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Like We Never Left – The Return to ICAST

We can all agree that 2020 was a tough year. Between many places being shut down and inventory issues brought on by unprecedented demand, it was (and in some cases still) a mess. Not being able to attend fishing shows was one of the many aspects that we (and others) missed about 2020. Needless to say, the return of ICAST last week was a blessing and a long overdue meeting of friends and family, ambassadors, pro staff anglers, and more – both new and old.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

Over the last week, we saw hundreds of familiar and new faces at Booth 3420 at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), many of which were eager to see and feel both the new conventional gear and new fly products. Since ICAST didn’t take place in 2020 (or hardly any fishing shows last year), many people were excited to see last year’s additions: Tactical Glass Bass, Tactical Surf, Seahunter Live Bait addition, Tactical Elite Bass additions) — as well as last year’s fly category additions: LK Legacy, Blue Ribbon, Stealth.

The newly redesigned Professional series. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
The newly redesigned Tactical Inshore series. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
The Tactical Surf – a new addition from last year. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
A favorite for ultra light anglers – the Trout-Panfish series added two new models this year. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
The Tactical Elite Bass series. // Photo: Tom Wetherington

For those unfamiliar with the changes in ICAST and IFTD (International Fly Tackle Dealer), the shows are now happening at different times of year – ICAST in July, and IFTD now taking place in October. Historically, both shows happened at the same time – which was ALOT to take in, but great for those wanting to get the most of both worlds. Needless to say, even though ICAST is now more focused on the conventional side of fishing, we still had a TON of people stop by the TFO booth to check out our fly gear, and make trips to the casting pond to try out the new Mangrove Coast and BC Big Fly, as well as some familiar favorites like the Axiom ll-X. While the fly stuff was getting plenty of love, there was a lot of attention aimed at the newly redesigned Professional and Tactical Inshore series, as well as the new Tactical Elite Bass swimbait models.

The all new Mangrove Coast and BC Big Fly – two new additions to TFO for 2022. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
The all new NTR reel in black/gold new to TFO for 2022. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
The all new NTR reel in clear/gold new to TFO for 2022. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
Checking out the new Tactical Elite Bass swimbait models. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
The Mangrove Coast and NTR set up got a lot of test drives on the Casting Pond at ICAST this year. // Photo: Tom Wetherington

We were able to film a few videos with TFO Ambassadors Rob Fordyce, Joey Nania, and Jonathan Moss going over some of the new stuff, as well as some classics.

Our good friends at Tackle Warehouse stopped by for a bit to interview Joey Nania, and go over some of the new Tactical Elite additions. Check out those videos below.

Temple Fork Outfitters TFO Tactical Elite Swimbait Rods with Joey Nania | First Look 2021

New Temple Fork Outfitters Tactical Elite Spinning Rod 7’6″ Med Lt w Joey Nania | First Look 2021

Temple Fork Outfitters TFO Tactical Bass and Tactical Elite Comparison | First Look 2021

Be on the lookout for more content from ICAST. We had several friends and dealers stop by to shoot some content on the new conventional gear, and we can’t wait to share them on our socials as they become available.

We’re already getting ready for IFTD at Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 20-22, 2021. For those planning on attending IFTD, we hope to see you there, and for those not able to attend, be sure to follow along on our social media pages to stay in the know.

When The Jacarandas Bloom – Chasing Corbina On the Fly

“Don’t get too deep. No more than ankle deep at most,” I remember Nick Curcione telling me on a beach in Coronado years ago. It didn’t make sense until the first one I saw bolted between my legs from behind me in three inches of water. “I told you,” came his response. That began an obsession and a quest that has pulled me from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara almost every summer since. All for a shot at the “ghost of the coast.”

There are numerous axioms associated with the sport of fly fishing, and fishing in general. If you fish the surf in Southern California, you’ll hear a few specific to one of the most difficult and rewarding species you can chase on fly: the California corbina. This member of the croaker family, known throughout SoCal as a “bean,” ranks along with permit and white marlin in its finicky and frustrating nature. And like those other species, taking one is a prize well earned and worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears shed in its pursuit.

Chasing corbina is a summertime pursuit, however, depending on conditions, they can be taken from early spring into late fall, from the northern reaches of the Baja Peninsula up to Santa Barbara. Traditionally, those hardcore enthusiasts that chase them say that when the jacaranda trees bloom, its time to chase beans, but knowing what time of year they are supposed to show up barely answers the question of “when.”

With any shallow water or surf species, tide and time of day are critical. Beans ride the surf in and out, chasing sand crabs, clams, worms and small baitfish, and in doing so, depend on the tide to make much of their diet accessible. At low tides, crab, clam and even worm beds are often high and dry, or in such skinny water that they are inaccessible to most fish. Like bonefish, permit, and even redfish, as the tide begins to rise, flooding the beach, beans push up farther up the beaches in pursuit of prey. In general, big tides allow greater opportunity, but experience will teach you when exactly in the tidal swing your favorite beach fishes best. In some cases, beans prefer the last of the falling and first of the rising tide. On other beaches they will feed on all but the lowest tides, but the safe bet is always begin your search on the incoming, or rising, tide during the summer months.

Keep in mind that tides around the full moon are larger than those on the new moon. Just as important to the state of the tide is the time of day the lows and highs occur. Remember, the highest form of chasing beans is sight fishing, so ideally, the best tides to fish are early in the day, but with enough sunlight to allow fair visibility. Sure, you can catch them blind casting, and arguably, most beans are taken while doing so, but for those that prefer to test their skill and patience, sight fishing for corbina is the acme of achievements. It’s not just their permit-like persnickety nature. They will ignore a well-presented fly with the same willful nonchalance of a teenager at a family event, only to nearly beach itself to grab a fly about to be picked up and re-cast.

Their behavior is bad enough, but when you add onto that the dynamic nature of their environment, sometimes the quest almost feels futile. They ride the incoming surf to push farther up the beach in pursuit of food and dart back to deeper water the instant the water ebbs. But the surf is never a simple ebb and flow. Waves compound themselves, break at odd angles and roll in heavily on one set and dribble in the next. The beaches along the Pacific coast are often deep very close to shore, and those troughs make perfect staging grounds for beans waiting to charge the beach. As the waves roll in, they dart up the beach, digging, rooting and often tailing if the water is deep enough, and, as the surf begins its withdrawal, in the blink of an eye they are gone.

Their nickname “ghost of the coast” is well deserved. Just as you line up the perfect shot, the light shifts, a wave breaks, and they disappear, sometimes to reappear ten feet farther down the beach, or sometimes they disappear altogether. Your window of opportunity can be timed in seconds that can be counted on one hand with fingers left to spare.

Add to this frustration that these fish squeeze into the shallowest of conditions. Another corbina axiom is if your feet are wet, you’re too deep. I’ve had beans square in my sights twenty feet in front of me, as a six-inch wave rolls through only to see the wake of a skittish fish darting back to deeper water from three feet behind me. Understandably, good light is critical to seeing these fish in the surf. Since most of our beaches here in SoCal face west, or mostly west, morning light works best to keep the sun over your shoulder rather than glaring in your face. The only issue with that is the May Gray and June Gloom—a heavy inversion layer of fog and mist that blots out the sun along the coast practically daily, often until late July. Under these conditions, the best you can hope for is spotting “signs” of a bean’s presence: wakes, tailing fish, or the bronze backs protruding from the surf as they push shallower, or more likely, head for deeper water.

Photo: Scott Leon

As if that all isn’t disheartening enough, you have to remember that SoCal beaches are hardly isolated or remote. Indeed, some of the best corbina fishing lies in the very heart of Los Angeles. Try making a back cast with scores of tourists trying to take photos of the sunrise, kids darting into the surf, joggers shuffling past, and dodging surfers like that digital frog in that old video game, all while jockeying for position among other anglers. None of these bystanders seem aware of your backcast, meaning that for safety’s sake you always have to watch behind you while trying to keep an eye on a wary, wiley target in front of you.

Maddening.

And then you hook one…

Photo: Scott Leon

If I haven’t yet dissuaded you from chasing beans, the the gear you’ll need is simple and straightforward. I prefer a stout rod capable of delivering quick casts at any range, though most casts will be shorter than 50 feet. My go-to is the Axiom II-X in a 5-weight. Many anglers prefer a 6 or even a 7-weight rod, but I think the A2-X is plenty beefy in the 5. The LK Legacy is also a great choice as is the new Mangrove Coast. A reel with a sealed drag is critical because of the sand and surf, making the BVK SD an ideal choice for beans.

Photo: Scott Leon

As for lines, I prefer a sinking line over an intermediate line because I feel the intermediate gets washed around too much by the surf, pulling the fly along with it. The sinking line keeps the fly in the zone within the washing machine on the beach. Shooting heads were the standard for years by those who pioneered the fishery, like fellow TFO Advisory staffer Nick Curcione, who began chasing these fish decades ago, but the newer integrated sinking lines are easier to handle in my opinion. There are even surf lines produced by several manufacturers, designed by SoCal surf fishermen for this specific application. I prefer a triple density line, however, but the choice is very much one of comfort and personal preference. A stripping basket, like the Linekurv, will help you keep your line, and your sanity, under control as you stalk the beaches and is an essential piece of equipment for surf fishing.

Leaders are even simpler. I used 8 to 10 feet of 8-pound mono or fluorocarbon. You could use 10 or even 12-pound test, but I feel lighter is better and I’m comfortable with 8. These fish are already spooky enough. Just remember to check your leader often. The surf and sand can wreck the material, quickly making a once clear material an opaque white cord. Fly choice is controversial and depends on who you ask—if they are even willing to tell you. Surf Merkins and sand crab patterns in bright pink or grey work best. You want them to be weighted, but not overly so, because the “plop” will undoubtedly spook beans. You need some weight, however, to keep the fly anchored to the bottom during your retrieve. Most tiers include a hint of orange along the bottom or back of the fly, mimicking an egg sack. Sizes should not be larger than a 4 but don’t need to go smaller than a 6, either. Stout hooks are necessary because beans pull. Hard. Sharpen your hooks often, too. Dragging through the sand will dull even the sharpest hook in minutes, and you’ll need a solid strip-strike and a sharp hook to penetrate the rubbery lips of a bean.

Top and bottom view of a sand flea. // Photo: Scott Leon

Over the past few seasons, I’ve seen more and more fly anglers hitting the beaches here in SoCal in search of the elusive bean. It’s a challenging pursuit well worth exploring, and a prey worthy of any angler, no matter how skilled they think they are. Beans will humble you. The challenge is not for everyone, but the great thing about them is they are readily accessible to everyone. A little grit and determination, a good rod, and a heap of patience is all that’s required.

Blog written and photos provided by TFO Ambassador Scott Leon.

Blog author Scott Leon with a corbina caught on his 5wt Axiom ll-X // Photo: Scott Leon

The Remarkable Northern Snakehead

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

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

Snakehead on the fly! // Photo: Braden Miller

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

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

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

Invasive species?

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

Where are they?

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

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

Snakehead On The Fly 

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Braden Miller

Flies, Leaders, and Retrieves

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

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

Photo: Braden Miller

Snakehead on Conventional Gear 

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

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

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

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

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

Conventional Lures & How to Work Them:

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

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

Photo: Braden Miller

Different species that share the same waters as a Northern Snakehead

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

Bowfins and Gar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Braden Miller

Carp on the Fly

Carp on the fly is completely and utterly underrated! If you haven’t ever chased carp with a fly rod, you are seriously missing out on some of the most fun that you could ever have with a fly rod. These massive fish will test your patience, presentation, gear, and knot-tying skills. Once you get out there and try it, I can guarantee that you will be hooked! It is relatively easy to get started because most of your local waters probably already have a thriving carp population. In this write-up, we will go over the rod, leader, and line set up that I personally use, along with the tactics, flies, and approach that have scored me some big ones!

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Stealth/Approach

Carp have an incredible sense of sight, and they also are highly sensitive to even the slightest vibrations on the water. The slightest misstep or slip up on your approach can send the carp jetting off leaving you with nothing but a big mud cloud. Stacking the odds in your favor can increase your chances of having a successful day on the water. Here are a few personal tips to up your stealth game/approach:

  • Be like a statue. Carp have a wide angle of vision and they are always on the lookout for danger. Thus, making the least amount of movement as possible is a must! The carp has a small blind spot that is directly behind them, I repeat this is a very small blind spot. Because of this I like to use an upstream approach, this way, I am less likely to spook the fish.
  • Clothing is highly important for your approach – make sure to wear natural colors. Colors such as black, brown, or green are the best. I’m not saying that you need to go out and buy a ghillie suit, just don’t expect to be very stealthy in fluorescent orange!
  • 9 times out of 10 your first cast is going to be your only cast. So, your presentation better be on point because you won’t get another chance at the same fish. Practice casting while you are crouching or on your knees, because, most of the time this will be the position you will be casting in.
  • Spotting a feeding carp can be easy most of the time because of the mud cloud that they create while feeding. Once you spot a feeding carp you need approach slow, and as methodically as possible. Once you are in a casting position you need to target the area that is a few inches ahead of the carp’s feeding lane. Once you make the cast slowly bounce your pattern in front of the fish, the fly should then catch his attention. Sometimes you will not be able to see them eat your fly so keep on stripping until you feel resistance, once you do HOLD ON TIGHT!
Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Flies

Carp feed on a variety of prey items, such as, insects, crustaceans, and crayfish. Crayfish and Damsel Nymphs are my personal favorite patterns to use for carp. Try to make sure to pick fly patterns that can get down right in front of the fish, but, are not so heavy that they make a splash and spook every fish you cast for. Carp flies should be simple. Using materials like rabbit strips or marabou will provide movement with little effort on your part. Here are a few of my personal favorite carp patterns:

  • Whitlock’s Near Nuff Crayfish
  • Bartlett’s Hybrid
  • Marlock’s Carp Breakfast
  • Reynold’s Carp Bitter
Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Rod/Reel Setup

These fish have some serious torque that will test your gear and your fish fighting skills. A 7wt rod is the best overall fly rod to use, and will handle most of the situations that you will find yourself in. Sometimes, when I plan on fishing for smallmouth as well, I will use an 8wt. I use two different fly rods throughout the season, the first is the TFO Mangrove 7wt and the second is the TFO LK Legacy 7wt. Both rods give me the delicate presentation I need, but still have the backbone needed to handle the rod bending carp. With most fish, your reel is basically a line holder, I rarely, if ever, put a big trout or a bass on the reel, because, most of the time there is no need to. However, with carp, your reel is going to be one of the most important parts of your setup. You want a lightweight reel with a flawless sealed drag system. I use the TFO BVK SD III and it withstands the relentless abuse that I put it through season after season.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Fly Line/Leader Setup

A weight forward floating fly line will be the most versatile line to use. I personally find an intermediate or sink tip line to be too much. As far as leader goes a 9-foot fluorocarbon leader tapered down to a 12-pound test will do the job. I use a 12-pound test because it is strong enough to handle the big fish, but, not too thick that it spooks every fish.

I can promise you that once your hooked into a monster carp and you feel the fly line to backing knot slide through your fingers and it is still going, you will give carp an all new respect. You can blame me when carp becomes your new obsession!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Ryan Rachiele (Instagram: @streamerjunkie17). When not fishing, you can also find him working at Wellsboro, Pennsylvania shop Wellsboro Tackle Shack. Find out more about Ryan here.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

 

Cicada Mania 2021 – Fishing The Brood X Hatch

It’s late May in East Tennessee and talk of the highly anticipated seventeen-year Brood X Cicada hatch fills the air (and social media newsfeeds) as loud as the droning buzz created by the large black and orange bugs as they emerge. News stations and local outdoor outfitters have been hyping up the natural phenomenon since January, and fly shops in my area have even made Cicada Mania t-shirts and stickers to commemorate the event.

I remember my sister-in-law was even curious about the event, asking, “What’s the big deal with these cicadas and fishing anyway?” after my brother and I began to look for dates to book a guided trip to get in on the action. My brother responded, “You know how in that 90’s surfer movie, Point Break with Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reaves and they’re searching for that perfect wave — the kind that comes only every 100 years? It’s like that for fishing – but it only happens every seventeen years, instead of 100”

I was skeptical about the whole event a few months ago. Is it really happening? Would my area even get the bugs? Will fish really key in on them like people say they will? Is this just a scheme for shops to sell more gear, flies, and t-shirts? My questions were answered on my latest trip on the river.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

I was lucky enough to have a good friend invite me out for a full day float trip on a local river in search of smallmouth and other warm water species. We were instructed from our guide to be prepared to throw a lot of topwater poppers, and to not be surprised if we saw some cicadas on the water. It was a good sign when we saw some right at the boat put in.

I was fortunate enough to get the LK Legacy 6wt with the fighting butt (06 91 4 LK) last summer and put it to the test on some smallmouth a few times before it got too cold. Paired up with the Scientific Anglers Titan Taper floating line, this rod is an absolute cannon for throwing topwater bugs, so I decided to use it again for the cicada patterns. I also brought along my Axiom ll 7wt. I usually use this rod (or the Axiom ll 8wt) paired up with a Rio Outbound Short line to use for crayfish patterns and small-medium sized baitfish patterns. This set up was perfect when we found deeper water, and the fish weren’t as keyed in on the surface. Both of these rods were paired up with my favorite reel – the large arbor BVK SD reel.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

With partly cloudy conditions and low water, we started out the morning with cicada patterns, and it wasn’t long before we made contact with fish. Over the course of the morning, we boated several redeye bass, a largemouth, several smallies, and even a rainbow trout on cicada patterns.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

The rest of the day had some slower stretches, but even when the cicada action wasn’t as hot, we still found some nice smallmouth on Boogle Bug poppers (black and white colors did best for us). We found a few shoals and deeper runs where the crawfish patterns produced well for us.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

Towards the end of the day, we found a stretch of water near a bank with trees that was absolutely roaring with cicadas. Underneath the tree, carp were rising sporadically, along with the occasional smallmouth. Bugs were dropping and the fish were slurping them from the surface. It was a sight I’ll never forget and it wasn’t long before I made a few casts with the 6wt LK Legacy and was hooked up with a nice mirror carp that couldn’t resist a cicada pattern.

We ended up fishing that stretch for about 30 minutes and caught several carp and smallmouth all on the cicada patterns. As much as we didn’t want to leave, we had to call it a day and head home before dusk.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

Advice & Takeaways

Visual Indicators

I haven’t gotten into tying foam patterns yet, so I bought all of mine from a local fly shop. There were a few times during this trip where my cicada pattern would land with the hook facing up. It wasn’t every time, but I definitely missed a few fish because of this. Make sure you know what side is riding up with your cicada pattern lands. There was a small orange piece of yarn to act as an indicator for this, but when making long casts under shaded banks, it can be difficult to see.

I’d recommend grabbing some thin bright colored foam to superglue on the topside of the fly if you are having trouble seeing the fly, or to act as a visual indicator to tell when your fly isn’t floating right. If you notice the pattern is riding upside down (hook up), just give your fly a few strips until you get it riding in the water correctly.

Also, make sure you have backup patterns ready to go. It wasn’t long after 4-5 catches with the first cicada pattern we used that we had to switch up and tie on a new one, as the fish usually hit it pretty hard. Pieces of material started to come loose, eyeballs fell off, and teeth marks in the foam started to make the pattern look like it had been thrown into a tree shredder. This is not a bad problem to have, but make sure you’ve got some reserves for when the bite really does pick up.

Movement

Cicadas will hit the water and make a pretty significant “splat” followed by a wave of ripples. While some fish might pick up on this noise, some may miss it and key in on the movement the bugs make after the cicada lands on the water. In other words, don’t be afraid to give the fly some additional movement. Once the cicadas hit the water, they will continue to move their legs in an effort to get back off the water, so replicating this survival twitching can be a great way to draw a fish’s attention. Small, one-inch strips will work. Don’t be afraid to pop the fly too, especially if a fish has decided to look away from your fly. This tactic was very helpful for me more than once when trying to get a carp to change directions when it was feasting on the surface.

Pro Tip – If fishing for carp, be sure to give a little extra time for the fly to get in the fishes mouth. There were definitely a few instances where I got too excited to catch a carp on topwater and pulled the fly right out of the fish’s mouth. I still have nightmares about losing these fish.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

Keep Your Eyes & Ears Open.

In my area, the cicadas are definitely out, but they are by no means flying around everywhere like a plague. It’s still early for their cycle, and the fish aren’t 100% keyed in on them yet.

Keep your ears open and listen for the loud drone of the cicadas. Chances are, you’ll hear them in the tree lines near the bank. If this is the case, drift (or wade) over to that area, and be on the lookout on the water for any bugs. Even if you don’t see any bugs on the water, or fish slurping the surface, don’t be afraid to make a few casts near the bank or in these areas. If it looks fishy – fish it!

Be patient, keep your eyes and ears out for bugs, and have fun!

Photo: Tom Wetherington

Targeting Prespawn Smallmouth on the Fly

Smallmouth on the fly will change your life completely, and it will be for the better that I can promise you. Watching a big angry smallie come from out of nowhere and destroy your streamer is nothing short of amazing. I am going to share with you the water temperature that is ideal, the rod set up that I use, the line and leader set up I use, the flies that I personally use, and some interesting tips and tricks that works well for me and makes me have successful days on the water.

Water Temperature

The temperature of the water is key during this time of the year. Honestly, it is vital all year round, but it is highly crucial in the spring. To have a successful trip the water temperature needs to climb to around 50-55 degrees. This is when the smallmouth will begin to move from their wintering holes and their metabolisms will kick into gear. Pre-spawn is when you will have a high chance of catching the biggest bass in your local river system. The outcome of your fishing day will all boil down to water temperature. Personally, I always carry a thermometer with me when I go out and check the water temperature periodically throughout the day. Knowing what the temperature is throughout the different times of the day will give you an idea of what the bass are up to. Different parts of the river system will display different temperatures. The farther you are from the headwaters the warmer the water should be. During this time of the year you will find fish in the slower moving and deeper water. Anywhere you see that there is a current break or a slow seam, it will be worth it to throw your streamer into it. Look for things like logjams, boulders, or any other place you see some structure.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Rod Setup

If you want to chase the biggest smallmouth in your river system, then you better go out prepared. I would recommend using a 7wt to an 8wt rod. When your pursuing trophy sized fish you do not want to be under-gunned. Hooking into a smallie in the current of a river is enough to put even the best gear to the test. Personally, I use two rods throughout the year. The rods I use are the Axiom II-X in an 8wt and the LK Legacy in a 7wt. The Axiom II-X is a powerhouse of a rod and it is my go-to when I want to throw big streamers and use heavier fly lines. This rod will handle those meaty streamers and heavy lines with ease. The LK Legacy is a great casting rod and allows you to be precise when picking apart sections of water at a distance, especially when wading. On both rods the reel that I use is the BVK SD III. The reel is lightweight but built tough. The sealed drag system takes the abuse I put it through especially when the occasional carp comes along, and we tangle in the mud.

7wt LK Legacy // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

 

BVK SD lll reel // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Line and Leader Setup

In the spring I use two different fly lines depending on what the water conditions are like. The two types are sink tip and intermediate fly line. Cortland’s Compact series is my personal go-to lines. I only resort to using sink tip if I absolutely have too, or if the water level is up a bit. A good intermediate fly line will get the job done in almost all situations that you will likely encounter. As far as my leader set-up I like to keep it simple. With a sink tip line, I use a short leader in the 3 and a half to 4-foot range of 12 to 15-pound fluorocarbon. When using an intermediate line, I like to use a longer leader in the 6 and a half to 7- foot range also in 12 to 15-pound fluorocarbon. Super simple and gets the job done.

8wt Axiom ll-X // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Flies

Every bass box should have crayfish, leech, hellgrammite, and baitfish patterns in them at- all- times, but this time of the year it is a baitfish game. Absolutely nothing is more exciting than watching your baitfish swimming along as you strip, strip, pause and it gets smashed by a monster bronze back. In my personal spring box, you will find patterns with a lot of bucktail, rabbit strips, and craft fur. These materials provide a ton of movement in the water without having to create that action yourself. With the slower presentation of the spring- time a fisherman needs to take any advantage that they can. Some of my favorite flies to use are: Villwock’s Roamer, Red-Eye Leech, Clouser Minnow, Changer Craw, Bugger Changer, Bulkheads, Deceivers, and Hellgraworms.

Go-To Smallmouth flies for Ryan // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Tactics

During the pre-spawn smallmouth have only one thing on their minds—food! A slow methodical presentation is going to be the best approach. Taking your time and really picking apart the water is going to drastically up your chances of finding a fish. Three of the most important tactics for me are as follows:

  • Swinging the baitfish patterns. This tactic is the best way to cover a lot of water. The big girls are out looking for a meal and showing them a helpless baitfish caught in the river current is almost next to impossible for them to resist.
  • Bouncing crayfish, hellgrammite, and leech patterns on the bottom. This tactic can be productive by allowing your fly to get down where the fish are more likely to be hanging out.
  • Finally, making sure you make the baitfish patterns all about the pause. When you fish make sure that after you give it a couple strips you also give it a pause. Sometimes, making this pause a long one is a good idea because a lot of times a smallmouth will follow your streamer for a long distance and then as soon as you pause it, it pounces!

Ensuring that you are fishing in the right conditions and with the right equipment is key to having a great spring with smallmouth. Remember to always check your water temperature, pause that baitfish pattern, and make sure to check out the Axiom II-X and the LK Legacy. Pre-spawn smallmouth fishing is a great way to warm up for the top water action coming up soon!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Ryan Rachiele (Instagram: @streamerjunkie17). When not fishing, you can also find him working at Wellsboro, Pennsylvania shop Wellsboro Tackle Shack. Find out more about Ryan here.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Another Birthday Greeting To Lefty From Flip

A note from Flip Pallot:

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.

Winter Streamer Fishing – The Gear, The Flies and The Water with Brian Kozminski

“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.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

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.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

The Gear

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.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

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.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

The Flies

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.

Photo: Sam Bosworth

The Water

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

Photo: Sam Bosworth

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.

Why You Need A 7 Weight

Let’s talk 7 weights. Yes, 7 weights.

Wait, so you’re going to stand there calling yourself a fly angler, and you don’t have a 7 weight?

Well, maybe this will open your mind to a different rod weight.

Often skipped over by the fly shop employee for the more commercially popular 8 weight, and not as common in a drift boat as the old-school, six-weight with a half-wells grip.

The 7 weight serves an important purpose for both the fresh and saltwater anglers.

And frankly, they’re a lot more fun to fight a fish on and can deliver a big fly just as well as the heavier rods in the line-up.

By adding a 7 weight to the quiver, you’ll be able to cover just about everything from large trout, to bass and carp. Don’t forget steelhead and a few inshore saltwater species.

With most anglers already owning a 5 weight, the 7 weight is a perfect next rod to have. Already have a little 3 weight for small flies? Boom, 3-5-7, a perfect way to go, and you are covered for about every scenario.

Let’s breakdown some of the current TFO 7 weights, and see which one might make a home in your line-up.

The Blue Ribbon + BVK-SD reel. Photo: Cameron Mosier

7904 Blue Ribbon, (That’s a 7weight., 9-foot, four-piece rod for those unfamiliar with the TFO model lingo):

New to the line up this year, the Blue Ribbon series has been an all around hit, but the focus here is the largest rod in the series.

The 7 weight in particular has the ability to cast a big, air resistant fly repeatedly with minimal work. Paired with a thick diameter fly line, like the SA Mastery Series Titan, big flies are an ease. This series was based off of the popular Mangrove fly rods. Medium-fast action. Medium stiffness. This rod has plenty of power in the butt to pick-up and move heavy rigs, with minimal back casts.

For those considered this isn’t “enough rod,” or why don’t you have an 8 weight?

Believe me, this rod has the power. It can even handle some of this silly-multi streamer rigs thrown out west…Yes, I am looking at you Colorado anglers.

Outside of a great action for repetitive casting and quick shots along the bank, this rod also features the built-in hook keeper. A neat little aid for quickly attaching your fly.

While this was designed as trout rod, I’ve fished it for a few summers with big popping bugs for bass. Carp anglers, here you go. Perfect for those hulking brutes, (in really arm climates, check out the SA Grand Slam line) it’ll move the big flies and not get so kinky when hot out.

Pairs well with the NXT BLK III or BVK SD III.

7wt LK Legacy with BVK-SD reel. Photo: Nick Conklin

7904 LK Legacy:

First, we designed it with stronger top sections.

What does that mean?

For those that get in bad fish fighting angles, (Seriously, keep the rod tip low! They are designed to carry a fly line, the butt section is for fighting the fish!). The reinforced top sections will help fight against high-stick breaks.

The rod also has a faster style action. For those like something with a little quicker response and stouter butt, this 7 weight is for you.

Whether fishing floating lines, or sink-tips the LK Legacy will respond quickly and help aid the angler in an accurate fly delivery.

This rod, with a 10-foot sink tip beat the banks hard this fall in search of Montana trout. It handled the more dense tip and all kinds of articulated and feathery, peanut envy’s, sex dungeons, husker-dos, husker-don’ts and just about everything I could chuck out there.

Salty folks may want to consider this on your next trip. Whether it’s reds or specs, this rod can more than handle bonefish. Rig it up with a RIO Bonefish or Redfish style line, you won’t be disappointed.

Pairs well with the NXT BLK III or BVK SD III.

Axiom ll with the Power Reel. Excellent smallmouth rod. Photo: Jim Shulin

7904 Axiom II:

Looking for a step-up in power, and something a little faster, but still have a little soul to feel the rod do the work?

Enter the 7904 Axiom II.

This rod definitely how the power in the butt section to fight, much larger than advertised for a seven, it also allows the angler to load and unload efficiently, especially with big flies.

The striper folks out in the Calif., Delta have put this rod to test the last few years, with great results. This rod can definitely handle the west coast stripers.

Pairs well with the BVK SD III or the Power II reel.

7wt Axiom ll-X paired with the BVK-SD reel. Photo: Oliver Sutro

7904 Axiom II-X:

This is the big dog in the seven-weight offerings from TFO.

The fastest and stiffest rod in the line-up, this is for the angler with a fine-tuned cast that likes power and quick recovery.

While it excels at distance, maybe you’ve seen the photos of Blane Chocklett laying long, delicate casts, it more than stands on its own with quick shots and big flies.

Another rod that does well with heavier sink-tips and even the super long 20 to 30 foot sinkers. Striped bass anglers should be fired up about this one, long heavy sinking lines and big Clouser style flies are fun on this rod. The SA Sonar series pair very well with the A2X.

Pairs well with the BVK SD III or the Power II reel.

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

“When the day get shorter, darker and colder, most anglers lament even getting out of their warm beds…if you are a swinger, the coffee is brewing and you are more then pumped to get on the road and step into a run.

Dries flies aren’t really coming off, the hopper-dropper crowds have all but vanished and the fair weather anglers are at home prepping for a day of running errands and ambling around Home Depot killing time.

There is something about swinging flies.

Long rods, a pocket full of flies and sink tips.

Deep glassy runs, foggy eyes and cold toes.

It’s an exercise in patience and consistency, (and some kind of dark attitude to deal with the long hours and sparse hook-ups).

Strip, strip, strip, cast. Take a step. Put your hand in the fleece liner.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Photo: Lance Nelson

Maybe you’ll push that steelhead far enough back into the pool, piss it off enough for a strike.

Maybe you’ll cover enough water and hit that big trout laying low, get a strike on the dangle.

The hours and days drag on. You over think the the purples, blues and blacks of your flies. Maybe you switch out tips. The desire to move spots looms heavy.

Those with a weaker constitution may say, “F**K it,” and go out hide out in a nearby dive bar or nap in the truck.

Others considering tossing their two-handed rod into the trash and getting out the spoon rod.

More time to stand and think, the motions become repetitive, you start playing with different anchor points.

You start to drift off….

and then…..a thump…..”

Nick Conklin – Temple Fork Outfitters Fly Fishing Product Category Manager

Photo: Lance Nelson

 

If you’re reading this, and are interested in learning more about two-handed fly fishing, you’re in luck. Below is a basic breakdown of swing seasons, as well as rod/reel recommendations. Be on the lookout for more blogs and posts on swing season, but this should help you get started if you’re new to this type of fishing, and curious about what rod or reel to get.

 

LATE SUMMER/FALL STEELHEAD

When swinging flies later in the summer, before the rains come and the days become cold and short, a lighter shorter rod can be a lot of fun.

The 12-foot, 6-weight LK Legacy two-handed rod is perfect set-up weather your are fishing scandi floating lines and more classic patterns, or throwing small to medium intruders and weighted flies. This rod will also handle multi-density tips, from T-8 to T-11. The faster, stiffer road allows for smooth line pick-up and repositioning.

Rod: 6120-4 LK

Reel: BVK SD 3.5

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

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

WINTER STEELHEAD

When picking a good winter setup I think it’s important to find a rod that will fit the size and type of water you are fishing. Swinging a deep slow run from the shore, or from a boat? On a wide, sweeping river? Or fishing a tight quarters coastal river? For winter fish you’ll typically be fishing medium-to-large size intruders and sink tips up to 15-feet long.

When fishing these heavier and thick diameter skagit heads and tips, most casters will find a more deeper loading rod beneficial and easier to handle during long days. Two rod lengths I always carry are a shorter, 11 to 11’6” rod and something longer and heavier, ideally a 12 or 13’6” 8-weight.

The Axiom II Switch is a great option not just for small to medium water, but also for those who want to “switch,” techniques and have the ability to go from heads and swinging flies to an indicator or chuck- and-duck system.

The 13-foot, Pro II TH model is great for skagit heads and tips, and due to is medium-fast action it smoothly loads and unloads

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

Small to medium waters, coastal fishing:

Rod: 08 11 0 4 Axiom II Switch

Reel: BVK SD III

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

 

Medium to large water:

Rod: 078 13 0 4 Pro II TH

Reel: Power III

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

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TROUT SPEY

When it’s time to put away the dry fly rods and the big foamy terrestrials have all but been gnawed off the hook trout anglers should be eagerly looking for a longer lighter rods to swing for trout.

Having a long and light two-hander can be a lot of fun, and teach an angler a lot about seasonal holding patterns on their local trout water.

I typically like to have two, (or one rod with two line set-ups) when attacking the “trout spey,” or “micro spey,” approach. One rod will be for swinging soft hackles and little nymphs in skinny water. The second rig will be for streamers and heavier flies. On this 3/4-weight set-up, I’ll also swing a double woolly bugger set-up to give the appearance of baitfish “chasing,” each other.

Photo: Lance Nelson

Soft hackles and light flies:

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

Reel: NXT BLK III

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

Small to medium streamers and multi-woolly bugger rigs

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

Reel: NXT BLK III

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