Sunday, 30 March 2008

The New Fly-Fisherman - Starting from Scratch- Rods, Reels and Lines

In preparing to write this article, I have tried to think back to when and how I got started fly-fishing. For me it was a writer, Roderick Haig-Brown. His book “A Primer of Fly-Fishing” gave me the basic information I needed to get started. His book called “A River Never Sleeps” made me want to start and “Bright Waters, Bright Fish” made me a fanatic.

Having decided to try it, I went to the local fly shop - not a very good experience for me as a beginner. It was not so much a feeling of intruding upon some sort of closed fraternity but more a case of shock and awe; shocked at the prices and in awe of the vast array of choices.

I ended up retreating with a distinct and lingering distaste for those who enjoy the privilege of knowledge more than the privilege of teaching.

The result was that I ended up buying a “Learn to Fly-fish” kit from Canadian Tire for around $40 dollars. It came with a rod, reel, line and leader. It also had a couple of flies included, a Royal Coachman and a Zug Bug.

In retrospect, I realize that the outfit was terribly mismatched. Consequently, for the longest time I thought fly-casting was difficult. I am still trying to break some of the bad habits developed using that rig.

It is a catch 22 for the beginner. You have to know enough about fly-fishing to pick a rod, reel, line combination that suits you and in which all the bits work together to enhance each other. The only way to learn this is by fly-fishing for a while.

If starting from scratch today I would simply go to the Cabelas website or catalogue and look at the all-in-one kits. They are well-matched outfits of good gear and best of all; they are guaranteed to satisfy. I say Cabelas only because I have bought things there and am familiar with them. LL Bean also sells exceptionally high quality starter's kits, as do others.

Carefully compare the various offerings and always go for quality to the limit you can afford.

My major problem with the original kit I bought was that it was ill matched. That is a serious mistake and one you can avoid by dealing with a specialist rather than a department store. In the cause of supporting your local business community, you may choose to write down the specifications from a kit you like and ask your local fly shop to fix one up for you. There are real benefits to dealing locally.

Here are the very basics you will need for fly-fishing: rod, reel, backing line, fly Line, leader, tippet material, a dozen wet flies, a dozen dry flies and most importantly- a good book or two.

A friend who is an expert fly-fisherman is a real plus as well.

One other thing – never, never, never set foot in the woods without a knife, matches, a secondary fire source such as a disposable lighter (stored in an other pocket), a compass or GPS unit and something I have been carrying recently, one of those super loud whistles women carry on their key chains to scare away hoodlums. In the quiet of the woods, those things can be heard from as far away as a gunshot. Your voice will break down quickly if lost or in distress.

I do not know but I suspect that a bear would not stick around too long either if you started blasting away on one of those things. Maybe one of the people reading this from out west will comment on that.

Our little Black Bears here are not much of a threat - if any. The only ones I have seen have been running away. The last bear I saw in the Rockies though, sized me up the same way I look at a bug before deciding whether to swat it or shoo it away.

Back from my digression. The best combinations I have seen have the reel pre-spooled with backing and fly line of the right weight for the rod.

Remember, the backing is not just to help you handle a big fish that runs farther than the length of your fly line. Backing fills your reel spool to the optimum spool diameter helping to balance your rod and increase the efficiency of the take up.

Set a budget and stick to with-in $50 dollars of it. The things that make a $500 dollar rod better than a $100 dollar rod are invisible when you are first starting out. The things that make a $100 dollar rod better than a $20 dollar rod are not.

Trust me on this and look at the Cabelas or LL Bean combos as a good example of a beginners outfit. It will help you to set a budget. It will help you to get a feel for what you should expect for your money. If you go that route, you will end up with a well-matched outfit that will satisfy the average person for years. Always deal locally when you can so at least give your fly shop the chance to match what you are thinking about getting.

One last thing:

For Brook Trout, general lake fishing for Smallmouth Bass and all round versatility go for a 5 or 6-weight outfit.

If you know you are going to be fishing a lot for Shad, Salmon and saltwater species you will want to go a bit heavier, an eight or nine weight.

If you do not know whether you need a heavier line weight starting out, go for the 5 or 6 weight. I did the opposite and when I finally got my hands on a well-balanced 5-weight set-up, it was like discovering a completely new sport.

This article is meant to be light on detail so do not hesitate to use the comments button below to leave a question or ask for an explanation. Anyone can leave a comment.

Next time: Starting from Scratch –Leaders, Tippets and Flies for the Beginner

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Spring Steelhead

Well, check out these pictures from Baraz.

