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Author: Tom Wetherington

Winter Redfish and Bass Fishing in the Delta with Cliff Pace

Another tournament season is about to kick off for Bassmaster Classic and MLF Bass Pro Champion Cliff Pace, but before he hits the road, Cliff is doing what he loves the most – winter fishing in the Delta for redfish and bass. Check out some suggestions from TFO Advisor Cliff Pace on how to maximize your time on the water this winter.

TFO: Talk about your fishery back home and why winter fishing is one of your favorite times of year to fish.

CP: Winter fishing back home has always been special to me. To me, home is considered the coastal deltas along Mississippi and Louisiana. It’s where I grew up and learned to fish.

There are several advantages for fishing in the Delta in the winter. First, like many places, there is less boat traffic and fishing pressure in the winter. Unlike other times of year, you can go out and have a day to yourself and just enjoy the solitude that the great outdoors has to offer. Winter is also the easiest time of year to fish (to me), if you understand it well.

During the winter, there’s obviously going to be cold fronts that come through. Cold fronts can be detrimental to the fishing. When it comes to tidal fisheries and cold fronts, some of the Northwest winds that stem from the fronts actually blow the tides out to their lowest points. What that does, essentially, is it bunches up fish from hundreds of thousands of acres of shallow water into whatever deeper water that is nearby by for them. It’s the best time of year to target fish that tend to group up.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Locating Fish in Winter

It can be a little bit difficult to locate fish in the winter. They aren’t as scattered out and you really need to find those precise locations where they group up. Once you get them dialed in, you can essentially have a chance at catching all the fish in that area within a square mile.

So to me – it’s that time of the year where those fish are going to pull to a little bit deeper water. They’re going to be bunched up on really hard spots – anything that’s in the water from a curb standpoint – maybe some grass that’s a little deeper than anything in the area.

When I say “deep” I’m not talking about 20-30 feet deep. I’m referring to water that is 4-7 feet deep. That might be the deepest water in an area.

The other aspect is a lot of our fishes’ food source is actually salt water based. We have shrimp and other food sources that migrate into the marsh in the fall and in the summer. These winter cold fronts push all those food sources back out into the gulf.

You have these fish that have bunched up that don’t have a meal sitting around the corner just waiting for them. It just makes them very susceptible to be caught. It makes it easy for the angler.

There are many situations where areas that contain bass will also have redfish, and will also contain speckled trout, flounder, and lot of varieties of other species. You can catch all these different types of species in the water in an area the size of your truck.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Winter Set Ups

TFO: Talk about the your favorite setups for fishing in the winter.

CP: There are two main techniques for me when fishing during the winter on the Delta: one is a crankbait, and the other is a jig. You can pretty much take those two techniques and get a fish to bite when you find those concentrated locations of fish.

Winter Crankbait Set-Up

Typically, I’m fishing crankbaits on a Tactical Elite Bass 7′ Medium Cranking Rod (TLE LW 70CB-1). I’m fishing relatively smaller baits for targeting those 3-8 feet depth range areas where the fish can be concentrated. I’m usually using a 12lb test line.

For baits, I usually go with Black Label baits. I also really like the flat sided baits – especially when the water is really clear. If I’m in a situation where I want something that has a little bit more feel or noise to it in dirtier water conditions, I’ll often times use some of the Jackall baits.

Winter Jig Set-Up

As mentioned earlier, water this time of year is really low, so typically your shorelines are mud banks with basically nothing up shallow to target fish. You’re normally fishing little hard spots.

Therefore, for my jig setup in the winter, I’m casting (rather than flipping) a jig. I’m using the Tactical Elite Bass 747 (TLE SC 747-1) with 15lb test line.

I usually go with one of my V&M jigs – something subtle rather than a jig that has more kick or flap to it. I’ll pair it up with a chunk style trailer. The weight of the jig is usually somewhere between 3/8 oz. and 1/2 oz. depending on the depth I’m fishing and the tidal flow we have that day.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Positioning the Boat For Maximizing Success

TFO: What other tips do you have for making the most of your time on the water in winter?

CP: It’s important to position the boat in a way that you can present the bait to the fish with the tidal flow. I’ve found it definitely makes a difference more so on these lethargic fish than what it might on other times of the year. Presentation anytime of the year can be everything.

Once you learn an area and know where the fish are positioned, it is important to set up (to me) on the downstream side if possible, and fish your way towards the fish upstream. Typically, those fish are going to be facing upstream. These fish are very tough. They’re going to be on something like a hard spot or a piece of cover – it could be anything.

After you catch one, nine times out of ten, there’s more than one there. If you’re fishing with the current and you catch a fish, by the time you unhook that fish and release it and fix your gear – the current is either directing you right on top of or past that location. So, by fishing into the current, you can catch a fish while holding you boat position, and you can make the same cast twenty or thirty more times if you need to in order to fully maximize the potential of that spot without disrupting it.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Winter’s End

TFO: When does the winter season typically transition into spring for you? What are signs that you look for or notice on the water?

CF: Every year is different, but there’s always a drop dead date when this stops. I’ve seen it end as early as the first of February, and I’ve seen it as late as March. It just depends on what Mother Nature gives us.

Spring fishing revolves around when these fish decide to move up and spawn. Other factors include the length of the day, as well as weather patterns (temperature, precipitation, etc.). A lot of fish will spawn based on the moon.

Photo: Cliff Pace

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog for early Spring tactics!

 

Winter Speckled Trout Tactics For Fly & Light Tackle

When not chasing after striped bass and redfish in the Pamlico Sound and estuaries of coastal North Carolina, TFO National Advisor Capt. Gary Dubiel (Spec Fever Guide Service) loves to put his clients on large speckled sea trout. Even during the cold winter months, Gary knows how to find speckled trout and has some excellent tips for both fly and conventional anglers.

The Pamlico Sound & The Migration of Coastal North Carolina Speckled Trout 

TFO: Tell us about your fishery briefly and why it’s suitable for speckled trout.

GD: The Pamlico Sound estuary system is fairly giant – 2.1 million surface acres of water. You’re basically looking at a shallow inland sea. It’s very conducive to speckled trout just from an environmental point of view – lots of shallow water, nursery area, and an abundance of food. It will also hold enough ideal water temperatures where the fish are going to be in the area year round.

Speckled trout here in North Carolina are very different then ones you’ll find in Florida, Louisiana, or Texas in that they have a significant migration distance. Many of the fish we have here will migrate out into the ocean and go north into the Chesapeake Bay.

I’ve been involved in a lot of tagging studies and my furthest tag return was 285 miles away from its starting point in Oriental, NC. Another interesting tag return that I was involved in was a fish I recaptured that was tagged in Virginia. The fish was only 13 inches long and was tracked from Northern Virginia to Oriental, NC and was recaptured within 14 days. These fish can move great distances in very short periods of time, which can make it challenging when trying to locate them.

As a rule of thumb in our river systems (Pamlico River and the Neuse River into the Pamlico Sound), typically what you’re going to find is that the cooler the weather, the more the fish move upriver and into the creeks. In other words, the further back into the creeks you go, the warmer the temps get. You’re typically going to see this pattern in late October/November right up into March/early April.

Once the water temperatures warm up into the low 70s and stay there for a short period of time, those fish will move out of the creek systems and back out into the main river systems. At that point, there can be fish that move to North Carolina from Virginia – move back out into the ocean and up into the Chesapeake Bay.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Spawning & Average Size

TFO: What are typical spawning or migrating behaviors across the seasons for speckled trout?

GD: Our fish here will adjust and typically move out into the lower parts of the river in the Sounds – where their first spawning will be around the first full moon at the end of May/early June. The first spawn is also going to be related to water temperature – somewhere in the low-mid 70s.

The fish will stay in those areas through the summer into early fall. There will be some shifting, but they are in those general area. Speckled trout can spawn 3-4 times throughout the course of the year. Smaller fish typically spawn twice, larger fish might spawn up to 3 times in a year.

TFO: How big do they get typically and what’s an average size for you? 

GD: You can find a mix of fish (size-wise) throughout the course of a year. Typically in the cooler months, bigger fish are more concentrated and more on the aggressive side. They tend to be more willing to eat much smaller baits as the water temperatures drop. Typically, you can catch more large speckled trout (24”-30”) in the cooler months, however, you can still catch big fish all summer long depending on your tactics.

You’ll see a lot of small fish in my area because of the volume of breeding that occurs here – anywhere from 10”-12” fish, right into 20”-24” fish. You’re looking at a pretty significant distribution of fish from one right up about six years old.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Locating Specked Trout

TFO: How are you typically locating speckled trout in the winter? Where is the best place to target them (river/water location or depth)?

GD: In the cooler months, you’re going to be looking to fish primarily in the creek systems, and the upper parts of the rivers. You basically have two different areas that you’ll find fish during the winter – both are particularly related to water temperatures.

In water less than five feet deep, I can catch speckled sea trout down to about 47.5 degrees (water surface temperature). Typically, in the backs of the creeks (water less than five five deep), the bottoms are dark mud and soft – so they’ll warm up faster in the sunshine. You can get a one to four temperature increase over the course of a sunny day.

In areas that are deeper – around six to twelve feet of water – you can catch speckled trout right down to about 45 degrees (water surface temperature) with your bottom temperature being a few degrees warmer.

The further upriver you go – cities like New Bern or Washington – you’re going to find some of the creeks are much deeper, so you’ll target the fish a bit deeper. Good news for that is that you can fish those with much lower water temperatures in colder conditions – bad news is they don’t warm up. What you have when you start out, over the course of the day is typically what you’re going to have. Those deeper creeks won’t warm up much on sunny days.

Tactics & Set-Ups For Light Tackle

GD: In the winter, you want to fish as light as you possibly can.  Allow your baits to sink very slowly and take advantage of a fish that’s pretty lethargic. You’re fishing for them at the lower ends of their tolerance to eat.

Scaling down in weights is helpful. Typically, I will fish down to a 1/16 oz. jig head with soft plastic bodies. I’ll scale down on soft plastic bodies – 2.5-3 inches.

Another bait that works really well for me in the winter is the Storm Shrimp – which is a composite, keel-weighted shrimp pattern. This mean that the weight is in the center of the hook shank, so the baits will fall flat – rather than head first. This results in a decreased fall rate, which can increase the amount of the bites you get.

In order to fish those baits, I want to have the lightest, most sensitive rod I can have. The 6’9” Light Inshore is ideal for that. Typically I’m going to be fishing a 1000-1500 series spinning reel with 8-10 lb. test braid. Everything is really light and scaled down. Even if you catch a striper or a redfish, the water is cold, so those fish aren’t going to peel line off like when its 75 degrees. In the winter, everything is lethargic.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Tactics & Set-Ups For Fly

GD: You pretty much want to copy the same tactics used for light tackle, and apply it to fly. Typically, I’m fishing Type 2 to Type 3 lines depending on the water depth. You’ll want a slow sinking line, or a clear intermediate line, with a lightly weighted fly.

Rods that fish this type of setup well are the Axiom ll-X, the Axiom ll, and the Mangrove. 6wt and 7wt are what I prefer, but you can also fish up to an 8wt.

Smaller weighted flies such as Clousers, Half & Halfs work great. I also use a few of my own craft fur patterns. The Lil’ Hayden is one I tie that produces well for speckled trout. The Pop-N-Shrimp is another good one. Flymen has reproduced one of my mine called the Crafty Deceiver.

Ultimately, you’re looking for something that has some weight in it, but that falls about the same rate as those slow sinking lines do. Click here for a video where Gary breaks down some of his go-to patterns for speckled trout.

For a reel, the BVK-SD is the perfect tool for the job. It’s lightweight and has plenty of drag if you need it, too.

I usually use a 3’-4’ straight leader to the fly. Usually, I scale down to 15lb fluorocarbon in the winter to help maintain that straight contact with the line and fly.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TFO: What retrieval patterns typically work best for you?

GD: Strip and Pause. Strip, Strip, Pause – All your bites are going to be on the pause. Pay attention to your counts on your pauses. If you are getting bites on a certain number (seconds you are counting), take note as it gives you an indication of where the fish are and how they’re reacting.

Anything that feels different – strip strike. Even though it is cold, those fish can spit out that fly pretty quickly.

Make sure that the rod tip is almost in the water and pointed at the fly to maintain as direct contact as possible to help detect any strikes.

TFO: Not many anglers are aware that speckled trout have some pretty sharp teeth. Do you have any advice on handling them?

GD: You’ll want to grab them in the belly right under the gills. Don’t put your fingers in their mouth like you would a bass or other species (laughs). You’ll want to have some plies or hemostats to get the fly out of their mouth once you have them at the both.

 

Fly Fishing the LA River, Urban Carp Fishing With Jimmy Kimmel, Green Eggs & Ham + More with Lino Jubilado

Not many people associate fly fishing with the LA River, however for TFO Ambassador Lino Jubilado, catching carp on the fly on the LA River is something he’s been spending almost every weekend doing since he was a teenager. Like many urban fishing locations, the setting may not be the most attractive, however it can give anglers (and inspiring anglers) a chance to catch fish right in their backyard without having to drive miles away to a river, lake, or ocean.

After being fairly active on social media and sharing his LA River carp on the fly adventures with the world, Lino has met many people, including late night show host, Jimmy Kimmel. This week we chat with Lino to find out how he got started fly fishing, how he got into catching carp on the fly specifically, his unique approach to targeting carp, the soon to be famous Green Eggs and Ham carp pattern, and his experiences fishing with Jimmy Kimmel.

How long have you been fly fishing, and what got you specifically interested in fishing for carp on the fly?

I have been fly fishing since the 1980’s. I got my first fly rod when I was 14. I caught my first carp in the late 80s when I was high school, and I remember catching it on a fly that I tied from a fly tying kit that I had. I believe it was on a royal coachman of all things (laughs). Back then, we had to sneak into the river, as it was illegal to access.

I’ve been fly fishing exclusively for about 15 years now. Prior to that, I used to fish bass tournaments professionally with conventional gear. I just got tired of the egos and pressures of fishing competitively and I wanted to try something different, so I got into fly fishing.

Did someone you know fly fish? What made you interested in fly fishing?

I was actually at a fishing show with my Dad when I was 14 and there was a guy on stage demonstrating it. The instructor asked if I wanted to learn and I said “Sure!”. He pulled me up on stage and taught me in front of everyone. After I left there, I was super interested and asked my Dad to get me a fly rod.

Targeting carp on the fly is pretty popular today, but I can’t see that being a common species (no pun intended) for a 14 year old in the 80s to want to go after. Was that on purpose or was it just a fun bycatch for you?

I was not intending to catch carp at all when I first started. I was actually going for bass, bluegill, and sunfish. I didn’t even know carp were in the LA River. I grew up fishing it catching sunfish and bass, but had no idea carp were in there. Over the years, as I met other anglers that fished the LA River, there became a community of carp anglers – specifically fly anglers.

I didn’t get really active on social media until the last 3 years, but I’ve noticed that lately, catching carp on the fly has become a really popular type of fishing everywhere and I’m seeing it all over Instagram. Our group/community has been fishing for carp well before social media, so it’s been fun to see people catching carp in all parts of the world. I’ve met a lot of other carp anglers through Instagram as well.

Although not as scenic as rivers in Montana, the LA River can hold carp, bass and sunfish of good sizes! Photo: Lino Jubilado

What types of locations or rivers are you going after carp?

Mostly the LA River, but I try to get out and fish lakes in the outside area. I send my flies to people all over to see how effective they are on other fisheries. The LA River holds a lot of common and mirror carp, so I stay pretty busy fishing it.

As you started focusing more towards carp on the fly, how did you learn to increase your chances of success on the water? Was it from advice from your local community of anglers, or just getting out there and figuring it out.

A little bit of both. Sitting at the vice and just tying bugs that mimic what I would see in the river. One time, I saw some workers cutting the grass near the river and watched these carp gorge on these blades of grass downstream of where the grass trimings were flowing/blown into the water. I went home and tied up a blade of grass imitation and it worked! Through the years, these fish been hard to figure out. They can totally change their diet day by day. That what makes them so challenging!

You fish for carp on the fly a little bit differently that other anglers. Tell us a little bit about that.

I actually utilize a strike indicator when I fish for carp, which isn’t a common method apparently. People will comment on my Instagram posts all the time saying “How do you fish for carp with an indicator?” I realized quickly that most people are sight fishing these fish rather than using an indicator in water that typically holds carp.

I like to use a pattern that I tie called the Green Eggs & Ham. I’ve lost track of how many carp I’ve caught on the LA River with that fly and I use it exclusively with the strike indicator. With that indicator I can detect the slightest vibration or movement.

Lino’s famous Green Eggs & Ham carp pattern.

What kind of indicator do you like to use?

My go-to is a ½ inch airlock – the smaller the better. Orange is my favorite color for visibility, but if I notice they’re getting spooked by the indicator, I will switch over to white to mimic the bubbles.

Different types of indicators possible for carp fishing on the fly, but the air lock (buttom right) is a favorite for Lino.

Carp can be very finicky. How much does stealth play when you’re fishing for carp in your fisheries? Do you have a specific technique or tips for how to approach carp?

The nice thing about a strike indicator is I can pretty much stay away, and like trout fishing, let the fly drift as naturally as possible. I’m not constantly on my feet trying to get into casting/drop & drag range. Carp are super spooky, so keeping my distance with the indicator really helps me increase my chances of not spooking a fish.

