.

Most of my flies are small for this time of year, usually sizes 16 through 22.  I’ll usually use the heaviest tippet I can with flies that small.  That gives me a better chance of landing the fish as quickly as possible, reducing the amount of stress placed on them.  I net them quickly, remove the fly, and release them in as short of time as I can.

In the original article I did on winter trout fishing, I listed a selection of flies that I liked to use in cold weather.  While I continue to carry all of those flies, some of them have become favorites that are used more often than others.

Zebra Midge, sizes 16 – 20IMG_7662

I still prefer this fly in red or black with a silver tungsten bead head.  This is often the lead fly in my nymph rig.

Pheasant Tail Nymph, sizes 18 – 20

This is a great all-purpose nymph pattern.  I fish this one with or without a bead head.  I also like to tie it as a flashback fly.  In addition to the natural pheasant tail color, I’ll also do this one in black or olive.

Parachute BWO or Adams, sizes 18 -20

On those rare days for a dry fly, both of these are great patterns to use.

Since doing the original article, I’ve found several other patterns that have really worked well for me and have become regulars in my fly box.  They include:

The Hacklestacker Midge, sizes 16 – 20img_7213

This is a great little midge dry fly for those rare days when you see some surface action.  It’s an emerger-style dry fly that floats very well and delivers some great strikes throughout the season.

The Poison Tung, sizes 16 – 20img_6118b

I tie a variation of this pattern using chartreuse Krystal Flash for the abdomen.  It’s simple, it’s slender, and it catches fish all year long.

The Ticket, size 18

I tie this pattern in either olive or brown.  Again, very simple and very effective.  I’m experimenting with a red version of this fly to represent a blood midge.  I’ll let you know how it works out.

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Radiation Baetis, sizes 20 – 22

This is a great Baetis nymph that fishes deep with its tungsten bead head.  I’ve had some nice fish take this one.

img_8942Neon Nightmare, sizes 18 – 22

This fly was developed for fishing some of Colorado’s tailwaters, but has worked really well on the spring creeks in the Driftless Region where I live.  It’s tied in pink and white or in orange and white.  I’m playing around with a green and white version on my home waters.  I’ll report on this one as well.

I recently saw an article on Gink and Gasoline’s website that listed 10 great winter patterns, some of which I’ve already mentioned and have already used.  There are several others, though, that I haven’t used yet.  A fly tier’s work is never done.

Finally, just a reminder to help you stay comfortable while you fish on these cold days.  Dress in layers.  Start with a good wicking layer next to your body that will move the perspiration away from you.  There are lots of good technical materials in different weights that will keep you dry and warm in almost any temperature.  Follow that with something warm but breathable.  Wool is always a good choice, but again there are lots of other materials that can really get the job done.  Finally, the outer layer should be wind and water resistant.  When you are out there, keep some snacks in your pocket or your pack.  It will help keep your energy up and will also help maintain your body warmth.  Also have something to drink.  You will be surprised how much perspiration you give off by being active on a cold day.  And for safety’s sake, fish with a buddy.  Better safe than sorry in this weather.

So get out there and enjoy the challenge.  Keep your feet warm and dry, and your lines tight.

CJ

A Call To Action

I’ll start by apologizing.  I’m sorry.  I prefer to keep this blog focused on fly fishing and fly tying, or some positive aspect dealing with the great outdoors.  I have strong political beliefs, but I prefer to keep them to myself.  I just can’t do that right now, though.  I have to put my feelings and my beliefs out there.  It’s too important not to.

This past week, my wife and I planned to take a road trip to our neighboring state of Missouri.  We planned to visit some interesting cultural and historical sites, and of course, do some fishing.  Unfortunately, Missouri was hit by some major flooding, closing many of the places we were heading to.  (Climate change?  That’s a whole other topic to deal with.)  So instead we headed east into Wisconsin to visit a few places that we’ve driven past before, but never taken the time to stop and visit.

