Sunday, July 31, 2011

Harvey Style Leaders.........

Much has been written about leaders and there are so many varieties of them out there that one barely knows where to start. Like other pieces of equipment, leaders get some attention but not as much as they should. The job they have to do is deliver the fly to its target. And that is a pretty important job or purpose. So why isn't more thought given to this? Who knows.

One of the most famous leader designs of all time was developed by George Harvey. Its as much a way of thinking on leaders as it is design. George Harvey understood the leader and its importance to the whole fly fishing game.

George Harvey was one of the true giants in Pennsylvania fly fishing history. Born in DuBois, Pennsylvania on November 14, 1911, George Harvey spent most of his life in Central Pennsylvania, teaching and writing about fly fishing. He graduated from Penn State University in 1935 with a Bachelor’s degree in Ornamental Horticulture. During his time at Penn State, he had the good fortune to meet and fish with Ralph Watts, Dean of the School of Agriculture. Dean Watts not only organized the first unofficial fly fishing class at Penn State, but recommended George Harvey for the position of instructor at the Mont Alto Forestry School, which is a part of Penn State. George Harvey moved to the main campus in 1942 and continued his angling classes, which because an officially credited class in 1947, called “Principles and Techniques of Fly Fishing and Fly Tying.” This was the first accredited college fly fishing class in America. He continued teaching the course until his retirement in 1972 and retired as an Associate Professor of Physical Education.

Folks usually get interested in and learn about the Harvey style leader when they begin fishing over selective trout and find that the technical nature of the fishing requires something more. Something that a leader on a fly shop wall just can't deliver. It will have you tying some of your own leaders. Use one and have success with it, you will use them from now on.

So what is a Harvey leader and why the big deal over it? First, a bit of background. A good many- - -well, most I should say - - -commercially available leaders are built on a 60 /20/20 taper. 60 percent butt, 20 percent taper, and 20 percent tippet. They carry lots of energy from the line to the leader and this pushes everything out nicely so that the fly goes to its target and the leader straightens out perfectly. That is fine for some fishing, like ponds, lakes, saltwater, etc, but if you are fishing over selective fish and fishing in current the last thing you want is a straight leader. Why? A straight leader causes drag....and a dragging fly the fish will ignore. George Harvey knew the real key was to design a leader with just enough butt to turn over the leader but that would not transfer so much energy or power that it would straighten the leader. He came up with several formulas, and its more of a style than a specific formula, but I have found them to be very effective for fishing over selective fish of our tailwater rivers like the Smith, Jackson, Watauga, Clinch, and South Holston.

Here are some formulas, a couple of them are from Gary Borger and his rendition of the Harvey Style leader.

Fly Size 10-16 : 4 feet of .016 Leader Material, 4 feet of .010 tippet, and 4 feet of 3, 4 or 5X

Fly Size 16-24 : 4 feet of .014 Leader Material, 4 feet of 3x tippet, 4 feet of 5,6, or 7X.

Illustration above is my variation with a fluorocarbon tippet of 6X.

Tie some of these up and give them a try..... Good fishing.

Dog Days Fishing......

"There he stands, draped in more equipment than a telephone lineman, trying to outwit an organism with a brain no bigger than a breadcrumb, and getting licked in the process."

~by Paul O'Neil, 1965~

Fly fishing through the various seasons and changes can be a challenging endeavor, especially if your goal is to catch fish..... In my line of work I see on a daily basis folks get in the water, immediately start casting, sloshing through the water, making noise....all while not once observing the state of the water they have just entered. The way I see it, it is almost like they are attacking the river. Fishing the water rather than fishing with the fish. Here are some ideas/tips that might help you enjoy success astream during the dog days of summer and into fall- - - which with low water can be a challenging time to catch fish.

There are two approaches to fly fishing, both can work at certain times of the year, but only one usually works this time of year. Let me explain.... if I may...

One approach is what I call run and gun or shot gunning. The person has tied on a fly he thinks should work, steps into the water, and immediately starts casting. Casting here, casting there, long, short, and all lengths in between. He sees a rising fish and casts to it...maybe once, twice, three times, then moves on. If another fish rises, he casts to that one. He changes flies once, twice, or many times....and more often if he's not getting any action. I am convinced folks do this because at times it does work. Late winter/early spring when the water is up, the fish aren't spooky, they are looking to eat, and fishing the water will produce fish. The trouble comes though, when one has been successful with this approach and then several months later steps into the same river, does the same thing as before, and gets a much different result. So what changed? The answer? Everything and change everything. The conditions are different, the water is lower and clearer and the fish are spooky. Different flies are hatching now, unlike the larger bugs of spring. Also, the fish have been hammered by fishing pressure all spring and they are leader shy and will easily spook. I see the above scenario over and over and over and get emails and calls about it , and folks ask 'I did everything I usually do and no fish, not even a strike". And I think to myself, you just indentified the problem with your question...everything.

