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It’s Back to Basics for Smallmouth

Tis the time of year for freshwater transition. It’s September. It’s still a bit too hot for trout, and the largemouth bass is a morning and evening proposition. However, the most willing sparring partner in early fall is not hard to find. The smallmouth bass is a viable fly-rodding option as summer yields to autumn. Smallies love to take a fly and fight hard, from the hookset to the release.

Even though the bronzeback is a formidable foe, it’s a fish I’ve consistently neglected throughout my 30 years of fly fishing. I’ve always found trout sexier. It’s true that trout, as a species, boast loads of tradition, but if you honestly evaluate the attributes of each species, the smallmouth compares favorably and is well worth pursuing.

And since trout usually need a break, I’ve decided to give smallmouth a fair amount of love from now on during each fishing season.

So, it’s back to basics. Below are a few key components of my strategy.

Time Year for Smallmouth

Geography, of course, plays a role. I live in Western N.C., where the southern smallie season starts in late spring and ends in late fall. My fishing calendar starts in March and April with trout. As soon as the trout start to feel the heat of summer in late May and early June, it’s time for smallmouth. And when the autumn leaves start to turn, it’s about time for trout.

Temperature and Time of Day for Smallmouth

Smallmouth can be caught if the water temperature lingers in the 50s, but cold water is better for trout. Smallmouth like water temps in the high 60s and 70s, about the time trout head for the oxygen of the riffles.

For most of us, fishing revolves around work and family commitments, but the ideal time for smallmouth is early or late in the day. Low light is better than bright sun simply because the fish feel more secure. If you can fish on a cloudy day, take advantage of such conditions. The fish will hold shallower longer.

Where to Find Smallmouth

Smallmouth are not easy to find on your local river. But if you find one smallmouth, you will usually find several. And once you pinpoint a fishy spot, remember it, because chances are, fish will hold there consistently.

Smallmouth are ambush feeders. They use structure — logs, rocks and boulders — to hide and wait for unsuspecting prey, not unlike brown trout. And don’t forget your trout training. The tails of pools usually hold nice fish. Deeper runs are also a good option.

Food for the Smallmouth

If you don’t have a specialty box of smallmouth flies, don’t despair. Trout love dragon flies and crayfish. The venerable woolly bugger works well for both. I like to use bead-head versions of this pattern. When fish are feeding on the surface, I love poppers, and there’s no better smallmouth popper than the Sneaky Pete, which can be fished with a small woolly bugger or similar substitute as a dropper.

For trophy fish, there’s no better option than Blane Chocklett’s Game Changer. The Game Changer’s movement rivals many conventional lures.

The Equipment for Smallmouth

Heavy trout or light saltwater setups work well. A 5 or 6-weight rod is about as light as you would want to go. A 7, 8-weight can be used to throw bigger poppers. If you throw small flies, you can bring your lighter rod. Big flies, obviously, need a bigger stick.  For instance, you would not want to fish a Game Changer on your 5-weight rod. Step up to a 7-weight or bigger.

Temple Fork’s Axiom II series is a good option as is the BVK series. As for reels, our Power or BVK are good choices.

I fish for smallies with standard weight-forward line, but specialty lines and leaders come in handy when you need to throw bigger flies into a headwind or find yourself fishing deeper water, where you need to get the fly down fast.

Most of the time, I keep the leaders simple —- with a 9-foot 2 or 3X approach. Again, the main variable here is the size of the fly. There’s a difference between casting a size 10 woolly bugger and a 5-inch Game Changer.

If you have any other smallmouth suggestions, feel free to leave a comment on one of our social media pages.

Five Tips to Catch Flood Tide Redfish

The sun came up early. After a long drive from the North Carolina mountains to the beaches of north Florida, I was dog tired.

But I got up to go fishing anyway. The allure of tailing redfish on the marsh is intoxicating. Sleep would have to wait.

I arrived at my favorite marsh in time. The sun was up and the tide was trickling in. After 30 minutes of walking, I arrived at my favorite spot and looked for fish. The water was shin deep, and I waited for it to reach the bottom of my knee caps. And I waited and waited and waited.

The projected flood tide never arrived. And neither did the tailing redfish.

The culprit was Hurricane Florence, which was several days away, but close enough to yield a west breeze, which stymied the tidal flow. There just wasn’t enough water for the fish to feel comfortable enough to feed.

So I trudged back home. I knew the west wind might be an issue, but I fished anyway. I have a soft spot for tailing reds. The mere sight of a spotted tail in the grass takes my breath away.

