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The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Euro Nymphing

No facet of fly fishing has witnessed a more rapid rate of change than nymph fishing. Driven by its popularity which is fueled by its success, nymph fishing has arrived at the forefront of fly fishing. More anglers are nymphing than ever before. And it’s no wonder; trout feed more often on subsurface food sources than those floating on top and anglers rely more on nymph fishing to target those feeding fish.

Euronymphing, sometimes called tightline or contact nymphing has exploded onto the fly fishing scene and changed the landscape of nymphing. No other method brings more fish to the net because it allows anglers to more effectively meet the three goals of nymph fishing with every drift.

The three goals of nymph fishing: the ‘Why’

Regardless of the method, the three goals of nymph fishing still apply: the first goal challenges you to get your flies to the strike zone where trout feed, usually the bottom 20% of the water column. Trout hold in feeding lies close to the bottom where the current is less than that flowing over their heads. To reach those trout in the strike zone, our leader must pass through the faster layers, which produces drag that lifts our flies from the bottom and traps them in midcurrent.

Presentation, the second goal of nymph fishing, requires us to achieve a dead drift for our nymphs just like we do for our dry flies. Flies should tumble in the strike zone at the slower speed of that layer, not whisk over their heads in midcurrent. Natural invertebrates drift this way and so should our flies. In other words, our flies should not drift at the speed of the current we see on the surface, but at a speed approximately one half of the surface current.

Lacking a floatation style indicator, whose large surface area affixes our drift to the surface speed, euronymphing allows our leader to cut through the fast current to reach the strike zone. Producing less drag on our flies, euronymphing allows our flies to remain in the strike zone and lets them drift at the slower speed of that layer, achieving goals number one and two.

A more accurate means of strike detection obviously leads to more fish in the net, making it goal number three for any successful nymphing method. While there’s a time and place for floatation devices, euronymphing affords a more sensitive and reliable means of strike detection by eliminating the inherent delay in strike detection with floatation devices, including plastic indicators. With the improved connectivity to our flies that euronymphing provides, strike detection sensitivity and immediacy also improves.

This graphic further illustrates the importance of a drag free drift. Notice how the current is faster near the top of the water column underneath the bobber/indicator, thus creating more drag . Not having an indicator lets the nymph rig reach the bottom of the water column faster.

The ‘How’ of Euronymphing

Euronymphing minimizes the drag inducing effect of the surface and midcurrent portion of the water column by cutting through these layers as efficiently as possible to reach the strike zone, allowing our flies to maximize the time spent there. To accomplish this, first and foremost eliminate drag accentuating plastic floating strike indicators. Then eliminate any line or leader lying on the water’s surface as this will also accelerate your drift. Lastly, use the thinnest leader you can manage with all subsurface sections of your leader or tippet thin and level.

On the water, cast your flies upstream or at an upstream angle, usually less than forty-five degrees across stream. Most casts are less than twenty-five to thirty feet. A slightly overpowered forward cast combined with a hard stop will transfer enough energy to complete the cast and snap back the weighted flies enough to ‘tuck’ them under, drilling them into the water to improve their sink rate. Recover any slack in the leader as quickly as possible to connect to your flies since many strikes occur during the descent. You’ll know when your flies reach the strike zone because the leader will tighten slightly and the drift will slow noticeably to a speed more consistent with that layer.

By lifting the rod after the cast and holding steady throughout the drift, then by recovering slack with your line hand, keep all line and leader from the water’s surface, maintaining the most vertical orientation of the leader as it pierces the water. Keep the sighter out of the water not only so you can see it but also to reduce drag since its usually thicker than the fluorocarbon tippet below it. Allow the drift to approach and pass downstream of your position. At this point, you’re fishing under the rod tip. At the end of the drift, you can recast to start another pass.

Anglers can vary any of the three parts of a euronymphing presentation, which are the initial cast, the dead drift portion of the presentation that follows and thirdly, the aftermath of the dead drift.

Casting, the first phase of every drift, offers several choices. While a constant tension oval shaped tuck cast works most of the time, the choice of various other casts may be necessitated by circumstances, such as overhead vegetation. In this situation, a water loaded cast might work better. Another common problem; you encounter faster water that minimizes fly time in the strike zone or prevents them from even getting to the bottom at all. Try more power and a firmer stop on the forward cast to drill the flies to the bottom.

The dead drift phase, the middle part of every euronymphing presentation, often works best as a dead drift. But when trout hesitate or on slow days, try adding a very subtle jig animation to the flies to elicit a strike. Gently lift the rod and drop it slowly, staying in contact with the flies as much as possible. Use nymphs tied on jig hooks to reduce bottom snags. Sometime a simple jig ‘twitch’ means the difference of several fish on slow days.

The final stage of each pass begins as the dead drift ends. Often we simply recast to start another drift, but try stopping the rod tip to allow the flies to lift up towards the waters surface in the manner Jim Leisenring made famous many years ago as a method to imitate natural insect behavior releasing from the streambed and rising towards the surface. You’ll even get strikes by letting the flies dangle in the current. Also on occasion, let the flies swing across current at the end of the drift like wet flies, since trout like to chase living food prey. You can tease a lot of trout to bite that you might otherwise miss.

Armed with the ‘Whys’ and ‘Hows’ of euronymphing, you’re ready to hit the water. Pack your nymph fly box, grab your net and your nymphing rod. If you don’t have a nymphing rod and love to euronymph, consider adding one to arsenal. The ability to cast lightly weighted flies, rod length and sensitivity make a dedicated euronymphing rod a wise investment.

TFO recently released the new Stealth rod – designed specifically for European, high-stick and tight-line nymphing techniques. Learn more about the Stealth below or here.

Blog written by TFO Advisor Jason Randall. Photos provided Jo Randall.

Behind The Lens – Capturing Great Fishing Photos with Kory Robbins

There is an anonymous quote that goes, “Taking an image, freezing a moment, reveals how rich reality truly is.” The idea behind this quote is one of the main reasons I got into fishing photography back in the mid 2010’s. Frequently, I would find myself exploring vast Alaskan fisheries. On the trips where I captured unforgettable moments with my camera, I would later look back at the images and be truly grateful for that time on the water. There are probably many of you who can agree with this, but need some direction on what gear to buy, which camera settings to use, and how to find the best angles when trying to capture great fishing photos. Here are some tips I’ve gathered through my experiences.

Gear

Phone cameras have made huge gains regarding quality when looking back over the past few years. The addition of wide-angle lenses, better low light performance, and manual settings are a few main reasons for this. There are many instances where you can produce great images with a phone camera, but there are also times where that camera is not going to hang with a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. All the images shared in this blog were captured with a Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR, so let talk DSLRs.

Most people these days have a phone with a solid camera built in, but not everyone has a DSLR. If you want to have greater control over the photos you take, I highly recommend investing in a DSLR. Interchangeable lenses give each photo a different feel, full manual settings let you completely control the outcome, and a large internal sensor stores massive information in the image for easy post production editing.

When it comes to picking the right DSLR, this requires a bit of research for the photographer. There are numerous options ranging from a few hundred dollars up into the thousands of dollars. If I were to recommend a DSLR for a first-time buyer, I would suggest the Canon 80D. This is a mid-level camera priced around $1000. It’s weather sealed so it can handle wet rainy days, has a flip out screen for easy photo viewing, and has a quality sensor that produces great images. If you are on a tighter budget, I would recommend the Canon T7 Bundle which averages under $500. This will get you into the interchange lens game at a great price point.

After finding the right camera, your next biggest step is finding the right lens. When I am on the water, I always have two lens options in my case. A 17-40mm Canon wide angle and a 70-200mm Canon telephoto lens. Each lens offers a dramatically different perspective to the photo which we will talk about more later on. Most camera manufactures offer camera bundles that come with both types of these lenses at a discounted price. The other option is to buy the camera body, and then purchase lenses individually. This gives you a little bit more freedom.

Camera Settings

For those that are just getting into DSLR photography, there are a few terms you must become familiar with; ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Depth of Field, and RAW.

  • ISO: The larger the ISO number, the brighter your image will be. Be careful with this though. As you raise the ISO, you increase the noise, or fuzziness, in the shadows.
  • Aperture: This is the opening in the lens. A small number here results in a wide aperture. A wide aperture will let in more light, making the image brighter.
  • Shutter Speed: This controls how fast the shutter closes. A fast shutter will let in less light, but also will freeze fast moving objects.
  • Depth of Field: This is the range of what’s in focus in your image: A very fine-tuned focal point means you have a wide aperture.
  • RAW: This is a file type the camera can save images as. This type of image is very large in file size. A RAW image for example is around 25 megabytes in size, while an average iPhone image is only around 6 megabytes. The additional megabytes mean more information is stored in the image, making post editing a breeze.

Now that you are familiar with the terms. Let’s jump into camera settings. Most DSLR cameras have three general options; Full manual, priority, or full auto. I use each of these for varying situations on the water.

  • Full Manual: This is where you have complete control over all the camera settings. I use this when I have ample time to capture the shot. Landscape portraits or capturing action like casting are where this setting is handy. As a general rule, I try to keep the ISO under 800. This keeps the noise down to a very manageable level in post.
  • Priority: Adjust either the ISO, Shutter Speed, or Aperture, and the camera auto adjusts the other settings to get the right lighting. This is my go-to on the water. I like to fix the shutter at 1/200. This will freeze a moving angler and fish so they don’t appear blurred.
  • Full Auto: This is where the camera does all the work for you. I usually only use this for run-and-gun shooting where I don’t have time to mess with camera settings.

Angles

This is my favorite part of photography. There are infinite lighting scenarios, infinite compositions, and essentially infinite options when it comes to framing your shot. Let’s take a look at some of my go-to angles.

Close up with Telephoto Lens: Reveals details not commonly viewed with the eye. Axiom ll

 

Wide Angle: Offers a distorted and unique view.

 

Wide Angle + Slow Shutter: As this fish was preparing to be released, I adjusted my shutter to blur the moving water. The stationary fish was not affected by the shutter, so it appears in focus.

 

Glow Effect: Shooting into the sun, zoomed in with a telephoto lens to crop out the sun.

 

Shallow Depth of Field: See how the angler, net, and fish are in the same focal plane. Then the rod and background are blurred heavily. LK Legacy with BVK SD reel.

 

Shallow Depth of Field + Bright Background: You can use the sun reflecting off the water to make this unique effect when using a wide aperture. LK Legacy with BVK SD reel.

 

Wide Angle + Low to Water + Foreground: The wide angle makes the angler seem small, and the river seem larger than normal. Added fish trough in foreground for bonus detail. Pro ll TH with BVK-SD.

 

Fast Sutter + Shallow Depth of Field: The fast shutter freezes the line motion and water droplets during a spey cast. LK Legacy TH with BVK SD reel.

Last Notes 

Now that you have captured the perfect image, some post editing will really bring the image to life. My personal favorite editing software is Adobe Lightroom, but there are numerous other editing software options out there. Do a little research and see what fits your budget and workflow. While you are at it, check out some how-to DSLR videos and blogs online. I have learned everything I know about photography from the internet. It may seem like a lot of information to take in at first, but the real knowledge comes from trial and error, so don’t be discouraged. Learning a new skill is good for the soul, and for anyone wanting to get into photography, I highly recommend you develop a budget, find a camera that works for you, and take the leap.

 

Blog written and photos provided by TFO Ambassador Kory Robbins. Kory lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his wife and fellow TFO Ambassador Tessa Shetter. You can check out more of Kory’s photography here.

Tools of the Trade: TFO Reel Rundown

As winter loosen’s its grip (for the most part) and we transition into spring, it’s time to get an inventory check on your fishing gear (we’ll call it Spring Cleaning). If you’ve already got a floating line, but don’t already have an intermediate or sinking line in your lineup, you’ll want to look at investing in these. You’ll be able to target more fish and be able to adjust to almost any type of water depth/scenario.

First and foremost, you’ll need to make sure you have the right rod for the type of water you are fishing, second you need to have the right type of line to deliver flies effectively to these fish. Your reel is important, but only has one purpose – to hold line. You really don’t need a strong drag system unless you are targeting large fish that are known to take you to your backing. If you want to spend $500 on a bright and colorful reel to target trout, bass, and carp – go for it – but you’ll be able to get the same job done with a reel that is half or more than half the cost. Save that money to invest in your next fishing trip or maybe even to get an additional spool with a different type of line.

TFO has three reels (with spare spool options) that cover the bases for any type of species you’re looking to target on the fly. Here’s a break down of each of them.

NXT Black Label Reel -Starting at $79.95, and spare spools starting at $40, the NXT Black Label series of reels set a new benchmark for performance at an affordable price. Machined, cast aluminum frame, ported to reduce weight and featuring a machined handle drag knob and spool release for increased durability during rigorous use. The NXT Black Label series utilizes a stacked, alternating disc drag system that delivers plenty of drag pressure, with no startup inertia. Easy LH/RH conversion (no tools needed) and all reels come packaged in a black neoprene pouch. The three reel series is perfect for trout, warm water species and even light saltwater applications.

NXT Black Label Reel // Photo: Oliver Sutro

BVK SD Reel – A step up from the NXT Black Label reel, both in performance and in componentry, is the popular BVK SD reel. We took the successful BVK series of reels, added a fully sealed drag system and didn’t raise the price one penny! Introducing the BVK SD series of reels: A fully-sealed drag system with super easy LH/RH retrieve changes and minimal maintenance. The drag system is fully sealed Delrin® and stainless-steel to keep the drag clean and functioning in rough and dirty environments. This new drag system provides a noticeably broader range of resistance. The BVK SD series of reels are machined aluminum and anodized for durability and use in fresh or saltwater. The super large arbor design gives these reels huge line capacity and enables the angler to pick up line with incredible efficiency. The four reel series is perfect for everything from rainbow trout and bass all the way to bonefish and baby tarpon. All models of the BVK SD come packaged in a black nylon reel pouch.

BVK-SD Reel with the new LK Legacy rod. // Photo: Cameron Mosier

POWER REEL – For those looking to target larger species (albies, tuna, salmon, etc) that are notorious for ripping line out and quickly taking you to your backing, the Power Reel is fully anodized and dramatically ported to reduce weight, without sacrificing housing or spool strength. Unlike most drawbar reels that use coil springs for drag plate pressure, the Power reel utilizes a series of conical spring washers. Carbon fiber-stainless steel brakes make a drag system that has a large range resistance with nearly exact “click” values. Even the drag knob is adjustable allowing you to manage the minimum drag resistance. With a clutch bearing for minimizing startup inertia and easy LH/RH conversion, the TFO Power reel is a perfect match to our line-up of single and two-handed rods.

 

TFO Power Reel on a swing setup with the new LK Legacy TH. // Photo: Oliver Sutro

Striped Bass To Jacks – The Axiom ll Does It All For Nick Curcione

With close to fifty years experience of saltwater fly-fishing both the east and west coasts I’ve had ample opportunity to fish fly rods from most of the major US manufacturers. If there were one observation that captures the evolution of the rods that have been produced in that time span, it would be the continued improvement in materials and design. As is the case for so many manufactured items (cars are a prime example), in the fly-fishing community there is some nostalgia for rods of the past and collectors actively seek out some of the early examples that still may be available. However, most of these vintage sticks are valued more for their novelty, not for their efficiency as fly- fishing tools.

More so than conventional and spinning rods, the balance between casting and fish fighting effectiveness is far more critical with fly rods. And there is no denying the fact that today’s state of the art fly rods are far more effective in this respect than ever dreamed possible. Today, it is difficult to purchase a truly bad fly rod, a fact that simply was not the case years ago. And because there are so many products out there, choosing a rod that best suits your fishing needs can be more challenging than it was in the past where there wasn’t a whole lot to choose from.

Photo: Nick Conklin

The rule of thumb I try to drive home to anyone about to make a purchase is whenever possible, try to cast the rod beforehand. But even if the opportunity arises, there is the potential issue of one’s casting ability. Over the years I’ve witnessed countless instances where folks who didn’t cast well criticize the rod where the fault really lies in their less than proficient casting technique. So, in the process of selecting a rod, make sure you can at least cast well enough to make a fair assessment of the rod’s performance.

That said I would like to provide my assessment of TFO’s Axiom II fly rod. This has become my rod of choice for most inshore saltwater applications. The three models I use the most are the 6-weight and the 8 and 9-weights. When fishing the beaches of Southern California for barred perch and corbina, I prefer the Axiom II 6-weight. As far as inshore saltwater species are concerned, the perch and corbina are not large, and the flies tend to be on the small side – many of bonefish-like configuration. In streamer configuration, small two to three-inch Clouser patterns do the trick. In Long Island, when chasing stripers and blues, I often opt for the 9- weight because I’m frequently casting heavily weighted flies with fast sinking shooting heads in strong rip currents. This is basically the same setup I also use on the west coast fishing the breakwaters and kelp beds.

What really impresses me with this rod is the ease with which it casts and its ability to muscle strong fish from the depths. I have never fished a rod that handles so well with a variety of flies and fly lines. Running the spectrum from fast sinking shooting heads to full-length floating fly lines the Axiom II performs effortlessly. Of course your casting stroke will vary according to the distance you want to achieve and the type of fly you’re fishing. But regardless of the situation, this rod responds precisely to what you demand of it. That’s something you can’t say about most rods on the market today.

My favorite fishing on the eastern shore of Long Island is sight fishing for stripers and when this opportunity presents itself I mostly drop down to the 8-weight Axiom ll. In this case I’ll use either full floating or intermediate fly lines. The streamers I’m fishing generally vary in length from three to seven inches, but they are not weighted and the 8-weight is an ideal choice. Southwest Florida is another location where this rod really shines. Here I’m using full- floating lines almost exclusively. The species I set my sights on are snook, school size tarpon, jacks, and redfish. Though often underrated as a game fish, of the aforementioned mentioned species jacks pull the hardest and if you want to test the fish fighting ability of a fly rod tie into a double-digit size jack.

Photo: Nick Curcione

With the Axiom II, I find it has the backbone to enable me to thoroughly pressure the fish after it makes its initial line-blistering run. If the water has any depth, jacks can really dog you – and as is the case with most game fish – to land it in a reasonable length of time, you have to constantly and thoroughly pressure the fish to turn it and get it coming your way. Prolonging the battle with a fish greatly reduces its chances of survival when you release it. Inshore fly-fishing in this region presents a set of conditions where accurate casting and fish fighting efficiency are the order of the day. Boat docks and mangrove islands where you have to present the fly in limited areas free of structure can present challenges to even accomplished casters. I’ve fished this area for over 20-years and thus far the Axiom II is the model rod I prefer most for these conditions.

There are ample sight fishing opportunities, but much of the time the scenario consists of blind casting to structure trying to sling the fly under boat docks or in clear pockets in the mangrove bushes. The Axiom ll is simply a great casting rod and its comparatively light- weight doesn’t leave you fatigued after a long day of tossing flies. The presence of structure not only poses casting challenges, but it will also test a rod’s pulling power where you have a tug-o-war contest with a fish that wants to go where it feels safe. Big snook are particularly adept at cutting you off or entangling you around dock pilings or mangrove roots in their effort to escape. Here it’s important have a rod that will have the muscle to turn them your way. You will lose some of the contests, but that’s why we keep coming back for the challenge.

Photo: Nick Curcione

Article written by TFO Advisor Nick Curcione. You can find out more about Nick here.

Winter Speckled Trout Tactics For Fly & Light Tackle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Spawning & Average Size

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Locating Specked Trout

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

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

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

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

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

Tactics & Set-Ups For Light Tackle

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

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

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

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

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Tactics & Set-Ups For Fly

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TFO: What retrieval patterns typically work best for you?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Winter Streamer Fishing – The Gear, The Flies and The Water with Brian Kozminski

“How’s the fishing?” the lady on the bank genuinely inquired.

“We got one in the net, had a few follows- decent day,” my buddy in the bow replied. “But we are just getting to the good water-” I retorted.

“I would go get my drift boat out of the garage, but I only dry fly fish.” she said as she adjusted her position on her deck above the quick flowing seam.

‘What did she just say?’ Sam asked.

‘She only dry fly fishes? That eliminates like 8-9 months of the year on the river.’ I pondered.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

It is an unusually warm early winter day on the river with guide Sam DeJonge of Wild Rise Outfitters. A pleasant air temperature of 47 degrees, we are toasty in fleece and the guides on my TFO Axiom II have not seen ice since last winter. Water temperature is 40 degrees, we are seeing intermittent clouds- we were hoping for a steel wool cloud covered day, but the sun manages to brighten a few runs along the way. We will fish all winter as long as boat launches are accessible. Solid advice to always check the takeout before you put in, they might not get plowed or are a treacherous skating pond from snow melt and re-freeze.

Don’t get me wrong, I get as excited as the next guy/gal when we see that first bug pop in early spring and an eager trout slurps it under the surface- but the streamer game- it gets my heart pumping like nothing else. For most anglers who chase apex predators, it’s all about the MEAT. Why does it seem intimidating? What is the hesitation for an angler to take the next step and buy a seven weight? Or even an eight or nine? I would surmise, in most cases, it is more about hurling a six inch wet tube sock through the air that may cause some trepidation, but that doesn’t need be the scenario. Let’s look at the basics. The hardware- line, rod, reel and flies coupled with the application of river reading and where to place a tasty morsel for hungry trout and how to retrieve your offering are the stuff books are written about. I will break it down for you in three stages. The Gear, The Flies and The Water.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

The Gear

Rod choice – One of the most important tools in the formula. One should choose a rod that can lift and deliver a larger fly to a sometimes tight or difficult location. Best rod weights from six to ten depend really upon the river and species you are chasing and the proficiency of the angler. Smaller streamers like Zonkers or Zoo Cougars can easily be propelled to likely soft seams with a good six weight, I really like the Axiom II or LK Legacy for the responsive roll casts often executed. Choose an eight weight if you need to catapult double deceivers or Gamechangers across the 50-yard line, often better matched with a fast action rod like the Axiom II-X. If you are into a mixed bag of bronzeback and lake fishing, the Blue Ribbon series in seven weight can toss your Lunch $ or a Bad Hair Day all day long. If you are looking in the budget fly rod category, the Pro II comes in under the competition and performs above it’s class. Proper pairing of line weight to the rod’s capabilities are paramount. We shall cover that next.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

Line Choice – We need to get the fly in front of the fish. Even if the fish has already eaten, placing a sculpin or crawfish pattern in front of a 24-inch brown forces the fish to react aggressively. Divide the river column into thirds, top third is 1-2 feet of depth, middle section 3-5 feet, and the bottom is 6-8 feet of depth. We like to use Scientific Angler’s Sonar Titan for many Michigan rivers. The Hover sink 2/4 can cover the top 2/3 of the river effectively with proper fly choice. Sonar Sink Intermediate 3/5/7 can get you in the deeper slots, and if you really want to get down, go Full Sink, but be wary of the all the woody debris- you may lose a Bangtail or two. Many are going to argue some flies can go deep if you use a full sink line, and that often works, but don’t double down with a full sink and a conehead Fishwhacker or you will go broke buying flies. Keep your leader short. Really short. Some anglers try to switch from their 9-11′ leader and can’t figure out why they are missing targets. I will tie a two-foot section of 30# shock tippet with a barrel swivel to 2- 3′ of 12-15# flourocarbon. Keep it under 6 feet long, you will amaze yourself with how well you can roll that heavier wet Grumpy Muppet under some overhanging brush when the heavy taper of your line gets your leader on point.

The Reel – Don’t over think this one, but DO NOT dismiss it either. Get a quality reel, decent arbor size, I prefer large arbor for quicker line pick up and retrieve. I have witnessed more fish lost when an angler is fumbling around with a load of line at his feet and he can’t seem to get enough line on the reel to get the upper hand before his 24″ brown takes his leader to log town and ‘POP!’ I have also witnessed fish charge the boat or go upstream and the slack in the line allows for the fly to ‘fall out’ on a poor hook set. Be sure you have a substantial drag that has quick initial start up, sealed drag is a bonus on the often sandy Michigan rivers. The newly designed BVK SD between $200 and $240 fits all these requirements- even for saltwater.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

The Flies

Fly choice – When you mention ‘streamer’ to certain crowds out West, they immediately think of cute flies like the Autumn Splendor and Woolly Bugger- those flies certainly have a time and place, but most often we are using articulated flies to imitate bait. Sculpin, crawfish, darters/dace, shiners/chubs and smaller trout- these are all on the menu for the fish who have achieved a certain size class. Flash is good, not too much, not too little, often it’s the only thing that allows you to track your fly in the water. The old adage bright fly bright day often applies, but don’t be afraid to go black- it can save the day. We also have plenty of leeches/chestnut lamprey and baby coho/steelhead smolt that add to the dinner features on most rivers that connect to the Great Lakes, perhaps this is why our streamer game is so different. Most often, it is best to try to match the color of the natural surrounding, the bottom. Olive, is a key color on the Manistee, but I have a good buddy who most often throws yellow, and his Instagram account will back his color choice. Kelly Galloup, who, along with Bob Linsenman, pioneered much in our way of thinking for ‘how to fish’ and what to tie for streamer patterns- they actually cowrote the book some 20 years ago ‘Modern Trout Streamers‘. Most flies are either versions of Kelly’s vast arsenal of witty named feathered configurations, but also some of the guides who either worked with Kelly when he was in Michigan or thousands of tyers who have watched countless hours on YouTube and his tying tutorials. Russ Maddin brought us the Circus Peanut and recently updated with the Chromatic Peanut, easily one of my top five flies for rivers we fish. Kelly adapted this pattern with the Peanut Envy. His streamer patterns like the Sex Dungeon, Zoo Cougar, Silky Kitty, Knappy Sculpin, Double Madonna, Barely Legal, Bottoms Up and the Woolly Sculpin have all opened our eyes to a wide variety of tying skills and methods of chasing trophy trout. Mike Schultz has brought us the Swinging D and the Swinging D 2.0, while Rich Strolis –Catching Shadows– and his Ice Pick, Hog Snare and Headbanger Sculpin have put plenty of big fish in angler’s nets. Mike Schmidt with Anglers Choice Flies continually bangs out a couple dozen Cotton Candy Deceivers, Viking Midges, Red Rockets, and Meal Tickets for his far reaching fan base. TFO’s very own Blane Chocklett revolutionized the streamer concept with his multiple articulated GameChanger. Primarily a toothy Esox chaser in his guiding days, Blane was out to mimic something that had more lifelike swimming motion. But his patterns have begun a revolution in all aspects of the streamer world and we continue to see evolution as we hit the tying bench.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

The Water

The River – Let’s talk about the water and how to fish it, effectively. The top third of the water column can be searched with patterns such as classics like a Muddler Minnow or Zonkers, but also the forever classic Zoo Cougar or Butt Monkey. If you add a sinking line, you can take some of these more buoyant flies to the next level. Most flies with a lot of deer hair or classic bucktail streamers like the Black Ghost tend to stay in the 1-3 feet zone. Sometimes I find these flies are very effective in early fall for pre-spawn brook trout and can be easily flung on your favorite five weight with an aggressive taper. This brings us to the middle column, 2-5 feet of depth, often targeted by floating anglers because you can tempt a fish up from the bottom or out of the woody cover without snagging up and losing $8 flies. Intermediate sink or sink tip lines will allow you to get down, especially if you make a downstream roll cast/mend immediately after your fly hits the water. This allows the line to sink with the current and paving a path for your fly to follow in front of that very ominous looking log jam. Great flies for this depth are the Double Boogie Man, Sex Dungeon, Great Lakes Deceiver and Circus Peanut to name a few. Going deep- aka Dredging- we need to be on the bottom, Headbanger Sculpin, Tungsten Conehead Woolly Sculpin, or a conehead Madonna will get down deep and dirty. I have often heard, “better to use the wrong fly at the proper depth, than the right fly at the wrong depth.” Basically, you gotta get the fly in the fish’s face- banging streamers on the bank is a good call, you will get a reactive aggressive strike that simply is the fish exerting dominance over territory, which is why we will see flashes on our streamer and get short strikes or ‘misses’- but sometimes they can’t just stop on a dime when they charge. Never overlook or underestimate the soft inside bend. This is an easy thing to do, especially when the far bank holds a ton of wood and a sweeper that is the very definition of a trout condo, but trust me. That transition water where the sand fades into dark cobble is exactly where a large aggressive fish can disappear into the bottom and wait for a careless brook trout or crawdad to slip out of his comfort zone. These can be camouflaged as shelves or deep gradient slopes, learn to read these tell-tale trout lies and you will amaze yourself in hook up ratio. Get a guide that can show you some of these non-descript looking trout hideouts, the return will be worth your investment.

Be sure to investigate a few spots like the front of a riffle zone or deep behind a down tree that looks like frog water. Big trout, especially in winter months will rest in dark murky water looking for a casual leech or crawfish to pass in front of their noses. There may be many likely looking holds that many trout may inhabit, especially on our wood-laden northern Michigan rivers, but the unlikely looking hold still can hold a trout, only a few less anglers have plied that water. Make a variety of retrieves. Imagine you are the baitfish that just came face to face with with a 22-foot dragon, would you casually walk out of the room, or turn on a dime and high tail it out of there? Make that fly dance and run like it is designed to swim. Sometimes the water temperature will dictate a very slooow thump thump retrieve. Trout will actively feed when water temperature is between 55 and 65 degrees, but post spawn opportunistic trout need to get some weight back on for winter. Spawning season can be stressful on trout, please leave them plenty of room to reproduce and secure future generations of trout to chase the other 11 months of the year.

No matter what you perceive as your preferred fishing method, always leave room to expand your horizons. Whether dry flies are your thing, or maybe you prefer Euro nymphing, having the right gear, the right line, and the “right” water always make for a memorable experience. Get out and enjoy the journey. #fishtheoriginal

Photo: Sam Bosworth

Blog written by Brian “Koz” Kozminski. Koz 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.

Three Basic Casts with Ed Jaworowski

Once you can manage a reasonable forward cast, often called a “pick up and lay down”, you should focus on expanding your repertoire of casts. Due to limited space, I can only describe the basic mechanics of three, but these will hopefully get you started.

ROLL CAST

The roll cast is perhaps the most misunderstood. Fishermen regularly complain that, “My roll cast is terrible; the line splashes down or piles up.” Invariably, traditional instruction is at the root of this problem. We have all heard instructions like “start with the rod at 11:00”, “let the line drape behind you”, “chop down as if using a cleaver or hatchet”, and so on. Such instructions might suffice for casting small flies short distances with a floating line, but to get greater distance, turn over large or heavy flies, or fish sinking lines, they compel us to use excessive force or effort. The reasons are obvious.

First, starting with the line hanging limp behind you represents slack, and you have to get rid of that slack before you can load the rod. Lightly toss the “D-loop” behind you, but start forward before it collapses to the surface. You only need a short piece of line (the “anchor”) actually on the surface when you begin the stroke, so have the end of the line no farther in front of you than approximately a rod length or so when you start forward. Finally, since the line must continue traveling in the direction the tip Is moving (not where it is pointing) when the rod straightens, stroke forward, not downward. You want the line to unroll in the air above the water rather than roll across the surface, except in one special case. This may call for starting with the rod tip well to the rear, even pointing straight back for very long casts. This allows you to make a longer stroke, and will load the rod more deeply into the butt with no extra effort.

Lefty Kreh demonstrates why chopping down on the roll cast is poor advice. Most of the energy goes downward, instead of forward; the loop is very large, wastes a lot of energy, and will pile up at the end unless you use excessive force. Photo: Ed Jaworowski
Note this exceptionally efficient and tight loop as it unrolls toward the target. The keys are: starting with the rod pointed well to the rear; stroking the rod forward, not downward; very fast but smooth final acceleration to an instant stop. Photo: Ed Jaworowski

CURVE CASTS

Aside from a straight forward cast and a roll cast, curve casts have more applications in many fishing situations than any other. Understand that what the hand does at the end of the stroke, the rod tip will duplicate; the line and fly will in turn replicate that. So, if you want the line to curve, you must make the tip curve as the rod straightens. These photos and explanations demonstrate just two of several ways to make this happen, whether casting sidearm or overhead. In either case, avoid stroking downward toward the water.

Here, I cast sidearm, applying a little more effort than the cast would normally call for. The excess energy causes the line to curve to my left, around the tree stump. Casting left-handed, which is quite simple, will allow the line to curve from the opposite side. Photo: The Complete Cast (TFO)

Making the line curve with an overhead cast, when conditions call for that, is a bit trickier, but if you sharply turn your knuckles to the right or left the instant before stopping, the rod tip and, ultimately, the line and fly will do the same.

In this example, I sharply turned my hand to the right at the very end of the stroke. The line unrolled straight ahead between the trees, then the leader and popper sharply snapped to the right, behind the tree. Photo: The Complete Cast (TFO)

REACH CAST

While a curve cast calls for modification during the actual execution of the casting stroke, the reach cast introduces an additional motion after your hand stops and the rod straightens. There are a number of applications for this cast. One example, say you want to cast a dry fly directly upstream beyond a trout, but must avoid having the line fall over the fish and spook it. If conditions won’t allow you to move to a better position, a reach cast can solve your problem.

Stop the rod tip going directly toward the target but, while the line is unrolling in the air, continually and steadily swing the rod off to the right or left. It is crucial however, that you keep feeding line with your line hand while making the reach maneuver. Photo: The Complete Cast (TFO)

 

When executed properly, the fly will go directly to the target, but the line will fall to the water well to the side. The rod will be pointing at 90 degrees to the direction of the cast, as if you had cast from a position 9 or 10 feet to the right or left. Photo: The Complete Cast (TFO)

TACKLE

While skill is more important than tackle when casting, better designed tools will help greatly. Of course, personal choices come into play; here are mine. For heavier warm- and saltwater fishing, calling say for 8 to 12-weights, my decided favorite is the Axiom 2-X. Due to its higher modulus and Kevlar double-helix, it tracks, unloads, and stabilizes more efficiently, with less vibration, than any rod I have ever cast. Period. This makes for easier longer casts, as well as those described above, especially with larger and heavier flies, and with minimal false casting. For lighter (i.e., 3 to 7-weight) fishing, I rely on the quick, light, and durable LK Legacy. It’s ideally suited for all anglers when situations call for accurate and delicate presentations.

For much more detailed explanations of these and many other casts, I suggest you consult The Complete Cast, the four-hour instructional DVD/Blu-Ray from TFO, on which Lefty Kreh and I collaborated, and my newly-released Perfecting the Cast (Stackpole Books), which summarizes what I learned from my 45 years of coaching.

Tools of the Trade – The Axiom ll Fly Rod

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost four years since the Axiom ll fly rod was released. With the collaboration of pretty much the entire rod design team at TFO, we were able to revisit the original Axiom (2007).

What we came up with was a lighter, more responsive rod that would eventually set the foundation for the popular Axiom ll-X. While the Axiom ll-X, (released in 2019) has received great feedback for being an excellent fast action fish fighting tool, the moderate-action taper of the Axiom ll can be applied to many freshwater and saltwater applications. There is a clear reason why it is a favorite amongst TFO staff, ambassadors, and anglers.

Whether you’re looking for a streamer rod or looking for an upgrade to target both larger freshwater and saltwater species, the Axiom ll is not to be overlooked. Here is more about the Axiom ll from TFO’s Fly Fishing Category Manager Nick Conklin.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

The Axiom-II fly rod fits in a specific and critical spot in the TFO line-up for those looking for feel and power.

What the Axiom II offers is something needed by every fly angler – a rod that anglers of many casting styles can pick up, and effectively load and un-load within minutes. It is why our product copy calls it a tool that is “engineered to fit the angler, (not the other way around).” But what is the other way around?

We found after years of designing and producing fly rods, a startling trend had emerged. Rod design emphasis started to focus on space age materials, fibers and materials resulting in ultra-fast and stiff rods. What was meant as tools for anglers of different casting styles and skills, the new focus was to compete against other brands and garner a high return on search engines. The needs of anglers started to fall by the wayside.

What TFO aimed to develop with the Axiom II was a tool that is more of a medium-fast action, with mid-level stiffness.

Photo: Colin Arisman

Breaking It Down: The Design Emphasis of the Axiom ll

The top sections were designed specifically for easy loading, with increased sensitivity, while also incorporating a butt section stiff enough to fight fish and maintain a load when casting larger flies and heavy lines. The Axiom II is not necessarily a rod for beginners, but rather an “in-between,” tool that could handle more advanced angling and casting scenarios.

We learned from our original Axiom rod series, that some people liked the cannon, “broomstick,” style rod, but many did not. Those same people found they had to put too much work into loading the rod and were not being effective anglers. Solutions such as overlining the rod, or applying too much on the forward cast, creating too many problems and many times bad loops.

What we felt some anglers needed was a mix between power and feel. A tool with the guts to cast the big stuff, but enough soul in the blank to provide an angler with instant feedback while casting.

The “feedback,” portion of this is critical, which mean being able to feel the load, while the rod adapts to the caster. Whether you have a faster, powerful casting stroke or a more deliberate, timed casting motion, the Axiom II will be an effective line moving tool.

Michigan guide and TFO sales rep Brian Kozminski reflects, “I love the Axiom ll because it allows for better roll casting. Short distance delivery of the fly is crucial in smaller rivers. The only time I need to launch 60+ feet of line is in Mio/Au Sable or on the White in Arkansas. I also use the 6 wt for small mousing and Hex action – big, bushy flies, that are wind resistant and require something with a little more stiffness to deliver.”

See below for a review of the Axiom ll from Trident Fly Fishing.

Axiom ll vs Axiom ll-X

The application of the Kevlar thread is what further sets this rod apart. This is very apparent when comparing it to the Axiom II-X.

The placement/location of kevlar thread on the blank is what makes the Axiom ll more medium fast, while the Axiom ll-X, is a step faster and stiffer. In other words, the Axiom ll-X is meant for those with a more aggressive hauling hand and precisely timed casting stroke. While the Axiom ll can accommodate the intermediate style caster, with a varying casting stroke and prefers more immediate rod feel.

*For a more in-depth review of the comparison between the Axiom ll and the Axiom ll-X, check out this article published by Fly Fish USA.*

Photo: Jo Randall

Kevlar Strength

The wrap of Kevlar thread along the blank prevents the blank from ovaling. This occurs when weight is loaded onto the blank when moving heavy lines and flies, or when really having to reach out and make a long shot at a fish, (more line, more mass outside of the rod tip), Kevlar keeps the blank round, and keeps it from collapsing – which means more line moving efficiency, and no loss of power or distance on the cast.

While we cannot go into specifics on the thread, and what section of the blank it is emphasized on, just know, you get a different feel between the two rods, and that is intentional.

McDonald’s may not tell you exactly how they make their special Big Mac sauce so good, but you know it is, and sometimes that should be enough.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

 

 

 

Revisiting “Made for The Outdoors: Hows Its Made – TFO Rods” with Bill Sherck

Not many anglers actually know about the process of how they’re fishing rods are made. Luckily, in 2017, we had the opportunity to partner up with Sportsman Channel’s Made For The Outdoors TV  to show the world exactly how both TFO fly and conventional rods are made. If you haven’t seen both of these videos, do yourself a favor and check them out below. The amount of detail, time, and focus that goes into each step of the rod building process is incredible, and we are honored to have such a hard working and talented team that makes it all happen.

We recently connected with TFO Ambassador and Made For The Outdoors TV host Bill Sherck to revisit these videos and his trip overseas to where TFO rods are born.

What still stands out to you the most about your visit to the South Korea factory where both the fly and conventional rods are made?

There are a bunch of things that stand out about the trip. First off, BJ is the most passionate rod builder I have ever met. He is a very technical guy who understands all the engineering and hi-tech materials, all the stuff that regular anglers don’t always comprehend or appreciate…But more importantly, BJ loves to fish! He has so many GREAT fish stories from his adventures. You can tell that passion translates into how BJ and his team build rods.  I’m talking about the tapers for all kinds of specific species of fish, how each rod feels in hand, how each rod looks.  

Conventional Category Manager Jim Shulin with TFO’s rod engineer B.J.

This is TFO’s facility. This isn’t some place where builders manufacture a bunch of rods and throw in TFO’s order when it comes through. BJ and his team build only TFO rods.  That is why these rods are so darn perfect.

The other very special part of our trip was watching BJ’s crew build each rod.   They are handcrafted.  From the hand cutting of the materials to shaping blanks to painting and building grips. Each station and each step of the process was so much fun to watch. I loved the discerning eyes. It seemed like every person was always looking at details.   

The crew is definitely a closer-knit family than any other place I’ve been. They work hard and they play hard.  Literally! The team works together, and then they take a mid-day break and walk to lunch together where they eat as a team (I believe BJ provides their meals) and then they walk back to the facility and grind out games of ping pong and checkers before getting back to rod building. 

Of all the steps and processes involved, what surprised you the most? Was there a procedure in rod making that you never thought would have been a part of the process?

It was funny, but I was wandering around the facility and discovered a complete guide wrapping/rod wrapping area sitting in the dark collecting dust.  Why in the world…Because BJ had good friends across town who are the best in the business at wrapping guides. BJ shares that part of the rod building process with those people. I love that every day, TFO drives completed blanks over to their friends who wrap and finish all of the guides and then drive those completed rods back to TFO for final assembly.  A very cool part of the process to experience (outside of the dried fish sitting on all the wrapping machines.  Turns out it’s a sign of good luck for those employees).

BJ and the TFO team take great pride in where they build the rods.  Incheon/Seoul area is a global manufacturing hub know for some of the world’s biggest technology names.  Samsung, Kia, SAP.  TFO fits right in. They don’t pretend to make the most rods, but they are absolutely convinced they make the best and they do so with the most passion.

Winter Rainbows in Alaska with Sierra Baldwin

Winter is here guys!! The days in Alaska are getting shorter and much, much colder! Frozen waders and rod guides, cold fingers and toes, frozen flies…the list goes on. Honestly though, when a big rainbow is on the end of your line, all those obstacles seem completely irrelevant. 

Photo: Clayton Longfellow

Fishing in Alaska is pretty dang awesome during any season, but there’s just something so special about fly fishing for rainbows in the midst of the colder months. I’ve lived in Alaska my whole life, and I’ve always LOVED winter. So, when winter is here, I don’t want to miss a second of it.

Fishing in extreme cold definitely has its pros and cons. The coldest I’ve fished on the river, I started the day at -8 degrees, and the high for the day was 5 degrees! I do a lot of ice fishing as well, and the coldest day I’ve had was -25 degrees! You will NOT find me on the river in temps as low as that! 

Of all the species of fish, I don’t think I could choose a favorite to target. I want to say I favor rainbow fishing in the winter just a little because it’s so different from everything else I do throughout the year. It’s definitely more of a challenge, which also makes it more rewarding.

This time of year, the water has dropped a ton (hopefully), and the fish are in different areas. Once that water drops, rainbows like the deeper trenches, but keep in mind you need good current to drift or swing through.

Winter in Alaska (and a lot of places) can have some pretty significant swings in temperatures. Here, it can be 20 degrees one day, and then in the single digits the next. Keep in mind that trout need to adapt to that intense temperate change before they turn back on.

Rainbows, especially on the Kenai River, never go hungry. With our massive salmon population, they have more than plenty to eat. Even more so on pink salmon years! On the Kenai, pink salmon only run every other year (every even year). Super odd, but can’t complain though! That only makes the trout extra chunky! Speaking of food..

Photo: Clayton Longfellow

Flies & Presentation

In the winter, the trout rely on mostly flesh and eggs. The silvers are the last of the salmon to enter the river, which means they’re still lingering around and waiting to spawn late fall/early winter. The egg drop/bead bite is unreal this time of year. 

Silver eggs are 8mm in size, so throughout the fall and winter, using this size painted bead is pretty successful. 10mm’s are a good choice when the water is dirty. I like to use my own paint on top of the painted beads to make my own special colors! This gives the bead more of a realistic look and will make it stand out compared to the ones they see regularly.

Now, my favorite topic – swinging flies! The majority of my time winter fly fishing consists of swinging flies. My favorite flies for rainbows are different leech variations, intruders, and sculpins! I prefer this method of fishing because of the precise control you have over your fly presentation and the art form that comes with casting. Also, you get to feel the fish take, instead of watching your indicator go under. 

Rods, Reels, Line/Leader Setups & More!

Sink tips are a key factor with swinging flies. You have to have the right amount of length and weight for that specific day. Alaska has some weird weather, so the water levels are constantly changing.

If your sink tip is too light, you’ll be fishing too high up in the water column, and the swing will be too fast. If you’re fishing heavy, your fly will be dredging bottom and swinging too slow. 

Rod weight matters too! If your rod is too light, you won’t be able to throw heavier sink tips effectively. For medium-large flies, I recommend at least a 7wt rod.

Photo: Clayton Longfellow

The 7wt Axiom II Switch casts light and heavy sink tips effortlessly. Hands down, my favorite rod for swinging flies. You also need a reel that won’t give up on you as it’s almost completely frozen, and a rainbow decides to make a big run. I trust the Power Reels with all my heart! 

Photo: Clayton Longfellow

As for my single-hand set up, I am currently using the Axiom II-X in a 6wt, paired with the BVD-SD Reel. The impressive back bone and power in this rod truly makes a difference when casting on freezing cold days, and through winds.

Photo: Clayton Longfellow

I hope you guys enjoyed learning some of my winter rainbow fishing methods. I could seriously talk about it forever, but I think I covered some basics for now. Wishing all of you good luck on your winter fishing adventures this season! And if you don’t like winter, you’re missin’ out.

Blog written by Alaska based TFO Ambassador Sierra Baldwin. Photos provided by Sierra and were taken by Clayton Longfellow.