Enter the second approach: A careful, intentional, focused approach that takes into account the following:

1) conditions have changed, and challenging conditions require discipline. Stop casting constantly, and false casting so much .....false casting everywhere is spooking fish.
2) Use the right flies, not as many bugs hatching right now so use small flies and terrestrials.
3) Use the shortest casts you can get away with, knowing that a shorter cast lands over fewer dissimilar currents and is easier to manage...and you won't spook fish with constant line mends to keep the fly drifting properly.
4) Use specialty casts - curves, reach casts, etc., to get good drifts. If you don't know these, learn them. They are valuable casts to add to your bag of tricks.
5) Overall, cast less and observe more. Look at those spider webs along the bridge or trees where you got into the river....whatever bugs have been hatching will get caught there ...spiders will be eating them too.
6) Watch where you walk and get into the water, and also only wade if necessary. Take care not to make a splash or wake. Summer trout and smallmouth love margin areas of a stream because that is where overhangs are and where bugs fall in....beetles, ants, inchworms, you name it.
7) Don't overlook skinny water (only inches deep)- - -You will catch fish in skinny water - - - edges, banks, tailouts of long pools......these fish are easy to catch if you don't spook them they are in shallow water to do one thing....EAT. If you see a fish that is spooked coming from behind you you aren't wading quietly enough. This season, to date the largest dry fly fish caught on any of our trips was a 23" male brown trout that was in less than 10 inches of water.....on a bank, in a spot exactly like I have described above.
8) Water can warm excessively in the summer. Fish with a thermometer and if you find water approaching 70F or more and you are fishing for trout, fish else where. Going upstream is one option. Water temps near 70F the fish become lethargic and often can't be revived if caught and handled. Optimum temperatures are 55-60F for most trout species. Smallmouths low to mid 70sF.
9) Wear natural clothing that allows you to blend in. Bright colors spook fish, wear earth tones, drab clothing etc. Once fish are spooked its too late.
10) Use appropriate gear, from wading stuff (wet wading) to rods (a lighter rod, maybe a 3wt instead of a 5wt), and rigs (dry fly with a dropper nymph instead of a big strike indicator and two huge split shot). Using appropriate gear with help you avoid disturbing the water any more than is necessary.
11) Have plenty of attractors, terrestrials, and small patterns. In summer, other than the occasional sulphur or Cahill , most natural bugs are small ( like #20-24 Blue Winged olives, #22-24 blackflies). A well stocked terrestrial box is always a good idea, as trout fill in the gaps in their caloric intake with these food items.
12) Keep a low profile, don't get on a high rock or bank and try to spot fish and then fish to them as they can or will see you and will flee in terror.
13) Stalk fish or the spot, get into position carefully, then present the fly to that fish or spot. This works better than willy nilly firing a thousand casts over the water in hopes of getting a strike.
14) Pay attention to a foam line, bubble line, debris line.....with the reduced flow/volume of summer trout use these 'lines' to feed as the line is a conveyor belt that brings food into the location.
15) Lastly, don't forget bug repellent and sunscreen. If you use deet, don't get it or sunscreen on your line, rod, or flies, as it can damage gear and fish can smell the stuff. Neutrogena makes a fantastic sunscreen product. I like the SPF70, and to keep it off your stuff use the back of your hand to apply it.

Hope these tips help you in your summer fishing......Good fishing!


Riseforms......the tell tale ring of a feeding trout on the water's surface. For many anglers its what fly fishing is all about.....casting to a rising fish. But rising fish, though feeding and an easy visible target, can be difficult to catch, particularly if you can't tell what the fish are feeding on. In this short piece, I will give you a few ideas on fishing to rising trout..and what some of the different types of rises are...and what they indicate.....and most importantly, what you may want to consider if you are to be successful fishing to them. In our area anglers are most likely to have these opporunities to cast to risers on our tailwater rivers...but you will see them everywhere on occasion.

