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Targeting West Coast Delta Stripers

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

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

Topwater anyone? Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

Why Fish For Striped Bass?

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

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

‘Tis The Season(s)

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

Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

The Perfect Temperature

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

Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

Choosing The Right Rod & Reel

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

 

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

The Right Fly Lines For The Right Occasions

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

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

TFO Power Reel. Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

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

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

What Are They Hitting?

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

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

 

Capt. Toby Uppinghouse

Edgewater Outfitters

TFO Ambassador and Advisory Staff

All About Albies – Tips & Tactics from Jake Jordan, Gary Dubiel & Andy Bates

While it’s easy to get sad about summer’s end, the transition into fall brings a special type of excitement to anglers on the East cost. The tail end of summer brings bull redfish inland to spawn and forage on baitfish, but by late September, a cool north wind blows offshore forcing baitfish back towards the ocean, while also bringing false albacore inland. This results in a head on collision of predator and prey, and the perfect scenario for the angler that gets at the right place at the right time.

TFO is fortunate enough to have several advisors and ambassadors with lots of knowledge and experience fishing for false albacore on both fly and conventional gear. This week, we decided to switch it up and get feedback from several of TFO’s finest – Jake Jordan, Gary Gubiel and Andy Bates – to give some tips, tactics, and insights for all things albie fishing.

TFO Ambassador Capt. Andy Bates with Fat Albert. Photo: Andy Bates

Overview, History & Migration

Give us a brief overview of false albacore. Have they always been a sport fish, and what is it about fall that makes that the time to fish for them?

Jake Jordan – False albacore (also known as Little Tunny, Albies, Fat Albert) are located in the Atlantic Ocean all the way from Maine to Chile, as well as the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. Although they are in the tuna family, their rough flesh makes for not so good eating, but a fantastic sporting fish.

North Carolina was one of the first places that people started fishing them as a sport fishing fly fishing in the late 1990s. Historically, albies were referred to as a baitfish. We used to catch them, cut out their bellies, and troll them for marlin. As a sport fish, they are like any other tuna or jack – they are very, very powerful. Anglers often refer to bonefish as being one of the strongest fighting fish. An equal size false albacore is much faster and much more powerful than the same weight bonefish.

In the summer months, the baitfish (anchovies, silver sides, spearing, etc.) in the estuaries will eat and get bigger in the warmer, shallower water of the Sounds. As soon as the first cold front of the year comes through, a Northern wind cools down the surface water in the Sounds, causing the baitfish to run out of the inland water towards the warmer water of the ocean. Likewise, as soon as the albacore out in the Gulf Stream feel that cool, north breeze, they immediately swim into the wind and head inshore. They’ll come towards the beach, coming right up into these giant schools of baitfish. At this point, you can find albies anywhere from 2ft to 100ft deep.

Signs of a Bait ball – Baitfish & Birds. Photo: Colorblind Media/Rob Fordyce

Baitball, Birds, and Shrimp Trawlers

TFO: Aside from being able to see them near the surface, how do you locate albies?

Jake Jordan: Two of the most important factors in locating albies are bait balls and birds. Typically when I’m starting out for the day, even before first light, I’m just looking for bird action. Really good anglers will have “Bird Radar” where you can see out as far as 20-25 miles, but even at 10 miles, you’ll see the birds diving down on the fish and you can run right up to them. This will be a sign of either redfish or Spinner sharks, or it’s going to be albacore. Earlier in September it could even be big Spanish mackerel and King mackerel.

You’ll see these giant baitballs where the water is boiling with fish going crazy and baitfish jumping out of the water. These bait balls can be the size of a big swimming pool. All you have to do is drop your bait or fly into that boil, and before you get a chance to strip or anything, your line just takes off with a fish on the end.

TFO: Let’s say you’ve located some fish busting on a bait ball. How are you positioning yourself to cast?

Jake Jordan: Albies are unique in that they swim and feed into the wind. When you’re chasing these fish, if you can get upwind in front of the schools, you can sit there and wait for them to come right to you. I try to sit the boat right to the side but in front of the path of the schools. You’ll be casting straight into where they’re going to be, your fly is coming across the school, so basically you are casting ahead and perpendicular to them.

TFO: Do you ever spook the schools when casting to them as they are migrating?

Jake Jordan: No. These fish aren’t afraid of anything. There are times when they are boat-shy. When you get 100 f.t from them, they go down and disappear, and then they’ll pop up 300 ft from you.

On the hunt, and looking for signs of albies. Photo: Colorblind Media/Rob Fordyce

TFO: I’ve heard that fishing behind shrimp boats trawling bottom can be another great way to catch albies. Can you talk about that? 

Jake Jordan: If there aren’t a lot of bait balls happening, and we aren’t seeing any birds, another way to catch albacore is fishing behind shrimp boats. Here in North Carolina, shrimp boats are operating almost 24hrs a day. Here we have flat sandy bottoms, and these shrimp boats are trolling the bottoms with these big chains holding the bottom of these large nets, just scooping up shrimp and all kinds of baitfish. About 50-60% of what they bring up to the boat is baitfish also called bycatch, the other 40-50% is shrimp. When they make their pull up to the boat, they’ll throw everything back overboard that isn’t shrimp. This will draw sharks, albacore, and millions of birds.

 You can get about a hundred feet from the back of the boat and wait for the boats to throw the bycatch overboard. You can use a 10wt in this scenario (sharks), but I like to use a Bluewater SG Medium with a Power Reel using about 500-700 grain head with 1.5-2 ft of 20lb leader with about a 5 inch white Clouser minnow. I’ll set the drag on my reel to about 6 pounds. As soon as you get a hook up, I usually put the boat in reverse to get away from the boat so the fish don’t get wrapped up in the trolling nets/cables.

The man himself. Sir Jake Jordan with another albie. Photo: Jake Jordan

Fly Rods & Reels

Jake Jordan: At the start of the season in September, and in the summer when I’m also targeting Spanish mackerel, I’ll start off with a 9’ 7wt Axiom ll-X. I’ll pair this up with a BVK SD-lll reel. Typically, you’ll want a reel with a heavy drag system, but with early season albies (4-6 pounds), you’ll be fine with the BVK-SD, and it’s a lot of fun on a 7wt. Once we start catching albies more consistently, I’ll switch over to a 9wt Axiom ll-X. I’ll fish this until late October/early November, and then I’ll step up to a 10wt Axiom ll-X. The purpose of stepping up to the 9 and 10 is relative to how the fish are growing over the season and also the size of the flies as well. I’ll pair both the 9wt and 10wt with the TFO Power III Reel.

Gary Dubiel: Im targeting albies in mid- October after the bull reds are done doing their thing inland. 9wt &10wt Axiom ll-Xs are my preferred rods. A lot of the albacore we get in coastal North Carolina are pretty big – around 16-18 pounds. The 9wt Axiom ll-X is a fabulous rod to use for albacore, but for folks that have trouble making longer casts in stronger winds, the 10wt is an excellent choice. More than anything else, you’ll want a quality reel with a great drag system, so the Power Reel III.

The Axiom ll-X & Power Reel are the perfect combo for catching and fighting albies on the fly. Photo: Colorblind Media/Rob Fordyce

Fly Lines & Leaders

Gary Dubiel: I like intermediate or intermediate tip lines – particularly a clear tip line. The reason I like that is, you’re going to do much better with direct contact to the fly. Even if the fish aren’t on the surface, if you can get the fly down to the fish a little quicker so that it get 3-6 inches down quickly. Even if you’re using a weighted fly – you’re going to do well with that intermediate line. You can also decrease your leader length to get it down quicker. For leaders, I do a 4ft piece of 20lb fluorocarbon straight to the fly.

Flies & Retrieval Patterns

Gary Dubiel: For flies, a #1 or #2 size hook that is no more than 2.5”-3” long that are fairly translucent all work well. Clouser Minnows, Surf Candies are great patterns. I like flies to have some motion, so I actually tie most of my flies with craft fur so when that flies is sinking it has a little bit of undulation to it.

Retrieves – I like to fish albacore a little bit different. When I’m striping the rod in, I don’t want to strip in really fast. Once you get in a bait ball, you want to maximize the time that the fly is in front of the fish. Just strip it enough to keep the fly line tight, and the fish are more than happy to eat it. The intermediate line lets you have more direct contact so you don’t have to do as much on the strip strike to get good hook penetration on the fish. So that intermediate line serves multiple purposes for me.

Andy Bates: I throw a lot of Clousers. I stick with mostly white, but white with tan, and white with chartreuse works too. Just depends on the clarity of the water on that day. You can catch pretty much anything in North Carolina on a white and chartreuse Clouser.

Come prepared with box of varied clousers when pursing albies on the fly. Photo: Andy Bates

Conventional Gear & Retrieval Techniques

Gary Dubiel: I use the Inshore 7’ Medium and Medium Heavy depending on what we’re throwing. Certainly for long distance casting with small, long 3” spoons whether that be mostly metal spoons, but big profile spoons about an ounce and about 3 inches long are ideal for getting really long casts to breaking fish. You can throw those and crank them fast. They can be very effective if you’re having a hard time getting on the bait balls and you’re seeing breaking fish.

If you’re on bait balls, I prefer to go to the 7’ Medium Inshore and fish soft plastics – particularly fluke style baits. Whether that be on a jig head or just a hook. Jig heads in a 1/4 -3/8 ounce aren’t going to get as far, but I find them really effective. Fishing them is very different. I use a lot of rod tip and not as fast of a reel so the bait has a tendency to dart side-to-side. You’re keeping the soft plastic in the bait longer, but giving it a very erratic speed while doing that, which seems to be very deadly effective on the fish.

Certainly 20lb braid, then 20-30lb fluorocarbon if there’s Spanish mackerel around. Definitely using 30lb when those mackerel are around.

Inshores at the ready. Photo: Andiamo Outdoor Co.

Andy Bates: A lot of people think that albies be a nuisance, and an easy fish to catch, but that’s not always the case. Its not as easy as dropping your fly or a bait in a bait ball and they’ll just crush it. Sometimes you have to get creative. When they’re feeding on really small fry, or what we call snot bait, it’s hard to match the hatch. Even if you can match the hatch, the albies almost turn into a predatory fish into a filter feeder type fish. If you’re spin rod fishing for them and you’re having trouble getting a bite, you can go to a big 5” fluke or an albie snack on a swim bait hook (weighted or unweighted) where you can make a long cast on a Medium or Medium Light rod with 10-12lb braid. After you make a long cast from a ways back, hold your tip up and rip it back as fast as you can and work the bait. You’re basically skipping the bait across the water and getting a reaction bite. I’ve found this technique very effective for when they get picky on the subsurface bite.

Fighting Albies and the Release/Launch

Gary Dubiel: When you’ve got an albie on, making sure you’re utilizing the bottom third of the rod and using the drag on your reel correctly is definitely important when playing these fish. I use a little bit stiffer drag to help slow the fish down. They’re going to go and there’s not much to do to stop them, so you let them go when they go.

Big albacore sometimes will do what’s called the death spiral, where they go straight down and spin in a circle. That can be a challenge, but a really short pump of the rod to try and pull the fish and get his head up can help prevent them from spiraling back down. You’re basically shortening the line, and shortening the line until you get him high enough in the water column to grab and boat him.

Jake Jordan: Once you catch your first fish, their tail is like a handle. Like a tuna fish, you grab them by the tail, hold them up over the boat. They’re probably going to spit out about 50 bait fish on the deck, then you get the fly and let them go. Unlike trout or other fish where you typically hold them long, albies are the opposite. When you release them, shoot them in the water like a bullet. You do this because they are so powerful and fast, they need that water going over their gills. That splash gives them a really good start. Their tail is moving when you let go of them, and they just propel themselves to get that first burst of oxygen.

Photo: Jim Shulin

If you’d like to learn and see more about albie fishing in coastal North Carolina, you might enjoy this film featuring TFO Advisor Rob “The Seahunter” Fordyce and TFO Ambassador Chris Thompson. This film was shot after the annual Cape Lookout Albacore Festival last year. Sadly, this year’s festival has been cancelled due to the pandemic, but the festival plans to resume in 2021. You can find out more about Albie Fest here.

Jake Jordan is a TFO National Advisor that has spent more than half a century guiding tarpon anglers in the Keys. During his lifetime, Jake has caught more than 2,400 billfish on the fly – thus was the perfect person to help us design our offshore rod – the Bluewater SG. Nowadays, Jake splits his time chasing tarpon in the Keys and albacores and redfish in coastal North Carolina. You can find out more about Jake here.

Gary Dubiel has been a TFO National Advisor since 2002. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business Spec Fever Guide Service. You can find out more about Gary here.

Andy Bates has been an ambassador for TFO since 2017. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business, Captain Bates Guiding Service. You can find out more about Andy here.

 

Targeting Bull Redfish with Gary Dubiel

It’s an exciting time for Captain Gary Dubiel and other east coastal and guides and anglers. As we say goodbye to July and turn the page to August, water temperatures are increasing, more baitfish are moving towards estuaries, and the summer crowds are slowly going back to their homes. Bull redfish season is here.

I was fortunate enough to catch Gary on a rare day off, as for the next 2-3 months, he’ll be on the water with clients pursing large adult redfish – or bull reds – that make their way into his fisheries. Gary breaks down the annual migration of bull reds to coastal North Carolina and how he finds and catches these fish.

Sounds and looks like the bull redfish are on the move in your area in coastal North Carolina. For those new to targeting or interested in targeting bull reds, can you talk about what it is these fish are doing? Are they spawning? What drives them in (temperature, water levels) to your area in coastal North Carolina?

The bull reds here are very migratory. They’ll be in the ocean most of the year. They’re in the process now in late July where the vast majority of them are shifting from the ocean into the estuary into the Pamlico Sound primarily for the purpose of spawning.

The spawning rituals itself which usually occur on the full and new moon phases are very brief, and the rest of the time the fish take full advantage of the food sources so they are perpetually feeding.

Every year is a little bit different and it can be hard to predict on how quickly they move in. Some years you’ll see fish in abundance by early/mid July, some years you’ll see fish a little bit later, but usually once you get into the first part of August, you’re going to see an increasing number of fish pushing into the river and that will continue into a few weeks to follow and stay peaked usually until the end of September. As the temperatures drop, the bull reds will move back out into the ocean.

Does water temperature have any effect for these migratory patterns?

There is some temperature orientation. During summer, the water temperature is obviously going to be very hot, so there’s not a lot of fluctuation, but your fall temperature, depending when your cold fronts come in, has a tendency to push the bait out, thus the volume of fish. Usually when you see the water temperature drop down into the mid 60s is when you see that migration move back out.

TFO Ambassador Brad Whitaker with his hands full. Photo by Gary Dubiel.

When the bull reds are in your area spawning/foraging, how do you look for them? Is it similar to looking for normal redfish looking for crabs in the flood tides, etc. in that there are more visual signs to look for like tailing, grass movement, etc?

No; totally different ballgame. Normal redfish and adult redfish have nothing to do with each other as far as their habits go – especially here in coastal North Carolina. Once adult redfish come into that migratory adult population, they become much more of a pelagic fish than a normal redfish that is more estuary oriented – very short distances.

There was actually a radio tracking study here years back. On average, an adult redfish swim 25 miles a day. That 25 miles doesn’t necessarily have to be a straight line, but they are perpetually in motion just like a school of tuna would be. They are much more in motion, and that motion basically continues until they locate food, and then they eat, and then they’ll move until they find more food, and so on. They are perpetually moving day and night and anytime they intersect food, they eat.

So not really much sight fishing opportunities?

Our waters are very tan and bottoms are very dark, so it would be very rare if you ever looked in the water and saw one. What we’ve been able to do here is basically develop the ability to look for those fish by looking for the food source.

Bull redfish will eat pretty much anything. They aren’t like the typical Carolina redfish that is tailing and looking for a crab. Bull reds are primarily going to be fin fish feeders, but they will also eat crab, shrimp, and anything that’s basically 18” and smaller than they are.

Because of the way the food reacts when being chased by these big fish can help you locate those fish and catch them. For example, if they find a mullet, mullet move in a straight line and they move very fast, and its usually in much shallower water – which makes for some really cool signs to look for because its very explosive – there’s a lot of splashing, a lot going on. But the issue then becomes – How do you get to these fish? They’re moving so fast you can get in front of them it doesn’t make any difference.