We stopped at the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge and the adjoining DNR unit.  We visited the International Crane Foundation and the Aldo Leopold IMG_8007Foundation near Baraboo.  We finished at the Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge.  The scenery, the birds and the wildflowers were all spectacular.  As we spent time in the visitor centers and on the trails we experienced a lot and learned even more.  But more importantly we reaffirmed in our hearts and minds our love for everything related to our great outdoors, and the importance of sharing and protecting it.

Unfortunately, though, in the past weeks and months we have become more and more aware of the many threats that are being made to our environment.  Threats that could restrict the natural world that we all enjoy.  Threats that could completely take some of it away from us.  Threats that could harm, and yes, even destroy parts of it if we aren’t careful.  These threats are not just coming from one level of government, but from all levels.  And it’s not just the government that poses these threats.  Business, industry and even individuals are a part of it as well, emboldened by the principles of those in office.

Budgets are being cut at all levels that make protection and maintenance of some areas almost impossible, and in some cases may even force closure of some areas.  Some politicians propose opening areas of public lands to industries for the extraction of natural resources.  Others want to do away with the agencies and the regulations that were put into place to protect these lands, along with the plants, wildlife and in some places the cultural significance of these lands.  In some instances, industry and individuals want to claim these places for themselves, and take away our rights and ability to enjoy them.

IMG_2357                This needs to be stopped.  We can’t let it happen.  National parks, national monuments, and public lands are oursWe are the nation, the public.  We need to conserve, preserve and protect what is ours.  We can no longer sit back and depend on someone else doing it for us.  We need to get involved, as individuals and as members of groups that support our beliefs and our principles.

Find a group – or more than one – that is a good fit for you:  the Sierra Club, National Resource Defense Council, World Wildlife Federation, Audubon Society, Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever.  Support them and their causes.  Make a contribution when you can.

Go to the town halls sponsored by or for your local political representatives.  Make your voice heard.  Write letters, send emails, make phone calls.  Back the politicians that support your viewpoints, and thank them for their efforts.  Be as big a pain in the ass as you need to be to get the others to listen and support your causes.  And if they don’t, vote them out the next time they are on the ballot.

We are up against forces with lots of power and money, but we can’t let that stop us.  Together we are The People.  This is Our Land, and it’s up to us to do what’s right, and to make sure “those in power” do the right thing too.  Stand together, stand strong, but please, STAND!

Some Thoughts from the Old Man

                Consider the following:DSCN0152

                I enjoy writing.  I like to write about events in a creative storylike style.  It’s fun, and it keeps the mind sharp.  I also like to share information and ideas with others.  If I come across something new or exciting, I want to share it.  If there is an issue or a concept that I feel strongly about, I want to present it to others, to make them aware of it, and hopefully get them involved in it.

                Second point – I’m retired.  After more than thirty years of teaching elementary school students, I put away my lesson plan book and stayed home.

                So, with my enjoyment of writing and all of that “free” time to do it, you would think that I would be posting new material on this blog on a regular basis.  It’s interesting how some things actually turn out.

                When I retired five years ago, my colleagues asked me “What are you going to do with all of your free time?  Don’t you think you are going to be bored?”

                My answer, in a word, has been “NO!!!”  In fact, some days I wonder how I got everything done while I was still working.  There are days that aren’t long enough to get everything on the to-do list done.  I have finished a lot of the around-the-house projects that were put off until I had the time to get to them, but the list never really seems to get shorter.

                My wife and I have also done some traveling in the past few years that we could only dream about while we were still teaching.  An Alaskan land-and-sea cruise and a tour of Ireland were unbelievable events, one in a lifetime events even.  We also got to see the Autumn colors of New England last year – you can’t do that when you are running a classroom that time of year.

                When you retire, if you are a member of any organizations, you oftentimes find yourself with more responsibilities in those organizations.  After all, you now have all that time to handle those increased responsibilities.  And of course, you will probably find more organizations or groups or causes to get involved in that you just didn’t have time for before.