It is important to note that while trout all rise at one time or another all trout don't necessarily act the same from river to river. Also, the size of the rise is not always indicative of the size of the fish. Observation is the key, we need to study the fish, fish behavior, and the foods they eat more than we do assembling a vast array of equipment and flies. Here are a few of the riseforms that are common and that you are likely to see if you fish over rising fish regularly:

1) The Bulge - With this type of riseform the fish is taking subsurface insects, quite possibly midges or mayfly nymphs just under the surface. On area waters this is common with blue winged olives and sulphurs. One way to fish to this rise is with a small nymph or midge pupae just under the surface under a tiny indicator or dry fly (using the nymph or pupae as a droppper), or using a greased leader technique. The latter involves using paste floatant and coating the leader down to within a few inches to 10" of the fly, leaving this last portion untreated. The fly will then drift in the area of the water column that is just under the surface.

2) Boils - similar to a bulge rise, but more violent, and this feeding is also occurring just under the surface. The rise is usually not only violent but erratic as the food item is struggling or is quite animated or active. Usually this rise involves mayfly emergers or caddis emergers. One way to fish this rise is like the above but imparting a twitch or pulsing movement to the fly right as it comes into view of the fish. You can also get above the fish, put yourself at an angle to it, and 'raise' the fly while twitching it as it swings in front of the boiling trout. Another option, and this works well on occasion, is to strip the fly like a streamer, except that you use tiny half to one inch strips, imparting a slight and short pause every 8 or 10 strips....this can be deadly during a hatch.

3) Sips - the sipping rise is classic and if you can see the fish its great fun to watch a trout feed this way...especially if its a large fish. Sips clue you in that a fish is eating small surface insects or slower emergers in the surface film. Small mayfly duns, midges, and mayfly spinners all will cause this type of rise. Sippers are often found in quiet edgewaters, pools, eddies, tailouts, and other margins where the water is slow. Beetles and ants fall into this category as once they fall in they sit very low in the surface film....and they will almost always be sipped. Also, shallow, gentle riffs are a good place to see sippers as well.

4) Head Risers - this rise in one in which the fish lifts its head or part of its head almost vertically out of the water. This type of rise is almost always going to coincide with surface food. So in order to be successful you would fish a surface fly....our CDC emerger flies are murderous on this type of last week when we nailed a 23" plus brown trout on the South Holston that was head rising. The fish ate a #18 dorothea emerger.... Usually head risers tend to be the larger, more mature fish and they do it so well they seem to make an art of it. Head risers are often eating emerging mayflies that are halfway through the surface film, spinners, terrestrials, and they are often bank feeders as well.

5) Gobblers - this happens a lot out west when the fish have lots of food coming to their feeding station. Have only seen it once before around here, and that is the South Holston tailwater. The food or hatch has to be heavy. I have seen this during some heavy sulphur emergences, and also witnessed it on the Missouri River in Montana during the caddis flights and Silver Creek in Picabo, Idaho during a morning Trico spinner fall. In this type of rise the fish rises and takes a food item once every second for ten seconds or more, then stopping the rising and taking time to swallow all the food it captured. This type of rising is very rare but when you see it it is a sight to makes you quiver and shake and your knees will knock together...

6) Porpoising - with a porpoising rise you see the head, back, dorsal, and tail in a slow parade as the fish takes food....this rise sometimes exaggerates the fish's true size. Porpoising indicates the presence of smaller, emerging flies, and to catch fish doing this you will want an array of mayfly nymphs and emergers, midge pupae and emergers, and all of them should be in the film patterns or ones that sit low on the water.

7) Tailing - very uncommon unless the water has lots of weedbeds or feeding this way are likely rooting out mayfly nymphs, cressbugs, scuds, and whatever else they can find.

8) Splashy Rises - often belies a small or juvenile fish, they seem to get really excited about feeding.....and often seeing a really splashy rise is really nothing more than small fish. This happens alot during a caddisfly emergence, and with some swiftly emerging mayflies too. Moving the fly or twitching it, stripping it, raising it in front of a fish doing this will work well.

Hopefully this will give you a little insight into the riseforms of trout. They are amazing creatures, and coming up with the right fly and/or technique for the rising fish of the moment is about as good as it gets...especially if a fish winds up in the net.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Art of Seduction............

"Why does a Frenchman kiss a lady's hand?....He has to start somewhere. In either seduction or fly fishing it is silly to proceed without a plan. This book is my plan for selecting a dry fly or emerger pattern to fish. And besides, no one is clamoring for me to write a book on seduction..."
-Gary LaFontaine in the preface to his excellent book The Dry Fly: New Angles .

Norman Mailer was a brilliant yet controversial writer, poet, playwright, novelist, and more. In his later years it was no secret that Carole Mallory was his mistress. Seducing him probably wasn't all that difficult....I mean, he was on his sixth wife at the time. Painters, authors, chefs, and a myriad others seek to seduce and I think what we do to the fish as fly anglers is no different.

The most important thing to understand is that seduction only works when the other party is cooperative, is contributing, and is in some way interested in what we are doing. That's the rub. Finding an interested subject.....again I believe our job astream is not much different.

Simply put, 'seduction' is the process of deliberately enticing some form of engagement. 'Seduce' stems from Latin and literally means "to lead astray", or in applicable language, to be led into making a choice that would otherwise not be made if the subject were not being controlled at the moment by desire or senses. Its a lot easier to seduce when the present state of the subject makes them open to it. And as anglers, if we want to be successful at whatever form of seduction we have in mind, we have to pick out the right targets......those who are most likely to fall for it. And yet often as anglers we treat all of our targets the same....come up with that magic cast, magic fly, magic that opens every fish mouth.....and that doesn't happen. Maybe in some things but not in fly fishing. It is important and what matters most is seeking out the right targets.

A lot of folks wonder how we catch numbers of fish consistently on guided trips. I believe the reason is pretty simple. I know the places well and have fished them in all conditions and seasons and am familiar with them and where the fish will be before a cast is ever made. We do a lot of nymphing at certain times of the year, and beginners are often amazed at the numbers we can amass. Again, I believe the answer is simple. Trout feed 80-90% of the time subsurface. That is a given. We spend our entire day fishing with flies I know work only to places I know the fish will be and using a method that corresponds to the way they almost always are feeding.....subsurface. Seeking out the right targets.

It works the same at other times of the year with the dry fly.....and sometimes in some places it can occur with dry flies all year. Two such friends and anglers Dr. Jim Sellers and Bill Feisler, both of Greensboro, have almost magical abilities with a dry fly. They know where fish are most likely to rise, what they will likely take, possess almost flawless skills to deliver the fly to the target...and they spend their time fishing to fish where they are most likely to rise with something that they are most likely to eat. Seeking out the right targets.

It takes time on the water, reading, studying, experimenting, and you have to be alert and soak in all that you come across. Keeping a fishing log, fishing a lot, and learning from your time on the water all contribute to success. Its a process of learning to spend most of your time in places where the method and setupflies/rigging you are using are being constantly presented to fish that are most susceptible to fall to your presentations.

Because in the end, the art of seduction lies in seeking out the right targets.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Its Time for You To Fly.........

This article to be featured in an upcoming June 2011 issue of "Today's Men" magazine...

1992, Robert Redford's film "A River Runs Through It" won the Academy Award for cinematography and also introduced millions of people to a sport that most had probably never even heard of. Against a backdrop of rugged Montana scenery movie watchers looked on as Brad Pitt exclaimed " Montana, there's three things we are never late, work, and fishing." The movie was not only about fly fishing, but much more than that it was a movie about relationships among people in the context of fly fishing. And fly fishing remains much the same outdoor, relationally rich activity it was then and that is has always been.

Fly Fishing is mostly different in terms of the equipment one would use. In Fly fishing, we fish for trout, bass, bream, saltwater fish......just about everything. The rod itself is usually seven to nine feet long, and has a very simple reel and a thick plastic line that is heavy enough when cast properly to pull a fly and sometimes weight with it a significant distance through the air. In regular fishing, one would push a button and cast a heavy lure on the end of a very thin fishing line. In fly fishing, the angler is casting the line and the lure (fly) is just being pulled along or going for a 'ride.' We use lures fashioned out of natural materials like fur, feathers, and hair, and often craft these items to resemble an insect, minnow, crayfish, or most any item that a fish might find attractive.

Over the two decades since 1992 the sport of fly fishing has grown leaps and bounds. It is a great activity that can be done alone, with family, friends, co-workers, and business clients, really anyone. It is a great networking tool and connection tool for establishing contact with a prospective client. I see a lot of this today, and its one of the primary benefits of the business I am in.

Here in the Triad, the sport enjoys an enthusiastic following. For me, it has provided a vocation and an avocation for more than two decades: I have been fly fishing for over 30 years and still love it just as much as when I began. As a Professional fly fishing guide and Federation of Fly Fishers Certified Casting Instructor, I own and operate a Fly Fishing Guide and Outfitting business that provides a good living, flexible schedule, travel to great places, and the opportunity to meet and get to know as friends some really great people. Most folks are not only clients, but also my friends.

