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Jigging For Giant Lake Trout

Growing up in Colorado means camping trips. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, thousands of families flock to the woods for an escape from the 9 to 5. My family was no different, and I attribute those experiences to building my incredible passion for fishing and the outdoors.
Every fisherman today remembers their first fish. Mine was nothing special. A rainbow trout on a stream casting a Pistol Pete fly behind a bubble. But it wasn’t about the first fish for me. The metal bell hung from the door of the tackle shop rang loudly behind me as I raced into the store in Granby, Colorado. I was roughly 6 years old and all I could focus my eyes on was the giant taxidermied lake trout above the cash register. I remember asking more than enough questions about how to catch them and what color power bait they liked. Needless to say, I had some learning to do.

Fast forward to today, it’s crazy to look back and realize just how far I was from actually catching one of these trophy fish. It’s not that you can’t catch them from shore. Some of the best fishing for lake trout is right at ice-out, when mackinaw (another name for lake trout) move up into the shallows to feed on rainbow trout and other shallow fish. It’s about the technique and tactics it takes to lure one of these prehistoric fish to take your bait. That fish mounted to the wall of the tackle store was roughly 42” long. That fish could easily have been 50 years old.

When we talk about jigging for lake trout – a standard practice in any lake holding this species – we usually think of white jigs, sturdy leaders, and hopefully sore arms. Once you start expanding your quiver while fishing for lakers, you realize they eat a lot of different things and it’s more about keeping them hooked than actually getting a bite. Lake trout have some of the hardest upper jaws you can imagine. You have to get a clean, strong hookset or you are going to lose fish. The first time guide Nate Zelinsky took me jigging he kept saying, “Everyone tells me they will give a hard hookset, but I have never seen it.”

That’s where he got creative to help clients close the deal on fish. Nate taught me a technique of cutting a Professional Walleye rod down from a 6’6” Medium jigging rod to a 5’ lake trout broomstick. The idea is that you are removing the most sensitive upper guides of the rod and therefore speeding up your hooksets by getting to the rod’s backbone sooner. An added benefit is that you are gaining massive power in your hooksets, especially when the bait is 60+ feet down.

The process is simple. You spool a 6’ or 6’ 6” Professional Walleye Medium action rod, and tighten down the drag on your spinning reel (you can use casting rods too). Grab the rod in one hand and the line in the other. Load the rod up by pulling on the line and get a good bend out of the top guides. Take note of where the rod starts to bend at the backbone and that’s just about the perfect spot to cut it. Use a Dremel tool so you don’t crack the blank and add a rod tip with some glue. Voilà. You now have made about the best laker rod you can imagine and I promise, it only hurts a little to cut the top off your brand new rod. It hurts less when you land a laker of a lifetime.

Earlier this year, we made it up for a day of lake trout jigging and were able to capitalize on one bite out of many takes we had that morning. I counted 13. Sometimes, you have to warm up your skills a bit after a long winter off the boat. Either way, it was the right fish and an amazing fight. Every time I shuffle one of these giants over the gunnel it takes me right back to Granby Tackle Store and helps awake the kid inside. I feel so blessed to be able to catch these fish and get an up-close look and feel of their power and beauty. Every fish goes back. When you hold one in your hand for the first time, I suspect it will be the same incredible experience I had. You know that fish had one heck of a journey to end up in your arms. It’s the respect for how magnificent they are and how many thrills they provide that helps you understand why we never take a trophy home. To have learned from masters of the craft like Nate Zelinsky and finally feel like I have some excellent skills and knowledge to apply in the future catching lake trout is a true honor. If you haven’t had the opportunity to fish for this amazing specimen, look into opportunities in your area or maybe think about a trip next time you are in my neck of the woods. You won’t regret trying it and it just might change your perspective of what a “big” fish really is.

Blog and video provided by TFO Ambassador Chris Edlin. You can find out more about Chris at his YouTube channel here.

 

Flip Pallot and the New Mangrove Coast Fly Rod

For many years, while guiding, I spent most of each day on an elevated poling platform at the back of my skiff, watching angler/clients struggle with ultra high priced, high performance rods that they had purchased in hopes that dollars spent, would enhance casting skills…They had raced in exactly the wrong direction with their credit cards!

The higher the performance design a rod incorporates, the smaller, or narrower, the window in which the line loop is formed. The advanced caster can take advantage of the increased tip speed, within the window provided by a high performance rod. A caster lacking expert skills will benefit from a rod action that provides a longer “window.”

The Mangrove rod family offers the longer “window,” super quick start ups, strong butt section for tough fish fights, and solid, no nonsense components that won’t let you down on some far flung, tropical beach.

The all new Mangrove Coast, employs the same casting philosophy as the original Mangrove, but brings improved materials and components to the game, at a comfortable price point.

I hope you get the chance to try the new Mangrove Coast. I think you will be very pleased.

Flip

Video provided by Flip Pallot.

Frogging with the Tactical Bass

Summer is a great time to be out on the water for a lot of reasons, but fishing topwater might be a highlight. TFO Ambassador Bill Sherck gives us a rundown of how he’s fishing topwater with frog patterns on the lakes in Minnesota using the 8′ Extra-Heavy Tactical Bass rod (TAC FS 807-1).

Check out the video below for more tips from Bill, and be on the look out for more topwater tip for fly and light tackle from more ambassadors soon!

Carp on the Fly

Carp on the fly is completely and utterly underrated! If you haven’t ever chased carp with a fly rod, you are seriously missing out on some of the most fun that you could ever have with a fly rod. These massive fish will test your patience, presentation, gear, and knot-tying skills. Once you get out there and try it, I can guarantee that you will be hooked! It is relatively easy to get started because most of your local waters probably already have a thriving carp population. In this write-up, we will go over the rod, leader, and line set up that I personally use, along with the tactics, flies, and approach that have scored me some big ones!

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Stealth/Approach

Carp have an incredible sense of sight, and they also are highly sensitive to even the slightest vibrations on the water. The slightest misstep or slip up on your approach can send the carp jetting off leaving you with nothing but a big mud cloud. Stacking the odds in your favor can increase your chances of having a successful day on the water. Here are a few personal tips to up your stealth game/approach:

  • Be like a statue. Carp have a wide angle of vision and they are always on the lookout for danger. Thus, making the least amount of movement as possible is a must! The carp has a small blind spot that is directly behind them, I repeat this is a very small blind spot. Because of this I like to use an upstream approach, this way, I am less likely to spook the fish.
  • Clothing is highly important for your approach – make sure to wear natural colors. Colors such as black, brown, or green are the best. I’m not saying that you need to go out and buy a ghillie suit, just don’t expect to be very stealthy in fluorescent orange!
  • 9 times out of 10 your first cast is going to be your only cast. So, your presentation better be on point because you won’t get another chance at the same fish. Practice casting while you are crouching or on your knees, because, most of the time this will be the position you will be casting in.
  • Spotting a feeding carp can be easy most of the time because of the mud cloud that they create while feeding. Once you spot a feeding carp you need approach slow, and as methodically as possible. Once you are in a casting position you need to target the area that is a few inches ahead of the carp’s feeding lane. Once you make the cast slowly bounce your pattern in front of the fish, the fly should then catch his attention. Sometimes you will not be able to see them eat your fly so keep on stripping until you feel resistance, once you do HOLD ON TIGHT!
Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Flies

Carp feed on a variety of prey items, such as, insects, crustaceans, and crayfish. Crayfish and Damsel Nymphs are my personal favorite patterns to use for carp. Try to make sure to pick fly patterns that can get down right in front of the fish, but, are not so heavy that they make a splash and spook every fish you cast for. Carp flies should be simple. Using materials like rabbit strips or marabou will provide movement with little effort on your part. Here are a few of my personal favorite carp patterns:

  • Whitlock’s Near Nuff Crayfish
  • Bartlett’s Hybrid
  • Marlock’s Carp Breakfast
  • Reynold’s Carp Bitter
Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Rod/Reel Setup

These fish have some serious torque that will test your gear and your fish fighting skills. A 7wt rod is the best overall fly rod to use, and will handle most of the situations that you will find yourself in. Sometimes, when I plan on fishing for smallmouth as well, I will use an 8wt. I use two different fly rods throughout the season, the first is the TFO Mangrove 7wt and the second is the TFO LK Legacy 7wt. Both rods give me the delicate presentation I need, but still have the backbone needed to handle the rod bending carp. With most fish, your reel is basically a line holder, I rarely, if ever, put a big trout or a bass on the reel, because, most of the time there is no need to. However, with carp, your reel is going to be one of the most important parts of your setup. You want a lightweight reel with a flawless sealed drag system. I use the TFO BVK SD III and it withstands the relentless abuse that I put it through season after season.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Fly Line/Leader Setup

A weight forward floating fly line will be the most versatile line to use. I personally find an intermediate or sink tip line to be too much. As far as leader goes a 9-foot fluorocarbon leader tapered down to a 12-pound test will do the job. I use a 12-pound test because it is strong enough to handle the big fish, but, not too thick that it spooks every fish.

I can promise you that once your hooked into a monster carp and you feel the fly line to backing knot slide through your fingers and it is still going, you will give carp an all new respect. You can blame me when carp becomes your new obsession!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Ryan Rachiele (Instagram: @streamerjunkie17). When not fishing, you can also find him working at Wellsboro, Pennsylvania shop Wellsboro Tackle Shack. Find out more about Ryan here.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

 

TFO Unveils 2022 Fly Products

This week, Temple Fork Outfitters announced three new fly products to the TFO family: the BC Big Fly, the NTR reel, and the Mangrove Coast. Find out more below, and be sure to check out these new additions at your local TFO dealer later this summer!

BC Big Fly

Introducing the all new BC Big Fly series. Designed by TFO Advisor Blane Chocklett, the BC Big Fly delivers big flies to big predatory fish with ease.

Evolving from the Esox series, the BC Big Fly will feature the our popular Axiom technology in the blank design, while incorporating updated componentry including elongated composite cork handles, extended fighting butt, Black Pearl REC stripping guides, blacked snake guides, laser engraved Game Changer fly logo on the reel seat, and much more.

The BC Big Fly will be offering in a 9’ 8wt, 10wt, and 12wt and will retail for $399. To find out more about specifics and details of the BC Big Fly, click here.

Stay tuned for more, and be sure to check out the BC Big Fly at your local TFO dealer later this summer!

NTR Reel

Introducing the all new NTR reel series. This new reel series offers anglers a ‘No Tools Required’ solution in a high-performance, fully sealed and machined aluminum fly reel.

The NTR reels will be available in four sizes, two-color options (Black/Gold & Clear/Gold), and will retail for $139-$169. To find out more about specifics and details of the NTR reel series, click here.

Stay tuned for more, and be sure to check out the NTR reels at your local TFO dealer later this summer!

Mangrove Coast

Introducing the all new Mangrove Coast series. Designed by TFO Advisor Flip Pallot, the Mangrove Coast was built for the hardcore saltwater angler seeking a medium fast action blank. Easy to load and precisely deliver a fly to spooky saltwater fish, the Mangrove Coast delivers all the necessary components to be successful.

This series features full wells grips with an instant rod weight burled cork LINE-ID system, fighting butts on all models, and cleverly machined hook keepers built into each side of the aluminum up-locking reel seat. All rods are topped with saltwater safe FUJI stripping guides and ultra-lightweight chromium-impregnated stainless-steel snake guides.

The moderate-fast action Mangrove Coast will be available in a 9’ 6 weight through 12 weight and will retail starting at $289.95. To find out more about specifics and details of the Mangrove Coast, click here.

Stay tuned for more, and be sure to check out the Mangrove Coast at your local TFO dealer later this summer!

 

Once again, these new rods will be available later this summer! To see our entire catalog of fly fishing products, click here.

Cicada Mania 2021 – Fishing The Brood X Hatch

It’s late May in East Tennessee and talk of the highly anticipated seventeen-year Brood X Cicada hatch fills the air (and social media newsfeeds) as loud as the droning buzz created by the large black and orange bugs as they emerge. News stations and local outdoor outfitters have been hyping up the natural phenomenon since January, and fly shops in my area have even made Cicada Mania t-shirts and stickers to commemorate the event.

I remember my sister-in-law was even curious about the event, asking, “What’s the big deal with these cicadas and fishing anyway?” after my brother and I began to look for dates to book a guided trip to get in on the action. My brother responded, “You know how in that 90’s surfer movie, Point Break with Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reaves and they’re searching for that perfect wave — the kind that comes only every 100 years? It’s like that for fishing – but it only happens every seventeen years, instead of 100”

I was skeptical about the whole event a few months ago. Is it really happening? Would my area even get the bugs? Will fish really key in on them like people say they will? Is this just a scheme for shops to sell more gear, flies, and t-shirts? My questions were answered on my latest trip on the river.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

I was lucky enough to have a good friend invite me out for a full day float trip on a local river in search of smallmouth and other warm water species. We were instructed from our guide to be prepared to throw a lot of topwater poppers, and to not be surprised if we saw some cicadas on the water. It was a good sign when we saw some right at the boat put in.

I was fortunate enough to get the LK Legacy 6wt with the fighting butt (06 91 4 LK) last summer and put it to the test on some smallmouth a few times before it got too cold. Paired up with the Scientific Anglers Titan Taper floating line, this rod is an absolute cannon for throwing topwater bugs, so I decided to use it again for the cicada patterns. I also brought along my Axiom ll 7wt. I usually use this rod (or the Axiom ll 8wt) paired up with a Rio Outbound Short line to use for crayfish patterns and small-medium sized baitfish patterns. This set up was perfect when we found deeper water, and the fish weren’t as keyed in on the surface. Both of these rods were paired up with my favorite reel – the large arbor BVK SD reel.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

With partly cloudy conditions and low water, we started out the morning with cicada patterns, and it wasn’t long before we made contact with fish. Over the course of the morning, we boated several redeye bass, a largemouth, several smallies, and even a rainbow trout on cicada patterns.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

The rest of the day had some slower stretches, but even when the cicada action wasn’t as hot, we still found some nice smallmouth on Boogle Bug poppers (black and white colors did best for us). We found a few shoals and deeper runs where the crawfish patterns produced well for us.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

Towards the end of the day, we found a stretch of water near a bank with trees that was absolutely roaring with cicadas. Underneath the tree, carp were rising sporadically, along with the occasional smallmouth. Bugs were dropping and the fish were slurping them from the surface. It was a sight I’ll never forget and it wasn’t long before I made a few casts with the 6wt LK Legacy and was hooked up with a nice mirror carp that couldn’t resist a cicada pattern.

