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Fishing for Grayling in Alaska with Tessa Shetter

Alaska is downright spoiled when it comes to fishing opportunities. Endless locations, endless seasons (if you count ice fishing), and a wide range of species to choose from. Ocean, lakes, creeks, rivers, we’ve got it all!

As a born and raised Alaskan Native, I find joy from every bit of it. But for me, the one target that stands out from them all, is the arctic grayling.

Photo: Kory Robbins

Otherwise known as the sailfish of the north, grayling are absolutely stunning creatures with an array of vibrant yet translucent colors of blue, red, and silver displayed on their large and prominent dorsal fin.

In Alaska, we have arctic grayling, as opposed to the nearly identical grayling found in Europe and parts of Russia. On average, grayling are a rather small species of fish. Believe it or not, they are actually part of the family of salmon species, Salmoniformes.

Fishing in Alaska is almost like fishing in a whole different world. I often catch myself forgetting that our fishing style is much, much different up here than in the states, almost entirely due to our salmon runs. In Alaska, we use flies that imitate salmon flesh and eggs, all varying colors depending on the lifecycle of the salmon.

However, the thing that skews our very specific style of fly fishing, are our grayling. Sure, every now and then they will eat up a flesh fly or painted bead, but only if its swung in the right spot at the right time. It’s not a very consistent way of fishing for grayling, in my experience. What is consistent with grayling, however, is the type of water they are typically found in most often.

Photo: Tessa Shetter

Alaska, and many of you know, is huge. I’ve lived here my whole live and have only made it as far as Homer and Cantwell, which equidistance from Anchorage is about 300 miles each. Looking at that on a map, not a lot of ground covered. But, even within my “little” area of expertise, I’ve found where the grayling like to hang.

To put it simple, grayling like to be “up”. This means that the further “up” north you are, the more grayling there will be. The further “up” stream you are, the more grayling. If you’re in the southern part of the state, or the peninsula, the higher “up” in elevation is where you’ll find the grayling.

And within the “up”, the grayling will be peacefully laying in a slow, deep pool of clear water, just waiting for one of the bajillion mosquitoes in Alaska to land on the surface, or for a subsurface insect to chase at its level.

So, now that we’ve covered where to find grayling, let’s talk the nitty gritty of how to actually catch one.

TFO Ambassador Kory Robbins with an Alaskan grayling. Photo: Tessa Shetter

A grayling that is considered large is around 18”, giant if it reaches 20”. The largest recorded arctic grayling is 30”, which is big big.

In the areas I fish, the grayling LOVE dry flies, and I LOVE watching them hit top water. Timing is key, since grayling have the tiniest mouths you’ll ever see in a fish and more often than not, will completely miss your fly on its first surface. So, if you miss him the first time, don’t give up. Trust me, he will be back almost instantly.

Photo: Tessa Shetter

Like I said before, Alaska is home to what seems like all the mosquitoes in the world. So, anything that even slightly resembles a small insect usually works for top water fishing. There are some areas that are so remote and untouched, it’s said that a gum wrapper will fool a grayling. My favorites include the elk hair caddis, stimulator, and if I’m feeling wild, a chubby Chernobyl. And with their small mouths, I’m usually using anywhere from a size 8-14 fly.

Grayling on the Purple Chubby Chernobyl. Photo: Kory Robbins

For subsurface, a nymph, bead, and occasionally a flesh fly or leech will get their attention. Spring and fall is when you’ll have the most action with subsurface flies. This is due to the ice melting in spring runoff and releasing old salmon flesh (try a cotton candy/ham & eggs fly), and the releasing of fresh salmon flesh and eggs from the fall spawns.

Summer months are peak grayling fishing, right before and right after the salmon spawns. There are moments when the salmon push grayling out of their normal areas, and the most common tactic for that is to try a painted bead behind the salmon where the grayling are most likely waiting for eggs.

Gear-wise, you won’t need a lot. With the size and appetite of graylings, anywhere from a 3wt to a 6wt set-up is all you will need. There is the common case of catching a grayling while targeting salmon or trout, and in those situations, whatever rod you are using will work perfectly fine.

The LK Legacy & BVK-SD reel. Photo: Kory Robbins
Grayling on the Mangrove. Photo: Tessa Shetter

I would recommend the TFO Blue Ribbon when using small patterns and dry flies, and the LK Legacy single and two-handed rods when fishing subsurface for grayling to give the best presentation. The Mangrove is also an excellent choice.

