Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Cracklebacks - Who fishes them?

The Crackleback - "Expect near instant success."

I recently wrote something about an evolution of this fly that became a very effective warm water pattern.  Not that there was anything wrong with the original, it just sorted morphed over the years into something else.  But it did get me thinking about the fly, how I came to discover it and the number of trout it has caught over the years.

Many years ago I picked up an old aluminum fly box that contained many examples of one fly, the Crackleback.  The original owner was obviously quite fond of this pattern, he (or she) liked it enough to fill an entire fly box with the same fly!  At some point in time, I fished one of those Cracklebacks and caught a fish.  I caught enough fish with them to start tying the fly myself.  It was one of those patterns that I would tie on the end of my leader when nothing else was working.  I was surprised when they caught fish, but secretly always expected that it would work.  The funny thing is, it was never a pattern I would start off with.  There were always so many other sexier flies to fish.
Why do they work?  Beats me, but work they do.  The fly was developed by Ed Story of Feather-Craft in the 1950's.  His one-liner in the catalogs, "Expect near instant success" always cracked me up, but the pattern does indeed work.  Maybe it is the fly's versatility, it can be fished as a dry, swung like a wet, dredged like a nymph or stripped like a streamer.  At least that is what the originator claimed.  Truth be told I have probably caught fish all using all four methods.  I have had my most success with the pattern during caddis emergences.  On these occasions, I would begin by twitching the fly on the surface, letting hang in the film at the end of the drift, then jerking it under the surface and using a hand twist retrieve bring it up stream for a few feet before picking it up and casting it again.  It would take fish dead drifting, swinging and moving up stream.  One of the best evenings I have ever had on the water was fishing this fly over ravenous rainbows and browns during an evening caddis hatch on the Madison River in Montana.  It took fish on nearly every cast!  My friend Rick enjoyed the same success fishing just downstream of me using an Iris Caddis, so maybe it had nothing to do with the fly.  I like to think it did.

The rainbow ate the Crackleback

Just for the hell of it, I fished it as a nymph last week on my first outing of the year.  While other nymphs were far more productive,  a big rainbow which was one of a few doubles caught that day, fell for its charms.  The fly should not have worked, as all the other fish caught that day were eating small euro style nymphs, but it did!

These flies are simple to tie and can be fished in a variety of ways.  They can be tied in various sizes and colors to imitate nearly anything. There is no reason not to try them.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Bream Killer


Here is your weekly warm water fix from the Panfish On the Fly - The Bream Killer.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The First Trout of 2017



This chunky rainbow was my first trout of 2017.  It was a great afternoon on the water today.  The air temperature was in the mid-40's, the water temperature neared 40 degrees and the fish were actively feeding.  

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Hot Butt Panfish Bug


I'm in the process of restocking last season's fly boxes and I am working through warm water boxes at the moment.  This pattern was a big producer last year.  I wrote about it on The Panfish On The Fly last year and thought I would share it here.

It's no secret that bluegills and other members of the sunfish family are attracted to color.  The exact color that turns them on may vary from day to day or even hour to hour.  In my neck of the woods, orange is a long standing favorite day in and day out.  This particular pattern was created during a tying session when I was refilling one of my still water, trout boxes with damselfly nymph patterns.  I had just finished tying a few dozen damsel fly nymphs for my annual pilgrimage to Grebe Lake in Yellowstone National Park.  My tying desk was littered with 2x long nymph hooks, bead chain eyes and material I was using to add legs to a new damselfly nymph pattern I was experimenting with. Truth be told,  I could have continued tying the same pattern and throw some in my panfish box and call it a day.  Damsel fly nymph imitations are some of my most productive subsurface bluegill flies.

I had something different in mind.  I wanted to add a little bit of color on the fly and change up the profile a bit.  The olive marabou tail was replaced with a small tuft of UV orange marabou.  The slim marabou dubbed body was replaced by winding the polar chenille material I was using to imitate legs on the trout patterns.  The result was a fly that was incredibly easy to tie, had a bright spot of color at the business end of the hook, had just enough weight to break the surface tension of the water and enticingly sink to the bottom and created a lot of movement in the water.  The UV olive brown polar chenille created a fly with lots of leg-like appendages that move in the water even when the fly is slowly sinking or at rest.  Every twitch of the line brings the fly to life.  In addition to being an attraction to the fish, the orange tail works like a strike indicator under some conditions.  Panfish can be masters camouflage at times. In waters with certain bottom types, they are damn near invisible. Fortunately, over those same bottoms, the orange tail of this fly glows like a beacon.  I had often detected strikes when the little spec of orange I had been staring at just disappeared.  When that occurs, it is usually because a fish approached the fly from behind and sucked it in without grabbing it and running off.  If I did not set the hook at the visual clue, the fish would have likely rejected the fly a split second later.  If I were not able to see that little spec vanish before my eyes, I would not have been able to pick up on the hit.  Crappies are masters of this method of feeding.  Time and time again I have seen them take these and other flies and have never physically felt the taking of the fly.