We ended up fishing that stretch for about 30 minutes and caught several carp and smallmouth all on the cicada patterns. As much as we didn’t want to leave, we had to call it a day and head home before dusk.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

Advice & Takeaways

Visual Indicators

I haven’t gotten into tying foam patterns yet, so I bought all of mine from a local fly shop. There were a few times during this trip where my cicada pattern would land with the hook facing up. It wasn’t every time, but I definitely missed a few fish because of this. Make sure you know what side is riding up with your cicada pattern lands. There was a small orange piece of yarn to act as an indicator for this, but when making long casts under shaded banks, it can be difficult to see.

I’d recommend grabbing some thin bright colored foam to superglue on the topside of the fly if you are having trouble seeing the fly, or to act as a visual indicator to tell when your fly isn’t floating right. If you notice the pattern is riding upside down (hook up), just give your fly a few strips until you get it riding in the water correctly.

Also, make sure you have backup patterns ready to go. It wasn’t long after 4-5 catches with the first cicada pattern we used that we had to switch up and tie on a new one, as the fish usually hit it pretty hard. Pieces of material started to come loose, eyeballs fell off, and teeth marks in the foam started to make the pattern look like it had been thrown into a tree shredder. This is not a bad problem to have, but make sure you’ve got some reserves for when the bite really does pick up.

Movement

Cicadas will hit the water and make a pretty significant “splat” followed by a wave of ripples. While some fish might pick up on this noise, some may miss it and key in on the movement the bugs make after the cicada lands on the water. In other words, don’t be afraid to give the fly some additional movement. Once the cicadas hit the water, they will continue to move their legs in an effort to get back off the water, so replicating this survival twitching can be a great way to draw a fish’s attention. Small, one-inch strips will work. Don’t be afraid to pop the fly too, especially if a fish has decided to look away from your fly. This tactic was very helpful for me more than once when trying to get a carp to change directions when it was feasting on the surface.

Pro Tip – If fishing for carp, be sure to give a little extra time for the fly to get in the fishes mouth. There were definitely a few instances where I got too excited to catch a carp on topwater and pulled the fly right out of the fish’s mouth. I still have nightmares about losing these fish.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

Keep Your Eyes & Ears Open.

In my area, the cicadas are definitely out, but they are by no means flying around everywhere like a plague. It’s still early for their cycle, and the fish aren’t 100% keyed in on them yet.

Keep your ears open and listen for the loud drone of the cicadas. Chances are, you’ll hear them in the tree lines near the bank. If this is the case, drift (or wade) over to that area, and be on the lookout on the water for any bugs. Even if you don’t see any bugs on the water, or fish slurping the surface, don’t be afraid to make a few casts near the bank or in these areas. If it looks fishy – fish it!

Be patient, keep your eyes and ears out for bugs, and have fun!

Photo: Tom Wetherington

Late Spring Post Spawn Bass Fishing

Often thought of as one of the toughest times to consistently catch quality bass, the late spring to early summer transition can be a challenge at times – but can also be extremely rewarding! The key is truly being versatile and not getting stuck with just one game plan in mind.

When bass finish up with their annual spawning rituals, there is a lot going on in their tiny little brains. First off is recovery – the spawn is a stressful time for a bass where they are particularly vulnerable, and are often caught by the lucky angler that lands the perfect cast on their bed. With this being said, the recovery period where a post spawn fish just truly won’t bite doesn’t last long!

Location

Within a matter of days, a typical shallow water spawning bass will make its way offshore looking for the most healthy environment to post up in, where feeding opportunities come easy, and the water quality is the best. In most lake situations, deep water is the key to consistently catching post spawn bass.

How deep those post spawn bass might go is greatly dependent on water clarity. In muddy water situations, such as current oriented rivers and reservoirs, “deep” might be 8 to 12 feet, whereas on clear water lakes, bass might spend their post spawn days in 15 to 35 feet of water. The clarity truly makes a big difference.

Knowing where bass spawn is also very important to finding where they hang out post spawn. It’s very important that an angler must understand that different species of bass will spawn in different locations! While largemouth typically spawn in shallow protected pockets and creek arms, spotted bass and smallmouth bass often spawn on main lake banks, points, humps, and road beds. The key is finding deep water such as a point, a ledge, a brush pile, or a grass line! These places provide a safe environment that is normally rich with oxygen and baitfish where the bass can begin to feed and regain strength!

Photo: Joey Nania

Setups

Your bait selection is the final key to catching post spawn bass, and a lot of that depends on the main forage base and the type of deep water your lake of choice has to offer. As a rule of thumb, I like to keep fast moving reaction baits and slower baits ready to go in my arsenal.

For your reaction baits, as the fish begin to recover, chatterbaits and swimbaits can be great fish catching tools. For my personal Chatterbait setup I rely on the 7’4” Medium Heavy TFO Tactical Glass Bass Rod (TAC GB CB 745-1). The balance between tip and backbone on this rod is absolutely perfect, and with light weight high quality components, I rarely miss a bite.

For my swimbait, I love the 7’4” Medium Heavy TFO Tactical Elite Bass Rod (TLE LW 74CB-1). While also being perfectly balanced, this rod has just a touch more sensitivity that allows me to detect and capitalize on light bites in deep water. For my post spawn slow moving techniques, I also keep things pretty simple rotating between a Ned Rig, a Drop Shot, and a Carolina Rig.