                Then there is the fly fishing and fly tying.  I’ve had some great days on the water, and keep looking for ways to spend more time there.  My fly tying-in-retirement gig seems to keep growing and growing.  There have been more than a few late night sessions at the vice trying to finish up some orders.

                Anyway, I’m working at organizing my time and my ideas so that I can increase the amount of work that I want to don on my websites, including this blog.  So keep your eye on this space.  It should be updated, along with the rest of the website, on a more regular basis.  If you are interested in seeing more of my flies, please also look at my Etsy shop.  You can find it at etsy.com/shop/CJsFlyBox.  That site provides me with a few different options that I can use to market my flies, as well as some different options for you if you want to do some shopping.

                If you ever have any questions for me, or ideas that I can use, just drop me a note at cjsflybox@gmail.com.  Meanwhile, get out and visit your favorite fishing spots, and keep your fly lines tight.

CJ

A New Season Begins

                2017 has gotten off to a roller-coaster start.  January was average, February was unseasonably warm, March has come in like a lion.  Snowfall in this area has been scarce all winter, while rain has been almost common.  We have gotten in some great hiking (sometimes muddy), but the snowshoes have only gathered dust all winter long.  Who says climate change is only a myth?

                It’s been a good winter for fly tying.  My fly boxes are full of all of my regular patterns.  I have even put together a box of new patterns that I want to try out this year.

                I actually made it to 3 fly shows this year – doesn’t always happen – two in Wisconsin and the Hawkeye Show here in Iowa.  I keep talking about making it to some of the big shows sometime, but it just hasn’t fit into the schedule yet.  The Wisconsin shows had really good featured speakers, and I  came away with some new knowledge and some new tricks to improve my catch rate this year.  I got to be one of the guest tiers at the Hawkeye Show, and over the course of the weekend got to visit with a lot of really neat people, including Jay “Fishy” Fullum.  He was a really nice guy, and one of the most creative fly tiers I have ever met.

                In February, I managed to get out fishing a couple of times close to home.  The water was usually high and murky, and didn’t lend itself to successful outings.  Last week, though, on one of the few nicer days we’ve had in March, I managed to sneak over to Wisconsin to fish one of my favorite streams.  I decided to try one of the new patterns in my box, a bright little midge called the “Neon Nightmare.”  I wasn’t getting any results fishing a dry/dropper rig, so I switched to a tungsten fly as a DSCN0456lead fly, followed by the midge.  That was the trick.  I landed a pretty little 10-inch Brown that took the midge on the first cast.  About three casts later, I thought that I had hooked a snag, but then it started moving.  My next thought, based on how it felt, was that I had foul-hooked the fish.  That changed, though, when the fish broke the surface.  It was one hog of a Rainbow.  When I finally got him landed, he measured out at just shy of 17 inches!  In his lip was my size 18 midge!  That fly is a keeper.

                The day finished out in a small hole where some Browns were surface feeding.  I managed to land three of them on midge dry flies before they shut down.

                So, the year has started off on some positive notes.  The fishing has been pretty good.  The fly orders have been steady.  Life has been good all around.  It will be interesting to see how the rest of the year goes.

                Tight lines.

                CJ

A Little Winter Reading

Wintertime – a time to catch up on your fly tying, and to start making plans forIMG_4961 the next year’s fishing adventures.  It’s also a great time to catch up on your reading, both fly-fishing related and otherwise.  One of the books I’ve enjoyed recently was a Christmas present from my youngest son and his wife.  The History of Fly-fishing in Fifty Flies was written by Ian Whitelaw and illustrated by Julie Spyropoulos.

Whitelaw charts the growth and diversification of fly fishing from the 15th Century to the present day, and its spread from Britain, Europe and Japan to all parts of the world.  While much of the book focuses on trout fishing, it also includes plenty of information on bass, salmon, and saltwater fishing as well.

