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The Old Normal – Albies on the Crystal Coast

I can’t remember the last day that passed without hearing someone talk about “the new normal”. With the way the world has changed, I grow increasingly fond of things that haven’t. The plain old normal: the way I feel when my wife smiles, the taste of tacos, the smell of salt air, the sound of screaming drags on fly reels, Albies…ALBIES! ALBIES!!!

On the Crystal Coast of North Carolina, fall has always meant albie season. Although found other times of year, fall brings a temperature change that sends massive bait schools from the sounds, marshes, and estuaries out to sea, bringing in swarms of hungry false albacore in from the Gulf stream to the near shore waters surrounding Cape Lookout. It is an angler’s paradise, and droves of fishermen with long rods descend on the area to enjoy the fishery.

Nathan Rhea with an albie.

False Albacore (Euthynnus alletteratus) are called many things: Albies, Little Tunny, Fat Alberts, Bonita, and Spotted Bonito to name a few. Regardless of your chosen moniker, they are pound for pound one of the strongest game fish a fly angler can hook. Lacking swim bladders, they must remain constantly in motion. This perpetual activity results in a fish capable of swimming 40 mph, and that means blistering runs when they take a fly. Albies in the 10 to 15 pound range are common, and 20 pound class fish, locally referred to as buffalos, are often caught in North Carolina waters.

Seagulls swarming over albies.

Albies hunt together like a pack of wolves. Pods of fish crash through bait balls, chomping away. It is a scene of utter carnage. Seabirds dive to the surface, picking at leftovers as the water boils beneath them. Approaching, and often casting into, the birds and the sounds of their calls all but drown out the sound of the boat. The water’s surface bulges as blue-green and silver flashes rise to the surface through the bait. Careful not to put the fish down, a good captain will slow the boat down within casting range of the angler at the ready. Line piled on the deck, fly dangling in hand or trailing in the water, a well-placed cast into the ruckus can result in an immediate hook up. In the words of my dear friend John Snipes, “Get it in the gunk!”

Many anglers associate fly fishing with peaceful serenity. Albie fishing is anything but that. Whether approaching bait under gulls, or pulling behind a shrimp trawler, the atmosphere is charged. Fish are racing through the water, often disappearing as quickly as they appear. Birds are swarming, sometimes snatching your fly and creating an altogether angling experience as they fly off with your line. Sharks enter the picture, chasing the albies. (Note: It’s always a good idea to have a nice hefty rod rigged with a steel leader and large fly. The TFO Baby Bluewater is a good choice, but a nice 12 weight of your choice will do. Trust me. It helps a lot with the ensuing tug of war after hooking a 100 pound or better black tip!) Your heart will be racing, your hands will be shaking, and that’s before you even cast. Then the real fun begins as over a 100 yards of backing gets ripped from your reel in the first, of what will be several, runs begins!

The gunk!

Fishing for albies in the Cape Lookout area is most frequently done in boats. There are times when they are close enough to shore for kayak and beach anglers to reach them, but they move so quickly and often that the speed of a motorized vessel is preferred. The fish are moving, and from day-to-day can be active along different parts of the coast. For those without access to a boat, there are numerous guides in the area that specialize in the fishery including TFO Advisory Staff members Captain Jake Jordan and Captain Gary Dubiel. If you’re going to book a guide, do it as early as possible – their schedules fill quickly!

When you come, and you should come, you’ll want to have the right tools. The Cape Lookout/Harkers Island area has been called the place “where 10 weights go to die.” ~ Raiford Trask – The Saltwater Sportsman (Oct 3, 2001). 8 and 10 weight rods with floating lines are the norm. Having a sinking line on hand is never a bad idea either. I prefer moderate-fast to fast action rods that can deliver the energy necessary for long casts and the tracking and recovery required for accuracy at distance. Being able to load and unload quickly with good presentation is critical, and the TFO Axiom II X and Mangrove Coast rods deliver when it counts. Machined aluminum reels with a powerful, reliable drag are a must. Remember, you’ll be fighting powerful saltwater fish, so having enough spool for your line and 250 yards of backing is a good place to start. I like the TFO Power II or III reels, but whatever you choose needs to be sturdy and reliable.

Albie flies at the ready

Fly selection is important. Fly selection isn’t critical. What!? Yeah, that’s kind of how it goes with these guys. Some days they’re keyed in on one color and size, and nothing else will do. On other days, you could probably throw a Wooly Bugger in there and they’d eat it. You just never know, so I recommend bringing a variety. My dear friend and mentor, Rick Pope, is fond of saying, “Too much is the right amount!” My fly boxes resemble that approach, at least at the beginning of the season. During the fall, you may encounter fish feeding on Bay Anchovies (or brown bait), silversides, or spearing just to name a few. There are also tiny, clear, slender minnows with black eyes referred to as snot bait. Bottom line, there’s a whole lot of bait out there during the fall and fortune favors the prepared.

Baitfish patterns are the key, and I recommend a variety of sizes and colors. Lefty’s Deceivers, Surf Candies, Game Changers, Clouser Deep Minnows, and just about any other baitfish pattern will work. Tie or buy patterns ranging from size 6 to 1/0, or smaller and bigger if you’d like, in numerous colors. All white, tan over white, pink over white, brown over white, chartreuse over white, pink over chartreuse (Ahhh! The tuity fruity!), olive over white, and even brown over pink over white are all good choices. With flash and without flash, 1/2 and inch to 5 inches, weighted and unweighted…I think you have the idea by now. The flies don’t have to be fancy, they just need to look like baitfish and try to be ready for anything.

The author fighting an albie with a TFO Axiom II and Power II.

Besides the powerful runs, excitement of the hunt, and fish that are willing to eat, is the camaraderie of the anglers. Upon experiencing the fishery, many anglers return year after year to enjoy the albies and time with their friends. Built on the communion of albie anglers, and the area’s deep military roots, the TFO sponsored Cape Lookout Albacore and Redfish Festival was born. The 3-day event is a fishing tournament and day on the water for disabled veterans. Local captains, businesses, and citizens converge on Atlantic Beach, NC to raise funds for Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. and to take their participants fishing for these glorious fish. Around 50 disabled veterans are provided an opportunity for a full day on the water, followed by a captains’ party, silent auction, and tournament. Although the pandemic has postponed the tournament until 2022, it’s a great time in support of a worthy cause that was featured in an episode of the Outdoor Channel’s “The Seahunter” with Captain, and TFO Advisory Staff member, Rob Fordyce.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s time. Right now! The albies are here and they’re willing to eat. Hotels are open. Restaurants are serving. Hitch up your boat and try for yourself. Book a guide. The gulls are singing and reels are screaming. What do you have to lose? It’s almost like the albies didn’t even know life wasn’t back to the good, old normal.

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Chris Thompson. Chris has been a TFO Ambassador since 2008. He is retired Marine, Chairman of the Cape Lookout Albacore and Redfish Festival, and Program Lead for the Camp Lejeune Program of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, Inc. He is also a self-professed albie addict.

Nordic Anglers 5wt Shootout ft. TFO’s Blue Ribbon & LK Legacy

Our good friends across the pond at Nordic Anglers recently put together a cool little 5wt shootout video featuring several brands, as well as TFO’s Blue Ribbon and LK Legacy.

The 5wt shootout – specifically the Blue Ribbon and the LK Legacy – were highlighted for their application to trout fishing, but these rods can be used for a variety of freshwater species. Watch the video below to see what Daniel at Nordic Anglers thinks about them.

*Note that the Axiom ll-X 5wt with the fighting butt was featured in the image and in some shots of the video, but due to time length of the video, Daniel was not able to feature it in this video. To learn more about the 5wt Axiom ll-X, click here.*

Joey Nania Takes 2nd Place at Bassmaster Southern Open at Lake Norman

TFO Ambassador Joey Nania had an excellent weekend at Lake Norman in Charlotte, North Carolina last weekend with a strong second place win. Nania finished with a total weight of 36lb – 11oz and walked away with over $21,000 in cash winnings. Joey was fishing a “Neg Neeky” Zman Streak 375 on a 3/16 ounce finesse eye jig head on a 1/0 hook in a shiner color for both. Joey was fishing this on the Tactical Elite Bass 7’1″ Medium Light (TLE MBR S 713-1). Check out the video below to see why this rod was the right tool to seal the deal.

Fall Fishing Preview – Gear, Tactics & More

Fall is officially here, and with it comes many excellent angling opportunities. From bull redfish, speckled trout, and false albacore in the salt – to striped bass, musky, big colored up brown and brook trout and trophy bass in freshwater fisheries are just a few of many reasons to get excited for this season. This week, we checked in with some of our Pro Staff to see how they are planning on spending their time on the water this fall, as well as the tools and tactics they rely on.

Freshwater and Saltwater Fly

Striped Bass & Musky

TFO Advisor Blane Chocklett, Virginia – “Fall in my opinion, especially where I live in Virginia, we have several excellent options, but I spend most of my time going after striped bass and musky. We have freshwater striper fishing in the lakes and in the bay. In the bay, you can have bigger pogie/menhaden schools where the Big Fly comes in handy. Any of the sizes (8wt, 10wt, 12wt) are perfect. I also like to use an 8wt or 9wt Axiom ll-X.

Intermediate lines work best. My recommendation would be the SA Sonar Sink 30 Clear in the appropriate grain weight. For a sinking line, the SA Sonar Sink 25 (with appropriate grain wt.) works well. Both lines are typically spooled on the BVK-SD reel.

The important thing to remember in fall striper fishing situations is sometimes you have low, clear cooling water where fish a lot of times will want smaller baits. Freshwater stripers are feeding on smaller threadfin shad – anywhere from 2-3” range. They want it kind of suspended, so an intermediate line is very important.”

“The BC Big Fly comes in handy for musky fishing as well. SA Full intermediate lines work well this time of year with the cooler water. SA also has a new musky line that I like a lot, which has a larger head to be able to turn over bigger flies and works great with the design of the Big Fly. Both are usually paired up with the BVK-SD reel or NTR reel.”

Photo: Oliver Sutro

False Albacore/Albies

“Late October in the mid-Atlantic and North Carolina is prime time for albie fishing. The Axiom ll-X in an 8wt or 9wt is what I typically use, however when the larger albies start showing up, having a 9wt or even a 10wt is good way to go. Intermediate lines when albie fishing is very important. My go-to lines are the SA Sink 30 Clear or the Full Intermediate spooled up on the BVK-SD reel. I’ll match these up to my Finesse Changer and my Micro Changers to match the bait like glass minnows and silver sides. That’s my ideal albie setup.

For a more in-depth blog on albie fishing, check out the “All About Albies” from last fall. Click here to read it.

Photo: Jim Shulin

Large Trout Streamer Fishing

Trent Jones (Harcourt 3G Fly Fishing), Colorado – “Fall is officially here in Colorado. Last night it got down to the 30s. Hopper dropper fishing is tapering off and I am focusing my attention on chasing those larger fish on streamers. I do some wading, but I’m doing most of my fishing this time of year in a boat. I absolutely love the LK Legacy for streamer fishing. I have several different streamer setups in my boat, but for the most part, I am running a 9’ 7wt or 8wt LK Legacy. I also like to have a 9’6” 7 wt as it helps clients with less experience casting heavier lines to really pick up those weighted lines and larger streamers and easier unloading when casting.”

Photo: Trent Jones

“I use a variety of Cortland medium sink tip and heaving sinking lines depending on the areas I’m fishing at, and the conditions for that day. I usually have these paired up with the BVK SD lll reel. One of my go-to patterns is the Dungeon. I prefer white or black variations for the fall. Occasionally, I’ll fish a Mini Dungeon (4” or less), and can have great days fishing those smaller profile articulated streamers. I usually fish these under a 4 foot 20lb fluoro leader. In Colorado, we’re allowed to use up to three flies, so occasionally I’ll trailed a bunny leach or a black single hook pattern like a wooly bigger behind the Dungeon on a piece of 16lb fluoro. That can be a deadly set up.”

Freshwater Conventional – Bass Fishing

Joey Nania (Bassmaster), Alabama – “For fall fishing in Alabama and the southeast, the Tactical Elite Bass 7’1” Medium Light (TLE MBR S 713-1) is the rod I use the most with 10lb braid to a 10 lb leader! I like to pair with a 3000 size Johnny Morris platinum signature reel. I use the Zman Finesse EyeZ Jighead 3/16oz with a StreakZ 3.75 straight tail as well as the MinnowZ swimbait. Clear water is where it really excels on points with deep water near main lakes and in the creeks.”

Photo: Joey Nania

Ben Nowak, Michigan – “There are several different setup I like to use in the fall, but a jerkbait and a tube are probably the two I rely on the most. A jerkbait is a great tool to cover water and trigger bites. The key to fall is covering water until you locate the bass, and there are few better lures than a jerkbait to trigger reaction strikes from fall bass. The Tactical Elite 7′ Medium Crankbait (TLE LW 70CB-1) works perfect for this!

Tubes are a great for smallmouth during the fall when they’re keying on bigger forage and baitfish.  The Tactical Elite Bass 7’3″ Medium (TLE MBR 734-1) has extra length so you can make longer casts on shallow flats and pick up line quickly to ensure positive hooksets when the smallmouth bite long distances from the boat.”

Ben Nowak with an early fall Michigan smallmouth.

Saltwater Conventional

Capt. Gary Dubiel, Coastal North Carolina – During the fall, I do a lot of fishing with clients for speckled trout, redfish, and stripers. For lighter popping corks and fishing soft plastic baits, I find the Tactical Inshore 703 (TAC IS 703-1) to work the best.

For topwater stuff, my favorite topwater rod is the Tactical Inshore 694 (TAC IS 694-1). Short handle is ideal for walking the dog.  Perfect for fall specks, reds, stripers, bluefish and so on.

To read more about how Gary targets bull redfish in the fall, check out this article from last year – “Chasing Bull Redfish with Gary Dubiel”.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Capt. Jonathan Moss – Orlando, Florida – Fall fishing is here and so is the mullet run! This is an exciting time as there are thousands of mullet migrating south on the Atlantic coast. If you’re lucky enough to witness this, you’ll see tons of surface activity busting the surface, with the occasional tarpon jumping out of the water as they hunt these fish down. It’s not uncommon to find a bull red within the chaos as well.

When fishing the fall mullet run, I like to use the Tactical Inshore 8’ Mag Heavy (TAC IS 806-1). Paired with a 6,000-8,000 reel featuring a strong drag, I’ll use 40lb – 60lb fluoro line with a 50 lb fluoro leader. Big swimbaits work well, and of course live mullets will work great for those wanting to use live bait.

The BC Big Fly – A Musky Fool Review

BC Big Fly…the name says it all.

This year TFO released a brand new fly rod series geared at predator and big streamer fishing. This rod builds on the previous model, the ESOX series, to offer the predator fly angler a much-welcomed tool in their toolbox.

This rod was fully redesigned by the awesome team at TFO with the help from Blane Chocklett (where the BC comes from)! It comes in three models that are fully fit for freshwater and saltwater demands – 8wt, 10wt, and 12wt.

I was a fan of the ESOX rod to begin with so when the BC Big Fly came out I was very excited to give it a try given some of the improvements TFO included this time around. I spent about 3 weeks fishing the 8wt, 10wt, and 12wt in our local musky water here in Madison, WI so I am excited to share some thoughts on it!

Technical Details

As mentioned, this blank was completely redesigned by TFO. It is built using their Axiom Technology which is what provides such a good balance between power, accuracy, and recovery – three essentials to fly fishing for large fish with big flies.

The blank is stiffer and faster than the ESOX, but still has the blend of tip and butt power to enable different casting styles to be successful using this stick. I really like how light the rod feels in your hand, even the big 10 and 12wts, but the first thing I noticed was how smooth it was on the cast. This was especially apparent when throwing big musky flies, where typically you get a lot of shock in your back cast or the rod just wilts at the weight. This is where the redesigned rod blank really shined as it was able to maintain and deliver power without that full amount of shock seen in other rods. All in all, this just means you will be able to enjoy casting this rod for longer hours…keeping you on the hunt for the next giant.

The grip is very similar to the grip on the ESOX series. It is a modified cork composite that is very comfortable and functional but more importantly also durable. It has the extended IGFA-compliant fighting butt with the unique TFO foregrip. It is a full-wells grip with a little bit extra room on the front which helps 1) provide a comfortable grip platform for Figure 8s and 2) gives you the ability to choke up on the rod if desired (a common tactic in musky fishing!)

Photo: MuskyFool

Some other sweet features included the three RECOIL stripping guides. These are pretty sweet to mess around with as they can truly be bent in half without compromising the durability. This will come into play as rods get thrown into trucks, boats, etc, and will be able to take a bit more of a beating than your typical stripping guide.

Photo: Musky Fool

A couple of other cool features are the added hook keeper and the sweet laser-engraved Gamechanger logo on the reel seat.

Photo: Musky Fool

Rigging Up

We messed around for a few weeks with all three of these rods and several different types and brands of line. We also got to check out the NTR (No Tools Required) Reel. A bit of a side note, but we are big fans of this reel for our musky fishing as it nails a good balance between quality and price. Be sure to check it out when it drops in August! Now, back to the rod, here is what we found to work best when rigging it up.

8wt – 300 grain seemed to be best on this rod. While it will be angler specific, I found this helped me load the rod appropriately without much effort and also cast large bass and trout streamers with ease. It can for sure handle 280 grain+ well but my recommendation would be to spool up something a little closer to 300 grains.

10wt – 400 grains seemed to be the sweet spot. Again, angler specific, and something like a 380 grain seemed to work just fine as well. I was able to cast large 8-10 inch gamechanger style flies on this grain weight and rod weight without any trouble. Definitely be sure to let the butt section load!

12wt – 500 grains was my preference on this rod. I was able to cast the largest and heaviest musky flies in a little bit of wind without feeling like I was working too hard. The part I love the most about this 12wt is that it feels light in the hand and much lighter than your typical 12wt. To me, this means, this could easily be your everyday predator rod, which isn’t something I would say about every 12wt out there.

Dan Donovan of Musky Fool with his favorite species. // Photo: Musky Fool

I was very pleased with the performance of the rods, especially the 10 and 12wt for musky fishing. With other rods I have used in that range, things can start to break down when you are trying to chuck big musky size flies on a heavy sinking line and that is just not the case with the TFO BC Big Fly.

If you are in the market for a new predator rod, be sure to check this one out. This rod will definitely be added to our arsenal here at Musky Fool. Pretty tough option to beat at $399.99 (comes with rod tube and sleeve). I really think you will like it!

Blog written and photos provided by Dan Donovan of Musky Fool. For all your musky needs and gear, visit their website here.

When The Jacarandas Bloom – Chasing Corbina On the Fly

“Don’t get too deep. No more than ankle deep at most,” I remember Nick Curcione telling me on a beach in Coronado years ago. It didn’t make sense until the first one I saw bolted between my legs from behind me in three inches of water. “I told you,” came his response. That began an obsession and a quest that has pulled me from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara almost every summer since. All for a shot at the “ghost of the coast.”

There are numerous axioms associated with the sport of fly fishing, and fishing in general. If you fish the surf in Southern California, you’ll hear a few specific to one of the most difficult and rewarding species you can chase on fly: the California corbina. This member of the croaker family, known throughout SoCal as a “bean,” ranks along with permit and white marlin in its finicky and frustrating nature. And like those other species, taking one is a prize well earned and worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears shed in its pursuit.

Chasing corbina is a summertime pursuit, however, depending on conditions, they can be taken from early spring into late fall, from the northern reaches of the Baja Peninsula up to Santa Barbara. Traditionally, those hardcore enthusiasts that chase them say that when the jacaranda trees bloom, its time to chase beans, but knowing what time of year they are supposed to show up barely answers the question of “when.”

With any shallow water or surf species, tide and time of day are critical. Beans ride the surf in and out, chasing sand crabs, clams, worms and small baitfish, and in doing so, depend on the tide to make much of their diet accessible. At low tides, crab, clam and even worm beds are often high and dry, or in such skinny water that they are inaccessible to most fish. Like bonefish, permit, and even redfish, as the tide begins to rise, flooding the beach, beans push up farther up the beaches in pursuit of prey. In general, big tides allow greater opportunity, but experience will teach you when exactly in the tidal swing your favorite beach fishes best. In some cases, beans prefer the last of the falling and first of the rising tide. On other beaches they will feed on all but the lowest tides, but the safe bet is always begin your search on the incoming, or rising, tide during the summer months.

Keep in mind that tides around the full moon are larger than those on the new moon. Just as important to the state of the tide is the time of day the lows and highs occur. Remember, the highest form of chasing beans is sight fishing, so ideally, the best tides to fish are early in the day, but with enough sunlight to allow fair visibility. Sure, you can catch them blind casting, and arguably, most beans are taken while doing so, but for those that prefer to test their skill and patience, sight fishing for corbina is the acme of achievements. It’s not just their permit-like persnickety nature. They will ignore a well-presented fly with the same willful nonchalance of a teenager at a family event, only to nearly beach itself to grab a fly about to be picked up and re-cast.

Their behavior is bad enough, but when you add onto that the dynamic nature of their environment, sometimes the quest almost feels futile. They ride the incoming surf to push farther up the beach in pursuit of food and dart back to deeper water the instant the water ebbs. But the surf is never a simple ebb and flow. Waves compound themselves, break at odd angles and roll in heavily on one set and dribble in the next. The beaches along the Pacific coast are often deep very close to shore, and those troughs make perfect staging grounds for beans waiting to charge the beach. As the waves roll in, they dart up the beach, digging, rooting and often tailing if the water is deep enough, and, as the surf begins its withdrawal, in the blink of an eye they are gone.

Their nickname “ghost of the coast” is well deserved. Just as you line up the perfect shot, the light shifts, a wave breaks, and they disappear, sometimes to reappear ten feet farther down the beach, or sometimes they disappear altogether. Your window of opportunity can be timed in seconds that can be counted on one hand with fingers left to spare.

Add to this frustration that these fish squeeze into the shallowest of conditions. Another corbina axiom is if your feet are wet, you’re too deep. I’ve had beans square in my sights twenty feet in front of me, as a six-inch wave rolls through only to see the wake of a skittish fish darting back to deeper water from three feet behind me. Understandably, good light is critical to seeing these fish in the surf. Since most of our beaches here in SoCal face west, or mostly west, morning light works best to keep the sun over your shoulder rather than glaring in your face. The only issue with that is the May Gray and June Gloom—a heavy inversion layer of fog and mist that blots out the sun along the coast practically daily, often until late July. Under these conditions, the best you can hope for is spotting “signs” of a bean’s presence: wakes, tailing fish, or the bronze backs protruding from the surf as they push shallower, or more likely, head for deeper water.

Photo: Scott Leon

As if that all isn’t disheartening enough, you have to remember that SoCal beaches are hardly isolated or remote. Indeed, some of the best corbina fishing lies in the very heart of Los Angeles. Try making a back cast with scores of tourists trying to take photos of the sunrise, kids darting into the surf, joggers shuffling past, and dodging surfers like that digital frog in that old video game, all while jockeying for position among other anglers. None of these bystanders seem aware of your backcast, meaning that for safety’s sake you always have to watch behind you while trying to keep an eye on a wary, wiley target in front of you.

Maddening.

And then you hook one…

Photo: Scott Leon

If I haven’t yet dissuaded you from chasing beans, the the gear you’ll need is simple and straightforward. I prefer a stout rod capable of delivering quick casts at any range, though most casts will be shorter than 50 feet. My go-to is the Axiom II-X in a 5-weight. Many anglers prefer a 6 or even a 7-weight rod, but I think the A2-X is plenty beefy in the 5. The LK Legacy is also a great choice as is the new Mangrove Coast. A reel with a sealed drag is critical because of the sand and surf, making the BVK SD an ideal choice for beans.

Photo: Scott Leon

As for lines, I prefer a sinking line over an intermediate line because I feel the intermediate gets washed around too much by the surf, pulling the fly along with it. The sinking line keeps the fly in the zone within the washing machine on the beach. Shooting heads were the standard for years by those who pioneered the fishery, like fellow TFO Advisory staffer Nick Curcione, who began chasing these fish decades ago, but the newer integrated sinking lines are easier to handle in my opinion. There are even surf lines produced by several manufacturers, designed by SoCal surf fishermen for this specific application. I prefer a triple density line, however, but the choice is very much one of comfort and personal preference. A stripping basket, like the Linekurv, will help you keep your line, and your sanity, under control as you stalk the beaches and is an essential piece of equipment for surf fishing.

Leaders are even simpler. I used 8 to 10 feet of 8-pound mono or fluorocarbon. You could use 10 or even 12-pound test, but I feel lighter is better and I’m comfortable with 8. These fish are already spooky enough. Just remember to check your leader often. The surf and sand can wreck the material, quickly making a once clear material an opaque white cord. Fly choice is controversial and depends on who you ask—if they are even willing to tell you. Surf Merkins and sand crab patterns in bright pink or grey work best. You want them to be weighted, but not overly so, because the “plop” will undoubtedly spook beans. You need some weight, however, to keep the fly anchored to the bottom during your retrieve. Most tiers include a hint of orange along the bottom or back of the fly, mimicking an egg sack. Sizes should not be larger than a 4 but don’t need to go smaller than a 6, either. Stout hooks are necessary because beans pull. Hard. Sharpen your hooks often, too. Dragging through the sand will dull even the sharpest hook in minutes, and you’ll need a solid strip-strike and a sharp hook to penetrate the rubbery lips of a bean.

Top and bottom view of a sand flea. // Photo: Scott Leon

Over the past few seasons, I’ve seen more and more fly anglers hitting the beaches here in SoCal in search of the elusive bean. It’s a challenging pursuit well worth exploring, and a prey worthy of any angler, no matter how skilled they think they are. Beans will humble you. The challenge is not for everyone, but the great thing about them is they are readily accessible to everyone. A little grit and determination, a good rod, and a heap of patience is all that’s required.

Blog written and photos provided by TFO Ambassador Scott Leon.

Blog author Scott Leon with a corbina caught on his 5wt Axiom ll-X // Photo: Scott Leon

Flipping and Pitching For Large Bass In Late Summer Conditions

During the dog days of summer in the heat of the day, depending on the type of water you are fishing bass are going to either go deep or relate to structure and shade in shallow areas.  When I first started cutting my teeth on fishing bass tournaments flipping and pitching quickly became one of my favorite ways to catch largemouth bass.  I started fishing tournaments in 1995 when I was stationed in Yuma, Arizona while serving in the Marines.  The lower Colorado River in the middle of the desert is a jungle paradise for bass anglers which offers many different types of thick vegetation from tules, cane, grass, and trees.  It also offers dead wood trees and a few areas that have docks.

The Gear

When largemouth bass are buried in deep cover where they are hard to get to and hard to get them out of with other techniques flipping and pitching are the way to go.  One of the most important things for flipping and pitching is a stout rod so that when you get a fish on you can clear that fish of any cover as quickly as possible. For most situations, I like to use a 7’6″ Extra Heavy casting rod. Temple Fork makes this in their Tactical Bass series ( TAC FS 767-1) which is an excellent tool for this scenario. I’ll pair this rod up with a high speed Shimano Chronarch 8.1:1 gear ration reel spooled with 65 lb P-Line TCB8 braided line.  When I’m flipping or pitching I am also using heavy or superline hooks so they don’t bend out when I horse that big bass out of the cover.  Also the larger the bass, the harder the roof of their mouth is which requires greater force – especially with heavier hooks to achieve adequate hook penetration past the barb.  The Tactical Bass 7’6″ XH has the power to get both done.  I use braid whenever I can get away with it; however, if the water is super clear or if I’m fishing light cover like grass I will go to a 25lb fluorocarbon leader, fluorocarbon is also a good idea around old dead wood that braid might saw into.

Basic Techniques

Flipping is fishing like you would with a cane pole with no reel. The only exception is that since you do have a reel you can increase your distance by letting a little additional line out by pulling the excess line out away from the reel with your free hand and then feeding it smoothly back through the guides as your are flipping the bait to your target.  The advantage of flipping is if the targets are close to the boat you can flip to many more targets within a shorter time than pitching.

Pitching is great for reaching targets a little further away than flipping.  Start with enough line out to be able to hold the bait in your free hand next to your rod butt or reel and then lowering the tip of your rod with your bait caster thumb bar depressed and thumb on the spool.  Then, simply let go of the bait with your free hand and raise your rod tip to guide the bait to where you want it to go, while at the same time thumbing the spool to let line go out as you control the bait.  Keeping the bait low to the water and controlling with the thumb also helps to make and entry with very little to no splash with practice. If you are new to fishing, it may be best to watch some videos on how to perform these techniques to get a better idea.

When to Flip and Pitch

Fish naturally relate to cover, so flipping and pitching anytime can be productive. I like to flip and pitch in water usually less than 6′ but have fished deeper. If you are fishing open shallow water and the reaction bite seems to slow down or isn’t productive, you can either look for deeper structure or go in shallow after the fish by flipping and pitching.  Fish seek the cover for security, shade, and food so don’t be afraid to go in after them.

Baits

I personally like to use the following baits:

  1. Flipping jigs with trailers and heavy weed guards.
  2. Texas Rigged beaver/creature baits.
  3. Darker colors in dirty stained water and natural colors in clear water.
  4. 1/2 ounce baits are a good starting point and then adjust heavier or lighter depending on conditions.
Photo: Steve Lund

Quick Pointers

  1. I prefer to lock my drag down so that the fish can’t take any line. I want to get good hook penetration and I want to clear the fish from cover as quickly as possible.  I will only lighten the drag in areas where clearing the fish fast off the cover is not as crucial like soft grass or vertical poles. When I loosen the drag some, I will use my thumb to lock down the spool for the initial hook set.
  2. By using a high speed reel, this allows you to take up any slack line faster to set the hook, catch up to a fish running at you quicker, and also get your bait back to the boat faster for the next pitch.
  3. Use heavy hooks, smaller hooks can bend out and cause you to lose fish when muscling them out of heavy cover.
  4. Pick your targets out and try to establish a pattern.  Are you catching fish on one side or the other (Shady side or sunny side, up current side or down side) At the bottom, in the middle, or near the surface as you are pulling out?
  5. When you flip or pitch to your target be ready for a bite at any moment, let your bait fall to the bottom, twitch a few times, pull the bait out and repeat. Depending on the how the fish are reacting you may need to try soaking a bait a little longer with more twitches, try dead sticking for a bit, or shake and bump the bait against cover at the surface.
  6. Look for shallow structure/vegetation areas that are close to deep water, big fish like to sit in shallow haunts near deep water for an easy retreat.
  7. Practice controlling the entry of the bait to make as little water disturbance as possible upon entry.
  8. Ease the bait out of the cover so your weed guard or weedless Texas rigged bait doesn’t expose the hook and snag up on the cover.

Conclusion

Flipping and pitching have been a staple in my fishing success since I first started tournament fishing. It is a very effective technique that not only puts fish in the boat but has put many good quality fish in the boat and has contributed to many of my tournament wins.  Fish love to bury themselves in cover so don’t be afraid to go in after them, Just make sure you are well equipped to do so, you might just find that big fish you’ve been looking for!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Steve Lund. You can find out more about Steve here.

Photo: Steve Lund

TFO Releases 2022 Conventional Products

Temple Fork Outfitters is proud to announce the release of the newly redesigned Professional and Tactical Inshore series, two swimbait models to the Tactical Elite Bass series and two new light power models to the Trout-Panfish series.

All of these new products for 2022 are available now and shipping to TFO dealers in your area. Find out more about these new additions below!

Professional

TFO’s redesigned Professional rod series is designed for the versatile angler of any skill level and is perfectly suited for a wide variety of species and environments.

Highly durable, standard modulus, and moderate fast action blanks with powerful butt sections, come together to create one of the best values of any rod on the market.

New to the Professional series are down-locking reel seats with hidden threads for increased comfort, Fuji Concept O-ring guides, and cork grips all combine to give you a fabulous rod, safe for use in both fresh and saltwater. The Professional series continues to use the popular TFO color coded power system so you can quickly identify which action you are grabbing when the bite is hot.

Full length grips on 7’ & 7’6” spinning rods, split grips on all remaining models.

Find out more about the new Professional series here or at your local TFO dealer!

Professional Spinning Rods

Professional Casting Rods

Tactical Inshore

The newly redesigned Tactical Inshore series, are specialized inshore saltwater rods, built and designed for the accomplished inshore angler looking to find a series that will fit every need they have regardless of geography.

Compared to previous models, the new Tactical Inshore features a slight reduction in the blank weight, improved balance resulting in increased sensitivity, and new down-locking reel seats with hidden threads for enhanced comfort.

The series features TFO’s sky blue finish, Fuji K Guides with corrosion control and Fazlite inserts, premium cork grips with EVA accents and butts – along with shorter split grips on rods less than 7’. Full length grips on all other models.

Find out more about the new Tactical Inshore series here or at your local TFO dealer!

Tactical Inshore Spinning Rods

Tactical Inshore Casting Rods

 

Tactical Elite Bass Series Additions

New to the Tactical Elite Bass series are two swimbait additions (TLE BBC 806-1 & TLE BBC 807-1), and a new spinning rod addition (TLE MBR S 763-1) ideal for for hair jigs, long finesse and spy baits.  These new additions feature IM carbon fiber blanks, and are incredibly light and powerful.

Trout-Panfish Series Additions

New to the Trout-Panfish series are two new light power models: the TPS 662-1 (6’6″ Light Power) and the TPS 702-1 (7′ Light Power). Anglers familiar with this series will appreciate these new additions for throwing larger baits, and having more hook set power. Both new models feature the same components and look as the others in the Trout-Panfish family.

These new rods are available now and shipping to your local TFO dealers! To see our entire catalog of conventional fishing gear, click here.

Late Summer Lake Walleye Tactics

As we transition toward the end of summer and into the early fall season, casting for big water walleye that roam the Eastern Basin of Lake Ontario is something I encourage all walleye anglers to explore. This style of fishing is oftentimes over shadowed by the great trolling opportunities the fishery provides, yet when armed with the right equipment, this style of fishing is one of the most exciting ways to catch big water walleye.

Equipment

I use TFO’s Professional Walleye rods, PRO WC 764-1, 7’6″, Moderate power, fast action, rated for 6-12 lb. test and ¼ – ¾ oz. lures.   I pair this rod with a Daiwa Tatula 6.3:1 reel spooled with either 10 or 15 lb. Cortland Masterbraid braid, and on the business end I tie directly to a size 10 snap swivel and to that I attach a 5/8 oz. Walleye Wonder weight forward in-line spinner dressed with a 4- or 6-inch Zoom Trick Worm (green pumpkin w/chartreuse tail). The weight forward spinner comes with a size 3 gold Aberdeen hook, I replace that with a size 3/0 Trokar or Gamakatsu flipping hook, both hooks have bait keepers bonded on the hook shank which hold the trick worm in place on repeated casts and they provide excellent hooking properties.

A lot of folks ask me why the Zoom Trick worm instead of a natural night crawler.  To that I say, “Why not?!” In my assessment, the walleye sees the flash, they close in on the lure to get a closer look, then feel the thump of the rotating blade and ultimately the last thing they’ll do is bite it to see exactly what it is. When you look at a natural night crawler rigged on the back of a weight forward in-line spinner the worm is usually stretched out straight behind the blade as it comes through the water, the Zoom Trick worm looks much the same. The biggest difference is I can usually catch four or more walleye on the same Zoom Trick Worm before I need to replace it and I’m not worried about getting bait and keeping it fresh until it’s time to fish again.

The other lure that’s proven very productive over the past six years is the 2.5 squarebill. There are countless models available, but I prefer the Lucky Craft brand. These baits run true right out of the package and the 2.5 size does a fantastic job of matching the hatch regarding perch and panfish the walleye prefer.

What To Look For

I concentrate my efforts on main lake shoals and the offshore shoals in the back bay areas. The better shoals top out at 7-12 foot dropping off into the main basin and they need to have a decent mix of cobble rock and weed (preferably coontail or milfoil) find some eel grass mixed in and it’s even better.  In my experience, the cleaner the weeds are the best. Whenever I find an area with green slimly algae bloom smothering the primary weeds, I move on to the next area.

What I’ve found is the clean weeds play host to the grass shrimp, which draw in the panfish and perch and once they congregate on the weeds the walleye aren’t too far behind.  The other factor that seems to help (at least in the Eastern Basin on Lake Ontario) is the start of the fall salmon migration.  This salmon migration seems to trigger the walleye to vacate their open water feeding on alewives and move to shallower areas in search of the perch and these shoals are the first feeding areas they intercept as the move out of the deep open water.

Presentation

What works best for me is a steady retrieve. I’ll cast these lures out adjacent to the shoals along the weed edge and depending on depth (at least 6-7 ft. of open water above the weeds), I’ll sometimes present the lure across the very top of the shoal.

I have my best success casting adjacent to the shoals along the outside weed edges. Key to my success in these areas is making long casts, and the properties of the TFO Professional Walleye 7’6” rods make easy work of getting the lure well away from the boat.

I’m oftentimes asked about using a leader on the end of the Masterbraid. In my experience, when fishing the weight forward in-line spinner there seems to be no difference in using a leader- Vs- tying the masterbraid direct.  I’ve had days where a fluorocarbon leader in front of the 2.5 squarebill resulted in more strikes/hook-ups. I usually tie in a 36-40” section of Cortland’s Top Secret Fluorocarbon when I’m casting the 2.5 squarebill.

When selecting which lure to use, I generally start with the 2.5 squarebill and once I’ve caught a few fish on it, I’ll go back through the same area with the in-line weight forward spinner and pick off another fish or two. I’ve also had days where it didn’t matter which lure you cast first, but I just have great confidence in the 2.5 squarebill therefore I usually start with it.

Once an area slows, I move on to the next shoal. When walleye feed on or near the shoals, you’ll usually hit a two or more fish on your first pass through the area. When that occurs, make another pass through to see who else is willing to bite.  The other thing to remember is this, if conditions allow, make repeated casts to the same general area where you hooked the very first fish. Oftentimes these fish feed in groups and odds are the one you just caught has some buddies with him.

When casting the weight forward in-line spinner I’ve had days where the walleye will just nip the chartreuse tip off the tail of the worm and to remedy the bite offs, I borrowed a trick for the jig fisherman and put on a 3” stinger hook. This can turn those light biters or bites off into solid hook ups. I initially started with the stinger hooks from Northland Tackle, but found those hooks are a fine wire hook and can be flexed open by a good-sized walleye. I started making my own using a size 6 Gamakatsu round bend treble hook tied with Masterbraid, so far it’s working great.

Using the 2.5 squarebill is a simple presentation – cast it out and begin a steady retrieve. I’ve found these crankbaits dive around 5-7 ft. depending on the speed of retrieve and the diameter of line you use. I prefer Masterbraid for both applications (the 2.5 and weight forward in-line spinner) for two reasons: 1) It allows me to make super long casts in the gin clear waters of Lake Ontario and 2) The no stretch line provides excellent long distance hook sets. Remember all braids are no-stretch lines, therefore you want to allow a bit of slippage on your drag setting and trust the moderate power of the TFO Professional Walleye 7’6” rod.

Pro Tip: When you initially feel a tap on the lure do not set the hook, instead continue with the steady retrieve, and wait until you feel the weight of the fish to perform a moderate sweeping hookset raising the rod from the 9 to the 12 O’clock position. By waiting until you feel the weight of the fish, it allows the walleye to take the entire bait in its mouth and usually results in better strike to hook up ratios.

What you’ve just read has consistently produced late summer early fall walleye for me on the Eastern Basin of Lake Ontario since 2015 and if you can find the similar conditions on the Great Lake nearest you it ought to produce there as well.

Good luck to you, harvest what you can reasonably eat, and release the rest to fight another day!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Burnie Haney. You can find out more about Burnie and his guiding service in upstate New York at his website here.

Topwater Season – Three Rods & Techniques To Keep At The Ready

Summer is upon us, and topwater season is in full swing, with big blow-ups in store!  Here’s a unique approach from TFO Ambassador Jeremy Francis, to tackling three topwater techniques, and getting the most out of your rods for the topwater bite (and more)!

1). Hollow Body Frogs.

There’s not much in the world of bass fishing that yields heart-pumping topwater blow-ups like a bass crashing in on a topwater frog.  While there are different frogs to consider (walking, popping, buzzing), the gear and set-up you should use are mostly the same.  For starters, you need line that will float, and not stretch.  Hollow Body Frogs are equipped with 2 very strong heavy gauge hooks, therefore you need strong line and a heavy rod to match.  Consider 50-60 braid, especially if you like fishing a frog in and around heavy cover.  The braid will give you very responsive action with zero stretch, while also cutting through any grass and vegetation a fish may try to dive into after the hookset.

Photo: Cameron Mosier

For the rod, the Tactical Elite 7’4 XH (TLE SC 747-1) gets the job done.  While this rod is labeled as “Moderate,” the XH power gives it a strong backbone which makes for great hooksets.  The moderate action and softer tip also allows for super accurate casts when you’re trying to pick apart holes in grass mats or lily pads.  For the reel, consider a model with heavier drag to pull those fish out of the thick stuff, with a high gear speed.  Since you’re working the frog with the rod and not the reel, the reel speed will only come into play once you set the hook, and you’ll need and want that higher speed to keep the fish from running into the cover you just brought her out of.

Unfortunately, the frog bite can sometimes die off in mid-day with a high, bright sun.  For those times, I’ll use the same 7’4 TLE SC rod, but turn to a jig, Texas rig, or big shaky head worm instead.  This rod blank still gives you the great sensitivity you love from the Tactical Elite line-up, which makes for a great bottom-contact rod for dragging baits around in deeper water.  If you’re fishing stained water then you can still use braid.  However, if the water is clearer, consider switching out reels to 17 lb fluorocarbon.  It obviously doesn’t need to float (which flouro doesn’t), and flouro still gives you great feel and very little stretch for your hooksets.  This is how I turn this rod into a 2 for 1, and we’ll discuss the same methodology for the next two topwater set-ups.

 

2.) Big Walking Baits and Ploppers

We’re going to lump a few baits into one, as we discuss the next topwater technique that is highly effective and a lot of fun to fish!  Big topwater baits equipped with treble hooks (key component here) that include:  Big walking baits, the good ‘ol Whopper Plopper, or the Berkley Choppo.  While each of these baits come in a smaller version of themselves, we are currently talking about the big brothers here.  These baits are highly effective on shallow flats, main lake points, or fishing parallel to the bank on long casts.  To help you get the most out of your casts, hook-sets, and landing ratios, the rod and line you choose make all the difference in the world!

Let’s first discuss the line.  You really have two options here, and many personal preferences come into play – monofilament or braid, or a combination of the two for a third option.  Both mono and braid float, but depending on how much side to side walking action you are getting or wanting out of your walking baits, braided line can sometimes fall back into the treble hooks and kill the cast/action of the lure.  Mono will help prevent this.  For those die-hard braid fans out there, you can still use your favorite here, just consider a monofilament leader which is a little stiffer and stays out of the way of your hooks during the walking motion.  For your Whopper Ploppers or Berkley Choppo, it really comes down to personal preference between braid and mono, but I’d go with braid IF you’re also using the right rod for this application.

For rod selection, if you’re not using the Tactical Glass 7’4 MH, you should really give it a try.  I can’t speak highly enough about this new glass rod (TAC GB CB 745-1).  The parabolic bend in this blank allows you to cast a country-mile, but more importantly, the rod is phenomenal for hooksets with these baits.  The moderate action prevents you from ripping the bait away from a fish after it explodes on your bait.  After the great hookset you bestow upon this fish, you are able to keep the fish pinned with a slower response rate compared to a fast action rod, which prevents fish from throwing your bait on head shakes and brings more fish in the boat.  And once the sun gets high and the topwater bite dies off, this rod makes for a great bladed jig set-up.  Switch to the reel/line of your choice, but you will still experience the same benefits mid-day with this rod and a bladed jig!

3. Smaller Spooks, Poppers, and Wake Baits

Now that we’ve covered the larger variety of these baits, let’s move to the smaller versions.  As much as we all love big bass on big baits, there are times that we have to come to terms with the fact that bass are keyed in on smaller bait fish.  For these moments, smaller spooks or walking baits, poppers, and even smaller wake baits can really excel, especially along grass lines or under overhanging trees.

Much like above, your line needs to float here.  For the same reasons mentioned above, you can choose monofilament or braid.  20-30 lb braid seems to work well with these baits, except for super clear water when monofilament may work better on a slower retrieve and with pressured fish.  Reel speed doesn’t matter much so I prefer the higher/faster ratios, unless it’s for a smaller wake bait, then a slower ratio reel helps me slow down the retrieve.  For rod selection, we also like to step slightly down in size and power, and use the 7’2 Tactical Glass Bass (TAC GB CB 724-1).  This is still a manageable rod length for imparting walking action on these baits, and the hook-up ratio is hard to beat with this rod’s action!  Both the 7’2 and 7’4 Tactical Glass Bass rods are great for topwater treble hook style baits, and you won’t want to put them down.

Last thing to mention is that the 7’2 Tactical Glass Bass rod also makes for a great crankbait rod with your favorite squarebill or lipless crank.  So in between the morning and evening topwater sessions when you’re slaying ‘em, switch over to a crankbait on this rod and keep sticking them mid-day!

These three topwater techniques and rods stay on the deck of my boat at all times during the Summer months.  I now actually have 2 of each so I don’t have to switch reels, and can get the exact action I need and want out of the line and reel speed.  You can’t go wrong with these rods, and you if haven’t tried the Tactical Glass series yet, you really need to.  The quality, benefits, and price point all come together for high performance fishing to help you land more fish and get the most out of your time on the water!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Jeremy Francis. You can find out more at his YouTube channel Fishing The LoneStar, or follow him on Instagram here.

Photo: Cameron Mosier