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.
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.
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.
When not chasing after striped bass and redfish in the Pamlico Sound and estuaries of coastal North Carolina, TFO National Advisor Capt. Gary Dubiel (Spec Fever Guide Service) loves to put his clients on large speckled sea trout. Even during the cold winter months, Gary knows how to find speckled trout and has some excellent tips for both fly and conventional anglers.
The Pamlico Sound & The Migration of Coastal North Carolina Speckled Trout
TFO: Tell us about your fishery briefly and why it’s suitable for speckled trout.
GD: The Pamlico Sound estuary system is fairly giant – 2.1 million surface acres of water. You’re basically looking at a shallow inland sea. It’s very conducive to speckled trout just from an environmental point of view – lots of shallow water, nursery area, and an abundance of food. It will also hold enough ideal water temperatures where the fish are going to be in the area year round.
Speckled trout here in North Carolina are very different then ones you’ll find in Florida, Louisiana, or Texas in that they have a significant migration distance. Many of the fish we have here will migrate out into the ocean and go north into the Chesapeake Bay.
I’ve been involved in a lot of tagging studies and my furthest tag return was 285 miles away from its starting point in Oriental, NC. Another interesting tag return that I was involved in was a fish I recaptured that was tagged in Virginia. The fish was only 13 inches long and was tracked from Northern Virginia to Oriental, NC and was recaptured within 14 days. These fish can move great distances in very short periods of time, which can make it challenging when trying to locate them.
As a rule of thumb in our river systems (Pamlico River and the Neuse River into the Pamlico Sound), typically what you’re going to find is that the cooler the weather, the more the fish move upriver and into the creeks. In other words, the further back into the creeks you go, the warmer the temps get. You’re typically going to see this pattern in late October/November right up into March/early April.
Once the water temperatures warm up into the low 70s and stay there for a short period of time, those fish will move out of the creek systems and back out into the main river systems. At that point, there can be fish that move to North Carolina from Virginia – move back out into the ocean and up into the Chesapeake Bay.
Spawning & Average Size
TFO: What are typical spawning or migrating behaviors across the seasons for speckled trout?
GD: Our fish here will adjust and typically move out into the lower parts of the river in the Sounds – where their first spawning will be around the first full moon at the end of May/early June. The first spawn is also going to be related to water temperature – somewhere in the low-mid 70s.
The fish will stay in those areas through the summer into early fall. There will be some shifting, but they are in those general area. Speckled trout can spawn 3-4 times throughout the course of the year. Smaller fish typically spawn twice, larger fish might spawn up to 3 times in a year.
TFO: How big do they get typically and what’s an average size for you?
GD: You can find a mix of fish (size-wise) throughout the course of a year. Typically in the cooler months, bigger fish are more concentrated and more on the aggressive side. They tend to be more willing to eat much smaller baits as the water temperatures drop. Typically, you can catch more large speckled trout (24”-30”) in the cooler months, however, you can still catch big fish all summer long depending on your tactics.
You’ll see a lot of small fish in my area because of the volume of breeding that occurs here – anywhere from 10”-12” fish, right into 20”-24” fish. You’re looking at a pretty significant distribution of fish from one right up about six years old.
Locating Specked Trout
TFO: How are you typically locating speckled trout in the winter? Where is the best place to target them (river/water location or depth)?
GD: In the cooler months, you’re going to be looking to fish primarily in the creek systems, and the upper parts of the rivers. You basically have two different areas that you’ll find fish during the winter – both are particularly related to water temperatures.
In water less than five feet deep, I can catch speckled sea trout down to about 47.5 degrees (water surface temperature). Typically, in the backs of the creeks (water less than five five deep), the bottoms are dark mud and soft – so they’ll warm up faster in the sunshine. You can get a one to four temperature increase over the course of a sunny day.
In areas that are deeper – around six to twelve feet of water – you can catch speckled trout right down to about 45 degrees (water surface temperature) with your bottom temperature being a few degrees warmer.
The further upriver you go – cities like New Bern or Washington – you’re going to find some of the creeks are much deeper, so you’ll target the fish a bit deeper. Good news for that is that you can fish those with much lower water temperatures in colder conditions – bad news is they don’t warm up. What you have when you start out, over the course of the day is typically what you’re going to have. Those deeper creeks won’t warm up much on sunny days.