When Ned Rigging and drop shotting post spawn deep water bass, the 7’1” Medium Light TFO Tactical Elite Bass Rod (TLE MBR S 713-1) is absolutely perfect! Sensitivity in these situations is critical, and this rod is built to perfection.

For my Carolina Rig and truly the majority of my heavy line techniques, the 7’3” Heavy TFO Tactical Elite Bass Rod (TLE MBR 736-1) is the one I trust the most!

Photo: Joey Nania

Versatility

With all of this deep water talk, you truly do need to keep an open mind when targeting bass in any season. Remember the principal that not all bass do the same thing or behave the same at the same time! On any given day, there are tons of different ways to catch a bass and while typical post spawn fishing revolves around deep water fishing, the shallow bite should never be ignored!

When bass are finishing up their spawn, many other species such as bluegill and shad are just beginning their annual spawning rituals! With that in mind, baits such as topwater walking baits, frogs, swimjigs, and flipped soft plastics can be used with success for post spawn bass. The key for the shallow bite is low light. This traditionally means early in the morning or late in the evening but cover such as docks, grass beds, and over hanging trees can hold post spawn bass throughout the course of the day.

Keep an open mind and never kick a dead horse too long. If you do these things and rotate through all of the possible options, you will greatly reduce your bad days on the water!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador and Bassmaster Open Champion Joey Nania. You can find out more about Joey here.

Fly Fishing in Belize + Reel Women Fly Fishing

“An inordinate passion for pleasure is the secret of remaining young.” Oscar Wilde

There is a great saying here in Belize, “Why not?” Working with Belizean guides creating and building Reel Belize in San Pedro, I ask a lot of questions. And most of the time I’m answered with “Why not?” Which is how I like to roll. Yes, it was a very big decision to move to San Pedro, Belize in 2009. A lot has happened since then, including staying on the island the past two years without travel.

For me and the rest of the world we have had time to assess what is important in our lives. You wouldn’t be reading this if fly fishing wasn’t important to you. What we all don’t know is how far our passion for this all inclusive captivating sport will lead us. If you have been to Belize, you know about the warm hearted English speaking fly fishing guides who share your same love for the hunt of bonefish, permit, and tarpon on the flats. They too are passionate casters and when TFO sent me the 7wt Axiom II-X – everyone was in line to cast and borrow our new favorite. We love this rod!

Photo: Oliver Sutro

If you are planning a trip it’s an exciting time! It is also extremely important to know and love your gear. Precious moments don’t have time for used and beat up gear. Our fishery on Ambergris Caye is for bonefish that average 2 to 6 lbs, permit 5-30 lbs, tarpon 5-150 lbs! We also have jacks, barracuda and snapper – all fun on a fly rod. We have used this one rod – the 7wt Axiom II-X – for all of these fish. Including tarpon landed up to 50 lbs. It’s nice to have a bigger rod for fighting bigger fish, but if the opportunity presents itself, this rod will get it done.

Fly delivery is a huge part of the game – the fish have to see the fly and it needs to be moving away from them. A shrimp or crab would never swim to the mouth of any fish. Smooth casts – one for speed the next for accuracy and put it! Not all casts have to be great but the fly does need to get in the water without a lot of false casting. They see what looks like a new kind of osprey flying over them. Yes, we have ospreys in Belize that love to grab and eat bonefish.

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

Depending on the weather and conditions we are generally fishing six inches of water to 3-5 feet for permit and tarpon. You will want a nice selection of Christmas Island Specials, Gotcha’s, Squimps, Tarpon Toads, the Strong Armed Merkin is the latest craze for permit – but basically flies that will fish weedless if needed or some heavy eyes or lead wrapped flies to get down fast. And generally speaking – the flies imitate a shrimp, crab or bait fish. Make sure you fish the fly how a shrimp, crab or baitfish would move in the water. A crab does not swim as fast as a shrimp. I have learned this lesson many times and I’m sure I’ll goof up again. Be the fly!

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

Travel

Traveling to Belize is as easy as 1,2,3! This is our slogan. Just this week, entry into Belize has been updated. It is no longer necessary to download an app from the Ministry of Health. A card showing you are fully vaccinated, or COVID testing before travel is still required. The US requires a rapid test 42 hrs prior to return – which is easily done from your hotel or lodge and costs $75 US.

Belize is also making lists! – “the safest international places to travel right now.” (TravelPulse). While many countries were downgraded by the US State Department for COVID levels, Belize was one of only 15 countries upgraded to a Level 2 travel advisory. Level 2= Exercise Increased Caution. 4= Do Not Travel. No countries are currently at Level 1.

Belize has very low COVID numbers. However, only 15% of the population has been vaccinated, so it is still law to wear a mask and safe practices remain in place. It is required that the travelers stay at a Gold Standard Hotel and fish with a Gold Standard Tour Operator. I’m happy to say Reel Belize has met all Gold Standard requirements. I submitted a 47 page application! I felt like I was in nursing school all over again but it did put us all on the same page.  Plan to be treated like royalty when you show up – Belizeans were very very sad without tourists!

