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The Remarkable Northern Snakehead

Have you heard of the Northern Snakehead before? Some have heard of other people catching or spotting one, and many people have a common misconception about this species. Then there are those fishermen, like myself, anxiously await the first couple of hot and humid days of the year so we can get out on the water and enjoy every minute we are out catching this fish.

The Northern Snakehead is a predatory freshwater fish native to China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea that were illegally introduced to canals, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and rivers in different countries, including multiple states throughout the US. These fish prefers hot tropical-like conditions. They have a primal lung to breathe in and out of the water; snakeheads begin to breathe more air once the grass or hydrilla grows too thick in the heat of the summer, and they are very visual hunters. These fish can be spooked easily, are very aggressive when feeding and when protecting their fry. They provide fishermen with some of the most fantastic sight fishing opportunities, and they eat topwater flies and frogs regularly.

Snakehead on the fly! // Photo: Braden Miller

There is just no comparison to the sight, sounds, and show when a snakehead eats your fly or frog. If you are lucky, after site casting to a snakehead, you can witness the wake of the fish as it stalks your fly or frog. The sound this powerful fish makes at the precise moment it engulfs your fly is unmistakable, and you better be prepared for a fight. You have to set the hook with every bit of strength you can muster because the mouth of these fish is small and bony, and they have very sharp teeth and powerful jaws. You can consider the hook set round one in your fight to get your snakehead to the boat. Whether you were fishing with one of Temple Fork Outfitters’ fly or conventional rods, remember to keep your line tight! That fish will do everything it can to free the hook stuck in its mouth, which could mean violent head shakes and propelling themselves, at any angle, out of the water. Once you have the snakehead at the boat, the battle is not over yet. Once you have netted your fish and have it inside the boat is when you prepare for a little hand-to-fin combat between you and that fish. Because of their sharp teeth, you’ll need to use pliers to get the hook out.  Snap a fish pics, and then release the fish to make someone else’s day.

Honestly, what more could you ask for from a fish?

You’ve been warned! Snakehead have VERY sharp teeth. Be extra careful handling these fish. // Photo: Braden Miller

Invasive species?

Yes, the snakehead is not native to the United States, but they have most definitely settled in well to their new bodies of water, and you can bet they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. There is still a large group of people who dislike this species immensely. Still, most of the anglers I know, have met, or have seen out fishing for this amazing species have quite the opposite outlook on the situation. In my opinion, the main reason a lot of people do not view this fish as a possible future game fish, like the largemouth bass, is because when the Northern Snakehead was first discovered in the US, people were misinformed. They were told this species would eat anything and everything that lived in the same water, and that they were highly aggressive and classified them as “invasive.” People were told that if they caught one, it MUST be killed. It was perceived that these fish were going to take over the rivers, but I can attest that this simply isn’t the case. From what I’ve seen, other species are coexisting just fine.

Where are they?

If you want to catch a snakehead, you will need to locate what waters they live in. According to USGS, at least one snakehead has been reported from the following states: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Where there is one, there are more. They inhabit canals, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and rivers. I choose to target snakeheads in my local local tidal rivers of Virginia. More specifically, I look for lily pads, hydrilla, spatterdock, and hard submerged grass lines.

Another day in Snakehead Paradise, Virginia. // Photo: Braden Miller

Snakehead On The Fly 

My go-to rod for catching snakeheads with a fly rod is an eight-weight, but depending on various situations, a seven-weight or nine-weight rod could be the best option for specific conditions.  My favorite snakehead fly rod has been my TFO Axiom II-X 8 wt. This rod is lightweight, accurate at range, and has zero issues casting a large fly, like a Game Changer or foam frog pattern.

The 7wt LK Legacy and the 8wt LK Legacy are two other options that will work great for targeting snakehead on the fly. These rods are light, very accurate, and have tons of backbone in the butt to fight this hard fighting species. I tend to use the 7wt LK Legacy when fishing smaller flies and lower tides to make a gentler presentation. The downside to using a smaller-weight rod is that it can be a difficult battle when fish take you into thick cover.

For a reel – I have been using the BVK SD the most recently. I choose this reel not because I am necessarily using the drag, but because it is a super lightweight large arbor reel. While fishing all day, a reel that is reduced in weight is a plus in my book, and a large arbor reduces line twists/coils. I primarily fish Scientific Anglers floating lines like the SA Tropical Titan and intermediate lines like the Sonar Titan. I use a floating line when I am fishing topwater presentations and subsurface flies that I want to wake or just hang in the first foot of the water column. I use the intermediate fly lines when I am fishing down the channel on low tide and in the deeper creeks many times because those fish will drop out of the hydrilla, lily pads, and other grass and lay on either the hard grass line or in the channel.

I reached out to Tim O’Neill, who has fished for Snakeheads with me for two years now, about what he loves most about these mesmerizing fish, and here’s what he had to say:

“Northern Snakeheads are one of the coolest, most unique fish you can chase on fly gear. They have these two beady little black eyes on top of their wide flat head. Their beady eyes, along with a slightly up-turned mouth, make them tailor-made to eat on top. They can lay motionless in a grass bed waiting for the proper moment to pounce, and when they do…it is one of the most aggressive surface takes you will ever see. Yes, spend some time chasing snakehead on the fly, and you will soon forget about trout fishing.” – Tim O’Neill

Photo: Braden Miller

Flies, Leaders, and Retrieves

I throw many topwater fly creations I’ve tied, but foam divers and waking patterns rule most of that. Another go-to pattern I throw is the many different styles of Blane Chocklett’s Game Changers. These include the Feather Changers, Jerk Changers, Finesse Changers, Crafty Changers, and small Hybrid Changers. When I am fishing these types of flies, I usually am fishing with a 6-foot leader; I honestly try not to keep it simple and not complicate things by using 25lb to 30lb fluorocarbon, or sometimes if I’m lazy, I’ll just fish straight 30lb.

When fishing the Game Changers, I will use a two-handed strip just to keep the fly moving down a grass or pad line (unless I’m sight fishing), and look for a fish chasing, a lot of times, you will see a wake following your fly or just the fish, or I will strip it down the line for a few feet and pause now and then. I don’t fish top water flies and divers as fast as the changers. I strip, strip pause, strip, strip, strip pause – just mix it up and see what is working that day and time. You have to see what they are in the mood for that day. They could be fired up, or they could have had a minor cold front move through the night before that could have them a little slower or finicky.

Photo: Braden Miller

Snakehead on Conventional Gear 

When I am fishing for Northern Snakeheads with my conventional gear, I always take two specific TFO rods with me: the Tactical Elite Bass 7’3″ Heavy and the Tactical Elite Bass 7′ Medium Heavy.

The first rod – the Tactical Elite Bass 7’3” Heavy Casting – I choose when fishing topwater frogs. The power of this rod allows me to get the hardest hook set I can with the heavy frog hooks, and it allows me to work those frogs with ease.

The Tactical Elite Bass 7’ Medium Heavy Casting rod is the second rod I use for fishing small to medium-sized swimbaits on weedless rigs down grass lines or creek channels. This rod allows me to get solid hooksets driving the heavy swimbait hook into the fish’s hard bony head, and it allows me to flip and pitch the swimbaits into small pockets and target cast.

On both of these setups, I am running high gear ratio baitcasting reels like the Shimano Curado or SLX either in an 8:5:1 or 7:4:1 and with 50 lb braided line.

The TLE MBR 736-1 is a great choice for targeting snakehead with conventional gear. // Photo: Braden Miller
Photo: Braden Miller

Conventional Lures & How to Work Them:

There are a ton of conventional lures you could use to attract a Northern Snakehead – both topwater and subsurface. I tend to stick with frogs and small to medium-sized swimbaits. I do not like a frog that is too big; I lean towards small to medium-sized ones. I have caught most of my larger-sized snakeheads on smaller, more finesse-style body frogs than the larger sizes. There are two categories of frogs: “working” frogs and “retrieving” frogs. You will fish“working” frogs slower and will not be covering a large section of water as quickly. However, you should achieve some very, very confident eats. There are a bunch of companies that produce frogs that will help you achieve this.

Next, the “retrieving” frogs are the ones you want to fish when you want to cover a large amount of water, and a lot of times, you will get more active and aggressive fish that will chase, wake, and either engulf or simply stare your frog down. Now when I say engulf or stare at your frog, I mean that when you have a fish waking on your frog, and you stop retrieving it, most of these fish will either engulf (eat) it, or you can make them eat it by walking it in place. Also, small twitches of your rod tip will make your frog just twitch around a little bit. There is also an extensive number of companies producing great retrieving frogs—my all-time favorite types of frogs are produced by Teckel.

Photo: Braden Miller

Different species that share the same waters as a Northern Snakehead

There are no other species where snakeheads live because they ate them all…. just kidding! There is an abundance of different fish species living with and around the Northern Snakehead. One day while fishing for Northern Snakehead in mid-June, I also saw a blue catfish, bluegill, bowfin, common carp, grass carp, largemouth bass, longnose gar, shad, snakehead, and yellow perch. A snakeheads favorite food, in my area, is the mosquitofish or killifish. You can look down the bank and see thousands of them. All of these incredible fish coexisting together, all healthy and in large populations. While fishing, I have also seen bald eagles, blue herons, ducks, egrets, and many other birds who call this habitat home.

Bowfins and Gar

Although snakehead are one of my favorite species to target on fly or conventional tackle, bowfin are also a blast to target and are my second favorite fish to catch. These fish run the show on the river, and they know it too. A bowfin is literally a living fossil; these fish have been around since the dinosaur ages. Since they’ve been around forever, they have evolved into the perfect predator. The bowfin is aggressive, and extremely confident when they eat, making them a fantastic species for sight casting. Although it’s not difficult to get them to eat, don’t forget to strip-set hard! You may not know it, but chances are there is a place near you that you could chase after bowfin. If I were you, I would start looking because you are missing out if you aren’t fishing for them!

The Axiom ll-X 8wt is my Go-To for targeting bowfin and snakehead on the fly!

The longnose gar lands third on my list. Gar are plentiful in many rivers; they offer excellent sight fishing and give anglers tons of chances to land one. They can be challenging and a lot of fun to fish for when they are aggressive and snapping at your fly. I love how hard a gar pulls, how crazy cool they look with their armor-like scales and long narrow jaws.

Both bowfin and gar have a primal lung in addition to their gills, which means they breathe underwater and they can come up to the surface to breathe. To anyone who looks down on bowfin, gar, snakehead, and other “trash” species, I urge you to get out there and give them a shot! These species are here to stay, so more people need to take the time to research all of the new information that is out about them. They deserve more respect because these fish could quite possibly be some of the most remarkable species, in my opinion, to fish for in the United States. So many people can target these great fish near them, and if you are one of them, I suggest you get out there and find them.

Gar on the LK Legacy 8wt! // Photo: Braden Miller

I reached out to the man responsible for my snakehead addiction, my good friend and a Virginia snakehead guide, Grant Alvis, about how many different species he has seen on the river while Snakehead fishing:

“In a single day of snakehead fishing, I’ve caught snakehead, bowfin, longnose gar, yellow perch, white perch, largemouth bass, various sunfish, blue catfish, channel catfish, and chain pickerel. That’s probably my best species day while I was actively trying to catch as many species as possible.” – Grant Alvis

The Northern Snakehead is here to stay, and its popularity is rapidly growing around me and in other neighboring states. They can grow to weigh 20 pounds, fight harder than the average bass typically targeted, offer great topwater eats, and you can sight fish for them! In my eyes and others just like me, consider the Snakehead a gamefish. Hopefully, one day soon, everyone will view them not as an invasive species that will destroy the ecosystem but as another game fish that lives in their home waters that is a thrill to catch. So, whether you are targeting snakeheads on the fly or conventional, you are guaranteed to have fun on the water, and you may just find your new favorite species!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Braden Miller. You can find out more about Braden at his website Miller Time Flies, and follow him on Instagram here.

Photo: Braden Miller

TFO Unveils 2022 Fly Products

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

BC Big Fly

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

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

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

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

NTR Reel

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

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

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

Mangrove Coast

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

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

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

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

 

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

Fly Fishing in Belize + Reel Women Fly Fishing

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

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

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

Photo: Oliver Sutro

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

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

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

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

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

Travel

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

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

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

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

Reel Women Fly Fishing Adventures

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

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

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

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

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

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

 

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

Targeting Prespawn Smallmouth on the Fly

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

Water Temperature

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

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Rod Setup

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

7wt LK Legacy // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

 

BVK SD lll reel // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Line and Leader Setup

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

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

Flies

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

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

Tactics

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

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

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

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

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

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.

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

 

 

 

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.

 

Why You Need A 7 Weight

Let’s talk 7 weights. Yes, 7 weights.

Wait, so you’re going to stand there calling yourself a fly angler, and you don’t have a 7 weight?

Well, maybe this will open your mind to a different rod weight.

Often skipped over by the fly shop employee for the more commercially popular 8 weight, and not as common in a drift boat as the old-school, six-weight with a half-wells grip.

The 7 weight serves an important purpose for both the fresh and saltwater anglers.

And frankly, they’re a lot more fun to fight a fish on and can deliver a big fly just as well as the heavier rods in the line-up.

By adding a 7 weight to the quiver, you’ll be able to cover just about everything from large trout, to bass and carp. Don’t forget steelhead and a few inshore saltwater species.

With most anglers already owning a 5 weight, the 7 weight is a perfect next rod to have. Already have a little 3 weight for small flies? Boom, 3-5-7, a perfect way to go, and you are covered for about every scenario.

Let’s breakdown some of the current TFO 7 weights, and see which one might make a home in your line-up.

The Blue Ribbon + BVK-SD reel. Photo: Cameron Mosier

7904 Blue Ribbon, (That’s a 7weight., 9-foot, four-piece rod for those unfamiliar with the TFO model lingo):

New to the line up this year, the Blue Ribbon series has been an all around hit, but the focus here is the largest rod in the series.

The 7 weight in particular has the ability to cast a big, air resistant fly repeatedly with minimal work. Paired with a thick diameter fly line, like the SA Mastery Series Titan, big flies are an ease. This series was based off of the popular Mangrove fly rods. Medium-fast action. Medium stiffness. This rod has plenty of power in the butt to pick-up and move heavy rigs, with minimal back casts.

For those considered this isn’t “enough rod,” or why don’t you have an 8 weight?

Believe me, this rod has the power. It can even handle some of this silly-multi streamer rigs thrown out west…Yes, I am looking at you Colorado anglers.

Outside of a great action for repetitive casting and quick shots along the bank, this rod also features the built-in hook keeper. A neat little aid for quickly attaching your fly.

While this was designed as trout rod, I’ve fished it for a few summers with big popping bugs for bass. Carp anglers, here you go. Perfect for those hulking brutes, (in really arm climates, check out the SA Grand Slam line) it’ll move the big flies and not get so kinky when hot out.

Pairs well with the NXT BLK III or BVK SD III.

7wt LK Legacy with BVK-SD reel. Photo: Nick Conklin

7904 LK Legacy:

First, we designed it with stronger top sections.

What does that mean?

For those that get in bad fish fighting angles, (Seriously, keep the rod tip low! They are designed to carry a fly line, the butt section is for fighting the fish!). The reinforced top sections will help fight against high-stick breaks.

The rod also has a faster style action. For those like something with a little quicker response and stouter butt, this 7 weight is for you.

Whether fishing floating lines, or sink-tips the LK Legacy will respond quickly and help aid the angler in an accurate fly delivery.

This rod, with a 10-foot sink tip beat the banks hard this fall in search of Montana trout. It handled the more dense tip and all kinds of articulated and feathery, peanut envy’s, sex dungeons, husker-dos, husker-don’ts and just about everything I could chuck out there.

Salty folks may want to consider this on your next trip. Whether it’s reds or specs, this rod can more than handle bonefish. Rig it up with a RIO Bonefish or Redfish style line, you won’t be disappointed.

Pairs well with the NXT BLK III or BVK SD III.

Axiom ll with the Power Reel. Excellent smallmouth rod. Photo: Jim Shulin

7904 Axiom II:

Looking for a step-up in power, and something a little faster, but still have a little soul to feel the rod do the work?

Enter the 7904 Axiom II.

This rod definitely how the power in the butt section to fight, much larger than advertised for a seven, it also allows the angler to load and unload efficiently, especially with big flies.

The striper folks out in the Calif., Delta have put this rod to test the last few years, with great results. This rod can definitely handle the west coast stripers.

Pairs well with the BVK SD III or the Power II reel.

7wt Axiom ll-X paired with the BVK-SD reel. Photo: Oliver Sutro

7904 Axiom II-X:

This is the big dog in the seven-weight offerings from TFO.

The fastest and stiffest rod in the line-up, this is for the angler with a fine-tuned cast that likes power and quick recovery.

While it excels at distance, maybe you’ve seen the photos of Blane Chocklett laying long, delicate casts, it more than stands on its own with quick shots and big flies.

Another rod that does well with heavier sink-tips and even the super long 20 to 30 foot sinkers. Striped bass anglers should be fired up about this one, long heavy sinking lines and big Clouser style flies are fun on this rod. The SA Sonar series pair very well with the A2X.

Pairs well with the BVK SD III or the Power II reel.

Fly Fishing the LA River, Urban Carp Fishing With Jimmy Kimmel, Green Eggs & Ham + More with Lino Jubilado

Not many people associate fly fishing with the LA River, however for TFO Ambassador Lino Jubilado, catching carp on the fly on the LA River is something he’s been spending almost every weekend doing since he was a teenager. Like many urban fishing locations, the setting may not be the most attractive, however it can give anglers (and inspiring anglers) a chance to catch fish right in their backyard without having to drive miles away to a river, lake, or ocean.

After being fairly active on social media and sharing his LA River carp on the fly adventures with the world, Lino has met many people, including late night show host, Jimmy Kimmel. This week we chat with Lino to find out how he got started fly fishing, how he got into catching carp on the fly specifically, his unique approach to targeting carp, the soon to be famous Green Eggs and Ham carp pattern, and his experiences fishing with Jimmy Kimmel.

How long have you been fly fishing, and what got you specifically interested in fishing for carp on the fly?

I have been fly fishing since the 1980’s. I got my first fly rod when I was 14. I caught my first carp in the late 80s when I was high school, and I remember catching it on a fly that I tied from a fly tying kit that I had. I believe it was on a royal coachman of all things (laughs). Back then, we had to sneak into the river, as it was illegal to access.

I’ve been fly fishing exclusively for about 15 years now. Prior to that, I used to fish bass tournaments professionally with conventional gear. I just got tired of the egos and pressures of fishing competitively and I wanted to try something different, so I got into fly fishing.

Did someone you know fly fish? What made you interested in fly fishing?

I was actually at a fishing show with my Dad when I was 14 and there was a guy on stage demonstrating it. The instructor asked if I wanted to learn and I said “Sure!”. He pulled me up on stage and taught me in front of everyone. After I left there, I was super interested and asked my Dad to get me a fly rod.

Targeting carp on the fly is pretty popular today, but I can’t see that being a common species (no pun intended) for a 14 year old in the 80s to want to go after. Was that on purpose or was it just a fun bycatch for you?

I was not intending to catch carp at all when I first started. I was actually going for bass, bluegill, and sunfish. I didn’t even know carp were in the LA River. I grew up fishing it catching sunfish and bass, but had no idea carp were in there. Over the years, as I met other anglers that fished the LA River, there became a community of carp anglers – specifically fly anglers.

I didn’t get really active on social media until the last 3 years, but I’ve noticed that lately, catching carp on the fly has become a really popular type of fishing everywhere and I’m seeing it all over Instagram. Our group/community has been fishing for carp well before social media, so it’s been fun to see people catching carp in all parts of the world. I’ve met a lot of other carp anglers through Instagram as well.

Although not as scenic as rivers in Montana, the LA River can hold carp, bass and sunfish of good sizes! Photo: Lino Jubilado

What types of locations or rivers are you going after carp?

Mostly the LA River, but I try to get out and fish lakes in the outside area. I send my flies to people all over to see how effective they are on other fisheries. The LA River holds a lot of common and mirror carp, so I stay pretty busy fishing it.

As you started focusing more towards carp on the fly, how did you learn to increase your chances of success on the water? Was it from advice from your local community of anglers, or just getting out there and figuring it out.

A little bit of both. Sitting at the vice and just tying bugs that mimic what I would see in the river. One time, I saw some workers cutting the grass near the river and watched these carp gorge on these blades of grass downstream of where the grass trimings were flowing/blown into the water. I went home and tied up a blade of grass imitation and it worked! Through the years, these fish been hard to figure out. They can totally change their diet day by day. That what makes them so challenging!

You fish for carp on the fly a little bit differently that other anglers. Tell us a little bit about that.

I actually utilize a strike indicator when I fish for carp, which isn’t a common method apparently. People will comment on my Instagram posts all the time saying “How do you fish for carp with an indicator?” I realized quickly that most people are sight fishing these fish rather than using an indicator in water that typically holds carp.

I like to use a pattern that I tie called the Green Eggs & Ham. I’ve lost track of how many carp I’ve caught on the LA River with that fly and I use it exclusively with the strike indicator. With that indicator I can detect the slightest vibration or movement.

Lino’s famous Green Eggs & Ham carp pattern.

What kind of indicator do you like to use?

My go-to is a ½ inch airlock – the smaller the better. Orange is my favorite color for visibility, but if I notice they’re getting spooked by the indicator, I will switch over to white to mimic the bubbles.

Different types of indicators possible for carp fishing on the fly, but the air lock (buttom right) is a favorite for Lino.

Carp can be very finicky. How much does stealth play when you’re fishing for carp in your fisheries? Do you have a specific technique or tips for how to approach carp?

The nice thing about a strike indicator is I can pretty much stay away, and like trout fishing, let the fly drift as naturally as possible. I’m not constantly on my feet trying to get into casting/drop & drag range. Carp are super spooky, so keeping my distance with the indicator really helps me increase my chances of not spooking a fish.

It is very important to approach the water very quietly. Carp have a lateral line that make them super sensitive to vibrations in the water. You put your foot in the water, and they know you’re there already. It takes a lot of patience because when you do walk in the water they’ll know you’re there and spook off, but if you’re patient and stand your ground, they’ll come back and you can get another shot at them.

Also be sure to work areas that you know are holding fish thoroughly. Especially as we transition into cooler weather. With colder water, the fish will get super lethargic. They’ll still eat, but you really have to get the fly right in their face.

I see where you’re using the Axiom ll-X a lot. What size/weight do you like to use?

I love using the 5wt Axiom ll-X. Even in the more open water, the back bone is what’s important, and the Axiom ll-X has backbone for days! Just put that side pressure on that fish and you’ll tame that thing very quickly.

The Axiom ll-X is probably the first 5wt weight I’ve ever had that has a fighting butt and I love it, especially when fighting carp.

I’ve also been using the new LK Legacy TH 13′ 7wt paired with the BVK SD lll+. I might be the first spey’n carp anglers (laughs).

Any specific lines, leaders, tippet you like to use?

I like to use a floating line. From the fly line, I’ll do a 5’ leader of a colored mono (bright green) to a tippet ring. From there I’ll put on a 4 to 5 foot piece of 10lb fluorocarbon. My indicator usually goes right above the tippet ring so it doesn’t slide down.

Recently you fished with Jimmy Kimmel. Can you talk about that experience?

Definitely – So I mentioned earlier that I only really got into Instagram about three years ago. A few years back Jimmy Kimmel started following my account. I figured it was a spam account or something random, but I had also heard through the grapevine that he was a big time fly fisherman. I started looking at his site and sure enough I came across some hints that he fly fished!

Earlier this summer, he actually reached out to me on Instagram! He had a buddy, Chef Adam Perry Lang, that had a birthday coming up and he wanted to help him catch a carp on the fly. He asked if I’d be willing to help make that happen. I was like “Absolutely!”

We met up and I took them down to the river and within the first ten minutes his buddy Adam caught one!

Lino, Jimmy Kimmel, and Chef Perry Lang enjoying some carp fishing on the LA River.

Very cool! How did Jimmy do?

Jimmy hooked up six times, but unfortunately, he lost all six! He was doing great, and doing nothing wrong, but sometimes you have those days where fish break off before you have a chance to net or land them. He was so upset he said he wanted to come back. We haven’t had a chance to meet up again for that but as a thank you, he invited me and my family out to his lodge in Idaho to do some fishing.

I had the best trip of my life there. I’ve never caught so many trout in my life. I took one morning to go fish the Blackfoot Reservoir because I heard they had monster mirror carp there. I went out and caught my biggest carp ever on a 6wt!

 

That’s awesome! Do you and him still keep up?

We do! He’s a lot busier now, but he emailed me and asked me how the fishing was at his lodge. He still comments and likes my posts all the time. Hopefully we’ll get back on the water again soon!

Sounds and looks like you take a lot of people fishing with you. That’s great that you are able to introduce new people to your fishery and the experience of catching carp on the fly.

That’s the beauty of Instagram. I’m taking people all over the world down to the river now. It’s like a hobby of mine to get people on carp. Every weekend I’m taking someone new, sometimes people who don’t even fish because they’re fascinated by catching carp on the fly.

Kesley Gallagher with a carp caught on 12lb test. This was a record for a large carp (14lbs) on light tippet. Lino found a spot loaded with fish, gave Kesley a green eggs and ham pattern and let her go to work.
Lino helping fellow TFO Ambassador Brian Leon catch his first LA River carp on the fly.

Any tips or suggestions for people looking to try fishing for carp on the fly. Where they might be looking for carp opportunities in there area?

That’s what’s great about carp is that they aren’t exclusive to certain areas of the world. No matter where you live, you can probably find carp in a body of water near you. Take your time and remember to be patient. These fish can spook very easily so remember that patience goes a long way! Don’t be afraid to throw an indicator on when fishing bodies of water with moving water.