Tactics & Set-Ups For Light Tackle
GD: In the winter, you want to fish as light as you possibly can. Allow your baits to sink very slowly and take advantage of a fish that’s pretty lethargic. You’re fishing for them at the lower ends of their tolerance to eat.
Scaling down in weights is helpful. Typically, I will fish down to a 1/16 oz. jig head with soft plastic bodies. I’ll scale down on soft plastic bodies – 2.5-3 inches.
Another bait that works really well for me in the winter is the Storm Shrimp – which is a composite, keel-weighted shrimp pattern. This mean that the weight is in the center of the hook shank, so the baits will fall flat – rather than head first. This results in a decreased fall rate, which can increase the amount of the bites you get.
In order to fish those baits, I want to have the lightest, most sensitive rod I can have. The 6’9” Light Inshore is ideal for that. Typically I’m going to be fishing a 1000-1500 series spinning reel with 8-10 lb. test braid. Everything is really light and scaled down. Even if you catch a striper or a redfish, the water is cold, so those fish aren’t going to peel line off like when its 75 degrees. In the winter, everything is lethargic.
Tactics & Set-Ups For Fly
GD: You pretty much want to copy the same tactics used for light tackle, and apply it to fly. Typically, I’m fishing Type 2 to Type 3 lines depending on the water depth. You’ll want a slow sinking line, or a clear intermediate line, with a lightly weighted fly.
Rods that fish this type of setup well are the Axiom ll-X, the Axiom ll, and the Mangrove. 6wt and 7wt are what I prefer, but you can also fish up to an 8wt.
Smaller weighted flies such as Clousers, Half & Halfs work great. I also use a few of my own craft fur patterns. The Lil’ Hayden is one I tie that produces well for speckled trout. The Pop-N-Shrimp is another good one. Flymen has reproduced one of my mine called the Crafty Deceiver.
Ultimately, you’re looking for something that has some weight in it, but that falls about the same rate as those slow sinking lines do. Click here for a video where Gary breaks down some of his go-to patterns for speckled trout.
For a reel, the BVK-SD is the perfect tool for the job. It’s lightweight and has plenty of drag if you need it, too.
I usually use a 3’-4’ straight leader to the fly. Usually, I scale down to 15lb fluorocarbon in the winter to help maintain that straight contact with the line and fly.
TFO: What retrieval patterns typically work best for you?
GD: Strip and Pause. Strip, Strip, Pause – All your bites are going to be on the pause. Pay attention to your counts on your pauses. If you are getting bites on a certain number (seconds you are counting), take note as it gives you an indication of where the fish are and how they’re reacting.
Anything that feels different – strip strike. Even though it is cold, those fish can spit out that fly pretty quickly.
Make sure that the rod tip is almost in the water and pointed at the fly to maintain as direct contact as possible to help detect any strikes.
TFO: Not many anglers are aware that speckled trout have some pretty sharp teeth. Do you have any advice on handling them?
GD: You’ll want to grab them in the belly right under the gills. Don’t put your fingers in their mouth like you would a bass or other species (laughs). You’ll want to have some plies or hemostats to get the fly out of their mouth once you have them at the both.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“When the day get shorter, darker and colder, most anglers lament even getting out of their warm beds…if you are a swinger, the coffee is brewing and you are more then pumped to get on the road and step into a run.
Dries flies aren’t really coming off, the hopper-dropper crowds have all but vanished and the fair weather anglers are at home prepping for a day of running errands and ambling around Home Depot killing time.
There is something about swinging flies.
Long rods, a pocket full of flies and sink tips.
Deep glassy runs, foggy eyes and cold toes.
It’s an exercise in patience and consistency, (and some kind of dark attitude to deal with the long hours and sparse hook-ups).
Strip, strip, strip, cast. Take a step. Put your hand in the fleece liner.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Maybe you’ll push that steelhead far enough back into the pool, piss it off enough for a strike.
Maybe you’ll cover enough water and hit that big trout laying low, get a strike on the dangle.
