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A Thousand and One Tails

White coral sand, warmed by the tropical water I was casting into, engulfed my toes with each step.  The water was calm and clear. My fly landed with a soft “Ploop” and settled to the bottom ahead of a shadow.  A few quick strips and I felt the tug.  I lifted the rod and felt the energy that usually means bonefish.  After a short fight, my prize was in the net.  Not just any fish, this bonefish was special; it was the thousandth one I’d caught since reporting for duty in the Indian Ocean.  A few minutes later I added one more to the tally before I left the water.

Photo: Capt. Joel Stewart

I’d prepared for my assignment on this remote and isolated island unlike most.  I packed a full array of fly rods, reels, lines, and my tying kit.  The only way to this rock is to have a job.  Tourism is forbidden.  But having a job doesn’t mean one can’t fish during down time.  And fish I have done.  Dozens of species have graced the end of my line, but bonefish have been front and center.

Photo: Capt. Joel Stewart

It took a couple months to orient and learn the habits of these bonefish in various environments.  Eighty percent of the lagoon, including the best flats, is closed to fishing. However, over half of the ocean side beaches are open for fishing.  This gave me two completely different environments to chase bones in, same as with most atolls.  Inside there are expansive flats with coral rubble and white sand.  Tailing bones can be found on calm low tide mornings.  These bones are skittish and picky.  Long casts with small flies are the norm.  Outside are the surf fish.  These bones come in over the reef on the flood tide and stay until the surf pounds the sand.  They are aggressive fish that chase down and hammer flies.  The constant water movement forces them to grab prey before its gone with the current.

I use an Axiom II-X 9ft 8wt paired with an NTR reel as my primary rod and an Axiom II 9ft 8wt with a BVK SD III+ as my back up rig.  Before my new favorite reel, the NTR, came out, I used a Power Reel.  I have fished with both 6 and 7 weights, but prefer an 8 weight to quickly play the fish.  I am a fan of Flip Pallot’s salt water leader formula: 6-8 feet of butt that matches the stiffness of the fly line connected by a nail knot with a two foot tippet.  This system turns over weighted flies beautifully.

For the 8wt, I use a butt of 30# fluorocarbon with a 15-20# tippet.  I use the heavy tippet for two reasons.  First – to play the fish quickly so they release strong.  Second – coral heads and rocks abound and fish will wrap you on them. The heavier tippet helps prevent break offs when they do.

Photo: Capt. Joel Stewart

I am a big believer in impressionistic flies rather than detailed replicas.  Eighty percent of the bonefish I caught were on a Gotcha derivative I call a Jalopy.  Slow crawled, it can be a shrimp or crab, and fast stripped, a fleeing bait fish.  I use 60 degree jig hooks almost exclusively as they present well and most fish are hooked in the upper lip.  I rarely use anything bigger than a size 4, most fish were caught on a size 6.  I use very short strips.  If a fish is hot on the fly but not eating, I will strip about a foot to excite a strike, but normally about 3-4 inches.  I adjust the speed of the strips and watch the fish reactions.  Too fast will spook them.  Too slow and they’ll ignore it.

Some things I learned wading the flats for 1000 bonefish:

  • Read Dick Brown’s book “Fly Fishing for Bonefish”
  • Get good glasses, eye fatigue is no fun.
  • Look for movement and parts of fish.
  • Don’t move too fast, but move.
  • Don’t wade too deep, it’s hard to catch fish you can’t see.
  • Sun helps but you can find fish on cloudy or even rainy days.
  • Always be ready to cast and cast to everything you think is a fish.
  • Look for fish at the water’s edge and in the trough.
  • Cast ahead of spooked fish, sometimes they stop and eat.
  • After three refusals change flies.  Size or color but change until you find what they want.
  • For pictures use a net, have a good action camera, and know how you’ll use it before you get on the water. Most shots here are self-shot.
  • To catch big bonefish you have to ignore small bonefish. Can’t hook a big one with a little one on the hook.
  • Don’t trout set!
  • Let them run and let the reel do its job. Play the fish quickly but play them enough.
  • Every fish is fun.  10 inch bones are dynamite and 29 inch bones are soul snatchers.

