Over many, many years. Lefty and I played a game of hiding small gifts or tokens, for no special reason or occasion, in places where the other would find them. Often in luggage, clothing, the pages of books, in vehicles, or tackle bags. We never exchanged Birthday presents, or the formal giving of presents. It was much better, not to see a gift coming through the woods!!!
On Birthdays, we’d call each other early in the morn, discuss what the day would be, or talk of Birthdays gone by or to come…
In later years, Lefty became enamored of texting. We texted daily…’lots of jokes. I could never come up with one he did not know!
After his death, I continued to text him for a year and a half, until they gave his number to someone else, who didn’t appreciate my texts 😊
I have continued to e-mail him, all along, just in case they’re getting through, somehow.
Today is Lefty’s Birthday…You can bet I’ll be sending a joke and the day’s itinerary so that he’ll be up to date when I catch up with him…..FP
We’d love to share a film put out last year by our friends at The American Museum of Fly Fishing and Flylords honoring Lefty and the memories that still last with fellow TFO Advisors Flip Pallot, Bob Clouser, and Blane Chocklett. Check out TIME below.
“How’s the fishing?” the lady on the bank genuinely inquired.
“We got one in the net, had a few follows- decent day,” my buddy in the bow replied. “But we are just getting to the good water-” I retorted.
“I would go get my drift boat out of the garage, but I only dry fly fish.” she said as she adjusted her position on her deck above the quick flowing seam.
‘What did she just say?’ Sam asked.
‘She only dry fly fishes? That eliminates like 8-9 months of the year on the river.’ I pondered.
It is an unusually warm early winter day on the river with guide Sam DeJonge of Wild Rise Outfitters. A pleasant air temperature of 47 degrees, we are toasty in fleece and the guides on my TFO Axiom II have not seen ice since last winter. Water temperature is 40 degrees, we are seeing intermittent clouds- we were hoping for a steel wool cloud covered day, but the sun manages to brighten a few runs along the way. We will fish all winter as long as boat launches are accessible. Solid advice to always check the takeout before you put in, they might not get plowed or are a treacherous skating pond from snow melt and re-freeze.
Don’t get me wrong, I get as excited as the next guy/gal when we see that first bug pop in early spring and an eager trout slurps it under the surface- but the streamer game- it gets my heart pumping like nothing else. For most anglers who chase apex predators, it’s all about the MEAT. Why does it seem intimidating? What is the hesitation for an angler to take the next step and buy a seven weight? Or even an eight or nine? I would surmise, in most cases, it is more about hurling a six inch wet tube sock through the air that may cause some trepidation, but that doesn’t need be the scenario. Let’s look at the basics. The hardware- line, rod, reel and flies coupled with the application of river reading and where to place a tasty morsel for hungry trout and how to retrieve your offering are the stuff books are written about. I will break it down for you in three stages. The Gear, The Flies and The Water.
Rod choice – One of the most important tools in the formula. One should choose a rod that can lift and deliver a larger fly to a sometimes tight or difficult location. Best rod weights from six to ten depend really upon the river and species you are chasing and the proficiency of the angler. Smaller streamers like Zonkers or Zoo Cougars can easily be propelled to likely soft seams with a good six weight, I really like the Axiom II or LK Legacy for the responsive roll casts often executed. Choose an eight weight if you need to catapult double deceivers or Gamechangers across the 50-yard line, often better matched with a fast action rod like the Axiom II-X. If you are into a mixed bag of bronzeback and lake fishing, the Blue Ribbon series in seven weight can toss your Lunch $ or a Bad Hair Day all day long. If you are looking in the budget fly rod category, the Pro II comes in under the competition and performs above it’s class. Proper pairing of line weight to the rod’s capabilities are paramount. We shall cover that next.
Line Choice – We need to get the fly in front of the fish. Even if the fish has already eaten, placing a sculpin or crawfish pattern in front of a 24-inch brown forces the fish to react aggressively. Divide the river column into thirds, top third is 1-2 feet of depth, middle section 3-5 feet, and the bottom is 6-8 feet of depth. We like to use Scientific Angler’s Sonar Titan for many Michigan rivers. The Hover sink 2/4 can cover the top 2/3 of the river effectively with proper fly choice. Sonar Sink Intermediate 3/5/7 can get you in the deeper slots, and if you really want to get down, go Full Sink, but be wary of the all the woody debris- you may lose a Bangtail or two. Many are going to argue some flies can go deep if you use a full sink line, and that often works, but don’t double down with a full sink and a conehead Fishwhacker or you will go broke buying flies. Keep your leader short. Really short. Some anglers try to switch from their 9-11′ leader and can’t figure out why they are missing targets. I will tie a two-foot section of 30# shock tippet with a barrel swivel to 2- 3′ of 12-15# flourocarbon. Keep it under 6 feet long, you will amaze yourself with how well you can roll that heavier wet Grumpy Muppet under some overhanging brush when the heavy taper of your line gets your leader on point.
The Reel – Don’t over think this one, but DO NOT dismiss it either. Get a quality reel, decent arbor size, I prefer large arbor for quicker line pick up and retrieve. I have witnessed more fish lost when an angler is fumbling around with a load of line at his feet and he can’t seem to get enough line on the reel to get the upper hand before his 24″ brown takes his leader to log town and ‘POP!’ I have also witnessed fish charge the boat or go upstream and the slack in the line allows for the fly to ‘fall out’ on a poor hook set. Be sure you have a substantial drag that has quick initial start up, sealed drag is a bonus on the often sandy Michigan rivers. The newly designed BVK SD between $200 and $240 fits all these requirements- even for saltwater.