The fifty flies of the title are really only a starting point.  Over two hundred flies are mentioned or shown in the book as the author discusses each of the featured flies, then talks about their alterations over time and the other flies that have been inspired by them.  The fifty flies include current well-known patterns such as the Elk Hair Caddis, Prince Nymph, Clouser Minnow, and Lefty’s Deceiver.  It also features historical flies such as the Palmer Worm, Blae and Black, and Lady Caroline, along with many other outstanding and innovative patterns.  From Dame Juliana Berners and Isaak Walton, to Theodore Gordon and Charles Orvis, to Al Troth, Lefty Kreh and John Barr, the most influential contributors to fly tying and fly fishing are covered in the book.

IMG_4960          Along with the evolution of flies and fly tying, Whitelaw also covers the evolution of fly tackle – rods, reels, line and hooks – in a series of essays spread throughout the book.

The book was well organized and written, and the illustrations and accompanying photographs added a great deal to its enjoyment.  It is definitely a great addition to my personal library.

A Time to Reflect

As the end of the year draws close, it’s time to take a look back at this year’s fishing experiences.  Note that fishing doesn’t always include catching.  The catching is nice when it happens, but it’[s not always the real reason for going fishing.  Sometimes fishing is just the opportunity to get away for a while, to unwind, or even rewind a little.  Sometimes the main focus isn’t the fish, but the people you are fishing with.  And for me, when I’m traveling and don’t have a lot of time to really fish,  it’s the opportunity to scout a new area, to  get some information about it, and to line up some contacts so that I can plan a more serious outing the next time I’m in the region.

For me, the past year has included all of these in my fishing adventures.  Some of my outings included fish – sometimes a lot of fish – while other outings were void of any catch.  But looking back over the year, I wouldn’t have skipped any of them.

Fishing on “home waters” was a little limited due to the traveling that my wife and I did this year.  And the local weather sometimes messed things up – too hot toDSCN0139 pressure the fish, or too much rain that messed up the streams.  Still, I had some good times on the water, especially when fishing with other locals.  If the fish were hitting, we would be throwing advice and encouragement back and forth.  If they weren’t hitting for us, we would share stories about “the last time . . .”

Travels for my wife and I started last Easter, with a trip to Bennett Springs State Park in Missouri.  I was going to spend the weekend fishing, while she hiked the trails, red her book, and practiced her watercolor painting.  Unfortunately, a couple of IMG_1799days before we arrived, a major storm system dumped a pile of rain on the area.  The river was completely blown out.  I got in a lot of casting practice, we both hiked the trails, enjoyed some really great meals at the lodge, and just plain relaxed.  From there we planned on heading to the White River in Arkansas for a little tailwater fishing, but found out that wad fishing was out of the question because of the storms.  Instead, we headed to Branson, Missouri, and enjoyed three nights of superb entertainment in the theaters, and some relaxing sightseeing.  Not the trip we planned, but it still turned out to be fun.

In late June, we headed north for an Alaskan land-and-sea tour, something we have talked about for years.  In the time we were there, we rode on planes, trains, buses, boats, and a ship.  We experienced the most spectacular scenery and wildlife we have ever seen.  I’d have to say, it was the type of once-in-a-lifetime trip thatDSCN0152 everyone dreams of.  While we were in Denali National Park, I had the chance to do a guided fly fishing trip for grayling one morning.  I was one of five clients working with two guides, and was the only client in the group that had ever fly fished.  I wasn’t sure how that was going to work out, but I had nothing to worry about.  When we got to the water, my guide pointed to a nice pool on a bend in the river, and told me to give it a try while he got another client started.  In the first 6 casts that I made, I landed two beautiful little grayling.  The entire morning was like that.  The guide would check on me, give me a couple of hints, point me to another honey hole, and go back to the other client.  In the course of the morning, I released about two dozen grayling, ranging from 9 to 14 inches.  To say the least, I had a blast.