Folks often get started in this wonderful sport in several ways. I got started early on with my father who made sure I had the opportunity to experience fishing. I later moved on to fly fishing because it was so intriguing and interesting. Many folks get introduced to fly fishing by a friend, family member, co-worker, or business client. Still others take a class or private lessons. Mac Cheek, one customer and friend of mine who I recently asked how best to get one started said " find someone like you, a professional who can show you the ropes and help you make progress." Mac did just that several years ago, and now is one of the best fly fishermen I know.

Recently I had the privilege of having lunch with a long time friend and customer David Carter of Greensboro, NC. David has been on many guided trips with me over the pas 15 years or so. In many ways David represents a good example of a typical path so many take in getting started fly fishing. As a corporate executive for a Fortune 500 paper products company in Maine, David left the 8 to 5 corporate job to become an entrepreneur. But before leaving, David had been invited by a group of guys to try his hand as fly fishing and he took them up on it.

A hunter and golfer too, David had a back surgery that would stand to limit some of his more strenuous activities. He had tried fly fishing once with the group of guys and loved it. David remembered seeing a guide in Maine, Cleo Dupwee, someone who was really good and had guided famous folks like Curt Gowdy to name one, and David was amazed at how Cleo could cast a weightless fly such a long way and put it in a coffee can. In David's own words....."I was mesmerized." Though it would lie dormant for a while longer, the fly fishing 'seed' had been planted.

David soon took opportunity to move south to North Carolina and he started his own company, a now very successful company called Emerging Technologies. Now a successful entrepreneur, David is also an avid fly angler. But before he got serious about it he recounts meeting now friend Steve Caldwell, a realtor from Roanoke, VA, and seeing Steve's license plate that had a fly fishing theme on it. David mentioned it to Steve and asked if he fly fished and Steve's response was "yes I do, we ought to go sometime." David took him up on it, and they did a trip to Virginia and got into quite a few fish. David loved it, and in his words David said "I was hooked...."

And such is the case for so many who start fly fishing. Like many young men who grew up playing and enjoying adventures in a creek or stream, looking for minnows, frogs, crayfish, and the like----fly fishing is a "mature" way of returning back to nature just like that. And the best part is that it is all happening and you are growing more and more oblivious to the stress, ringing phone, and all the stuff at the office that makes life so hectic. Its like going to play in the creek in the woods ......."a couch day" as my friend David Carter says.....a day of therapy so to speak that is more enjoyable than going to see a therapist.....

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the sport for me is the career opportunity it affords me. Teaching classes, private lessons on and off the water, doing group classes, guiding fly fishing trips, tying flies, and teaching classes for the University of NC at Greensboro, the City of Greensboro Parks and Recreation Department, as well as A Fly Fishing 101 Class for Guilford Technical Community College are some of the ways I earn a living and help many individuals like David and others start a wonderful lifelong hobby like fly fishing.

Finally, North Carolina is blessed to have a lot of creeks, streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds to play in. Once folks get started in fly fishing, they will find numerous places to enjoy their new hobby. Local venues like Stone Mountain State Park in Wilkes and Alleghany counties, South Mountains State Park in Burke County, Wilson Gorge in Caldwell County, the Mitchell River in Surry County, and the Smith River in nearby Henry County, Virginia-----not to mention the numerous local lakes Townsend, Brandt, Higgins, and local ponds and also fishing in Eastern and coastal North Carolina. The opportunities are nearly limitless......

Don't you think its time for you to fly?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Winter Lies......

Not telling lies or fish stories, no, not talking about that. Fishing Lies......places you find fish...where fish live, eat, stay......where the big guys are.... Simply defined a fish lie is a place where a fish is and that also is a purpose tied to it....there are resting lies, feeding lies, holding lies, prime lies. Each offers fish something different.....a prime lie offers them everything in one spot. And in a typical stream its where you find the largest fish and typically the largest concentrations of fish. The photo on this post is showing a prime winter lie.....a deep green spot or trough bordered by huge rocks. The red arrow represents the direction of the current. The yellow lines are where the fish live in this particular run on Big Cedar Fork just north of Abingdon, VA. This is a typical winter lie for trout...not in a heavy riffle at the head of a pool, not in a swift run....not in a shallow tailout where you'd find them in summer. They are in deep water with a little current but not a lot...and where you find one trout you are almost certain to find more.

And remember......look for deep green spots with only a little current.......Good fishing....!


Jeff Wilkins Fly Fishing
"Where Fly Fishing is a Professional Passion"
3703 Windspray Court
Summerfield, NC 27358

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