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Precision Trolling Tactics for Spring Walleye

Spring is an excellent time to catch some trophy walleye, and tactics such as precision trolling with TFO’s new Professional Walleye Trolling series is the ideal method and tool for this scenario. This week, we catch up with Ambassador Will Dykstra of (who helped with the design and feedback of the new trolling rods), to discuss spring walleye fishing and how he’s rigging and using the Professional Walleye trolling rods.

TFO: Walleye season opener is coming up for some states, but you’ve already had a head start out west in Colorado. Can you talk about how you’ve been/are fishing for walleye this time of year?

WD: This time of year, we’re looking at prespawn/spawn/post spawn fish – the post spawn bite is probably your best trophy bite of the whole year. Precision trolling with crankbaits and big stick baits with planer boards is the hot ticket. This method works especially well right now in Colorado, but will also work in just about every walleye fishery in the country. We also do a lot of night trolling during the spring with 4”-6” jerk baits so we can dial in on those plainer boards and get the fish in. My go to rod is the new 8’6” Professional Walleye Trolling rod.

PRO WTC 864-1T

When you’re precision trolling for fish right above structure or in the actual strike zone of fish – if it’s too high or too low, those fish aren’t going to take your bait. When you have planer boards that are surging because the rods tips can’t absorb the weight of the planer board, you’re going to spend a lot less time fishing the strike zone. For me, having the forgiving action on the 8’6’ trolling rods allows me to stay fishing in the zone the entire time with minimal planer board surge.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TFO: What types of baits or lures do you typically use this time of year on your fisheries? Also what type of line and reel setup are you using for precision trolling?

WD: Here in Colorado, we have mostly gizzard shad in our lakes, so we are primarily focused on trying to find the piles of gizzard shad and setting our baits to the current distance behind the boards to make sure we are fishing the strike zone.

I use 10lb monofilament line. Basically, every dive chart created for every lure was based off of 10lb monofilament line. I prefer to use the P-Line CXX X-Tra Strong series because of its durability. It’s also really important to have some kind of crosslock snap to get the best action out of the bait., and also the most consistent diving action of out the bait, too.

I use an Okuma Coldwater Line Counter for my trolling reel. It really doesn’t matter which line counter you use, but I’ve had some luck using this one.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TFO: Any other methods besides precision trolling that you like to do in the spring or late spring as summer nears?

WD: Precision trolling at night is primarily what I am doing in the spring until the fish wrap up their postspawn timeframe. From there, I’m going to be transitioning to a lead core bite. The 10’ leadcore rod and also the 8’6” trolling rod are both of the rods that I’m pulling lead with.

PRO WTC 1004-2

It’s a little unconventional, but we started pulling small swimbaits with a 3/8 ounce jighead with a 3.5” swim bait – and literally fishing 2-6” off the bottom. Pulling that lead core allows us to dial in on depth that well. We can adjust the line non-stop to where we are just ticking the bottom every 30 seconds to a minute.

If you’re dragging it through the mud or bouncing it off rocks, for whatever reason, it doesn’t trigger fish here like it does in other places like the Canadian Shield where bouncing crankbaits triggers everything – smallmouth, northern, musky, and walleye. For whatever reason, our western fish don’t want it digging up the mud.

Fishing smaller crankbaits and swimbaits 2”-4” off the bottom is absolutely ideal. Again, the nice think about those rods, with the lead and the zero stretch that you have pulling lead core, you have a much more forgiving aspect with these rods that allows you to still bury those hooks into those fish.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TFO: Why fish for walleye at night in the spring?

WD: They’re more active. They’re putting the food bags once they’ve finished spawning, they’re trying to gain that weight they lost during the spawn and get those calories back on. I’ve noticed that typically in the last full moon in April, is when the night bite starts to fade off, our water temperatures start climbing into the high 50s. As soon as we start seeing 60 degree waters, we stop trolling. A lot of it has to do with vegetation growth. At that point, the fish will start setting up on their summer spots and we’ll switch to casting and jigging.

Stay tuned for Part ll later for early summer walleye tactics…

Kayak Fishing 101 – Getting Started In Kayak Fishing

Fishing from a kayak brings an entirely new dynamic to fishing that is both challenging and therapeutic. While the average angler starts out bank fishing and some move directly into boat fishing, I think kayak fishing is heavily overlooked. Kayaks come in all different shapes and sizes, styles and price points, so it’s understandable that some may be intimidated by the unlimited options. I’m here to tell you it’s not as bad as you might think, and if you decide to get into one it can change your life!

Photo: Cameron Mosier

I’ve used multiple types of kayaks, from paddle to pedal, budget to premium. One aspect they all have in common is the ability to get to where bank fisherman and boaters can’t or won’t normally go. It allows you to seek and chase a new adventure whether it’s a creek, river, small pond or even a big lake. It puts you where the fish are! You also get a little exercise out of it as well.

Photo: Cameron Mosier

For those of you looking to get into your first kayak, you should start by establishing a budget. This is key to determining the type of boat you will be able to get into. There are tons of kayaks on the market that fall into multiple price points so having a solid budget is the best place to start. You will see those cheap $300-400 boats at your local Walmart and think I’ll just grab one of those and be good. Most of the time these kayak will work just fine, but just for a little while. You’ll quickly realize the lesser expensive models aren’t comfortable for fishing all day. They’re usually not as stable, and because of the cheaply made design, they can take on water easier, and often quick. My advice is don’t cheap out. While I totally understand its not always easy to afford some of the big name kayaks, but in my opinion, a good baseline for a great fishing kayak is around $1,000. My very first kayak retailed for $899 before taxes and was out the door right at $1,000. Most, if not all kayak outfitters offer demos at no cost – which you should absolutely do before purchasing. Reach out to your local dealer or outfitter to see if they offer demo days.

Photo: Cameron Mosier

In addition to a kayak, the absolute first item you should purchase is a PFD (life vest). This is probably the single most important piece of equipment you need to always be wearing. It will literally save your life! Second, you’ll need a good paddle. Even if you purchase or use pedal kayaks, having a paddle comes in handy – especially when you get into a jam or your pedal drive fails! Consider getting a paddle that is comfortable to use and light enough that it doesn’t cause arm fatigue after several hours on the water. A first aid kit, and other safety equipment i.e., whistle, 360 light and flag are also items you should consider as well.