August took us on a trip to Colorado to visit our second son and his wife for a few days.  On the way, we stopped to check out the South Platte River for a day.  While no fish were caught, I discovered a great fly shop and some nice cabins right along the river.  Next time we head there, I’ll schedule some time with a local guide, and spend a few days exploring the waters more thoroughly.IMG_3654

After spending time with the kids, we took a day to visit the Poudre River Canyon, again exploring for a future fishing time.  There were some nice campgrounds that we plan to use next time through there.  We also found another great fly shop, a comfortable little inn, and a really good restaurant in a near-by town that we would be very happy to visit again.

In September, we headed east to visit our youngest son and his wife in Maine.  For weeks before the trip, I tried to find a guide in the Rangeley Lakes region, DSCN0191where we all planned to spend a few days of hiking and fishing.  Everyone that I talked to was booked while we were there.  We found out that this time of year is normally when the landlocked salmon start their run, and all the regulars had scheduled their guided trips.  Several of the guides that I talked to were nice enough to give me lots of information that would help us to be successful on our own.  Weather threw us a curve, though.  The waters were lower and warmer than needed, and the fish were not moving.  I was hoping that my son would be able to land his first fish on a fly rod while we were there, but no such luck.  Still I was able to spend time fishing with my son on some unbelievable pretty water while we were there.  That’s always hard to beat.

The highlight of the year, though, was the birth of our first grandchild.  Our son and daughter-in-law in Colorado had a beautiful baby boy just a week before IMG_4704Thanksgiving.  It was an unbelievable feeling to be able to hold him when he was just a few hours old.  And what can I say.  They live in Colorado.  We will be making regular trips there to see them.  Of course, I’ll always be sure to find some time to fish the waters while we are there.  After all, I need to figure out the perfect place to take my grandson for his first fly fishing trip.

Spring Opener Is Almost Here!!!

Spring finally seems to be making its way into the Driftless Area.  Even though this IMG_0070winter wasn’t actually any longer – or any worse – than normal, it sure seems like it was.  That’s why Mother Nature’s hint of the coming spring weather seems so uplifting.  Whatever the weather is, though, I’ll toss my snowshoes in the car for the first few trips to the stream.  They came in really handy at this time last year.

With the change in weather comes a change in trout fishing style.  Insect hatch patterns begin to change, and we need to adapt to them.  Be sure to keep your fly box properly stocked to match the current hatches when you are on the streams.

IMG_1556 (2)

Hacklestacker Midge

I’ll continue to carry a variety of midge patterns.  Personally, I like the Hacklestacker Midge in sizes 18 to 22 for an emerger pattern.  Griffith’s Gnats in sizes 20 to 24 are also good for rising fish.  For nymph patterns, Zebra Midges and Pure Midge Larva are my favorites.

Starting in mid-March, you will begin to see regular hatches of Tiny Blue-Winged Olives, sizes 18 to 22.  These will continue to increase in size as the temperatures warm into the summer.  Also watch for small Black Stoneflies.  Try a Black Stimulator in sizes 12 to 14.

Late-March into early April will be the start of the Caddis hatches.  Little Black

Black Caddis

Black Caddis

Caddis in sizes 16 to 20 will do the job for rising trout.  If you don’t get a response drifting the flies, try skating them across the surface.  For nymphs, try a size 12 beadhead followed by another nymph in a size 18.  I like to use an Olive Two-Bit Hooker followed by a Soft Hackle Marvel.

If I don’t have any success with dries or nymphs, I’ll switch over to streamers.  For a dark colored streamer, a Thin Mint Bugger

Thin Mint Bugger

Thin Mint Bugger

in size 10 or 12 is my go-to pattern.  If a light color is needed, a Chili Demon in a 10 or 12 is a good bet.

My fly boxes are re-stocked, my fly lines are clean, and my waders are packed.  Hope to see you on the water.

Tight lines.

CJ

A Soft-Hackle Summer

As published in the Dubuque Fly Fishers Dec. 2011 Newsletter

I have played around with tying and fishing soft-hackle flies over the past few years, but never seriously, and never with much luck.  I’ve also tried two-fly rigs once in a while, but with no luck (or skill).  Until this year, that is.

It all started with the trip that my wife and I took to Boone, North Carolina last summer.  She had signed up to take a watercolor painting class for the first week in June, and my plan was to try a little trout fishing in the local mountain streams.  I did a bit of research over the winter to find out about the area’s fishing and tied up a couple of boxes of flies in preparation for the trip.  I also decided it would be a good idea to hire a guide to help me get a good feel for the local waters.  I contacted Trophy Waters in Boone, and arranged for a day of guided fishing.

My guide, Conner, picked me up at the motel early on Tuesday morning, and we drove about 40 minutes to the far side of Beech Mountain.  We wound our way up a steep gravel road that went past a mix of hillbilly shacks and beautiful summer homes.  Beech Creek, our destination, is a small, rocky, tree-lined creek that cascaded down the mountain side.  Conner rigged up both my rods, one with a dry and a dropper, the other with a double nymph.  The dropper and one of the nymphs was always a soft-hackle fly, which he promised was the “hot” fly for him all season.  We then hiked about three-quarters of a mile back down the road, where we entered the water.  Conner coached me in casting the double-fly combinations as I fished, and really got me comfortable with them for the first time.  As we worked our way back upstream, Conner would point, I would cast, and the action was steady.  A little over two hours later, we reached the spot where the truck was parked, and decided that we really needed to break for lunch.  Conner pulled out a roll-up table, folding chairs, and a cooler full of food and drinks.  Refreshed and reenergized, we went back to the business of chasing trout.  By the time we finished the day, we had released somewhere near forty wild trout, including rainbows, browns, and brookies.  Over half of those fish were taken on a soft-hackle pattern.  To say the least, it was the best day of fly fishing that I ever had.

Conner’s lessons, and his confidence in soft-hackle flies, stuck with me when we got back home.  During the rest of this season on the Iowa and Wisconsin streams, I have fished a two-fly rig, usually with a soft-hackle as part of that combination.  It turned the whole summer into my most successful season yet.

Because I didn’t have very many soft-hackle flies in my boxes when I got home, I decided I had better tie some up.  I went through my fly tying books, picked out a few patterns, and tied up some of each.  I started out with a pheasant tail, a partridge and green, and a hare’s ear.  They worked well, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with the results I was getting. 

So I started playing around at the vise, and eventually came up with a pattern that has really delivered for me.  I started with a pheasant tail pattern, made a few modifications, and added a tail of krystal flash to give it a little spark.  It has become my “start with” fly, and it hasn’t failed to catch trout for me.  To test it out some more, I gave some of them to my fly fishing friend from Marion, and asked him to give them a try.  Not knowing what I should call the fly, Doug suggested “CJ’s Soft-Hackle Marvel.”  I think he liked them, too.

If you haven’t tried fishing a soft-hackle, give it a shot.  Tie one on as a dropper under a dry fly, or as the second fly on a nymph rig.  Run about 15 to 18 inches of tippet between the two flies, and let them drift with the stream current.  If you are using a nymph rig, put a strike indicator on above the lead fly.  When your dry fly or indicator disappears, set your hook.

If you like to tie your own flies, check out Andrew Puls’ article Soft-Hackle Basics in the Autumn 2011 issue of Fly Tyer.  He goes over the finer points of tying and fishing soft-hackle patterns.  Also included in the article are three of his favorite patterns, the Partridge and Orange, the Hare’s-Ear Soft Hackle, and the Palm Emerger.

Here’s hoping that you have as much fun with soft-hackles as I have this past season.  Tight lines.

CJ