The one thing that is very helpful in all that is menhaden – Because when they get chased they form a big bait ball and they don’t go anywhere. Looking at big schools – literally acres of menhaden on top of the water – that bait ball is very tight. The spinning/splashing on top of the water gives you an indication that there’s fish there. You can also look for things like flicks, you can smell the oil from the fish being eaten, etc. Big redfish can feed anywhere from two feet of water to twenty feet of water which is as deep as the rivers in this area. So subsequently, they can be anywhere and everywhere. They can be very difficult to see feeding but if you see that bait ball on the surface, that bait can be your best indicator of where those fish are.

A great example of a bait ball taking place on the surface where bull redfish are likely to be hanging out for a meal. Photo by Gary Dubiel.

Let’s say you’ve located some bull reds, what set ups, both fly and conventional are using to go after these guys?

For conventional tackle – I’m using the Inshore Series. Medium-Heavy and Heavy action rods. So the 705-706 models. Mostly what we’re going to be using to catch those fish are pop-n-corks and soft plastics. The reason we use those (pop-n-corks) is that it makes noise and it draws the fish to the bait just like the fish that are constantly moving and feeding.

Very different from a juvenile redfish where they might be tight at to the bottom, bull reds can be at mid-water column, they can be on top of the water, or they can be all the way on the bottom. We want to try and pull the fish to that bait so we’ll use very large pop-n-corks and large 5-6 inch long soft plastics that catches their attention. It’s the most effective way to catch those fish when we’re fishing tackle.

I’ll match those rods with 4000-5000 series reels with 30lb braid goes on those rods nicely and the rods have the backbone it takes to fish those well.

We do throw some topwater baits. The Medium Heavy does really well there. We’ll also do some swim baits using the Heavy action Inshores. Large 6-8 inch swim baits on a jighead will occasionally produce as well.

For Fly – Axiom ll-X 10wt. You need that extra backbone compared to the popular 8wt because 1) You’ll never throw the set up and 2) You’ll never land the fish. I match it with the TFO Power Reel.

TFO Advisor Blane Chocklett getting a taste of coastal NC bull redfishing with guiding assistance from fellow TFO Advisor Gary Dubiel. Photo by Gary Dubiel.

How big do the bull reds get?

A lot of places will say a bull redfish is 36-38 inches. That’s not a big fish here. That’s a little fish. Our fish average 43-45 inches. They’re typically a pound an inch. We’ll catch fish in excess of 50 inches – So you’re looking at 50-60 lb. fish.

So in other words, you’ll have all you need on the end of a 10wt Axiom ll-X.

What about fly lines, leaders, tippet?

You’ll want an aggressive front taper floating line. I use the Scientific Anglers Titan Taper Line WF10F. For leaders, I go straight 20 lb. fluorocarbon for about 6 feet to the popping fly, then about 20-24 inches of 30lb fluoro off of that to the fly.

Flies?

You’ll want to do the same thing that you were doing with the spinning rod as you would on the fly rod – so that’s where my pop-n-fly comes in. You’re basically fishing a pop-n-cork and then 20-24 inches below that you’re fishing a large minnow style fly. Something oval that breaths well. I have my own menhaden style fly that I tie which is a slightly less weight, large oval baitfish pattern.

Capt. Gary Dubiel’s innovative Pop-N-Cork & Pop-N-Fly setups for both fly and conventional tackle. Photo by Gary Dubiel.

Any particular tips, tactics, or strategies for fighting bull reds and increasing the chances of getting the fish to the boat and not breaking off?

Don’t be shy of putting pressure on them. They’ll never surrender. You need to work the fish back to the boat (another reason why the 10wt comes in handy here). Typically, the fish will normally have a long run first, then you usually have 1-2 shorter runs, then the fish will bulldog you at the boat. Once you apply pressure to that fish’s head, keep that pressure on! A lot of my clients will yank up real hard, then drop the rod tip real fast, then if the fish is even able to drop his head and turn away from you, he’ll take right off again.

The way these fish fight, they want to get their head down and away from you. So a much steadier, constant pressure on that fish will beat that fish quicker. On a 10wt, you’re looking at 7-9 minute fight time on average.

Any other tips/suggestions you’d like to leave with our readers?

One thing I’d like to mention. We have a lot of folks that come from other places to fish here for bull reds that make the biggest mistake when fishing for these fish. Even if they’re in deeper water, they are extremely motor shy! So outboard motors can be horribly detrimental to catching those fish.

If you see those big schools of bait, approach those schools of fish with stealth. Stuff like coming downwind, using the trolling motor, using the trolling motor at lower speeds if you can get away with it makes a huge difference. Also, giving yourself a few hundred yards to start, then working in on those fish as low noise rather than rushing on top. If you’re treating it like albacore fishing where you see those bait balls and you rush in there with the boat, they’ll go to another zip code.

The man himself. TFO National Advisor Capt. Gary Dubiel taking in the view before heading out for a day on the water. Photo by Colorblind Media.

Gary Dubiel has been a TFO National Advisor since 2002. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business Spec Fever Guide Service. You can find out more about Gary here.

Summertime Bass Tactics On The Fly with Grant Braudrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knots?

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

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

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

What about flies/poppers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plotting A New Course – A Film with Flip Pallot

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

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

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

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

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

You can find out more about Flip here:

http://www.flippallot.com

https://www.facebook.com/flippallot

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

 

 

More Down Under Than Down Under – A Trip Of A Lifetime by Jason Randall

About as low as you can go short of Antarctica, Cape Horn, Chile overlooks the bottom of the world. Yes, even further south than Australia and Tasmania. I never realized just how far it was until we finished the fourth plane ride and nearly twenty-eight hours of travel. The planes grew smaller with each successive flight and landed at smaller, more remote and less populated airports. In my book, that’s a good way to know you’re going someplace special. The final stop was little more than an asphalt airstrip.

Some clues that that we weren’t in Kansas anymore greeted us upon arrival; the obvious language difference, a few cultural changes and the fact that southerly winds brought cold air which blasted us as we deplaned. Other dissimilarities came as welcome surprises over the coming days as we ventured into a totally unique environment. One delightful discovery; the night sky looked different. A lot different. You could see the Southern Cross.

Our group of nine intrepid travelers included Jo, my wife, proficient angler and our groups photographer, our son, Evan, and good friends, Dan Pesavento, Stan Diment, Dick and Danny Gebhart, Dean Williams and Sara Lyle, all looking forward to a week at the end of the world and the opportunity to helicopter into some of the most remote rivers imaginable to fish for giant brook trout, sea run and resident brown trout. We’d been excited for this trip for the two years we’d been planning it.

Rafael Gonzales, the manager of Lakutaia Lodge, and two guides, both named Felipe, met us in Punta Arenas and flew the final leg to Navarrino Island and welcomed us to the luxurious lodge. We gathered together for evening cocktails to enjoy Sebastian tending bar, serving Pisco Sours, the local favorite drink that to me, seemed one part pina colada, one part whiskey sour and one part baseball bat that would sneak up and smack you in the head after the third one.

The following morning, the helicopter rose from a self inflicted whirlwind of churning leaves and dust that would remove the hats of those who watched and awaited their turn in the air taxi. It touched down on the shores of a different river each day and deposited groups of three anglers and a guide who scuttled beneath the turning blades and then waved as the pilot lifted off to fly back to the lodge in order to ferry the next group to their river.

By the second day, we’d all taken a deep, relaxing breath- more of a sigh actually, and settled into the lifestyle of gourmet food, fine drink, evening conversations and a new place to fish each day. It’s a joy to watch each person unwind the knots that daily life so often binds around us and settle into their own harmony and rhythm. For some, it meant a half hour nap after lunch by the stream. For others, just a quiet midmorning respite at the waters edge just to take in the moment. Danny and Evan, being the younger of our group, were also the most hard core anglers. While many of the rest of us were leaning or napping against the tree, these two were back on the water catching fish.

Streamers produced in the early morning hours. The six weight Axiom ll-X excelled at casting small streamers to bank-side lies. Charlie Craven’s Double Gonna elicited some voracious strikes. Evan switched to a Mr. Hankey, a simple mouse pattern in the late afternoons on his five weight Axiom ll with exciting success. One morning, Felipe Ignacio Kovacic tried his hand an Euronymphing with TFO’s soon-to-be-released nymphing rod- the Stealth. Fortunately, I had a prototype with me and we had a blast together. Each night, Sebastian met us in the wader room after the helicopter ride back to the lodge with Pisco Sours and a full tray of appetizers.

I don’t remember who caught the largest fish; I know it wasn’t me. Maybe its was Stan, or possibly Dean. Sara caught more fish than she ever had before. It was special to see Dick and his son Danny fish together. My favorite memory with Dan was huddled behind a sparse clump of bushes waiting out a snow squall. Evan and Jo caught the largest brook trouts of their lives.

Of course, the week ended too soon as we gathered for a festive barbecue on the final night, complete with flayed lamb over a wood fire and an assortment of tasty local appetizers. And of course, Sebastian manning the bar. We celebrated new friends and old friends joined by our common passion.

If you ever get the chance to go to Lakutaia Lodge in the southern most part of Chile- don’t miss it. You’ll make memories of a lifetime, see a remote and beautiful part of the world, and a lot of Patagonia waders and TFO rods and reels- the workhorses of the lodge. Have fun, but of course, beware of that third Pisco Sour.

 

Blog post written by TFO National Advisor Jason Randall and photos provided by Jo Randall.

 

Talking Striper Fishing with Blane Chocklett

When one fishing season ends, another one begins for TFO Advisor Blane Chocklett. After a long and successful fall and winter guiding season of chasing large musky in the rivers of Virginia, the warmer days of Spring get Blane prepared to target trout, smallmouth, and striped bass.

We see a lot of material on trout and smallmouth, so we thought it would be fun to switch it up and talk with Blane about striped bass fishing as these fish can get massive and are a blast on the fly.

 

What kinds of signs or patterns lead you to start focusing in more on striped bass fishing in your area? 

When spring arrives in my area it signals migrations and reproduction in many animals and fish. As water temps warm many fish begin their annual spawning migrations. Shad move into our river systems and not too far behind are the predatory species like striped bass. A combination of water levels on the rise with rising water temps in combination with ambient light, all play a part in these annual migrations.

What types of TFO rods (series/weight) do you like to use to go after striped bass? What do you like about these rods that cater to this type of fishing?

I like the Mangrove series when using larger flies and heavy sinking lines when targeting stripers. The rod action in the mangrove helps smooth out the shock and kick over of the heavy flies and line. When using the intermediate and floating lines for this time of year I like the Axiom ll-X as it is fast and smooth and carries the flies to the target effortlessly.

What is the target forage for striped bass in your fishery/area and how do you mimic that? Does forage type change over seasons?

In our waters the forage for striper can range from river Herring to alewives and threadfin shad. All can very in sizes and is important to note as the fish can key in on certain sizes based on what’s available to them. I tie many variations of my Game Changer fly to mimic the sizes and species for this very reason.

 

What line/leader/tippet set up does you like to fish said flies on? Specific knots?

When the fish are in pockets and heavy current areas I prefer the Scientific Anglers “ Frequency Sink Tip” as it has a type 5 10 foot sinking tip with a tapered floating line for the angler to be able to mend the line in the fast water while the fly and sinking head is dropping in the zone. This allows the angler to manipulate the fly in eddies while maintaining control of the floating line in the faster current.

A second line I use is the SA Sonar Sink INT/SINK3/Sink5 for faster deeper runs. This line keeps direct contact with the fly as the line sinks due to its triple density design.

The third set up I like is the SA Sonar Sink 30 Clear Intermediate line. This line fishes well in slower water when the fly needs to hover or stay in an area longer without sinking too fast and getting hung up.

 

Any opportunities for top water?

We get good top water opportunities during low light early morning and evening and even after dark. For this set up I like the Axiom ll-X 8-9wt paired with a SA Amplitude Tropical Titan as it turns over bigger more wind resistant bugs well like big poppers and sliders.

Do striped bass have a certain type of behavior or holding pattern for spring? In other words, are they moving and covering a lot of water at this time, or are they typically a little bit more lazy and stick to one area? What types of water should an angler focus on for targeting this species?

This time of year stripers are on the move so keeping up with locals and being on the water is key. Many of the fish will run to certain areas to spawn and feed and finding these areas is key to success. Look for natural obstructions like water falls, big rapids or dams, these are areas where they will start to bottle neck and back up creating more opportunities.

