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The Remarkable Northern Snakehead

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

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

Snakehead on the fly! // Photo: Braden Miller

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

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

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

Invasive species?

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

Where are they?

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

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

Snakehead On The Fly 

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Braden Miller

Flies, Leaders, and Retrieves

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

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

Photo: Braden Miller

Snakehead on Conventional Gear 

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

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

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

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

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

Conventional Lures & How to Work Them:

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

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

Photo: Braden Miller

Different species that share the same waters as a Northern Snakehead

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

Bowfins and Gar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Braden Miller

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 Speckled Trout Tactics For Fly & Light Tackle

When not chasing after striped bass and redfish in the Pamlico Sound and estuaries of coastal North Carolina, TFO National Advisor Capt. Gary Dubiel (Spec Fever Guide Service) loves to put his clients on large speckled sea trout. Even during the cold winter months, Gary knows how to find speckled trout and has some excellent tips for both fly and conventional anglers.

The Pamlico Sound & The Migration of Coastal North Carolina Speckled Trout 

TFO: Tell us about your fishery briefly and why it’s suitable for speckled trout.

GD: The Pamlico Sound estuary system is fairly giant – 2.1 million surface acres of water. You’re basically looking at a shallow inland sea. It’s very conducive to speckled trout just from an environmental point of view – lots of shallow water, nursery area, and an abundance of food. It will also hold enough ideal water temperatures where the fish are going to be in the area year round.

Speckled trout here in North Carolina are very different then ones you’ll find in Florida, Louisiana, or Texas in that they have a significant migration distance. Many of the fish we have here will migrate out into the ocean and go north into the Chesapeake Bay.

I’ve been involved in a lot of tagging studies and my furthest tag return was 285 miles away from its starting point in Oriental, NC. Another interesting tag return that I was involved in was a fish I recaptured that was tagged in Virginia. The fish was only 13 inches long and was tracked from Northern Virginia to Oriental, NC and was recaptured within 14 days. These fish can move great distances in very short periods of time, which can make it challenging when trying to locate them.

As a rule of thumb in our river systems (Pamlico River and the Neuse River into the Pamlico Sound), typically what you’re going to find is that the cooler the weather, the more the fish move upriver and into the creeks. In other words, the further back into the creeks you go, the warmer the temps get. You’re typically going to see this pattern in late October/November right up into March/early April.

Once the water temperatures warm up into the low 70s and stay there for a short period of time, those fish will move out of the creek systems and back out into the main river systems. At that point, there can be fish that move to North Carolina from Virginia – move back out into the ocean and up into the Chesapeake Bay.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Spawning & Average Size

TFO: What are typical spawning or migrating behaviors across the seasons for speckled trout?

GD: Our fish here will adjust and typically move out into the lower parts of the river in the Sounds – where their first spawning will be around the first full moon at the end of May/early June. The first spawn is also going to be related to water temperature – somewhere in the low-mid 70s.

The fish will stay in those areas through the summer into early fall. There will be some shifting, but they are in those general area. Speckled trout can spawn 3-4 times throughout the course of the year. Smaller fish typically spawn twice, larger fish might spawn up to 3 times in a year.

TFO: How big do they get typically and what’s an average size for you? 

GD: You can find a mix of fish (size-wise) throughout the course of a year. Typically in the cooler months, bigger fish are more concentrated and more on the aggressive side. They tend to be more willing to eat much smaller baits as the water temperatures drop. Typically, you can catch more large speckled trout (24”-30”) in the cooler months, however, you can still catch big fish all summer long depending on your tactics.

You’ll see a lot of small fish in my area because of the volume of breeding that occurs here – anywhere from 10”-12” fish, right into 20”-24” fish. You’re looking at a pretty significant distribution of fish from one right up about six years old.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Locating Specked Trout

TFO: How are you typically locating speckled trout in the winter? Where is the best place to target them (river/water location or depth)?

GD: In the cooler months, you’re going to be looking to fish primarily in the creek systems, and the upper parts of the rivers. You basically have two different areas that you’ll find fish during the winter – both are particularly related to water temperatures.

In water less than five feet deep, I can catch speckled sea trout down to about 47.5 degrees (water surface temperature). Typically, in the backs of the creeks (water less than five five deep), the bottoms are dark mud and soft – so they’ll warm up faster in the sunshine. You can get a one to four temperature increase over the course of a sunny day.

In areas that are deeper – around six to twelve feet of water – you can catch speckled trout right down to about 45 degrees (water surface temperature) with your bottom temperature being a few degrees warmer.

The further upriver you go – cities like New Bern or Washington – you’re going to find some of the creeks are much deeper, so you’ll target the fish a bit deeper. Good news for that is that you can fish those with much lower water temperatures in colder conditions – bad news is they don’t warm up. What you have when you start out, over the course of the day is typically what you’re going to have. Those deeper creeks won’t warm up much on sunny days.

Tactics & Set-Ups For Light Tackle

GD: In the winter, you want to fish as light as you possibly can.  Allow your baits to sink very slowly and take advantage of a fish that’s pretty lethargic. You’re fishing for them at the lower ends of their tolerance to eat.

Scaling down in weights is helpful. Typically, I will fish down to a 1/16 oz. jig head with soft plastic bodies. I’ll scale down on soft plastic bodies – 2.5-3 inches.

Another bait that works really well for me in the winter is the Storm Shrimp – which is a composite, keel-weighted shrimp pattern. This mean that the weight is in the center of the hook shank, so the baits will fall flat – rather than head first. This results in a decreased fall rate, which can increase the amount of the bites you get.

In order to fish those baits, I want to have the lightest, most sensitive rod I can have. The 6’9” Light Inshore is ideal for that. Typically I’m going to be fishing a 1000-1500 series spinning reel with 8-10 lb. test braid. Everything is really light and scaled down. Even if you catch a striper or a redfish, the water is cold, so those fish aren’t going to peel line off like when its 75 degrees. In the winter, everything is lethargic.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Tactics & Set-Ups For Fly

GD: You pretty much want to copy the same tactics used for light tackle, and apply it to fly. Typically, I’m fishing Type 2 to Type 3 lines depending on the water depth. You’ll want a slow sinking line, or a clear intermediate line, with a lightly weighted fly.

Rods that fish this type of setup well are the Axiom ll-X, the Axiom ll, and the Mangrove. 6wt and 7wt are what I prefer, but you can also fish up to an 8wt.

Smaller weighted flies such as Clousers, Half & Halfs work great. I also use a few of my own craft fur patterns. The Lil’ Hayden is one I tie that produces well for speckled trout. The Pop-N-Shrimp is another good one. Flymen has reproduced one of my mine called the Crafty Deceiver.

Ultimately, you’re looking for something that has some weight in it, but that falls about the same rate as those slow sinking lines do. Click here for a video where Gary breaks down some of his go-to patterns for speckled trout.

For a reel, the BVK-SD is the perfect tool for the job. It’s lightweight and has plenty of drag if you need it, too.

I usually use a 3’-4’ straight leader to the fly. Usually, I scale down to 15lb fluorocarbon in the winter to help maintain that straight contact with the line and fly.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TFO: What retrieval patterns typically work best for you?

GD: Strip and Pause. Strip, Strip, Pause – All your bites are going to be on the pause. Pay attention to your counts on your pauses. If you are getting bites on a certain number (seconds you are counting), take note as it gives you an indication of where the fish are and how they’re reacting.

Anything that feels different – strip strike. Even though it is cold, those fish can spit out that fly pretty quickly.

Make sure that the rod tip is almost in the water and pointed at the fly to maintain as direct contact as possible to help detect any strikes.

TFO: Not many anglers are aware that speckled trout have some pretty sharp teeth. Do you have any advice on handling them?

GD: You’ll want to grab them in the belly right under the gills. Don’t put your fingers in their mouth like you would a bass or other species (laughs). You’ll want to have some plies or hemostats to get the fly out of their mouth once you have them at the both.

 

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.

Swing Season Prep – Choosing The Right Rod, Reel, & Line

“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.

Photo: Lance Nelson

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.

You start to drift off….

and then…..a thump…..”

Nick Conklin – Temple Fork Outfitters Fly Fishing Product Category Manager

Photo: Lance Nelson

 

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.

Rod: 6120-4 LK

Reel: BVK SD 3.5

Line: Scandi 400-440, Skagit 425-475.

The LK Legacy TH Photo: Oliver Sutro
BVK-SD reels paired with the LK Legacy TH – Photo: Nick Conklin

WINTER STEELHEAD

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

Axiom ll Switch – Photo: Lance Nelson
The Pro ll TH – Photo: Lance Nelson
The Power Reel – Photo: Lance Nelson

Small to medium waters, coastal fishing:

Rod: 08 11 0 4 Axiom II Switch

Reel: BVK SD III

Line: 525 Skagit head, 10-feet of T-11 sink tip.

 

Medium to large water:

Rod: 078 13 0 4 Pro II TH

Reel: Power III

Line: 550 multi-density Skagit head, 10-feet of T-11 sink tip.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TROUT SPEY

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.

Photo: Lance Nelson

Soft hackles and light flies:

Rod: 023 11 0 4 Pro II TH, (2/3-weight, 11-foot Pro II TH)

Reel: NXT BLK III

Line: 210-240 grain scandi head. 5 to 8-feet intermediate tip, or long tapered leader.

Small to medium streamers and multi-woolly bugger rigs

Rod: 034 11 0 4 Pro II TH, (3/4-weight, 11-foot, Pro II TH)

Reel: NXT BLK III

Line: 270-grain, skagit head, (13 to 15 feet long). Short sink-tip, (T-8) or a polyleader, from five to 10-feet long.

 

How to Beat the Summer Heat and Catch Fish

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-X paired 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 ponds can 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.
Top TFO spin rods to try are the Tactical Bass and Tactical Elite Bass. Both are expected to be available in October. Another good option is our Pacemaker series, designed by TFO advisor and pro tournament angler Cliff Pace.
If you prefer a less technical strategy, target panfish with TFO’s Trout-Panfish rod. They’re perfect for kids and can be caught on spin or fly much of the summer.
Head for the Brine
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.

TFO Unveils New Products

ICAST is over. We at TFO are back home from the trip to Orlando, but if you missed the world’s largest sportfishing show, do not despair.

We introduced quite a few new items at ICAST this year. On the fly side, we welcomed the Axiom II-X fly rod, the NXT Black Label Kit, and the BVK SD. As for spinning gear, we have the Tactical Bass Elite and Tactical Bass series as well as the Professional Walleye series.

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.

TFO Introduces the BVK Fully Sealed Drag Fly 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. 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

Temple Fork Outfitters
Dallas, TX 75247

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Download a PDF version of this press release here.