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Targeting West Coast Delta Stripers

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

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

Topwater anyone? Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

Why Fish For Striped Bass?

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

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

‘Tis The Season(s)

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

Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

The Perfect Temperature

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

Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

Choosing The Right Rod & Reel

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

 

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

The Right Fly Lines For The Right Occasions

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

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

TFO Power Reel. Photo: Toby Uppinghouse

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

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

What Are They Hitting?

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

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

 

Capt. Toby Uppinghouse

Edgewater Outfitters

TFO Ambassador and Advisory Staff

Big Flies Weigh You Down? Try the Clouser Rod

Ever had trouble casting those big saltwater flies? I have. A Clouser Minnow with big dumbbell eyes is my kryptonite. Serviceable loops elude me.

It might be my casting. Might be my rod. The former is more likely; the latter is an easier fix. TFO’s Clouser rod might help me sling the heavy metal.

One Clouser meets another. And what better person to discuss the issue than the man who invented the Clouser Minnow and designed the Clouser Rod.

“It’s made to cast weighted flies,” TFO Advisor Bob Clouser said during an interview from his Pennsylvania home last week. “It’s not super fast; it’s not super slow. It’s in between. It has a moderately fast action. It also has built-in action that most people don’t notice or talk about. It’s called progressive (action). That aids in casting. The more line weight the rod picks up, the farther down the blank it bends. The farther down the blank it bends, it’s stronger than the next piece up. It’s going to bring the rod tip pretty much even. You can have 20 feet, 30 feet, 40 feet of line. It’s going to set it off as the same speed as the 20-foot of line. It’s all matched with weight moving weight.

“If you’re a really fast caster, you probably won’t like the rod. If you want the rod to work itself, you’ll love it.”

The idea for the Clouser rod was hatched from an obvious trend —- a fly rod market that caters to the angler who wants tight loops and long distance.

“Everything was too fast,” Clouser said. “You don’t have to work this thing hard. It will pick up all lengths of fly line because of its progressive speed.”

TFO’s Clouser is Clouser’s second crack at a rod designed to throw big flies. His first, which measured 8 feet, 9 inches, was with a TFO competitor.

“We built that same action into a 9-foot rod (with TFO),” Clouser said. “What we had to do was speed it up because of that 3 inches of rod tip. So it’s hair quicker than the 8-foot, 9-inch was. It’s not that noticeable, but we had to beef it up a little bit.”

The Clouser is suited for a variety of fish, in freshwater and saltwater.

“I use an 8-weight for just about everything,” Clouser said. “I fish a lot of saltwater. I fish a lot of jacks. A lot of redfish. Even albacore. Even with the albacore, I would recommend a 9 for them. But that 8-weight, if you fight them off the reel, that rod will handle any fish.”

And let’s not forget the smallmouth, one of Clouser’s favorite species.

“Oh my god yes,” he said. “The reason: The smallmouth will hit flies from 2 inches long to 6, 8 inches long. Of course the bigger the fly, heavier (the rod) is. The 8-weight will handle that casting.”

As for a complementary reel, there’s no better option than the TFO Power. You can’t beat it for durability.

“It’s very good if you’re going to do saltwater,” Clouser said. “It’s very good if you’re going to do heavy-duty fishing.  If you’re just going to do freshwater fishing, the BVK will handle that.”

If you need security against that fish of a lifetime, the Power is the way to go.

“Super strong drag system,” Clouser said. “Just a super good reel.”

Comments on the Clouser rod or Power reel? Feel free to weigh in on one of our social media pages.

How to Use the Inverted Loop Cast for Those Heavy Flies

Editor’s Note: This is a story by TFO Advisor Bob Clouser. It was first published in the 2014-15 edition of the Loop Newsletter. To see Bob’s story in its original form as well as gather a wealth of other fly-casting info, you can access the Journal of Fly Casting Professionals at the Fly Fishers International website by clicking on the following link: https://www.flyfishersinternational.org/Casting/TheLoopNewsletter/tabid/208/Default.aspx

 

You don’t need to throw a wide loop when fishing weighted flies and lines. In fact, you’re more efficient if you don’t. Lefty Kreh and I developed a casting stroke that, when properly executed, delivers weighted flies and lines with a tighter loop and less work.  I call it the Inverted Loop Cast.

Begin the cast after you’ve already retrieved the fly from deeper water, so the line is near the surface of the water.

Step 1

Without breaking your wrist, begin your back cast by rotating your hips and shoulders in the direction of the back cast with the rod traveling to reach a 45-degree angle by the end of the back cast. The line travels below the rod tip to create an inverted loop. After your hand passes your left shoulder, speed up and stop the rod to send the weighted line and fly rearward. The inverted loop will unroll and send the weighted fly in an upward trajectory at the end of the back cast (instead of the downward direction with the standard cast).

Step 2

Without pausing, elevate the angle of the rod from 45 degrees to approximately 60-75 degrees (closer to upright/vertical) without lifting your hand or elbow. This keeps constant tension on the line and avoids shocking the line when you begin the forward cast.

Step 3

As the casting hand changes the rod angle to 90 degrees, simultaneously begin rotating your body for the forward cast. Once the casting hand and shoulder passes the plane of the opposing shoulder, accelerate and stop the tip of the rod in the direction of the target to complete the cast.

Remember to apply constant tension on the rod through the entire cast. It is almost like pulling the weighted line and fly through the entire back and forward casting motion. Don’t pause between the back and forward cast; merely change the plane of the rod from 45 degrees to 90 degrees as the body begins forward rotation. For better accuracy, pull the line directly away from the target on the back cast before speeding up and stopping the rod.

Tips for Casting Weighted Lines and Flies

  • Learning how to fish with weighted flies and lines will improve your catch rate for sure.
  • Keep constant tension on the fly rod through the entire casting stroke.
  • Use your body. Bring your casting-hand shoulder back with the motion of the back cast. When making the front cast, bring the casting shoulder forward until it passes the non-casting shoulder. Then apply the same forward speed-up-and-stop by pushing the palm of the hand forward. This kind of like throwing a dart, baseball, or hitting a golf ball. Use no-up-and-down wrist movement.

Very important, never use the wrist and arm where it moves in an up and downward motion.

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