Many of my bluegill sub-surface patterns are tied on 2x or 3x long hooks.  I find that a longer hook helps when releasing the fish.  Bluegills and sunfish have minuscule mouths and removing a deeply set hook, often results in injury to the fish.  A longer hook often will be easier to I dislodge even when taken deeply by the fish.  The 2xl hook on this pattern fits the bill perfectly.

I have experimented with other colors for the body and tail, and all have worked well, but the olive brown/orange combo is my by far my favorite.


Pattern Recipe:

Hook: Mustard 9671 size 10 or other similar 2x long nymph hook
Eyes:  Small black bead chain
Tail: Orange marabou
Body:  Medium UV Olive Brown Polar Chenille

Monday, January 16, 2017

Do you want to learn how to tie flies?


Central Jersey Trout Unlimited is offering fly tying classes for fly tiers of all experience levels. They are offering a beginner's class as well as an intermediate/advanced class for more experienced individuals.

For the beginner's class, all tools and materials will be provided. Individuals taking the intermediate/advanced class will need to have their own vice and tools.

The classes will run for 6 weeks starting on Wednesday, February 1st, 2017. The classes will take place on Wednesday evenings starting at 7:30 pm and run until 9:30 pm.

Cost of the beginners class is $75.00 (all tools and materials provided)
Cost of the intermediate/advanced class is $50.00

Class dates:
February 1, 8, & 15, 2017
March 1, 8, 15, 2017

Location:
American Legion Hall
137 New Market Road
Dunellen, NJ

For more information or to register please visit http://cjtu.org/tyingschool.html

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring 2016 Edition of Tenkara Angler


The Spring 2016 edition of Tenkara Angler has hit the virtual newsstands.   This edition contains one hundred and twelve pages of tenkara goodness.  The magazine covers a broad range of topics with articles on fishing, fly tying, casting techniques, destinations, as well as other subjects such as art, interviews and camping.   As tenkara has taken hold here in the United States, I have seen the use of the technique expanded far beyond the coldwater mountain streams where it originated.   Over the years, it has become one of my favorite ways to pursue panfish.  In fact, you can find an article authored by yours truly in this edition.  The article, entitled Springtime Crappies, illustrates just how effective tenkara techniques and equipment can be on warm water fish.  You can check out the magazine for free by clicking here.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Shad - How to Find Them

Delaware River
In continuing the posts on the upcoming shad season, I thought I would share what I know about locating the fish.  Shad are different from most warm water fish I target since they are anadromous. This means they spend the majority of their lives in salt water, returning to fresh water to spawn.  They are only available to anglers for a short window of time and during this period, they are always on the move.  What was a productive spot one day may be a waste of time to fish the next.

First a little about the fish themselves.  When I refer to shad, I am, in fact, referring to American Shad, not to be confused with the slightly smaller Hickory Shad.   Both species may be present at the same time in some watersheds.  Shad are members of the herring family.  These fish spend the vast majority of their lives in salt water, returning to freshwater to spawn, much like salmon.   It is interesting to note that many shad survive spawning and return to the ocean in the northern part of their range.  When I refer to freshwater, I mean rivers.  Although the historical range of the American Shad has been reduced due to dams and pollution, shad can be found in most major river drainages along the eastern seaboard including Florida and Nova Scotia.    Originally native to only the east coast, shad were transported to our western shores in the 1800's where they took to the Pacific Ocean like a fish to water.  West coast runs of shad in some rivers may, in fact, be larger than runs in their native rivers back east.

A female shad is typically larger than males.  Their average weight is 3-6 pounds, but they can run quite a bit larger.  The current IGFA all tackle record is a hefty 11lbs 4oz.  Male shad typically range in the 2-4 pound range.  Shad are feed mostly on plankton like other herring, but they have been known to consume shrimp, small fish and fish eggs.  It is puzzling why shad readily take flies and other lures, being the plankton feeders that they are.  It could be out of aggression or perhaps simple curiosity.  Fortunately, we don’t need to worry about why they hit flies, just be confident that they do.