 

How does striper fishing in your area change over the course of a season?

Striper season is very fluid as they constantly change based on food availability and water temps and ambient light.

 

For the angler that doesn’t have a boat, do you have any tips for wade anglers that would like to take their chances at catching a striped bass?

For those that don’t have boats wanting to target striper, look for tail outs of rapids and pockets. Areas were the striper has to concentrate before moving up the river. For lake anglers look for backs of coves, points and flats adjacent to river channels.

 

Blane Chocklett is an advisor at Temple Fork Outfitters, proclaimed fly fisherman, guide, and innovative fly tyer. You can find out more about Blane here.

Backwater Basics to Catching Juvenile Tarpon On The Fly with TFO Ambassador Logan Totten

With Spring in full affect down in Southwest Florida, the temperatures are warming up, and the rain is right around the corner. This means a few things, the most important to most fly fisherman, is that juvenile and baby tarpon season is upon us. Being eager to eat flies, pull hard, fight mean and always so acrobatic – these little guys are dream fish for many anglers.

Tarpon are often seen rolling when they come up for air, which can make them fun to fish for, and it’s also a great way to locate them. Early morning in the spring in summer is of the best times to locate these rolling fish. Finding these little guys can be difficult, so here are a few tips I have picked up to be more affective while targeting small tarpon on the fly rod.

 

Location & Depth Changes

Finding the right fish for fly fishing can mean the difference in actually catching fish or just casting all morning at rolling fish. Tarpon generally like staying in deeper holes or canals where they can have safety in the depth. However, when they are eating, they will push into shallow water, edges and mangrove shorelines chasing small baitfish and minnows. This is where you will have a much higher success rate in getting one to eat your fly. Which brings us to the next tip..

Streamer Patterns, Colors, & Size

Smaller size streamer “baitfish & minnow” patterns is a must in my book. Flies like the EP micro minnow, Schminnow and Laserminnow are a few that have been proven to produce in many conditions. The smaller the better sometimes – especially when they’re keyed in on the tiny fry bait.

For colors to use, I go by the old rule of thumb — dark water, dark colors like blacks and purples; light water, light colors like whites chartreuse and natural colors. This can also be applied to the weather conditions. During the mornings/evenings and also low light days when its cloudy darker colors, you can throw a better silhouette and brighter sunny days bright colors can be less intrusive.

Gear Setup

Having the right gear is important so you can have an easy carefree day on the water. I generally like to use smaller rods that will still allow you to cast in the wind or punch larger patterns like small gurglers. The Axiom ll or Axiom II-X in 5-6 weight has been great for this job and was built for these salt conditions. Fishing in tight conditions like mangrove tunnels crazy stuff happens so its nice having a rod that is backed by its company with an unbeatable warranty.

For the reel, I use an older BVK reel, but the BVK SD reel would be a great affordable choice. Sometimes to get way back where the little guys live kayaking or wading can be your best access which often leads to reels getting submerged or wet. This makes the BVK SD ideal with its light weight frame and sealed drag.

I typically use a weight forward floating fly line, and my preferred leader setups are 16-20 lb tapered leader for the babies. For the bigger juveniles, I typically run a 16-20 lb tapered leader with a 12” 25-30 lb section.

 

Retrieval & Strip Patterns

Last but not least, for a productive day of baby tarpon fishing, getting your strip cadence down is imperative. Juvenile tarpon are aggressive fast fish and 90% of the time I like a short consistent fast strip. Even if you feel a bite, just keep stripping. They will often miss or short strike the fly so it’s crucial not to rip the bait away from the fish. There has been many times where I have had a single fish take multiple swings at a fly in the same retrieve and finally hooked him on his 4th or 5th try.

Juvenile Tarpon are an awesome fish to target on light fly rods for anybody from beginner to expert and applying a few simple principles can make your time on the water much more productive. One of my main tips for anybody is to keep it simple and have fun!

 

Words and photos provided by Logan Totten. Logan is a TFO Ambassador based out of Englewood, Florida. He also works at TFO dealer/fly shop West Wall Outfitters in Port Charlotte, and runs a guiding service on the side called Backcountry Paddle Adventures. For further questions, you can reach out to Logan at backcountrypaddleadventures@yahoo.com.