Friday, December 31, 2010

Presentation is Everything.....

"90 % of the game is half mental..." -Yogi Berra

Much of what I do and teach others to do is to think through problems on the water and find solutions. When I got into guiding years ago it didn't take me long to figure out that perfect days were few and far between...and for me to be consistently successfully in putting clients and fish and putting landed fish in the net I was going to have to learn to adapt. To think, to think ahead, and to learn the finer points of presentation.....which by the way, is the entirety of what we do the moment we beginning putting on gear. It includes our gear, casting, our knowledge (and study off the water), observation, practice, fly tying (if you do that), .....simply put its everything that contributes to a landed fish in the net.

Over the season I often make notes and write down ideas as they come to mind. Its winter and a good time to polish basic skills, so here are a few notes I have made over the years that have helped me become a better fly angler and guide. Hopefully you will find some helpful tips here as well....some are well developed ideas, some are still developing, still others are in the 'rambling' stage. But so it is......and hope it helps you greatly enjoy your time astream.

Notes From My Guidelog:

Size Matters The fly size when matching a hatching insect is of paramount importance, and ignoring it will likely get you some lonely drifts through water that is teeming with feeding other words... if you want that large brown trout rising in front of you to show you some love, make sure your bug is the right size. Here's a tip that works for me-- - capture a natural insect and make a note of or measure its body size in millimeters. To do this, you can put a business card in your vest and a Black Sharpie Pen. Then, take the captured fly, lay it on the card, and with a line mark each end of the body. You now have the exact length, which you can then take home and use a metric ruler to determine the body length. Once you know the body length, make note of it in your fishing log, along with the stream the bug came from, the date, all other pertinent information, etc. From this point on whether you are tying or buying your flies you now have a rule of measure that will help you select the proper size.

Be Extra Observant I love Yogi Berra and his famous statements of obvious facts....but he gets the point across. He used to say "you can observe a lot just by watchin...". Yep, I agree. But its suprising how oblivious anglers are sometimes. This sounds silly, but often what occurs on the river is that folks are more interested in casting than catching. Take times when there's a hatch, for example. What occurs during a hatch is that fish in different areas of the pool might be feeding on different stages of the fly that is hatching....if you don't observe the riseform, there's no way to tell exactly what the fish just took. One example is a cool weather hatch we have called Baetis or blue winged olives. These flies are swimmer type mayflies, and they love islands and smooth small gravel runs. Fish that station themselves in the riffles or near the riffles may only see ascending nymphs, or struggling emergers, or maybe a mix of the two. Fish positioned right or left or slightly downstream may be seeing emergers in the greatest number, while fish in the tailouts might see only a few emergers and a mix of duns and cripples (flies that are stillborn or die trying to get out of the nymphal shuck). That is one reason I believe there is no 'miracle ' fly .....otherwise we'd always be able to catch fish consistently no matter the situation and no matter the fly. And that is impossible. Don't believe this? Next time you fish a hatch or anywhere for that matter ask the handful of guys catching all the fish. My bet is that they are all using different flies.

If what you are using isn't working, and you can see fish still feeding on hatching insects, back up one life stage, change the size, or both. This is sort of playing off the point before this one, but sometimes it is the right fly, right size, but wrong stage. If you are using a dun or dry fly, try an emerger. If you are using an emerger, try a nymph or a dropper off your dry fly- -- you kind of get the gist of it. This is one technique that is very effective, mentioned by Gary Borger in his most excellent of fly fishing books entitled "Presentation" . It is in my opinion the best fly fishing book in print. If you don't have one, buy one. It is so packed with great information you won't want to put it down.
If you are using a dry fly, consider the imprint the fly makes or how the natural sits on the water. Each type of dry fly pushes a definite shape or imprint into the surface film. Consider the weight of a size 14 Hendrickson as compared to a #20 or #24 Blue Winged Olive. The Hendrickson is heavy enough to press not only its feet into the surface film, but also its body, which would mean the best fly would be one that mimics those characteristics. A comparadun, or Sparkledun, which sits low in the water with the body pressed into the surface film---would be a great choice to match a Hendrickson. The Baetis on the other hand, in a size #20 or #24 is so light that it can 'stand up' on top of the surface film and have none of its body making contact with the surface. This is why often a dun imitation like a standard BWO or Adams often works quite well when other flies fail, particularly when the fish are keying on the duns.

The profile or shape of a fly can be important also. Research has shown that trout do in fact key on the wing and the height of it. On cold days, damp, rainy days and days with high humidity often the hatched mayfly may have trouble drying their wings enough to begin flight. As a result, the fly may drift for long distances with the wings in a small clump on top of its body. When this is the case, I often switch to one of my personal favorites a short winged deer hair emerger....a deadly fly and one that customers often request when fishing over the more sophisticated trout in the VA and TN tailwater streams.

Sometimes changing the shape of the nymph pattern you are using can be effective. Crawler type mayfly nymphs (sulphurs, hendricksons, some bwos), like free-living (eruciform) caddis fly larvae, often assume a curled up posture when they drift downstream. They are curled up like the shape of the letter 'C'. We often call this the "tucked' position. They wiggle and wiggle, and then relax into this position as the current carries them along. Baetis, on the other hand, are swimmers and assume the shape of a stick much like midge pupae when they are adrift. At certain times of the year I find that certain BWO hatches the straight shanked patterns will perform two or three to one over the curved ones. I have often wondered if this isn't the reason why. If we notice it and we don't live underwater, most certainly the fish notice it. In fact, it would be enough of a difference to be a distinguishing characteristic.

Color rarely has to be exact , but it certainly never hurts. Often when we get the size right and shape right somehow the exact color becomes less of a factor. The shade (light vs dark) is probably the most important factor, and its the bottom of a mayfly that determines what color our fly should be. Occasionally, with certain hatches a general color is all that is needed. I find this with BWOs, and its the major reason why to this day I will just as quickly fish a gray pattern or an Adams if there are small blue wings hatching- --and it probably works 80-90% of the time so long as I have gotten the size and shape and stage of the insect the fish are keying on. There are instances in which I have noticed color can maybe add some 'spice' to the fly, as in the sulphurs that hatch on our local waters. Often the flies are yellow to yellow /chartreuse and also yellow/orange, and the females have eggs inside them as well. For these flies often I find an orange bodied fly works quite well even when then natural insect is obviously yellow on bottom and not orange at all. Go figure.

Though it is rarely mentioned, the way the fly behaves or moves may make a difference. Occasionally, you will find times where moving the fly, twitching it, skittering it, skating it, etc., will cause a fish to strike a fly it was previously ignoring. Sometimes the fish will show rare preferences for the fly to move a certain way. One such example is during a spinner fall, when adult mayflies are dancing about and coming down to the surface, they land and then tap the abdomen on the surface to release the packet of eggs, and occasionally the rise to this type of movement is a slashing take by a fish. Midges have a tendency at times, particularly during mating flights, to hover and buzz over the surface, to land and skitter, and buzz back and forth. And often the fish take notice and will take a small dry fly that is skated or skittered. I remember a float down the world famous South Fork of the Snake River in Idaho, perhaps the easiest dry fly fishing for large fish in the lower 48, when we fished moving our flies on purpose by our guide's instruction. I mean it was like bass fishing the banks for trout. And the end of the drift when the fly starts to drag or swing and pickup speed, that is a time that the fly gets noticed by a fish and often gets hammered. So it would be safe to assume that while we don't move our flies on purpose most of the time, there are indeed times that it might not only be warranted but also called for.

Feeding fish feed in a rythym if there's a steady supply of food or a hatch. Improve your score by timing the drift or arrival of your feathered fraud so that it coincides with when the fish was ready to eat anyway. This is a common and huge mistake on tailwaters I see.....its the one cast, two cast, then move on to another fish type of approach. The best thing is to continually cast to a feeding fish.....trying to time the drift to fit the fish's feeding rythym. On some larger fish I have presented two dozen times only to get a take on the drift when I was reading to move on. Other things worth considering it how long it takes a fish to rise. That is the time between rises plus the time it takes the fish to go from top to bottom, if you can see it. I like to observe a fish closely if its a good one, and make note of how long it takes the fish to rise, take a fly off the surface or pluck an emerger from the film, return to the bottom, and then do it all over again. The amount of time it takes for that to happen tells you how long you should wait between presentations to the fish. Our presentations are much more effective when they arrive at the exact time the fish was going to rise anyway.....which is precisely the point.

Fish often prefer to feed off to one side or the other. When you observe feeding fish make note of whether it is showing a preference in feeding off to a particular angle or side....then present the fly to that side. I have caught fish before and then discovered that they had a bad eye. Also, fish might have a dominant eye as well and prefer to feed off to one side.

Learn to recognize and mitigate drag whenever it occurs. Drag is to be avoided like the plague. There's obvious drag which you can see, and technically it is occuring whenever the fly is moving faster or slower than the current it's sitting in. Then there's micro drag, which occurs at a distance (often when dry fly fishing) and is hard to perceive in many cases. Micro drag is a primary cause of refusals on flat water with dry flies.....the flat surface makes it painfully noticeable. When nymphing, drag is just as important.....its not just a speed thing either. Drag on a nymph presentation means the fly is not able to sink or drift where it needs to be. Often folks fishing fast water or pocket water have this happen and never realize that because of drag the fish never saw the fly because it never reached bottom.....and they move on completely convinced that the fish weren't interested or there were none to be caught.....Big mistake. On guided trips we routinely fish behind other anglers all day long and catch fish by capitalizing on this.

Fish get spooked and lined far more often that we ever realize. Kirk Deeter of Field and Stream magazine once did a feature in which he stated that A lot of anglers have the necessary fishing skills to be successful but lack the necessary wading skills. I completely agree. If you walk heavily in the stream, pushing a wake ahead of you, splashing, ignoring the need to not cast shadows on the water either with your person or your fly rod- - -- then you will spook a lot of fish you would have had a chance to catch. Also, I'd have to say a straight upstream presentation not only presents a difficult line management situation but it almost guarantees that you will line the fish - that is land the line on top of the fish and with the splash, flash, and shadow the fish will spook and its game over. In my lifetime I have only seen two fly anglers who could cast so well they could fish this way to rising fish...... Finally, limit false only announces your presence to the fish.

He who chases two chickens goes home hungry. When fishing to feeding fish/rising fish, pick out one and go after that one specifically. One mistake that inexperienced and veteran anglers alike make is they get 'buck fever' and a bad case of MTS (Multiple Target Syndrome -common on the South Holston) where there are so many rises they cast here, there, everywhere and hours later have yet to catch a fish. Pick out a fish, present the fly to it. If it doesn't take, analyze what went wrong and correct it or present the fly again. If it quits feeding or spooks, then you can move on to another one. Like a game of pool, pick out fish and fish to them...and always be mindful of the 8 ball (trophy fish).

Misjudgement is a huge problem.....Misjudging the rise or location or depth if nymphing of the fish is a problem. Fish on the bottom are deeper and closer than they appear because of the principle of refraction and the way light is bent when it penetrates the surface. A rising fish will leave a ring on the surface. It takes a small amount of time for the rise ring to actually form, so the fish is often upstream of where the riseform actually appears/ occurs on the surface. The faster the current, the farther upstream the rising fish actually is....and the farther the ring on the surface will have sum it all up a rise ring/riseform on the top drifts downstream just like your fly. This is a huge problem on tailwaters where numbers of rising fish exist. One key is to compensate a little, not a lot, cast a little farther upstream....but not too far. Cast too far and the fly drags before it reaches a fish....which is just as bad a mistake. Lead the fish a few feet but no more.

Fish and Cast Less, Rest the Water more.... This definitely applies more to tailwaters and small stream (wild fish) waters, but it is applicable anywhere. Two clients/friends who do this better than anyone I know of and is are easily the two best anglers/dry fly fishermen I have ever met are Dr. Jim Sellers and Judge Joe watch them work rising fish is not only watching an exercise in efficiency but it is an art....and a joy to watch. Catch a fish, rest the water. Pick out another fish, calculate the strategy, present the fly. The result: still catch numbers of fish and catch the large/difficult fish no one else can catch. Its a lesson worth putting into practice...!

Fish aren't always feeding This mistake is one of those 'everytime out' mistakes. A typical scenario: its winter, I have worked all week and I can't wait to fish, so I leave home at 530am, head to the river, arrive to the river at 730am and the water is 34F, no bugs about anywhere, no obvious activity of anykind. I rig up with what I have caught fish on before. I go to a pool that I either know has fish or that I can see has fish. Cast , cast, cast, nothing. Same thing for the next two hours. And during that time every pool is like that. My conclusion? Fish aren't interested. My rig is wrong. My flies are wrong. Wrong. The problem probably is that the fish won't even be in feeding mode until 11am, right after you leave at 1030am convinced it was a bad day. They will feed from 11am til mid to late afternoon if its a nice day, then they will shut down just like they were or would have been had you arrived at 730 am and started fishing. The point: fish do things on a schedule sometimes, sometimes they get tuned in to daily hatches, sometimes they have already eaten (like a heavy hatch the day before- - -or a huge brown that ate two six inch rainbows before you showed up). The fact of the matter is sometimes they aren't feeding and there's nothing you can do about it.

Other measures to improve your score.....

Switching to a lighter tippet or a different material. If you aren't getting takes, switch to a lighter tippet or a different /less visible material such as fluorocarbon. That might mean going lighter to 6x, 7x, 8x. Learning to work a nice fish on light tippet will make you a better angler..... If you are nymphing you might switch to fluorocarbon. Whatever the case, you'll normally get more strikes on the lighter stuff. I use a product called 'Shock Gum' which is made by Rio, and its a milky white stretchy material that I tie into the leader butt. It has tons of stretch and protects light tippet when you set the hook or get into a large fish. I have had clients land 7 and 8lb fish using it on 6X material, which is no small feat.

Learn a variety of presentation casts. Learn to do a reach cast. It is the deadliest presentation cast there is for across and down and across presentations and in my opinion it is the most valuable cast in my arsenal for fishing larger waters and tailwaters. It is a presentation cast that allows the fly to go down first without the fish seeing the leader, tippet, or fly line by putting an aerial mend into the line. The mend increases the amount of time the fly drifts drag free to and over the fish. Most clients I have taught this to have noticed an immediate difference in the quality of their presentations, number of fish caught, and the number of larger, tougher, more mature and selective fish they are able to fool.

Learn to tie your own leaders. There are some good substitutes, like Rio's Classic Hand tied Leaders, but in my opinion tying your own George Harvey style leaders is the way to go. All standard fly shop leaders are built on what is called the Ritz formula or 60-20-20 (60% butt, 20% taper, 20% tippet)....which insures turnover and a nice straight leader. When drag free drifts over selective fish are the desire.....straight leader should not be a part of your vocabulary. When you are fishing to rising fish during a hatch, the last thing you want is for the leader to fully straighten out. If it does you get instant drag on the fly and the fish won't touch it. As far as I know, Frog Hair is the only company currently producing a George Harvey leader commercially. A George Harvey leader has a shorter, lighter butt which transfers less power, only enough to turn the leader over but not straighten it. The taper (middle) is tied with longer sections, and the final part is a long supple tippet. Anyone more interested in catching selective trout during a hatch will appreciate that the name of the game is getting a good cast that produces a lot of drag mitigating slack near the fly, not the rocket fast, high line speed, cast a pretty, small, tight loop game that is all too often the rave today.

Learn to Create Slack with your Casts..... Learn to throw lots of slack. The name of the game is getting good drifts, and slack is imperative if good drifts are what you are shooting for. Yes, this I even apply to nymphing. Let me go out on a limb and say that I fish nymphs a lot, I mean a whole lot, in all ways, and I abhor the tight line high stick method you see and observe so many people doing. We don't do this, or shall I say hardly ever do this, and in my opinion is a major reason people don't catch as many fish nymphing as they might. Why? One there's no slack and what is happening is they are actually creating drag by holding the rod high. Slack not only delivers a good drift but also is the reason the fly reaches bottom. It's not all weight that gets the fly down. But you say, "wait a minute, if I have all that slack I won't be able to set the hook." If you have too much slack yes that is true. But what I do and what I teach clients is proper line management - - - which includes slack in combination with mending in just the right amount. And we get consistent results , day in and day out in every conceivable stream condition.

Learn a Variety of Casts. Learn to do all types of casts----steeple casts, parachute casts, pile casts, etc, casts that make it possible to get good drifts. Many of the lessons I do for intermediate and advanced anglers, yes I said intermediate and advanced anglers--- is to teach them to throw slack and then manage it effectively. It really has very little to do with how well you can cast or fish a straight line.

Slack in the Leader is a Great Thing. Anyone more interesting in catching more trout instead of looking good will learn to put lots of slack into the leader....and sometimes doing it will look sloppy. Plenty of slack is a good thing if its in the leader, and maybe a little to no slack in the line. But the point is we are shooting for manageable slack --that is just enough that allows a natural drag free and natural presentation but that still allows for effective striking or hook setting. In my fly fishing classes, lessons, and schools, I often do a little exercise showing folks how much slack is actually manageable. I ask my students, "Does anyone believe if their leader, the entire leader, is piled up in a Dixie Cup, and they get a strike, that they could still set the hook effectively?" The answer, predictably, is usually "Of course not." The correct answer? Absolutely it is. You can pile up your entire leader in a cup, set a hook, and then connect on the hookset. Don't believe this? Give it a try. Rig up your rod, have a friend or spouse step on the fly, then pile the leader up right at their foot. Now stretch out, lets say 15-20 feet, 30 feet, whatever you like, of fly line. Now pretend you just got a strike and set the hook sharply. You will be surprised if you are like most anglers that you can still connect on the hookset. Herein lies the can do this when the slack is in the leader.