The hours and days drag on. You over think the the purples, blues and blacks of your flies. Maybe you switch out tips. The desire to move spots looms heavy.
Those with a weaker constitution may say, “F**K it,” and go out hide out in a nearby dive bar or nap in the truck.
Others considering tossing their two-handed rod into the trash and getting out the spoon rod.
More time to stand and think, the motions become repetitive, you start playing with different anchor points.
If you’re reading this, and are interested in learning more about two-handed fly fishing, you’re in luck. Below is a basic breakdown of swing seasons, as well as rod/reel recommendations. Be on the lookout for more blogs and posts on swing season, but this should help you get started if you’re new to this type of fishing, and curious about what rod or reel to get.
LATE SUMMER/FALL STEELHEAD
When swinging flies later in the summer, before the rains come and the days become cold and short, a lighter shorter rod can be a lot of fun.
The 12-foot, 6-weight LK Legacy two-handed rod is perfect set-up weather your are fishing scandi floating lines and more classic patterns, or throwing small to medium intruders and weighted flies. This rod will also handle multi-density tips, from T-8 to T-11. The faster, stiffer road allows for smooth line pick-up and repositioning.
When picking a good winter setup I think it’s important to find a rod that will fit the size and type of water you are fishing. Swinging a deep slow run from the shore, or from a boat? On a wide, sweeping river? Or fishing a tight quarters coastal river? For winter fish you’ll typically be fishing medium-to-large size intruders and sink tips up to 15-feet long.
When fishing these heavier and thick diameter skagit heads and tips, most casters will find a more deeper loading rod beneficial and easier to handle during long days. Two rod lengths I always carry are a shorter, 11 to 11’6” rod and something longer and heavier, ideally a 12 or 13’6” 8-weight.
The Axiom II Switch is a great option not just for small to medium water, but also for those who want to “switch,” techniques and have the ability to go from heads and swinging flies to an indicator or chuck- and-duck system.
The 13-foot, Pro II TH model is great for skagit heads and tips, and due to is medium-fast action it smoothly loads and unloads
Line: 550 multi-density Skagit head, 10-feet of T-11 sink tip.
When it’s time to put away the dry fly rods and the big foamy terrestrials have all but been gnawed off the hook trout anglers should be eagerly looking for a longer lighter rods to swing for trout.
Having a long and light two-hander can be a lot of fun, and teach an angler a lot about seasonal holding patterns on their local trout water.
I typically like to have two, (or one rod with two line set-ups) when attacking the “trout spey,” or “micro spey,” approach. One rod will be for swinging soft hackles and little nymphs in skinny water. The second rig will be for streamers and heavier flies. On this 3/4-weight set-up, I’ll also swing a double woolly bugger set-up to give the appearance of baitfish “chasing,” each other.
As the first stretch of August approaches, it’s time to enjoy the last bit of summer. And if there’s a sliver of free time between time with family and friends, fishing is a great way to relax.
Below are a few summer options to help maximize success, regardless of whether you prefer spinning gear or a fly rod.
Find a Tailwater
Summer brings heat. Fish as a rule, trout, in particular, struggle with higher water temperatures. Tailwater rivers pull cooler water from the bottom of a lake. Fish like consistent water temperature, and the insect hatches tend to be more prolific. The result is big fish that like to eat year-round.
Warmer water temperatures are not as big of a factor in the West, but that’s not the case in the Southeast and East, where anglers are always searching for cooler water. Top tailwaters to try include the Watauga and South Holston in Tennessee, the Nantahala in North Carolina, the Jackson in Virginia. Outside the southeast, there’s the Bighorn in Montana, the Green in Utah, the White in Arkansas, the Farmington in Connecticut and the Arkansas in Colorado.
A good setup for bigger water is TFO’s Axiom II-Xpaired with a BVK SD reel. Both of these items are set to be be available in October, along with a few of our other new products. A more current big-water option is the Axiom II.
Try Lake Fishing
River and creek fishing offer more of a definitive roadmap to find fish, assuming you can identify the current seams and structure. Lakes and pondscan be intimidating to the newcomer and therefore are often overlooked. The good thing about stillwater fishing is you can find summer fish, if you learn how to fish cooler, deeper water, which is, in general, where the fish will be holding. Try drop shotting or the countdown method to increase your odds of a quality catch.