From my experience, grayling don’t put up too much of a fight. In fact, when I’m not using a dry fly, I can usually sense when it’s a grayling on the end of my line by the fact that it feels like I’m reeling in a wet rag with an occasional head twitch. Totally different story when you’re using a 3wt with a dry fly, though!

The best part comes when the grayling is netted, and you can feast your eyes on that big ol’ fin. Nothing compares to the colors, shape, and overall beauty of the graylings dorsal.

Well folks, that about covers it. I hope my knowledge from experience is helpful in the journeys of seeking out grayling. Though the patterns I see and the techniques I use could be different from others, my goal is to share the knowledge I have personally gained. There’s always something new to be learned in fishing every day!

Photo: Tessa Shetter

Blog written by TFO Alaskan Ambassador Tessa Shetter. Photos provided by Tessa and TFO Alaskan Ambassador Kory Robbins.

 

 

Targeting West Coast Delta Stripers

Fall is in the air and with cooler nights upon us, striped bass anglers anticipate the fall striper bite on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This is a precious piece of water to California and is rich in wildlife and agriculture that supplies not only water to the majority of California’s central valley but a wide range of fishing and hunting.

Striped bass were introduced to California’s San Francisco Bay in 1879 and another few hundred released once again in 1882. These fish have flourished in the early years but in recent years have declined due to a combination of things due to lack of water during drought years and water management across the state. That is a whole other topic to be discussed at another time, right now I want to talk about fall stripers!

Topwater anyone? Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

Why Fish For Striped Bass?

Striped bass, these fish grab hard, pull hard and some days your arm feels like it is going to fall off at the end of the day. We find a lot of smaller stripers called schoolies which are in the one to five pound class and can be in schools of hundreds. Then there are the moments you find a school of six to ten pounders with multiple hook ups of this size, these are days you never forget. In earlier years we used to find a decent amount of twenty pounders and plus, but we have noticed there are fewer of these monsters around these days. A good solid fish that we see commonly these days are 8-15 pounds but still see that occasional trophy in the 40 lb. to 50 lb. size.

Fall can be a very rewarding time to chase striped bass on the fly. Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

‘Tis The Season(s)

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta primarily has two striped bass seasons, Spring and Fall. In the Spring, the stripers move from the ocean and San Francisco Bay entering the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and proceeding further up the river for spawning in the spring months. We have noticed over the years not all the migratory stripers return to the Bay so quick after spawning. A good number of striped bass are continuing to stay in the river system well after the spawning due to the cooler water and the abundance of bait in the river systems. Eventually most of the striped bass head back to the Delta and Bay in late summer months and early fall following other anadromous fish like salmon smolt and steelhead smolt making their way to the ocean. In these months of late September, October and November the Delta waters become a desirable temperature for the Stripers and other fish species in the Delta.

Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

The Perfect Temperature

Bringing us to the discussion of fall stripers! The Delta water temperatures are now cooling in the fall months with the bait consisting of threadfin shad showing from the bay. Other predators such as sea lions and sea gulls have arrived as well to feed on the abundance of bait in the system. The sea gulls from above put on a show busting bait on the surface and aggressive hungry stripers attacking from below. These are the days you can have arm wrenching pulls with crazy numbers of fish. This is prime time to target the Delta for these striped bass feeding before the winter temperatures set in. Desirable water temperature for these feeding stripers are 55-65 degrees. The striper bite tends to really slow down when the water temperature gets below 55 degrees and even slower below 50 degrees. I usually see this in the later part of December. So, you have two and a half months of a prime striper bite to find that monster striper you are desperately looking to hook.

Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

Choosing The Right Rod & Reel

Targeting these striped bass when it comes to equipment, I prefer fly rods in a 9 foot, 7 to 9 weight with a good solid drag on the reel for that monster fish we are targeting. The BVK-SD reel and the Power Reel that TFO offers are two excellent reels to choose from. Some of my favorite rods are anywhere from the Mangrove, Axiom II, Axiom II-X and the new LK Legacy. The Mangrove has been a great rod for casting to selected areas where precision is a must, it loads quick and has a smooth delivery. I favor the Axiom II and the Axiom II-X for a powerful rod. This rod will deliver a heavily weighted fly at a distance cast with minimal exertion. It handles both floating and sinking lines and is very light to the hand for that long day of casting.

 

The Axiom ll + Power Reel combo make a great set up for chasing striped bass on the fly. Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

The Right Fly Lines For The Right Occasions

I use a variety of lines depending on the tide, the time of the day and water depth. This means anything from a floating line, an intermediate line to even a fast sinking line. I love to target these stripers with topwater poppers, but it can typically be a small window for this desired technique. Best conditions for this topwater bite are low light and a high tide. So, if I specifically want to target topwater stripers I look for a high tide at first light. This will give you your best opportunity to find that big blow up on your topwater fly.

Fishing an intermediate line can be a small window as well. I usually find that this line is an excellent choice when stripers are chasing or cruising for bait at high tide on a shoal or tight to the bank of three to four feet in depth.

TFO Power Reel. Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

Majority of the time I am fishing a fast sinking line on the Delta. This gives you the best opportunity to fish a lot of different depths of water. You can strip it quick for shallower water and let it dredge for that deeper water that is holding those schools of fish. This line will also help you achieve getting to that desired depth quicker than other lines in fast moving tides. The sinking fly line is usually a 24ft to 30ft sink tip with an intermediate running line. Most fly line companies build these lines now days and are offered in many different grain weights that will match up with your TFO rod that you choose to use.

Having a fast sinking line can help you get down to fish holding lower quicker. Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

What Are They Hitting?

There are so many flies to choose from, but you can keep it simple as well. I prefer a fly in a Clouser style, what I mean by that is that the fly is weighted and with the hook riding upright. This fly is great to get down to the fish and the fly performs an excellent jigging motion as you strip the fly back that stripers cannot resist. I like to have a few different sizes ranging anywhere from a size 2 to a 3/0 hook to match the bait around. Choosing colors of a fly depend on the color of the water, time of day, and the type of bait we are simulating. I primarily use Gray/White, Chartreuse/White, Olive/White and one of my specialties Olive/Pink/White that resemble a salmon or steelhead smolt.

You can’t go wrong with a box of Clousers. Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

 

Capt. Toby Uppinghouse

Edgewater Outfitters

TFO Ambassador and Advisory Staff

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.

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.

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.

Summertime Bass Tactics On The Fly with Grant Braudrick

It’s mid summer, and if there’s anything that gets anglers like Grant Braudrick more fired up than anything, its topwater bass bites.

In central Texas, and a lot of places this time of year, it’s not uncommon for temperatures to be in the upper 90s (or higher), with little to no chances of rain for a few days – which makes for tough fishing conditions on lakes, and even rivers and creeks. Knowing the right times to go, what to look for, and what tools to take with you are critical for finding success.

TFO rep Grant Braudrick and Texas native spends a significant amount of time catching large bass on the lakes of central Texas during the spring and summer. We thought we’d check in with him and get some tips on summertime bass on the fly tactics.

Talk about how you plan a trip to fish for bass on the lakes in your area. How do you plan where you going and when to go?

Lakes can be very challenging in the summer. We normally have a morning bite that starts around sunrise or around 6am. By around 9 or 10am at the latest, the bite will die off. During the middle of the day, fish tend to head to the middle of the lake where temps are more stable. I’ll usually focus on deeper water and throw more subsurface baitfish, where as in the morning and evenings, I’m throwing top water this time of year. The evening bite usually starts around an hour and half before sunset and lasts until dark.

What type of boat do you use for bass fishing on lakes.

When I’m on the lakes I’ve got my 17’ Mitzi poling skiff boat. Some people harp on me for using a saltwater flats skiff on fresh water lakes in North Texas, but I’m able to take it on bigger water on the coast if need be, but more importantly, it allows me to get extremely shallow to get where bass boats can’t get to.

Stealth is very important and this skiff helps me get to places quietly. I use spikes on the front of my boat to keep my fly line in one area. There can be a lot of grass and vegetation in some of the areas I’m trolling back into so those spikes really help with keeping the fly line from getting tangled up incase I hook into a fish and that way my fly line and reel stays clear, also having fly lines get caught in vegetation can cause enough disturbances to spook a fish as well.

When people think of bass on the fly, they think 8 weight, but I see a lot of rods on the deck of your boat on your Instagram posts. Looks like you use a few different weight sizes. Can you go over those set ups?

Sure thing. Basically how I structure my set ups is depending on the water that I’m fishing. The smaller the water, the lighter the rod (action) I’ll be going for. The bigger the water, the more elements (wind) you’ll be dealing with likely, so I’ll want something faster.

Not all lakes are the same, so I have a system that works for me according to which lakes I’m on.

For lakes with lots of grass, lillypads, and dingier water – likely lots of subsurface structure and stuff that fish can get caught up on – I actually like to use a 9wt. I get weird feedback sometime about that , but if I’m fighting a 6-8 lb bass with all that subsurface stuff to get caught on, I’d much rather have the extra muscle and leverage with a 9wt to be able to fight that fish out of structure and get it into open water so I can play it out and get it to the boat. Casting larger flies with heavier line all day can wear your arm out, and that 9 weight can be your best friend in the scenario.

For clearer water lakes with more rocky terrain/bottoms, I usually go with an 8wt.

For both scenarios, I absolutely love and cannot say enough good things about the Axiom ll-X. We get a lot of heavy winds in Texas, and especially when fishing on open lakes and that rod absolutely delivers. Recently, I’ve been enjoying using the LK Legacy 8wt. That rod is a cannon as well. Very similar to the classic BVK, but feels a little stronger in the tip section when fighting big fish. I’ve also really enjoyed the upcoming Blue Ribbon series. A little bit more of a medium action. When the bass aren’t as active I’ll throw popper on a 3wt for sunfish and have a blast. Who doesn’t love sunfish on a 3wt? Other TFO favorites of mine are classics like the Mangrove and the Clouser. For reel, I just match the rod with the appropriate BVK-SD reel.

With all those set ups I’m sure you have an assortment of fly lines that accompany each one. Can you go over those?

I have several different types of fly lines for each type of water column or depth I’m going to fish for.

For topwater – a floating line matched to the rod (8 weight rod with a 8WF line). Here recently I’ve been using Monic lines and really enjoyed them. For topwater I use Monic Icicle and 101 floating lines and their Henley clear lines.

For subsurface, I use a variety of intermediate line, heavier intermediate, and a full sink if the situation calls for it. Same deal, been using Monic lines. I tried to have something that covers all water types and columns/depths. You need to be able to deeper if you need to.

When it comes to both topwater and subsurface, you want something that has a shooting head to it, and not a flat line so you can get the fly where you want it to be – which is right next to the structure or bank. As close as possible. You only want to get 2-3 casts, and these lines aren’t meant to fault cast 5+ times and you’ll likely miss an opportunity to a fish or spook it if you are casting more than that.

For someone just starting out and that might not have the budget to buy 3-4 rods with different lines for each, what would you suggest?

For someone who is just starting out, I would start with an 8wt and get an extra spool for the reel so you can have two lines. Have one spool with a floating line, then the spare spool with some sort of an intermediate sinking line. Intermediate will allow you to get to most all depths when you need to do subsurface stuff.

What about leaders? Do you have a preference on material for both topwater and subsurface?

For topwater, I make my own with monofilament, but I usually up the strength a bit.

For warmwater bass fishing on more clearer, rockier lakes, I build a leader starting with 30lb flourocarbon butt section, add on a length of 20lb, then a length of 10lb to the fly.

For dingier water with lots of grass, pads, etc. – I’ll do 30lb fluorocarbon butt section to a section of 20lb fluoro to the fly.

Knots?

Palamar Knot for topwater. Super quick strong knot. Lefty’s Loop Knot for subsurface stuff.

Pro Tip – The knot is your most important thing. When you tie a good knot, don’t do a stress test when you first tie it. You’ll likely break off due to abrasion. Also – constantly check your knots! Got stuck on a tree, just caught a fish, hit the side of your boat – check your knot. There’s NOTHING worse then hooking into a fish then loosing it due to a failed knot or a nick in the line.

I broke off an 8lb bass during a tournament last month that would have hands down been the biggest length and weight fish of the day. Hooked into the fish, saw it, and it took a big run. Line took tension and snapped because of my knot. Talk about nightmare fuel when you lose a fish like that and you know it’s your own fault.

What about flies/poppers?

 For topwater, I like Rainy’s Rattlin Frog. It’s a weedless frog that has a rattle in it. Comes in different colors. Has a great pop with a deep head. Another great one is Rainy’s Air Jet. Both are excellent frog patterns.When it comes to subsurface baitfish and crayfish patterns, you need to observe your body of water and look at the forage, but for me a few of my favorites are Rainy’s Warpath, Gamechangers, Ghetto Craw (crayfish), and Murdoch Minnows.

Clouser Minnows and Lefty’s Deceiver are also two very reliable patterns that can pretty much work anywhere. White and chartreuse is a classic go-to for color for these patterns.

What’s crazy is that lakes are different everywhere. The lake that’s right next to my house is completely different from the lake that’s an hour away. Even though we are in the same region, it’s completely different, and every body of water is a little bit different from each. Its all understanding what the fish are keyed in on. It also can depend on the day (weather).

If it’s a cloudy day, I’ll probably throw something a bit darker, which seem counter-intuitive but it really brings out that shadow a little better. If it’s a clearer day, I’m going to throw something a little bit more realistic to what they’re actually feeding on in color and in size. Size is super important and often overlooked when it comes to pattern selection.

At the end of the day, let the lake speak to you as to what you need to be doing.

I see where you’ve done some fishing with Steve Dally on the White River for some big browns. Have you learned anything from Steve that can cross over to bass fishing – specifically strip/retrieval patterns?

Absolutely. A lot of anglers have this tendency to just retrieve fast. Bigger fish will get triggered by erratic behavior from prey. When a school of fish is just swimming along, a bass or big predatory fish will just let that fish(s) just swim a long. The second that one of those fish acts strange – twitching off in a pattern that’s not normal – that triggers that big fish into a predatory mode.

A lot of times in my mind, I’ll count a “One. One Two. One Two Three. Pause…” rhythm/retrieval pattern and then see how the fish reacts. I’ll switch up my counts, retrieval pattern to figure out what the fish are keyed on for that particular day and use that for the rest of the day.

Any other tips or words of wisdom for anglers out there?

The biggest thing you can do is visit your local fly shop. These guys have a vast collection of knowledge of the waterways around you. Go in there, buy a few things, and ask them some questions. If you support them, they’ll support you.

Another tip is take advantage of social media and even Youtube. I was a on a work trip in Wisconsin a while back and had two hours to fish for musky. I caught 3 musky in the span of two hours just because I did a little research ahead of time.

Also when you get to a new area, don’t just wade in and start casting away. Sit back and observe the area, look for signs of fish, forage, etc. If you hear a bunch of pops in the lilly pads, maybe it’s a good idea to throw on a frog and see what that is. Conversely, if you see a bunch of fish schooling out in the open water, its probably a good idea to throw on a bait fish pattern. Let the conditions guide you into what you need to be doing.

Grant Braudrick is a TFO rep for the Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas area. He’s lived in Texas his whole life and been fishing since he was 10. He is also a rep for Rainy’s flies (hence the fly suggestions). When Grant isn’t fishing, you can find him playing music around Texas. Find out more about Grant through his social media links below.

https://www.instagram.com/goodoleg – fishing

https://www.instagram.com/goodolegmusic – music

Plotting A New Course – A Film with Flip Pallot

In this uncertain year that 2020 has been, we check in with TFO National Advisor Flip Pallot down in the deep woods near his home in South Florida.

Flip Pallot has been apart of the TFO family as a National Advisor since 2006.

Flip was born and raised in South Florida. An avid outdoorsman for as long as he could remember, Flip began his career as a banker, for “way too long” according to him. After finding the courage to leave the corporate world, Flip began his second career as a fishing and hunting guide. After 12 years Flip moved to television producing and bringing his life’s fishing travels to the small screen for us to enjoy. He is best known for bringing us the Walkers Cay Chronicles, which aired for 16 seasons on ESPN and as a founder of Hell’s Bay Boatworks.

Flip’s keen sense for storytelling and bringing to life the best part of fishing adventures has continued with teaching instructional classes and writing books on fly fishing.

Flip helped us design the Mangrove series of fly rods, and last year, helped us in creating one of our most popular fly rods – the Axiom ll-X (also seen in this video).

You can find out more about Flip here:

http://www.flippallot.com

https://www.facebook.com/flippallot

https://www.instagram.com/flippallot/