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Author: Tom Wetherington

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.

Targeting Early Season Great Lakes Salmon with Brian Kozminski

Imagine hooking into a 20lb salmon for your first ever fish, followed by a tug of war stronger than any resistance you’ve ever felt before, as the fish sends you on a heart-beating, mad dash downstream while ripping line off your reel faster than you can pull off. A little different than catching a farm pond bluegill right?

Based out of northern Michigan, TFO rep Brian “Koz” Kozminski has caught his fair share of salmon, but these days he enjoys nothing more than watching first timers catch their first salmon, followed by a lifelong passion into a new sport. As salmon are starting (or in some cases have already started) to migrate into the rivers to spawn, we decided to catch up with Koz to get a feel of how, when and where to catch these hard fighting, anadromous fish.

Tells us about the fisheries in your area, and how non-native salmon came to be introduced to northern Michigan.

In 1966, salmon were introduced into the Great Lakes system as a test experiment to see how they would coexist with the native lake trout. After they were introduced, the salmon readily took whole because of another invasive, and very plentiful species in the Great Lakes – the alewife. The Great Lakes freshwater environment was perfect for the salmon that were introduced as they had plenty of food with the alewives everywhere.

Today, the salmon population is doing really well here. The average fish is 20-25 pounds. 30 pounders are not uncommon. We have three Michigan DNR State Fish Hatcheries that produce Chinook salmon: Thompson, Oden and Wolf Lake.

When do you start seeing the salmon migrate from the Great Lakes?

In northern Michigan, we usually start seeing or hearing signs of salmon during the first week of August. Salmon are pelagic species (open water feeders) – they like to feed out in the middle of the ocean, or in this case, the Great Lakes, and feast on those alewives.

A combination of factors trigger the anadromous salmon to begin to make their mating ritual journeys upstream: daylight, moon phase, and water level. Additionally, I believe water temperature plays a role, too.

If you talk to a Lake Michigan charter boat captain in the middle of the summer, they might say there are catching salmon at 210 – 220 feet. As it gets closer to fall, they’re marking and catching fish anywhere from 60 – 180 feet using divers and plugs. As the salmon begin to move into the river, that’s when fly fishing becomes more practical.

Switching up rigs

What is so special about salmon fishing for those that have never done it before?

I believe salmon fishing is key to getting more people into the sport. Sure we can go out and catch bluegill and panfish and have a good time. They definitely fight for what they are, but there’s no comparison to a 20lb fish at the end of your line. There’s nothing like watching your kid or someone else’s kid catch their first 20 pound fish, because that fish is going to fight and its going to pull more than anything they’ve ever felt before.

Additionally, I don’t I think a lot of people don’t totally understand why and when salmon move from the saltwater oceans and big lakes into the freshwater rivers. The act in itself is pretty extraordinary as salmon and steelhead are going from a hypertonic to a hypotonic environment. Humans obviously can’t do that. The body has to balance and regulate itself.

What are some typical indications/signs that you and other anglers go by to start focusing your attention on the rivers to catch salmon? Is it word of mouth from the lake fisherman or other anglers, or are you able to actually see the fish migrating in big groups upstream?

You’ll start hearing a lot of other anglers talk when the fish are starting to move up the river. You won’t really be able to see them migrating. These fish are accustomed to being in deep water most of their life, so they don’t see much daylight. Once they get into the rivers, they move mostly at night, and they’ll hold in deep pools during the day. You will see some movement, but all of our rivers have so much sand – they don’t feel comfortable being exposed on sand.

There are some rivers, like the Old Manistee, that get their salmon runs earlier than any other rivers in Michigan. You can be fishing for salmon in the middle of August there.

Tip – Most people think that if you go to a river that is known to have salmon in it, that you can catch them anywhere in the river. You’ve got to look at maps and know how short the river system is and if there are dams in place.For example, I fish the Manistee river a lot for trout, but I’m on the upper Manistee where there aren’t salmon. There are two dams below me, so all the salmon fishing is below Tippy Dam. You’ve also got to obtain a special permit to fish for salmon below certain reservoirs like Tippy, so be sure to check your local fishing regulations online or at your local fly shop.

How long does the salmon migration typically last?

In northern Michigan, rivers like the Jordan, Boyne, Sturgeon, and the Pigeon all get salmon, but these rivers are generally less than 50 miles long. Salmon can get through those river systems in a matter of days or less than a week. Therefore, your timing needs to be impeccable. If you don’t get your timing right, you can miss the fish. There will be a fresh run of salmonids, but knowing where there are is a key factor in your success.

The good news is that this happens all the way through October. You can go to almost any river on Labor Day weekend in Michigan, and you will find salmon running in some section of that water. I would also say that closer towards Halloween at the end of October, you will still find salmon in the rivers. We call those fish gravel zombies. At this point in the migration, their bodies are decaying and they start looking white. You’ll see the white cape of their tail sweeping in the river. We tend to avoid these fish and let them complete their cycle.

What kinds of rods and reel setups would you recommend for someone looking to catch their first salmon on the fly?

Rods – For those interested in doing the spey or two-handed approach, the Pro II Two-Handed is a great option to swing those classic salmon flies.

For those that want the single-handed approach, the TFR is a Great Lakes rod specifically built for our salmon fisheries. It is available in an 8wt & 10wt.

I typically don’t play with anything less than an 8wt when fishing for salmon.

The Pro ll Two-Handed matched with a Power Reel make a great setup for fishing for salmon. Photo: Lance Nelson

Reels – For most other fly fishing scenarios, your reel doesn’t play as much of a particular role in actually catching fish. Salmon fishing is absolutely the opposite. You’ve got to have a good reel. That fish is going to take off and you need to have a decent drag and be able to have the chance to recoup the amount of line that you’ve lost after they make their runs. You definitely want a large arbor. TFO’s Power Reel III is a great reel that I use a lot for this type of fishing.