Fly choice – When you mention ‘streamer’ to certain crowds out West, they immediately think of cute flies like the Autumn Splendor and Woolly Bugger- those flies certainly have a time and place, but most often we are using articulated flies to imitate bait. Sculpin, crawfish, darters/dace, shiners/chubs and smaller trout- these are all on the menu for the fish who have achieved a certain size class. Flash is good, not too much, not too little, often it’s the only thing that allows you to track your fly in the water. The old adage bright fly bright day often applies, but don’t be afraid to go black- it can save the day. We also have plenty of leeches/chestnut lamprey and baby coho/steelhead smolt that add to the dinner features on most rivers that connect to the Great Lakes, perhaps this is why our streamer game is so different. Most often, it is best to try to match the color of the natural surrounding, the bottom. Olive, is a key color on the Manistee, but I have a good buddy who most often throws yellow, and his Instagram account will back his color choice. Kelly Galloup, who, along with Bob Linsenman, pioneered much in our way of thinking for ‘how to fish’ and what to tie for streamer patterns- they actually cowrote the book some 20 years ago ‘Modern Trout Streamers‘. Most flies are either versions of Kelly’s vast arsenal of witty named feathered configurations, but also some of the guides who either worked with Kelly when he was in Michigan or thousands of tyers who have watched countless hours on YouTube and his tying tutorials. Russ Maddin brought us the Circus Peanut and recently updated with the Chromatic Peanut, easily one of my top five flies for rivers we fish. Kelly adapted this pattern with the Peanut Envy. His streamer patterns like the Sex Dungeon, Zoo Cougar, Silky Kitty, Knappy Sculpin, Double Madonna, Barely Legal, Bottoms Up and the Woolly Sculpin have all opened our eyes to a wide variety of tying skills and methods of chasing trophy trout. Mike Schultz has brought us the Swinging D and the Swinging D 2.0, while Rich Strolis –Catching Shadows– and his Ice Pick, Hog Snare and Headbanger Sculpin have put plenty of big fish in angler’s nets. Mike Schmidt with Anglers Choice Flies continually bangs out a couple dozen Cotton Candy Deceivers, Viking Midges, Red Rockets, and Meal Tickets for his far reaching fan base. TFO’s very own Blane Chocklett revolutionized the streamer concept with his multiple articulated GameChanger. Primarily a toothy Esox chaser in his guiding days, Blane was out to mimic something that had more lifelike swimming motion. But his patterns have begun a revolution in all aspects of the streamer world and we continue to see evolution as we hit the tying bench.
The River – Let’s talk about the water and how to fish it, effectively. The top third of the water column can be searched with patterns such as classics like a Muddler Minnow or Zonkers, but also the forever classic Zoo Cougar or Butt Monkey. If you add a sinking line, you can take some of these more buoyant flies to the next level. Most flies with a lot of deer hair or classic bucktail streamers like the Black Ghost tend to stay in the 1-3 feet zone. Sometimes I find these flies are very effective in early fall for pre-spawn brook trout and can be easily flung on your favorite five weight with an aggressive taper. This brings us to the middle column, 2-5 feet of depth, often targeted by floating anglers because you can tempt a fish up from the bottom or out of the woody cover without snagging up and losing $8 flies. Intermediate sink or sink tip lines will allow you to get down, especially if you make a downstream roll cast/mend immediately after your fly hits the water. This allows the line to sink with the current and paving a path for your fly to follow in front of that very ominous looking log jam. Great flies for this depth are the Double Boogie Man, Sex Dungeon, Great Lakes Deceiver and Circus Peanut to name a few. Going deep- aka Dredging- we need to be on the bottom, Headbanger Sculpin, Tungsten Conehead Woolly Sculpin, or a conehead Madonna will get down deep and dirty. I have often heard, “better to use the wrong fly at the proper depth, than the right fly at the wrong depth.” Basically, you gotta get the fly in the fish’s face- banging streamers on the bank is a good call, you will get a reactive aggressive strike that simply is the fish exerting dominance over territory, which is why we will see flashes on our streamer and get short strikes or ‘misses’- but sometimes they can’t just stop on a dime when they charge. Never overlook or underestimate the soft inside bend. This is an easy thing to do, especially when the far bank holds a ton of wood and a sweeper that is the very definition of a trout condo, but trust me. That transition water where the sand fades into dark cobble is exactly where a large aggressive fish can disappear into the bottom and wait for a careless brook trout or crawdad to slip out of his comfort zone. These can be camouflaged as shelves or deep gradient slopes, learn to read these tell-tale trout lies and you will amaze yourself in hook up ratio. Get a guide that can show you some of these non-descript looking trout hideouts, the return will be worth your investment.