Photo: Charlie Wells

Now for the fun stuff, the fishing gear! This is the whole reason you bought that kayak, and now you’re ready to get after that new PB right?! I typically have a lot of rods with me. This isn’t always needed as I constantly find myself only using a hand full of them. We kayakers tend to bring the whole tackle shop with us as a “just in case”.

Spring is probably one of my most favorite times of year to fish and there are 3 very specific setups I always have in the yak!

  1. A Texas rig setup: I use a 7’ MH Heroes on the Water benefit rod as my t-rig setup. You get the same great action and sensitivity as the Professional Series and when you buy one, a portion of that proceeds benefit a great organization!
  2. A shallow to medium cranking setup: for this I use a 7’4 Medium Heavy Cranking Bait Tactical Elite Bass rod. This rod is perfectly balanced and is extremely lightweight and doesn’t cause any fatigue when I’m making a million casts throwing those square bills
  3. A Panfish setup: we live to fish, and fish to eat right? I always have a 6’6-7’ Trout-Panfish rod on the kayak for those crappie and sand bass because you never know when you might run into a school and smack’em! Keep that stringer on deck!
Photo: Charlie Wells

All in all, kayak fishing is a new experience that is easy to get into and I think everyone should try. It’s a great way to relax, unwind, and reconnect with nature. If given the opportunity to try it, you should give it a go. You never know what kind of adventure you may find!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Brandon Mayes (IG: _thatbassfishingdude). You can find Brandon on social media here or visit his website here.

Prespawn Smallmouth Tactics with Ben Nowak

Prespawn smallmouth to me is associated with constant movement. The prespawn period is typically when water temps are between mid 40 degrees to upper 50’s, with the “Magic Number” being around 60 degrees for smallmouth to be in full-blown spawn mode. Smallmouth in the prespawn are constantly in transition from deeper waters into staging areas and getting closer towards shallower flats where they will spawn. Smallmouth are unique in the fact that they tend to spawn in deeper water than largemouth and are more willing to be in open water areas near the main lake, as long as they can be protected from the elements; wind, waves, and current. The areas that I’m looking for during the prespawn are areas where fish can transition very easily. Fish want to have easy access between shallow and deeper water areas, especially during early to mid spring while they’re feeding up in the prespawn. Important factors such as weather, water color and temperatures are constantly changing, so being able to adjust to these variables is important for catching more smallmouth.

Ideal Water Temperatures

Typically the ideal prespawn water temperature for smallmouth is in the upper 40s to upper 50s – approximately 48-58 degrees. That’s really when I’m going to consider active prespawn smallmouth fishing. Mid April to mid May is a pretty good gauge for when fish seem to be fully in prespawn mode.

Transition, Contour & Structure

Finding transition points in depth and structure are where smallmouth can be found in early spring. Typically, these transitional staging areas are drops, points, or really any subtle structures on the bottom. Hard spots, or areas where there’s small contour off the edge of a hard drop are great holding spots. Smallmouth on northern lakes tend to set up on obvious contour changes, for example areas where there are steep drops near a main lake point can be very productive locations.

Photo: Ben Nowak

Setups

In order to adapt to the weather, water color and temperatures, and ever-changing moods of smallmouths, I’ll have a variety of baits tied on during the early spring to find smallmouth. The bait that I’ll choose will depend on the situation, fish mood, and water clarity. Having the ability to catch fish on a variety of baits is one of the most fun, but most challenging things during the spring.

1.) Jerkbait with the7’ Medium Cranking Tactical Bass (TAC LW 70CB-1)

The jerkbait is probably my number 1 bait for fishing the prespawn. Jerkbaits work especially well for the Northern lakes that I’m typically fishing this time of year. They catch fish that are both lethargic and don’t necessarily want to eat. A jerkbait elicits more of a reaction strike, but they’re also a really good bait to cover water with and just get really aggressive fish to come up and eat too.

The rod that I prefer to use is the 7’ Medium Cranking Tactical rod (TAC LW 70CB-1). The reason I like this rod is because the action is snappy enough that I can fish the jerkbait well, but when the fish bites, the rod has a deeper bend (more moderate action) to keep these big smallmouths hooked!

2.) Medium Crankbait with the 7’4 Medium Heavy Tactical Elite Bass (TLE LW 74CB-1)

I also really like a medium diving crankbait for covering water in the springtime. Using an 8-12 foot diving crankbait allows me to cover a lot of water to locate these big pods of smallmouth. Once I’ve located the school, I can also use the same bait to trigger fish to bite cast after cast. What I’m looking for when fishing a medium diving crankbait are mid depth contour changes, preferably with isolated cover on bottom. Grass, rock piles, or even subtle bottom composition changes can be the key to finding perfect prespawn smallmouth habitat!

3.) Hair Jig with the 7’6 Medium Light Professional Walleye (PRO WS 763-1)

One of the x-factors during the spring are warm sunny days with light wind. After a long winter under ice up here in the north, fish are seeking warmer water areas, so light wind days with high sun will warm the shallow waters quickly. On days where other techniques seem not to be effective, a small marabou hair jig can be a great way to target these shallow smallmouths that are sunning themselves in warming shallow water.

A big key when fishing a hair jig is the ability to make long casts to isolated targets. Similar to hunting, having a stealthy approach and being able to sneak up on fish is important, so having a longer rod with the right action to cast light baits is paramount. My rod of choice for a 3/32 ounce or ⅛ ounce hair jig is the 7’6” Medium Light Professional Walleye rod. This rod is long enough to allow me to make the long casts that I need, but also soft enough to handle these baits with ease.

When I’m fishing a hair jig, I’m looking for really obvious cover – big boulders, isolated dock posts, or any obvious isolated pieces of cover. My favorite approach to target this shallow cover is to throw the hair jig by these pieces of cover and use a very slow retrieve, just waiting for the rod to load up with a fat prespawn smallmouth.