TFO’s Power Reel. Photo: Lance Nelson

Do you recommend a specific fly line? What about leader and tippet material size/length?

Fly Lines – I use Scientific Anglers Amplitude Anadro or Mastery Sink tip. Amplitude Smooth Anadro/Nymph specifically has enough mass to get the fly out and it gets down. With salmon fishing, you’re trying to get that fly in front of the fish as much as you possibly can.

Leaders & Tippet – In the Great Lakes, we generally run 2-3 feet of 30lb down to 2-3 feet of 20lb maxima and maybe a couple feet of 12-15lb fluorocarbon tippet. These fish will beat you up, take you through the wood and into some heavy cover. You will need muscle in your leader to help control the direction of the battle, or you will lose.

Black egg sucking leech bugger pattern.

How about flies and streamer patterns?

**First and foremost, be sure that wherever you are going salmon fishing, that you check the local fishing regulations. Some rivers don’t allow you to use two flies, and some require single hooks only.**

Two-Fly Set-Ups – Usually your lead fly is something a little bit heavier and weighted like a big sucking leach that will get down, and then a trailer fly that could be an egg fly, small stonefly, or caddis fly larvae. I use a Tiemco 2488 hook to tie my caddis flies. The egg patterns need to be tied on a strong hook like a Tiemco TMC 105 in a size 6 or an 8. If you go with something cheaper, the salmon will likely straighten the hook out.

Streamers – I typically stick to using the two fly set up, but for the anglers that want to throw streamers, some anglers in Michigan like to fish the lower end of the rivers for this technique. If you’re out there at first daylight, the salmon still think that they’re in the big lake, so they might attack a small alewife pattern. So some kind of mullet fly or anything like that will work for streamer imitation patterns.

 

 

Fishing behind salmon for brown can be very rewarding. Photo: Sam Bosworth Media

I’ve heard that fishing behind spawning king salmon for brown trout can be very effective. Can you weigh in on that?

Definitely. That’s specifically why I tend to stick with the two-fly setup with the egg pattern, stonefly or caddis imitations, because the browns will tend to hang out behind the salmon and eat their eggs. Sometimes this scenario can be the best brown trout fishing there is.

At this point, the browns are in pre-spawn feeding mode. They usually spawn in the second week of November right after the salmon have done their cycle. Its pretty incredible how fish have their different cycles of spawning right after one another.

Everything has a cycle and a season for a reason so that everybody’s not doing the same thing, at the same spot, all at the same time. Your rainbows are in the spring, brown trout and brookies are in the fall right after the salmon. There’s a balance. When you look at the whole ecosystem of a river and how balanced it is, there’s no wonder to me that there’s a higher power that orchestrates all this stuff. Then you have the bugs, and that’s a whole other, but similar phenomenon.

Any particular casts or swinging techniques that you’d recommend for fishing for salmon on the fly?

Chuck & Duck is a very popular technique in Michigan. With this technique you are not actually “fly fishing”, but using a weight and a swivel on your leader in front of your flies that helps you get your flies down quicker. Similar to euro nymphing – you’re basically repeatedly flipping this rig through the run over and over again.

True ‘Chuck-n-Duck’ aficionados will use 9’ 8 weight lined with Amnesia or other low memory core running line. Directly to barrel swivel or three way swivel with 9” dropper attached to lead ‘slinkie’ and then 6-8’ 20# Maxima Chameleon to fly.

I remember some of my earliest days fishing on the West Bank of the Grand River at Sixth Street dam when I was in my teens-catching salmon and steelhead in much the same manner.

Photo: Alex Childress Photography

What suggestions would you offer to anglers for fighting salmon, and increasing their chances of netting/landing the fish? Trout set or strip set?

Definitely not a streamer/strip set, and that’s why you’re going to want to use a 9’-10’ stiff rod where you can lift it and get the hook into these large, boney-jawed fish. After setting the hook, the bigger salmon might stay where they are or go deeper, but once they realized they’re hooked, they tend to go in the stream and go downstream, which tends to make the situation a bit more challenging. Don’t be afraid to put pressure on the fish to keep them from getting into structures.

Any last tips you’d recommend to someone looking to target salmon on the fly for the first time?

Definitely visit the local fly shop. Buy a dozen flies, pay for your information, but also do your scouting online to research where you’re thinking about going. Shorten your learning curve by booking a guide and floating a river with an expert.

If you’re wading a river, you’re pretty much locked into a 100-500 yard section of river where you might not even see any fish. Conversely, if you’re floating, you’ve covering 4-5 miles of water and covering a lot more effective runs or pools where fish may be stacked up.

Guide Suggestions – TFO Ambassador Jeffrey ‘Bear’ Andrews for guiding on big water on the Manistee River, and Tom Werkmen for the Grand River.

We also have a great Atlantic salmon fishery in the Saint Mary’s River, which runs between the upper peninsula and Canada. One of the great TFO Ambassadors John Giuliani lives and guides up there. They do Atlantic salmon fishing all summer long, and they also get some run-in steelhead as well in the spring, summer, and fall.

Nothing beats a day on the river. Photo: Geoff Shirley Photography

Brian “Koz” Kozminski 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.

Flounder Fishing in North Carolina with Stuart Caulder

In Southeastern North Carolina, the Cape Fear River, a rich and beautiful blackwater river recognized for its very large flounder population, flows 191 miles all the way to the Atlantic Ocean where it empties near Cape Fear. In 2018, Hurricane Florence hit coastal North Carolina causing catastrophic damage to the homes and fisheries in the area, but particularly – the Cape Fear River.

