This year TFO released a brand new fly rod series geared at predator and big streamer fishing. This rod builds on the previous model, the ESOX series, to offer the predator fly angler a much-welcomed tool in their toolbox.
This rod was fully redesigned by the awesome team at TFO with the help from Blane Chocklett (where the BC comes from)! It comes in three models that are fully fit for freshwater and saltwater demands – 8wt, 10wt, and 12wt.
I was a fan of the ESOX rod to begin with so when the BC Big Fly came out I was very excited to give it a try given some of the improvements TFO included this time around. I spent about 3 weeks fishing the 8wt, 10wt, and 12wt in our local musky water here in Madison, WI so I am excited to share some thoughts on it!
As mentioned, this blank was completely redesigned by TFO. It is built using their Axiom Technology which is what provides such a good balance between power, accuracy, and recovery – three essentials to fly fishing for large fish with big flies.
The blank is stiffer and faster than the ESOX, but still has the blend of tip and butt power to enable different casting styles to be successful using this stick. I really like how light the rod feels in your hand, even the big 10 and 12wts, but the first thing I noticed was how smooth it was on the cast. This was especially apparent when throwing big musky flies, where typically you get a lot of shock in your back cast or the rod just wilts at the weight. This is where the redesigned rod blank really shined as it was able to maintain and deliver power without that full amount of shock seen in other rods. All in all, this just means you will be able to enjoy casting this rod for longer hours…keeping you on the hunt for the next giant.
The grip is very similar to the grip on the ESOX series. It is a modified cork composite that is very comfortable and functional but more importantly also durable. It has the extended IGFA-compliant fighting butt with the unique TFO foregrip. It is a full-wells grip with a little bit extra room on the front which helps 1) provide a comfortable grip platform for Figure 8s and 2) gives you the ability to choke up on the rod if desired (a common tactic in musky fishing!)
Some other sweet features included the three RECOIL stripping guides. These are pretty sweet to mess around with as they can truly be bent in half without compromising the durability. This will come into play as rods get thrown into trucks, boats, etc, and will be able to take a bit more of a beating than your typical stripping guide.
A couple of other cool features are the added hook keeper and the sweet laser-engraved Gamechanger logo on the reel seat.
We messed around for a few weeks with all three of these rods and several different types and brands of line. We also got to check out the NTR (No Tools Required) Reel. A bit of a side note, but we are big fans of this reel for our musky fishing as it nails a good balance between quality and price. Be sure to check it out when it drops in August! Now, back to the rod, here is what we found to work best when rigging it up.
8wt – 300 grain seemed to be best on this rod. While it will be angler specific, I found this helped me load the rod appropriately without much effort and also cast large bass and trout streamers with ease. It can for sure handle 280 grain+ well but my recommendation would be to spool up something a little closer to 300 grains.
10wt – 400 grains seemed to be the sweet spot. Again, angler specific, and something like a 380 grain seemed to work just fine as well. I was able to cast large 8-10 inch gamechanger style flies on this grain weight and rod weight without any trouble. Definitely be sure to let the butt section load!
12wt – 500 grains was my preference on this rod. I was able to cast the largest and heaviest musky flies in a little bit of wind without feeling like I was working too hard. The part I love the most about this 12wt is that it feels light in the hand and much lighter than your typical 12wt. To me, this means, this could easily be your everyday predator rod, which isn’t something I would say about every 12wt out there.
I was very pleased with the performance of the rods, especially the 10 and 12wt for musky fishing. With other rods I have used in that range, things can start to break down when you are trying to chuck big musky size flies on a heavy sinking line and that is just not the case with the TFO BC Big Fly.
If you are in the market for a new predator rod, be sure to check this one out. This rod will definitely be added to our arsenal here at Musky Fool. Pretty tough option to beat at $399.99 (comes with rod tube and sleeve). I really think you will like it!
Blog written and photos provided by Dan Donovan of Musky Fool. For all your musky needs and gear, visit their website here.
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
This week, Temple Fork Outfitters announced three new fly products to the TFO family: the BC Big Fly, the NTR reel, and the Mangrove Coast. Find out more below, and be sure to check out these new additions at your local TFO dealer later this summer!
BC Big Fly
Introducing the all new BC Big Fly series. Designed by TFO Advisor Blane Chocklett, the BC Big Fly delivers big flies to big predatory fish with ease.