It doesn’t matter if it’s in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina or North Carolina. Where there’s a marsh, there’s usually a tailing redfish. And I will go to just about any extreme to find them.

Below are a few flood-tide tips that I learned along the way.

The Tides For REDFISH

Tidal flow is huge when it comes to flood-tide redfish. You need enough water to reach the dry areas of the marsh, so the big reds can feed on fiddler crabs. Each area has its required tidal flow to entice tailing fish. In Northeast Florida, for instance, you generally need a high tide of at least 5.2, but that designation is a mere guideline. Flats near Jacksonville don’t need as much water to flood; flats near St. Augustine and points south need a tide of 5.4, 5.5. In short, each area, each flat, has different tidal requirements. Local knowledge is key to ferreting out these nuances.

The Wind FOR REDFISH

Wind is a big factor in tidal flow. In north Florida, north or east wind pushes water on to the flat. That means you can fish longer, because you’ll have ample water. By contrast, a south or west wind pushes water off the flat, which means you’ll have less time to fish, or even worse, not enough water to cover the flat.

If you have a big tide, a southwest wind may not ruin your fishing, depending on the strength of the wind. However, if your tide is borderline with a southwest wind, the fish might not have enough water to tail, which is exactly what happened on my most recent trip.

Timing for REDFISH

Once high tide arrives, you generally have about an hour or so of good fishing before the water will recede and the fish will leave. It’s important to prepare the night before. Get up early and be on the flat well before high tide, so you can be in position before the water rises and the fish move in. If you cut it too close, you might miss opportunities. If you’re late, head to the next flat.

Mobility FOR REDFISH

Wading is a possibility and has its benefits. You don’t have to prep a boat or a kayak. All you need is a rod, reel, a sling pack and a pair of flats boots. In a matter of minutes, you can be on the water and fishing — before or after work or on your lunch break.

A boat or kayak/paddleboard requires more preparation, but offers the advantage of mobility. You can cover more ground and potentially reach more fish. Boats need a two-person approach. One fishes; the other poles. Kayaks and paddleboards are solo affairs. Kayaks are more stable; paddleboards have a better casting platform, but require above-average balance and core strength. I’ve used both. For longer trips, I use a kayak. For shorter, quick trips, I use the paddleboard.

The Equipment for REDFISH

An 8-weight Temple Fork Axiom II with a Power reel is the ticket. The Axiom will punch through the wind and the Power will handle any flood-tide red with ease. As for fly lines, I use a weight-forward line. The Rio Redfish or Cortland Liquid Crystal Guide are both good options. Rio’s lines tend to be heavier. Cortland’s lines, in my opinion, are lighter and easier to cast.

With flies, you can’t go wrong with a crab pattern. The primary food source on the marsh are fiddlers. I load up my fly boxes with EP crabs in black and tan, toad style. It doesn’t hurt to have a Gurgler or two. When fish are feeding intensely with their nose in the muck, I will cast a popper in their general vicinity to get their attention. Though counter intuitive, this approach sometimes works.

Any other advice or questions, feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.

Rod Repair 101: The Basics of TFO’s Warranty Program

TFO has offered the same no-fault lifetime warranty on all its fishing rods since being founded in 1995. Today, the warranty program is a core part of our business and an area that we’re constantly working to improve, so that it represents another value-based reason to be a TFO angler.

When a TFO rod is broken, we always want to get a TFO angler back on the water with as little hassle as possible. And with this goal in mind, our warranty program is built on two simple principles: First, we run it as a break-even part of our business – no profit. This means we charge the least amount possible to quickly repair or replace rods to get them back in the hands of TFO anglers. Second, we always try to be fair or in the angler’s favor when we make a warranty decision.

Sustaining these principles is getting more difficult for a few interesting reasons. First, all the major fishing rod manufacturers make very good rods. As a result, it is extremely rare that a rod breaks because of manufacturing or material defects. Tom Kirkman’s article Rod Failure does a great job of exploring the subject and provides easy-to-use examples to determine why a rod broke. We never like to be the bearer of bad news to our anglers, and the “why-your-rod-really broke” conversation can sometimes feel unfair.

Second, about 10 percent of the rods sent to us include no information about the owners. Nothing – no phone number, no address, no email. We just get a broken rod. Over the course of few months, this can quickly add up to many “orphaned” rods at TFO. We take great care of each one, but reuniting angler and rod doesn’t always go as smoothly as we’d like.

A related tragedy is when anglers don’t know that shipping companies have invented machines that survive by consuming unsuspecting fishing rods returned for warranty. Trust me, high-speed conveyor belts and fishing rods do not mix well. Last month a warranty rod arrived wrapped in cellophane with a shipping label stuck on it! It was not in good shape!! Always follow the warranty return instructions, and think defensively when shipping your fishing rod!

However, the above problems pale in comparison to a new reality – counterfeit and used rods sold as new. When we warranty a rod that was purchased “used” (and damaged) or replace a fake rod with a real TFO rod, the cost of warranty for every TFO angler goes up. We are deeply committed to the principles of fairness and minimized costs. Both of these principles are in jeopardy when anglers buy rods from folks other than our dealers and expect us to provide warranty service. While we will always go out of our way to help any angler, at the end of the day our loyalty will be to TFO anglers and the dealers that support them.

Lastly, a remark recently on our social media feed said, “if that’s the warranty program, then I’ll never need to buy another rod?” Exactly.

The Trials and Tribulations of Trailer Ownership

I plugged in the last wire into the trailer hitch as darkness descended. Moments from cranking the ignition on my Jeep, I realized the moment of truth had arrived.

Either the lights were going to work, or they weren’t. It was a zero-sum game I played for several weeks while trying to fix a trailer I had bought for my Flycraft, a fly-fishing raft I assumed I could car top. The key word in that sentence is assumed. The raft is way too bulky to hoist on my Grand Cherokee roof after a day of fishing.

So it was back to the drawing board and I decided to buy a trailer off Craig’s List. When I first got the trailer home, everything seemed fine. Even though it was a 2003 Triton LT, the original owner had kept it in good shape. There was very little rust or wear and tear.

I paid $500. A very fair price.

With a Trailer, One Thing Leads to Another

The problems started as soon as I hooked up the lights to my Jeep. Everything worked, except the left turn signal.

I told myself not to panic. Maybe a bulb or a loose connection? Worst-case scenario: A bad tail light, right?

So I headed to Advance Auto thinking I was in for a quick fix. The bulb didn’t work. I replaced the tail light. That didn’t work. At that point, I knew I was in trouble. Think Wile E. Coyote with his ACME instructions after once again being bamboozled by the Road Runner. Ironically, that was my favorite cartoon as a kid. Whenever I have to fix something around the house, I sympathize with Mr. Wile E. Coyote.

In all, I made an additional nine or 10 trips to Advance Auto for …

Connectors

Adapters

Screws/bolts

Lubricant

Wire cutters

Fuses

Butt connectors

Wire terminals

Perseverance Is a Necessity with a Trailer

In a perfect world, I would have bought all of these things in one trip.  Of course, that assumes I diagnosed the problem correctly, went right to the source and fixed it. Trailers and electronics don’t work that way, trust me. I started at the back of the trailer, probed and then worked my way forward to the Jeep.

Was it the vehicle or the trailer? I wasn’t sure.

Initially, I assumed it was the Jeep’s electronics. Having lived in the saltwater of Northeast Florida with a Gheenoe, the brine had left my connector and adapter with a bit of corrosion. I replaced those, hooked everything back up. Still no left turn signal. My test light showed no power to the proper (yellow) wire.

I was stumped, a bit disappointed, but not defeated. I took a few days off and tried again, searching for clues. During one particularly frustrating afternoon, I then noticed that the right turn signal was not working.

I looked toward my hitch and noticed that there was a green wire from a wad of electrical tape near the front of the wiring harness. Initially, I had thought the tape was designed to shorten the harness. It was not. Say hello to a re-attached harness.

I removed the tape, and a bundle of wires — some connected, some not —- emerged. The green wire, which controls the right turn signal, was loose. I had found the issue, but could I sort through the connections? There were six wires coming from the trailer and only five from the four-way, wishbone connector. Matching color to color usually works, but not in this instance. There were two ground wires coming from the trailer — unlike traditional trailers Triton runs separate grounds —- leaving me with no idea of where the second ground would go. With my old trailer, the ground wire was bolted to the metal frame. Triton trailers are aluminum. So much for that option.

Not sure what to do, I wired one ground to the black wire, and the other ground to the matching white, cranked up the car and nary a light came on. I disconnected everything and probed with the test light and soon discovered I had no power anywhere. I had regressed and was on the verge of a meltdown. I grabbed a beer and texted my dad, who told me to take a break: I had probably blown a fuse.

The next day, I called Triton to ask about the extra ground. Their rep told me to connect all three grounds together. Simple. It was back to Auto Zone twice to mix, match and test fuses. Once I navigated the maze of the Jeep’s fuse box, I got power back to the hitch. On a roll, I connected the loose wires of the harness back together with electrical tape. I checked for power at the turn signal. Eureka. The current finally flowed.

The Road Less Traveled with a Trailer

I had a decision to make. Either I wing it with electrical tape and hope for the best. Or, better yet, I secure all of the questionable connections with heat shrink.  Back to Advance Auto Parts for the latter.

When I showed up at the store, the clerks were ready to greet me.

“If you keep showing up here, we’re going to have to hire you,” one said.

“I’m close. This is my last trip,” I replied.

It was about six in the evening. I had about two hours left before darkness settled in.

I took my time with each wire. First I connected, then I crimped, then I heated and sealed.

I hooked up the trailer as the sun set over the North Carolina mountains. And the lights came on.

Trailer horror stories of your own? Trailer advice? Let us know know on one of our social media pages.

The Basics of Bonefish: What You Need to Know

A few weeks ago, we celebrated the beauty and grace of the tarpon. This week we turn to another pillar of saltwater’s Big Three — the bonefish. And there’s no better authority on the grey ghost than Bjorn Stromsness, who has spent more than his fair share of time on the flats. When the Northern Californian is not chasing bonefish, he’s writing about them on his blog, Bonefish on the Brain.

TFO chatted with Stromsness by phone for a few minutes last week to glean a few pointers on bonefish. Below are excerpts of our conversation, a handful of tidbits for novice or intermediate bonefishermen.

Why Bonefish? Location. Location. Location.

BS: “They say the same thing about trout. Bonefish live in beautiful places — where it’s sunny, warm, tropical. You think of beer or something with rum in it and you think of bonefish, too. Part of the (appeal) is location, which is hard to beat.

“Another thing, when I trout fish, I don’t see a lot of the trout I catch before I get them on the line. Bonefishing is so visual. You should see every bonefish before you even cast to it. It’s very different from where you go out and cast to likely spots. That visual element is really appealing.

“And then there’s the fish itself. It puts you to the test. You have to be able to make the cast. You have to be able to make the presentation. You need to be able to see the fish. And when you catch the fish, there’s a power to the bonefish that’s just way out of scale compared to most other fish. If you put all of that together, it’s a pretty compelling package.”

Best Places for bonefish

BS: “St. Brandon’s Atoll is where I would go followed closely by the Seychelles and followed by that would be Christmas Island. I’m actually going there in January. Those are exotic places with shots at so many different species — from GTs, to bumphead parrots — and there’s lots of bonefish, too.

“St. Brandon’s Atoll is in the middle of nowhere. There’s no airport. You get there by boat. It’s like a 20-hour boat ride. There’s no one else around. It’s very, very isolated and it’s not close to anything. When people talk about what it was like to fish in the 1800s, it probably isn’t any different now in St. Brandon’s than it was 200 years ago. It just doesn’t get the pressure that other places get. It’s high on my wish list of fantasy places to go. As good as that place is, I just got back from a week in the Bahamas. It was awesome.”

Bonefish on a budget

BS: “Go to Belize. Or Mexico. You can do Belize fairly cheap. I’ve even flown Southwest. Prices there are lower than you’re going to find in a lot of places. The fish are small, but you also have more shots and permit as well. There are places in Belize you can do on a budget; there are places in the Bahamas you can do on a budget. It’s just that the flights to the Bahamas are a little harder sometimes. They might have a flight in or out on one day. It can be harder (to travel). Mexico or Belize can certainly provide budget opportunities.

“With (the Florida) Keys, their bonefish population is way, way down. It’s not that people aren’t catching them. They are, but they’re probably catching more redfish than bonefish down there these days.”

Practice your double haul for those big bonefish

BS: “The casting. It’s different from most fly fishing. You’re going to have to make a cast in a specific place in a 25-mile-an-hour wind. It’s a unique skill set. I’ve seen confident, proficient trout fishermen lose their minds not being able to make it happen.

“The thing any angler going for the first time needs is a 40-foot double haul. Forty feet is not far, but when the wind is really blowing and you have to cast in the face of it, it can be really daunting. Classically, people think you need a 70-foot cast for bonefish. You don’t. Most of your fish will be caught at 40 feet. It’s not that it’s far. You need to be able to do it in the wind with a little finesse. If you slap a fly down in front of a bonefish, they’re not going to eat it. The main thing is just getting the cast.”

The best time of year to go for bonefish is

BS: “Whenever you can. It’s trite, but it’s true. I was just in Grand Bahama in July. I was in Mexico last year at this time. It was amazing. It was fantastic. It’s not the time people are bonefishing generally. But, the wind was really low. Yes, it was hot. The wind being a non-factor was so different. There are tradeoffs. People tend to think of bonefishing in March, April, May. Really, it’s whenever you can go. It makes more sense to pay more attention to tides than time of year. You want a good incoming, so you have a good shot at it. That’s what you want. Places I’ve been on the wrong tides have made it more difficult.”

Keep it simple with bonefish gear

BS: “You only need an 8-weight. You don’t need a 9. Some places they say you need a 9. You don’t need a 9. You only need an 8. If you need to, up line by one weight. With most of the lines out there, an 8-weight line isn’t an 8-weight line, it’s an 8.5. You really don’t need to up line, usually. You need a good 8-weight line and a good large arbor reel. The leader? Something 12, 14 feet. I make my own — 4 feet of 40-pound butt, 2 feet of 30, 2 feet of 20 and then the tippet. I’m usually going with fluoro, 15-pound. It’s simple and saves money.”

 

Questions, comments? Head to one of TFO’s social media pages — Facebook or Instagram. Let us know what you think.

Tactics for Stubborn Summer Trout

Summer traditionally is a time to enjoy the outdoors. Anglers enjoy the longer days. Trout? Not so much.

Of course, this scenario depends on geography. Western trout thrive; southeastern and mid-atlantic trout struggle with summer’s swelter.

But this is not to say that non-western fishermen should hang up their waders in August. Quite the contrary. There are fishing opportunities; you just have to know when and where to go.

Here are a few pointers.

Go Early

Set your alarm clock. Try to be on the water at sunrise — or shortly thereafter. As the air temperature rises, so does the water temperature. Mornings are cooler than afternoons.

When the water temps hit 70 degrees, trout become lethargic and feed very little. I try to shut down my fishing by 10, 10:30 a.m., sometimes earlier, if it’s warmer than usual.

Hoof It

Lower-level streams tend to be warmer. If you want to find cooler water, find streams at the highest elevations possible. That might mean hiking a couple miles. The key is to find water with temperatures consistently in the 60s.

Once there, fish the shade. Trout like cover from aerial predators. Plus, they can feed on the terrestrials — ants, beetles and grasshoppers — that fall into the stream.

Fish the Foam

When I first started mountain trout fishing, I fished the slower water that formed the tail of the pools. I simply assumed trout would have to work far too hard in the faster water. Generally, that’s true. However, in the summer, trout seek the oxygen of the riffles. It’s not uncommon to see them stack up in these spots to find comfort.

Go Subsurface

I started out as a diehard, damned-the-torpedoes dry-fly snob. That rigid approach softened after enduring many fishless days one summer.

Insect activity slows to a crawl after spring ends. Add in the fact that fish want to stay cool, and you can understand the need to nymph fish. This can be as simple as indicator fishing or you can take it a step further with euro-nymphing. TFO’s Drift rod is perfect for this tactic.

Find a Tailwater

Tailwater fisheries are known for keeping the water at a cold, consistent temperature year round. When the natural streams are too warm to fish, you can usually find a tailwater with water temperatures in the 50s. The hatches are usually consistent and productive, and the fish are usually willing to eat. The only downside to tailwaters are the releases. The Nantahala, near where I live in Western N.C., is controlled by Duke Energy, which tailors the releases to the rafting companies that use the river. The water usually runs high during the day, but is more suitable for wading early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

Check with your local electric company for a release schedule before planning a trip. And if you do get caught during generation, seek the safety of the shoreline. Better safe than sorry.

If you don’t have access to a tailwater, find a spring creek, which offers ground-fed cold water year round. Virginia’s Mossy Creek and Montana’s DePuy Spring Creek, for instance, are known for their year-round prowess.

 

Summer fishing can be rewarding if you plan properly. Any other suggestions? Let us know on one of our social media pages.

 

The Art of How to Present the Nymph

Editor’s Note: Below is a submission from TFO advisor Jason Randall. Enjoy.

Since the dawn of time, at least angling-wise, anglers have embraced the need for drag-free dry-fly drifts. Only in more recent history, however, have anglers come to realize the importance of a natural drift while nymph fishing. Just as with dry flies, having the right fly helps, but presentation trumps fly selection; you’ll catch more trout with the wrong fly and the right presentation than you will with the right fly but a poor presentation.

Euro-nymphing and other forms of tightline or contact nymphing have surged in popularity not only because of improved strike detection, but also the control they offer over the presentation. By minimizing the effect of subsurface drag, these methods allow the flies to stay in the strike zone, which is the bottom 20 percent of the vertical water column, with a more natural drift.

You can think of the shorter drifts typical of most tightline techniques as having three distinct stages. The first, just after the cast, begins as the flies descend to the strike zone, and the current begins to pull them downstream. Ideally, get your flies quickly to the strike zone with a tuck cast or equivalent, which shortens this phase and lengthens the next. Many strikes occur during this stage, so it pays to keep contact with the flies while they sink.

TFO’s Drift Rod is an excellent choice for the serious nymph fisherman. Photo courtesy of Jason Randall.

The second stage begins when the flies reach the strike zone — often signaled by a slight tightening of the sighter, which is a short segment of brightly colored and thus highly visible monofilament spliced into the leader. No line or leader on the water makes a single entry point as the leader pierces the water, and the drift is tracked downstream towards the angler’s position and below. The drift usually moves slightly slower than the current speed seen from the surface since the strike zone layer near the stream bottom moves slower than the layers above. This speed mimics the drift speed of naturally drifting organisms. An occasional bottom snag confirms that our flies are in the strike zone. Strikes are often felt as a tug, but more commonly seen as change in the ‘sag’ or droop of the sighter.

The third stage can be varied according to angler preference, but starts with the end of the dead drift as the flies tighten to the leader. At this point, we often simply lift to the next cast, and sometimes justly so if fish are hitting during the previous stages. But when fishing is slow, try modifying this final stage- it can trigger strikes. For instance, once the flies tighten, allow them to rise slowly to the surface like a rising insect, even allowing them to swing across the current like a wet fly. If fish are in a chasing mood, this might seal the deal. This works even with rising trout during a hatch.

Choose current threads for your drift within one and one-half rod lengths or less from where you stand as measured by holding the rod horizontally and directly across stream. Cast less than twenty-five feet upstream in that thread. If you choose a thread too far across stream, you’ll get drag during the drift as the flies pull across currents. A longer rod helps reach that current thread that might otherwise be too far away. Longer rods also help lengthen the drift.

TFO’s adjustable length Drift rod lets you add or remove segments according to the situations you may face in the course of a day’s fishing. Adding length allows you to extend a drift or reach an otherwise unreachable feeding lane. The shorter length comes in handy when fishing in tight quarters or on streams closed in by vegetation. With the Drift rod, you only have to carry one rod to the river.

Any questions, comments about the Drift or nymphing techniques, feel free to reach out on one of our social media channels.

 

Jason Randall is an outdoor writer whose articles frequently appear in fly-fishing magazines. He is the author of four books published by Stackpole Books.

Five Tips on How to Catch Tarpon

The Gold Cup features the best of the best in tarpon fishing. The invitation-only tournament is one of the most prestigious events of the competitive fishing season. TFO advisor Rob Fordyce has set the standard for Gold Cup consistency with 13 second-place finishes, the last of which came earlier this summer.

And he’s always learning.

“I’ve never been satisfied with my knowledge of tarpon,” Fordyce said. “I take fishing seriously. I do it for a living. Tarpon fishing, I take to a different level. That consistent (success) comes from never being satisfied with my knowledge of the game. I’m always trying new things and I’m trying to get better at it.”

TFO blog editor Mike Hodge chatted with Fordyce about his success, and the host of the outdoor series, Seahunter, offered a few tips. Among them:

Get In Shape

Tarpon fishing is not for the meek. It’s physical and fast paced. Many newbies assume the rough stuff comes once the big fish is hooked, and there’s no doubt your biceps, core and thighs will burn as you try to land your quarry.

Often overlooked, though, are the skills needed before the hookup. Good balance is essential. Why? Because if you fish the flats near a pass or a beach, swells can rock the boat. Sea legs aren’t a big deal for a hardened tarpon fisherman, but the newcomer needs to be strong and flexible to maintain good enough balance to spot fish and make accurate casts.

“It’s not a controlled environment,” Fordyce said. “A trout fishing setting is somewhat of a controlled environment. The fish aren’t moving. The fish are holding behind a rock and you know which rock that is. If you make a bad cast in a trout scenario, you get another shot. In tarpon fishing on the ocean side, there can be wind. There’s often extreme current, and sometimes both are in different directions. You can have waves over the bow with wind, and the fly has to end up in a six-inch diameter circle. It’s a game of inches.”

Use the Right Gear

Use gear that’s heavy enough. You don’t want to be under-gunned. A rod that’s too light will result in prolonged battles. A 10 weight is adequate. An 11 or 12 weight is better. For conventional gear, try medium heavy to heavy rods.

The Axiom II is a good choice for those who prefer fly. Our GIS Inshore or Seahunter Series works well for conventional enthusiasts.

Picking the Right Fly/Lure

The Cockroach may be the most famous and productive tarpon fly. I personally prefer the tarpon toad in black and purple. It’s easy to tie and it works. Rabbit strips are one my tying favorite materials simply because of the movement generated. And movement, as TFO advisor Blane Chocklett explains, is key to enticing strikes. I had never really thought about this concept before, but it makes perfect sense. Fish are predators. Feed them what they want.

When it comes to movement, conventional lures are hard to beat. Obvious choices are Bombers and DOAs and Yo-Zuri minnows.

“In sight-fishing scenarios we often use unweighted bass worms or flukes,” Fordyce said. “These baits will almost suspend allowing a lot of movement with a short, twitchy retrieve that can still be pretty slow without having to reel much. This can entice traveling fish to bite that aren’t in a feeding mode much the same way as a fly retrieve.”

Entire blog posts have been devoted to tarpon lures and flies. If you want more info, talk with your guide. Local knowledge is always best.

Seeing the Fish

There’s also a mental challenge involved with tarpon fishing. Count on long periods of time between schools of fish. The ability to concentrate through the doldrums is essential and usually acquired with experience.

“There can be times when you’re getting a shot every thirty seconds, and then there could be hours in between shots,” Fordyce said. “It could be four, five hours of just nothing. That’s when you really have to dig deep and focus hard. That’s when the shots are few and far between and you only get so many.”

Teamwork

You and your guide are a team. Ideally, he puts you on fish. The client’s job is to make an accurate cast, hook the fish and then land it. Rarely is it that easy. Mistakes happen and tempers can flare. The key, as in any relationship, is communication, particularly when it comes to the client’s skill level and expectations, so the chaos can be managed.

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Fordyce said. “It’s a team sport. Your guide is trying to set you up for the most productive shot. There’s a lot going on.”

 

Headed out to pursue the Silver King? Let us know how you do on one of our social media channels. Want to add more tips or suggestions, feel free to speak up.

Why You Should have this Game Changer

The cliché is true: Necessity is the mother of invention. So is patience. And persistence.

That was the path that TFO advisor Blane Chocklett endured to come up the Game Changer. You might think that the Roanoke, Va. guide cranked out this revolutionary baitfish fly in a few tying sessions. Well, you would be wrong.

The current Game Changer is the result of about 20 years of brainstorming to solve a riddle that few, if any anglers, have ever truly thought about:

“What makes a fish swim,” Chocklett said during a phone interview last week. “Not being an engineer you have to figure those things out on your own. It’s been a process of trial and error.”

The Game Changer was around for three or four years or so before its commercial debut with Umpqua in the mid-2000s.

It’s not an easy two-minute fly. Count on about 30 minutes at the vise during your initial attempts. Efficiency should follow.

“It can be (labor intensive), just like with anything else (new), especially with the synthetic version,” Chocklett said. “It’s a matter of learning the tapers and doing it correctly. It doesn’t require a lot of skill. A lot of it is repetition, creating a taper with the bait that you’re trying to imitate.”

Once perfected, the Game Changer is dynamite on an array of species — everything from Tiger Fish to freshwater trout and all that falls in between those two spectrums.

Its appeal is its realistic movement.

“Movement gets the fish’s attention and draws the fish to your offering whether it be a lure, a bait offering or your fly,” Chocklett said. “It depends on the fish species, but every fish is built with trigger mechanisms that causes them to strike as prey presents itself. Learning those different triggers within the species that you target, the better your odds of catching fish. There are certain triggers in all fish. The more wounded they are, the more realistic the movement pattern, all those things, this fly can do. It can undulate in the water and act like a fish that’s struggling to stay alive with a couple quick strips.

“Movement is one thing, but is it the right food source when they get up to it? Those all come into play. I don’t care what type of fish it is — a freshwater trout or a tuna in the ocean and everything in between. You have to get their attention first. Usually that’s by movement. Then once they get to it, is it a food source? The clearer the water, the more realistic it needs to be, in my opinion, to fool those fish.”

The inspiration for the Game Changer stemmed from Chocklett’s observation during years of guiding when he marveled at the action of conventional lures when compared to flies.

“I’ve been guiding twenty-six-and-a-half years now, and ninety percent (of my clients) are fly anglers, and then they’ll bring someone who doesn’t want to fly fish,” Chocklett said. “They’ll bring their gear and use soft plastics — Flukes and Senkos and other types of swimbaits versus crankbaits and all that kind of stuff. With that, you see how the movement attracts fish. There’s no denying that some of those actions you can’t get on a fly. We weren’t able to until now — that was my goal back then. If I had someone with conventional gear in the boat, that was easy. It was a day off. I didn’t have to worry about them. I had to focus on the fly guy to get them into fish. With spinning gear, you put that in the water, you don’t even have to know what to do and you’re going to catch fish. That’s the deal. I’ve got to come up with something that works like that with the fly rod.”

Chocklett is in the final stages of putting together a book on the Game Changer. His advice to those who aspire to create better flies as fly fishing evolves: Pay attention on the water. Persevere at the vise.

“More than anything it’s time on the water and getting an understanding what fish are targeting,” Chocklett said. “It’s observation on the water and putting that toward flies and seeing how that works. That would be my contribution to someone to give them inspiration. Don’t be afraid to try things and fail. I’ve got a room full of (lousy) flies. I’ll be set on something for a while and then it all of a sudden it hits me. A lot of times when you force stuff, a lot of times the ideas don’t work. I’ve made a lot of bad flies. Don’t be afraid to fail.”

Want to find out more about the Game Changer? Check out the video below. Let us know what you think on one of our social media channels.

The Axiom II Switch Steals the Show

As a college athlete, Nicholas Conklin celebrated the joy of victory. Nearly a half dozen years later, he realized of one of the fundamental tenets of human nature.

Winning never gets old.

It still feels good, regardless of the stage. It doesn’t matter whether you play lacrosse or whether you market fly rods.

So it was nearly two weeks ago at 2018 ICAST, when Conklin heard the announcement that the Axiom II Switch, the rod that Conklin helped design and now promotes, won best-in-show honors for 2-handed/Spey rods at IFTD (International Fly Tackle Dealer), one of the premier fly-fishing trade shows.

“There’s definitely a lot of satisfaction, a lot of happiness with the award,” Conklin, TFO’s director of two-handed fly rods, said. “Awards are awards, right? It’s good because now people will be talking about TFO more.”

Moments before the IFTD awards were announced, Conklin paced the Orlando (Fla.) Orange County Convention Center floor in anticipation. When he heard the news, he could barely compose himself enough to text the good news to fellow TFO coworkers back in Dallas.

“It far surpasses anything that I did athletically or professionally,” Conklin said. “It means a lot more because there are so many people here at TFO that are passionate about the company and the sport. Their passion helped me get to this point.  It’s important to so many other people.”

The honor was the second this summer for the Axiom II Switch, which also won best new product (in the fly rod category) honors at EFTTEX (European Fishing Tackle Trade Exhibition) last month in Amsterdam.

“It’s definitely rewarding to get some outside attention,” Conklin said. “Both (the EFTTEX) and IFTD are rewarding. We’ve recently made an effort to better understand our international distributors’ needs and how to better orient our products to their markets. It definitely gives us a leg up going into 2019, (at EFTTEX).”

The ICAST/IFTD win was the first time in Temple Fork Outfitters’ history that a TFO rod received best-in-show recognition.

“We’ve won awards for a reel before, not a rod,” Conklin said. “Awards from both (EFTTEX) and (IFTD) have their place. Both are very exciting. It’s hard to put one over the other.”

Awards are gratifying, but the opinions that count the most come from the anglers who cast the rods, and the feedback, Conklin said, has been flattering.

“There’s been a lot of excitement,” Conklin said. “We’ve had success with the Deer Creek series. People were waiting for something new. We’ve had a lot of positive comments, just because of what it can do.”

The Axiom II Switch’s appeal is its versatility. You can throw lead, fish with an indicator or swing flies — and do so efficiently.

“The rod’s ability to cast different variations of weight has really excited people,” Conklin said. “It’s something new and exciting. That’s always big. The ability to do several different things with it lets people start to understand where they can put a two-handed rod in their arsenal. They certainly understand the different benefits of it in areas that they’re fishing.”