Learn a few tricks to put in your bag.....This is one where we can really get creative. One thing western spring creek guides and seasoned anglers often do is cast downstream and to the right or left of the fish, then they pull the fly upstream and into the line of drift where it will pass over the fish, then drop the rod tip which puts enough slack into the fly to get it over the fish without drag. Another trick that works well is to use some of the dry fly powders or dessicants like Doc's Dust and Frog's Fanny to create lifelike air bubbles on your nymph. Just rub a bit into the wingcase of a nymph or emerger, doing so on a subsurface fly makes an air bubble cling to the surface of the fly, exactly like what happens when a real fly comes to the surface to hatch. One last thing, which I have used a lot in both my own fishing and with clients, is to use something odd like a streamer or terrestrial or egg pattern...maybe something totally different from what you would normally use. "Hatch breakers" like terrestrials are a good example. Beetles, ants, and hoppers are such delectable treats for a trout that sometimes they'll take a terrestrial during a hatch even when they are obviously feeding on flies that are hatching. This happens a lot during mid-summer to fall blue winged olive hatches on Virginia's Smith River. I remember one past trip on the TN' South Holston when I was there with Ken and Sandy Van Hook of Pinnacle, NC. We had noticed several fish rising in the run in front of us as some sulphurs had begun to hatch. We saw a ginormous (gigantic + enormous) brown take a slashing strike at one of the 10 inch rainbows that were rising to the hatching flies. Yes, he was trying to eat that 10" rainbow. I dug out another fly box from the back pouch on my SIMMS vest, and found a 5-6" white Lefty's deceiver. We tied it on and two casts and a ten minute fight later that ginormous brown trout lay in my net.

Well, time to put some of this to work.....

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Great Leader........

It was right during the beginning of the summer on the marvelous South Holston. I was with John Hardy and his wife Christy and I had just handed John my Sage rod that just happened to be rigged with a hand tied tapered leader. John had noticed how the leader gently collapsed on the surface, delivering the fly to its target with barely a ripple on the water's surface. His next cast was to a mid river ledge. John presented the sulphur dry I'd given him to the edge of the ledge and seconds later a nice brown of about 16-17" slowly rose and sucked in the CDC dry fly. It was game on.

Such has been the case all summer long on the South Holston, Watauga, and Smith Rivers and other waters where the leader makes a huge difference....and can be THE difference between catching fish and not catching fish. I often use both personally and with clients the Classic Leader in the 9ft length and then add a 12-18" tippet of 7X. That puts the leader at about 10ft and still makes it easy to cast in wind- - - which is a certain condition you'll encounter on big water. Technical tailwater fishing, at least successful tailwater fishing, hinges upon having a leader that turns over but doesn't straighten (straight leader = drag= no fish). A nice cast with the leader stretching out over the water nice and straight right to the fly is the last thing you want (contrary to what it might seem). Its the sloppy, pile the leader up throws that usually catch fish. The trick is learning to cast like that on purpose, and to use a leader that dumps tons of slack so the fly drifts naturally. This leader does just that.

Rio's Hand Tied Classic Leader is a great product, and over the past several months I have fallen in love with them. While I prefer to tie my own, with my guiding schedule I value fly tying time more than tying leaders, as I can buy these leaders and they are the closest I have found to what I custom tie for myself. Try one and see for yourself....its a great product.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Different Medium....

There he was, hanging out in a side eddy just waiting for a snack or meal to drift by. I could see him as the wormlike markings on his back became visible and then less so as he floated up and down in the water column, riding the gentle upwellings of current like a master of his element should. This brookie, who had already taken three swipes at my streamer without being hooked, sat poised to take another shot if the opportunity presented itself.

And this fish did give me another shot, and I finally netted the fish as I let the fly go deep and then ripped the streamer quickly to the surface, stopping just short of the surface and letting it sink as though it was dying.

It worked.......the brookie inhaled the fly and after enjoying the pleasures of a nice fight and a bent rod I released the fish so it could give someone else the same enjoyment that was for a moment mine.

This whole episode I have seen replayed in my own fishing and on trips with clients over and over again. So why so many near misses? Why did the fish take several shots at the fly? And why didn't I get the fish on the first go around?

I believe there are several things at work at the surface that contribute to such a situation like I have just described.

One, the surface is an area where three elements---water, air, and sunlight come together. The perception of movement, size, color, among others---all of these things are different at the surface than they are at the bottom.

Most trout streams we fish in the Southeast are quite shallow. In fact, I am convinced that given a choice trout much prefer feeding in six inches of water as opposed to six feet. Why? The reason is simple....they have to move less to feed up and down and side to side.....and they get more calories for the energy expended.

The surface is a sure place to feed if the food is on top. But from the underside, its a little different......if the food item is subsurface. This is true because the underside of the surface is basically a mirror for whatever is under the on the bottom, vegetation, other fish, nymphs, streamer being ripped just under the surface.

Don't believe this? Take a picture in a foot of water while standing in your favorite trout stream....there are many inexpensive waterproof cameras that can do this nowadays.
Or, if you have no camera, go diving in a swimming pool in shallow water and you will notice the same effect. Or, you can go to a pet store and take a look at an aquarium and notice the underside of the water's surface. The effect is all the same.

So what does this mean from a fishing standpoint? Well, that is a good question, and certainly one we won't do justice fully in a few paragraphs here. But I do believe it shows why that crazed (determined....!!!!) brookie took three shots at the fly before a different presentation on the fourth try resulted in a hookup. What happened? Right at the surface the fish sees the fast traveling fly and also sees a mirror image of it too on the underside of the surface. So when I have had a fish flash at the fly right at the surface and I don't hook up, I cast again, rip the fly through the same spot, then stop abruptly letting the fly sink as though it just me it kills them.

But that you will have to see to believe..


Jeff Wilkins Fly Fishing
"Where Fly Fishing is a Professional Passion"

Sent from my Verizon Wireless HTC Windows Mobile Smartphone

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Satisfying an Itch....

To a lot of people that tension that builds and builds all week and especially after a stressful one serves no good purpose but to make us crave some time away. And for most of us that translates to time on the water. But if you are like me heading to the hills for some stream time just isnt an option every time....and I have always found sometimes that is quite alright. It means I have to look at other opportunities---and those are often much closer and easier than I sometimes think. Such is the case with pond fishing. And there are times that I am glad I had to stay close to home.

We are fortunate in the Piedmont of NC to live near a myriad of ponds. Ponds are common if for no other reason than that our area has a rich agricultural heritage and along with it a beautiful landscape dotted with warmwater fly fishing haunts.

I have always been shocked at how few people do any warmwater flyfishing at all. Some folks think that its only for trout, and in so doing miss some great opportunities in their own backyards. Not me.

I love bass, bream, crappie, catfish ----yes catfish will hit a fly and its not at all uncommon, unusual, or surprising. All I need is a willing participant on the business end of my leader.....and I will have plenty of fun.

So find a pond or two to fish, you won't regret it. So what are you waiting for?.


Jeff Wilkins Fly Fishing
"Where Fly Fishing is a Professional Passion"

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Windows Mobile Smartphone

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summertime Smallies.....

Check out this great smallmouth video with Guide Duane Hada, this is like our fishing opportunities in the Appalachians:

Monday, June 7, 2010

Yes, That Time is Here Again........Smallies

This will whet your appetite for some incredible smallie action this summer on area rivers. This is a clip shot in Minnesota on the St. Louis River, enjoy...!

Fly Fishing Smallmouth Minnesota from Arrowhead Fly Angler on Vimeo.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Battling a Gargantuan Rainbow in a Tiny Stream 5-7-2010 - Jeff Wilkins ...

The day was Friday May 7, 2010. Diane Bertrand had joined me for a day of fishing on the splendid private spring creek I have access to. It is a fish haven, full of large fish and some gigantic rainbows. We started on the lower end and caught some fish, even some large ones, and Diane was getting warmed up for what was to come.

Little did I know I was about to witness a near perfect job of playing fish. We would tie on a fly, I'd give Diane a tip or two on where to cast, watch the drift, see the fish take, set the hook, and then the arduous task of landing a fish of gigantic proportions. Let me tell you....this ain't easy!!!! There are a lot of fly anglers that would have broken those fish off. But not Diane, she did everything I suggested, just as I instructed her.....and the result was almost every beast we hooked, which was probably at least a dozen fish over 20 inches, every one of them except maybe one I can remember ended up in the net. It takes a near perfect job of line control and rod control to pull that off. I mean when a six pound tippet separates you and a 10-12 lb fish who is dashing wildly, jumping, thrashing, head shaking......simply put bad things can happen. Unless you play them like Diane did. It was great....and a lot of fun to watch.

That is why Diane has now earned the nickname "The Dutchess of Trout...".

Sunday, February 28, 2010

What A Great Winter To Learn To Tie...

I have probably heard that more this year than ever....with all the snow and bad weather its been that kind of winter. I think we had about five consecutive no fishing weekends, weekends where most folks couldnt get out and fish. We continued to do our guided trips, and we did have some great trips, but fishing in below freezing temperatures and snow more than ever.

And if ever there were fly tying opportunities there were plenty of those. I had several folks say..."why didnt you press me to learn tying this year? Would have been a perfect time." I guess my reply would be you get into tying when the bug gets the best of you. And one last thing, you wont get into it and save money....what a joke! You will probably spend more! Well, might as wel be honest....
"Where Fly Fishing is a Professional Passion"

This is Almost Unbelievable.....

This is truly amazing....the bird definitely uses everything at his disposal...this is absolutely incredible. I'm glad no one left a fly rod laying on the sand...

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Peachy Paradise.....

Until the past week I had not spent much time in this part of Georgia, regrettably I must say. It is such a beautiful place. Some of the most spectacular scenery you'll see anywhere, great hospitality, good trout angling from small streams to spring creeks to tailwaters, a little bit of everything.

And some monster trout in some waters. On a recent trip to the Soque near Clarkesville, GA and Batesville, GA the group I was with caught probably 30 fish over 20 was absurd. Huge fish, like we have here in our private waters. Fish that you'd more expect to come from Alaska and not the South.

This morning I told my wife that outside of a spectacular mountain range like the Beartooths in Montana, the Sawtooths in Idaho, the Tetons or Winds in Wyoming and the spectacular vistas that go with them we have really just as good fishing here and the fish are just as big and often larger. Its the Western experience that we are often after. But if its large fish.......we have those here!

Friday, February 19, 2010

How to Hand Feed a Pike....Well, not Exactly

This would sure get your attention. Here a gentleman is releasing a fish and an unseen northern pike almost gets a chunk of his hand while he's doing it:

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dry Fly Fishing in the Dead of Winter.....Things are Very Alive!

Here's a video clip of my recent trip with Tom Wolff. I had mentioned to Tom that I thought our chances of getting into some dry fly fishing was pretty good. "Really? " I think that was what he asked. I knew that where we were headed it was a real possibility. Rare is the day when these fish don't rise. A high water spate is the only thing that limits it....and then the subsurface fishing is to die for. Simply put, in my book it is the king of small creeks. Compared to the Smith River this stream is a ditch by size comparison. But I dare say that one mile of this creek has more trout than any mile - - Yes I said any mile- - of the Smith River. And many rivers for that matter. And where else do you find a thirty fish dry fly day in the middle of winter when its 20F, heavy snow on the ground, and snow showers in the air?.......We are now doing trips here year round...Let's go fishing!