Evolving from the Esox series, the BC Big Fly will feature the our popular Axiom technology in the blank design, while incorporating updated componentry including elongated composite cork handles, extended fighting butt, Black Pearl REC stripping guides, blacked snake guides, laser engraved Game Changer fly logo on the reel seat, and much more.
The BC Big Fly will be offering in a 9’ 8wt, 10wt, and 12wt and will retail for $399. To find out more about specifics and details of the BC Big Fly, click here.
Stay tuned for more, and be sure to check out the BC Big Fly at your local TFO dealer later this summer!
Introducing the all new NTR reel series. This new reel series offers anglers a ‘No Tools Required’ solution in a high-performance, fully sealed and machined aluminum fly reel.
The NTR reels will be available in four sizes, two-color options (Black/Gold & Clear/Gold), and will retail for $139-$169. To find out more about specifics and details of the NTR reel series, click here.
Stay tuned for more, and be sure to check out the NTR reels at your local TFO dealer later this summer!
Introducing the all new Mangrove Coast series. Designed by TFO Advisor Flip Pallot, the Mangrove Coast was built for the hardcore saltwater angler seeking a medium fast action blank. Easy to load and precisely deliver a fly to spooky saltwater fish, the Mangrove Coast delivers all the necessary components to be successful.
This series features full wells grips with an instant rod weight burled cork LINE-ID system, fighting butts on all models, and cleverly machined hook keepers built into each side of the aluminum up-locking reel seat. All rods are topped with saltwater safe FUJI stripping guides and ultra-lightweight chromium-impregnated stainless-steel snake guides.
The moderate-fast action Mangrove Coast will be available in a 9’ 6 weight through 12 weight and will retail starting at $289.95. To find out more about specifics and details of the Mangrove Coast, click here.
Stay tuned for more, and be sure to check out the Mangrove Coast at your local TFO dealer later this summer!
Once again, these new rods will be available later this summer! To see our entire catalog of fly fishing products, click here.
Next Monday marks the release of four new rods to the TFO family of fly rods: the Stealth – TFO’s first ever true Euro-nymphing rod; the Blue Ribbon – a medium-fast action western style of rod designed to handle heavy indicator rigs, hopper-droppers and streamers in harsh, windy conditions; and the LK Legacy and LK Legacy TH– a tribute to Lefty Kreh’s most popular rod he helped design and TFO’s best-selling rod, the BVK.
Over the year, we sent several prototypes of the LK to our advisors and ambassadors to help us dial in what Lefty would be pleased to be the evolution of the BVK. If there’s any angler on our team that has been raving about it more than others – it’s Blane Chocklett. Here’s what he has to say about it.
What do you notice right away when fishing with the LK Legacy?
BC: It’s a true fly caster’s rod. You can immediately feel that and appreciate it. Anybody that likes a faster rod and technical casting tool – this is it.
As a tribute to Lefty Kreh (LK Legacy), and evolution of the BVK series, how do you feel he might have felt about the outcome of this rod?
BC: I think he’d be very proud of it. I think it’s a continuation of what he built in the BVK series. It has some similarities to it, but it’s a definite improvement in one of TFO’s best selling rods ever.
He would be absolutely pleased. It’s everything you’d want in a rod, and everything he’d want in one as well – especially someone that can appreciate casting like Lefty did.
What species have you been targeting with the LK?
BC: I’ve been playing around with the prototypes for about a year now I’ve caught a variety of stuff on them from stripers to redfish, speckled trout, spanish mackerel, albies, largemouth, smallmouth, snakehead, bowfin, pickerel – pretty much everything but musky and trout.
The LK has done extremely well with handling floating and intermediate lines, which is pretty much what I have been using.
What has been your Go-To size/model?
BC: I’ve been fishing specifically with the 6, 7, and 8 weight models. I really like all of them. They all fish and cast like the lines are supposed to. I haven’t noticed any change in line sizes – like the rod just doesn’t feel the same in the 6wt as it does in a 7wt. It’s a continuation of each, so it reflects each line weight appropriately.
I’ve been using a 7wt probably the most with it being smallmouth season lately and all the cicada stuff that’s been happening this summer. I’ve definitely been using the 8wt quite a bit, too. I use those two more so than the 6wt.
Have your clients been using them? If so, what has been their reaction?
BC: Oh yeah. Everybody that I’ve had in the boat is going to buy one.
I’ve been fishing the Axiom ll-Xa lot. It’s a great casting tool, but it’s also more of a fish-fighting tool. When my clients pick up the LK Legacy, they notice how light it is and they notice how accurate and easy to cast it is -even though it’s a faster rod. A lot of the times it has to do with them throwing a floating line so they don’t have to feel the weight of a heavier sinking line and can feel and appreciate the cast of the rod better.
The LK Legacy an be used in many different scenarios. It could be used by the guy chasing bonefish on flats, the sight fishing red fish angler, and the trout angler that likes to fish larger dry flies. It does fine fighting fish, too. It’s much stronger than the BVK. It’s an extremely versatile rod, but it’s more of a casting tool for sure.
When one fishing season ends, another one begins for TFO Advisor Blane Chocklett. After a long and successful fall and winter guiding season of chasing large musky in the rivers of Virginia, the warmer days of Spring get Blane prepared to target trout, smallmouth, and striped bass.
We see a lot of material on trout and smallmouth, so we thought it would be fun to switch it up and talk with Blane about striped bass fishing as these fish can get massive and are a blast on the fly.
What kinds of signs or patterns lead you to start focusing in more on striped bass fishing in your area?
When spring arrives in my area it signals migrations and reproduction in many animals and fish. As water temps warm many fish begin their annual spawning migrations. Shad move into our river systems and not too far behind are the predatory species like striped bass. A combination of water levels on the rise with rising water temps in combination with ambient light, all play a part in these annual migrations.
What types of TFO rods (series/weight) do you like to use to go after striped bass? What do you like about these rods that cater to this type of fishing?
I like the Mangrove series when using larger flies and heavy sinking lines when targeting stripers. The rod action in the mangrove helps smooth out the shock and kick over of the heavy flies and line. When using the intermediate and floating lines for this time of year I like the Axiom ll-X as it is fast and smooth and carries the flies to the target effortlessly.
What is the target forage for striped bass in your fishery/area and how do you mimic that? Does forage type change over seasons?
In our waters the forage for striper can range from river Herring to alewives and threadfin shad. All can very in sizes and is important to note as the fish can key in on certain sizes based on what’s available to them. I tie many variations of my Game Changer fly to mimic the sizes and species for this very reason.
What line/leader/tippet set up does you like to fish said flies on? Specific knots?
When the fish are in pockets and heavy current areas I prefer the Scientific Anglers “ Frequency Sink Tip” as it has a type 5 10 foot sinking tip with a tapered floating line for the angler to be able to mend the line in the fast water while the fly and sinking head is dropping in the zone. This allows the angler to manipulate the fly in eddies while maintaining control of the floating line in the faster current.
A second line I use is the SA Sonar Sink INT/SINK3/Sink5 for faster deeper runs. This line keeps direct contact with the fly as the line sinks due to its triple density design.
The third set up I like is the SA Sonar Sink 30 Clear Intermediate line. This line fishes well in slower water when the fly needs to hover or stay in an area longer without sinking too fast and getting hung up.
Any opportunities for top water?
We get good top water opportunities during low light early morning and evening and even after dark. For this set up I like the Axiom ll-X 8-9wt paired with a SA Amplitude Tropical Titan as it turns over bigger more wind resistant bugs well like big poppers and sliders.
Do striped bass have a certain type of behavior or holding pattern for spring? In other words, are they moving and covering a lot of water at this time, or are they typically a little bit more lazy and stick to one area? What types of water should an angler focus on for targeting this species?
This time of year stripers are on the move so keeping up with locals and being on the water is key. Many of the fish will run to certain areas to spawn and feed and finding these areas is key to success. Look for natural obstructions like water falls, big rapids or dams, these are areas where they will start to bottle neck and back up creating more opportunities.
How does striper fishing in your area change over the course of a season?
Striper season is very fluid as they constantly change based on food availability and water temps and ambient light.
For the angler that doesn’t have a boat, do you have any tips for wade anglers that would like to take their chances at catching a striped bass?
For those that don’t have boats wanting to target striper, look for tail outs of rapids and pockets. Areas were the striper has to concentrate before moving up the river. For lake anglers look for backs of coves, points and flats adjacent to river channels.
Blane Chocklett is an advisor at Temple Fork Outfitters, proclaimed fly fisherman, guide, and innovative fly tyer. You can find out more about Blane here.