He says,

"I managed to get out last week for a day of steelheading......and it was a success. I've attached a shot of what I got!"

There is a link to Baraz's blog in the side bar. You can see why I pay attention to what he writes. I've posted better resolution versions to the Fishing Pictures Gallery.

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Saturday, 22 March 2008

The New Fly-Fisherman - First Things First

So, my friend is getting back to fly-fishing. He has not done much fishing of any kind since he was kid in the UK as far as I know.

He has not asked me for my advice but you can bet that I have been thinking about it. The question I ask my self is this. “Knowing what I know now, if I was to go back and start again with the same budget what would I buy?”

A more important question might be, “What would I not buy?”

Face it; if most of us, we grizzled old veterans of the stream, were to total up the value of our fishing gear it would horrify our significant others. What is it that Koos Brandt said,” My biggest fear is that when I die, my wife will sell my fishing gear for what I said I paid for it”?

For me now, it all starts with being warm and dry. A typical trouting trip here in the East begins in the pre-dawn darkness and ends with a long walk back to the truck as the sun sets or more often, stumbling through the dark of early evening. Therefore, the very first thing a beginner might want to do before even considering rod, reel and flies is inventory their outdoors wear.

From the pre-dawn to twilight, the day might go through a twenty-degree variance. As often as not, it will go from snow to rain to bright sunshine on any given day in April so buy what you need to be able to dress in layers topped with a wind-breaker or rain jacket.

You should do everything necessary to keep your feet dry and in good condition. If money is no object a pair of stocking foot, breathable waders with a nice, rugged pair of felt soled wading shoes is the nearly perfect choice for almost all Nova Scotian fishing.

In the real world though, get the best you can afford whether it is the traditional Wellingtons, boot foot hip-waders or chest waders. Go for comfort first. That means good ankle support and water resistance. Wet feet will turn a dream trip into an endurance contest.

My progression was from those black rubber boots with the red soles to a pair of inexpensive hip boots, to a pair of good, rugged Helly Hansen chest waders. I stuck with those for years until I finally invested in the breathable waders with separate boots.

In my opinion, these new waders represent as big a technological leap forward as any other aspect of modern fly-fishing including rods made with space-tech materials or the new fly-line formulations.

Here is the thinking. When you are cold and miserable your fishing is lack luster and unfocused. Fish may be rising at your feet but all you want to do is get the heck out of there. When you are dry and comfortable, your ability to focus on your quarry is unimpaired. You can enjoy the beauty of your surroundings. Most of all, you can experience the challenge of wild trout at their wily best without the distraction of that pesky hypothermia.

With all of that out of the way, its time to look at gearing up - next time, The Bare Essentials for the New Fly Fisherman.

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Friday, 21 March 2008

Nova Scotia Waters are Open to all Residents

One of the great things about Nova Scotia is that the woods and waters are open to all residents.

This basic right to access fishing is enshrined in law.

As we watch the various machinations of our own politicians and the fascinating spectacle of the pre-election scramble by our friends to the south, it is easy to be cynical of politicians specifically and in general.

Sure, there are lots of questionable decisions made by those in public service but here is an example of one thing that they have gotten right - at least from my point of view.

Here is the actual wording of the law and notice that you do not need to be a lawyer to understand it. Thanks to Larry from the “Flies and Lies” list for the link.

(1) Any resident of the Province shall have the right to go on foot along the banks of any river, stream or lake, upon and across any uncultivated lands and Crown lands for the purpose of lawfully fishing with rod and line in such rivers, streams or lakes.

(2) Any resident of the Province shall have the right to go on, upon or across any river, stream or lake in boat or canoe or otherwise, for the purpose of lawfully fishing with rod and line in such rivers, streams or lakes.

(3) The rights conferred by this Section shall not in any way limit or restrict the right of any owner or occupant to compensation for actual damages caused by any person going upon or across such lands for the purpose aforesaid, and shall not be construed to give the right to build any fires upon such lands. R.S., c. 14, s. 3.

Another reason to love Nova Scotia. It almost makes up for the winters.

Here is a link to the whole Angling Act from the Government of Nova Scotia.

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Saturday, 15 March 2008

The Black Dose, a Classic British Salmon Fly

One of the first salmon flies I had any luck with was a pattern called the Black Dose. My guide had tied one on for me while I was fishing a South Coast Newfoundland river. I was a beginner and game for anything so when a grilse grabbed the fly I was convinced I had the best guide on the South Coast. From that point on I did, to the best of my limited ability and without question, anything the guide suggested.