4.) Swimbait with the 7’5 Heavy Tactical Elite Bass (TLE FS 756-1)

Last but not least is a soft plastic swimbait. Of all of the approaches, a 3.5” soft plastic swimbait is one of the most versatile baits that I will throw in the prespawn. This is a lure that you can do just about anything with, from slow rolling in deeper water to swimming high in the water column, a swimbait can be used in a variety of situations. When choosing swimbait colors, I keep things simple in the prespawn; white or shad based colors in clear water situations and darker green based colors when the water gets slightly off-colored or has a stain to it. With these two colors, you can approach a variety of water clarities with success.

With a swimbait, let the approach dictate the size jighead that you choose to use. For smallmouth around open water I’m typically using an open-hook jighead. This allows the best hookup to land ratio, and is my preferred method.

Although these are setups that I use for smallmouth in Michigan, you can use these same setups in other smallmouth fisheries and have success anywhere that smallmouth swim.

Key Takeaways

The biggest things to prespawn smallmouth fishing is covering water and finding where they are staging. A lot of times where there is one smallmouth in the prespawn, there tend to be many! Cover water until you find them and then slow down and pick them apart.

Blog written by Midland, Michigan based TFO Ambassador Ben Nowak. You can find out more about Ben by visiting and subscribing to his YouTube channel here or following him on social media here.

The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Euro Nymphing

No facet of fly fishing has witnessed a more rapid rate of change than nymph fishing. Driven by its popularity which is fueled by its success, nymph fishing has arrived at the forefront of fly fishing. More anglers are nymphing than ever before. And it’s no wonder; trout feed more often on subsurface food sources than those floating on top and anglers rely more on nymph fishing to target those feeding fish.

Euronymphing, sometimes called tightline or contact nymphing has exploded onto the fly fishing scene and changed the landscape of nymphing. No other method brings more fish to the net because it allows anglers to more effectively meet the three goals of nymph fishing with every drift.

The three goals of nymph fishing: the ‘Why’

Regardless of the method, the three goals of nymph fishing still apply: the first goal challenges you to get your flies to the strike zone where trout feed, usually the bottom 20% of the water column. Trout hold in feeding lies close to the bottom where the current is less than that flowing over their heads. To reach those trout in the strike zone, our leader must pass through the faster layers, which produces drag that lifts our flies from the bottom and traps them in midcurrent.

Presentation, the second goal of nymph fishing, requires us to achieve a dead drift for our nymphs just like we do for our dry flies. Flies should tumble in the strike zone at the slower speed of that layer, not whisk over their heads in midcurrent. Natural invertebrates drift this way and so should our flies. In other words, our flies should not drift at the speed of the current we see on the surface, but at a speed approximately one half of the surface current.

Lacking a floatation style indicator, whose large surface area affixes our drift to the surface speed, euronymphing allows our leader to cut through the fast current to reach the strike zone. Producing less drag on our flies, euronymphing allows our flies to remain in the strike zone and lets them drift at the slower speed of that layer, achieving goals number one and two.

A more accurate means of strike detection obviously leads to more fish in the net, making it goal number three for any successful nymphing method. While there’s a time and place for floatation devices, euronymphing affords a more sensitive and reliable means of strike detection by eliminating the inherent delay in strike detection with floatation devices, including plastic indicators. With the improved connectivity to our flies that euronymphing provides, strike detection sensitivity and immediacy also improves.

This graphic further illustrates the importance of a drag free drift. Notice how the current is faster near the top of the water column underneath the bobber/indicator, thus creating more drag . Not having an indicator lets the nymph rig reach the bottom of the water column faster.

The ‘How’ of Euronymphing

Euronymphing minimizes the drag inducing effect of the surface and midcurrent portion of the water column by cutting through these layers as efficiently as possible to reach the strike zone, allowing our flies to maximize the time spent there. To accomplish this, first and foremost eliminate drag accentuating plastic floating strike indicators. Then eliminate any line or leader lying on the water’s surface as this will also accelerate your drift. Lastly, use the thinnest leader you can manage with all subsurface sections of your leader or tippet thin and level.

On the water, cast your flies upstream or at an upstream angle, usually less than forty-five degrees across stream. Most casts are less than twenty-five to thirty feet. A slightly overpowered forward cast combined with a hard stop will transfer enough energy to complete the cast and snap back the weighted flies enough to ‘tuck’ them under, drilling them into the water to improve their sink rate. Recover any slack in the leader as quickly as possible to connect to your flies since many strikes occur during the descent. You’ll know when your flies reach the strike zone because the leader will tighten slightly and the drift will slow noticeably to a speed more consistent with that layer.

By lifting the rod after the cast and holding steady throughout the drift, then by recovering slack with your line hand, keep all line and leader from the water’s surface, maintaining the most vertical orientation of the leader as it pierces the water. Keep the sighter out of the water not only so you can see it but also to reduce drag since its usually thicker than the fluorocarbon tippet below it. Allow the drift to approach and pass downstream of your position. At this point, you’re fishing under the rod tip. At the end of the drift, you can recast to start another pass.

Anglers can vary any of the three parts of a euronymphing presentation, which are the initial cast, the dead drift portion of the presentation that follows and thirdly, the aftermath of the dead drift.

Casting, the first phase of every drift, offers several choices. While a constant tension oval shaped tuck cast works most of the time, the choice of various other casts may be necessitated by circumstances, such as overhead vegetation. In this situation, a water loaded cast might work better. Another common problem; you encounter faster water that minimizes fly time in the strike zone or prevents them from even getting to the bottom at all. Try more power and a firmer stop on the forward cast to drill the flies to the bottom.

The dead drift phase, the middle part of every euronymphing presentation, often works best as a dead drift. But when trout hesitate or on slow days, try adding a very subtle jig animation to the flies to elicit a strike. Gently lift the rod and drop it slowly, staying in contact with the flies as much as possible. Use nymphs tied on jig hooks to reduce bottom snags. Sometime a simple jig ‘twitch’ means the difference of several fish on slow days.

The final stage of each pass begins as the dead drift ends. Often we simply recast to start another drift, but try stopping the rod tip to allow the flies to lift up towards the waters surface in the manner Jim Leisenring made famous many years ago as a method to imitate natural insect behavior releasing from the streambed and rising towards the surface. You’ll even get strikes by letting the flies dangle in the current. Also on occasion, let the flies swing across current at the end of the drift like wet flies, since trout like to chase living food prey. You can tease a lot of trout to bite that you might otherwise miss.

Armed with the ‘Whys’ and ‘Hows’ of euronymphing, you’re ready to hit the water. Pack your nymph fly box, grab your net and your nymphing rod. If you don’t have a nymphing rod and love to euronymph, consider adding one to arsenal. The ability to cast lightly weighted flies, rod length and sensitivity make a dedicated euronymphing rod a wise investment.

TFO recently released the new Stealth rod – designed specifically for European, high-stick and tight-line nymphing techniques. Learn more about the Stealth below or here.

Blog written by TFO Advisor Jason Randall. Photos provided Jo Randall.

Targeting Early Spring Bass & Redfish with Cliff Pace

Last month, we caught up with Cliff Pace to talk about late winter tactics for targeting bass and redfish in the Louisiana Delta. Although winter hasn’t loosened its grip completely, we are seeing longer, warmer days, and the fish are starting to move. Cliff goes over how he’s adjusting to this change and the two rods he’s using to get the job done.

TFO: How do you adapt to the change from winter to spring and maximize your time on the water to catch more fish?

CP: In early spring, those fish are going to disperse from the winter groups that they were in during the winter, and leave those areas to push up into the shallower, flat bays and bottoms to spawn. In other words, pretty much anything that has a hard bottom without a lot of current.

The Louisiana Delta as a whole, is a very soft bottomed environment. If you can find areas where there’s quality spawn habit in the form of a hard bottom, typically, there’s going to be more than just one or two fish that move in to that area. You have to cover a lot of dead water to find those areas, but once you do, you can slow down and use your typical spawn techniques. This is when your search baits really come into play. Soft plastics primarily fished soft slowly with a very light weight are very effective for picking those fish off.

Photo: Cavin Brothers

One of my first choices to use during this time of year is the 7’2” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass Casting rod (TLE SB 726-1). I usually fish these a lot with spinner baits, chatter baits, thing of that nature.

The other rod I like to use is a 7’3” Heavy Tactical Elite (TLE MBR 736-1) for fishing soft plastics. I’ll also use this rod to fish a swim jig or a light Texas rig that I can either reel throw the grass or a weightless stick worm or something similar.

But what about cold fronts? It happens every year – a stretch of warm spring days, followed by a cold snap that takes us right back to winter. This seasonal transition can be extremely rewarding when targeting prespawn bass, but can also present some challenges when cold fronts come into play. See below for two important tips for how to find more fish in these scenarios.

 

Behind The Lens – Capturing Great Fishing Photos with Kory Robbins

There is an anonymous quote that goes, “Taking an image, freezing a moment, reveals how rich reality truly is.” The idea behind this quote is one of the main reasons I got into fishing photography back in the mid 2010’s. Frequently, I would find myself exploring vast Alaskan fisheries. On the trips where I captured unforgettable moments with my camera, I would later look back at the images and be truly grateful for that time on the water. There are probably many of you who can agree with this, but need some direction on what gear to buy, which camera settings to use, and how to find the best angles when trying to capture great fishing photos. Here are some tips I’ve gathered through my experiences.

Gear

Phone cameras have made huge gains regarding quality when looking back over the past few years. The addition of wide-angle lenses, better low light performance, and manual settings are a few main reasons for this. There are many instances where you can produce great images with a phone camera, but there are also times where that camera is not going to hang with a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. All the images shared in this blog were captured with a Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR, so let talk DSLRs.

Most people these days have a phone with a solid camera built in, but not everyone has a DSLR. If you want to have greater control over the photos you take, I highly recommend investing in a DSLR. Interchangeable lenses give each photo a different feel, full manual settings let you completely control the outcome, and a large internal sensor stores massive information in the image for easy post production editing.

When it comes to picking the right DSLR, this requires a bit of research for the photographer. There are numerous options ranging from a few hundred dollars up into the thousands of dollars. If I were to recommend a DSLR for a first-time buyer, I would suggest the Canon 80D. This is a mid-level camera priced around $1000. It’s weather sealed so it can handle wet rainy days, has a flip out screen for easy photo viewing, and has a quality sensor that produces great images. If you are on a tighter budget, I would recommend the Canon T7 Bundle which averages under $500. This will get you into the interchange lens game at a great price point.

After finding the right camera, your next biggest step is finding the right lens. When I am on the water, I always have two lens options in my case. A 17-40mm Canon wide angle and a 70-200mm Canon telephoto lens. Each lens offers a dramatically different perspective to the photo which we will talk about more later on. Most camera manufactures offer camera bundles that come with both types of these lenses at a discounted price. The other option is to buy the camera body, and then purchase lenses individually. This gives you a little bit more freedom.

Camera Settings

For those that are just getting into DSLR photography, there are a few terms you must become familiar with; ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Depth of Field, and RAW.

  • ISO: The larger the ISO number, the brighter your image will be. Be careful with this though. As you raise the ISO, you increase the noise, or fuzziness, in the shadows.
  • Aperture: This is the opening in the lens. A small number here results in a wide aperture. A wide aperture will let in more light, making the image brighter.
  • Shutter Speed: This controls how fast the shutter closes. A fast shutter will let in less light, but also will freeze fast moving objects.
  • Depth of Field: This is the range of what’s in focus in your image: A very fine-tuned focal point means you have a wide aperture.
  • RAW: This is a file type the camera can save images as. This type of image is very large in file size. A RAW image for example is around 25 megabytes in size, while an average iPhone image is only around 6 megabytes. The additional megabytes mean more information is stored in the image, making post editing a breeze.

Now that you are familiar with the terms. Let’s jump into camera settings. Most DSLR cameras have three general options; Full manual, priority, or full auto. I use each of these for varying situations on the water.

  • Full Manual: This is where you have complete control over all the camera settings. I use this when I have ample time to capture the shot. Landscape portraits or capturing action like casting are where this setting is handy. As a general rule, I try to keep the ISO under 800. This keeps the noise down to a very manageable level in post.
  • Priority: Adjust either the ISO, Shutter Speed, or Aperture, and the camera auto adjusts the other settings to get the right lighting. This is my go-to on the water. I like to fix the shutter at 1/200. This will freeze a moving angler and fish so they don’t appear blurred.
  • Full Auto: This is where the camera does all the work for you. I usually only use this for run-and-gun shooting where I don’t have time to mess with camera settings.

Angles

This is my favorite part of photography. There are infinite lighting scenarios, infinite compositions, and essentially infinite options when it comes to framing your shot. Let’s take a look at some of my go-to angles.

Close up with Telephoto Lens: Reveals details not commonly viewed with the eye. Axiom ll

 

Wide Angle: Offers a distorted and unique view.

 

Wide Angle + Slow Shutter: As this fish was preparing to be released, I adjusted my shutter to blur the moving water. The stationary fish was not affected by the shutter, so it appears in focus.

 

Glow Effect: Shooting into the sun, zoomed in with a telephoto lens to crop out the sun.

 

Shallow Depth of Field: See how the angler, net, and fish are in the same focal plane. Then the rod and background are blurred heavily. LK Legacy with BVK SD reel.

 

Shallow Depth of Field + Bright Background: You can use the sun reflecting off the water to make this unique effect when using a wide aperture. LK Legacy with BVK SD reel.

 

Wide Angle + Low to Water + Foreground: The wide angle makes the angler seem small, and the river seem larger than normal. Added fish trough in foreground for bonus detail. Pro ll TH with BVK-SD.

 

Fast Sutter + Shallow Depth of Field: The fast shutter freezes the line motion and water droplets during a spey cast. LK Legacy TH with BVK SD reel.

Last Notes 

Now that you have captured the perfect image, some post editing will really bring the image to life. My personal favorite editing software is Adobe Lightroom, but there are numerous other editing software options out there. Do a little research and see what fits your budget and workflow. While you are at it, check out some how-to DSLR videos and blogs online. I have learned everything I know about photography from the internet. It may seem like a lot of information to take in at first, but the real knowledge comes from trial and error, so don’t be discouraged. Learning a new skill is good for the soul, and for anyone wanting to get into photography, I highly recommend you develop a budget, find a camera that works for you, and take the leap.

 

Blog written and photos provided by TFO Ambassador Kory Robbins. Kory lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his wife and fellow TFO Ambassador Tessa Shetter. You can check out more of Kory’s photography here.

Striped Bass To Jacks – The Axiom ll Does It All For Nick Curcione

With close to fifty years experience of saltwater fly-fishing both the east and west coasts I’ve had ample opportunity to fish fly rods from most of the major US manufacturers. If there were one observation that captures the evolution of the rods that have been produced in that time span, it would be the continued improvement in materials and design. As is the case for so many manufactured items (cars are a prime example), in the fly-fishing community there is some nostalgia for rods of the past and collectors actively seek out some of the early examples that still may be available. However, most of these vintage sticks are valued more for their novelty, not for their efficiency as fly- fishing tools.

More so than conventional and spinning rods, the balance between casting and fish fighting effectiveness is far more critical with fly rods. And there is no denying the fact that today’s state of the art fly rods are far more effective in this respect than ever dreamed possible. Today, it is difficult to purchase a truly bad fly rod, a fact that simply was not the case years ago. And because there are so many products out there, choosing a rod that best suits your fishing needs can be more challenging than it was in the past where there wasn’t a whole lot to choose from.

Photo: Nick Conklin

The rule of thumb I try to drive home to anyone about to make a purchase is whenever possible, try to cast the rod beforehand. But even if the opportunity arises, there is the potential issue of one’s casting ability. Over the years I’ve witnessed countless instances where folks who didn’t cast well criticize the rod where the fault really lies in their less than proficient casting technique. So, in the process of selecting a rod, make sure you can at least cast well enough to make a fair assessment of the rod’s performance.

That said I would like to provide my assessment of TFO’s Axiom II fly rod. This has become my rod of choice for most inshore saltwater applications. The three models I use the most are the 6-weight and the 8 and 9-weights. When fishing the beaches of Southern California for barred perch and corbina, I prefer the Axiom II 6-weight. As far as inshore saltwater species are concerned, the perch and corbina are not large, and the flies tend to be on the small side – many of bonefish-like configuration. In streamer configuration, small two to three-inch Clouser patterns do the trick. In Long Island, when chasing stripers and blues, I often opt for the 9- weight because I’m frequently casting heavily weighted flies with fast sinking shooting heads in strong rip currents. This is basically the same setup I also use on the west coast fishing the breakwaters and kelp beds.

What really impresses me with this rod is the ease with which it casts and its ability to muscle strong fish from the depths. I have never fished a rod that handles so well with a variety of flies and fly lines. Running the spectrum from fast sinking shooting heads to full-length floating fly lines the Axiom II performs effortlessly. Of course your casting stroke will vary according to the distance you want to achieve and the type of fly you’re fishing. But regardless of the situation, this rod responds precisely to what you demand of it. That’s something you can’t say about most rods on the market today.

My favorite fishing on the eastern shore of Long Island is sight fishing for stripers and when this opportunity presents itself I mostly drop down to the 8-weight Axiom ll. In this case I’ll use either full floating or intermediate fly lines. The streamers I’m fishing generally vary in length from three to seven inches, but they are not weighted and the 8-weight is an ideal choice. Southwest Florida is another location where this rod really shines. Here I’m using full- floating lines almost exclusively. The species I set my sights on are snook, school size tarpon, jacks, and redfish. Though often underrated as a game fish, of the aforementioned mentioned species jacks pull the hardest and if you want to test the fish fighting ability of a fly rod tie into a double-digit size jack.