Here'a a short clip of Tom casting to a rising rainbow which he caught. A pretty nice feat, given that Tom is right handed and he's going at it with his left. Impressive!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dry Fly Heaven......? Pretty Close I'd Say...

Dry Fly Heaven from Jah Raven Creation on Vimeo.

Go ahead and get a towel, you are going to need one after the saliva this one produces. It is awesome.....a good dreamy video to help you make it through our winter doldrums.....Enjoy!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Its Been That Kind of Winter.......

When we started the fall and thinking of all the heavy rains we have had over the past year, and how now we are getting that consistent "El Nino" pattern of storms, one right after the other, I remembered thinking last October on a guide trip that this year we could be returning to winters the way they used to be. The past several years have been so mild its hard to remember that what we have had lately is the real 'normal'...and that its been a while since it has been that way.

I mean we've had a snow here or there, including a 15 incher back in February of 2000. I remember that one as we were getting ready to open a fly shop and had planned to open mid February but lost two weeks due to bad roads and two large snows back to back. Lake Brandt Road here was impassable for four or five days, as 15 inches of snow became 7 inches of hard packed snow and the plows simply couldn't do anything with it.

As far as fishing the last real winters I remember, or should I say real bad winter, was the winters between 1991 and 1993. In fact, during that time the famous mountain 'blizzard' of 93 was a historical event. 24-28 inches of snow in the high country and over 30inches on top of Beech Mountain...I remember that one well. That was the year it was so cold that everything was either frozen totally and unfishable or the TVA tailwaters were generating..and there was no fishing anywhere for almost six weeks. I almost went crazy.

I can remember at that time the game saver was the blackfly hatch at the Jackson River in Covington, VA. That once blue ribbon jewel below Gathright Dam held thousands of trout. I have seen bitter cold days with hundreds of trout rythymically rising as though they were rising to a sulphur hatch in May. I have fished it on days when the air temp was 9F -11F and caught rising fish on dry flies. Wild, stream-bred rainbows and browns up to 20". Air temp was that cold, the ground was covered with anywhere from 12 to 20 inches of snow, and there were 8-10ft long icicles hanging from the cliffs that bordered the canyon like walls of the river gorge. Simply, it was one place the sun never touched from late November through March. It was the coldest place on earth ....or at least it seemed.

So how much more winter do we have? If its like most years like this we still have four to six more weeks of it............Can you stick it out?

Friday, February 5, 2010

A Last Resort For the Really Desperate Angler...

Okay, maybe not what you were expecting but here's what the last month and half has served up to us weather wise..... a fairly good snow in early December, followed by a doozy storm. We got almost 10 inches here, the mtns got between 14 and 22" depending upon elevation. In fact, on the 22rd of December Allen Allred and I were on a trip and we trudged though 2.5ft of snow to get to the river....he caught 20 fish and made a great day out of it. Then the mountains got a damaging ice storm Christmas Eve and Christmas day. Hwy 16/163 confluence near Glendale Springs looked like a war zone with all the downed trees that fell under a heavy burden of ice and snow. Big 18" in diameter and larger.

Then came another snow, then another, then another, and then the snow of the past weekend that dumped about 11 inches here and 10-12" in the mtns....and it would have been one of those 18-20" snows here and a "two footer" in the mountains had a warmer layer of air at 5500ft not sneaked into the mix and changed the snow to sleet, which accounted for about 6 -8 inches less snow than we would have gotten. Then two days of 45F weather and a big melt, then last night's snow of about 3-4 inches, followed by a quarter inch of ice....and almost two inches of rain/freezing rain during the day.....and we are still waiting on the changeover back to snow and the inch or two that might be left for us once this storm exits our area late Saturday.

Could it get any worse for fishing....any type of fishing?...Probably not. Well, maybe fishing in an aquarium isn't such a bad idea after all.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Desperate yet? A lot of people are......I love winter and love winter fishing...but hey I am getting there too. We have had two big snows, a sleet/freezing rain event, and two huge rains (deluges!).......if you were to come up with a forecast full of dire or din I don't think you could do it.

I could hear the snowplows today on our street finally exposing pavement for the first time in almost five days. We have had about 3 inches of hard packed snow and ice, what was once 8 or 9 inches packed as tightly as it could much so that scraping or plowing had been a joke...until today. I walked outside and the first thing I noted is how pleasant the temperature was, and how much melting was taking place. I walked to our backyard and even took a gander at our small rock pond (pictured above). I thought to myself, I am almost desperate enought to take a few casts into it......hey, what if the neighbors see me I thought for a moment...... Of course then I thought again, maybe seeing me casting in the street and yard for years confirmed my mental state to them already. But when I looked at the pond I thought " know, that's not much less of an opportunity than any we have had lately with all this snow and ice. I mean right now it would be just as productive as Lake Brandt....and Brandt actually has fish in it."

Well, I pondered it a bit.......but didn't cast. Guess I will save this fishing hole for the weekend just in case we get the next storm coming through and the 3-5 inches of snow some are calling for....which is, in case you haven't yet heard, exactly what they are calling for!

On second thought, I think I'll go grab the rod and take a few casts into our rock pond........

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Winning Drive........

Its that time of year again......and the Super Bowl is practically upon us. There are two teams that were #1 seeds that are going to play for professional football's most coveted prize....the Super Bowl Trophy. There are two teams that have sacrificed, worked hard, put in long hours, faithfully put in the time in the rain, snow, cold, heat, you name it. Simply put, a price was paid for admission to this game. And if its like this year's game, and like some of the the playoff games, the team that has the ball last ends up winning. And they have to figure out a way to do that. Great teams and players do just that.....figure out a way to turn something into a win.
Such was the case with a recent trip with regular customers and friends Larry Tomar and Dan Camia. We've spent many a day on the water doing trips together, and in all types of weather, and Larry and Dan are pretty good at this fly fishing game. Whether good conditions or poor, they usually do really well. Give them the right set up, direct them to the right spot, and its a done deal. They know the game, and they get the job done.
We were fishing one of my private waters in Virginia, a stream whose limestone pools are stacked with twenty inch trout. Some are true leviathans.....some are 10lbs or more. The water was up, had some color to it, and I knew we'd kill them. A rare gift....this day was going to be one to write home, "get ready guys........we are going to whack 'em good today and you guys are leaving with sore arms." Well, that was the way a typical day usually goes.
But not today. We fished rigs that work well on this river I know well, I mean, I know where the fish are under most any conditions and can pretty much guarantee that the guys are fishing where the fish are....and in this river....its not a question of whether fish are there or not....'cause they are. At lunch we'd had several fish on, two large rainbows landed, both over 20 inches and one of them a 25 inch beast that took Larry 10 minutes to land, and one large Redhorse sucker. This is the dream stream....and I am thinking....what is the deal?
We had fished hard all over fish and they just weren't eating. We took a break for lunch and I had to think of something.....and just like either the Colts or Saints may have to do in the big game......something had to give and we had to put together a winning drive. I was thinking to myself, "this ain't cutting it." But I knew the rigs and flies we were using were right, and we were fishing the right places. I do this everyday, and fish like to do what they do and not change a whole lot if they don't have to. They are simple creatures with two goals in mind: 1) live to see tomorrow, and 2) get something to eat. Everything else is gravy.
We had a hot streamside lunch and grabbed our rods and headed back to the water. Within a few minutes we had three hookups. Landed one fish, then had two come off. Not stellar, but as much action as we'd had all morning. I had a hunch. What is a hunch? Well, according to the dictionary it is something like this. hunch : (hunch) n. an impression or intuitive feeling that something might be the case. Yep, that is what I am feeling. Okay, well what's intuition? According to the dictionary its an instinctve knowing without use of rational processes......well, that sounds right on. We'd already used all "rational processes"......whatever I was feeling, I said "Guys lets hop in the vehicle and run upsteam while we still have some light left. The sun's been on that water all day. We ought to be able to stir up something there." It paid off....
So we headed upstream, and I had every intention of fishing the same way with the same rigs as we were before. Like a good football team, stick with what got you to the big game. And don't make any fundamental mistakes.......and be focused. We got in the water, Dan hooked up on three or four drifts in a row and landed a nice 20inch rainbow. Larry hooked up below us and it was a nice fish and broke off. Larry caught one rainbow, and then we moved upriver to another deep hole and he hooked a leviathan of a rainbow, what I believe might have been double digits....10 pounds or more that is. He did a great job playing the fish but it made a really powerful burst and broke off. But we were getting action...and a good bit of it. And to think we were doing what we had been doing all morning long.
We had about an hour of daylight left, we hit another spot. Larry got six strikes on ten casts and caught a couple. Again, doing exactly what we had been doing all day long. The last spot yielded several nice fish, 6 landed altogether, and several that came off. And as you might guess, we were doing the same thing we'd been doing all day. Thankfully we didn't spend the rest of the afternoon trying all sorts of crazy stuff and waste the time we had left, we stuck with what I knew normally works this time of the year and under these conditions, we made sure we got good drifts, were very intently focused on the drifts, and most importantly we didn't stop believing and give up. And we found a way to put together a winning drive.
Maybe that is what is coming for the Super Bowl. The team that sticks with what got them there, stays focused, does what they do best, and who doesn't give up.....and maybe the one who has the ball last ......we'll see.
We didn't get a Super Bowl trophy or anything but the trophies we got are still in the river....just waiting for the next time......

Monday, January 25, 2010

Talk about Determination......

Sometimes in my fly fishing I let the little things get to me- - - less than perfect weather, a little too dry, too wet, too sunny, too cloudy, you name it ...its very easy when things are slow to find lots of things to get frustrated with and about.

Being a fly fishing guide for a living has its set of challenges...always at the mercy of the weather for one. One day the river is perfect and your clients do well, then a two or three inch rain comes in the night blowing all possibility of fishing. A lot of times we call it well before the day arrives, mostly based upon my past experiences with certain areas, the way they respond to heavy precipitation and runoff, a knowledge of the watershed and how much it is developed....all these variables go into it. But then there's determination....and also a 'hunch.' Its that 'gut feeling' that, you know what, for some reason I feel like we might be able to make a go of it today . So I call my client and explain to them the conditions, explain forthrightly about my opinion about our chances of doing well or poorly, and then propose either 'go' or 'stay.'

Occasionally where determination meets a hunch you catch things just right and have a banner day. Such was the case when Mark White and I went on May 27, 2009. Mark and I had communicated by phone and email and we rescheduled a time or two- - -and before our trip we got one of those 2-3 inch rains in the mountains.....and here too, and wow , were things high and muddy almost everywhere. But I had a hunch that if we went exploring on some water I knew of , water that sometimes ran high but clear during weather like this, I thought maybe, just maybe we could catch it just right. I picked Mark up at his place in Germanton, and we headed up into VA and onto 58 West. We headed toward Mt. Rogers and everything we crossed on the way over was high and the color of Campbell's tomato soup. It was ugly. And with each mile I crossed my fingers a little harder that we wouldn't find the same thing where we were headed.

We arrived at the stream, and at first sight we came alongside it was high but it was a nice color, ...."just perfect" I thought to myself. Inside my head the thoughts were going just like so many, many times before... I kept telling myself "when its like this we can have the day of days...". I knew fish not only fed during runoff like this, but that if you know the water well, where the fish hold, and how to rig and how much weight to use and so forth, the fish were not only very willing, but also quite aggressive and forgiving....much more so than at lower flows.