It was not until later in the day that he confessed the fly was given to him by a sport from the Miramichi country of New Brunswick.

Not only had he never tried it, he was dubious if it would even work here on the Grandees. Since I had tried everything else he could think of without hooking up he figured,

” What the Heck, give’r a flick.”

The Black Dose is a classic British pattern. Here is the traditional recipe. You will soon understand why Salmon Anglers everywhere so eagerly embraced hair-wing patterns.

The Black Dose:
Tag – fine silver tinsel thread and orange silk floss
Tail – a short golden pheasant crest with strip of barred teal and scarlet ibis married
Body – approximately one-third near tail light blue dyed seal fur, remainder black seal fur
Ribbed – entire length with silver oval tinsel and palmered with black hackle
Hackle – light claret, sparse
Under wing – two golden pheasant tippets veiled with barred teal, barred wood duck, golden pheasant tail, peacock sword, scarlet ibis and green parrot
Wing - brown barred mallard with golden pheasant crest topping
Cheek – blue chatterer
Horns - blue and yellow macaw
Head – lacquered black

So rare and valuable were some of the ingredients in the classic feather-wing patterns that an apprentice fly tyer of the British Isles was usually only allowed to work on salmon flies in the fourth year of a four-year apprenticeship.

Compare that extravaganza to this picture of the hair-wing version. The average fly-tyer only needs a sample or a picture to create a reasonable facsimile.

The classic feather-wing pattern photo comes from this extraordinary website by Doctor Andrew N. Herd.
The photo of the hair-wing version comes from this website and was tied by Michael O’Connor.

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Friday, 14 March 2008

Opening Day Strategies for Trout

I used to be convinced that the best bet for opening day trout on a fly rod was a well-sunk Muddler Minnow. Cannot imagine why I thought that though because I was never or rarely successful with it. Maybe because I knew minnows were being used to catch big trout by the people smart enough to be using bait. Anyway, I have changed my mind and now have an opening day strategy that works a little better.

I pay attention to what the water tells me about what a hungry spring trout might be doing to get the easiest meal possible under the circumstances.

You see locked in my brain is a thought I had once that made such good sense to me that it has become the foundation of my trout fishing strategy. Here it is, “The calories gained must be greater than the calories spent”. A trout must do that calculation every time a possible food item or potential prey comes near.

What does that mean in the real world? Well, the way I apply it is the smaller the fly, the closer to the fish I try to work it. For example, on opening day the river is usually full and running fast. The trout are lying in wait in whatever shelter they can find from the main thrust of the current, eating or rejecting the bits of matter carried to them by the water. They have found a spot where they can hold with minimum effort and food comes past regularly. They really do not want to move.

When fishing trout under these conditions I have found that a bead head nymph on a fairly short leader works well. Add a split shot or two so that the fly gets well down. You should feel the shot bumping the bottom occasionally. Fish the seams where currents of different speeds come together, paying special attention to the areas behind (and in front of) rocks or other obstructions to the flow. The rule of thumb is the faster the flow the closer to the rocks I figure the fish are.

Use short casts and follow the nymph with your rod tip. Cover every inch of the area and then lengthen your cast by a couple of inches and do it again. Repeat this until you are not in direct contact with your fly throughout the cast then take a step down stream and start the whole process over again.

Line control is the key here. Too long a cast is worse than useless. A trout can mouth your nymph and spit it out without you even knowing that anything happened if there is any slack between you and it.

Sometimes you are better off holding your rod high and following the fly that way. I try to keep my tip low, pinching the line just in front of the reel between my thumb and finger, striking on any hesitation.

When I do not have the patience for methodical nymphing, I will use a streamer pattern, something bright like a Mickey Finn, and still with a short leader and a few split shot, use traditional down stream wet fly technique. Cast three quarters down stream let the fly swing until it straightens out and fish it back in short erratic strips.

The only difference is that I fish much shorter casts than later in the season and I let the fly dangle once it straightens out.

Fishing the dangle for about fifteen or twenty seconds, giving the fly a little twitch every now and then works, with the strike often coming either just before you start to strip the fly back or immediately after.

So to sum up:
In early season fishing, I assume that the fish are hungry and opportunistic. I also reckon that they do not want to work too hard for a meal and certainly do not want to find themselves battling the full force of the current. The first thing I do is figure out where the fish might be then I do my best to make it as easy for them as possible to take my fly.

I still do not catch many fish on opening day but at least I have a plan. Hmmm, I wonder if Glenn still has that big rubber minnow.

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Sunday, 9 March 2008

Fly Tying Benches

What a mess! The workbench where I tie flies and do other small jobs is completely buried under clutter. In a perfect world, I would have this:

or even this

These are built by a company called Coldstream Fly Tying Furniture.

They make Fly Tying Desks, Roll Top Fly Tying Desks, Drop Front Fly Tying Desks, Table Top Fly Tying Benches, and Feather Chests for the discriminating fly tier and fly fisherman.

In addition to making furniture for fly tyers Derek teaches fly casting at the Atlantic Fly Fishing School. Derek is a Certified Fly Casting Instructor with the Federation of Fly Fishers (FFF)

If you do a search for " fly tying supplies " you can find lots of designs but these look better than any I have seen elsewhere.

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Thursday, 6 March 2008

Early Spring Trout Fishing

Early spring is a hard time to be a fly-fisherman. Everyone knows that a nice fresh minnow or a big gob of worms is going to catch some trout. A fly, well, it is a bit harder to have the same confidence.

I used to head out on opening day with a pocket full of big Muddlers and an eight-weight outfit. I was excited to be fishing again after the long winter but really, it was mostly casting practice.

I remember fishing opening days with Glenn Parlee when I lived in Queens County. He is the best canoe man I have ever had the pleasure of fishing with. He does have one annoying habit though. He catches big trout.

The worst example of this was one opening day on the Medway River.

He casually maneuvered the canoe through runs and rapids that left me white-knuckled in the bow.

At one point, I flicked my Muddler into a picture perfect little pocket just behind the dump of a small section of rapids. I was so sure I was about to connect that I started to give a play-by-play commentary.

“Dobson places a perfect cast into the pocket and braces for the strike. The crowd falls silent…” that sort of thing, only the strike never came. I tried again and still nothing.

Turning to Glenn, I gently expressed my disbelief that there was not a trout holding there.
He shrugged and picked up his rod then cast a God-awful rubber minnow thing into the spot I had just worked over with the fly.

Ka-boom! Instantly he was into a seriously substantial Brook Trout. I cannot remember the exact measurements of the brute. I mean the trout not Glenn, but it was the biggest Eastern Brook Trout I had ever seen.

The only one close to it I had ever seen Glenn caught opening day the year before.

Like I said, a nice guy with one annoying habit.

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Saturday, 1 March 2008

Flies of Kejimkujik

A few posts back I mentioned The Tent Dwellers, a story about an old fashioned trout fishing trip in the Kejimkujik and Tobeatic area of Nova Scotia, now a magnificent national park. It is still wonderful Brook Trout fishing country. If you visit Nova Scotia Fly-fishing, Tying and Tall Tales you can get a look at the old style fly patterns once popular in the area and mentioned in the book.
I was just browsing the site and can recommend it for some snowy First of March daydreaming.

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New fishing pictures

Some great new pictures added to the gallery.
Here are a few of them.

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The Rusty Rat Salmon Fly

The rat style salmon fly has been documented at least as far back as 1911. That makes it one of the earliest hair-wing salmon flies in either Europe or the Americas.

Most people I know have at least one in their fly box. However, here is the thing; I have never had a salmon go for a Rusty Rat. I have never even seen anyone but me actually tie one on and fish it.

So, here is my theory:

Since fly-fishermen in general and salmon fishermen particularly are a gentlemanly lot rather than be rude to a newcomer who asks what he hooked his fish on, your average salmon angler will smile warmly and reply, “A Rusty Rat” - all the while, palming the Blue Charm dangling from his hook keeper. After fishing over salmon for hours and finally finding a fly that works your average person is not going to part with such hard earned knowledge so easily.

We all fall for it until we are seasoned enough not to just blurt out the question. Everyone knows that you have to admire the fish, the angler’s pedigree and of course, his mastery of technique before getting around to what the fish actually took.

That it takes a while to learn these subtleties of the art explains why we all have one or two Rusty Rats in our vest pockets.

I could be wrong.
The Rusty Rat might be the greatest salmon temptress ever invented. I do have to wonder though how it is possible that on every salmon stream I have ever fished, from the beautiful Medway to Labrador’s mighty Pinware, if the fishing is slow and someone finally connects after the hundredth fly change, if someone hollers down the pool, ”Hey, what did you get him on?”
“A Rusty Rat” is what comes echoing back.

Rusty Rat photo from this site: