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Blane Chocklett Talks New TFO LK Legacy Rods

Next Monday marks the release of four new rods to the TFO family of fly rods: the Stealth – TFO’s first ever true Euro-nymphing rod; the Blue Ribbon – a medium-fast action western style of rod designed to handle heavy indicator rigs, hopper-droppers and streamers in harsh, windy conditions; and the LK Legacy and LK Legacy TH– a tribute to Lefty Kreh’s most popular rod he helped design and TFO’s best-selling rod, the BVK.

Over the year, we sent several prototypes of the LK to our advisors and ambassadors to help us dial in what Lefty would be pleased to be the evolution of the BVK. If there’s any angler on our team that has been raving about it more than others – it’s Blane Chocklett. Here’s what he has to say about it.

What do you notice right away when fishing with the LK Legacy?

BC: It’s a true fly caster’s rod. You can immediately feel that and appreciate it. Anybody that likes a faster rod and technical casting tool – this is it.

As a tribute to Lefty Kreh (LK Legacy), and evolution of the BVK series, how do you feel he might have felt about the outcome of this rod?

BC: I think he’d be very proud of it. I think it’s a continuation of what he built in the BVK series. It has some similarities to it, but it’s a definite improvement in one of TFO’s best selling rods ever.

He would be absolutely pleased. It’s everything you’d want in a rod, and everything he’d want in one as well – especially someone that can appreciate casting like Lefty did.

What species have you been targeting with the LK?

BC: I’ve been playing around with the prototypes for about a year now I’ve caught a variety of stuff on them from stripers to redfish, speckled trout, spanish mackerel, albies, largemouth, smallmouth, snakehead, bowfin, pickerel – pretty much everything but musky and trout.

The LK has done extremely well with handling floating and intermediate lines, which is pretty much what I have been using.

Photos: Blane Chocklett

What has been your Go-To size/model?

BC: I’ve been fishing specifically with the 6, 7, and 8 weight models. I really like all of them. They all fish and cast like the lines are supposed to. I haven’t noticed any change in line sizes – like the rod just doesn’t feel the same in the 6wt as it does in a 7wt. It’s a continuation of each, so it reflects each line weight appropriately.

I’ve been using a 7wt probably the most with it being smallmouth season lately and all the cicada stuff that’s been happening this summer. I’ve definitely been using the 8wt quite a bit, too. I use those two more so than the 6wt.

Photos: Blane Chocklett

Have your clients been using them? If so, what has been their reaction?

BC: Oh yeah. Everybody that I’ve had in the boat is going to buy one.

I’ve been fishing the Axiom ll-X a lot. It’s a great casting tool, but it’s also more of a fish-fighting tool. When my clients pick up the LK Legacy, they notice how light it is and they notice how accurate and easy to cast it is -even though it’s a faster rod. A lot of the times it has to do with them throwing a floating line so they don’t have to feel the weight of a heavier sinking line and can feel and appreciate the cast of the rod better.

The LK Legacy an be used in many different scenarios. It could be used by the guy chasing bonefish on flats, the sight fishing red fish angler, and the trout angler that likes to fish larger dry flies. It does fine fighting fish, too. It’s much stronger than the BVK. It’s an extremely versatile rod, but it’s more of a casting tool for sure.

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

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

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

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

Overview, History & Migration

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

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

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

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

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

Baitball, Birds, and Shrimp Trawlers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fly Rods & Reels

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

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

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

Fly Lines & Leaders

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

Flies & Retrieval Patterns

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

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

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

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

Conventional Gear & Retrieval Techniques

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

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

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

Inshores at the ready. Photo: Andiamo Outdoor Co.

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

Fighting Albies and the Release/Launch

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

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

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

Photo: Jim Shulin

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

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

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

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

 

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