It is very important to approach the water very quietly. Carp have a lateral line that make them super sensitive to vibrations in the water. You put your foot in the water, and they know you’re there already. It takes a lot of patience because when you do walk in the water they’ll know you’re there and spook off, but if you’re patient and stand your ground, they’ll come back and you can get another shot at them.

Also be sure to work areas that you know are holding fish thoroughly. Especially as we transition into cooler weather. With colder water, the fish will get super lethargic. They’ll still eat, but you really have to get the fly right in their face.

I see where you’re using the Axiom ll-X a lot. What size/weight do you like to use?

I love using the 5wt Axiom ll-X. Even in the more open water, the back bone is what’s important, and the Axiom ll-X has backbone for days! Just put that side pressure on that fish and you’ll tame that thing very quickly.

The Axiom ll-X is probably the first 5wt weight I’ve ever had that has a fighting butt and I love it, especially when fighting carp.

I’ve also been using the new LK Legacy TH 13′ 7wt paired with the BVK SD lll+. I might be the first spey’n carp anglers (laughs).

Any specific lines, leaders, tippet you like to use?

I like to use a floating line. From the fly line, I’ll do a 5’ leader of a colored mono (bright green) to a tippet ring. From there I’ll put on a 4 to 5 foot piece of 10lb fluorocarbon. My indicator usually goes right above the tippet ring so it doesn’t slide down.

Recently you fished with Jimmy Kimmel. Can you talk about that experience?

Definitely – So I mentioned earlier that I only really got into Instagram about three years ago. A few years back Jimmy Kimmel started following my account. I figured it was a spam account or something random, but I had also heard through the grapevine that he was a big time fly fisherman. I started looking at his site and sure enough I came across some hints that he fly fished!

Earlier this summer, he actually reached out to me on Instagram! He had a buddy, Chef Adam Perry Lang, that had a birthday coming up and he wanted to help him catch a carp on the fly. He asked if I’d be willing to help make that happen. I was like “Absolutely!”

We met up and I took them down to the river and within the first ten minutes his buddy Adam caught one!

Lino, Jimmy Kimmel, and Chef Perry Lang enjoying some carp fishing on the LA River.

Very cool! How did Jimmy do?

Jimmy hooked up six times, but unfortunately, he lost all six! He was doing great, and doing nothing wrong, but sometimes you have those days where fish break off before you have a chance to net or land them. He was so upset he said he wanted to come back. We haven’t had a chance to meet up again for that but as a thank you, he invited me and my family out to his lodge in Idaho to do some fishing.

I had the best trip of my life there. I’ve never caught so many trout in my life. I took one morning to go fish the Blackfoot Reservoir because I heard they had monster mirror carp there. I went out and caught my biggest carp ever on a 6wt!

 

That’s awesome! Do you and him still keep up?

We do! He’s a lot busier now, but he emailed me and asked me how the fishing was at his lodge. He still comments and likes my posts all the time. Hopefully we’ll get back on the water again soon!

Sounds and looks like you take a lot of people fishing with you. That’s great that you are able to introduce new people to your fishery and the experience of catching carp on the fly.

That’s the beauty of Instagram. I’m taking people all over the world down to the river now. It’s like a hobby of mine to get people on carp. Every weekend I’m taking someone new, sometimes people who don’t even fish because they’re fascinated by catching carp on the fly.

Kesley Gallagher with a carp caught on 12lb test. This was a record for a large carp (14lbs) on light tippet. Lino found a spot loaded with fish, gave Kesley a green eggs and ham pattern and let her go to work.
Lino helping fellow TFO Ambassador Brian Leon catch his first LA River carp on the fly.

Any tips or suggestions for people looking to try fishing for carp on the fly. Where they might be looking for carp opportunities in there area?

That’s what’s great about carp is that they aren’t exclusive to certain areas of the world. No matter where you live, you can probably find carp in a body of water near you. Take your time and remember to be patient. These fish can spook very easily so remember that patience goes a long way! Don’t be afraid to throw an indicator on when fishing bodies of water with moving water.

TFO Ambassador Tucker Smith Wins Third Bassmaster High School National Championship

Not many 19 year olds can say they’ve won three Bassmaster High School National Championships, but TFO Ambassador Tucker Smith can proudly say he has. Last weekend, Tucker and his teammate Hayden Marbut won the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School National Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors on Kentucky Lake with a final three-day total of 47-5. It was Tucker’s third-straight title win, and the first for his teammate Hayden.

The tournament was not a cakewalk by any means for Tucker and Hayden. Originally scheduled to be in August, the tournament was rescheduled due to COVID to late October. Although Tucker had fished Kentucky Lake before, fishing it at a very different time of year brought many challenges – including cooler water and air temperatures, heavier winds, different holding spots for fish, and a change in eating patterns/behaviors. Tucker and his teammate were able to have very productive practices to adjust to these changes, but also had the right tools to get the job done.

This week we caught up with Tucker while he took a break from his virtual freshman year classes at Auburn University to get the scoop on the Championship win, the TFO rods that helped him bring home the gold, but also to get some backstory on Tucker on how he got into competitive fishing, and how he became a part of the TFO family.

Where did you grow up and how long have you been fishing?

I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama fishing around the Coosa River. I’ve been fishing for as long as I could remember. My Dad, Uncle, and my grandfather really got me into fishing. Eventually, I met local competitive angler, guide, and TFO Ambassador Joey Nania. Joey was kind of a mentor to me growing up.

How did you and Joey meet?

Mutual friends. My Dad had a friend that recommended we fish with Joey for a guided trip when I was 14 or 15 years old. We did a trip with Joey and caught a ton of fish and had a great time. I started fishing with Joey a lot more after that. We became buddies and he started taking me out fishing just for fun outside of guide trips. He kind of showed me the ropes. We’re still good friends today.

TFO Ambassadors Joey Nania and Tucker Smith putting in some work with the Tactical Elite Bass series.

When did you start fishing competitively?

I started fishing competitively in high school when I was a freshman. I did a few tournaments in middle school, but didn’t really start fishing the “bigger” tournaments until I got on the high school fishing team.

How long have you been fishing TFO?

I’ve been fishing with TFO as long as I’ve been fishing with Joey. He was a huge supporter of TFO rods when I started fishing with him. I got comfortable using the rods competitively in my high school tournaments. I wanted to get more involved with TFO, and thankfully not long after I won my first championship my sophomore year, I became a Youth Ambassador for TFO.

Let’s talk about the tournament. When was it originally supposed to happen?

It was supposed to be in August at the same location the tournament has been the last two years – Kentucky Lake. When it got postponed due to COVID, it was definitely a challenge because we were fishing this lake at a totally different time of year. The fish were focused on completely different baits and holding in different spots as well. We had to adapt and catch them outside of what we had done historically there.

What were conditions like throughout the tournament in late October, compared to what they would have likely been in August? How did you adjust and adapt to this change?

Typically in August, its 95 degrees and you’re having to take your sunglasses off every five minutes because they’re getting fogged up with sweat. Late October, the first couple of days were nice in the high 60s/70s, but the last day it really dropped – mid 30s with high winds. It was pretty miserable that last day.

For the most part we were throwing topwater the whole tournament, but on the last day when it was windy and got down in the 30s, we had to get a little deeper.

What TFO rods were you using? Why did you choose that rod and stick with it versus using others?

I was using the 6’10” Medium Tactical Elite Bass almost the entire time. I was throwing topwater most of the tournament. That 6’10” is perfect for working a spook. I was using that most of the tournament. For this type of topwater fishing, you really want a shorter rod so you can work the bait not hit the water with your rod every time you jerk it. The Medium Action has enough to give to load up with those treble hooks, so they don’t sling it when they jump.

We were catching 3-7 pound fish. When they have a big topwater in their mouth jumping with treble hooks, you need that rod to bend and give them some space to jump. That’s why I went with the 6’10 Medium Tactical Elite Bass. For the rest of my setup, I was using 40 lb. braid to a Shimano Curado K (7:1).

Would you have used this same setup (topwater) in August?

In August, we were throwing a lot of chatterbaits and I was using the 7’3” Medium Heavy Tactical Elite Bass. That’s actually my favorite rod because of the versatility of it – you can throw so many things on it. It’s a great chatterbait rod.

Give us a breakdown of the days of the tournament. Sounds like you guys had a pretty successful first day out.

A few weeks prior to the tournament, we were fortunate enough to get some practice time on the lake. We fished five days, daylight to dark before we got cut off to practicing. When it came to be the official tournament practice days, we went back and checked all the baits that worked for us during those five days of scouting practice, and cut the hooks off so that we wouldn’t catch the tournament fish, but we could see where they were.

We were throwing topwater, so you could easily see when they’d come up and eat. We’d work down these long main river flats and bars until we’d get bit. Whenever we’d get a bite, there’d be a few others as the fish were usually schooled up. Once we’d find these spots, we mark it down for actual tournament days.

On Day 1, the conditions were perfect – calm, no wind. We hit up a few of the spots that we had marked during practice, but we weren’t getting into any big numbers. We eventually moved to another spot we had marked. After a few casts of no bites, I noticed an indention in the flat that looked really good about a hundred yards down the flat. After I got on the trolling motor and got close enough, I made a cast and caught a 4 lb. smallmouth. My buddy picked up his rod, made a cast in there, and caught a 7.5 largemouth (which was the biggest fish of the tournament). I threw back in there again and caught another 4lb smallmouth, he threw in after me and caught a 4lb smallmouth, then I followed up again and caught a 3 lb smallmouth. So after all that, we had 22 pounds in five casts in five minutes. It was the craziest five minutes of fishing in my life. We ended up getting biggest bag and biggest bass of the tournament on that first day.

Day 2 – We started with the spot where we caught the big bag from the day before. The wind had picked up making the water really choppy and they just weren’t hitting topwater. We were able to get eight 3+ lb bites, but they just wouldn’t eat it. My buddy snagged a 4lb smallmouth with a spook in the back of the head cause they were just basically slapping at our bait at that point.

We decided to switch up our tactics. I grabbed a 7’3” Medium Heavy Tactical Elite Bass with a rattle trap and caught a 4lb smallmouth, and then the next cast I caught one over three pounds – so at that point we had three good ones in the box.

We tried another spot later in the day where I caught another bass pushing 4 pounds on the 6’10” Medium Tactical Elite Bass. We ended up getting two more at that spot and filled our limit for the day. We ended up with a bag of 17.5 for that second day.

Day 3 – This was a super rough day with 20-degree temperature drop and very strong winds. They actually almost didn’t let us go out, but after a 45-minute delay, they ended up letting us go. Right out of the marina we were hitting 4-foot waves. It was rough.

We knew we had a good lead amongst the other teams from our previous two days, but still needed to get fish in the boat. We ended up getting two 4 lb. fish, but it was really tough.

We ended up winning by 10 pounds, but it was funny the way we found out. We were the last ones to pull up to the weigh in because the judges typically put the people they think are going to win in the back. When it came to be our turn, they called out “Alright boys, you want to come on up here and weigh your fish, or do you want to just come get your trophy because you’ve already won without weighing in your fish.” We would have won by 3 pounds if we haven’t weighed our fish in from that last day, but after we did weigh in, we ended up winning by 10 pounds.

Now that the tournament is over, you’re back at school for your freshman semester at Auburn now. What’s next for you in terms of fishing and life?

I’m on the Auburn Bass Fishing team right now, and I’m currently majoring in Business. My goal is to fish all these college tournaments and make it to the National Championship. If you make it to that and get in the top four, you can make it to the Classic Bracket. If you win in the Classic Bracket, then you get to fish in the Bassmaster Classic – which is the biggest tournament in bass fishing. That’s my dream.

Other than that, I’ll fish some Opens, and maybe fish some Toyota events as well. Try to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic through that as well.

Have you thought about guiding some? I’m sure you’ll want to focus on your competitive fishing first, but have you thought about doing some guiding down the road?

 I’ve definitely thought about it, but you’re right – mainly focusing on fishing competitively right now. I might pick up some guiding in the summer when I’m back home. We’ll see..

If you could only take one TFO rod with you – doesn’t matter what time of year or the conditions – what TFO rod would you take and why?

If I could take one, I’d probably take the 7’3” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass. I think it’s the most versatile. I like the Medium Heavy too, but if you have that Heavy, you can do flipping, frogging, throw a jig, chatterbaits, big swimbaits, A-rig. You can throw most of what you need to make it work.

Blane Chocklett Talks New TFO LK Legacy Rods

Next Monday marks the release of four new rods to the TFO family of fly rods: the Stealth – TFO’s first ever true Euro-nymphing rod; the Blue Ribbon – a medium-fast action western style of rod designed to handle heavy indicator rigs, hopper-droppers and streamers in harsh, windy conditions; and the LK Legacy and LK Legacy TH– a tribute to Lefty Kreh’s most popular rod he helped design and TFO’s best-selling rod, the BVK.

Over the year, we sent several prototypes of the LK to our advisors and ambassadors to help us dial in what Lefty would be pleased to be the evolution of the BVK. If there’s any angler on our team that has been raving about it more than others – it’s Blane Chocklett. Here’s what he has to say about it.

What do you notice right away when fishing with the LK Legacy?

BC: It’s a true fly caster’s rod. You can immediately feel that and appreciate it. Anybody that likes a faster rod and technical casting tool – this is it.

As a tribute to Lefty Kreh (LK Legacy), and evolution of the BVK series, how do you feel he might have felt about the outcome of this rod?

BC: I think he’d be very proud of it. I think it’s a continuation of what he built in the BVK series. It has some similarities to it, but it’s a definite improvement in one of TFO’s best selling rods ever.

He would be absolutely pleased. It’s everything you’d want in a rod, and everything he’d want in one as well – especially someone that can appreciate casting like Lefty did.

What species have you been targeting with the LK?

BC: I’ve been playing around with the prototypes for about a year now I’ve caught a variety of stuff on them from stripers to redfish, speckled trout, spanish mackerel, albies, largemouth, smallmouth, snakehead, bowfin, pickerel – pretty much everything but musky and trout.

The LK has done extremely well with handling floating and intermediate lines, which is pretty much what I have been using.

Photos: Blane Chocklett

What has been your Go-To size/model?

BC: I’ve been fishing specifically with the 6, 7, and 8 weight models. I really like all of them. They all fish and cast like the lines are supposed to. I haven’t noticed any change in line sizes – like the rod just doesn’t feel the same in the 6wt as it does in a 7wt. It’s a continuation of each, so it reflects each line weight appropriately.

I’ve been using a 7wt probably the most with it being smallmouth season lately and all the cicada stuff that’s been happening this summer. I’ve definitely been using the 8wt quite a bit, too. I use those two more so than the 6wt.

Photos: Blane Chocklett

Have your clients been using them? If so, what has been their reaction?

BC: Oh yeah. Everybody that I’ve had in the boat is going to buy one.

I’ve been fishing the Axiom ll-X a lot. It’s a great casting tool, but it’s also more of a fish-fighting tool. When my clients pick up the LK Legacy, they notice how light it is and they notice how accurate and easy to cast it is -even though it’s a faster rod. A lot of the times it has to do with them throwing a floating line so they don’t have to feel the weight of a heavier sinking line and can feel and appreciate the cast of the rod better.

The LK Legacy an be used in many different scenarios. It could be used by the guy chasing bonefish on flats, the sight fishing red fish angler, and the trout angler that likes to fish larger dry flies. It does fine fighting fish, too. It’s much stronger than the BVK. It’s an extremely versatile rod, but it’s more of a casting tool for sure.

All About Albies – Tips & Tactics from Jake Jordan, Gary Dubiel & Andy Bates

While it’s easy to get sad about summer’s end, the transition into fall brings a special type of excitement to anglers on the East cost. The tail end of summer brings bull redfish inland to spawn and forage on baitfish, but by late September, a cool north wind blows offshore forcing baitfish back towards the ocean, while also bringing false albacore inland. This results in a head on collision of predator and prey, and the perfect scenario for the angler that gets at the right place at the right time.

TFO is fortunate enough to have several advisors and ambassadors with lots of knowledge and experience fishing for false albacore on both fly and conventional gear. This week, we decided to switch it up and get feedback from several of TFO’s finest – Jake Jordan, Gary Gubiel and Andy Bates – to give some tips, tactics, and insights for all things albie fishing.

TFO Ambassador Capt. Andy Bates with Fat Albert. Photo: Andy Bates

Overview, History & Migration

Give us a brief overview of false albacore. Have they always been a sport fish, and what is it about fall that makes that the time to fish for them?

Jake Jordan – False albacore (also known as Little Tunny, Albies, Fat Albert) are located in the Atlantic Ocean all the way from Maine to Chile, as well as the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. Although they are in the tuna family, their rough flesh makes for not so good eating, but a fantastic sporting fish.

North Carolina was one of the first places that people started fishing them as a sport fishing fly fishing in the late 1990s. Historically, albies were referred to as a baitfish. We used to catch them, cut out their bellies, and troll them for marlin. As a sport fish, they are like any other tuna or jack – they are very, very powerful. Anglers often refer to bonefish as being one of the strongest fighting fish. An equal size false albacore is much faster and much more powerful than the same weight bonefish.

In the summer months, the baitfish (anchovies, silver sides, spearing, etc.) in the estuaries will eat and get bigger in the warmer, shallower water of the Sounds. As soon as the first cold front of the year comes through, a Northern wind cools down the surface water in the Sounds, causing the baitfish to run out of the inland water towards the warmer water of the ocean. Likewise, as soon as the albacore out in the Gulf Stream feel that cool, north breeze, they immediately swim into the wind and head inshore. They’ll come towards the beach, coming right up into these giant schools of baitfish. At this point, you can find albies anywhere from 2ft to 100ft deep.

Signs of a Bait ball – Baitfish & Birds. Photo: Colorblind Media/Rob Fordyce

Baitball, Birds, and Shrimp Trawlers

TFO: Aside from being able to see them near the surface, how do you locate albies?

Jake Jordan: Two of the most important factors in locating albies are bait balls and birds. Typically when I’m starting out for the day, even before first light, I’m just looking for bird action. Really good anglers will have “Bird Radar” where you can see out as far as 20-25 miles, but even at 10 miles, you’ll see the birds diving down on the fish and you can run right up to them. This will be a sign of either redfish or Spinner sharks, or it’s going to be albacore. Earlier in September it could even be big Spanish mackerel and King mackerel.

You’ll see these giant baitballs where the water is boiling with fish going crazy and baitfish jumping out of the water. These bait balls can be the size of a big swimming pool. All you have to do is drop your bait or fly into that boil, and before you get a chance to strip or anything, your line just takes off with a fish on the end.

TFO: Let’s say you’ve located some fish busting on a bait ball. How are you positioning yourself to cast?

Jake Jordan: Albies are unique in that they swim and feed into the wind. When you’re chasing these fish, if you can get upwind in front of the schools, you can sit there and wait for them to come right to you. I try to sit the boat right to the side but in front of the path of the schools. You’ll be casting straight into where they’re going to be, your fly is coming across the school, so basically you are casting ahead and perpendicular to them.

TFO: Do you ever spook the schools when casting to them as they are migrating?

Jake Jordan: No. These fish aren’t afraid of anything. There are times when they are boat-shy. When you get 100 f.t from them, they go down and disappear, and then they’ll pop up 300 ft from you.

On the hunt, and looking for signs of albies. Photo: Colorblind Media/Rob Fordyce

TFO: I’ve heard that fishing behind shrimp boats trawling bottom can be another great way to catch albies. Can you talk about that? 

Jake Jordan: If there aren’t a lot of bait balls happening, and we aren’t seeing any birds, another way to catch albacore is fishing behind shrimp boats. Here in North Carolina, shrimp boats are operating almost 24hrs a day. Here we have flat sandy bottoms, and these shrimp boats are trolling the bottoms with these big chains holding the bottom of these large nets, just scooping up shrimp and all kinds of baitfish. About 50-60% of what they bring up to the boat is baitfish also called bycatch, the other 40-50% is shrimp. When they make their pull up to the boat, they’ll throw everything back overboard that isn’t shrimp. This will draw sharks, albacore, and millions of birds.

 You can get about a hundred feet from the back of the boat and wait for the boats to throw the bycatch overboard. You can use a 10wt in this scenario (sharks), but I like to use a Bluewater SG Medium with a Power Reel using about 500-700 grain head with 1.5-2 ft of 20lb leader with about a 5 inch white Clouser minnow. I’ll set the drag on my reel to about 6 pounds. As soon as you get a hook up, I usually put the boat in reverse to get away from the boat so the fish don’t get wrapped up in the trolling nets/cables.

The man himself. Sir Jake Jordan with another albie. Photo: Jake Jordan

Fly Rods & Reels

Jake Jordan: At the start of the season in September, and in the summer when I’m also targeting Spanish mackerel, I’ll start off with a 9’ 7wt Axiom ll-X. I’ll pair this up with a BVK SD-lll reel. Typically, you’ll want a reel with a heavy drag system, but with early season albies (4-6 pounds), you’ll be fine with the BVK-SD, and it’s a lot of fun on a 7wt. Once we start catching albies more consistently, I’ll switch over to a 9wt Axiom ll-X. I’ll fish this until late October/early November, and then I’ll step up to a 10wt Axiom ll-X. The purpose of stepping up to the 9 and 10 is relative to how the fish are growing over the season and also the size of the flies as well. I’ll pair both the 9wt and 10wt with the TFO Power III Reel.

Gary Dubiel: Im targeting albies in mid- October after the bull reds are done doing their thing inland. 9wt &10wt Axiom ll-Xs are my preferred rods. A lot of the albacore we get in coastal North Carolina are pretty big – around 16-18 pounds. The 9wt Axiom ll-X is a fabulous rod to use for albacore, but for folks that have trouble making longer casts in stronger winds, the 10wt is an excellent choice. More than anything else, you’ll want a quality reel with a great drag system, so the Power Reel III.

The Axiom ll-X & Power Reel are the perfect combo for catching and fighting albies on the fly. Photo: Colorblind Media/Rob Fordyce

Fly Lines & Leaders

Gary Dubiel: I like intermediate or intermediate tip lines – particularly a clear tip line. The reason I like that is, you’re going to do much better with direct contact to the fly. Even if the fish aren’t on the surface, if you can get the fly down to the fish a little quicker so that it get 3-6 inches down quickly. Even if you’re using a weighted fly – you’re going to do well with that intermediate line. You can also decrease your leader length to get it down quicker. For leaders, I do a 4ft piece of 20lb fluorocarbon straight to the fly.

Flies & Retrieval Patterns

Gary Dubiel: For flies, a #1 or #2 size hook that is no more than 2.5”-3” long that are fairly translucent all work well. Clouser Minnows, Surf Candies are great patterns. I like flies to have some motion, so I actually tie most of my flies with craft fur so when that flies is sinking it has a little bit of undulation to it.

Retrieves – I like to fish albacore a little bit different. When I’m striping the rod in, I don’t want to strip in really fast. Once you get in a bait ball, you want to maximize the time that the fly is in front of the fish. Just strip it enough to keep the fly line tight, and the fish are more than happy to eat it. The intermediate line lets you have more direct contact so you don’t have to do as much on the strip strike to get good hook penetration on the fish. So that intermediate line serves multiple purposes for me.

Andy Bates: I throw a lot of Clousers. I stick with mostly white, but white with tan, and white with chartreuse works too. Just depends on the clarity of the water on that day. You can catch pretty much anything in North Carolina on a white and chartreuse Clouser.

Come prepared with box of varied clousers when pursing albies on the fly. Photo: Andy Bates

Conventional Gear & Retrieval Techniques

Gary Dubiel: I use the Inshore 7’ Medium and Medium Heavy depending on what we’re throwing. Certainly for long distance casting with small, long 3” spoons whether that be mostly metal spoons, but big profile spoons about an ounce and about 3 inches long are ideal for getting really long casts to breaking fish. You can throw those and crank them fast. They can be very effective if you’re having a hard time getting on the bait balls and you’re seeing breaking fish.

If you’re on bait balls, I prefer to go to the 7’ Medium Inshore and fish soft plastics – particularly fluke style baits. Whether that be on a jig head or just a hook. Jig heads in a 1/4 -3/8 ounce aren’t going to get as far, but I find them really effective. Fishing them is very different. I use a lot of rod tip and not as fast of a reel so the bait has a tendency to dart side-to-side. You’re keeping the soft plastic in the bait longer, but giving it a very erratic speed while doing that, which seems to be very deadly effective on the fish.

Certainly 20lb braid, then 20-30lb fluorocarbon if there’s Spanish mackerel around. Definitely using 30lb when those mackerel are around.

Inshores at the ready. Photo: Andiamo Outdoor Co.

Andy Bates: A lot of people think that albies be a nuisance, and an easy fish to catch, but that’s not always the case. Its not as easy as dropping your fly or a bait in a bait ball and they’ll just crush it. Sometimes you have to get creative. When they’re feeding on really small fry, or what we call snot bait, it’s hard to match the hatch. Even if you can match the hatch, the albies almost turn into a predatory fish into a filter feeder type fish. If you’re spin rod fishing for them and you’re having trouble getting a bite, you can go to a big 5” fluke or an albie snack on a swim bait hook (weighted or unweighted) where you can make a long cast on a Medium or Medium Light rod with 10-12lb braid. After you make a long cast from a ways back, hold your tip up and rip it back as fast as you can and work the bait. You’re basically skipping the bait across the water and getting a reaction bite. I’ve found this technique very effective for when they get picky on the subsurface bite.

Fighting Albies and the Release/Launch

Gary Dubiel: When you’ve got an albie on, making sure you’re utilizing the bottom third of the rod and using the drag on your reel correctly is definitely important when playing these fish. I use a little bit stiffer drag to help slow the fish down. They’re going to go and there’s not much to do to stop them, so you let them go when they go.

Big albacore sometimes will do what’s called the death spiral, where they go straight down and spin in a circle. That can be a challenge, but a really short pump of the rod to try and pull the fish and get his head up can help prevent them from spiraling back down. You’re basically shortening the line, and shortening the line until you get him high enough in the water column to grab and boat him.

Jake Jordan: Once you catch your first fish, their tail is like a handle. Like a tuna fish, you grab them by the tail, hold them up over the boat. They’re probably going to spit out about 50 bait fish on the deck, then you get the fly and let them go. Unlike trout or other fish where you typically hold them long, albies are the opposite. When you release them, shoot them in the water like a bullet. You do this because they are so powerful and fast, they need that water going over their gills. That splash gives them a really good start. Their tail is moving when you let go of them, and they just propel themselves to get that first burst of oxygen.

Photo: Jim Shulin

If you’d like to learn and see more about albie fishing in coastal North Carolina, you might enjoy this film featuring TFO Advisor Rob “The Seahunter” Fordyce and TFO Ambassador Chris Thompson. This film was shot after the annual Cape Lookout Albacore Festival last year. Sadly, this year’s festival has been cancelled due to the pandemic, but the festival plans to resume in 2021. You can find out more about Albie Fest here.

Jake Jordan is a TFO National Advisor that has spent more than half a century guiding tarpon anglers in the Keys. During his lifetime, Jake has caught more than 2,400 billfish on the fly – thus was the perfect person to help us design our offshore rod – the Bluewater SG. Nowadays, Jake splits his time chasing tarpon in the Keys and albacores and redfish in coastal North Carolina. You can find out more about Jake here.

Gary Dubiel has been a TFO National Advisor since 2002. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business Spec Fever Guide Service. You can find out more about Gary here.

Andy Bates has been an ambassador for TFO since 2017. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business, Captain Bates Guiding Service. You can find out more about Andy here.

 

The Stealth Is Coming – An Overview with Rod Designer Jason Randall

It’s no secret that European, high-stick and tight-line nymphing is an extremely effective (and popular) way of catching trout. Being able to make repetitive, drag-free drifts and cover as much water as possible (depth and length) is a sure way of increasing your chances of catching more fish. However, having the right rod and reel to accompany this style of fishing is crucial.

If there’s anyone in the TFO family that knows nymphing, it’s TFO National Advisor Jason Randall. Jason has been fly fishing for most of this life, but when he isn’t fishing, he’s writing about fishing – specifically, nymphing. In 2017, Stackpole/Headwaters Books released his most recent book, ‘Nymph Masters; Fly Fishing Secrets from Expert Anglers’. Leading up to this book, Jason spent several years researching the various styles of nymphing by interviewing, observing and fishing with several competitive anglers that specialize in European, high-stick and tight-line nymphing. With his knowledge and experiences, it was obvious that Jason would be paramount in helping TFO create a rod designed specifically for this style of fishing.

After several years of prototypes and modification, the Stealth will be available at all TFO dealers and online starting October 5th. This week, we talked with Jason about what went into making the Stealth and why he thinks it’s the perfect Euro-nymphing rod.

Photo: Jo Randall

This rod has been several years in the making. Tell us about the research and “making” of the new Stealth rod. What were some important factors for you when helping design this rod?

The two most important factors for a good performing tighline or Euro-nymping rod are overall weight and action.

Weight: We wanted to get this rod right at or under the neighborhood of three ounces that would also be heavily damped. This way there isn’t a lot of back and forwards at the end of the cast. Essentially, we wanted a light rod that would cast easily.

Action: The rod needed to have the sensitivity to detect strikes, but it also has to have the ability to fight a good fish – especially when you are talking about a two or three weight rod. It also has to forgive break offs and protect the lighter tippet (6x & 7x) that is so common in Euro-nymphing.

There were several different stages of prototypes for the Stealth. Each one was an improvement from the last, but when trying to find the right balance between recovery, dampening, tippet protection, and sensitivity in rod, that’s a hard set up criteria to get perfect. I think we finally found it and I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve come up with.

How is this rod different from other TFO rods – specifically the Drift.

The Stealth is a lot lighter and has less swing weight. They are really designed for two different purposes. The Drift is a very good nymphing and multi-purpose rod, but it’s not specifically designed for Euro-nymphing like the Stealth.

And recommendations for reel accompaniment?

The BVK SD I is a great complement for the Stealth. Having a good balance between a longer rod and reel is critical for a good euro nymphing set up. If you have a longer rod, but don’t have a reel to help balance it out in the butt section, your going to wear your arm or shoulder out. The BVK SD I works perfectly for the 2wt and 3wt models of the Stealth.

The BVK SD l is a great complimentary reel for the Stealth. Photo: Nick Conklin

What line, leader, tippet set up do you like to use? Do you add a sinker weight/split shot to the bottom of your rig (bounce rig)? 

Bouncing the bottom is not necessarily the goal since trout don’t feed directly from the bottom but on drifting organisms in the lower 20% of the water column (strike zone) and I almost never use sinkers. I most often use lightly weighted flies on light tippet. I usually use 7 X, but 6 X is also common which cuts through the faster water in the upper water column to allow the flies to drift in the strike zone at the slower speed relative to that layer. So my rig is very light, long leaders up to 20 feet long and very light tippet, usually ten feet of 4 X and ten feet of 6-7X. I use SA competition level line. I know my flies are in the strike zone when the drift slows relative to the surface current I can see above, not necessarily when I snag the bottom.

Go-To flies? 

I like the Blow Torch, Ice-dub Frenchie, the Pink Hog and the Iron Lotus, in size 14, or so. If I need a slightly heavier fly, I use the Czech Catnip 2.0 or a Coulee Scud. I need a heavier fly to fish stronger, faster current.

Rigging Up. Photo: Jo Randall

Do you ever euro nymph with larger flies or streamers? If so, do you use the same set up (line/leader/tippet) that you would use for the nymphs?

Yes, I use my Euro-nymphing set up- rod, leader and tippet for dries and streamers, but it wouldn’t be called nymphing at that point. Just a hybrid technique.

With the two models offered, can you describe what would be the best types of scenarios for each line wt? In other words, would the 2wt be best for creeks and smaller streams, and the 3wt best for larger streams and rivers? 

I think of the 10 foot Stealth as our finesse nymphing rod, which I use most of the time. It is perfect for the lighter rigs and lighter flies I like. It’s also ideal for presentation in tight quarters with limited space.

I would use the 10’6″ Stealth when I need extra reach to target lies, seams or pockets beyond the reach of the 10 foot rod.

The Stealth will be available at all TFO dealers and online starting October 5th . To find out more about this rod click here.

Jason Randall is a National Advisor for TFO, as well as an outdoor writer. His articles appear regularly in national fly fishing magazines and he is a feature writer for American Angler and written four books. In 2017, Stackpole/Headwaters Books released his most recent book, ‘Nymph Masters; Fly Fishing Secrets from Expert Anglers’. He appears at shows and fly fishing events throughout North America. You can find out more Jason here.

Top Five Fall Baits For Smallmouth Bass with Ben Nowak

TFO Ambassador Ben Nowak is no stranger to smallmouth fishing. Based out of Michigan, Ben hosts a YouTube channel called The Smallmouth Experience where he uploads weekly videos sharing his experiences of catching smallmouth bass, as well as helpful tips for anglers out there who want to find more success on the water.

While summer can be a fantastic time to catch smallmouth, the transition into fall is not to be overlooked for catching some serious numbers (size and quantity). While the casual, warm weather anglers are storing their boats for next summer, anglers like Ben are taking advantage of the less crowded lakes in Michigan, and finding success on migrating baitfish near the banks.

As we begin to move into fall, we decided to catch up with Ben on how he adjusts his tactics and setups for catching more fish.

Tell us about your home waters and what tends to happen as we transition into fall. What temperature fluctuations do you see, how does it effect the fishes’ behavior and location?

I spend a lot of time fishing on Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, and several other glacial bodies of waters in Michigan. Up here, the biggest thing is we are starting to get a lot colder nights. You go from the summer time where you’ll have 80 degree days with 65 degree nights, and now we’re transitioning into 60 degree days with 35-40 degree nights. As the air temps drop, this causes bait fish to push shallow and into the grass or up into the rock piles in the shallow water situations.

My favorite part of this is when the fish wish will start to move into the river mouths, and they’ll push up and congregate at the first piece of cover or structure (drop off, rock pile, or grass patch) they come to. This, to me, is when it’s the most fun, because in the summer, a lot of our fish can get really tough because they spread out a lot more. As it gets cooler, locating fish is a lot more predictable, and you can get into some serious numbers when you find that first really hard piece of structure outside of a shallow grass flat or river mouths. Typically they’re in 15 feet of water or less located next to something pretty obvious such as grass patches or boulder fields with some sort of drop off. This is where my 5 fall baits and specific TFO rods come in handy.

Swimbaits for the win on the 7’4” Medium Heavy Graphite Cranking Tactical Elite Bass. Photo: Ben Nowak

1.) Medium Diving Crank Bait (12-15 foot diving)

I’ll typically use the 7’4” Medium Heavy Graphite Cranking Tactical Elite Bass rod  – TLE LW 74CB-1, or I’ll mix in the 7’4” Medium Heavy Tactical Glass Bass -TAC GB CB 745-1 (Coming This October) depending on how the fish are reacting. The biggest thing is getting the feel for how the fish are eating the bait. I like going with graphite because it has a little bit more backbone, but the glass rod if I want to give it a little bit better before I set the hook is what I go to for that.

For both rods, I’m using 12 lb. test line. Typically, with this set up I’m targeting the medium depth rocks out in front of rivers where you tend to have some of that gravel pushing and those bait fish are kind of pushing up on that gravel. This is probably my favorite approach in the fall because you can usually catch so many fish and it’s just an awesome bite.

2.) Swimbait

 For smallmouth, I typically got with a lighter wire swimbait. A lot of anglers are going to want to throw this on a heavier rod, I’m actually throwing it on the cranking rod as well –7’4” Medium Heavy Graphite Cranking Tactical Elite Bass rod  – TLE LW 74CB-1. With the light wire hook, you’ll want something that is a bit softer, and for the fish to get the bait a lot better.

This is one of my favorite applications with this rod, because it lets the fish get the bait a little bit better. It also helps me play the fish better. Once again, I’m targeting medium depth rock with some grass.

3.) Wobble Head

I really like to throw these because it’s almost like a compliment to the crank bait – fishing it slower and close to the bottom. I’ll throw this on the 7’5” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass – TLE FS 756-1. I like this rod because it’s moderate. When the fish hit that bait, a lot of the times the fish won’t get that bait the first time they bite it, so you want to let them have the bait a little bit more. The moderate action is going to let those fish get that bait, and you’re not going to tend to lose as many fish on the wobble head. A lot of guys go with an XH (Extra Heavy). For me, a softer and more moderate rod is going to help those fish stay pinned, and have a lot more success.

4.) A Rig

I throw this on the TFO GTS Swimbait Rod 7’11” Mag Heavy. I’m typically throwing a heavy, big A Rig – I’ll throw a seven wire with five hooks and two dummies. So basically, what you’re looking at is three jig heads that are ¼ oz., 2 jigs that are 3/8oz., and two dummies that are empty, non-weighted jig heads. It’s a heavy A rig so I throw it on the 7’11. When those smallmouth hit it, they just absolutely smash it! The rod loads up well, and you can cast it forever.

5.) Finesse Tube

I don’t like to go finesse in the fall, but when I have to, I’ll go to a tube or a ned rig. A lot of the smallmouth fishing I’m doing up here is in clear water, so I want to get that bait super far away from the boat. For this scenario, I’m going with the 7’3” Medium Heavy Tactical Elite Bass spinning rod – TLE MBR S 735-1 and then a 3000 size spinning reel.

The biggest thing is getting that bait super far away, but still having enough power in the rod to drive the hook home. So that Medium Heavy is pretty important. This is about the only (and my favorite) scenario in the fall where I use a Medium Heavy rod.

 

Ben Nowak is a TFO Ambassador based out of Michigan, where he has lived his entire life. Ten years ago, he started fishing TFO when he was in college, but came back to TFO last winter with the release of the Tactical Elite Bass and Tactical Bass rods. Ben hosts a YouTube channel focusing on catching smallmouth bass. (The Smallmouth Experience). His YouTube channel is all about sharing his experiences of catching smallmouth, but to also help others to be more effective smallmouth anglers wherever these hard-fighting fish.

TFO Ambassador Bill Weidler Wins Big at St. Clair

Patience, focus, and a lot of praying paid off for TFO Ambassador Bill Weidler this past weekend.

Weidler won his first title at the YETI Bassmaster Elite Series at Lake St. Clair in Macomb County, Michigan with a four-day total of 86 pounds, 7 ounces – earning him $100,500 and nearly doubling his career earning with B.A.S.S. to $204,350.

We checked in with Bill after he had time to celebrate and found out about the big day, along with the TFO rod that helped him bring home the win.

How does it feel to win your first title?

It feels unbelievable! I’m looking forward to getting to Guntersville and try to ride this wave while it’s still going!

Had you fished St. Clair before? What helped you know how to adjust to that lake versus the lakes back home in Birmingham?

I had never fished St. Clair before. I had talked to some other anglers to get the feel and layout of the lake. I knew it was a flat bottom lake with very little contours. It was all grass driven with open areas around the grass. The key to it was finding the bare areas. If you found those, you could find fish.

I wanted to do some largemouth fishing, but I know it was going to be primarily smallmouth, so I needed to get comfortable with that. I came ready with my spinning gear and was focused on getting my drop shots far out and deep.

It so funny because some people refer to this win as a Cinderella or underdog story for me. Prior to this tournament, this year has been pretty rough. 90% of that has been attributed to mechanical and electrical problems. It was one thing after the other. I wasn’t fishing bad, I just couldn’t get four full days. I’d made sure this time to be careful with my boat/gear and not overdue it. It definitely paid off.

What TFO rods helped you at St. Clair?

The TFO Professional Walleye 7’6” Medium Light. My first event at Lake Oahe for smallmouth I was fishing a custom medium-heavy spinning rod. Every time I’d button up with a fish, I’d lose it. I talked to Jim Shulin, Sport Fishing Category Manager at TFO, about this rod and told him I needed TFO to make a similar, but longer (7’6″-7’8″) rod that would be a good for drop shots, but I also needed it to be softer. This way I would have plenty of leverage when I snap that hook set, and also the rod acts like a shock absorber for the bigger fish when they jump and shake their heads while fighting them on light line.

On the last day I went down to 6lb. line and needed a rod with a softer action and I went with the TFO Professional Walleye 7’6” Medium Light and that rod did not leave my hand!

What’s next for you?

The next tournament is at Lake Guntersville in Scottsboro, Alabama. It’s the last weekend of September. It’s basically a home lake for me about 1.5 hours from where I live. I grew up fishing it so I’ve got a game plan in mind. Last year I finished 27th, but I’m hoping to make it to the top 20.

For a tournament angler that has been in the scene for a while, what got you interested in fishing with TFO rods?

I signed on with TFO this year. I had heard many great things about their conventional rods as far as the action and design. I love them, haven’t had a problem with them, and that Professional Walleye 7’6” Medium Light did some work this past weekend – I promise!

 

Harcourt Talks Hoppers & Beyond – Summertime Colorado Trout Tactics with Dustin Harcourt

For most anglers, fishing is just a hobby.

For guide and owner of Harcourt Fly Fishing 3G, Dustin Harcourt, it’s a lifelong family passion. The 3G specifically stands for three generations of Harcourt anglers – Dustin’s father, himself, and his son. Before fly shops became popular, and certainly before the internet and YouTube, Dustin and his Dad had to improvise to make the patterns that would work best for their Colorado rivers. Coming up with new patterns was a hobby and skill that Dustin, his son, and his 12-guide staff continue to work on to provide their clients with the best possible experience.

Its late summer in Colorado, and Dustin and his team are dialed into one of the most anticipated and well known “hatches” on local rivers – hopper fishing. This time of year, you can walk along a riverbank on the Colorado River and easily find pinky finger-sized grasshoppers. While these bugs might seem like a normal summer terrestrial to us, to trout and other species, this is a high protein meal that is simply irresistible.

This week, we checked in with Dustin after a day on the water to talk more about this popular style of western river fishing, and how he approaches it.

Tell us where you are guiding, some of the rivers you personally fish and what a typical day of fishing on these rivers entail (species, average size, etc).

We’re located near Glenwood Springs just outside of New Castle, Colorado. We have four all-star rivers here, which are the: the Frying Pan, Crystal, Roaring Fork and the Colorado River. I live about 3 miles from a boat ramp on the lower Colorado River, so I do a lot of guiding in that area. Not just for proximity, but for other important (and my favorite) factors: less crowds, bigger fish, and more fish.

The Colorado is primarily a trout river with species that include rainbows, browns, cutthroat, Sink River Cutthroat, and Colorado River cutthroat. The average size is 16 to 20-inches, but we get into 20 to 21-inch fish every other day.

A healthy Colorado rainbow caught by TFO Fly Fishing Category Manager Nick Conklin on the new Blue Ribbon while on a trip with Harcourt Fly Fishing 3G this summer. Photo Nick Conklin

For those unfamiliar, what is “hopper season”, what is a “hopper dropper rig” and when does it typically start and end in your area.