Freshwater fishing, though doable in the summer, can be tough once July’s swelter arrives. Plan your weekend trip or vacation to your nearest southern coast. Snook, redfish and tarpon, to name a few, are warmwater species. Time the tides right and opportunities abound. The biggest obstacle with saltwater angling is finding the fish. There’s a lot of water, and the fish hold in a mere fraction of it. The best thing you can is do in this instance is hire a guide. Guides have the benefit of local knowledge and will significantly shorten your learning curve on new water.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
Many of us are creatures of habit. We fish a certain way when the conditions suit us. Rarely do the stars consistently align with that regimentation. This where it pays to learn a new skill. If you fly fish, pick up a spinning rod. If you spin fish, try to fling a fly. If you’re a dry-fly fisherman, maybe throw a streamer or two for deeper fish. If you love streamers, toss an afternoon grasshopper along the bank. If you like shallow-running crankbaits, try fishing a Carolina rig with a purple worm to get closer to the bottom.
Summer, without question, provides its share of challenges, but there are ample opportunities for the aspiring angler. Try one of the above approaches and let us know how your fared on one of our social media pages.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a serious fly fisherman or an angler who prefers traditional spinning gear, TFO offers quality options for everyone —- from new anglers just getting started to seasoned professionals.
Here’s a bit more detail about each item, all of which will become available to consumers in the coming months:
The Axiom II-X: The Axiom impressed. Then came the Axiom II, which drew rave reviews. The Axiom II-X has a tough act to follow, but if you want a rod that will deliver a big-time cast without sacrificing accuracy, this satin-blue stick is for you. Retails for ($349.95-$369.95) in weights 5-12. For more info, check out the video below.
The BVK SD: Need a reel to go with your new Axiom II-X? There’s no better choice than the BVK SD. Those who have the BVK swear by it. But get this: The BVK SD offers everything its predecessor did —- with a sealed drag system —- for the same price. Maintenance is minimal, so there’s no more worrying about the interior components. Now they’re fully protected. The BVK SD runs from $199.95-$229.95 and comes in four sizes I, II, III and III+.
NXT Black Label Kit: Fly fishing doesn’t have to be expensive, nor doesn’t it have to be complicated. In essence, that’s the premise behind the NXT Black Label Kit. You get a rod, reel, backing and fly line, all for a very reasonable price ($219.95-$229.95). Since the rod and reel and line are pre-matched, you don’t have to worry about pairing those components, a process that can be intimidating for inexperienced anglers.
Tactical Bass Rods: So you’re a serious bass fisherman. Like to fish topwater? How about crankbaits? Maybe finesse is more your style? If so, our Tactical Bass series ($149.95-$169.95) is for you, no matter how precise your style of angling is.
Tactical Elite Bass Rods: Whatever profession you choose, you need tools of the trade that will get the job done day after day. So it is with pro anglers and our Tactical Elite series. If you want to make a living fishing, serious tournament fishermen need a rod that will preform consistently day in and day out. By all accounts, our Tactical Elite series ($199.95) more than holds its own.
Professional Walleye Series: One of the biggest challenges in catching walleye is feeling the bite, but our newest walleye series provides enough sensitivity, from the handle to the tip, to help anglers counter this issue. And there’s the added bonus of versatility: You can jig, rig, crank and troll with this rod ($99.95).
Comments on our new products? Check out one of our social media pages.
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. Spare spools are available and the BVK SD family retails for $199.95-$229.95.
About Temple Fork Outfitters (TFO): TFO assembled the world’s most accomplished, crafty anglers to design a complete line of fishing rods priced to bring more anglers into the sport. Because we believe that anyone who has the fishing bug as bad as we do deserves the highest performance equipment available to take their game to the next level. And in our experience, when we get people connecting with fish, they connect with nature. And they join us in our mission of keeping our rivers, streams, lakes and oceans in good shape for the next generation. There’s a new breed of anglers out there. They’re smart. They’re passionate. They’re socially conscious. And they’re fishing Temple Fork. For more information, please visit: www.tforods.com