When shad enter freshwater, they are doing it for one reason, and that is to spawn.  Depending on where you are located this can occur anytime from late winter to early summer.  In my area, the major fishery is the Delaware River.  In most years the fish are in the rivers in catchable numbers by late March.  Once in the rivers, the fish are constantly on the move towards their spawning grounds which could be hundreds of miles upstream and into tributaries along the way.

Shad tend to orient themselves to the river bottom, sticking close to it as they move or rest in the river.  They often tend to stick to river channels, but occasionally can be found in shallow water.  Shad also tend to congregate behind obstructions in the river, using the break in the current to rest before pushing up the river.  Shad gather in schools in the marine environment, so if you locate one fish, you are likely to connect with more.  In the rivers, shad behave differently than they do in salt water in regards to forming schools.  In freshwater, a school of shad is more likely to be a long narrow line of fish opposed to a dense school.  They move upstream in conga line fashion instead of a large pod of fish.

If your are trying to locate shad, you need to keep these facts in mind.  You are going to need to present your fly in a manner that it gets down in the water column, real low, just over the bottom low.  You will probably have more success if you can locate structure in the river that will provide a break in the current if you are looking for a concentration of fish.  Keep in mind that these fish are on the move constantly so you may find them anywhere.  Finally, you want to be able to reach the main channel with your cast as the fish tend to seek out the deeper water of the main channel more often.  Find a location that gives you one or more of these features and you're likely to catch shad if they are there.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Shad are Nigh

It won't be long now.

I am starting to hear reports of shad caught in the Delaware River.  Their numbers over the last few weeks have been on the flat side indicating that the run has not begun in earnest, but it should not be long now.  I friend of mine was on the river last week and reported the water was lower than it should be at this time of year.  Low water will have an effect on the run.  A flush of water should encourage the fish to begin their upstream push.  With some wet weather in the forecast perhaps we will see some better numbers caught.  I know most anglers pursue shad with a spinning rod, and there is certainly nothing wrong with that!  If you have never fly fished for shad, I highly recommend it.  The fish eagerly take flies and fight like hell on a six weight rod.  I am a relative novice when it comes to fly fishing for shad having fished for them for only a few years.  In any case, I am happy to share what I know.

The most challenging part for me has been finding sections of the river that are suitable for fly fishing.  With fly fishing, an open bank for unobstructed backcasts is necessary, unless you are going to employ spey gear.   Being able to reach the main channel give you access to more fish as they tend to concentrate there.  With the limited casting range of a fly rod (compared to a spinning rod) the channel needs to swing close to the shoreline your fishing.   On the Delaware River, spots that meet these criteria are few and far between, especially if you don’t want to interfere with the efforts of other anglers using spinning tackle.  That being the case, I need to keep specific locations to fish close to the vest.   I’m going to leave finding a place to fish up to you, but that’s half the fun.

As far as rods go, I have been using a nine foot six weight for most of my shad fishing.  Since you are throwing shooting heads with fast sinking or intermediate lines, a fast rod with a bit of backbone helps to cast this setup.  When the water is high, I will often switch to a seven weight nine feet or longer.  Late in the season, I may drop down to a five weight and may even use floating lines.  When fishing with shooting heads, a stripping basket of some type is mandatory equipment.

Colorful, flashy and easy to tie!

The flies are very simple to tie with bright and flashy being the norm.  It takes a bit of experimenting to dial in on a retrieve that the fish find appealing.  In most cases a fast, steady retrieve is what the fish prefer.  A two handed retrieve with the fly rod tucked up under your arm usually does the trick.  If you are a saltwater angler, you know the drill.

I hope to report more in the weeks to come and plan on sharing more information on gear, terminal tackle and fly selection so stay tuned…


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

SmithFly's New Waterproof Pack on Kickstarter



The folks at SmithFly have just launched a new Kickstarter campaign for a waterproof backpack.   I love waterproof packs and bags and have been using a few different makes and models over the last few years.  I need another bag like a hole in the head, but a molle compatible dry pack, that will except a holster?  Those familiar with my pre-retirement life know this one will be hard to resist!

At the time of this writing, there was a great early bird deal on these bags.  Fifty percent off retail price!  There are only a hundred available at that price, so get them while the getting is good.  You can find the project here.