Be sure to investigate a few spots like the front of a riffle zone or deep behind a down tree that looks like frog water. Big trout, especially in winter months will rest in dark murky water looking for a casual leech or crawfish to pass in front of their noses. There may be many likely looking holds that many trout may inhabit, especially on our wood-laden northern Michigan rivers, but the unlikely looking hold still can hold a trout, only a few less anglers have plied that water. Make a variety of retrieves. Imagine you are the baitfish that just came face to face with with a 22-foot dragon, would you casually walk out of the room, or turn on a dime and high tail it out of there? Make that fly dance and run like it is designed to swim. Sometimes the water temperature will dictate a very slooow thump thump retrieve. Trout will actively feed when water temperature is between 55 and 65 degrees, but post spawn opportunistic trout need to get some weight back on for winter. Spawning season can be stressful on trout, please leave them plenty of room to reproduce and secure future generations of trout to chase the other 11 months of the year.
No matter what you perceive as your preferred fishing method, always leave room to expand your horizons. Whether dry flies are your thing, or maybe you prefer Euro nymphing, having the right gear, the right line, and the “right” water always make for a memorable experience. Get out and enjoy the journey. #fishtheoriginal
Blog written by Brian “Koz” Kozminski. Koz is the TFO rep for the Great Lakes region and has been affiliated with TFO on various levels for the past six years. He runs a guide service called True North Trout in the off-season (May-October). You can get a hold of Koz on Facebook and Instagram, via email.
Wait, so you’re going to stand there calling yourself a fly angler, and you don’t have a 7 weight?
Well, maybe this will open your mind to a different rod weight.
Often skipped over by the fly shop employee for the more commercially popular 8 weight, and not as common in a drift boat as the old-school, six-weight with a half-wells grip.
The 7 weight serves an important purpose for both the fresh and saltwater anglers.
And frankly, they’re a lot more fun to fight a fish on and can deliver a big fly just as well as the heavier rods in the line-up.
By adding a 7 weight to the quiver, you’ll be able to cover just about everything from large trout, to bass and carp. Don’t forget steelhead and a few inshore saltwater species.
With most anglers already owning a 5 weight, the 7 weight is a perfect next rod to have. Already have a little 3 weight for small flies? Boom, 3-5-7, a perfect way to go, and you are covered for about every scenario.
Let’s breakdown some of the current TFO 7 weights, and see which one might make a home in your line-up.
7904 Blue Ribbon, (That’s a 7weight., 9-foot, four-piece rod for those unfamiliar with the TFO model lingo):
New to the line up this year, the Blue Ribbon series has been an all around hit, but the focus here is the largest rod in the series.
The 7 weight in particular has the ability to cast a big, air resistant fly repeatedly with minimal work. Paired with a thick diameter fly line, like the SA Mastery Series Titan, big flies are an ease. This series was based off of the popular Mangrove fly rods. Medium-fast action. Medium stiffness. This rod has plenty of power in the butt to pick-up and move heavy rigs, with minimal back casts.
For those considered this isn’t “enough rod,” or why don’t you have an 8 weight?
Believe me, this rod has the power. It can even handle some of this silly-multi streamer rigs thrown out west…Yes, I am looking at you Colorado anglers.
Outside of a great action for repetitive casting and quick shots along the bank, this rod also features the built-in hook keeper. A neat little aid for quickly attaching your fly.
While this was designed as trout rod, I’ve fished it for a few summers with big popping bugs for bass. Carp anglers, here you go. Perfect for those hulking brutes, (in really arm climates, check out the SA Grand Slam line) it’ll move the big flies and not get so kinky when hot out.
For those that get in bad fish fighting angles, (Seriously, keep the rod tip low! They are designed to carry a fly line, the butt section is for fighting the fish!). The reinforced top sections will help fight against high-stick breaks.
The rod also has a faster style action. For those like something with a little quicker response and stouter butt, this 7 weight is for you.
Whether fishing floating lines, or sink-tips the LK Legacy will respond quickly and help aid the angler in an accurate fly delivery.
This rod, with a 10-foot sink tip beat the banks hard this fall in search of Montana trout. It handled the more dense tip and all kinds of articulated and feathery, peanut envy’s, sex dungeons, husker-dos, husker-don’ts and just about everything I could chuck out there.
Salty folks may want to consider this on your next trip. Whether it’s reds or specs, this rod can more than handle bonefish. Rig it up with a RIO Bonefish or Redfish style line, you won’t be disappointed.
This is the big dog in the seven-weight offerings from TFO.
The fastest and stiffest rod in the line-up, this is for the angler with a fine-tuned cast that likes power and quick recovery.
While it excels at distance, maybe you’ve seen the photos of Blane Chocklett laying long, delicate casts, it more than stands on its own with quick shots and big flies.
Another rod that does well with heavier sink-tips and even the super long 20 to 30 foot sinkers. Striped bass anglers should be fired up about this one, long heavy sinking lines and big Clouser style flies are fun on this rod. The SA Sonar series pair very well with the A2X.
“When the day get shorter, darker and colder, most anglers lament even getting out of their warm beds…if you are a swinger, the coffee is brewing and you are more then pumped to get on the road and step into a run.
Dries flies aren’t really coming off, the hopper-dropper crowds have all but vanished and the fair weather anglers are at home prepping for a day of running errands and ambling around Home Depot killing time.
There is something about swinging flies.
Long rods, a pocket full of flies and sink tips.
Deep glassy runs, foggy eyes and cold toes.
It’s an exercise in patience and consistency, (and some kind of dark attitude to deal with the long hours and sparse hook-ups).