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

Reel Women Fly Fishing Adventures

I’m proud to say that women are fly fishing on waters all over the world. And I’m proud because RWFFA was established in 1994 to do just that – get women fly fishing so we could lead trips to fun places. For almost thirty years, we have met women who have an adventurous spirit and the guts to make it happen. These are incredible women and many of them have made friends from these trips that have lasted over time with many more fishing stories to tell.

The most exciting time in all of this for me is now. Now we have remarkable fly fishing women and guides who have become RWFFA Ambassadors leading their own trips. Now, there are so many women fly fishing guides all over the world – I can’t name them all. It used to be easy, because there were so few of us for such a long time.

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

This year fly fishing exploded due to the pandemic. People are wanting to get out and explore rivers and salt flats and learn about fly fishing. To accommodate the demand, we have added more trips and fly fishing schools. We have schools for the beginners and schools for guides. There are freshwater trout trips in the mountains of the east and west, and then of course we have our RWFFA saltwater trips!

Since I live in San Pedro, Belize, own a fly shop and outfitting business (Reel Belize), it only makes sense to lasso these women and invite them to fish our waters! This week, eight women are showing up from all over the place for our first ever RWFFA Women’s Tarpon Quest! There is only one beginner in the group and she will have a lot of love to bring her up to speed. Stay tuned for the action!

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

 

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Lori-Ann Murphy. You can find out more about Reel Belize here, or Reel Women Fly Fishing here.

Spring Bass Tactics

By now, spring has set in for most of the US. With the longer day light hours and warmer temperatures, its arguably every angler’s favorite season to bass fish. Why? Well, your chances at catching a personal best are at its highest in the pre-spawn. Secondly, the bass go shallow and who doesn’t like to fish shallow?

Spring is also probably the only season that you can simplify by breaking down in to three phases; pre-spawn, spawn, and post spawn. This transitional time of the year can be incredible with both quantity and quality, but it can also be frustrating and downright confusing due to early spring cold fronts, some fish in all three phases, and the post-spawn “funk”.

Generally speaking, for most of the lower 48 states the spawn takes place from late March through early June. It starts earlier the further south you go and a little later the further north you go. Pre spawn fish will be at their biggest all year because the females are full of eggs, spawning fish are on beds and are tricky to catch with a lot of “sight fishing”, and during the post-spawn period you’ll have fish eager to eat but sometimes they’ll be in what a lot of anglers like to call the “post spawn funk” for a short while after spawning where the bass aren’t spawning or feeding heavily.

The way I approach this time of year is to be versatile and prepared. I fish out of a kayak, so I have to be mindful and really dial in what I bring on the water because my storage capacity is fairly small. Even with the storage options on my Hobie Pro Angler 12 MD360, things can get crowded QUICK! That said, I typically bring 10 to 12 rod and reel combo’s, 6-7 3700 series Plano tackle boxes, and enough soft plastics to cover the basics of flipping, worms and trailer options. The amount of rods allows me to pre-rig different techniques in multiple sizes and/or colors so that I’m better prepared for the water conditions and situations that may arise.

Photo: Matt Mather

Focus Factors

The bite windows this time of year are typically small, so I get on the water as early as possible and I stay late so that I can pay attention to the times of the day when the fish are biting. To help clue me in to when and where I should be fishing, I focus on the following factors:

  1. Length of day
    • Longer day time hours = more sun warming the water. Bass really start to get active when the water reaches 50 degrees and generally spawn in water temps between 55-75 degrees water temperature.
  2. Weather trend 2-3 days prior
    • The early spring can be volatile with cold fronts, so ideally I want stable weather in the days leading up to my time on the water.
  3. Hard bottom areas of the lake
    • During this time of year, they like to congregate around hard bottom areas so they can move up to feed up and spawn when the time is right. I’ve seen beds on top of lay downs, next to stumps, on rocks, and on cypress knee root systems.
  4. Wind-protection
    • Southern facing shallow pockets, bays, coves, flats and creek arms are high-percentage areas protected from North winds. However, I don’t mind a South wind as it can sometimes help turn on the bite. I’ve had some very special days in the pre-spawn with a south wind.

Tactics

This time of year, being versatile is a big factor while ultimately, the conditions will dictate what I’m throwing. I’m focusing a lot on reaction baits like a chatterbait or crankbait, but im also prepared with the slower techniques, like a jig, Texas-rigged creature and yes, the ol’ trusty Yamamoto Senko ready to go.

Once the water is above 50 degrees, I’ll start covering water with a chatterbait or a top water like a buzzbait. If I start with a topwater like a buzzbait, I like throwing a 3/8 oz with a buzz frog instead of a skirt and I’ll throw that until the sun gets over the horizon or until the bite goes away. Then I’ll switch to a chatterbait since it’s an incredibly versatile lure and catches big fish. Up shallow, I’ll throw a 3/8 oz with a Yamamoto Zako trailer and if I’m fishing in water 5-10 feet, I’ll throw a ½ oz and let it sink to the bottom before I start to retrieve. With both the buzzbait and chatterbait, the one thing I see a lot of people do is “chuck-&-wind”, which will catch fish, but it sort of takes away from the versatility of each lure. Instead of just casting and reeling, try doing short twitches of the rod during the retrieve when the lure gets near an object. Also try different retrieve speeds like slow-rolling or burning.

I keep a spinnerbait and swimjig ready as pinch-hitters for the chatterbait. If there is a lot of snags or heavy vegetation, I’ll switch to a swimjig or if the wind is heavy then ill go to a spinnerbait. Though I will say, I don’t have any hard rules and I’ll swap in between the three at any moment I feel I may need to.

If I approach some stumps or a laydown, I’ll swap out with a squarebill crankbait and work it along the edges, bouncing it off every stump, stick and branch I can.

If these techniques don’t elicit a reactive strike, then I will start picking apart every lay down and piece of wood I come across with a jig, creature or worm in no specific order. Bass love to use wood as cover and they’re known to spawn on and around wood, since it offers a form of hard bottom and also protection.

If I come across bass on beds, these slower presentations are the ticket. I’m not big on bed-fishing because you can often waste a lot of your day trying to catch one fish, but I also don’t want to cause more stress on the fish. However, even blind casting you are bound to catch spawning fish so take it for what its worth.

The frog and big glidebait/soft swimbait are my “special teams” lures. For example, if I come up on a random clump of grass along the bank or there is a thick tangle of wood. I’ll work a frog over and through it. Or say I find a brushpile on my side imaging sonar, I’ll throw the glide bait over it or bring the big soft swimbait through it hoping to find a monster female bass looking for a big lazy meal. That isn’t to say these baits are ONLY good for these scenarios, you could definitely fish them both all day. I just choose to reserve them for high-percentage areas during the pre and post-spawn.

Rod & Reel Setups

Chatterbaits:

Tactical Glass Bass, 7’4” Medium (TAC GB CB 745-1), Shimano Metanium MGL 151B, 7.1:1 – 17 lb test fluorocarbon

This rod performs exceptionally well with chatterbaits, offering enough tip flex to let the fish eat the bait better and to keep the hook pinned, while also having enough backbone to drive a hard hookset and also helps snap your lure free of grass. You get all this in a very light and sensitive rod.

Photo: Rob Kretsch

Squarebill Crankbaits:

Tactical Glass Bass, 7’2” MH (TAC GB CB 724-1), 7.1:1 Shimano Bantam MGL 151 – 15-17 lb fluorocarbon.

I’m fishing this around heavy cover and the length of rod allows me to “worm” the crankbait through the trees better and the heavy line helps me horse the fish out.

Swimjigs:

Tactical Elite Bass 7’4” Heavy (TLE SC 746-1), 7.1:1 speed Shimano Metanium MGL with 20 lb fluorocarbon for everything but vegetation. For vegetation, I’ll use the same rod paired with a Shimano Curado 201 with 50lb braid.

Spinnerbaits :

I prefer a shorter rod and use the Tactical Elite Bass 7’0” MH (TLE SB 705-1), Shimano Curado 6.6:1 and 17 lb fluorocarbon. Heavier applications is the Shimano SLX MGL 70, 7.1:1 with 40 lb braid.

Photo: Rob Kretsch

Topwaters:

Tactical Elite Bass 7’ M (TLE LW 70CB-1) for lighter weight topwaters like poppers. Paired with a Shimano Curado 70 7.4:1 speed and 15 lb copolymer. For buzzbaits, I use the TFO Professional (TFG PSC 705-1) 7’ MH b/c I like the longer butt-end on the shorter rod for bombing casts and hooksets.

Flipping and bottom baits like a jig, t-rigged creature, and worms, I use the Tactical Elite Bass 7’4” Heavy (TLE SC 746-1). This is a great all-around rod and I’ll have one rigged for both heavy and light applications.   Lite applications is the Shimano Antares 7.4:1 for light weight applications with 17 lb fluorocarbon. Heavier applications is the Shimano SLX MGL 70, 7.1:1 with 40 lb braid.

Photo: Rob Kretsch

Frogs & Swimbaits:

My clean-up hitters get the heavy rod treatment. For frogs, I like the Tactical Elite Bass 7’2” Heavy (TLE SB 726-1) paired to an 8.4:1 speed Shimano Exsence 8×5 DC, spooled with 50lb braid. For big glidebaits and soft swimbaits, I call on the Mag Heavy 7’11” GTS Swimbait (GTS BBC 7116-1) paired with a Shimano Tranx 301 5.8:1 speed reel and 20-25 lb fluorocarbon. This rod works beautifully with hard and soft baits between 6-10” with a soft enough tip to cast these heavy lures long distances, paired with a stout backbone to really drive the hook hard and cranking big fish in.

Blog written by TFO Pro Staffer Rob Kretsch. You can find out more about Rob here.

 

Targeting Prespawn Smallmouth on the Fly

Smallmouth on the fly will change your life completely, and it will be for the better that I can promise you. Watching a big angry smallie come from out of nowhere and destroy your streamer is nothing short of amazing. I am going to share with you the water temperature that is ideal, the rod set up that I use, the line and leader set up I use, the flies that I personally use, and some interesting tips and tricks that works well for me and makes me have successful days on the water.

Water Temperature

The temperature of the water is key during this time of the year. Honestly, it is vital all year round, but it is highly crucial in the spring. To have a successful trip the water temperature needs to climb to around 50-55 degrees. This is when the smallmouth will begin to move from their wintering holes and their metabolisms will kick into gear. Pre-spawn is when you will have a high chance of catching the biggest bass in your local river system. The outcome of your fishing day will all boil down to water temperature. Personally, I always carry a thermometer with me when I go out and check the water temperature periodically throughout the day. Knowing what the temperature is throughout the different times of the day will give you an idea of what the bass are up to. Different parts of the river system will display different temperatures. The farther you are from the headwaters the warmer the water should be. During this time of the year you will find fish in the slower moving and deeper water. Anywhere you see that there is a current break or a slow seam, it will be worth it to throw your streamer into it. Look for things like logjams, boulders, or any other place you see some structure.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Rod Setup

If you want to chase the biggest smallmouth in your river system, then you better go out prepared. I would recommend using a 7wt to an 8wt rod. When your pursuing trophy sized fish you do not want to be under-gunned. Hooking into a smallie in the current of a river is enough to put even the best gear to the test. Personally, I use two rods throughout the year. The rods I use are the Axiom II-X in an 8wt and the LK Legacy in a 7wt. The Axiom II-X is a powerhouse of a rod and it is my go-to when I want to throw big streamers and use heavier fly lines. This rod will handle those meaty streamers and heavy lines with ease. The LK Legacy is a great casting rod and allows you to be precise when picking apart sections of water at a distance, especially when wading. On both rods the reel that I use is the BVK SD III. The reel is lightweight but built tough. The sealed drag system takes the abuse I put it through especially when the occasional carp comes along, and we tangle in the mud.

7wt LK Legacy // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

 

BVK SD lll reel // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Line and Leader Setup

In the spring I use two different fly lines depending on what the water conditions are like. The two types are sink tip and intermediate fly line. Cortland’s Compact series is my personal go-to lines. I only resort to using sink tip if I absolutely have too, or if the water level is up a bit. A good intermediate fly line will get the job done in almost all situations that you will likely encounter. As far as my leader set-up I like to keep it simple. With a sink tip line, I use a short leader in the 3 and a half to 4-foot range of 12 to 15-pound fluorocarbon. When using an intermediate line, I like to use a longer leader in the 6 and a half to 7- foot range also in 12 to 15-pound fluorocarbon. Super simple and gets the job done.

8wt Axiom ll-X // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Flies

Every bass box should have crayfish, leech, hellgrammite, and baitfish patterns in them at- all- times, but this time of the year it is a baitfish game. Absolutely nothing is more exciting than watching your baitfish swimming along as you strip, strip, pause and it gets smashed by a monster bronze back. In my personal spring box, you will find patterns with a lot of bucktail, rabbit strips, and craft fur. These materials provide a ton of movement in the water without having to create that action yourself. With the slower presentation of the spring- time a fisherman needs to take any advantage that they can. Some of my favorite flies to use are: Villwock’s Roamer, Red-Eye Leech, Clouser Minnow, Changer Craw, Bugger Changer, Bulkheads, Deceivers, and Hellgraworms.

Go-To Smallmouth flies for Ryan // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Tactics

During the pre-spawn smallmouth have only one thing on their minds—food! A slow methodical presentation is going to be the best approach. Taking your time and really picking apart the water is going to drastically up your chances of finding a fish. Three of the most important tactics for me are as follows:

  • Swinging the baitfish patterns. This tactic is the best way to cover a lot of water. The big girls are out looking for a meal and showing them a helpless baitfish caught in the river current is almost next to impossible for them to resist.
  • Bouncing crayfish, hellgrammite, and leech patterns on the bottom. This tactic can be productive by allowing your fly to get down where the fish are more likely to be hanging out.
  • Finally, making sure you make the baitfish patterns all about the pause. When you fish make sure that after you give it a couple strips you also give it a pause. Sometimes, making this pause a long one is a good idea because a lot of times a smallmouth will follow your streamer for a long distance and then as soon as you pause it, it pounces!

Ensuring that you are fishing in the right conditions and with the right equipment is key to having a great spring with smallmouth. Remember to always check your water temperature, pause that baitfish pattern, and make sure to check out the Axiom II-X and the LK Legacy. Pre-spawn smallmouth fishing is a great way to warm up for the top water action coming up soon!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Ryan Rachiele (Instagram: @streamerjunkie17). When not fishing, you can also find him working at Wellsboro, Pennsylvania shop Wellsboro Tackle Shack. Find out more about Ryan here.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele