Winter is here guys!! The days in Alaska are getting shorter and much, much colder! Frozen waders and rod guides, cold fingers and toes, frozen flies…the list goes on. Honestly though, when a big rainbow is on the end of your line, all those obstacles seem completely irrelevant.
Fishing in Alaska is pretty dang awesome during any season, but there’s just something so special about fly fishing for rainbows in the midst of the colder months. I’ve lived in Alaska my whole life, and I’ve always LOVED winter. So, when winter is here, I don’t want to miss a second of it.
Fishing in extreme cold definitely has its pros and cons. The coldest I’ve fished on the river, I started the day at -8 degrees, and the high for the day was 5 degrees! I do a lot of ice fishing as well, and the coldest day I’ve had was -25 degrees! You will NOT find me on the river in temps as low as that!
Of all the species of fish, I don’t think I could choose a favorite to target. I want to say I favor rainbow fishing in the winter just a little because it’s so different from everything else I do throughout the year. It’s definitely more of a challenge, which also makes it more rewarding.
This time of year, the water has dropped a ton (hopefully), and the fish are in different areas. Once that water drops, rainbows like the deeper trenches, but keep in mind you need good current to drift or swing through.
Winter in Alaska (and a lot of places) can have some pretty significant swings in temperatures. Here, it can be 20 degrees one day, and then in the single digits the next. Keep in mind that trout need to adapt to that intense temperate change before they turn back on.
Rainbows, especially on the Kenai River, never go hungry. With our massive salmon population, they have more than plenty to eat. Even more so on pink salmon years! On the Kenai, pink salmon only run every other year (every even year). Super odd, but can’t complain though! That only makes the trout extra chunky! Speaking of food..
Flies & Presentation
In the winter, the trout rely on mostly flesh and eggs. The silvers are the last of the salmon to enter the river, which means they’re still lingering around and waiting to spawn late fall/early winter. The egg drop/bead bite is unreal this time of year.
Silver eggs are 8mm in size, so throughout the fall and winter, using this size painted bead is pretty successful. 10mm’s are a good choice when the water is dirty. I like to use my own paint on top of the painted beads to make my own special colors! This gives the bead more of a realistic look and will make it stand out compared to the ones they see regularly.
Now, my favorite topic – swinging flies! The majority of my time winter fly fishing consists of swinging flies. My favorite flies for rainbows are different leech variations, intruders, and sculpins! I prefer this method of fishing because of the precise control you have over your fly presentation and the art form that comes with casting. Also, you get to feel the fish take, instead of watching your indicator go under.
Rods, Reels, Line/Leader Setups & More!
Sink tips are a key factor with swinging flies. You have to have the right amount of length and weight for that specific day. Alaska has some weird weather, so the water levels are constantly changing.
If your sink tip is too light, you’ll be fishing too high up in the water column, and the swing will be too fast. If you’re fishing heavy, your fly will be dredging bottom and swinging too slow.
Rod weight matters too! If your rod is too light, you won’t be able to throw heavier sink tips effectively. For medium-large flies, I recommend at least a 7wt rod.
The 7wt Axiom II Switch casts light and heavy sink tips effortlessly. Hands down, my favorite rod for swinging flies. You also need a reel that won’t give up on you as it’s almost completely frozen, and a rainbow decides to make a big run. I trust the Power Reels with all my heart!
As for my single-hand set up, I am currently using the Axiom II-X in a 6wt, paired with the BVD-SD Reel. The impressive back bone and power in this rod truly makes a difference when casting on freezing cold days, and through winds.
I hope you guys enjoyed learning some of my winter rainbow fishing methods. I could seriously talk about it forever, but I think I covered some basics for now. Wishing all of you good luck on your winter fishing adventures this season! And if you don’t like winter, you’re missin’ out.
Blog written by Alaska based TFO Ambassador Sierra Baldwin. Photos provided by Sierra and were taken by Clayton Longfellow.
“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.
Fall is in the air and with cooler nights upon us, striped bass anglers anticipate the fall striper bite on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This is a precious piece of water to California and is rich in wildlife and agriculture that supplies not only water to the majority of California’s central valley but a wide range of fishing and hunting.
Striped bass were introduced to California’s San Francisco Bay in 1879 and another few hundred released once again in 1882. These fish have flourished in the early years but in recent years have declined due to a combination of things due to lack of water during drought years and water management across the state. That is a whole other topic to be discussed at another time, right now I want to talk about fall stripers!
Why Fish For Striped Bass?
Striped bass, these fish grab hard, pull hard and some days your arm feels like it is going to fall off at the end of the day. We find a lot of smaller stripers called schoolies which are in the one to five pound class and can be in schools of hundreds. Then there are the moments you find a school of six to ten pounders with multiple hook ups of this size, these are days you never forget. In earlier years we used to find a decent amount of twenty pounders and plus, but we have noticed there are fewer of these monsters around these days. A good solid fish that we see commonly these days are 8-15 pounds but still see that occasional trophy in the 40 lb. to 50 lb. size.
‘Tis The Season(s)
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta primarily has two striped bass seasons, Spring and Fall. In the Spring, the stripers move from the ocean and San Francisco Bay entering the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and proceeding further up the river for spawning in the spring months. We have noticed over the years not all the migratory stripers return to the Bay so quick after spawning. A good number of striped bass are continuing to stay in the river system well after the spawning due to the cooler water and the abundance of bait in the river systems. Eventually most of the striped bass head back to the Delta and Bay in late summer months and early fall following other anadromous fish like salmon smolt and steelhead smolt making their way to the ocean. In these months of late September, October and November the Delta waters become a desirable temperature for the Stripers and other fish species in the Delta.
The Perfect Temperature
Bringing us to the discussion of fall stripers! The Delta water temperatures are now cooling in the fall months with the bait consisting of threadfin shad showing from the bay. Other predators such as sea lions and sea gulls have arrived as well to feed on the abundance of bait in the system. The sea gulls from above put on a show busting bait on the surface and aggressive hungry stripers attacking from below. These are the days you can have arm wrenching pulls with crazy numbers of fish. This is prime time to target the Delta for these striped bass feeding before the winter temperatures set in. Desirable water temperature for these feeding stripers are 55-65 degrees. The striper bite tends to really slow down when the water temperature gets below 55 degrees and even slower below 50 degrees. I usually see this in the later part of December. So, you have two and a half months of a prime striper bite to find that monster striper you are desperately looking to hook.
Choosing The Right Rod & Reel
Targeting these striped bass when it comes to equipment, I prefer fly rods in a 9 foot, 7 to 9 weight with a good solid drag on the reel for that monster fish we are targeting. The BVK-SD reel and the Power Reel that TFO offers are two excellent reels to choose from. Some of my favorite rods are anywhere from the Mangrove, Axiom II, Axiom II-X and the new LK Legacy. The Mangrove has been a great rod for casting to selected areas where precision is a must, it loads quick and has a smooth delivery. I favor the Axiom II and the Axiom II-X for a powerful rod. This rod will deliver a heavily weighted fly at a distance cast with minimal exertion. It handles both floating and sinking lines and is very light to the hand for that long day of casting.
The Right Fly Lines For The Right Occasions
I use a variety of lines depending on the tide, the time of the day and water depth. This means anything from a floating line, an intermediate line to even a fast sinking line. I love to target these stripers with topwater poppers, but it can typically be a small window for this desired technique. Best conditions for this topwater bite are low light and a high tide. So, if I specifically want to target topwater stripers I look for a high tide at first light. This will give you your best opportunity to find that big blow up on your topwater fly.
Fishing an intermediate line can be a small window as well. I usually find that this line is an excellent choice when stripers are chasing or cruising for bait at high tide on a shoal or tight to the bank of three to four feet in depth.
Majority of the time I am fishing a fast sinking line on the Delta. This gives you the best opportunity to fish a lot of different depths of water. You can strip it quick for shallower water and let it dredge for that deeper water that is holding those schools of fish. This line will also help you achieve getting to that desired depth quicker than other lines in fast moving tides. The sinking fly line is usually a 24ft to 30ft sink tip with an intermediate running line. Most fly line companies build these lines now days and are offered in many different grain weights that will match up with your TFO rod that you choose to use.
What Are They Hitting?
There are so many flies to choose from, but you can keep it simple as well. I prefer a fly in a Clouser style, what I mean by that is that the fly is weighted and with the hook riding upright. This fly is great to get down to the fish and the fly performs an excellent jigging motion as you strip the fly back that stripers cannot resist. I like to have a few different sizes ranging anywhere from a size 2 to a 3/0 hook to match the bait around. Choosing colors of a fly depend on the color of the water, time of day, and the type of bait we are simulating. I primarily use Gray/White, Chartreuse/White, Olive/White and one of my specialties Olive/Pink/White that resemble a salmon or steelhead smolt.
While it’s easy to get sad about summer’s end, the transition into fall brings a special type of excitement to anglers on the East cost. The tail end of summer brings bull redfish inland to spawn and forage on baitfish, but by late September, a cool north wind blows offshore forcing baitfish back towards the ocean, while also bringing false albacore inland. This results in a head on collision of predator and prey, and the perfect scenario for the angler that gets at the right place at the right time.
TFO is fortunate enough to have several advisors and ambassadors with lots of knowledge and experience fishing for false albacore on both fly and conventional gear. This week, we decided to switch it up and get feedback from several of TFO’s finest – Jake Jordan, Gary Gubiel and Andy Bates – to give some tips, tactics, and insights for all things albie fishing.
Overview, History & Migration
Give us a brief overview of false albacore. Have they always been a sport fish, and what is it about fall that makes that the time to fish for them?
Jake Jordan – False albacore (also known as Little Tunny, Albies, Fat Albert) are located in the Atlantic Ocean all the way from Maine to Chile, as well as the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. Although they are in the tuna family, their rough flesh makes for not so good eating, but a fantastic sporting fish.
North Carolina was one of the first places that people started fishing them as a sport fishing fly fishing in the late 1990s. Historically, albies were referred to as a baitfish. We used to catch them, cut out their bellies, and troll them for marlin. As a sport fish, they are like any other tuna or jack – they are very, very powerful. Anglers often refer to bonefish as being one of the strongest fighting fish. An equal size false albacore is much faster and much more powerful than the same weight bonefish.
In the summer months, the baitfish (anchovies, silver sides, spearing, etc.) in the estuaries will eat and get bigger in the warmer, shallower water of the Sounds. As soon as the first cold front of the year comes through, a Northern wind cools down the surface water in the Sounds, causing the baitfish to run out of the inland water towards the warmer water of the ocean. Likewise, as soon as the albacore out in the Gulf Stream feel that cool, north breeze, they immediately swim into the wind and head inshore. They’ll come towards the beach, coming right up into these giant schools of baitfish. At this point, you can find albies anywhere from 2ft to 100ft deep.
Baitball, Birds, and Shrimp Trawlers
TFO: Aside from being able to see them near the surface, how do you locate albies?
Jake Jordan: Two of the most important factors in locating albies are bait balls and birds. Typically when I’m starting out for the day, even before first light, I’m just looking for bird action. Really good anglers will have “Bird Radar” where you can see out as far as 20-25 miles, but even at 10 miles, you’ll see the birds diving down on the fish and you can run right up to them. This will be a sign of either redfish or Spinner sharks, or it’s going to be albacore. Earlier in September it could even be big Spanish mackerel and King mackerel.
You’ll see these giant baitballs where the water is boiling with fish going crazy and baitfish jumping out of the water. These bait balls can be the size of a big swimming pool. All you have to do is drop your bait or fly into that boil, and before you get a chance to strip or anything, your line just takes off with a fish on the end.
TFO: Let’s say you’ve located some fish busting on a bait ball. How are you positioning yourself to cast?
Jake Jordan: Albies are unique in that they swim and feed into the wind. When you’re chasing these fish, if you can get upwind in front of the schools, you can sit there and wait for them to come right to you. I try to sit the boat right to the side but in front of the path of the schools. You’ll be casting straight into where they’re going to be, your fly is coming across the school, so basically you are casting ahead and perpendicular to them.
TFO: Do you ever spook the schools when casting to them as they are migrating?
Jake Jordan: No. These fish aren’t afraid of anything. There are times when they are boat-shy. When you get 100 f.t from them, they go down and disappear, and then they’ll pop up 300 ft from you.
TFO: I’ve heard that fishing behind shrimp boats trawling bottom can be another great way to catch albies. Can you talk about that?
Jake Jordan: If there aren’t a lot of bait balls happening, and we aren’t seeing any birds, another way to catch albacore is fishing behind shrimp boats. Here in North Carolina, shrimp boats are operating almost 24hrs a day. Here we have flat sandy bottoms, and these shrimp boats are trolling the bottoms with these big chains holding the bottom of these large nets, just scooping up shrimp and all kinds of baitfish. About 50-60% of what they bring up to the boat is baitfish also called bycatch, the other 40-50% is shrimp. When they make their pull up to the boat, they’ll throw everything back overboard that isn’t shrimp. This will draw sharks, albacore, and millions of birds.
You can get about a hundred feet from the back of the boat and wait for the boats to throw the bycatch overboard. You can use a 10wt in this scenario (sharks), but I like to use a Bluewater SG Mediumwith a Power Reel using about 500-700 grain head with 1.5-2 ft of 20lb leader with about a 5 inch white Clouser minnow. I’ll set the drag on my reel to about 6 pounds. As soon as you get a hook up, I usually put the boat in reverse to get away from the boat so the fish don’t get wrapped up in the trolling nets/cables.
Fly Rods & Reels
Jake Jordan: – At the start of the season in September, and in the summer when I’m also targeting Spanish mackerel, I’ll start off with a 9’ 7wt Axiom ll-X. I’ll pair this up with a BVK SD-lll reel. Typically, you’ll want a reel with a heavy drag system, but with early season albies (4-6 pounds), you’ll be fine with the BVK-SD, and it’s a lot of fun on a 7wt. Once we start catching albies more consistently, I’ll switch over to a 9wt Axiom ll-X. I’ll fish this until late October/early November, and then I’ll step up to a 10wt Axiom ll-X. The purpose of stepping up to the 9 and 10 is relative to how the fish are growing over the season and also the size of the flies as well. I’ll pair both the 9wt and 10wt with the TFO Power III Reel.
Gary Dubiel: Im targeting albies in mid- October after the bull reds are done doing their thing inland. 9wt &10wt Axiom ll-Xs are my preferred rods. A lot of the albacore we get in coastal North Carolina are pretty big – around 16-18 pounds. The 9wt Axiom ll-X is a fabulous rod to use for albacore, but for folks that have trouble making longer casts in stronger winds, the 10wt is an excellent choice. More than anything else, you’ll want a quality reel with a great drag system, so the Power Reel III.
Fly Lines & Leaders
Gary Dubiel: I like intermediate or intermediate tip lines – particularly a clear tip line. The reason I like that is, you’re going to do much better with direct contact to the fly. Even if the fish aren’t on the surface, if you can get the fly down to the fish a little quicker so that it get 3-6 inches down quickly. Even if you’re using a weighted fly – you’re going to do well with that intermediate line. You can also decrease your leader length to get it down quicker. For leaders, I do a 4ft piece of 20lb fluorocarbon straight to the fly.
Flies & Retrieval Patterns
Gary Dubiel:For flies, a #1 or #2 size hook that is no more than 2.5”-3” long that are fairly translucent all work well. Clouser Minnows, Surf Candies are great patterns. I like flies to have some motion, so I actually tie most of my flies with craft fur so when that flies is sinking it has a little bit of undulation to it.
Retrieves – I like to fish albacore a little bit different. When I’m striping the rod in, I don’t want to strip in really fast. Once you get in a bait ball, you want to maximize the time that the fly is in front of the fish. Just strip it enough to keep the fly line tight, and the fish are more than happy to eat it. The intermediate line lets you have more direct contact so you don’t have to do as much on the strip strike to get good hook penetration on the fish. So that intermediate line serves multiple purposes for me.
Andy Bates:I throw a lot of Clousers. I stick with mostly white, but white with tan, and white with chartreuse works too. Just depends on the clarity of the water on that day. You can catch pretty much anything in North Carolina on a white and chartreuse Clouser.
Conventional Gear & Retrieval Techniques
Gary Dubiel:I use the Inshore 7’ Medium and Medium Heavy depending on what we’re throwing. Certainly for long distance casting with small, long 3” spoons whether that be mostly metal spoons, but big profile spoons about an ounce and about 3 inches long are ideal for getting really long casts to breaking fish. You can throw those and crank them fast. They can be very effective if you’re having a hard time getting on the bait balls and you’re seeing breaking fish.
If you’re on bait balls, I prefer to go to the 7’ Medium Inshore and fish soft plastics – particularly fluke style baits. Whether that be on a jig head or just a hook. Jig heads in a 1/4 -3/8 ounce aren’t going to get as far, but I find them really effective. Fishing them is very different. I use a lot of rod tip and not as fast of a reel so the bait has a tendency to dart side-to-side. You’re keeping the soft plastic in the bait longer, but giving it a very erratic speed while doing that, which seems to be very deadly effective on the fish.
Certainly 20lb braid, then 20-30lb fluorocarbon if there’s Spanish mackerel around. Definitely using 30lb when those mackerel are around.
Andy Bates:A lot of people think that albies be a nuisance, and an easy fish to catch, but that’s not always the case. Its not as easy as dropping your fly or a bait in a bait ball and they’ll just crush it. Sometimes you have to get creative. When they’re feeding on really small fry, or what we call snot bait, it’s hard to match the hatch. Even if you can match the hatch, the albies almost turn into a predatory fish into a filter feeder type fish. If you’re spin rod fishing for them and you’re having trouble getting a bite, you can go to a big 5” fluke or an albie snack on a swim bait hook (weighted or unweighted) where you can make a long cast on a Medium or Medium Light rod with 10-12lb braid. After you make a long cast from a ways back, hold your tip up and rip it back as fast as you can and work the bait. You’re basically skipping the bait across the water and getting a reaction bite. I’ve found this technique very effective for when they get picky on the subsurface bite.
Fighting Albies and the Release/Launch
Gary Dubiel: When you’ve got an albie on, making sure you’re utilizing the bottom third of the rod and using the drag on your reel correctly is definitely important when playing these fish. I use a little bit stiffer drag to help slow the fish down. They’re going to go and there’s not much to do to stop them, so you let them go when they go.
Big albacore sometimes will do what’s called the death spiral, where they go straight down and spin in a circle. That can be a challenge, but a really short pump of the rod to try and pull the fish and get his head up can help prevent them from spiraling back down. You’re basically shortening the line, and shortening the line until you get him high enough in the water column to grab and boat him.
Jake Jordan: Once you catch your first fish, their tail is like a handle. Like a tuna fish, you grab them by the tail, hold them up over the boat. They’re probably going to spit out about 50 bait fish on the deck, then you get the fly and let them go. Unlike trout or other fish where you typically hold them long, albies are the opposite. When you release them, shoot them in the water like a bullet. You do this because they are so powerful and fast, they need that water going over their gills. That splash gives them a really good start. Their tail is moving when you let go of them, and they just propel themselves to get that first burst of oxygen.
If you’d like to learn and see more about albie fishing in coastal North Carolina, you might enjoy this film featuring TFO Advisor Rob “The Seahunter” Fordyce and TFO Ambassador Chris Thompson. This film was shot after the annual Cape Lookout Albacore Festival last year. Sadly, this year’s festival has been cancelled due to the pandemic, but the festival plans to resume in 2021. You can find out more about Albie Fest here.
Jake Jordan is a TFO National Advisor that has spent more than half a century guiding tarpon anglers in the Keys. During his lifetime, Jake has caught more than 2,400 billfish on the fly – thus was the perfect person to help us design our offshore rod – the Bluewater SG. Nowadays, Jake splits his time chasing tarpon in the Keys and albacores and redfish in coastal North Carolina. You can find out more about Jake here.
Gary Dubiel has been a TFO National Advisor since 2002. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business Spec Fever Guide Service. You can find out more about Gary here.
Andy Bates has been an ambassador for TFO since 2017. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business, Captain Bates Guiding Service. You can find out more about Andy here.
Imagine hooking into a 20lb salmon for your first ever fish, followed by a tug of war stronger than any resistance you’ve ever felt before, as the fish sends you on a heart-beating, mad dash downstream while ripping line off your reel faster than you can pull off. A little different than catching a farm pond bluegill right?
Based out of northern Michigan, TFO rep Brian “Koz” Kozminski has caught his fair share of salmon, but these days he enjoys nothing more than watching first timers catch their first salmon, followed by a lifelong passion into a new sport. As salmon are starting (or in some cases have already started) to migrate into the rivers to spawn, we decided to catch up with Koz to get a feel of how, when and where to catch these hard fighting, anadromous fish.
Tells us about the fisheries in your area, and how non-native salmon came to be introduced to northern Michigan.
In 1966, salmon were introduced into the Great Lakes system as a test experiment to see how they would coexist with the native lake trout. After they were introduced, the salmon readily took whole because of another invasive, and very plentiful species in the Great Lakes – the alewife. The Great Lakes freshwater environment was perfect for the salmon that were introduced as they had plenty of food with the alewives everywhere.
Today, the salmon population is doing really well here. The average fish is 20-25 pounds. 30 pounders are not uncommon. We have three Michigan DNR State Fish Hatcheries that produce Chinook salmon: Thompson, Oden and Wolf Lake.
When do you start seeing the salmon migrate from the Great Lakes?
In northern Michigan, we usually start seeing or hearing signs of salmon during the first week of August. Salmon are pelagic species (open water feeders) – they like to feed out in the middle of the ocean, or in this case, the Great Lakes, and feast on those alewives.
A combination of factors trigger the anadromous salmon to begin to make their mating ritual journeys upstream: daylight, moon phase, and water level. Additionally, I believe water temperature plays a role, too.
If you talk to a Lake Michigan charter boat captain in the middle of the summer, they might say there are catching salmon at 210 – 220 feet. As it gets closer to fall, they’re marking and catching fish anywhere from 60 – 180 feet using divers and plugs. As the salmon begin to move into the river, that’s when fly fishing becomes more practical.
What is so special about salmon fishing for those that have never done it before?
I believe salmon fishing is key to getting more people into the sport. Sure we can go out and catch bluegill and panfish and have a good time. They definitely fight for what they are, but there’s no comparison to a 20lb fish at the end of your line. There’s nothing like watching your kid or someone else’s kid catch their first 20 pound fish, because that fish is going to fight and its going to pull more than anything they’ve ever felt before.
Additionally, I don’t I think a lot of people don’t totally understand why and when salmon move from the saltwater oceans and big lakes into the freshwater rivers. The act in itself is pretty extraordinary as salmon and steelhead are going from a hypertonic to a hypotonic environment. Humans obviously can’t do that. The body has to balance and regulate itself.
What are some typical indications/signs that you and other anglers go by to start focusing your attention on the rivers to catch salmon? Is it word of mouth from the lake fisherman or other anglers, or are you able to actually see the fish migrating in big groups upstream?
You’ll start hearing a lot of other anglers talk when the fish are starting to move up the river. You won’t really be able to see them migrating. These fish are accustomed to being in deep water most of their life, so they don’t see much daylight. Once they get into the rivers, they move mostly at night, and they’ll hold in deep pools during the day. You will see some movement, but all of our rivers have so much sand – they don’t feel comfortable being exposed on sand.
There are some rivers, like the Old Manistee, that get their salmon runs earlier than any other rivers in Michigan. You can be fishing for salmon in the middle of August there.
Tip – Most people think that if you go to a river that is known to have salmon in it, that you can catch them anywhere in the river. You’ve got to look at maps and know how short the river system is and if there are dams in place.For example, I fish the Manistee river a lot for trout, but I’m on the upper Manistee where there aren’t salmon. There are two dams below me, so all the salmon fishing is below Tippy Dam. You’ve also got to obtain a special permit to fish for salmon below certain reservoirs like Tippy, so be sure to check your local fishing regulations online or at your local fly shop.
How long does the salmon migration typically last?
In northern Michigan, rivers like the Jordan, Boyne, Sturgeon, and the Pigeon all get salmon, but these rivers are generally less than 50 miles long. Salmon can get through those river systems in a matter of days or less than a week. Therefore, your timing needs to be impeccable. If you don’t get your timing right, you can miss the fish. There will be a fresh run of salmonids, but knowing where there are is a key factor in your success.
The good news is that this happens all the way through October. You can go to almost any river on Labor Day weekend in Michigan, and you will find salmon running in some section of that water. I would also say that closer towards Halloween at the end of October, you will still find salmon in the rivers. We call those fish gravel zombies. At this point in the migration, their bodies are decaying and they start looking white. You’ll see the white cape of their tail sweeping in the river. We tend to avoid these fish and let them complete their cycle.
What kinds of rods and reel setups would you recommend for someone looking to catch their first salmon on the fly?
Rods – For those interested in doing the spey or two-handed approach, the Pro II Two-Handed is a great option to swing those classic salmon flies.
For those that want the single-handed approach, the TFR is a Great Lakes rod specifically built for our salmon fisheries. It is available in an 8wt & 10wt.
I typically don’t play with anything less than an 8wt when fishing for salmon.
Reels – For most other fly fishing scenarios, your reel doesn’t play as much of a particular role in actually catching fish. Salmon fishing is absolutely the opposite. You’ve got to have a good reel. That fish is going to take off and you need to have a decent drag and be able to have the chance to recoup the amount of line that you’ve lost after they make their runs. You definitely want a large arbor. TFO’s Power Reel III is a great reel that I use a lot for this type of fishing.
Do you recommend a specific fly line? What about leader and tippet material size/length?
Fly Lines – I use Scientific Anglers Amplitude Anadro or Mastery Sink tip. Amplitude Smooth Anadro/Nymph specifically has enough mass to get the fly out and it gets down. With salmon fishing, you’re trying to get that fly in front of the fish as much as you possibly can.
Leaders & Tippet – In the Great Lakes, we generally run 2-3 feet of 30lb down to 2-3 feet of 20lb maxima and maybe a couple feet of 12-15lb fluorocarbon tippet. These fish will beat you up, take you through the wood and into some heavy cover. You will need muscle in your leader to help control the direction of the battle, or you will lose.
How about flies and streamer patterns?
**First and foremost, be sure that wherever you are going salmon fishing, that you check the local fishing regulations. Some rivers don’t allow you to use two flies, and some require single hooks only.**
Two-Fly Set-Ups – Usually your lead fly is something a little bit heavier and weighted like a big sucking leach that will get down, and then a trailer fly that could be an egg fly, small stonefly, or caddis fly larvae. I use a Tiemco 2488 hook to tie my caddis flies. The egg patterns need to be tied on a strong hook like a Tiemco TMC 105 in a size 6 or an 8. If you go with something cheaper, the salmon will likely straighten the hook out.
Streamers – I typically stick to using the two fly set up, but for the anglers that want to throw streamers, some anglers in Michigan like to fish the lower end of the rivers for this technique. If you’re out there at first daylight, the salmon still think that they’re in the big lake, so they might attack a small alewife pattern. So some kind of mullet fly or anything like that will work for streamer imitation patterns.
I’ve heard that fishing behind spawning king salmon for brown trout can be very effective. Can you weigh in on that?
Definitely. That’s specifically why I tend to stick with the two-fly setup with the egg pattern, stonefly or caddis imitations, because the browns will tend to hang out behind the salmon and eat their eggs. Sometimes this scenario can be the best brown trout fishing there is.
At this point, the browns are in pre-spawn feeding mode. They usually spawn in the second week of November right after the salmon have done their cycle. Its pretty incredible how fish have their different cycles of spawning right after one another.
Everything has a cycle and a season for a reason so that everybody’s not doing the same thing, at the same spot, all at the same time. Your rainbows are in the spring, brown trout and brookies are in the fall right after the salmon. There’s a balance. When you look at the whole ecosystem of a river and how balanced it is, there’s no wonder to me that there’s a higher power that orchestrates all this stuff. Then you have the bugs, and that’s a whole other, but similar phenomenon.
Any particular casts or swinging techniques that you’d recommend for fishing for salmon on the fly?
Chuck & Duck is a very popular technique in Michigan. With this technique you are not actually “fly fishing”, but using a weight and a swivel on your leader in front of your flies that helps you get your flies down quicker. Similar to euro nymphing – you’re basically repeatedly flipping this rig through the run over and over again.
True ‘Chuck-n-Duck’ aficionados will use 9’ 8 weight lined with Amnesia or other low memory core running line. Directly to barrel swivel or three way swivel with 9” dropper attached to lead ‘slinkie’ and then 6-8’ 20# Maxima Chameleon to fly.
I remember some of my earliest days fishing on the West Bank of the Grand River at Sixth Street dam when I was in my teens-catching salmon and steelhead in much the same manner.
What suggestions would you offer to anglers for fighting salmon, and increasing their chances of netting/landing the fish? Trout set or strip set?
Definitely not a streamer/strip set, and that’s why you’re going to want to use a 9’-10’ stiff rod where you can lift it and get the hook into these large, boney-jawed fish. After setting the hook, the bigger salmon might stay where they are or go deeper, but once they realized they’re hooked, they tend to go in the stream and go downstream, which tends to make the situation a bit more challenging. Don’t be afraid to put pressure on the fish to keep them from getting into structures.
Any last tips you’d recommend to someone looking to target salmon on the fly for the first time?
Definitely visit the local fly shop. Buy a dozen flies, pay for your information, but also do your scouting online to research where you’re thinking about going. Shorten your learning curve by booking a guide and floating a river with an expert.
If you’re wading a river, you’re pretty much locked into a 100-500 yard section of river where you might not even see any fish. Conversely, if you’re floating, you’ve covering 4-5 miles of water and covering a lot more effective runs or pools where fish may be stacked up.
Guide Suggestions – TFO Ambassador Jeffrey ‘Bear’ Andrews for guiding on big water on the Manistee River, and Tom Werkmen for the Grand River.
We also have a great Atlantic salmon fishery in the Saint Mary’s River, which runs between the upper peninsula and Canada. One of the great TFO Ambassadors John Giuliani lives and guides up there. They do Atlantic salmon fishing all summer long, and they also get some run-in steelhead as well in the spring, summer, and fall.
Brian “Koz” Kozminski 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.
It’s an exciting time for Captain Gary Dubiel and other east coastal and guides and anglers. As we say goodbye to July and turn the page to August, water temperatures are increasing, more baitfish are moving towards estuaries, and the summer crowds are slowly going back to their homes. Bull redfish season is here.
I was fortunate enough to catch Gary on a rare day off, as for the next 2-3 months, he’ll be on the water with clients pursing large adult redfish – or bull reds – that make their way into his fisheries. Gary breaks down the annual migration of bull reds to coastal North Carolina and how he finds and catches these fish.
Sounds and looks like the bull redfish are on the move in your area in coastal North Carolina. For those new to targeting or interested in targeting bull reds, can you talk about what it is these fish are doing? Are they spawning? What drives them in (temperature, water levels) to your area in coastal North Carolina?
The bull reds here are very migratory. They’ll be in the ocean most of the year. They’re in the process now in late July where the vast majority of them are shifting from the ocean into the estuary into the Pamlico Sound primarily for the purpose of spawning.
The spawning rituals itself which usually occur on the full and new moon phases are very brief, and the rest of the time the fish take full advantage of the food sources so they are perpetually feeding.
Every year is a little bit different and it can be hard to predict on how quickly they move in. Some years you’ll see fish in abundance by early/mid July, some years you’ll see fish a little bit later, but usually once you get into the first part of August, you’re going to see an increasing number of fish pushing into the river and that will continue into a few weeks to follow and stay peaked usually until the end of September. As the temperatures drop, the bull reds will move back out into the ocean.
Does water temperature have any effect for these migratory patterns?
There is some temperature orientation. During summer, the water temperature is obviously going to be very hot, so there’s not a lot of fluctuation, but your fall temperature, depending when your cold fronts come in, has a tendency to push the bait out, thus the volume of fish. Usually when you see the water temperature drop down into the mid 60s is when you see that migration move back out.
When the bull reds are in your area spawning/foraging, how do you look for them? Is it similar to looking for normal redfish looking for crabs in the flood tides, etc. in that there are more visual signs to look for like tailing, grass movement, etc?
No; totally different ballgame. Normal redfish and adult redfish have nothing to do with each other as far as their habits go – especially here in coastal North Carolina. Once adult redfish come into that migratory adult population, they become much more of a pelagic fish than a normal redfish that is more estuary oriented – very short distances.
There was actually a radio tracking study here years back. On average, an adult redfish swim 25 miles a day. That 25 miles doesn’t necessarily have to be a straight line, but they are perpetually in motion just like a school of tuna would be. They are much more in motion, and that motion basically continues until they locate food, and then they eat, and then they’ll move until they find more food, and so on. They are perpetually moving day and night and anytime they intersect food, they eat.
So not really much sight fishing opportunities?
Our waters are very tan and bottoms are very dark, so it would be very rare if you ever looked in the water and saw one. What we’ve been able to do here is basically develop the ability to look for those fish by looking for the food source.
Bull redfish will eat pretty much anything. They aren’t like the typical Carolina redfish that is tailing and looking for a crab. Bull reds are primarily going to be fin fish feeders, but they will also eat crab, shrimp, and anything that’s basically 18” and smaller than they are.
Because of the way the food reacts when being chased by these big fish can help you locate those fish and catch them. For example, if they find a mullet, mullet move in a straight line and they move very fast, and its usually in much shallower water – which makes for some really cool signs to look for because its very explosive – there’s a lot of splashing, a lot going on. But the issue then becomes – How do you get to these fish? They’re moving so fast you can get in front of them it doesn’t make any difference.
The one thing that is very helpful in all that is menhaden – Because when they get chased they form a big bait ball and they don’t go anywhere. Looking at big schools – literally acres of menhaden on top of the water – that bait ball is very tight. The spinning/splashing on top of the water gives you an indication that there’s fish there. You can also look for things like flicks, you can smell the oil from the fish being eaten, etc. Big redfish can feed anywhere from two feet of water to twenty feet of water which is as deep as the rivers in this area. So subsequently, they can be anywhere and everywhere. They can be very difficult to see feeding but if you see that bait ball on the surface, that bait can be your best indicator of where those fish are.
Let’s say you’ve located some bull reds, what set ups, both fly and conventional are using to go after these guys?
For conventional tackle – I’m using the Inshore Series. Medium-Heavy and Heavy action rods. So the 705-706 models. Mostly what we’re going to be using to catch those fish are pop-n-corks and soft plastics. The reason we use those (pop-n-corks) is that it makes noise and it draws the fish to the bait just like the fish that are constantly moving and feeding.
Very different from a juvenile redfish where they might be tight at to the bottom, bull reds can be at mid-water column, they can be on top of the water, or they can be all the way on the bottom. We want to try and pull the fish to that bait so we’ll use very large pop-n-corks and large 5-6 inch long soft plastics that catches their attention. It’s the most effective way to catch those fish when we’re fishing tackle.
I’ll match those rods with 4000-5000 series reels with 30lb braid goes on those rods nicely and the rods have the backbone it takes to fish those well.
We do throw some topwater baits. The Medium Heavy does really well there. We’ll also do some swim baits using the Heavy action Inshores. Large 6-8 inch swim baits on a jighead will occasionally produce as well.
For Fly – Axiom ll-X 10wt. You need that extra backbone compared to the popular 8wt because 1) You’ll never throw the set up and 2) You’ll never land the fish. I match it with the TFO Power Reel.
How big do the bull reds get?
A lot of places will say a bull redfish is 36-38 inches. That’s not a big fish here. That’s a little fish. Our fish average 43-45 inches. They’re typically a pound an inch. We’ll catch fish in excess of 50 inches – So you’re looking at 50-60 lb. fish.
So in other words, you’ll have all you need on the end of a 10wt Axiom ll-X.
What about fly lines, leaders, tippet?
You’ll want an aggressive front taper floating line. I use the Scientific Anglers Titan Taper Line WF10F. For leaders, I go straight 20 lb. fluorocarbon for about 6 feet to the popping fly, then about 20-24 inches of 30lb fluoro off of that to the fly.
You’ll want to do the same thing that you were doing with the spinning rod as you would on the fly rod – so that’s where my pop-n-fly comes in. You’re basically fishing a pop-n-cork and then 20-24 inches below that you’re fishing a large minnow style fly. Something oval that breaths well. I have my own menhaden style fly that I tie which is a slightly less weight, large oval baitfish pattern.
Any particular tips, tactics, or strategies for fighting bull reds and increasing the chances of getting the fish to the boat and not breaking off?
Don’t be shy of putting pressure on them. They’ll never surrender. You need to work the fish back to the boat (another reason why the 10wt comes in handy here). Typically, the fish will normally have a long run first, then you usually have 1-2 shorter runs, then the fish will bulldog you at the boat. Once you apply pressure to that fish’s head, keep that pressure on! A lot of my clients will yank up real hard, then drop the rod tip real fast, then if the fish is even able to drop his head and turn away from you, he’ll take right off again.
The way these fish fight, they want to get their head down and away from you. So a much steadier, constant pressure on that fish will beat that fish quicker. On a 10wt, you’re looking at 7-9 minute fight time on average.
Any other tips/suggestions you’d like to leave with our readers?
One thing I’d like to mention. We have a lot of folks that come from other places to fish here for bull reds that make the biggest mistake when fishing for these fish. Even if they’re in deeper water, they are extremely motor shy! So outboard motors can be horribly detrimental to catching those fish.
If you see those big schools of bait, approach those schools of fish with stealth. Stuff like coming downwind, using the trolling motor, using the trolling motor at lower speeds if you can get away with it makes a huge difference. Also, giving yourself a few hundred yards to start, then working in on those fish as low noise rather than rushing on top. If you’re treating it like albacore fishing where you see those bait balls and you rush in there with the boat, they’ll go to another zip code.
Gary Dubiel has been a TFO National Advisor since 2002. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business Spec Fever Guide Service. You can find out more about Gary here.
I’ve never caught a bonefish. It’s on my bucket list, but the tropics may have to wait a few months. Fortunately, I’ve got a freshwater option close to home.
They’re just as wily as a bone. And pound for pound they fight just as hard. And they’re cheaper. Many freshwater ponds, lakes and rivers in the continental U.S. have carp. There’s no need for a week-long trip to the Bahamas.
Once summer arrives and the water warms, it’s easy to take a break from trophy trout for carpin’. To develop a firm game plan, I turned to TFO advisor Bob Clouser, who touched on a few basics during a phone interview after taking a break from shoveling snow at his Pennsylvania home.
Carp are not easy to catch. They don’t always eat and when they’re willing to eat, they can be super spooky. Even if you make the right cast with the right fly, the stars have to align for an eat. And if you do hook up, landing one is not a given. Be prepared for a lot of trial and error along the way.
You need to make long casts. Forty feet will do. Sixty is better. However, distance is just one factor. Accuracy matters, too. Ideally, you want to put the fly in front of the fish and let your quarry find it, preferably near the bottom since carp like to forage in the muck.
“You don’t need to work the fly at all,” Clouser said. “You have to observe the carp and watch his lips. When they’re mudding, it’s hard to see their face. You can see their lips when they’re open. It has kind of a chartreuse look to it. It’s hard to see. There’s a saying, ‘When the light goes out, you set the hook.’ If you hesitate at all, he’ll spit that fly out. They don’t run off with it. It’s a different type sport to catch that fish.”
Reading the Fish
In trout fishing, you read the water. With carp, you read the fish. The beauty of carp fishing is its reliance on sight fishing. Look at the fish. Decide if it’s interested. Carp will sun. Ignore those. Carp will cruise. Ignore the speedsters. Take a shot at the slower fish. But even that’s a long shot. If you see a tailer, that’s the fish you want. Tailers are active feeders. Ever seen a tailing red? It’s a similar scenario. Once you discern the fish’s path, make your cast count, because chances are, you won’t get a second opportunity.
“’You have to watch them, observe them and see what they’re doing before you even cast,” Clouser said. “They are so spooky. A carp has two lateral lines. Most fish only have one. A carp has two, which makes them so sensitive. I have no idea how far they can see, but they can hear over 200 yards.”
You’ll need a fairly sturdy rod — a 9-foot, 6-to-8-weight. Leaders, in general, need to be long. A 12-footer is not too short, but you can get by with a 9-footer, if you’re a good caster.
“It’s (Clouer rod) easy to cast and soft enough for light tippets,” Clouser said. “It won’t break your 6 and 8-pound tippets. And I fish an 8-weight. An 8-weight will handle any size fly you need.”
Carp are primarily subsurface feeders. Crayfish are a big part of their diet. A brown or black woolly booger usually will get the job done.
That said, carp can feed on topwater or just under the surface. I hooked one — briefly —- on a berry fly. South Florida grass carp, I learned, feed on streamside berries from ficus trees. The moral of the story: Fish don’t follow a rule book. They feed on what’s available.
Thoughts on fly fishing for carp? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.
The sun came up early. After a long drive from the North Carolina mountains to the beaches of north Florida, I was dog tired.
But I got up to go fishing anyway. The allure of tailing redfish on the marsh is intoxicating. Sleep would have to wait.
I arrived at my favorite marsh in time. The sun was up and the tide was trickling in. After 30 minutes of walking, I arrived at my favorite spot and looked for fish. The water was shin deep, and I waited for it to reach the bottom of my knee caps. And I waited and waited and waited.
The projected flood tide never arrived. And neither did the tailing redfish.
The culprit was Hurricane Florence, which was several days away, but close enough to yield a west breeze, which stymied the tidal flow. There just wasn’t enough water for the fish to feel comfortable enough to feed.
So I trudged back home. I knew the west wind might be an issue, but I fished anyway. I have a soft spot for tailing reds. The mere sight of a spotted tail in the grass takes my breath away.
It doesn’t matter if it’s in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina or North Carolina. Where there’s a marsh, there’s usually a tailing redfish. And I will go to just about any extreme to find them.
Below are a few flood-tide tips that I learned along the way.
The Tides For REDFISH
Tidal flow is huge when it comes to flood-tide redfish. You need enough water to reach the dry areas of the marsh, so the big reds can feed on fiddler crabs. Each area has its required tidal flow to entice tailing fish. In Northeast Florida, for instance, you generally need a high tide of at least 5.2, but that designation is a mere guideline. Flats near Jacksonville don’t need as much water to flood; flats near St. Augustine and points south need a tide of 5.4, 5.5. In short, each area, each flat, has different tidal requirements. Local knowledge is key to ferreting out these nuances.
The Wind FOR REDFISH
Wind is a big factor in tidal flow. In north Florida, north or east wind pushes water on to the flat. That means you can fish longer, because you’ll have ample water. By contrast, a south or west wind pushes water off the flat, which means you’ll have less time to fish, or even worse, not enough water to cover the flat.
If you have a big tide, a southwest wind may not ruin your fishing, depending on the strength of the wind. However, if your tide is borderline with a southwest wind, the fish might not have enough water to tail, which is exactly what happened on my most recent trip.
Timing for REDFISH
Once high tide arrives, you generally have about an hour or so of good fishing before the water will recede and the fish will leave. It’s important to prepare the night before. Get up early and be on the flat well before high tide, so you can be in position before the water rises and the fish move in. If you cut it too close, you might miss opportunities. If you’re late, head to the next flat.
Mobility FOR REDFISH
Wading is a possibility and has its benefits. You don’t have to prep a boat or a kayak. All you need is a rod, reel, a sling pack and a pair of flats boots. In a matter of minutes, you can be on the water and fishing — before or after work or on your lunch break.
A boat or kayak/paddleboard requires more preparation, but offers the advantage of mobility. You can cover more ground and potentially reach more fish. Boats need a two-person approach. One fishes; the other poles. Kayaks and paddleboards are solo affairs. Kayaks are more stable; paddleboards have a better casting platform, but require above-average balance and core strength. I’ve used both. For longer trips, I use a kayak. For shorter, quick trips, I use the paddleboard.
The Equipment for REDFISH
An 8-weight Temple ForkAxiom II with a Powerreel is the ticket. The Axiom will punch through the wind and the Power will handle any flood-tide red with ease. As for fly lines, I use a weight-forward line. The Rio Redfish or Cortland Liquid Crystal Guideare both good options. Rio’s lines tend to be heavier. Cortland’s lines, in my opinion, are lighter and easier to cast.
With flies, you can’t go wrong with a crab pattern. The primary food source on the marsh are fiddlers. I load up my fly boxes with EP crabs in black and tan, toad style. It doesn’t hurt to have a Gurgler or two. When fish are feeding intensely with their nose in the muck, I will cast a popper in their general vicinity to get their attention. Though counter intuitive, this approach sometimes works.
Any other advice or questions, feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.
It’s less than a week before Christmas. If you’re a little behind on your holiday shopping, Temple Fork Outfitters has you covered. Below are a handful of our newest products sure to please just about any angler.
Just getting started in fly fishing? Or maybe you know someone wants to learn? Then the NXT kit is just for you.
Let’s start with the rod. The NXT can be fished in saltwater or fresh. Its medium-fast action is strong enough to push bigger flies through the wind, but offers enough finesse for softer presentations.
Kits include a matching NXT LA I or II reel loaded with weight-forward floating line, backing and leader – all in a handsome rod and reel travel case.
This fly rod came out in this fall and generated rave reviews. The best thing about the Axiom II is it conforms to the angler’s casting stroke. It’s not too fast. It’s not too slow. It hits that medium sweet spot that can accommodate just about any angler.
Smooth casting is just one attribute of the Axiom II. It’s also durable, meaning you can put a good bend in the rod while fighting a fish without worrying about breakage. Rarely will you test a rod to that degree, but if you do have put the brakes on that fish of a lifetime, you want the security of sturdy, well-designed rod.
We can hardly keep this fly rod in stock. Designed by TFO advisor Jason Randall, this rod meets every need of the serious nymph fisherman. It’s light, fast dampening, well balanced and has an ultra-sensitive tip that allows anglers to recognize the difference between their fly ticking the bottom and a subtle strike.
Nymph fishing is about line control. And the 9-foot Drift is extends to 10, 11 or 12 feet — perfect for when you have to reach across the stream to prevent dreaded micro drag.
TFO’s newest fly reel sports good looks and gets the job done on the water. Its drag system incorporates two Belleview washers and two carbon-fiber disc drags, components that help prevent overrun and provide plenty of fish-stopping power.
Weighing just 4.4 ounces, the Power I is surprisingly light yet sturdy, which means you won’t wear yourself out casting after a full day on the water.
Remember those lazy days as a youngster fishing with the old push-button Zebcos? If you do, you’ll love the Trout Panfish Rod, an ultra-light setup.
Great for kids or for adults who like super-light gear. The Trout-Panfish, (TPS) series features light-weight stainless steel guides, a cutting-edge, weight-saving reel seat and premium cork. The TPS series is offered in one and two-piece spinning rods from 5 1/2’ to 7 feet.
Fly fishing is an endless series of learning curves. As soon as I mastered one concept, another emerged. So it was nearly 30 years ago for me in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. I cracked the code of small streams and spring creeks. At the wise old age of 28, I thought I had it all figured out.
Then one spring day, I fished the Jackson River with a friend of mine and long-rod mentor, Billy Kingsley. I remember staring at the rush of water for a good 10 minutes and wondering one single thing:
Where the hell are the fish? As it turned out, Billy caught dozens of fish; I never felt a single tug.
Needless to say, big water can be intimidating. With so much to cover, where do you start?
Decades later, I’m still no expert on fly fishing rivers, but here are a few tips to focus on:
You need good boots. Don’t go cheap. Find a comfortable pair that fit with good traction and support. Your ankles and knees will thank you.
Good footwear is a start, but it never hurts to have a wading staff. Depending on the size of the river, the force of the current can be deceivingly strong. I got bowled over the first time I fished out West when I was in charge of cleaning the camp dishes after dinner. All it took was one ill-advised step toward the middle and down I went.
Moral of the story: Go slow and be careful.
When many newcomers first fish bigger water, it all looks the same, but it’s not. Rivers are merely a bigger version of small streams with a series of pools, riffles and runs. Identify one of those sections of water, preferably one that you’re comfortable with, and fish it.
Make sure to slow down. Fish each piece of water thoroughly. With small streams, you can cherry pick quickly. Rivers, because of their sheer scope, take more of a commitment. Imagine you’re working on a puzzle. Probe each section of water one by one each trip. After a few outings, you’ll have a much better clearer roadmap to the productive water.
Use a Drift Boat
When I learned to fish in the Southeast in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, drift boats weren’t in vogue. Almost everyone waded. It wasn’t until I spent a summer out West that I learned how to fish out of — and row — a Clackacraft.
I wished I had had one sooner.
Drifting a river allows you to evaluate water from a macro perspective – from start to finish — depending on how much river you cover. And let’s not forget the obvious: You can cover a lot more potential spots drifting than you can on foot.
Expand Your Skills
When I first started on small streams, I was a lousy caster. Of course, I thought I was good. I caught a ton fish with two basic presentations — high-stick nymphing along with a puddle cast. That’s it.
Bigger water demands more. If there’s wind, you might need to double haul. A serviceable reach cast over multiple current seams and a curve cast to get under trees are also beneficial. Obviously, you can catch fish with limited skills, but you won’t catch as many fish. Bigger water offers bigger rewards, but those fish demand more versatility.
You will generally need a bigger trout rod. I used a 3 and 4-weight on mountain streams, but stepped up to a 6-weight on rivers. Why? The fish are bigger. And the flies can be, but certainly that’s not always the case. But the potential for bigger fish means you need a higher quality reel. TFO’s Power series offers a variety of options. And if you catch the fish, you don’t want to lose it because you’re under gunned. As far as tippet, I don’t hesitate to go up a size, unless the fish are feeding in calm, slow-moving water. In that scenario, I downsize accordingly.
Big water is challenging at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Patience and perseverance will pay off as you ease out of your comfort level.