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Snook On The Fly 101, 201 & 301 – History, Tactics & More by Courtney Marie Martin

When TFO approached me recently about writing a piece on snook, I couldn’t have been more excited. This is a species I have targeted, fought for, and been passionate about my entire life. Everything about this species is absolutely fascinating to me; from their habitat, to their aggressive takes, unique spawning abilities, and their ability to survive in salt or freshwater. These fish are just as intriguing to me now, as they were more than 25 years ago, marking my first encounter with the species. If you have never had a chance to target these amazing creatures, you’ll want to add them to your list after this. However, if you have been as fortunate as myself, and had the joy of experiencing these beauties first hand, I hope you enjoy this read.

A brief back story on my roots; I’m originally from Bethune Beach, FL. If you’re not familiar with that area; It’s the southernmost point of habitable land, on a barrier island. There is no access to the mainland at this point, the rest of the island south is home to an incredible, and protected ecosystem, in the Canaveral National Seashore. The Atlantic side of the island contains one of the most righteous surf breaks on the Florida east coast, while located on the river side of the island, is the world-famous Mosquito Lagoon. Needless to say, I had a pretty well-rounded upbringing between these two bodies of water. My once small hometown changed drastically over the years, something I’m still emotional about to this day. This is a problem that is rampant in Florida, a problem that has many causes and contributing factors. With that change, eight years ago I made the decision to move to the west coast and start over on the Myakka River. This place sucked me in, I became obsessed with learning it, exploring it, and now protecting it. It became apparent within a short time, the same issues the lagoon is struggling with, they were starting to feel the effects of here as well. After 5 years of living here I left my career to focus on conservation, art, and fly fishing full-time. We’ll come back to that though, first we’re going to start this off with one of my favorite subjects; a little bit of History.

Age Before Beauty

Bare with me for a minute while I flood your brain with a little bit of Florida history.

The land we now call Florida began to form, via a combination of volcanic activity, and the deposit of marine sediments. The formation took place along northwest Africa roughly 530 million years ago. If you flash back to your middle school Geography days, you’ll remember a brief, but very important time in history, referred to as Pangea. This occurred due to Florida once being part of Gondwanaland, a super continent, that later divided into Africa and South America. Research shows that Florida then separated from Gondwanaland about 300 million years ago. The state eventually found itself wedged between Gondwanaland and North America, where they then combined, to form; Pangea. When Pangea began to separate, Florida remained behind as part of the continent of North America. Florida then began slipping slowly beneath the surface to become part of North America’s continental shelf. The landmass that is now Florida remained shallowly submerged beneath the ocean. Over time; coral, shellfish, and fish skeletons began accumulating. These mass deposits created a layer of limestone hundreds, and in some places thousands, of feet thick. As the Appalachian Mountains began to erode, sand and clay were then deposited all over Florida’s limestone layer. Much of the quartz sand covering the state today came from the rocks of that mountain chain. One of the many things that captivated me when I first came to this area, was the abundance of limestone formations I’ve located all over the river itself. Rock samples taken from the Myakka in the 1880s date the river to the Pliocene Epoch, 1.8-5.3 million years before the present, when Florida was mostly under water. However, according to University of Florida, Ocala limestone samples from the 1920s suggest that the Florida peninsula dates to the Eocene Epoch, thus dating her to be a whopping 25 to 36 million years ago. Deep grooves in these limestone formations began collecting rainfall in the form of rivers. Though there is a huge conflict in these differing data’s, I personally believe the latter of the two theories. The river and its region became home to; mastodons, mammoths, saber-toothed cats, and even megalodon. With research pointing to megs going extinct atleast 20-million years ago, it personally leads me to believe that the river is much older than some documents lead you to believe.

How Man Found the Myakka

  • 12,000 B.C. Humans from eastern Asia cross the newly, but briefly, dry Bering Strait on foot and enter North America, gathering around its deep springs for fresh water.
  • 10,200 B.C. First evidence of human habitation on the Myakka. Skeletal remains that were found, near Warm Mineral Springs, in 1959 were carbon-dated to roughly that time.
  • 1500 A.D. Florida aboriginals separate into four distinct tribes, including the Calusa tribe on the lower Gulf Coast. The Indians that called this land home believed the area to be sacred. On top of the abundant food source, they believed that storms seemed to disappear or go completely around it.
  • 1513 Juan Ponce de Leon’s search for gold treasure, combined with Florida’s legendary Fountain of Youth, led him to Charlotte Harbor and up the Peace and Myakka rivers. He is said, by many, to have found Warm Mineral Springs.
  • 1521 Ponce de Leon not only enslaved the Calusa and sold them off, but also brought an abundance of disease upon them. He ultimately died from complications caused by arrow wounds received in an altercation with the Calusa Indians. Unable to cohabitate with the Spaniards, the Calusa eventually left the area. Followed by the Spaniards departing, because they couldn’t survive without the Calusa. Over the years the surrounding land and water went through significant high water, drought, and weather events that pushed what little settlers and aboriginals were left, to the brink. Only the strong survived.

Wild and Scenic

Myakka River State Park opened for visitors in 1942. Within this now, 37,000-acre protected woodland, are hundreds of bird and animal species; Including 80 listed as endangered species. In 1985, Florida officially designated the Myakka for special protection, as the state’s first “Wild and Scenic River.” The entire river from the Upper lake, to Charlotte Harbor, is 66 miles. Nearly 8 months out of the year, especially during the winter months, the river is so shallow you can walk across it. Marshes, swamps, and sloughs also make up the 550-square mile Myakka Basin. This basin full of vast, spongy areas that hold water during the wet season, slowly releasing it to feed the river over the long months when there is no rain. This fragile body of water and ecosystem is why the Myakka needs our attention and preservation, now more than ever. Over the past 20 years, the Myakka has been laced with industrial waste, municipal sewage, agricultural runoff and untold gallons of gasoline, motor oil, and brake fluid. These pollutants come rushing across road surfaces in search of the region’s lowest point. This is all despite the passing of the Clean Water Act, in 1972. Which was placed in response to the unchecked dumping of pollution into our waterways. At the time, two-thirds of the country’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters had become unsafe for fishing or swimming. This included untreated sewage that was being dumped into open water. The most damaging additive since, ironically, has been water. An excess of water, pumped from underground wells to feed farms and mines, has saturated miles of the Myakka Basin, disturbing the river’s ancient cycle of long dry seasons and killing native vegetation. It has become an international laboratory for the study of river habitats, both how to keep them in good health and what to do when they are ailing, as rivers these days usually are. Water is traditionally low in the winter, making invasive plants and fish also a particular concern. Less water means more competition for food and oxygen. West Indian marsh grass is also crowding out native species of vegetation, eliminating food sources that the native fish are partial to. Those native fish, meanwhile, also have invasives of their own to contend with.

As you can tell, I’m extremely passionate about this place. When I was originally asked to write this article, I was sent a list of 10 talking points they’d like me to hit, so far, we’ve covered just one (insert laughter) …

Knowledge Is Power – History & Biology of Snook

Snook are thought to have originated in Central America, and due changes in the earth’s climate they migrated north to Florida. This migration goes back to a great warming trend after the Ice Age, that moved snook northward along the Mexico shoreline. They then followed the Gulf of Mexico to Cuba and Florida, splitting the state and running up along the east and west coasts. Florida proved to be the perfect environment, because snook are described as an estuarine-dependent fish species.

There are five species of snook that inhabit Florida waters; common snook, small scale fat snook, large scale fat snook, tarpon snook, and the swordspine snook.

Formerly known as excellent table fare, snook are making a huge comeback in our waters due to strict conservation efforts.

Within Florida’s diverse estuaries, juvenile snook are commonly found inhabiting; Coastal wetland ponds, island networks, and creeks. In their juvenile stages, snook show a tendency to call lower-salinity conditions home. Snook are also able to osmo-regulate, giving them the ability to adapt and thrive in both high/low salinity habitats. This is referred to as habitat plasticity, an evolutionary adaptation, expressed primarily through reversible physiological change. Which leads me to the most fascinating snook fact; Snook are a protandric hermaphroditic fish species. — Males can change to females as they age.

This transition takes place when snook are between 1-7 years of age or between 12-35 inches in length. This happens quickly, both male, and female sex cells are present in the gonads. During transition, female gonads mature directly from male gonads, after spawning. Thus, making it possible for snook, to spawn once as a male, and then again as a female within the same season.

Spawning

Spawning season typically runs the months of April-October, with peak spawn occurring during June-August. Near-shore waters containing higher salinity values is where their spawning traditionally occurs. Female snook may spawn every two days, during a new or full moon cycle, and release roughly 1.5 million eggs during each spawn. The high salinity in these locations is important to egg survival rates. Salinity provides buoyancy to the eggs carrying them to habitats more suited for survival, these eggs begin to hatch within 28hours. This phenomenon occurs on both the east and west coasts of Florida. Mouths of coastal rivers, major inlets, and the beaches of Gulf of Mexico are prime spawning locations.

Post spawn, the juvenile snook then migrate to the brackish waters of surrounding estuary environments. Once mature, they make their trek to the high salinity waters of the open ocean to join the breeding population. Snook are opportunistic ambush predators, whose feeding habits are attributed to their size and the size of their prey. Which leads us to the age-old question; “Does bigger bait equal bigger fish?”

In the snook world, the answer is, yes. As snook continue to grow they feed on larger and larger prey. Even though this behavior is rare, they even engage in cannibalism, predating upon their own. During the winter months, when adult and juvenile common snook are in close proximity to one another sharing habitat, is when this typically occurs. A feeding pattern referred to as intracohort cannibalism. Juvenile snook that find themselves in this setting may wind up becoming the largest available prey on the menu, thus proving to be nutritionally efficient to prey upon.

Come Fly with Me

Winding through the Old Florida wilderness, it’s the type of landscape that puts your vulnerability in check, a constant reminder of how small you really are in this world. The area I live in is fabled and locally labeled as snook haven, frankly, it is just that. The history, age of the land, and the species that call it home are all-encompassing pieces of knowledge to carry with you. The Myakka is a truly wild unforgiving landscape inhabited by gators, feral hogs, sharks, bobcats, bears, coyotes, panthers, venomous snakes, and large swarms of mosquitoes. When I began immersing myself into this environment, the closest thing I could compare it to would be the deepest parts of the Everglades. This is not the beach, these are not pristine sand flats, it’s not the harbor or the bay. This is as backcountry as it gets.

Do I wade fish here? Yes. Would I conscientiously recommend it to others? No.

Always research your surroundings before entering any body of water. Have a plan, triple check your gear, pay attention to your surroundings, and respect the environment. You are a guest.

Most of what we do in the backcountry is out of an aluminum jon-boat or skiff. Jon likes to even up the ante some days and throw me into a canoe. A very effective method for getting to these fish, you just have to remain extra cat-like with every movement you make.

Casting & Presentation

My number one piece of advice in the pursuit of fly fishing is; Practice, practice, practice!

Practice your cast, have a solid, confident, single and double haul going into these fish.

The techniques Jon and I both use for snook, are applicable to high or low water, and any water clarity. This is where practicing your cast is important, making that cast count no matter the conditions.

Water clarity changes daily here, some days its crystal clear, other days it can be muddy, and most days it resembles sweet tea. Some days, we encounter super low water conditions, with good water clarity. This tends to flush these fish out of their mangrove homes making sight fishing on the shore line possible. When these fish are out in the open, they can eat just as aggressively as they would in their protective structure, but they can see you just as well as you can see them.

The stealth factor and making a good cast first shot, are very important in this instance. However, one of my personal favorite fishing techniques is pitching up-under and into mangroves.

This is technical, this takes time, this takes practice. This is, however, extremely rewarding and efficient in high water, cloudy, or windy conditions. You can use a regular or weed-less flies for this technique. If you do happen to aim a little too high or snag a root, just take it easy pulling it off and it should come right out.

 

Fly Patterns & Retrieval Methods

Laser minnows, crab, shrimp, varying bait fish patterns and poppers; I’ve thrown all of these for snook and been successful. Now if you’re going to go for the gold on pitching mangroves, be ready to strip hard. The eat is usually very aggressive sometimes launching the fly airborne as if it were a top water plug. Sometimes they’ll eat as soon as it lands, others will ambush it and come out of nowhere, and then there’s the classic v-wake pushing out of the mangroves that then proceeds to finally crush the fly just inches from the boat with half your leader stripped into your rod. In that scenario I hold my breath and there’s usually a lot of praying involved; Praying the line shoots back out as pretty as it stripped through those guides.

These fish will instinctively try to run right back to where they came from, this is where you better stay alert and put the heat to them. 9 times out of 10, this is not a fish you’ll be attempting to get on the reel, most of the fight will be you gaining ground by stripping them in while keeping counter pressure on their head with the rod. The goal is to keep them out of the mangroves and get them to the boat fast. Like tarpon, snook are known for their acrobatics, be ready to fight them the same way when they go for an airborne head-shake.

Knots & Tippet

Much like a tarpon, snook’s mouths are very rough. If not hooked in the very corner of the mouth, or the top of their nose, they can ware through a leader section pretty quickly. I personally use 25-30lb fluoro as my shock tippet for these fish because of that reason. I don’t like break-offs and I really don’t like fish swimming around with gear stuck in their face. I also prefer a simple loop knot for connecting my fly to the tippet, this provides life like action during the retrieve. I’ve seen snook delicately mouth at flies and I’ve watched them smash flies. Every fish is different, retrieval techniques can vary by the fish. I’ve had fish out run my steady “strip, strip, strip” retrieve and end up on top of the fly, completely missing it. I’ve had fish follow-follow-follow, and then all of a sudden turn off, only for the next fish to inhale it. And then I’ve had encounters sight casting where I cast, I give it a couple pops trying to get their attention, they slowly come over, and I was just a millisecond too slow on beginning to work the fly. This results in a fish completely spooking and blowing out due to being able to get too good of a glance at your fly. It can be a delicate dance sometimes with these fish, but they will always keep you wanting more.

 

Don’t Get Discouraged!

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Persistence pays off with these fish, if you happen to totally miff the hook set, pick up your line and fire a cast right back up to the same spot. This technique is extremely effective, this is also why a fast and accurate single haul, is just as important as a clean double haul. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hooked a fish on the second or third try, just from goofing up the initial hook set. I actually had this happen last week, I was on the bow and had a solid follow out of the mangroves. The fish charged it, ended up being on top of my fly, and completely missed it. I fired a cast right back up to the big boil he left, he ate it again on the second strip, right in the middle of the pause. Resulting in a totally goofed hookset and Jon staring at me from the poling platform like, “Really…??” Stubborn I am, I fired up a third cast, this time Jon speaks up and says, “why would you do that?? That fish isn’t going to eat again, you need to be casting ahead.” As fate would have it, whammy! That fish ate it a third time, this time charging the boat, running under it, and breaking me off. This event lasted all of two seconds, but what a cool fish! We were all high-fives and laughs after that fish.

Fly Lines

Another important tool in your box – selecting the right fly line. Of the many innovations that Lee Wulff has contributed to fly fishing, the Bermuda Triangle Taper fly line is my go-to fly line for anything saltwater. I line all of my saltwater setups with the next weight size up. Which brings us to setups..

 

Fly Rods

A typical saltwater fishing day, 7/8/9wt rods are my go-to. My favorite setup to toss on a daily basis is an 8wt BVK or an 8/9wt Mangrove, 7wt class would also my Mangrove, and then there’s the 8 and 9wt Axiom II and Axiom II-X. These setups are laser focused and perfect for the saltwater pursuit of any species, especially snook!

But don’t forget that 10wt! This is an important tool, that will lead to regret if left behind. Your 38″+ upper class of snook will need A LOT of heat to keep them from running to structure. There are snook that Jon and I have both come across, where we just look back at each other and can’t believe what we’re seeing. I highly recommend a 10wt for those fish, with a large bait pattern, and a heavier tippet class.

The coolest thing about really big snook, they do not spook easily. They know exactly how big they are and their opportunistic feeding patterns revolve around that. If you can get it in front of them, they will most likely inhale it, but you have to bring the right tools to the fight! These fish are smart, they know their territory well, and will run to any structure they can to break you off quickly.

If by chance you are looking to wade fish, I don’t recommend that here. My best advice is to follow their patterns. If you scroll back up to the Knowledge Is Power section, hidden in there is everything you need to know about finding beach snook.

“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture, is like a tree without roots.” -M.Garvey

Words and photos by TFO Ambassador Courtney Marie Martin. Sunset snook photo (Photo #2) taken by Eric Shaeffer.

Courtney is based out of Charlotte Harbor, Florida.  When not fishing for snook, tarpon and redfish with her partner Jon Lee (TFO Pro Staff) and spending time with her family, Courtney is a fantastic artist, where a lot of her art is inspired by her time on the water. You can find out more about Courtney here.

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Fly Fishing With Confidence – 5 Tips From TFO Ambassador Tim O’Neill

Yogi Berra once famously said, “90% of the game is half mental.”

Of course, Mr. Berra was talking about the great game of baseball, but the thought process is spot on for fly fishing.

Fly fishing, like baseball, requires a level of mental involvement. You can have all the new gear, tons of flies, and fish the best waters in your area, but if your confidence level isn’t at its highest, you may be in for a long, unproductive day.

How do you get and keep your confidence up as you go through a day or a week of fishing? Here a few tips that help me fish at my best, and I hope they’ll help you.

1.) Gain Experience

We’ve all heard the saying “there’s no substitute for experience.” I believe this is 100% true. Unfortunately, there’s no magic pill here. The only way to gain experience is to put footprints on the riverbank.

Get out and fish as much as possible – as your experience increases, so will your confidence.

 

2.) Fish Confidence Patterns

If you were to look into any of my fly boxes you would be underwhelmed at best. You will see well-organized boxes with a bunch of flies – what you won’t see is a bunch of different patterns.

Hone in on the handful of patterns that work well in your area and stock your boxes with them. Remember, presentation is usually much more important than the fly on the end of your tippet. Speaking of presentation…

 

3.) Get A Good Presentation

You aren’t going to fool wary, wild brown trout with poor presentation.

I’m often asked if the most important ingredient in nymphing is size, silhouette, color or presentation. Without a doubt, my answer to that question is always presentation. If you’re in the ballpark with your fly selection and you give a solid presentation, you can usually coax a fish into eating. Conversely, you can be spot on with your fly selection, but if you don’t present it naturally to the fish, your chances of a hook up are pretty slim to none.

Many things can aid you in a proper presentation. When speaking of nymphing, and particularly tight line of euro-style nymphing, I like a light weight, 10′ rod. My go-to nymphing rod the past few years has been the TFO Drift Rod. the down locking reel seat and adjustable weight system allow me to balance the rod perfectly with a moderate weight reel, which is usually a problem for most 10′ rods. The TFO Drift has enough backbone for a solid hook set, but has a light overall feel. You can hold this rod high for a full day of hard nymph fishing and not have to worry about shoulder or elbow strain.

 

4.) Fish With Anglers Who Are “Better” Than You

Better is a subjective term here, but you get the idea. Be it a mentor, local legend, or a guide, seek out people you can learn from and fish with them as much as possible. Knowledge translates into confidence.

 

5.) Slow Down

With all the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives, sometimes we forget fly fishing is meant to be fun.

Don’t be in a rush to get to the next riffle or run. Take a minute to read the water and the currents, flip over a rock and see what’s living under it as an indicator of what the fish might be biting on at that time.

When you catch a fish, take a minute to recount where in the river the fish was. Why fly did it take, and at what point in the drift did he take it?

All of these little bits of information will help you put together the pieces of the puzzle. Each piece of the puzzle will increase your confidence, and the more confidence you have…well, you get the picture.

 

Quick Review & Story

I was standing knee-deep in frigid water on the inside edge or a bend of the Elk River in Western Pennsylvania, assessing the situation.

Across and a little upriver from my position there was a spot – you all know that spot. A submerged boulder with the tell tale dark area that every fisherman seeks out. The type of spot you KNOW holds a fish.

I cast my nymph rig upriver and drifted it down past the boulder…nothing. Two more drifts…nothing. An indicator adjustment…nothing. I added a little weight…nothing.

As a last ditch effort, I re-positioned myself and threw a huge upriver mend as the indicator hit the water. The rig had drifted about 10 feet when the 3/4″ diameter white float darted out of our sight.

I lifted and instantly came tight to 25 inches of angry steelhead.

It took me several adjustments to get the drift dialed in, but once I did, I stuck three fish out of that spot, landing two of them.

Why did I spend so much time drifting a 6 square foot area?

Confidence. “90% of the game is half mental” –  Words that hold true to baseball as well as fly fishing.

 

Words & Photos by Tim O’Neill

Tim is a TFO Ambassador based out of Hockessin, Delaware. He is also ​the founder and owner of O’Neill’s Fly Fishing as well as the owner of the Norvise fly tying system.

Backwater Basics to Catching Juvenile Tarpon On The Fly with TFO Ambassador Logan Totten

With Spring in full affect down in Southwest Florida, the temperatures are warming up, and the rain is right around the corner. This means a few things, the most important to most fly fisherman, is that juvenile and baby tarpon season is upon us. Being eager to eat flies, pull hard, fight mean and always so acrobatic – these little guys are dream fish for many anglers.

Tarpon are often seen rolling when they come up for air, which can make them fun to fish for, and it’s also a great way to locate them. Early morning in the spring in summer is of the best times to locate these rolling fish. Finding these little guys can be difficult, so here are a few tips I have picked up to be more affective while targeting small tarpon on the fly rod.

 

Location & Depth Changes

Finding the right fish for fly fishing can mean the difference in actually catching fish or just casting all morning at rolling fish. Tarpon generally like staying in deeper holes or canals where they can have safety in the depth. However, when they are eating, they will push into shallow water, edges and mangrove shorelines chasing small baitfish and minnows. This is where you will have a much higher success rate in getting one to eat your fly. Which brings us to the next tip..

Streamer Patterns, Colors, & Size

Smaller size streamer “baitfish & minnow” patterns is a must in my book. Flies like the EP micro minnow, Schminnow and Laserminnow are a few that have been proven to produce in many conditions. The smaller the better sometimes – especially when they’re keyed in on the tiny fry bait.

For colors to use, I go by the old rule of thumb — dark water, dark colors like blacks and purples; light water, light colors like whites chartreuse and natural colors. This can also be applied to the weather conditions. During the mornings/evenings and also low light days when its cloudy darker colors, you can throw a better silhouette and brighter sunny days bright colors can be less intrusive.

Gear Setup

Having the right gear is important so you can have an easy carefree day on the water. I generally like to use smaller rods that will still allow you to cast in the wind or punch larger patterns like small gurglers. The Axiom ll or Axiom II-X in 5-6 weight has been great for this job and was built for these salt conditions. Fishing in tight conditions like mangrove tunnels crazy stuff happens so its nice having a rod that is backed by its company with an unbeatable warranty.

For the reel, I use an older BVK reel, but the BVK SD reel would be a great affordable choice. Sometimes to get way back where the little guys live kayaking or wading can be your best access which often leads to reels getting submerged or wet. This makes the BVK SD ideal with its light weight frame and sealed drag.

I typically use a weight forward floating fly line, and my preferred leader setups are 16-20 lb tapered leader for the babies. For the bigger juveniles, I typically run a 16-20 lb tapered leader with a 12” 25-30 lb section.

 

Retrieval & Strip Patterns

Last but not least, for a productive day of baby tarpon fishing, getting your strip cadence down is imperative. Juvenile tarpon are aggressive fast fish and 90% of the time I like a short consistent fast strip. Even if you feel a bite, just keep stripping. They will often miss or short strike the fly so it’s crucial not to rip the bait away from the fish. There has been many times where I have had a single fish take multiple swings at a fly in the same retrieve and finally hooked him on his 4th or 5th try.

Juvenile Tarpon are an awesome fish to target on light fly rods for anybody from beginner to expert and applying a few simple principles can make your time on the water much more productive. One of my main tips for anybody is to keep it simple and have fun!

 

Words and photos provided by Logan Totten. Logan is a TFO Ambassador based out of Englewood, Florida. He also works at TFO dealer/fly shop West Wall Outfitters in Port Charlotte, and runs a guiding service on the side called Backcountry Paddle Adventures. For further questions, you can reach out to Logan at backcountrypaddleadventures@yahoo.com.

 

Generation To Generation

My parents belonged to the greatest generation, although no one ever told them until late in their lives. I’m pretty sure they didn’t realize it when they were my age and definitely not at my kids age. They never realized how great they were; they simply returned from the war, got married, got jobs and raised families. Since then, we’ve had baby boomers, Generations X, Y and Z, millennials and probably several others along the way.

One thing has remained constant across the generations, however, at least in my family; each generation invests in the next, not necessarily in a material sense but by passing down wisdom, values and passions. My love of the outdoors was learned from my dad, which I in turn, have passed down to my children and their spouses. I learned to fish standing by my father’s side. At first he tied the knots and baited the looks, but soon taught me to do it myself. I not only learned to fish, but also to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation. I gained respect for the fish I caught and other animals I hunted. My dad was my role model, hero as well as mentor.

I learned fly fishing as an adult, partially from my father but also from other mentors. With a sport as complex as fly fishing, mentorship serves a vital role to a fledgling angler. Some of my fly fishing mentors are well known like Lefty Kreh and Ed Jaworowski, but many others are less famous but still just as important. Each planted the seeds or nurtured my growth, helping me to develop as an angler and man. I honor my father and all my other mentors when I share with others what was taught to me.

Now my kids are sharing this passion and wisdom with their children. In our family, this begins at an early age. On a recent family trip to the Driftless Streams in Northeast Iowa, we introduced my grandson, Gage and granddaughter Emma to fly fishing. My wife, Jo took photos of Gage on Evan’s back as he fished. Michelle made sure he was warm and snug. Clay carried Emma in a chest pack.

Even though Gage and Emma were far too young to fish or even walk along the stream banks, we enjoyed the outdoors as a family, laughed a lot and even caught some pretty nice fish. But I stood back at one point and simply took it all in, admittedly a little choked up on that beautiful morning. I sensed the warmth of my dad’s smile. He would have been delighted. And Lefty too; as my daughter Erin held the rod and I place my hand over hers, Lefty’s hand was there too, guiding us through the casting stroke.

Written by TFO National Advisor Jason Randall

*All Photos Provided By Jo Randall*

TFO Introduces the Axiom II-X Fly Rod

The Axiom II-X was designed for the intermediate to advanced fly angler seeking to maximize accuracy at distance.

Based on the fast action of our renowned TiCrX, we used our highest modulus material and Axiom technology to redefine performance in an extremely powerful fly rod. Unlike other “stiff” rods, the Axiom II-X delivers both the energy necessary for long casts and the incredible tracking and recovery which results in accuracy at distance. If it comes down to one cast, one perfect long cast, this is the fishing tool to do the job.

TFO’s patented and exclusive Axiom technology embeds a double-helix of Kevlar within the blank. The superior tensile strength of the Kevlar acts to buttress the rod’s carbon fiber matrix in compression. The result is that Axiom series fly rods stabilize faster and smoother, absorb shock better and comfortably tolerate over-loading. The angler benefits because Axiom technology virtually eliminates the ability to over power the rod when casting. Bottom line – whether you carry more line in the air or push the rod to the limit, you won’t feel any mushiness – What you will feel is line ripping out of your hand as it launches.

The Axiom II-X series is constructed with high modulus carbon fiber material and an embedded double-helix of Kevlar within the blank all finished in a satin sky blue. The series features premium quality cork handles with burl accents, anodized aluminum up-locking reel seats with carbon fiber inserts. All eight models feature alignment dots color coded by line weight, Recoil guides by REC and ultra-lightweight chromium-impregnated stainless-steel snake guides. All Axiom II-X rods are packaged in a labeled rod sock and rod tube.

Axiom II-X rods are available in 9’ 4-piece configurations from 5 to 12-weight and retail from $349.95-$369.95.

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

facebook.com/templeforkoutfitters
instagram.com/templeforkoutfitters
twitter.com/tforods

Download a PDF version of this press release here.

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

facebook.com/templeforkoutfitters
instagram.com/templeforkoutfitters
twitter.com/tforods

Download a PDF version of this press release here.

Casting Carolinas Gives Cancer Survivors Hope

Cancer.

It’s everywhere. And it affects everyone.

In 2018, 1.7 million Americans will contract some form of cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 600,000 will die from it.

“Cancer is evil,” TFO advisor Wanda Taylor said. “We detest it.”

Science can help prevent cancer. Compassion can help those who are fortunate enough to survive it.

It’s the main reason Taylor helped start Casting Carolinas, an organization in North and South Carolina that helps women’s cancer survivors cope. Taylor and other anglers gathered in the Western North Carolina Mountains last weekend to host the Tie-One-On Challenge, a fly-fishing team tournament and CC fund-raiser. Also on hand at the Cherokee, N.C. affair was Starr Nolan, CC’s executive director, who was assisted by a slew of volunteers, who braved high water and a wave of cold rain to pitch in during the two-day event.

“My father died from lung cancer,” Taylor said. “Starr had a close friend die from cancer. We wanted a way to fight back. This is our way to fight back. When you find out you have cancer, your world stops. We wanted a way to stop that. That’s basically it. It’s not just one cancer. We have 17 different kinds on our retreats. When it all comes together, it’s like a posse. Everyone says, ‘thanks for giving your time. You’re so patient.’ They have no idea how much it helps us. It helps me to know my dad didn’t die in vain. There are people out there surviving. Each year we have earlier detection. That’s key for the healing of cancer.”

Nolan and Taylor were both involved in Casting for Recovery, a non profit that provides fly-fishing therapy for breast cancer survivors, but decided several years ago to start Casting Carolinas, which is independent of any national oversight and welcomes women who have faced all forms of cancer.

“We wanted every dime donated, every dollar, every hundred-thousand dollars donated to stay in state,” Taylor said.

The goal of Casting Carolinas is to provide education and support for women who have survived cancer. Part of the weekend retreats is fly fishing. Taylor, a member of Southern Appalachians Fly Fishing Hall of Fame, has served as one of the instructors.

“You can’t think about anything else when you’re fly fishing,” Taylor said. “When you’re casting toward fish, your world is focused on that. You can’t think about chemo. You can’t think about dying or radiation. The brain needs a vacation, a huge vacation. They’re so giddy, whether they hook a fish or not, just from being in the water, they’re so refreshed. When they come in, they’re so beaten down. When they leave, they’re so refreshed. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

Nolan stressed that CC’s mission is much more than fly fishing, but nevertheless its impact is undeniable, particularly when it comes to creating confidence.

“They get to the end of the retreat and it’s like, ‘Wow. Success,’ which is a big rush,” Nolan said. “Part of healing from anything is having successful experiences, maybe doing something that you never thought you could do.”

Taylor has assisted with cancer-survival retreats since the early 2000s. She sees no reason to curb her commitment.

“For me, it’s a passion I have bringing other people into the sport of fly fishing,” she said. “I love fly fishing. I dream of fly fishing. I just think I get a joy of bringing new people into the sport. What we teach our staff is, this is never about you. It’s always about someone else. In any volunteer organization, that’s the bottom line. If you’re doing it for any other reason, for fame, for notoriety, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.”

And CC would not have thrived without Taylor’s expertise and enthusiasm.

“Her heart is in it,” Nolan said. “That’s what moves non-profit organizations along is having people who are so devoted in terms of understanding the vision from a heart place. That’s been Wanda all along. She’s always been there. She’s always been there and supportive, available and part of the vision. We could not replace her.”

Every non profit needs resources, and TFO, through Taylor, has donated rods and reels for retreat participants to use. Taylor and other TFO advisors developed several series of rods as a tribute to various charitable organizations, including Casting for Recovery, Project Healing Waters and Reel Recovery.

“People have such big hearts,” Taylor said. “(TFO) loves creating new anglers, whether they’re missing their arm or leg or part of a breast. If they have a passion for it, (TFO) will find a way to help.”

Thoughts on Casting Carolinas or other fly-fishing related charities? Feel free to chime in on one of TFO’s social media pages.

Tactics for Stubborn Summer Trout

Summer traditionally is a time to enjoy the outdoors. Anglers enjoy the longer days. Trout? Not so much.

Of course, this scenario depends on geography. Western trout thrive; southeastern and mid-atlantic trout struggle with summer’s swelter.

But this is not to say that non-western fishermen should hang up their waders in August. Quite the contrary. There are fishing opportunities; you just have to know when and where to go.

Here are a few pointers.

Go Early

Set your alarm clock. Try to be on the water at sunrise — or shortly thereafter. As the air temperature rises, so does the water temperature. Mornings are cooler than afternoons.

When the water temps hit 70 degrees, trout become lethargic and feed very little. I try to shut down my fishing by 10, 10:30 a.m., sometimes earlier, if it’s warmer than usual.

Hoof It

Lower-level streams tend to be warmer. If you want to find cooler water, find streams at the highest elevations possible. That might mean hiking a couple miles. The key is to find water with temperatures consistently in the 60s.

Once there, fish the shade. Trout like cover from aerial predators. Plus, they can feed on the terrestrials — ants, beetles and grasshoppers — that fall into the stream.

Fish the Foam

When I first started mountain trout fishing, I fished the slower water that formed the tail of the pools. I simply assumed trout would have to work far too hard in the faster water. Generally, that’s true. However, in the summer, trout seek the oxygen of the riffles. It’s not uncommon to see them stack up in these spots to find comfort.

Go Subsurface

I started out as a diehard, damned-the-torpedoes dry-fly snob. That rigid approach softened after enduring many fishless days one summer.

Insect activity slows to a crawl after spring ends. Add in the fact that fish want to stay cool, and you can understand the need to nymph fish. This can be as simple as indicator fishing or you can take it a step further with euro-nymphing. TFO’s Drift rod is perfect for this tactic.

Find a Tailwater

Tailwater fisheries are known for keeping the water at a cold, consistent temperature year round. When the natural streams are too warm to fish, you can usually find a tailwater with water temperatures in the 50s. The hatches are usually consistent and productive, and the fish are usually willing to eat. The only downside to tailwaters are the releases. The Nantahala, near where I live in Western N.C., is controlled by Duke Energy, which tailors the releases to the rafting companies that use the river. The water usually runs high during the day, but is more suitable for wading early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

Check with your local electric company for a release schedule before planning a trip. And if you do get caught during generation, seek the safety of the shoreline. Better safe than sorry.

If you don’t have access to a tailwater, find a spring creek, which offers ground-fed cold water year round. Virginia’s Mossy Creek and Montana’s DePuy Spring Creek, for instance, are known for their year-round prowess.

 

Summer fishing can be rewarding if you plan properly. Any other suggestions? Let us know on one of our social media pages.

 

How to Fly Fish for Trout on Small Streams

When I first learned to fly fish, I was, in retrospect, too stupid to know better.  I remember thrashing about in the brush on a technical spring creek. I was fishing a hopper, but in reality, my fly was on land more than water, as I tried to figure out how to get the line and leader from point A to point B where the fish were, at least where I thought they were.

I assumed the fish were in the middle of the stream. They were under the banks.  It took me a good six months to figure out that nugget of information.

I started fly fishing on Virginia’s Mossy Creek because I thought that venue was my only option, which led to months of futility and frustration. Fortunately, a more experienced fisherman pointed me toward the local mountain streams. That water was my best teacher.

If Mossy Creek was akin to calculus, the traditional small streams of the Blue Ridge Mountains were Algebra I. After a season or two on the smaller water, I was ready for calculus.

Here’s a few things that I learned along the way.

Dry-fly fishing is Rare

When I started out with the long rod, I was a dry-fly snob. I probably watched too many Saturday-morning ESPN outdoors shows with massive caddis hatches. The reality is nymph fishing is the most consistent way to catch trout. Once I put my ego aside and learned how to high-stick nymph fish, the more I caught fish. Was it pretty? No. Was it effective? Yes.

For a primer on nymph fishing, check out TFO advisor Jason Randall‘s post on how to fish subsurface.

However, if there’s a hatch, bring your dry-fly box. If not, reach for a subsurface fly. You will catch more fish and you’ll consider it a religious experience when the Green Drake hatch arrives.

Fish the Foam

I used to only fish the tail of a pool. Typically, the tail yields a big fish or two. But I struggled as the water levels dropped and the water temperatures increased. Why? Because fish need oxygen, and faster water creates oxygen.

And even in cooler weather, fish still hold in the faster water, if there’s quality subsurface structure. The good thing about probing the riffles is the fish have to make a decision whether to eat quickly. They don’t have time to be picky.

It’s a Matter of Geometry

I remember wading as little as possible at first because I feared spooking fish, so I stayed on the bank. Although this approach is doable, my casting angles were limited.

Eventually I learned to fish from the middle of the stream. My strategy: Use the fast water as cover, stand in the middle and reposition incrementally to get the straight-on presentation, where the line, leader and fly were in the same current drifting downstream.

To avoid spooking fish, I didn’t wade up and down the stream. I picked my spots ahead of time and traveled from spot to spot on land. This is key: Once you’ve mined an area, get out of the water and walk away from the bank. Stay away from the edges, because fish can hear footsteps, even if you’re on dry ground.

Shorter is Not Better

Like many new anglers, I spent a lot of time getting hung up in the streamside brush. To correct that, I built a smaller rod — a 6-footer that I was immensely proud of. However, I essentially traded one problem for another. I stayed out of the trees, but I had trouble with drag, because I couldn’t keep enough line off the water.

I went back to my longer rod, a custom-made nine-footer. To stay out of the trees, I choked up and moved my casting hand up and down the butt section, using shorter lever for tight casts and a longer lever for line control.

TFO’s Drift rod is a good option. At 9 feet, it’s long enough and doesn’t require much line to load and cast, which allows you to efficiently punch out short presentations, the norm for high-stick nymphing.

Carry a Stream Thermometer

Before I started fishing seriously, I used to attribute success to sheer luck. Although there are a number of factors that determine whether you catch fish, a primary component of success is a water temperature. There are no absolutes in fishing, but once the water temperature hits 70 degrees in a mountain stream during the heat of summer, trout become lethargic and the chances of catching one drops dramatically.

The Long Road to Success

As I reflect upon nearly 30 years in fly fishing, I remember that I almost quit the sport after my first few months. Thank goodness I had someone help me navigate the learning curve.

Even with assistance, take these tips one at a time. Do not try to implement all of them at once. Be patient. With time, everything will come together, and consistent success will be that much more rewarding.

Spin or Fly: It’s Time to Think Outside the Box

I have a confession to make: I bought my first spinning rod and reel in more than 20 years.

I admit it. I’m a diehard fly-only, fly fisherman. I grew with the old closed face, Zebco reels, but once I got the long rod in my hand, I never wanted to let it go.

Was I stubborn? Maybe. The truth is I fell in love with making a rod bend and forming a loop.

However, my passion for fly casting recently ran smack into a dose of reality. Traditionally, I’ve fished the Florida salt — in Tampa, Jupiter, St. Augustine, but recently switched to freshwater when I moved inland —- to the banks of the Santa Fe River in North Florida.

My river house has a platform on the water that backs up to a treeline. There’s no floating dock and no way to cast a fly. If I wanted to fish in my backyard, spinning gear was the only way to go. Passion yielded to pragmatism and I bought a spinning outfit and a batch of Rooster Tail spinners from the local True Value hardware store, a development that led to the idea for this blog post: What can gear fishermen learn from fly fishermen and vice versa?

I called upon Collins Illich, Vice President/Bass Category Manager of TFO, for a bit of insight on how fly and gear anglers can learn from each type of fishing. Collins is a former fly shop owner and fly fishing guide. He also fishes with traditional gear. Below are a few excerpts of our conversation.

TFO: What can gear fishermen learn from fly fishermen?

CI: “The number one thing fly fishermen have that gear fishermen are trying to do. … There’s a whole category of gear fishing that’s called finesse fishing. No matter how finesse you get with a baitcaster or a spinning reel, you are never going to be as finesse as you are with a fly rod. Fly fishermen represent the ultimate in finesse fishing. Associated with finesse fishing, I would talk about precision. Gear fishermen in the bass category, they’re going to cover a lot of water quickly. They make a lot of casts. Fly fishermen are much more precise, more methodical traditionally. One thing that I try to visualize when I’m trying to get guys to cross over is if I’m fishing a specific piece of water, but I only care about the first three feet of the retrieve, if I fish with a fly rod, I can cast, make the first few feet of the retrieve and cast again. You can’t do that with a baitcasting rod. The methodical nature of fly fishing is a good lesson. The finesse of fly fishing is a good lesson for the gear fisherman. You’re seeing a lot of techniques in the gear side adapted from the fly side. You’re seeing bass fishermen use bucktail jigs.”

 TFO: Is it realistic to expect the gear fishermen to acquire the finesse without the fly rod and fly?

CI: “It’s how you use a rod, how you use a bait. They’re all realistic. Studying other fishermen is going to make you a better fisherman. There’s an expression Rick Pope uses here at TFO: A master mechanic has more than just a crescent wrench in his toolbox. You can literally take a rabbit strip fly — rabbit strip is one of the most effective materials in terms of enticing a fish to bite —- you can take that instead of a soft plastic and drop shot it on 6-pound mono or 6-pound fluoro and catch fish that you would have never caught (before), heavily pressured fish.

TFO: I know (pro bass fisherman) Shaw Grigbsy is a big fly fisherman:

CI: “Best sight fisherman in the world.”

TFO: I heard Roland Martin is a big fly fisherman as well.

CI: “I’ve fished with Roland Martin. That’s cool. It doesn’t surprise me that Shaw Grigsby is a fly fisherman. As you slow down and as you get more precise with you casts, you’re going to become a better fly fisherman. No one questions whether Shaw Grigsby is the best sight fisherman among the elites.”

TFO: Now for the second half of the equation: What can fly anglers learn from gear fishermen?

CI: “The first and most effective thing is to fish deep. The number one limitation that people complain about in fly fishing outside of the wind is fishing deep. Seeing how a gear fisherman positions himself and studies the water and uses various columns and how he uses electronics, you don’t see a fly-fishing guide with $3,000 graph on their boat very often. There’s a reason the gear fisherman has that; he’s looking at water; he’s looking at water temperature; he’s looking at structure. He’s looking at ways to present a bait in 30 feet of water, in 20 feet of water, in 12 feet of water that the fly fisherman would have never even tried without watching a gear fisherman do it.

“The other thing would be (to speed up) and it’s the inverse of teaching a gear fisherman to slow down. Well, a gear fisherman can teach a fly fisherman to how to speed things up. If you fish a bait efficiently, you can fish it very, very quickly, especially if you’re skipping spots. Learn where the fish are. Don’t fish the open water. Fish the water with the fish in it. Both can teach efficiency, but on a different spectrum. One faster. One is slower.

“I would talk less about teaching it and more about enjoying it. If I’m a fly fisherman fishing Toledo Bend with a fly rod, I’m enjoying it. I’ve got a three-day trip. This is awesome. Then day three, it’s raining and the temperature’s dropped 10 degrees overnight and we’re blowing 30 miles an hour, and I don’t know how to gear fish, I’m not going to be able to fish effectively. Learning how to broaden your scope will make you a better fisherman, let you fish in more conditions and let you enjoy more of it.”