Photo: Nick Curcione

With the Axiom II, I find it has the backbone to enable me to thoroughly pressure the fish after it makes its initial line-blistering run. If the water has any depth, jacks can really dog you – and as is the case with most game fish – to land it in a reasonable length of time, you have to constantly and thoroughly pressure the fish to turn it and get it coming your way. Prolonging the battle with a fish greatly reduces its chances of survival when you release it. Inshore fly-fishing in this region presents a set of conditions where accurate casting and fish fighting efficiency are the order of the day. Boat docks and mangrove islands where you have to present the fly in limited areas free of structure can present challenges to even accomplished casters. I’ve fished this area for over 20-years and thus far the Axiom II is the model rod I prefer most for these conditions.

There are ample sight fishing opportunities, but much of the time the scenario consists of blind casting to structure trying to sling the fly under boat docks or in clear pockets in the mangrove bushes. The Axiom ll is simply a great casting rod and its comparatively light- weight doesn’t leave you fatigued after a long day of tossing flies. The presence of structure not only poses casting challenges, but it will also test a rod’s pulling power where you have a tug-o-war contest with a fish that wants to go where it feels safe. Big snook are particularly adept at cutting you off or entangling you around dock pilings or mangrove roots in their effort to escape. Here it’s important have a rod that will have the muscle to turn them your way. You will lose some of the contests, but that’s why we keep coming back for the challenge.

Photo: Nick Curcione

Article written by TFO Advisor Nick Curcione. You can find out more about Nick here.

Another Birthday Greeting To Lefty From Flip

A note from Flip Pallot:

Over many, many years. Lefty and I played a game of hiding small gifts or tokens, for no special reason or occasion, in places where the other would find them. Often in luggage, clothing, the pages of books, in vehicles, or tackle bags. We never exchanged Birthday presents, or the formal giving of presents. It was much better, not to see a gift coming through the woods!!!

On Birthdays, we’d call each other early in the morn, discuss what the day would be, or talk of Birthdays gone by or to come…

In later years, Lefty became enamored of texting. We texted daily…’lots of jokes. I could never come up with one he did not know!

After his death, I continued to text him for a year and a half, until they gave his number to someone else, who didn’t appreciate my texts 😊
I have continued to e-mail him, all along, just in case they’re getting through, somehow.
Today is Lefty’s Birthday…You can bet I’ll be sending a joke and the day’s itinerary so that he’ll be up to date when I catch up with him…..FP

We’d love to share a film put out last year by our friends at The American Museum of Fly Fishing and Flylords honoring Lefty and the memories that still last with fellow TFO Advisors Flip Pallot, Bob Clouser, and Blane Chocklett. Check out TIME below.

Winter Streamer Fishing – The Gear, The Flies and The Water with Brian Kozminski

“How’s the fishing?” the lady on the bank genuinely inquired.

“We got one in the net, had a few follows- decent day,” my buddy in the bow replied. “But we are just getting to the good water-” I retorted.

“I would go get my drift boat out of the garage, but I only dry fly fish.” she said as she adjusted her position on her deck above the quick flowing seam.

‘What did she just say?’ Sam asked.

‘She only dry fly fishes? That eliminates like 8-9 months of the year on the river.’ I pondered.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

It is an unusually warm early winter day on the river with guide Sam DeJonge of Wild Rise Outfitters. A pleasant air temperature of 47 degrees, we are toasty in fleece and the guides on my TFO Axiom II have not seen ice since last winter. Water temperature is 40 degrees, we are seeing intermittent clouds- we were hoping for a steel wool cloud covered day, but the sun manages to brighten a few runs along the way. We will fish all winter as long as boat launches are accessible. Solid advice to always check the takeout before you put in, they might not get plowed or are a treacherous skating pond from snow melt and re-freeze.

Don’t get me wrong, I get as excited as the next guy/gal when we see that first bug pop in early spring and an eager trout slurps it under the surface- but the streamer game- it gets my heart pumping like nothing else. For most anglers who chase apex predators, it’s all about the MEAT. Why does it seem intimidating? What is the hesitation for an angler to take the next step and buy a seven weight? Or even an eight or nine? I would surmise, in most cases, it is more about hurling a six inch wet tube sock through the air that may cause some trepidation, but that doesn’t need be the scenario. Let’s look at the basics. The hardware- line, rod, reel and flies coupled with the application of river reading and where to place a tasty morsel for hungry trout and how to retrieve your offering are the stuff books are written about. I will break it down for you in three stages. The Gear, The Flies and The Water.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

The Gear

Rod choice – One of the most important tools in the formula. One should choose a rod that can lift and deliver a larger fly to a sometimes tight or difficult location. Best rod weights from six to ten depend really upon the river and species you are chasing and the proficiency of the angler. Smaller streamers like Zonkers or Zoo Cougars can easily be propelled to likely soft seams with a good six weight, I really like the Axiom II or LK Legacy for the responsive roll casts often executed. Choose an eight weight if you need to catapult double deceivers or Gamechangers across the 50-yard line, often better matched with a fast action rod like the Axiom II-X. If you are into a mixed bag of bronzeback and lake fishing, the Blue Ribbon series in seven weight can toss your Lunch $ or a Bad Hair Day all day long. If you are looking in the budget fly rod category, the Pro II comes in under the competition and performs above it’s class. Proper pairing of line weight to the rod’s capabilities are paramount. We shall cover that next.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

Line Choice – We need to get the fly in front of the fish. Even if the fish has already eaten, placing a sculpin or crawfish pattern in front of a 24-inch brown forces the fish to react aggressively. Divide the river column into thirds, top third is 1-2 feet of depth, middle section 3-5 feet, and the bottom is 6-8 feet of depth. We like to use Scientific Angler’s Sonar Titan for many Michigan rivers. The Hover sink 2/4 can cover the top 2/3 of the river effectively with proper fly choice. Sonar Sink Intermediate 3/5/7 can get you in the deeper slots, and if you really want to get down, go Full Sink, but be wary of the all the woody debris- you may lose a Bangtail or two. Many are going to argue some flies can go deep if you use a full sink line, and that often works, but don’t double down with a full sink and a conehead Fishwhacker or you will go broke buying flies. Keep your leader short. Really short. Some anglers try to switch from their 9-11′ leader and can’t figure out why they are missing targets. I will tie a two-foot section of 30# shock tippet with a barrel swivel to 2- 3′ of 12-15# flourocarbon. Keep it under 6 feet long, you will amaze yourself with how well you can roll that heavier wet Grumpy Muppet under some overhanging brush when the heavy taper of your line gets your leader on point.

The Reel – Don’t over think this one, but DO NOT dismiss it either. Get a quality reel, decent arbor size, I prefer large arbor for quicker line pick up and retrieve. I have witnessed more fish lost when an angler is fumbling around with a load of line at his feet and he can’t seem to get enough line on the reel to get the upper hand before his 24″ brown takes his leader to log town and ‘POP!’ I have also witnessed fish charge the boat or go upstream and the slack in the line allows for the fly to ‘fall out’ on a poor hook set. Be sure you have a substantial drag that has quick initial start up, sealed drag is a bonus on the often sandy Michigan rivers. The newly designed BVK SD between $200 and $240 fits all these requirements- even for saltwater.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

The Flies

Fly choice – When you mention ‘streamer’ to certain crowds out West, they immediately think of cute flies like the Autumn Splendor and Woolly Bugger- those flies certainly have a time and place, but most often we are using articulated flies to imitate bait. Sculpin, crawfish, darters/dace, shiners/chubs and smaller trout- these are all on the menu for the fish who have achieved a certain size class. Flash is good, not too much, not too little, often it’s the only thing that allows you to track your fly in the water. The old adage bright fly bright day often applies, but don’t be afraid to go black- it can save the day. We also have plenty of leeches/chestnut lamprey and baby coho/steelhead smolt that add to the dinner features on most rivers that connect to the Great Lakes, perhaps this is why our streamer game is so different. Most often, it is best to try to match the color of the natural surrounding, the bottom. Olive, is a key color on the Manistee, but I have a good buddy who most often throws yellow, and his Instagram account will back his color choice. Kelly Galloup, who, along with Bob Linsenman, pioneered much in our way of thinking for ‘how to fish’ and what to tie for streamer patterns- they actually cowrote the book some 20 years ago ‘Modern Trout Streamers‘. Most flies are either versions of Kelly’s vast arsenal of witty named feathered configurations, but also some of the guides who either worked with Kelly when he was in Michigan or thousands of tyers who have watched countless hours on YouTube and his tying tutorials. Russ Maddin brought us the Circus Peanut and recently updated with the Chromatic Peanut, easily one of my top five flies for rivers we fish. Kelly adapted this pattern with the Peanut Envy. His streamer patterns like the Sex Dungeon, Zoo Cougar, Silky Kitty, Knappy Sculpin, Double Madonna, Barely Legal, Bottoms Up and the Woolly Sculpin have all opened our eyes to a wide variety of tying skills and methods of chasing trophy trout. Mike Schultz has brought us the Swinging D and the Swinging D 2.0, while Rich Strolis –Catching Shadows– and his Ice Pick, Hog Snare and Headbanger Sculpin have put plenty of big fish in angler’s nets. Mike Schmidt with Anglers Choice Flies continually bangs out a couple dozen Cotton Candy Deceivers, Viking Midges, Red Rockets, and Meal Tickets for his far reaching fan base. TFO’s very own Blane Chocklett revolutionized the streamer concept with his multiple articulated GameChanger. Primarily a toothy Esox chaser in his guiding days, Blane was out to mimic something that had more lifelike swimming motion. But his patterns have begun a revolution in all aspects of the streamer world and we continue to see evolution as we hit the tying bench.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

The Water

The River – Let’s talk about the water and how to fish it, effectively. The top third of the water column can be searched with patterns such as classics like a Muddler Minnow or Zonkers, but also the forever classic Zoo Cougar or Butt Monkey. If you add a sinking line, you can take some of these more buoyant flies to the next level. Most flies with a lot of deer hair or classic bucktail streamers like the Black Ghost tend to stay in the 1-3 feet zone. Sometimes I find these flies are very effective in early fall for pre-spawn brook trout and can be easily flung on your favorite five weight with an aggressive taper. This brings us to the middle column, 2-5 feet of depth, often targeted by floating anglers because you can tempt a fish up from the bottom or out of the woody cover without snagging up and losing $8 flies. Intermediate sink or sink tip lines will allow you to get down, especially if you make a downstream roll cast/mend immediately after your fly hits the water. This allows the line to sink with the current and paving a path for your fly to follow in front of that very ominous looking log jam. Great flies for this depth are the Double Boogie Man, Sex Dungeon, Great Lakes Deceiver and Circus Peanut to name a few. Going deep- aka Dredging- we need to be on the bottom, Headbanger Sculpin, Tungsten Conehead Woolly Sculpin, or a conehead Madonna will get down deep and dirty. I have often heard, “better to use the wrong fly at the proper depth, than the right fly at the wrong depth.” Basically, you gotta get the fly in the fish’s face- banging streamers on the bank is a good call, you will get a reactive aggressive strike that simply is the fish exerting dominance over territory, which is why we will see flashes on our streamer and get short strikes or ‘misses’- but sometimes they can’t just stop on a dime when they charge. Never overlook or underestimate the soft inside bend. This is an easy thing to do, especially when the far bank holds a ton of wood and a sweeper that is the very definition of a trout condo, but trust me. That transition water where the sand fades into dark cobble is exactly where a large aggressive fish can disappear into the bottom and wait for a careless brook trout or crawdad to slip out of his comfort zone. These can be camouflaged as shelves or deep gradient slopes, learn to read these tell-tale trout lies and you will amaze yourself in hook up ratio. Get a guide that can show you some of these non-descript looking trout hideouts, the return will be worth your investment.

Be sure to investigate a few spots like the front of a riffle zone or deep behind a down tree that looks like frog water. Big trout, especially in winter months will rest in dark murky water looking for a casual leech or crawfish to pass in front of their noses. There may be many likely looking holds that many trout may inhabit, especially on our wood-laden northern Michigan rivers, but the unlikely looking hold still can hold a trout, only a few less anglers have plied that water. Make a variety of retrieves. Imagine you are the baitfish that just came face to face with with a 22-foot dragon, would you casually walk out of the room, or turn on a dime and high tail it out of there? Make that fly dance and run like it is designed to swim. Sometimes the water temperature will dictate a very slooow thump thump retrieve. Trout will actively feed when water temperature is between 55 and 65 degrees, but post spawn opportunistic trout need to get some weight back on for winter. Spawning season can be stressful on trout, please leave them plenty of room to reproduce and secure future generations of trout to chase the other 11 months of the year.

No matter what you perceive as your preferred fishing method, always leave room to expand your horizons. Whether dry flies are your thing, or maybe you prefer Euro nymphing, having the right gear, the right line, and the “right” water always make for a memorable experience. Get out and enjoy the journey. #fishtheoriginal

Photo: Sam Bosworth

Blog written by Brian “Koz” Kozminski. Koz is the TFO rep for the Great Lakes region and has been affiliated with TFO on various levels for the past six years. He runs a guide service called True North Trout in the off-season (May-October). You can get a hold of Koz on Facebook and Instagram, via email.

Three Basic Casts with Ed Jaworowski

Once you can manage a reasonable forward cast, often called a “pick up and lay down”, you should focus on expanding your repertoire of casts. Due to limited space, I can only describe the basic mechanics of three, but these will hopefully get you started.

ROLL CAST

The roll cast is perhaps the most misunderstood. Fishermen regularly complain that, “My roll cast is terrible; the line splashes down or piles up.” Invariably, traditional instruction is at the root of this problem. We have all heard instructions like “start with the rod at 11:00”, “let the line drape behind you”, “chop down as if using a cleaver or hatchet”, and so on. Such instructions might suffice for casting small flies short distances with a floating line, but to get greater distance, turn over large or heavy flies, or fish sinking lines, they compel us to use excessive force or effort. The reasons are obvious.

First, starting with the line hanging limp behind you represents slack, and you have to get rid of that slack before you can load the rod. Lightly toss the “D-loop” behind you, but start forward before it collapses to the surface. You only need a short piece of line (the “anchor”) actually on the surface when you begin the stroke, so have the end of the line no farther in front of you than approximately a rod length or so when you start forward. Finally, since the line must continue traveling in the direction the tip Is moving (not where it is pointing) when the rod straightens, stroke forward, not downward. You want the line to unroll in the air above the water rather than roll across the surface, except in one special case. This may call for starting with the rod tip well to the rear, even pointing straight back for very long casts. This allows you to make a longer stroke, and will load the rod more deeply into the butt with no extra effort.

Lefty Kreh demonstrates why chopping down on the roll cast is poor advice. Most of the energy goes downward, instead of forward; the loop is very large, wastes a lot of energy, and will pile up at the end unless you use excessive force. Photo: Ed Jaworowski
Note this exceptionally efficient and tight loop as it unrolls toward the target. The keys are: starting with the rod pointed well to the rear; stroking the rod forward, not downward; very fast but smooth final acceleration to an instant stop. Photo: Ed Jaworowski

CURVE CASTS

Aside from a straight forward cast and a roll cast, curve casts have more applications in many fishing situations than any other. Understand that what the hand does at the end of the stroke, the rod tip will duplicate; the line and fly will in turn replicate that. So, if you want the line to curve, you must make the tip curve as the rod straightens. These photos and explanations demonstrate just two of several ways to make this happen, whether casting sidearm or overhead. In either case, avoid stroking downward toward the water.

Here, I cast sidearm, applying a little more effort than the cast would normally call for. The excess energy causes the line to curve to my left, around the tree stump. Casting left-handed, which is quite simple, will allow the line to curve from the opposite side. Photo: The Complete Cast (TFO)

Making the line curve with an overhead cast, when conditions call for that, is a bit trickier, but if you sharply turn your knuckles to the right or left the instant before stopping, the rod tip and, ultimately, the line and fly will do the same.

In this example, I sharply turned my hand to the right at the very end of the stroke. The line unrolled straight ahead between the trees, then the leader and popper sharply snapped to the right, behind the tree. Photo: The Complete Cast (TFO)

REACH CAST

While a curve cast calls for modification during the actual execution of the casting stroke, the reach cast introduces an additional motion after your hand stops and the rod straightens. There are a number of applications for this cast. One example, say you want to cast a dry fly directly upstream beyond a trout, but must avoid having the line fall over the fish and spook it. If conditions won’t allow you to move to a better position, a reach cast can solve your problem.

Stop the rod tip going directly toward the target but, while the line is unrolling in the air, continually and steadily swing the rod off to the right or left. It is crucial however, that you keep feeding line with your line hand while making the reach maneuver. Photo: The Complete Cast (TFO)

 

When executed properly, the fly will go directly to the target, but the line will fall to the water well to the side. The rod will be pointing at 90 degrees to the direction of the cast, as if you had cast from a position 9 or 10 feet to the right or left. Photo: The Complete Cast (TFO)

TACKLE

While skill is more important than tackle when casting, better designed tools will help greatly. Of course, personal choices come into play; here are mine. For heavier warm- and saltwater fishing, calling say for 8 to 12-weights, my decided favorite is the Axiom 2-X. Due to its higher modulus and Kevlar double-helix, it tracks, unloads, and stabilizes more efficiently, with less vibration, than any rod I have ever cast. Period. This makes for easier longer casts, as well as those described above, especially with larger and heavier flies, and with minimal false casting. For lighter (i.e., 3 to 7-weight) fishing, I rely on the quick, light, and durable LK Legacy. It’s ideally suited for all anglers when situations call for accurate and delicate presentations.

For much more detailed explanations of these and many other casts, I suggest you consult The Complete Cast, the four-hour instructional DVD/Blu-Ray from TFO, on which Lefty Kreh and I collaborated, and my newly-released Perfecting the Cast (Stackpole Books), which summarizes what I learned from my 45 years of coaching.