I did not set out to keep records and count every fish. The rules for fishing here require a reporting of daily catch – so I had to.  Fishing is not about numbers, but as I grew close to a grand for bonefish, I realized the significance.  At about 850, I focused on that goal.

Much like when I was in Iraq, fishing is my outlet that keeps me on an even keel.  I make the time to go when I can align with favorable tides.  Before work, after work, and even lunch time sessions all got me on the water.  I didn’t catch bones, or any other fish on every outing, though drawing a blank is rare.  Two times I won’t get out and fish are thunderstorms and winds over 25mph.  Sure you can fish in both, but I’m not looking to die of a lightning strike and fishing is supposed to be fun and casting in high winds is anything but.

Photo: Capt. Joel Stewart

Blog written and photos provided by Ambassador Capt. Joel Stewart (@captjstewart)

Winter Streamer Tactics for Big Browns

Winter fishing can test your patience. Between the frozen guides and numb fingers, it leaves much to be desired. The rewards however, far outweigh the discomfort and the monotonous casting that comes with the winter season. During this time of the year, I find it easier to convince a big lazy brown trout into eating a bigger meal rather than a smaller one. Their metabolism slows down so they don’t have to eat as often. So, offering them the cheeseburger instead of the fries can land you the biggest trout in your local water system. Here, I will share with you what streamer patterns work for me, and the set-ups I use to catch small stream big brown trout.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Streamer Patterns

During the spawn, brown trout use up a lot of energy trying to stay away from predators and angling pressure, all while trying to do their thing at the same time. Now, during the post spawn, they are looking for a bigger meal to replace all that spent energy. For the angler, this creates a great opportunity to throw some big, meaty streamers.

My home waters are small creeks with a healthy population of sculpins, darters, and other bait fish. Thus, sculpin patterns tend to over populate my streamer box. I like to keep it simple by carrying patterns in a mixture of olive, black, tan, and crayfish orange. The trout do not like too much flash on the waters I fish so I stick to natural colored patterns. Experiment with different colors and find out what works best on your home waters.

Patterns that I always have in my trout box include:

  • Strolis’s Headbanger Sculpin: I have caught a lot of big brown on this pattern. This pattern excels in the upstream approach because it gets down in the zone quickly before the current could sweep it away.
  • Bunny Sculpin: another pattern that is great at getting down quick. Just watch your rod tip!
  • Any Kelly Galloup Pattern: His patterns consistently catch big fish worldwide and will continue for many years to come.

Game Changers: I just recently fell in love with Chocklett’s Game Changer platform. I personally favor the feather version. It breaths in the water with every strip and pause, almost as if it is alive. I have witnessed so many big fish come up to a FGC and eat it with so much confidence as if it was the real thing. This makes me have a tremendous amount of faith in them.

Streamer Tactics

  • One big benefit of the winter season is not having to get up super early to get out on the water at a decent time. In the winter, you aim to be there in the afternoon when the sun has come up and has had a chance to warm up the water a degree or two. Even a small bump in water temperature can cause a feeding frenzy. It is a very short window so making sure that you are there at the right time will totally up your chances of catching the trophy sized trout.
  • Low and Slow: Most of the time a dead-drifting approach with subtle strips and twitches is the name of the game especially on very cold days. Nothing is more enticing to a big hungry brown than a helpless sculpin or stonecat caught in the current screaming EAT ME! Normally I approach upstream: I use this approach because where I fish its usually crystal clear and a downstream approach wouldn’t do anything other than spook fish. With an upstream approach I use a streamer with heavy dumb-bell eyes or a sculpin helmet so that it can get down quickly. By fishing upstream you can effectively pick apart the water while being stealthy.
  • The Swing: When the water is slightly up and off color and stealth is less important, swinging is my go-to presentation. Working downstream and making longer casts while swinging a streamer pattern is an effective way to cover a lot of water while looking for players. Cast down and across, let it swing, and then add subtle strips every couple of seconds. Super easy presentation, but just a warning: when a brown does eat your streamer on a swing it is going to be violent. Be ready!
Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Line and Leader Setup

When it comes to line for winter time streamer fishing, a sinking line is a must. A good sinking line will get you down where the fish are going to be. Personally, I prefer a longer sinking head fly line line such as Cortland’s Compact Type 3 Sinking Line. It has a 28 foot sinking head with an intermediate running line. A type 3 sinking line will sink at a rate of 2.5 to 4 IPS, so it will get your streamer down, but not so fast to where your line is hanging up every cast. My leader setup is super simple. All you need is a 3.5 to 4 foot section of 12 to 15lb fluorocarbon fishing line. Why so short? You’re going to have a better connection between your line and the streamer. You also don’t have to rely on a tapered leader to turn over the streamer because the line and the weight of the streamer will do all of the work for you.