In addition to the substantial amount of flooding, other factors contributed that led to the almost complete disintegration of the aquatic life – resulting in some serious efforts from local fisheries and organizations to place a ban on harvesting flounder in the river for a year. After a year of prohibiting the harvest of flounder and letting nature takes its course, the Cape Fear River is now thriving with some very large and healthy flounder, and guides like TFO Ambassador Stuart Caulder couldn’t be happier.

This Sunday marks the end of the moratorium and the start of flounder season. We decided to catch up with Stu to talk about this exciting time for him and the anglers in this area to find out more about how to find and catch these hard fighting flatfish.

This Sunday, August 16th is the opening day for flounder season, but for the last year, harvesting flounder was not permitted. Can you talk about what factors went into implementing those regulations?

What we’ve had here is a moratorium on keeping flounder since last year. It opens back up this Sunday, August 16 and runs through September 30. Two factors prompted the suspension of harvesting flounder for the past year.

1) Shrimp Boat Trawlers – We still have a lot of inshore shrimp trawlers in this area. As the shrimp boats drag and trawl bottom to collect shrimp, they are also picking up a lot of other species – especially flounder. When the nets come up to the boat for the boat hands to unload, the fish are already worn out, and since collecting and icing the shrimp are the main priorities for these shrimp boaters, the bycatch flounder often get neglected or put off for several minutes while out of water, and most end up dying before they get tossed back over board.

2) Hurricane Florence – With the massive amount of rain and floods we got from Florence in 2018, the waste ponds on the pig farms upriver flooded, resulting in a large bacteria bloom. This took out all of the oxygen in the river, and basically killed millions of fish.

With these two factors, and because the flounder population had been decimated so bad, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries put a moratorium on the species for a year.

A cloudy but beautiful day on the Cape Fear River in Southeastern North Carolina. Photo: Stu Caulder

Were there any other species that were largely affected by both Hurricane Florence and the hog farm flood aftermath?

Oh yeah – trout, redfish and stripers. Right after the storm, it pretty much decimated our striper fishery for the winter. They’re coming back now, but there’s only the small ones left where they’ve restocked the river. A lot of the fish either left to the ocean or died. You could see thousands of them floating down the river after Florence.

How did the year long moratorium effect the flounder population on the Cape Fear River?

It’s actually rebounded remarkably! A lot of the fish that were close to the mouth of the river could get a sense for what was going on when Florence hit, and they ran offshore. After the storm, they came back up the river, and with the moratorium in effect, these fish have basically sat here for a year and have gotten big.

It’s nothing to get your limit and get a few 3-4 pounders now. An 8 pounder is definitely not out of the question, and there have already been some 10 pounders caught as well. It’s really early for some of those big ones, but it’s a great sign that they’re already in here. It’s go time!

That’s great news! Let’s talk fishing set-ups. Are you using conventional or fly when going after flounder?

The majority of the flounder fishing I’m doing is conventional, and I typically use artificial bait because I can usually cover more ground than I can with live bait. With live bait, you have to slow way down, and you can’t fish it as fast. I’d rather pitch fast and work the grass banks on high tide and just pitch, pitch, pitch.

I like to use bucktail baits with some type of scented trailer behind it. It can be a DOA bait, or a gulp bait – something that has some smell to it. The ones you’re after are going to eat that bucktail. The bigger flounder are very aggressive and they don’t have any problem popping those bucktails, as long as there’s a scented trailer. They really like a scented trailer.

The rod that helps me get this done is the TFO Inshore 7’ Medium. The bucktails I’m throwing are usually between 3/8 – 1/2 oz. in weight. I like using the Inshore Medium as it has a little bit more backbone compared to the Medium Light. Every now and then, you’ll pick up a drum with that same flounder bait, and sometimes the drums you’ll get into are pretty big and can put a work out on those smaller rods. The Medium is a great tool for handling those larger fish.

The 7ft works great because it’s long enough to make a nice long cast, when needed, but short enough to pitch baits tight to the bank, as well. For a reel, I’m using a Penn Conflict in a size 30 with 15lb. Berkley Ultra Cast braided line, and then I use a 20-30lb fluorocarbon leader because they have got some teeth; especially those bigger ones!

Inshore Tarpon – I also like to have a Seahunter rigged up when fishing inshore, because every now and then, you’ll have tarpon roll up on you, and you just can’t pass up the opportunity to cast to a tarpon.

I like to have a Seahunter SHS 7030 rigged up with a Diawa BG 5000 size reel loaded with 50lb Berkley Ultra Cast braided line. For bait, DOA makes a Big Fish Lure, it’s a 5.5” soft plastic swim bait that suspends about 2 feet under the water. You can snap the rod tip a few times and that bait will just sit there and suspend. That’s a great setup for inshore tarpon fishing.

Fishing the drop offs near grass edges can be very productive. Photo: Oliver Sutro

What type of forage food do the flounder key in on this fishery?

Typically, what I find them eating are small baitfish patterns such as small spots, croakers, or popeye/finger mullet. They’ll also eat a lot of shrimp. I don’t get a lot of crabs out of them. So mainly that’s what I’m mimicking, and that’s what the bucktail bait is used for.

Sometimes, a 7-8lb flounder can eat a 6-7 inch baitfish. You can throw a big bait in an area where you know there’s fish and usually bypass the smaller ones to go for a 3-4 pounder or bigger.

Do you typically just stick to white patterns to imitate baitfish?

Mainly white bucktails, and sometimes I’ll switch it up on my trailers. I may run a trailer that’s white on one, then maybe run a chartreuse trailer on another. A lot of that will depend on the water clarity. Sometimes I run a root beer color trailer, something dark. If the water is real dark and dingy, I’ll run dark baits. If the water’s real clear, I’ll run lighter baits.

How are you targeting flounder? In other words, where are you looking for them in the inshore areas within the Cape Fear River?

Flounder aren’t too spooky, it’s not like you’re sitting a really long distance off the bank and casting to them, I’m fairly close to the bank and all I’m doing is just making little underhand pitches. I’m working that first five feet of grass line on high tide. Once you’re out about 5-8 feet, bring it in, then pitch it back over to your next spot, work it out, etc.

It’s almost like bass fishing. They’re going to go right up to that cover and stay there, cause that’s where all the food is. So once you’re back out past that 5-8 feet zone, bring it in and pitch it back in there. The more time you spend in that “hot zone”, the better off you’ll be and the more fish you’ll catch.

Flounder fishing is a blast for any angler. Photo: Stuart Caulder

Do those larger flounder tend to stick to deeper areas/drop-offs?

It’s mainly tide oriented here. We have about six feet of tide. So on high tide, all the fish push right up to the grass banks/edges. The water on all the grass banks will be at about 3 feet, but they’ll be right up on the grass edge. Now when the tide falls out, and we get to lower tide, that’s when they go to the drops and go from 2 feet to 6-8 feet in the creeks. If you go to the main river, you’re dealing with more of a 12-15 foot drop off.

For the most part, I stick to targeting flounder around high tide. I like to fish the grass edges cause I like to move. When I do go to the deeper spots, a lot of the time I’ll position my boat, throw to the shallows, and just bounce that bucktail right down the shelf. Usually they’re on the slope, or they’re right at the bottom, or they’re right at the top. They’re usually around that release somewhere, so once you get way out off of the release, then you might as well just bring it back in and get back on top of the shelf.

Do you use any type of bobber or indictor to detect a strike?

I don’t. The strike is fairly firm. They’re pretty aggressive, especially with the amount of current we get here. Even if I were fishing somewhere where there isn’t much current I still wouldn’t use a bobber or indicator, because you have to make sure you’re freely getting to the right depth.

With the 7′ Medium Inshore rod accompanied with a braided line combo, it’s very sensitive. You feel everything. You’re definitely going to feel the bite.

Heading towards the offshore wrecks. Photo: Oliver Sutro

How about offshore fishing for flounder? Are you doing much of that, and what setups do you typically use in that scenario?

I like to fish the wrecks offshore, and when I do, I like to make sure I have a few of the Seahunter rods with a couple of different baits rigged up in case a cobia, or a jack, or season king mackerel swims up on me. A lot of times when you bring these flounders up off the wrecks, the cobia will follow them straight to the boat. And when they do, just leave the flounder in the water, take your other bait on that Seahunter rod, then pitch it to them. Usually the cobia will hit it. As soon as he hits that bait, bring the flounder in, then you’ve got the cobia as well. That way you can get a double bang for your buck in that type of fishing.

I think what’s happening is this scenario is that when the flounder are on that way up to the boat, they’re spitting stuff up, and the cobia is just picking that stuff off. Except in the scenario where the cobia is bigger than the flounder, and the flounder just gets eaten.

Pro Tip For Offshore Flounder Fishing – Always have a Seahunter rod ready and rigged up for when you do hook into a flounder for this very reason.

For my Seahunter set up, I’m using the SHS 7030 – so the 20-30lb line size model, and I like the 7 foot version. I run a Daiwa BG 5000 reel with 50lb Berkley Ultra Cast braided line. For my baits, I typically use a big bucktail, or sometimes even a big swim bait. That way if I have another fish follow the first flounder, I can usually just drop it in the second fish’s face and they’ll pop it.

Another way to locate and target flounder off shore, which usually involves using scopes and electronics, is targeting what we call Flounder Hotels. What they are is a big cement dome with holes in it, and the flounder love them. Once you locate one and mark it on the screen, you can usually use a 1oz. buck tail. Fire that sucker down there in about 30-40 feet of water to where it’s near the parameter of those domes/hotels, and the flounder will come out of those holes and pop that bait.

You never know what you’ll find while offshore fishing. The Seahunter has the backbone and lifting power to handle almost any species. Photo: Oliver Sutro

Would you rather fish for flounder in the rivers or offshore?

I prefer to fish the river because that’s where the big ones are. Not that you won’t catch some nice ones offshore. There’s probably more numbers offshore in the 3-5 lb. range, but the bigger fish are in the Cape Fear River.

Any words of wisdom/tips you want to leave with our readers related to flounder fishing that we haven’t gone over?

The main tip is to be patient, and as you make long drifts down the banks, remember where your bites were. What you’ll find is that you may cover a quarter to half mile bank and get all your bites in a little 200 yard area. Once you fish that long stretch and are able to access where those bites were, go back over that area again, because most likely all those fish have oriented themselves to that particular area for that particular day. Just go back and go through those hot spots two or three times, move on to your next stretch and search it out the same way. Rinse and repeat.

Interviewee/TFO Ambassador Stu Caulder with a NC redfish. Photo: Stu Caulder

Stuart Caulder is a TFO Ambassador based out of Wilmington, North Carolina. He runs Gold Leader Guide Service where he primarily fishes the Cape Fear River in search of flounder, drums, and stripers, but also offers offshore charters as well. To contact Stuart for a trip, find him on Facebook and Instagram, or shoot him an email.

Dog Days Of Summer – Techniques, Tactics & Tools For Catching More Bass with Joey Nania

August can be a challenging time of year for bass anglers, but very rewarding for those that know where and how to look for fish. Being willing to be versatile and switch up your tactics is crucial, and TFO Ambassador Joey Nania does exactly that when fishing the Coosa River system in Alabama. If you aren’t familiar with Joey or the Coosa River system, just take a look at his Instagram (@joeyfishing), and you’ll get a glimpse of the very healthy bass that come out of these lakes and rivers. If there’s anyone that knows how to find these fish, it’s Joey Nania.

We got on a call with Joey in between his family time and guided trips to catch up, and to talk about how he’s finding (and catching) bass during the hottest and most difficult times of year – the dog days of summer.

To start things off, let’s talk about the fisheries/areas where you are fishing and what brings you to this area.

I’m from Washington state originally, but my family and I now live in the hot, but very beautiful state of Alabama. I specifically chose Birmingham (Pell City, AL) for the many amazing fisheries in the surrounding areas. I mainly fish the Coosa River system, which entails Weiss Lake, Lake Neely Henry, Lake Logan Martin, Lay Lake, Lake Mitchell and Lake Jordan. There’s a ton of diversity and fishing options within this river system, and for a guy that fishes tournaments and guides around 200 trips a year, this area is paradise.

Sounds perfect for you. What do conditions typically look like on the Coosa River this time of year? How do you decide where and when to get out on the water as opposed to other times of year to maximize your fishing time?

We get the four seasons like everyone else, but we get some long, hot summers! It’s not uncommon to have days in the 90s for 3 months consecutively, with water temps in the high 80s to low 90s. When there’s not much current and things are tough like they are right now – the fish are all over the place. When there’s a lot of flow, fish set up on specific places on the main river and places that current flushes over, and they really group up in big groups. When the oxygen gets low and there’s not much current flowing, the fish start to disperse. That tends to happen on one end of the lake to the other.

Typically, I like to narrow down locating the fish by breaking down/targeting different sections of the lake –which I’ll break down in two sections:

1) The Upper End  – Where you’ve got your narrow, winding rivers with lots of lay downs and trees/logjams and then you’ve got rock piles. Those are the three structure options up in the rivers that I like to focus on.

2) The Bottom End – As you come down toward the bottom end of the Coosa River lakes, they widen out and you’ve got big major creeks flowing in. Every lake on the Coosa River has several big feeder creeks that are good contributors of fresh water that are also great backwaters for the fish to go to when they are spawning. The bottom end has a lot more open areas for the fish to roam, feed and hide.

I typically like to focus more of my time fishing the upper ends of the rivers this time of year. It’s narrower up there so when they do run the water (generators), at least there’s flow that you can feel. When they’re only running one generator on the bottom ends of our lakes, you really can’t feel a whole lot of current. Water is typically warmer there, thus more lethargic fish.

Let’s talk about fishing the bottom ends of the lakes first. Where are you looking for fish and how are you targeting them (baits/setups)?

On the bottom end, if I’m going to fish the main parts of these lakes and the bigger creeks, what I target a lot of the times is docks, grassy areas, and then you’ve got your offshore fish. When fish leave those deep schools where they group up by the hundred, a lot of them to go to brush piles. There’s always fish in man-made brush piles on these lakes in the south. I’d probably say the brush pile bite is the best, but in the dog days of the summer, no matter where you are, offshore fishing is always an option. There’s plenty of fish that spend most of their life offshore.

From Frogs To Flipping Baits – Working The Banks

The key to being successful during the dog days of summer is being versatile – especially on the lower ends of lakes. Typically I like to start shallow, and fish that way as long as possible. You’ve usually got shade and willow grass and other types of grass, which produces oxygen and provides excellent places for bass to find a meal. A lot of the times I start off with a frog pattern or swim a jig, but it seems like for me, as it gets hotter the swim jig bite typically fades away. You can still get some on the frog, but I really love flipping. Just slowing it down a little bit and you can be very efficient and cover a lot of water and hit the little shade pockets and really get the bait in front of the fish when you slow it down and pitch it down down the bank. It’s not really flipping, it’s pitching – Taking that underhand cast and skipping it under the overhanding cover; it’s just a very effective way of fishing this time of year.

For this scenario, I really like fishing the 7’3” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass (TLE MBR 736-1). I love that 7’3” Heavy! To me, that’s the most versatile heavy line rod that TFO makes. I throw this rod a ton. The 7’3” is the most effective rod for skipping, pitching, fishing tight covers, flipping jigs – Pretty much every bait I fish with anywhere from 17lb lines to 50lb braid, I rely on that 7’3” Heavy. It has such a perfect backbone for setting the hook. You can crack it and feel there’s no give when you set the hook really. But the tip is nicely tapered. It’s almost like a hybrid medium heavy rod in my opinion, but that’s what’s neat in that there’s no industry standard to come up with each power and it be the same for every company. This rod and other TFO rods are so perfectly balanced, and they’re true to what they’re supposed to be – an easy and reliable rod to fish with.

I like to throw the 7’5” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass (TLE FS 756-1) for fishing with frogs on mats. With this style/setup I’m typically making longer casts and forcing them out. I like to have that longer rod/leverage to get them out of the mats.

In terms of patterns, my go-to is the pop-n-frog. The new Z-Man Leap FrogZ Popping Frog. Bluegills make a really specific noise when they slurp a bug off the surface. They’ve got a really perfect cupped mouth. I feel like 90% of the time when they are eating your frog in open water or up under stuff, they really probably think it’s a bluegill. It’s just something up there that looks good to them. They’re predators and just looking for a good meal, and when something’s pretty big and twitching above them, they’re probably going to eat it. When a bass is sitting up under a tree or in the grass in the summertime – they’re comfortable. They’re sitting, they aren’t moving. Just in a holding place waiting to strike when food presents itself. Its almost like when you’re sitting in your chair at home and your wife comes home with a pizza – you’re probably going to go after that pizza (laughs).

For my jigging set-up, if the water is really clear, typically I’m using 20lb fluorocarbon on a high-speed reel. I use an 8:3:1 reel so I can be very quick and efficient. Usually when I’m working the banks, I don’t keep the bait out of the water for very long – just in and out. Working that jig, just trying to fish every single piece of cover that could hold fish.

What about retrieval patterns for fishing top water stuff?

I really think one of the keys to fishing frog patterns is the fact that the bait can walk. You can make the bait walk the dog where it’s jumping from side to side. That walk the dog action where you’re twitching and popping 5 to 6 inches from to left to right each time you twitch it – it makes the bait stay in the strike zone longer. On really hot days, it might not hurt to fish it a little slower, but there might be days where you’ve got to make them react, and slower retrieves might not trigger that response. I just vary it up depending on the day. Find what works and stick to it. Changing your retrieves, changing your tactics, and just knowing that each day is different is key to finding more success on the water during the dog days of summer.

Let’s say the sun is coming up and the morning bite is slowing down on the banks. Now you’re deciding to focus on the offshore bite. How are you looking for fish offshore and what are you throwing?

My very favorite way of catching bass is on deep schools. Part of that is being a guide and its just so much fun to put people on fish and that usually works the best for my clients. There’s certain summers where there’s definitely schools of fish to be found offshore. Our school fish here disappeared in the last month, but that doesn’t mean they always do that or they’re going to do that everywhere. So really, for the deep schools – what I’m going to start doing if the dams are running current, I’m going to start idling, and looking out offshore for schools of bass. Learning how to use your electronics is definitely important in the dog days of summer. As soon as you leave that bank, its super important to know where to look for fish and how to get the bait in front of them.

Brush Piles & Finesse Jigs

If there isn’t any generation current and I can’t find any schools of fish because its so hot, I’ll go and start fishing brush piles. It doesn’t have to be deep brush piles. Some of the best brush I fish is in 8 to 12 feet of water. One of my very favorite brush baits to throw is a CrosseyeZ Power Finesse Jig with a TRD BugZ trailer in the back. For this setup, I’m fishing the same rod – 7’3” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass with an 8:3:1 reel. I’ll use 17-20 pound test fluorocarbon cause I’m fishing it out off the bank and I like to have it fall through the water a little better with a lighter line. This is a prefect combo for a finesse jig. Sometimes the fish want something with a little bit more finesse, so if that’s the case, I’m switching over to a spinning rod.

Spinning Rods & Ned Rigs

A spinning rod is definitely something you’ve got to have ready during the dog days of summer. To me, a ned rig is one of the best rigs you can throw out there and also a dropshot. My favorite ned rig set up is a 1/6 oz. Ned LockZ Jighead. That 1/6 oz. is the right weight for fishing that depth, but if I’m fishing docks and stuff where its more shallow, I’ll do 1/10 oz., but that 1/6 oz. is great for getting down quicker. The bait I use is a Finesse TRD. I actually rig mine weedless. I fish it like a miniature shakey head on a Jighead just much smaller. That way I can throw it into brush and when the bait swims with that shakey head style rig, it makes it swim at a 45 degree angle rather than standing straight up off the bottom, and I just feel like I get less drag and it looks really good, too.

The spinning rod that I use for this set up is the 6’10” Medium Tactical Elite Bass (TLE SHS 6104-1). I use 10lb braid to an 8 or 10lb test fluorocarbon leader. In October, TFO is coming out with a 7’1” Medium Light that is an amazing ned rig rod that has a perfect back bone for that style of fishing with a great tip as well. Highly recommend that rod when it does come out!

Photo: Cameron Mosier/Tribal Video

Let’s switch things up and head up river. Talk about how you are fishing these sections this time year.

I typically spend more time on the river sections in the summer as there is more shade/cover, typically more current/flow from the generation, and the area for the fish to be in is a lot narrower compared to the bottom end of the lakes so it can be easier to find them. What I’ve been catching them on lately is my favorite way to catch them – which is flipping my finesse jig toward the banks. There’s also a pretty good squarebill bite a lot of the time during the dog days. Ive got a 6th Sense Crush 100x Squarebill I throw that will get down to about 6 – 8 feet where I can fish logs and other structures off the bank.

The rod I’ve been using for this setup is the 7’4” Medium Heavy Tactical Glass Bass rod that is coming out in October. That rod has that unique 60/40 bend where its 60% carbon fiber/40% fiberglass. Great rod for throwing crank baits, really perfect for throwing squarebills, but also an incredible chatterbait rod. Fishing those outer trees off the bank with a medium crankbait on all the rivers throughout the South is a good way to make fish react.

Photo: Cameron Mosier/Tribal Video

If the tree bite dies, I usually look for rock piles offshore that create any visual disturbance in current flow on the river. Basically any type of structure/rock pile that holds perpendicular to the current where the current rolls over it, there’s usually a great spot for bass to hold up in, and I have a lot of success targeting those areas. I really enjoy fishing a 6th Sense Cloud 9 C10 Crankbait on offshore rock piles in 6 to 12 feet of water. I typically stick with shad colors,  but if the waters a little dirtier, I’ll go with a chartreuse.

I like to do long casts in this scenario because I want my bait to track on the bottom for a longer period of time and hit all those rocks/lips where the drops are. For this situation I’m throwing what I think is by far the best cranking rod for this scenario, and it’s the 7’10” Medium Heavy Tactical Glass. This rod is the perfect flexing catapult that launches crankbaits and for making those longer casts.

A Forgotten Tip…

We’ve talked about the offshore fishing on the bottom end, and hitting up the upper main river sections where’s there’s more grass/laydowns/structure and it’s a little cooler, but one forgotten tactic that not a lot of people think about is fishing the very back ends of creeks this time of year. It seems totally weird to go about 5 miles off the main channel to the very back of a shallow creek when its that hot out. Anytime we get any rain, the water is going to flush into those creeks, so when I’m going down the river, I like to target the back ends of those feeder creeks where the water is a little cooler. If you really do your homework and target specifically spring creeks, you can find bass that are pretty much residential in that everything they need is provided by the resources in those creeks and they really don’t need to migrate to the lakes. You can find some really nice bass in these creeks.

A great tactic for this scenario is skipping a buzz bait up under bushes. I like to use a 7’4” Medium Heavy Tactical Elite Bass. Flipping a finesse jig is also very practical as well. I usually stick with similar patterns as I would on the main river. Again, that’s with the trusty 7’3” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass.

Photo: Cameron Mosier/Tribal Video

For the angler working on a budget, or to simplify a boat setup – If you could only take 3 rods/baits for this time of year, what would you take and why?

 1) The finesse jig would be my first pick. Jigs are such an old school way of fishing, but they really are one of the most versatile baits there are. Especially if you get one that’s weighted properly – you can fish one from 2 feet deep to 20 feet deep, and really feel it down there and make it move the way you want to.

2) No matter what time of year, I like having a chatterbait rigged up. You can fish them shallow and slow roll it a little bit deeper. Chatterbaits just get bit. Especially the Chatterbait Jackhammer that hunts and cuts. I like to fish a Zman Diesel MinnowZ swimbait trailer off my Chatterbait Jackhammer. The ultimate setup for this scenario is with a 7’4” Medium Heavy Tactical Glass Bass rod. I fish it with a 6:8:1 reel and 17lb fluorocarbon.

3) I really believe that having a spinning rod and having a ned rig is important. No matter what time of time, having a neg rig ready is such a good idea. This is probably my most trustworthy/reliable setup for clients anytime of year. For this set up, I’ve using the 6’10” Medium Spinning Tactical Elite Bass, but I’m really excited for the upcoming 7’1” Medium Light Spinning Tactical Elite Bass that’s coming out this fall.

 

Based out of Pell City, Alabama, Joey Nania has been a TFO Ambassador since 2012. He is also an ambassador for Z-Man baits, Bass Pro Shop, and many other brands. Prior to coming onboard to TFO, he began fishing tournaments since he was 12 years old. He worked his way to fishing in high school and Junior Bass tournaments, and is now fishing professional tournaments regularly. Joey runs a guiding service, Joey Fishing, where he is on the water with clients about 200 days a year. Outside of guiding, you can find Joey on the water with his family, as his wife and two sons, Zeke and Eli love to fish as well. You can follow or get a hold of Joey on his Facebook or Instagram pages or at his website.

Targeting Bull Redfish with Gary Dubiel

It’s an exciting time for Captain Gary Dubiel and other east coastal and guides and anglers. As we say goodbye to July and turn the page to August, water temperatures are increasing, more baitfish are moving towards estuaries, and the summer crowds are slowly going back to their homes. Bull redfish season is here.

I was fortunate enough to catch Gary on a rare day off, as for the next 2-3 months, he’ll be on the water with clients pursing large adult redfish – or bull reds – that make their way into his fisheries. Gary breaks down the annual migration of bull reds to coastal North Carolina and how he finds and catches these fish.

Sounds and looks like the bull redfish are on the move in your area in coastal North Carolina. For those new to targeting or interested in targeting bull reds, can you talk about what it is these fish are doing? Are they spawning? What drives them in (temperature, water levels) to your area in coastal North Carolina?

The bull reds here are very migratory. They’ll be in the ocean most of the year. They’re in the process now in late July where the vast majority of them are shifting from the ocean into the estuary into the Pamlico Sound primarily for the purpose of spawning.

The spawning rituals itself which usually occur on the full and new moon phases are very brief, and the rest of the time the fish take full advantage of the food sources so they are perpetually feeding.

Every year is a little bit different and it can be hard to predict on how quickly they move in. Some years you’ll see fish in abundance by early/mid July, some years you’ll see fish a little bit later, but usually once you get into the first part of August, you’re going to see an increasing number of fish pushing into the river and that will continue into a few weeks to follow and stay peaked usually until the end of September. As the temperatures drop, the bull reds will move back out into the ocean.

Does water temperature have any effect for these migratory patterns?

There is some temperature orientation. During summer, the water temperature is obviously going to be very hot, so there’s not a lot of fluctuation, but your fall temperature, depending when your cold fronts come in, has a tendency to push the bait out, thus the volume of fish. Usually when you see the water temperature drop down into the mid 60s is when you see that migration move back out.

TFO Ambassador Brad Whitaker with his hands full. Photo by Gary Dubiel.

When the bull reds are in your area spawning/foraging, how do you look for them? Is it similar to looking for normal redfish looking for crabs in the flood tides, etc. in that there are more visual signs to look for like tailing, grass movement, etc?

No; totally different ballgame. Normal redfish and adult redfish have nothing to do with each other as far as their habits go – especially here in coastal North Carolina. Once adult redfish come into that migratory adult population, they become much more of a pelagic fish than a normal redfish that is more estuary oriented – very short distances.

There was actually a radio tracking study here years back. On average, an adult redfish swim 25 miles a day. That 25 miles doesn’t necessarily have to be a straight line, but they are perpetually in motion just like a school of tuna would be. They are much more in motion, and that motion basically continues until they locate food, and then they eat, and then they’ll move until they find more food, and so on. They are perpetually moving day and night and anytime they intersect food, they eat.

So not really much sight fishing opportunities?

Our waters are very tan and bottoms are very dark, so it would be very rare if you ever looked in the water and saw one. What we’ve been able to do here is basically develop the ability to look for those fish by looking for the food source.

Bull redfish will eat pretty much anything. They aren’t like the typical Carolina redfish that is tailing and looking for a crab. Bull reds are primarily going to be fin fish feeders, but they will also eat crab, shrimp, and anything that’s basically 18” and smaller than they are.

Because of the way the food reacts when being chased by these big fish can help you locate those fish and catch them. For example, if they find a mullet, mullet move in a straight line and they move very fast, and its usually in much shallower water – which makes for some really cool signs to look for because its very explosive – there’s a lot of splashing, a lot going on. But the issue then becomes – How do you get to these fish? They’re moving so fast you can get in front of them it doesn’t make any difference.

The one thing that is very helpful in all that is menhaden – Because when they get chased they form a big bait ball and they don’t go anywhere. Looking at big schools – literally acres of menhaden on top of the water – that bait ball is very tight. The spinning/splashing on top of the water gives you an indication that there’s fish there. You can also look for things like flicks, you can smell the oil from the fish being eaten, etc. Big redfish can feed anywhere from two feet of water to twenty feet of water which is as deep as the rivers in this area. So subsequently, they can be anywhere and everywhere. They can be very difficult to see feeding but if you see that bait ball on the surface, that bait can be your best indicator of where those fish are.

A great example of a bait ball taking place on the surface where bull redfish are likely to be hanging out for a meal. Photo by Gary Dubiel.

Let’s say you’ve located some bull reds, what set ups, both fly and conventional are using to go after these guys?

For conventional tackle – I’m using the Inshore Series. Medium-Heavy and Heavy action rods. So the 705-706 models. Mostly what we’re going to be using to catch those fish are pop-n-corks and soft plastics. The reason we use those (pop-n-corks) is that it makes noise and it draws the fish to the bait just like the fish that are constantly moving and feeding.

Very different from a juvenile redfish where they might be tight at to the bottom, bull reds can be at mid-water column, they can be on top of the water, or they can be all the way on the bottom. We want to try and pull the fish to that bait so we’ll use very large pop-n-corks and large 5-6 inch long soft plastics that catches their attention. It’s the most effective way to catch those fish when we’re fishing tackle.

I’ll match those rods with 4000-5000 series reels with 30lb braid goes on those rods nicely and the rods have the backbone it takes to fish those well.

We do throw some topwater baits. The Medium Heavy does really well there. We’ll also do some swim baits using the Heavy action Inshores. Large 6-8 inch swim baits on a jighead will occasionally produce as well.

For Fly – Axiom ll-X 10wt. You need that extra backbone compared to the popular 8wt because 1) You’ll never throw the set up and 2) You’ll never land the fish. I match it with the TFO Power Reel.

TFO Advisor Blane Chocklett getting a taste of coastal NC bull redfishing with guiding assistance from fellow TFO Advisor Gary Dubiel. Photo by Gary Dubiel.

How big do the bull reds get?

A lot of places will say a bull redfish is 36-38 inches. That’s not a big fish here. That’s a little fish. Our fish average 43-45 inches. They’re typically a pound an inch. We’ll catch fish in excess of 50 inches – So you’re looking at 50-60 lb. fish.

So in other words, you’ll have all you need on the end of a 10wt Axiom ll-X.

What about fly lines, leaders, tippet?

You’ll want an aggressive front taper floating line. I use the Scientific Anglers Titan Taper Line WF10F. For leaders, I go straight 20 lb. fluorocarbon for about 6 feet to the popping fly, then about 20-24 inches of 30lb fluoro off of that to the fly.

Flies?

You’ll want to do the same thing that you were doing with the spinning rod as you would on the fly rod – so that’s where my pop-n-fly comes in. You’re basically fishing a pop-n-cork and then 20-24 inches below that you’re fishing a large minnow style fly. Something oval that breaths well. I have my own menhaden style fly that I tie which is a slightly less weight, large oval baitfish pattern.

Capt. Gary Dubiel’s innovative Pop-N-Cork & Pop-N-Fly setups for both fly and conventional tackle. Photo by Gary Dubiel.

Any particular tips, tactics, or strategies for fighting bull reds and increasing the chances of getting the fish to the boat and not breaking off?

Don’t be shy of putting pressure on them. They’ll never surrender. You need to work the fish back to the boat (another reason why the 10wt comes in handy here). Typically, the fish will normally have a long run first, then you usually have 1-2 shorter runs, then the fish will bulldog you at the boat. Once you apply pressure to that fish’s head, keep that pressure on! A lot of my clients will yank up real hard, then drop the rod tip real fast, then if the fish is even able to drop his head and turn away from you, he’ll take right off again.

The way these fish fight, they want to get their head down and away from you. So a much steadier, constant pressure on that fish will beat that fish quicker. On a 10wt, you’re looking at 7-9 minute fight time on average.

Any other tips/suggestions you’d like to leave with our readers?

One thing I’d like to mention. We have a lot of folks that come from other places to fish here for bull reds that make the biggest mistake when fishing for these fish. Even if they’re in deeper water, they are extremely motor shy! So outboard motors can be horribly detrimental to catching those fish.

If you see those big schools of bait, approach those schools of fish with stealth. Stuff like coming downwind, using the trolling motor, using the trolling motor at lower speeds if you can get away with it makes a huge difference. Also, giving yourself a few hundred yards to start, then working in on those fish as low noise rather than rushing on top. If you’re treating it like albacore fishing where you see those bait balls and you rush in there with the boat, they’ll go to another zip code.

The man himself. TFO National Advisor Capt. Gary Dubiel taking in the view before heading out for a day on the water. Photo by Colorblind Media.

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.