Hopper season refers to the emergence of grasshoppers along the banks of our many different rivers. High winds and other factors can push those hoppers to the water, making a very a high protein and irresistible meal for trout.

The season usually starts around mid-June after our mud season and the rivers start to clear. During this time, we have a really good stonefly hatch, and we have a lot of luck fishing with the chubby chernobyl patterns. This will last for about a month, then we start switching to hoppers in late July.

In July, we’ll start throwing smaller size 8 hopper imitation patterns. As the weather gets warmer throughout the summer, the hoppers tend to get bigger and abundant, we’ll switch to sizes 2 & 4. This happens around September/October, so very soon for us! As you walk through the bushes, you’ll see them all over. They can get as big as the size of your pinky finger. Typically, hopper season wraps up around November. After a couple of really heavy frosts or cold evenings, the hoppers will frost and disappear.

Hopper Dropper – The hopper dropper term refers to using a grasshopper imitation fly, with another fly tied below, (known as a dropper). Depending on the state you live in, you can use two additional flies below, (dropper) below a hopper pattern. Every state has different fishing regulations regarding how many flies or hooks you can us on a rig. Here in Colorado, we can use up to three flies per rig, but for a lot of other places it’s only two. Always check the regulations in an area before fishing somewhere for the first time.

A typical day on the Colorado River with Harcourt Fly Fishing 3G. Photo Dustin Harcourt

Do you find that all the trout species that inhabit your rivers have the same reaction/take to hoppers/grasshoppers? In other words, do big browns come up and hammer hoppers as well?

We can catch all trout species on hoppers, but it’s primarily cutthroat. They absolutely love grasshoppers. They’re more eager to come on up.

What is the “take” like? Is it similar to a dry fly take, or do they attack it like a streamer?

Right now, we’ve been noticing the bigger fish coming up really slowly and they’ll slowly open their mouth. You almost must wait for them to close their mouth, then set the hook. It’s difficult, especially for clients, because you see this big beautiful fish come up, but you just have to wait. It’s like a romance story (laughs).

What TFO rods do you like to use hopper or hopper dropper rigs? What is about these rods that work so well for this type of fishing?

Right now in the heart of August, we are throwing many different rigs. Everyday, I’ve got 6 rods on the boat: 4 in the rod holders, and two in the hands of clients. Each rod has a different setup and purpose to help us have the right tool for the right fishing scenario for that day.

Usually I’ve got a streamer setup, an adjustable nymphing rig combo, and then a hopper-dropper setup.

I absolutely love the new Blue Ribbon rods. I have a 10’ 4wt – which is an incredible hopper dropper rod. We’re on the boat quite a bit, so high sticking and light mending is crucial for keeping excess line off the water and to help with getting quick and tight hook sets. This particular rod is perfect for this scenario and a favorite for me. Even on a windy day, this rod just punches right through.

Another rod I’ve enjoyed for fishing hopper dropper rods, if it’s not too breezy, is the new 10’6” 3-weight Stealth. I’ve found that even when it is breezy, it’s not too overwhelming at all. It can easily pick those larger hopper patterns and just zap it to where I need it to go with no problem.

I use 9’6” 6wt LK Legacy for my streamer and hopper/streamer rig, but the new 9’0” Blue Ribbon or LK Legacy in 6-weight or 7-weight are perfect for this as well.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

Are you targeting primarily the banks and eddies, or do you also focus on main runs/currents?

When we are out with clients, most of the time we are using nymph rig setups. However, once we get to the top of a run where the first ripple drop shelf comes, the deep nymph rigs get put aside, and that’s where the hopper dropper comes in. In this type of water, a big fish isn’t going to need to exert a bunch of energy in a 1-3 feet run of water. It’s going to hammer that grasshopper imitation. Aside from that scenario, we are concentrating on the banks.

Another technique that I really enjoy doing is fishing a hopper to a Pat’s Rubber Leg, then to a Thin Mint – which is a small streamer. We fish this setup like a streamer, focusing primarily on the banks, then retrieving back to the boat. The small movement of the hopper created while stripping back (2 – 3 inch micro twitch retrieves) imitates that grasshopper struggling to get back to the bank or off that water, but also gets that Pat’s rubber leg nymph and streamer to move. This basically creates three different water column responses – so a fish is going to hit something.

For this time of year, what I’ve been finding is that after any rapid, you have the best chance at that first section of soft water. You have all the oxygen coming off the rapids, then that first section of soft water is a real deadly place for a fish to hunt. They’re essentially in the air conditioning system with the oxygen of all the waves and rapids, but they’re also getting first dibs for food. I’ve found so often that the biggest fish, or the alpha tends to hang out in this spot.

The further away you get from the rapids, your statistics for catching bigger fish go down. Sure you can catch fish in these sections, but your odds are much better fishing right after those rapids on the head of a run.

A healthy Colorado rainbow trout. Photo: Dustin Harcourt

Any recommendations on fly lines, leaders and tippet?

Fly Lines – For fly lines I go with the traditional weight forward WF floating line. I’ve been using Rio fly lines and been really happy with them, although I’ve heard great things about Scientific Anglers as well. I used to oversize the rods with one fly line size, but now I just go with the line size that applies to the rod size.

Leaders/Tippet – For the hopper/dropper rigs, usually I’m going with a short leader. I use 16-inches of 20lb test, and then I’ll have about 16-inches of 1x tippet to my first fly/hopper. Currently, in the middle of August, the fish are down deeper, so I’ll drop about 4 feet to my first dropper, and then another 20-inches below that to the next dropper. It’ seems like a lot, but it’s really a short leader with all that on there. Having this short leader that turns the flies over easily for my clients from a boat has worked really well.

Photo: Cameron Mosier

What are you some of your go-to hopper/dropper rigs and flies?

Being able to tie and use a hopper fly that is incredibly buoyant and can hold tungsten and split shot well is critical. There are tons of great grasshopper patterns on the market right now that you can purchase in fly shops, but we tie our own foam hopper patterns.

We have a lot of fun going by the days and what we feel works best and we’ve nicknamed them random things like the Steroid Hopper, the SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard). Basically, a lot of foam, and a lot of vision is what we go for.

We do a lot of chubby chernobyl variations. We were actually able to get our hands on 5mm foam – which is about 3x thicker than the foam that some of the shops use here. With that, these flies are incredibly buoyant and visible, and we also add in hunter orange yarn to assist with the visibility for both the clients and the guides. When the fish looks up, they don’t see the orange, they’ll just see the underbody.

Adjusting to the Elements – For this year, our rivers have gotten incredibly mossy with the drought we got. Therefore, we are snagging into moss a lot more, so we had to creative on how to deal with this. We put a small swivel below our bottom fly, and that swivels and rotates through the moss – not catching the moss but getting the fly down quickly and right in the fish’s zone. This setup has been a game changer for us, and we are running this same setup (swivel below the bottom fly) for our nymph rigs as well.

Dustin Harcourt making the most of hopper season. Photo: Dustin Harcourt

Nymphing Hoppers – A lot of the times, I’ll go back to the “old school” hoppers – let’s say, the Dave’s Hopper. This particular pattern is not made of foam and is a great sinking hopper pattern that imitates grasshoppers that have been blown into the water and are drowning. Fish can be lazy and might not want to come up to the surface, so having a sinking hopper pattern that gets down in the water column to the fish is a great setup to have. Usually behind that subsurface hopper, we’ll trail a red quill nymph or a baetis nymph as an attractor. Other attractor meaty patterns we use are the very popular Pat’s rubber leg nymph and of course the San Juan worm.

Hopper & Streamers – With our streamer rod setups, I use hoppers as well. In years past, we’d be throwing streamers, and we’d have a pinch on indicator right next to the fly line. The pinch on indicator helped with detecting strikes during those dark and cloudy streamer days, but we started noticing that fish were attacking and striking at the indicator very regularly.

That magic light bulb went off in my head and I decided to invent a hopper/streamer rig. One foot off of my fly line, I put a big grasshopper pattern, and then I put on my streamer six feet below it, then an additional streamer. Now we’re getting hits on the hopper as the streamer is being retrieved. The fish love the movement of that hopper.

And last words or recommendations for our readers?

Like many rivers, lakes and oceans – every year is different, and every day is different. Some years, like this year, we’ll have banner hopper years. Yesterday I had 30 hopper eats, but today we had 8. Both days similar conditions, but that’s just fishing, and why I love the challenge of being on the water and helping clients out. Always be willing to switch it up, and just remember to enjoy yourself!

Dustin Harcourt is a TFO Ambassador and owner of Harcourt Fly Fishing 3G. You can find out more about Dustin his guiding website, or find him on Facebook.