The result? We whacked 'em. Mark caught a lot of fish, probably 30 or more, including a couple of large fish, one of which was a citation rainbow. And to think....everyone else stayed home today.....and we had the whole place to ourselves! We both had a great time, and Mark not only got into a lot of fish, but gained experience in less than perfect conditions......adding to his bag of tricks for the next time he encounters a river in this condition and he's fishing on his own. Will he be able to do well? I'd say yes, as he did real well on this day.

So, sometimes when you get a lemon you can successfully make some lemonade. Yes, sometimes you'll get blown out and shut out and will have to concede that its a no go. And yes, it happens all times of the year and happens to everybody eventually. But often you get an unexpected break, as we did, and when you do it can be incredible...........sometimes so much that you won't dislike big weather systems when they come through but will be looking forward to them.

When you are a fishing guide, you have to find opportunity where you can. Fortunately its not like the guys above in the photo, that's real determination!!!!!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How To Successfully Spook more Trout.....

You don't find articles like this much, but here goes. Here's a funny how to on a very interesting topic: spooking fish. I can think of 10 ways you can become more successful at spooking trout. They are tried and true methods and work with near 100% effectiveness when done properly. Here they are:

1) Wear blaze orange clothing, like a nice orange hunting hat or toboggan and a long orange jacket. Make your clothing as bright as possible.

2)Run into the tail of the pool in such a way that it creates a ton of noise and sends a wave or waves into the rest of the pool.
3) False cast twenty five times, and only after 25 times do you let the line touch the water.

4) If #3 fails, allow several of the forward casts to slam the water or better yet, rip through the surface making maximum commotion.

5) For maximum effect, do #'s 2, 3, and 4 simultaneously, and hope no one is watching, at least no one who might know you. If #2, 3, or 4 doesn't get their attention this one, #5, certainly will. They will leave the area, leaving the fishing all to you. Of course the fishing is over, but now you have the solitude you wanted all week long anyway.

6) Get at one end of the pool and do #5 and have your fishing buddy go to the head of the pool and do the same, with each on of you trying to out do the other.

7) Have your fishing buddy throw a few large rocks and a handful of gravel into the water. But don't do this over stocked fish, they like the sound of gravel because it sounds like trout pellets smattering the surface and you'll fail to spook them properly.

8) Start at the tail of the pool hastily and noisily wading as quickly as you can through the pool, seeing how quickly you can make it to the head of the pool. The bonus with this is you'll get some great exercise, just like Sylvester Stallone in some of the Rocky movies.

9) Wear some of those new non-felt soled boots and fall in. Don't make it a half fall, the goal is to make it - - - as they say in the hills - - -a good 'un.

10) Have your fishing buddy get at the head of the pool and have him run back and forth, taking care to stir up as much sediment as possible, turning the pool into a nice shade of brown for you. One word of caution, if he takes the word 'run' seriously and takes you up on it, he may fall . ....but that's not all bad, he's fulfilling #9.

There are very few times that I'd say anything I do I would always 100% guarantee results but this one comes close. I promise that if you faithfully do one, a few, or all of the above you will be very successful at spooking trout!...............

In all seriousness, I am kidding. But you'd be surprised how many of the above things are the very things people do....I mean some of them are the most common errors in fly fishing. The goal is not to do them, of course. And the result is you'll spook fewer trout.....til next time

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wow.....That's All I Can Say.......

Fly fishing DVD Video - 2009 Drake Flyfishing Video Awards Winning Clip

This is incredible.......too bad we don't have this around here......apparently they get mice the way we get jap beetles.....they could only be so lucky. Imagine throwing mice flies on the SoHo in TN?......How awesome would that be?

Enough Already.......Right?

I was doing some web updates to our sites and going over the coming weeks' schedule of guided trips when an email came through to me from a customer Kevin Frank. A relative of his in Galax, VA, Tracey Snow had taken some photos of the New River in the Galax area of the ice jams and it was incredible. I asked him if I could share some of the photos with customers and he said that was fine.

You don't see this much around here, and except for a brief period last winter of a week when it was really cold the last time the New was like this was five years ago. I had a guided trip scheduled, if you can believe it, and the temp when I met the guys was 9F....yes 9F. And the river looked just like this. I had been hired by a group of guys, one of whom was getting married, and for whom this was a 'bachelor party' so to speak, one last hurrah .... For that reason it was do it now or not at all. So I met them at the Riverhouse cabins and we stayed in until 11am after the temperature had risen to a balmy 22F. We rigged rods and then we went to a remote stretch of Helton Creek...surprisingly there was enough unfrozen water to fish. We ended up doing ok, catching about 25 fish in truly bitter conditions. By 4pm, the guys called it a day.....and another great day was in the book. But it doesn't always work out that way.

This last month's cold is record setting for sure....much of the NC mtns and VA were below freezing for weeks....that is below freezing......and as low as single digits at night. Hard for anything to remain liquid in that. The picture above of the New River was just before 3 inches of rain fell on top of all the snow and ice.....and what a nice messy result came from that. Just downstream of this area, where I do smallmouth fishing in the summer a lot, the flow is normally 900 peaked at just under 60000cfs, yes sixty THOUSAND. That is 25000 more than the previous

But at least now its not solid like the photo above....

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2009 Goes out with a Bang.........

Buster Lewis and I spent a day doing a Guided Fishing trip and we had a great day, and not only caught a pile of fish but also several 20 inchers, and including one fish that was near 10lbs.....a real beast. A great day, and it snowed on us all day which was great, and also a great way to put an exclamation point on a great fishing year and also usher in what we hope is another one.

I spotted this large rainbow holding in a shallow run, and pointed out to Buster where to cast his fly. He put the perfect toss and drift on the fish, the fish lifted up slightly and took the fly in, Buster set the hook, then it was off to the races and we eventually ended up in the next pool downstream before I finally slid the net under the fish. The fish filled my two handed net up, and I estimated it at close to 10lbs. Nice work Buster!