Rod and Reel Setup

My go-to reel for winter time fishing is the BVK SD III. With its sealed drag system, it completely does away with having to deal with a locked up reel that got a little wet and froze solid.

I use two different rods depending on the type of streamers that I plan to fish that day. If I am fishing bigger, heavier streamers, I use the Axiom Il-X in an 8 weight. The A2X is my muscle rod and it can handle heavier grained line like it is nothing. If I am fishing small streamers, on smaller more enclosed streams, I will use the LK Legacy in a 7 weight. I love the responsiveness of this rod and the casting is such a breeze. It has quickly become my go-to rod for just about anything.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Conclusion

I will be the first to admit that winter fishing is not for everyone. If I am being honest, the freezing winter temps can be miserable. Most of the time you will even question your own sanity, I know I have! But, when that pivotal moment happens, I can promise you that all that suffering you went through will be worth it. Eventually, you will be holding a brown trout that most people can only dream of. With the right gear, sheer determination, and perseverance, this is completely possible. Your hands instantly become warm when you’re holding the fish of a lifetime.

Blog writer and TFO Ambassador Ryan Rachiele with a beautiful winter brown trout.

TFO Holiday Gift Guide – 2021 Edition

It’s hard to believe we’re already upon the holiday season, but here we are again! If you’re having trouble finding the right gift for the angler in your life, we’ve put together a list of popular choices that will make their holidays (and year) extra special.

**Also, from November 24 – December 1, anyone that places an order at tforods.com will automatically be entered to win a signed copy of TFO Advisor Blane Chocklett’s new Game Changer Book, as well as a certificate for a free TFO rod of your choice! Good luck and Happy Holidays!

1) Professional Spinning & Casting Series – For The Everyday Angler

For the angler that loves to do a little bit of everything, the Professional Series of spinning and casting rods was designed for the versatile angler of any skill level and is perfectly suited for a wide variety of species and environments.

Highly durable, standard modulus, and moderate fast action blanks with powerful butt sections, come together to create one of the best values ($99.95) of any rod on the market. Find yours today here.

2) Mangrove Coast – For The Saltwater Angler

Whether as a gift for someone new to saltwater fly fishing, or for the angler or guide that has spent many hours on the flats or the bow of a skiff, the new Mangrove Coast will definitely make their day (and year). Designed by TFO Advisor and fly fishing legend, Flip Pallot, the Mangrove Coast series utilizes a medium fast action blank to give anglers the ability to step up to the bow and quickly load and unload an accurate presentation to a tailing fish. Starting at $289.95, these rods are offered in a 6 through 12-weight and are packaged in a labeled rod sock and rod tube. Find out more here.3) Blue Ribbon Series – For The Freshwater Angler 

From small mountain brook trout streams to cold/warm water rivers and lakes for bass and carp, the Blue Ribbon is an excellent tool for the freshwater fly angler that loves to do it all. The Blue Ribbon series is designed to load easily with minimal back cast allowing the angler to make quick accurate casts with very little effort. Whether its casting indicators, or multi-fly rigs from a drift boat, or bait fish patterns to the bank all day the Blue Ribbon series is engineered to deliver cast after cast with ease. Starting at just $239.95, these rods are available in a 2wt through 7wt and come with a labeled rod sock and TFO rod tube. Find your rod today here.

4) BVK SD Reel – Make It A Combo

Our most popular BVK SD reel will be a great pairing to any fly rod. From rainbow trout and bass all the way to bonefish and baby tarpon, this reel features fully-sealed drag system with super easy LH/RH retrieve changes and minimal maintenance. All four models of the BVK SD come packaged in a black nylon reel pouch and retail starting at just $209.95. Get yours today here.

5) Little Red Knot Book By Harry Nilsson – The Perfect Stocking Stuffer For Any Angler

This is a comprehensive and essential reference guide for all fishermen (72 pages, over 50 knots). Small enough to fit in the sling pack, boat bag, or even for the coffee table – any angler will appreciate this book. Grab one today for just $6.95 here.

 

 

Tools of the Trade: TFO Blue Ribbon Series

Last year, TFO introduced three new fly rods, one of which was the Blue Ribbon series. While the series name might seem like this tool is intended for cool water trout streams, its components and moderate fast action have proven to be able an excellent choice for targeting warmwater species as well.

The Blue Ribbon’s precision and ease of casting make this rod a joy to cast and even more fun when fighting a fish. The 11-rod series has something for every freshwater angler.

TFO Fly Fishing Category Manager and designer of the Blue Ribbon series, Nick Conklin, shares a little bit more about this new series.

Briefly describe the Blue Ribbon series. What is it and who is it for? 

The Blue Ribbon was designed for the freshwater angler who needs to effectively cover water with repeated casts over the course of the day.  Think easy loading, powerful and accurate.

It is an 11-rod series from a 7’6” 2-weight to a 9-foot, 7-weight. We also offer 10-foot models in a three, four and five-weights.

In these situations, the successful angler is the one who has their fly in the water the most and can land that fly accurately and repeatedly.

It is all about efficient use of energy and casting time. We utilized some special components and finish out for the intermediate angler, who fishes for trout and warmwater species. The series spans everything from small dries and nymphs, up to multi fly rigs, (hopper-droppers) and larger articulated streamers.

Photo: Nick Conklin
Photo: Tom Wetherington
Photo: Braden Miller
Photo: Nick Conklin
Photo: Nick Conklin

How did the Blue Ribbon series come about? Is this series based off a pre-existing series? If so, what changes did you want to imply or what did you like about previous series that was carried over? 

While not based off anything in the freshwater line-up, we felt the need to offer a well thought-out freshwater/warmwater specific fly rod. Again, a rod with a moderate fast action, but also plenty of power in the butt section to carry longer lines and deliver accurate presentations. We did bring over the TFO Line weight ID system, and our built in hook keepers, (from some saltwater series). We also offer some of the 10-foot models, in a full wells grip for a more comfortable feel.

Photo: Todd Kaplan
Photo: Todd Kaplan
Photo: Todd Kaplan

Any key ambassadors or TFO staffers that helped with the prototype phases?

During the design and development phase, we utilized our vast and experienced network of guides and outfitters. We have some great, hardworking guides that spend hundreds of hours on the water and really put rods to the test. This was exactly where we envisioned the Blue Ribbon series to fit. A well-built, smooth casting tool meant to be fished hard by anglers. A functional tool that anglers of varied casting preferences and experience can pick up, quickly load, and accurately unload to a fish.

Talk about the 10’ options. Aside from having extra length for nymphing, what makes the 10’ option more advantageous compared to a 9’ model? 

The ten foot models have always been critical across the TFO line-up and it was important that we offered some “longer levers,” to help aid in line management and fly placement. The longer level makes the process of picking up and repositioning lines much more efficient.

Not only are these tools great for those tightline or high-stick nymphing, but they also enable easier and more efficient casting while in a drift boat, kayak, or while wading deeply. One of the great insights that came out of the development phase was learning about all the drift boat guides that have found many advantages for anglers with the longer rod. It’s all about efficiency and aiding in providing a great fishing experience.

Photo: Oliver Sutro
Photo: Oliver Sutro
Photo: Tom Wetherington

Do you see the Blue Ribbon lineup expanding someday? 

There is always an opportunity to expand any fly rod series. It comes down to the needs of the anglers. We take extreme care in selecting the rods we introduce in a series, but, as techniques evolve and anglers find new and fun ways and places to fish, there will be opportunities to improve models and add to a rod family.

Photo: Nick Conklin

Check out the all new Blue Ribbon series at your local TFO dealer today! Find out more about the Blue Ribbon series here.

When The Jacarandas Bloom – Chasing Corbina On the Fly

“Don’t get too deep. No more than ankle deep at most,” I remember Nick Curcione telling me on a beach in Coronado years ago. It didn’t make sense until the first one I saw bolted between my legs from behind me in three inches of water. “I told you,” came his response. That began an obsession and a quest that has pulled me from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara almost every summer since. All for a shot at the “ghost of the coast.”

There are numerous axioms associated with the sport of fly fishing, and fishing in general. If you fish the surf in Southern California, you’ll hear a few specific to one of the most difficult and rewarding species you can chase on fly: the California corbina. This member of the croaker family, known throughout SoCal as a “bean,” ranks along with permit and white marlin in its finicky and frustrating nature. And like those other species, taking one is a prize well earned and worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears shed in its pursuit.

Chasing corbina is a summertime pursuit, however, depending on conditions, they can be taken from early spring into late fall, from the northern reaches of the Baja Peninsula up to Santa Barbara. Traditionally, those hardcore enthusiasts that chase them say that when the jacaranda trees bloom, its time to chase beans, but knowing what time of year they are supposed to show up barely answers the question of “when.”

With any shallow water or surf species, tide and time of day are critical. Beans ride the surf in and out, chasing sand crabs, clams, worms and small baitfish, and in doing so, depend on the tide to make much of their diet accessible. At low tides, crab, clam and even worm beds are often high and dry, or in such skinny water that they are inaccessible to most fish. Like bonefish, permit, and even redfish, as the tide begins to rise, flooding the beach, beans push up farther up the beaches in pursuit of prey. In general, big tides allow greater opportunity, but experience will teach you when exactly in the tidal swing your favorite beach fishes best. In some cases, beans prefer the last of the falling and first of the rising tide. On other beaches they will feed on all but the lowest tides, but the safe bet is always begin your search on the incoming, or rising, tide during the summer months.

Keep in mind that tides around the full moon are larger than those on the new moon. Just as important to the state of the tide is the time of day the lows and highs occur. Remember, the highest form of chasing beans is sight fishing, so ideally, the best tides to fish are early in the day, but with enough sunlight to allow fair visibility. Sure, you can catch them blind casting, and arguably, most beans are taken while doing so, but for those that prefer to test their skill and patience, sight fishing for corbina is the acme of achievements. It’s not just their permit-like persnickety nature. They will ignore a well-presented fly with the same willful nonchalance of a teenager at a family event, only to nearly beach itself to grab a fly about to be picked up and re-cast.

Their behavior is bad enough, but when you add onto that the dynamic nature of their environment, sometimes the quest almost feels futile. They ride the incoming surf to push farther up the beach in pursuit of food and dart back to deeper water the instant the water ebbs. But the surf is never a simple ebb and flow. Waves compound themselves, break at odd angles and roll in heavily on one set and dribble in the next. The beaches along the Pacific coast are often deep very close to shore, and those troughs make perfect staging grounds for beans waiting to charge the beach. As the waves roll in, they dart up the beach, digging, rooting and often tailing if the water is deep enough, and, as the surf begins its withdrawal, in the blink of an eye they are gone.

Their nickname “ghost of the coast” is well deserved. Just as you line up the perfect shot, the light shifts, a wave breaks, and they disappear, sometimes to reappear ten feet farther down the beach, or sometimes they disappear altogether. Your window of opportunity can be timed in seconds that can be counted on one hand with fingers left to spare.

Add to this frustration that these fish squeeze into the shallowest of conditions. Another corbina axiom is if your feet are wet, you’re too deep. I’ve had beans square in my sights twenty feet in front of me, as a six-inch wave rolls through only to see the wake of a skittish fish darting back to deeper water from three feet behind me. Understandably, good light is critical to seeing these fish in the surf. Since most of our beaches here in SoCal face west, or mostly west, morning light works best to keep the sun over your shoulder rather than glaring in your face. The only issue with that is the May Gray and June Gloom—a heavy inversion layer of fog and mist that blots out the sun along the coast practically daily, often until late July. Under these conditions, the best you can hope for is spotting “signs” of a bean’s presence: wakes, tailing fish, or the bronze backs protruding from the surf as they push shallower, or more likely, head for deeper water.

Photo: Scott Leon

As if that all isn’t disheartening enough, you have to remember that SoCal beaches are hardly isolated or remote. Indeed, some of the best corbina fishing lies in the very heart of Los Angeles. Try making a back cast with scores of tourists trying to take photos of the sunrise, kids darting into the surf, joggers shuffling past, and dodging surfers like that digital frog in that old video game, all while jockeying for position among other anglers. None of these bystanders seem aware of your backcast, meaning that for safety’s sake you always have to watch behind you while trying to keep an eye on a wary, wiley target in front of you.

Maddening.

And then you hook one…

Photo: Scott Leon

If I haven’t yet dissuaded you from chasing beans, the the gear you’ll need is simple and straightforward. I prefer a stout rod capable of delivering quick casts at any range, though most casts will be shorter than 50 feet. My go-to is the Axiom II-X in a 5-weight. Many anglers prefer a 6 or even a 7-weight rod, but I think the A2-X is plenty beefy in the 5. The LK Legacy is also a great choice as is the new Mangrove Coast. A reel with a sealed drag is critical because of the sand and surf, making the BVK SD an ideal choice for beans.

Photo: Scott Leon

As for lines, I prefer a sinking line over an intermediate line because I feel the intermediate gets washed around too much by the surf, pulling the fly along with it. The sinking line keeps the fly in the zone within the washing machine on the beach. Shooting heads were the standard for years by those who pioneered the fishery, like fellow TFO Advisory staffer Nick Curcione, who began chasing these fish decades ago, but the newer integrated sinking lines are easier to handle in my opinion. There are even surf lines produced by several manufacturers, designed by SoCal surf fishermen for this specific application. I prefer a triple density line, however, but the choice is very much one of comfort and personal preference. A stripping basket, like the Linekurv, will help you keep your line, and your sanity, under control as you stalk the beaches and is an essential piece of equipment for surf fishing.

Leaders are even simpler. I used 8 to 10 feet of 8-pound mono or fluorocarbon. You could use 10 or even 12-pound test, but I feel lighter is better and I’m comfortable with 8. These fish are already spooky enough. Just remember to check your leader often. The surf and sand can wreck the material, quickly making a once clear material an opaque white cord. Fly choice is controversial and depends on who you ask—if they are even willing to tell you. Surf Merkins and sand crab patterns in bright pink or grey work best. You want them to be weighted, but not overly so, because the “plop” will undoubtedly spook beans. You need some weight, however, to keep the fly anchored to the bottom during your retrieve. Most tiers include a hint of orange along the bottom or back of the fly, mimicking an egg sack. Sizes should not be larger than a 4 but don’t need to go smaller than a 6, either. Stout hooks are necessary because beans pull. Hard. Sharpen your hooks often, too. Dragging through the sand will dull even the sharpest hook in minutes, and you’ll need a solid strip-strike and a sharp hook to penetrate the rubbery lips of a bean.

Top and bottom view of a sand flea. // Photo: Scott Leon

Over the past few seasons, I’ve seen more and more fly anglers hitting the beaches here in SoCal in search of the elusive bean. It’s a challenging pursuit well worth exploring, and a prey worthy of any angler, no matter how skilled they think they are. Beans will humble you. The challenge is not for everyone, but the great thing about them is they are readily accessible to everyone. A little grit and determination, a good rod, and a heap of patience is all that’s required.

Blog written and photos provided by TFO Ambassador Scott Leon.

Blog author Scott Leon with a corbina caught on his 5wt Axiom ll-X // Photo: Scott Leon

Cicada Mania 2021 – Fishing The Brood X Hatch

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

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

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

Photo: Tom Wetherington

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

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

Photo: Tom Wetherington

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

Photo: Tom Wetherington

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

Photo: Tom Wetherington

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

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

Photo: Tom Wetherington

Advice & Takeaways

Visual Indicators

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

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

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

Movement

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

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

Photo: Tom Wetherington

Keep Your Eyes & Ears Open.

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

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

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

Photo: Tom Wetherington

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

Tools of the Trade: TFO Reel Rundown

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

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

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

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

NXT Black Label Reel // Photo: Oliver Sutro

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

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

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

 

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

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.