Strip, strip, strip, cast. Take a step. Put your hand in the fleece liner.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
Maybe you’ll push that steelhead far enough back into the pool, piss it off enough for a strike.
Maybe you’ll cover enough water and hit that big trout laying low, get a strike on the dangle.
The hours and days drag on. You over think the the purples, blues and blacks of your flies. Maybe you switch out tips. The desire to move spots looms heavy.
Those with a weaker constitution may say, “F**K it,” and go out hide out in a nearby dive bar or nap in the truck.
Others considering tossing their two-handed rod into the trash and getting out the spoon rod.
More time to stand and think, the motions become repetitive, you start playing with different anchor points.
If you’re reading this, and are interested in learning more about two-handed fly fishing, you’re in luck. Below is a basic breakdown of swing seasons, as well as rod/reel recommendations. Be on the lookout for more blogs and posts on swing season, but this should help you get started if you’re new to this type of fishing, and curious about what rod or reel to get.
LATE SUMMER/FALL STEELHEAD
When swinging flies later in the summer, before the rains come and the days become cold and short, a lighter shorter rod can be a lot of fun.
The 12-foot, 6-weight LK Legacy two-handed rod is perfect set-up weather your are fishing scandi floating lines and more classic patterns, or throwing small to medium intruders and weighted flies. This rod will also handle multi-density tips, from T-8 to T-11. The faster, stiffer road allows for smooth line pick-up and repositioning.
When picking a good winter setup I think it’s important to find a rod that will fit the size and type of water you are fishing. Swinging a deep slow run from the shore, or from a boat? On a wide, sweeping river? Or fishing a tight quarters coastal river? For winter fish you’ll typically be fishing medium-to-large size intruders and sink tips up to 15-feet long.
When fishing these heavier and thick diameter skagit heads and tips, most casters will find a more deeper loading rod beneficial and easier to handle during long days. Two rod lengths I always carry are a shorter, 11 to 11’6” rod and something longer and heavier, ideally a 12 or 13’6” 8-weight.
The Axiom II Switch is a great option not just for small to medium water, but also for those who want to “switch,” techniques and have the ability to go from heads and swinging flies to an indicator or chuck- and-duck system.
The 13-foot, Pro II TH model is great for skagit heads and tips, and due to is medium-fast action it smoothly loads and unloads
Line: 550 multi-density Skagit head, 10-feet of T-11 sink tip.
When it’s time to put away the dry fly rods and the big foamy terrestrials have all but been gnawed off the hook trout anglers should be eagerly looking for a longer lighter rods to swing for trout.
Having a long and light two-hander can be a lot of fun, and teach an angler a lot about seasonal holding patterns on their local trout water.
I typically like to have two, (or one rod with two line set-ups) when attacking the “trout spey,” or “micro spey,” approach. One rod will be for swinging soft hackles and little nymphs in skinny water. The second rig will be for streamers and heavier flies. On this 3/4-weight set-up, I’ll also swing a double woolly bugger set-up to give the appearance of baitfish “chasing,” each other.
Alaska is downright spoiled when it comes to fishing opportunities. Endless locations, endless seasons (if you count ice fishing), and a wide range of species to choose from. Ocean, lakes, creeks, rivers, we’ve got it all!
As a born and raised Alaskan Native, I find joy from every bit of it. But for me, the one target that stands out from them all, is the arctic grayling.
Otherwise known as the sailfish of the north, grayling are absolutely stunning creatures with an array of vibrant yet translucent colors of blue, red, and silver displayed on their large and prominent dorsal fin.
In Alaska, we have arctic grayling, as opposed to the nearly identical grayling found in Europe and parts of Russia. On average, grayling are a rather small species of fish. Believe it or not, they are actually part of the family of salmon species, Salmoniformes.
Fishing in Alaska is almost like fishing in a whole different world. I often catch myself forgetting that our fishing style is much, much different up here than in the states, almost entirely due to our salmon runs. In Alaska, we use flies that imitate salmon flesh and eggs, all varying colors depending on the lifecycle of the salmon.
However, the thing that skews our very specific style of fly fishing, are our grayling. Sure, every now and then they will eat up a flesh fly or painted bead, but only if its swung in the right spot at the right time. It’s not a very consistent way of fishing for grayling, in my experience. What is consistent with grayling, however, is the type of water they are typically found in most often.
Alaska, and many of you know, is huge. I’ve lived here my whole live and have only made it as far as Homer and Cantwell, which equidistance from Anchorage is about 300 miles each. Looking at that on a map, not a lot of ground covered. But, even within my “little” area of expertise, I’ve found where the grayling like to hang.
To put it simple, grayling like to be “up”. This means that the further “up” north you are, the more grayling there will be. The further “up” stream you are, the more grayling. If you’re in the southern part of the state, or the peninsula, the higher “up” in elevation is where you’ll find the grayling.
And within the “up”, the grayling will be peacefully laying in a slow, deep pool of clear water, just waiting for one of the bajillion mosquitoes in Alaska to land on the surface, or for a subsurface insect to chase at its level.
So, now that we’ve covered where to find grayling, let’s talk the nitty gritty of how to actually catch one.
A grayling that is considered large is around 18”, giant if it reaches 20”. The largest recorded arctic grayling is 30”, which is big big.
In the areas I fish, the grayling LOVE dry flies, and I LOVE watching them hit top water. Timing is key, since grayling have the tiniest mouths you’ll ever see in a fish and more often than not, will completely miss your fly on its first surface. So, if you miss him the first time, don’t give up. Trust me, he will be back almost instantly.
Like I said before, Alaska is home to what seems like all the mosquitoes in the world. So, anything that even slightly resembles a small insect usually works for top water fishing. There are some areas that are so remote and untouched, it’s said that a gum wrapper will fool a grayling. My favorites include the elk hair caddis, stimulator, and if I’m feeling wild, a chubby Chernobyl. And with their small mouths, I’m usually using anywhere from a size 8-14 fly.
For subsurface, a nymph, bead, and occasionally a flesh fly or leech will get their attention. Spring and fall is when you’ll have the most action with subsurface flies. This is due to the ice melting in spring runoff and releasing old salmon flesh (try a cotton candy/ham & eggs fly), and the releasing of fresh salmon flesh and eggs from the fall spawns.
Summer months are peak grayling fishing, right before and right after the salmon spawns. There are moments when the salmon push grayling out of their normal areas, and the most common tactic for that is to try a painted bead behind the salmon where the grayling are most likely waiting for eggs.
Gear-wise, you won’t need a lot. With the size and appetite of graylings, anywhere from a 3wt to a 6wt set-up is all you will need. There is the common case of catching a grayling while targeting salmon or trout, and in those situations, whatever rod you are using will work perfectly fine.
From my experience, grayling don’t put up too much of a fight. In fact, when I’m not using a dry fly, I can usually sense when it’s a grayling on the end of my line by the fact that it feels like I’m reeling in a wet rag with an occasional head twitch. Totally different story when you’re using a 3wt with a dry fly, though!
The best part comes when the grayling is netted, and you can feast your eyes on that big ol’ fin. Nothing compares to the colors, shape, and overall beauty of the graylings dorsal.
Well folks, that about covers it. I hope my knowledge from experience is helpful in the journeys of seeking out grayling. Though the patterns I see and the techniques I use could be different from others, my goal is to share the knowledge I have personally gained. There’s always something new to be learned in fishing every day!
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.
For guide and owner of Harcourt Fly Fishing 3G, Dustin Harcourt, it’s a lifelong family passion. The 3G specifically stands for three generations of Harcourt anglers – Dustin’s father, himself, and his son. Before fly shops became popular, and certainly before the internet and YouTube, Dustin and his Dad had to improvise to make the patterns that would work best for their Colorado rivers. Coming up with new patterns was a hobby and skill that Dustin, his son, and his 12-guide staff continue to work on to provide their clients with the best possible experience.
Its late summer in Colorado, and Dustin and his team are dialed into one of the most anticipated and well known “hatches” on local rivers – hopper fishing. This time of year, you can walk along a riverbank on the Colorado River and easily find pinky finger-sized grasshoppers. While these bugs might seem like a normal summer terrestrial to us, to trout and other species, this is a high protein meal that is simply irresistible.
This week, we checked in with Dustin after a day on the water to talk more about this popular style of western river fishing, and how he approaches it.
Tell us where you are guiding, some of the rivers you personally fish and what a typical day of fishing on these rivers entail (species, average size, etc).
We’re located near Glenwood Springs just outside of New Castle, Colorado. We have four all-star rivers here, which are the: the Frying Pan, Crystal, Roaring Fork and the Colorado River. I live about 3 miles from a boat ramp on the lower Colorado River, so I do a lot of guiding in that area. Not just for proximity, but for other important (and my favorite) factors: less crowds, bigger fish, and more fish.
The Colorado is primarily a trout river with species that include rainbows, browns, cutthroat, Sink River Cutthroat, and Colorado River cutthroat. The average size is 16 to 20-inches, but we get into 20 to 21-inch fish every other day.
For those unfamiliar, what is “hopper season”, what is a “hopper dropper rig” and when does it typically start and end in your area.
Hopper season refers to the emergence of grasshoppers along the banks of our many different rivers. High winds and other factors can push those hoppers to the water, making a very a high protein and irresistible meal for trout.
The season usually starts around mid-June after our mud season and the rivers start to clear. During this time, we have a really good stonefly hatch, and we have a lot of luck fishing with the chubby chernobyl patterns. This will last for about a month, then we start switching to hoppers in late July.
In July, we’ll start throwing smaller size 8 hopper imitation patterns. As the weather gets warmer throughout the summer, the hoppers tend to get bigger and abundant, we’ll switch to sizes 2 & 4. This happens around September/October, so very soon for us! As you walk through the bushes, you’ll see them all over. They can get as big as the size of your pinky finger. Typically, hopper season wraps up around November. After a couple of really heavy frosts or cold evenings, the hoppers will frost and disappear.
Hopper Dropper – The hopper dropper term refers to using a grasshopper imitation fly, with another fly tied below, (known as a dropper). Depending on the state you live in, you can use two additional flies below, (dropper) below a hopper pattern. Every state has different fishing regulations regarding how many flies or hooks you can us on a rig. Here in Colorado, we can use up to three flies per rig, but for a lot of other places it’s only two. Always check the regulations in an area before fishing somewhere for the first time.
Do you find that all the trout species that inhabit your rivers have the same reaction/take to hoppers/grasshoppers? In other words, do big browns come up and hammer hoppers as well?
We can catch all trout species on hoppers, but it’s primarily cutthroat. They absolutely love grasshoppers. They’re more eager to come on up.
What is the “take” like? Is it similar to a dry fly take, or do they attack it like a streamer?
Right now, we’ve been noticing the bigger fish coming up really slowly and they’ll slowly open their mouth. You almost must wait for them to close their mouth, then set the hook. It’s difficult, especially for clients, because you see this big beautiful fish come up, but you just have to wait. It’s like a romance story (laughs).
What TFO rods do you like to use hopper or hopper dropper rigs? What is about these rods that work so well for this type of fishing?
Right now in the heart of August, we are throwing many different rigs. Everyday, I’ve got 6 rods on the boat: 4 in the rod holders, and two in the hands of clients. Each rod has a different setup and purpose to help us have the right tool for the right fishing scenario for that day.
Usually I’ve got a streamer setup, an adjustable nymphing rig combo, and then a hopper-dropper setup.
I absolutely love the new Blue Ribbon rods. I have a 10’ 4wt – which is an incredible hopper dropper rod. We’re on the boat quite a bit, so high sticking and light mending is crucial for keeping excess line off the water and to help with getting quick and tight hook sets. This particular rod is perfect for this scenario and a favorite for me. Even on a windy day, this rod just punches right through.
Another rod I’ve enjoyed for fishing hopper dropper rods, if it’s not too breezy, is the new 10’6” 3-weight Stealth. I’ve found that even when it is breezy, it’s not too overwhelming at all. It can easily pick those larger hopper patterns and just zap it to where I need it to go with no problem.
Are you targeting primarily the banks and eddies, or do you also focus on main runs/currents?
When we are out with clients, most of the time we are using nymph rig setups. However, once we get to the top of a run where the first ripple drop shelf comes, the deep nymph rigs get put aside, and that’s where the hopper dropper comes in. In this type of water, a big fish isn’t going to need to exert a bunch of energy in a 1-3 feet run of water. It’s going to hammer that grasshopper imitation. Aside from that scenario, we are concentrating on the banks.
Another technique that I really enjoy doing is fishing a hopper to a Pat’s Rubber Leg, then to a Thin Mint – which is a small streamer. We fish this setup like a streamer, focusing primarily on the banks, then retrieving back to the boat. The small movement of the hopper created while stripping back (2 – 3 inch micro twitch retrieves) imitates that grasshopper struggling to get back to the bank or off that water, but also gets that Pat’s rubber leg nymph and streamer to move. This basically creates three different water column responses – so a fish is going to hit something.
For this time of year, what I’ve been finding is that after any rapid, you have the best chance at that first section of soft water. You have all the oxygen coming off the rapids, then that first section of soft water is a real deadly place for a fish to hunt. They’re essentially in the air conditioning system with the oxygen of all the waves and rapids, but they’re also getting first dibs for food. I’ve found so often that the biggest fish, or the alpha tends to hang out in this spot.
The further away you get from the rapids, your statistics for catching bigger fish go down. Sure you can catch fish in these sections, but your odds are much better fishing right after those rapids on the head of a run.
Any recommendations on fly lines, leaders and tippet?
Fly Lines – For fly lines I go with the traditional weight forward WF floating line. I’ve been using Rio fly lines and been really happy with them, although I’ve heard great things about Scientific Anglers as well. I used to oversize the rods with one fly line size, but now I just go with the line size that applies to the rod size.
Leaders/Tippet – For the hopper/dropper rigs, usually I’m going with a short leader. I use 16-inches of 20lb test, and then I’ll have about 16-inches of 1x tippet to my first fly/hopper. Currently, in the middle of August, the fish are down deeper, so I’ll drop about 4 feet to my first dropper, and then another 20-inches below that to the next dropper. It’ seems like a lot, but it’s really a short leader with all that on there. Having this short leader that turns the flies over easily for my clients from a boat has worked really well.
What are you some of your go-to hopper/dropper rigs and flies?
Being able to tie and use a hopper fly that is incredibly buoyant and can hold tungsten and split shot well is critical. There are tons of great grasshopper patterns on the market right now that you can purchase in fly shops, but we tie our own foam hopper patterns.
We have a lot of fun going by the days and what we feel works best and we’ve nicknamed them random things like the Steroid Hopper, the SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard). Basically, a lot of foam, and a lot of vision is what we go for.
We do a lot of chubby chernobyl variations. We were actually able to get our hands on 5mm foam – which is about 3x thicker than the foam that some of the shops use here. With that, these flies are incredibly buoyant and visible, and we also add in hunter orange yarn to assist with the visibility for both the clients and the guides. When the fish looks up, they don’t see the orange, they’ll just see the underbody.
Adjusting to the Elements – For this year, our rivers have gotten incredibly mossy with the drought we got. Therefore, we are snagging into moss a lot more, so we had to creative on how to deal with this. We put a small swivel below our bottom fly, and that swivels and rotates through the moss – not catching the moss but getting the fly down quickly and right in the fish’s zone. This setup has been a game changer for us, and we are running this same setup (swivel below the bottom fly) for our nymph rigs as well.
Nymphing Hoppers – A lot of the times, I’ll go back to the “old school” hoppers – let’s say, the Dave’s Hopper. This particular pattern is not made of foam and is a great sinking hopper pattern that imitates grasshoppers that have been blown into the water and are drowning. Fish can be lazy and might not want to come up to the surface, so having a sinking hopper pattern that gets down in the water column to the fish is a great setup to have. Usually behind that subsurface hopper, we’ll trail a red quill nymph or a baetis nymph as an attractor. Other attractor meaty patterns we use are the very popular Pat’s rubber leg nymph and of course the San Juan worm.
Hopper & Streamers – With our streamer rod setups, I use hoppers as well. In years past, we’d be throwing streamers, and we’d have a pinch on indicator right next to the fly line. The pinch on indicator helped with detecting strikes during those dark and cloudy streamer days, but we started noticing that fish were attacking and striking at the indicator very regularly.
That magic light bulb went off in my head and I decided to invent a hopper/streamer rig. One foot off of my fly line, I put a big grasshopper pattern, and then I put on my streamer six feet below it, then an additional streamer. Now we’re getting hits on the hopper as the streamer is being retrieved. The fish love the movement of that hopper.
And last words or recommendations for our readers?
Like many rivers, lakes and oceans – every year is different, and every day is different. Some years, like this year, we’ll have banner hopper years. Yesterday I had 30 hopper eats, but today we had 8. Both days similar conditions, but that’s just fishing, and why I love the challenge of being on the water and helping clients out. Always be willing to switch it up, and just remember to enjoy yourself!
It’s mid summer, and if there’s anything that gets anglers like Grant Braudrick more fired up than anything, its topwater bass bites.
In central Texas, and a lot of places this time of year, it’s not uncommon for temperatures to be in the upper 90s (or higher), with little to no chances of rain for a few days – which makes for tough fishing conditions on lakes, and even rivers and creeks. Knowing the right times to go, what to look for, and what tools to take with you are critical for finding success.
TFO rep Grant Braudrick and Texas native spends a significant amount of time catching large bass on the lakes of central Texas during the spring and summer. We thought we’d check in with him and get some tips on summertime bass on the fly tactics.
Talk about how you plan a trip to fish for bass on the lakes in your area. How do you plan where you going and when to go?
Lakes can be very challenging in the summer. We normally have a morning bite that starts around sunrise or around 6am. By around 9 or 10am at the latest, the bite will die off. During the middle of the day, fish tend to head to the middle of the lake where temps are more stable. I’ll usually focus on deeper water and throw more subsurface baitfish, where as in the morning and evenings, I’m throwing top water this time of year. The evening bite usually starts around an hour and half before sunset and lasts until dark.
What type of boat do you use for bass fishing on lakes.
When I’m on the lakes I’ve got my 17’ Mitzi poling skiff boat. Some people harp on me for using a saltwater flats skiff on fresh water lakes in North Texas, but I’m able to take it on bigger water on the coast if need be, but more importantly, it allows me to get extremely shallow to get where bass boats can’t get to.
Stealth is very important and this skiff helps me get to places quietly. I use spikes on the front of my boat to keep my fly line in one area. There can be a lot of grass and vegetation in some of the areas I’m trolling back into so those spikes really help with keeping the fly line from getting tangled up incase I hook into a fish and that way my fly line and reel stays clear, also having fly lines get caught in vegetation can cause enough disturbances to spook a fish as well.
When people think of bass on the fly, they think 8 weight, but I see a lot of rods on the deck of your boat on your Instagram posts. Looks like you use a few different weight sizes. Can you go over those set ups?
Sure thing. Basically how I structure my set ups is depending on the water that I’m fishing. The smaller the water, the lighter the rod (action) I’ll be going for. The bigger the water, the more elements (wind) you’ll be dealing with likely, so I’ll want something faster.
Not all lakes are the same, so I have a system that works for me according to which lakes I’m on.
For lakes with lots of grass, lillypads, and dingier water – likely lots of subsurface structure and stuff that fish can get caught up on – I actually like to use a 9wt. I get weird feedback sometime about that , but if I’m fighting a 6-8 lb bass with all that subsurface stuff to get caught on, I’d much rather have the extra muscle and leverage with a 9wt to be able to fight that fish out of structure and get it into open water so I can play it out and get it to the boat. Casting larger flies with heavier line all day can wear your arm out, and that 9 weight can be your best friend in the scenario.
For clearer water lakes with more rocky terrain/bottoms, I usually go with an 8wt.
For both scenarios, I absolutely love and cannot say enough good things about the Axiom ll-X. We get a lot of heavy winds in Texas, and especially when fishing on open lakes and that rod absolutely delivers. Recently, I’ve been enjoying using the LK Legacy 8wt. That rod is a cannon as well. Very similar to the classic BVK, but feels a little stronger in the tip section when fighting big fish. I’ve also really enjoyed the upcoming Blue Ribbon series. A little bit more of a medium action. When the bass aren’t as active I’ll throw popper on a 3wt for sunfish and have a blast. Who doesn’t love sunfish on a 3wt? Other TFO favorites of mine are classics like the Mangrove and the Clouser. For reel, I just match the rod with the appropriate BVK-SD reel.
With all those set ups I’m sure you have an assortment of fly lines that accompany each one. Can you go over those?
I have several different types of fly lines for each type of water column or depth I’m going to fish for.
For topwater – a floating line matched to the rod (8 weight rod with a 8WF line). Here recently I’ve been using Monic lines and really enjoyed them. For topwater I use Monic Icicle and 101 floating lines and their Henley clear lines.
For subsurface, I use a variety of intermediate line, heavier intermediate, and a full sink if the situation calls for it. Same deal, been using Monic lines. I tried to have something that covers all water types and columns/depths. You need to be able to deeper if you need to.
When it comes to both topwater and subsurface, you want something that has a shooting head to it, and not a flat line so you can get the fly where you want it to be – which is right next to the structure or bank. As close as possible. You only want to get 2-3 casts, and these lines aren’t meant to fault cast 5+ times and you’ll likely miss an opportunity to a fish or spook it if you are casting more than that.
For someone just starting out and that might not have the budget to buy 3-4 rods with different lines for each, what would you suggest?
For someone who is just starting out, I would start with an 8wt and get an extra spool for the reel so you can have two lines. Have one spool with a floating line, then the spare spool with some sort of an intermediate sinking line. Intermediate will allow you to get to most all depths when you need to do subsurface stuff.
What about leaders? Do you have a preference on material for both topwater and subsurface?
For topwater, I make my own with monofilament, but I usually up the strength a bit.
For warmwater bass fishing on more clearer, rockier lakes, I build a leader starting with 30lb flourocarbon butt section, add on a length of 20lb, then a length of 10lb to the fly.
For dingier water with lots of grass, pads, etc. – I’ll do 30lb fluorocarbon butt section to a section of 20lb fluoro to the fly.
Palamar Knot for topwater. Super quick strong knot. Lefty’s Loop Knot for subsurface stuff.
Pro Tip – The knot is your most important thing. When you tie a good knot, don’t do a stress test when you first tie it. You’ll likely break off due to abrasion. Also – constantly check your knots! Got stuck on a tree, just caught a fish, hit the side of your boat – check your knot. There’s NOTHING worse then hooking into a fish then loosing it due to a failed knot or a nick in the line.
I broke off an 8lb bass during a tournament last month that would have hands down been the biggest length and weight fish of the day. Hooked into the fish, saw it, and it took a big run. Line took tension and snapped because of my knot. Talk about nightmare fuel when you lose a fish like that and you know it’s your own fault.
What about flies/poppers?
For topwater, I like Rainy’s Rattlin Frog. It’s a weedless frog that has a rattle in it. Comes in different colors. Has a great pop with a deep head. Another great one is Rainy’s Air Jet. Both are excellent frog patterns.When it comes to subsurface baitfish and crayfish patterns, you need to observe your body of water and look at the forage, but for me a few of my favorites are Rainy’s Warpath, Gamechangers, Ghetto Craw (crayfish), and Murdoch Minnows.
Clouser Minnows and Lefty’s Deceiver are also two very reliable patterns that can pretty much work anywhere. White and chartreuse is a classic go-to for color for these patterns.
What’s crazy is that lakes are different everywhere. The lake that’s right next to my house is completely different from the lake that’s an hour away. Even though we are in the same region, it’s completely different, and every body of water is a little bit different from each. Its all understanding what the fish are keyed in on. It also can depend on the day (weather).
If it’s a cloudy day, I’ll probably throw something a bit darker, which seem counter-intuitive but it really brings out that shadow a little better. If it’s a clearer day, I’m going to throw something a little bit more realistic to what they’re actually feeding on in color and in size. Size is super important and often overlooked when it comes to pattern selection.
At the end of the day, let the lake speak to you as to what you need to be doing.
I see where you’ve done some fishing with Steve Dally on the White River for some big browns. Have you learned anything from Steve that can cross over to bass fishing – specifically strip/retrieval patterns?
Absolutely. A lot of anglers have this tendency to just retrieve fast. Bigger fish will get triggered by erratic behavior from prey. When a school of fish is just swimming along, a bass or big predatory fish will just let that fish(s) just swim a long. The second that one of those fish acts strange – twitching off in a pattern that’s not normal – that triggers that big fish into a predatory mode.
A lot of times in my mind, I’ll count a “One. One Two. One Two Three. Pause…” rhythm/retrieval pattern and then see how the fish reacts. I’ll switch up my counts, retrieval pattern to figure out what the fish are keyed on for that particular day and use that for the rest of the day.
Any other tips or words of wisdom for anglers out there?
The biggest thing you can do is visit your local fly shop. These guys have a vast collection of knowledge of the waterways around you. Go in there, buy a few things, and ask them some questions. If you support them, they’ll support you.
Another tip is take advantage of social media and even Youtube. I was a on a work trip in Wisconsin a while back and had two hours to fish for musky. I caught 3 musky in the span of two hours just because I did a little research ahead of time.
Also when you get to a new area, don’t just wade in and start casting away. Sit back and observe the area, look for signs of fish, forage, etc. If you hear a bunch of pops in the lilly pads, maybe it’s a good idea to throw on a frog and see what that is. Conversely, if you see a bunch of fish schooling out in the open water, its probably a good idea to throw on a bait fish pattern. Let the conditions guide you into what you need to be doing.
Grant Braudrick is a TFO rep for the Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas area. He’s lived in Texas his whole life and been fishing since he was 10. He is also a rep for Rainy’s flies (hence the fly suggestions). When Grant isn’t fishing, you can find him playing music around Texas. Find out more about Grant through his social media links below.
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