It’s no secret that European, high-stick and tight-line nymphing is an extremely effective (and popular) way of catching trout. Being able to make repetitive, drag-free drifts and cover as much water as possible (depth and length) is a sure way of increasing your chances of catching more fish. However, having the right rod and reel to accompany this style of fishing is crucial.
If there’s anyone in the TFO family that knows nymphing, it’s TFO National Advisor Jason Randall. Jason has been fly fishing for most of this life, but when he isn’t fishing, he’s writing about fishing – specifically, nymphing. In 2017, Stackpole/Headwaters Books released his most recent book, ‘Nymph Masters; Fly Fishing Secrets from Expert Anglers’. Leading up to this book, Jason spent several years researching the various styles of nymphing by interviewing, observing and fishing with several competitive anglers that specialize in European, high-stick and tight-line nymphing. With his knowledge and experiences, it was obvious that Jason would be paramount in helping TFO create a rod designed specifically for this style of fishing.
After several years of prototypes and modification, the Stealth will be available at all TFO dealers and online starting October 5th. This week, we talked with Jason about what went into making the Stealth and why he thinks it’s the perfect Euro-nymphing rod.
This rod has been several years in the making. Tell us about the research and “making” of the new Stealth rod. What were some important factors for you when helping design this rod?
The two most important factors for a good performing tighline or Euro-nymping rod are overall weight and action.
Weight: We wanted to get this rod right at or under the neighborhood of three ounces that would also be heavily damped. This way there isn’t a lot of back and forwards at the end of the cast. Essentially, we wanted a light rod that would cast easily.
Action: The rod needed to have the sensitivity to detect strikes, but it also has to have the ability to fight a good fish – especially when you are talking about a two or three weight rod. It also has to forgive break offs and protect the lighter tippet (6x & 7x) that is so common in Euro-nymphing.
There were several different stages of prototypes for the Stealth. Each one was an improvement from the last, but when trying to find the right balance between recovery, dampening, tippet protection, and sensitivity in rod, that’s a hard set up criteria to get perfect. I think we finally found it and I couldn’t be happier with what we’ve come up with.
How is this rod different from other TFO rods – specifically the Drift.
The Stealth is a lot lighter and has less swing weight. They are really designed for two different purposes. The Drift is a very good nymphing and multi-purpose rod, but it’s not specifically designed for Euro-nymphing like the Stealth.
And recommendations for reel accompaniment?
The BVK SD I is a great complement for the Stealth. Having a good balance between a longer rod and reel is critical for a good euro nymphing set up. If you have a longer rod, but don’t have a reel to help balance it out in the butt section, your going to wear your arm or shoulder out. The BVK SD I works perfectly for the 2wt and 3wt models of the Stealth.
What line, leader, tippet set up do you like to use? Do you add a sinker weight/split shot to the bottom of your rig (bounce rig)?
Bouncing the bottom is not necessarily the goal since trout don’t feed directly from the bottom but on drifting organisms in the lower 20% of the water column (strike zone) and I almost never use sinkers. I most often use lightly weighted flies on light tippet. I usually use 7 X, but 6 X is also common which cuts through the faster water in the upper water column to allow the flies to drift in the strike zone at the slower speed relative to that layer. So my rig is very light, long leaders up to 20 feet long and very light tippet, usually ten feet of 4 X and ten feet of 6-7X. I use SA competition level line. I know my flies are in the strike zone when the drift slows relative to the surface current I can see above, not necessarily when I snag the bottom.
I like the Blow Torch, Ice-dub Frenchie, the Pink Hog and the Iron Lotus, in size 14, or so. If I need a slightly heavier fly, I use the Czech Catnip 2.0 or a Coulee Scud. I need a heavier fly to fish stronger, faster current.
Do you ever euro nymph with larger flies or streamers? If so, do you use the same set up (line/leader/tippet) that you would use for the nymphs?
Yes, I use my Euro-nymphing set up- rod, leader and tippet for dries and streamers, but it wouldn’t be called nymphing at that point. Just a hybrid technique.
With the two models offered, can you describe what would be the best types of scenarios for each line wt? In other words, would the 2wt be best for creeks and smaller streams, and the 3wt best for larger streams and rivers?
I think of the 10 foot Stealth as our finesse nymphing rod, which I use most of the time. It is perfect for the lighter rigs and lighter flies I like. It’s also ideal for presentation in tight quarters with limited space.
I would use the 10’6″ Stealth when I need extra reach to target lies, seams or pockets beyond the reach of the 10 foot rod.
The Stealth will be available at all TFO dealers and online starting October 5th . To find out more about this rod click here.
Jason Randall is a National Advisor for TFO, as well as an outdoor writer. His articles appear regularly in national fly fishing magazines and he is a feature writer for American Angler and written four books. In 2017, Stackpole/Headwaters Books released his most recent book, ‘Nymph Masters; Fly Fishing Secrets from Expert Anglers’. He appears at shows and fly fishing events throughout North America. You can find out more Jason here.
For guide and owner of Harcourt Fly Fishing 3G, Dustin Harcourt, it’s a lifelong family passion. The 3G specifically stands for three generations of Harcourt anglers – Dustin’s father, himself, and his son. Before fly shops became popular, and certainly before the internet and YouTube, Dustin and his Dad had to improvise to make the patterns that would work best for their Colorado rivers. Coming up with new patterns was a hobby and skill that Dustin, his son, and his 12-guide staff continue to work on to provide their clients with the best possible experience.
Its late summer in Colorado, and Dustin and his team are dialed into one of the most anticipated and well known “hatches” on local rivers – hopper fishing. This time of year, you can walk along a riverbank on the Colorado River and easily find pinky finger-sized grasshoppers. While these bugs might seem like a normal summer terrestrial to us, to trout and other species, this is a high protein meal that is simply irresistible.
This week, we checked in with Dustin after a day on the water to talk more about this popular style of western river fishing, and how he approaches it.
Tell us where you are guiding, some of the rivers you personally fish and what a typical day of fishing on these rivers entail (species, average size, etc).
We’re located near Glenwood Springs just outside of New Castle, Colorado. We have four all-star rivers here, which are the: the Frying Pan, Crystal, Roaring Fork and the Colorado River. I live about 3 miles from a boat ramp on the lower Colorado River, so I do a lot of guiding in that area. Not just for proximity, but for other important (and my favorite) factors: less crowds, bigger fish, and more fish.
The Colorado is primarily a trout river with species that include rainbows, browns, cutthroat, Sink River Cutthroat, and Colorado River cutthroat. The average size is 16 to 20-inches, but we get into 20 to 21-inch fish every other day.
For those unfamiliar, what is “hopper season”, what is a “hopper dropper rig” and when does it typically start and end in your area.
Hopper season refers to the emergence of grasshoppers along the banks of our many different rivers. High winds and other factors can push those hoppers to the water, making a very a high protein and irresistible meal for trout.
The season usually starts around mid-June after our mud season and the rivers start to clear. During this time, we have a really good stonefly hatch, and we have a lot of luck fishing with the chubby chernobyl patterns. This will last for about a month, then we start switching to hoppers in late July.
In July, we’ll start throwing smaller size 8 hopper imitation patterns. As the weather gets warmer throughout the summer, the hoppers tend to get bigger and abundant, we’ll switch to sizes 2 & 4. This happens around September/October, so very soon for us! As you walk through the bushes, you’ll see them all over. They can get as big as the size of your pinky finger. Typically, hopper season wraps up around November. After a couple of really heavy frosts or cold evenings, the hoppers will frost and disappear.
Hopper Dropper – The hopper dropper term refers to using a grasshopper imitation fly, with another fly tied below, (known as a dropper). Depending on the state you live in, you can use two additional flies below, (dropper) below a hopper pattern. Every state has different fishing regulations regarding how many flies or hooks you can us on a rig. Here in Colorado, we can use up to three flies per rig, but for a lot of other places it’s only two. Always check the regulations in an area before fishing somewhere for the first time.
Do you find that all the trout species that inhabit your rivers have the same reaction/take to hoppers/grasshoppers? In other words, do big browns come up and hammer hoppers as well?
We can catch all trout species on hoppers, but it’s primarily cutthroat. They absolutely love grasshoppers. They’re more eager to come on up.
What is the “take” like? Is it similar to a dry fly take, or do they attack it like a streamer?
Right now, we’ve been noticing the bigger fish coming up really slowly and they’ll slowly open their mouth. You almost must wait for them to close their mouth, then set the hook. It’s difficult, especially for clients, because you see this big beautiful fish come up, but you just have to wait. It’s like a romance story (laughs).
What TFO rods do you like to use hopper or hopper dropper rigs? What is about these rods that work so well for this type of fishing?
Right now in the heart of August, we are throwing many different rigs. Everyday, I’ve got 6 rods on the boat: 4 in the rod holders, and two in the hands of clients. Each rod has a different setup and purpose to help us have the right tool for the right fishing scenario for that day.
Usually I’ve got a streamer setup, an adjustable nymphing rig combo, and then a hopper-dropper setup.
I absolutely love the new Blue Ribbon rods. I have a 10’ 4wt – which is an incredible hopper dropper rod. We’re on the boat quite a bit, so high sticking and light mending is crucial for keeping excess line off the water and to help with getting quick and tight hook sets. This particular rod is perfect for this scenario and a favorite for me. Even on a windy day, this rod just punches right through.
Another rod I’ve enjoyed for fishing hopper dropper rods, if it’s not too breezy, is the new 10’6” 3-weight Stealth. I’ve found that even when it is breezy, it’s not too overwhelming at all. It can easily pick those larger hopper patterns and just zap it to where I need it to go with no problem.
Are you targeting primarily the banks and eddies, or do you also focus on main runs/currents?
When we are out with clients, most of the time we are using nymph rig setups. However, once we get to the top of a run where the first ripple drop shelf comes, the deep nymph rigs get put aside, and that’s where the hopper dropper comes in. In this type of water, a big fish isn’t going to need to exert a bunch of energy in a 1-3 feet run of water. It’s going to hammer that grasshopper imitation. Aside from that scenario, we are concentrating on the banks.
Another technique that I really enjoy doing is fishing a hopper to a Pat’s Rubber Leg, then to a Thin Mint – which is a small streamer. We fish this setup like a streamer, focusing primarily on the banks, then retrieving back to the boat. The small movement of the hopper created while stripping back (2 – 3 inch micro twitch retrieves) imitates that grasshopper struggling to get back to the bank or off that water, but also gets that Pat’s rubber leg nymph and streamer to move. This basically creates three different water column responses – so a fish is going to hit something.
For this time of year, what I’ve been finding is that after any rapid, you have the best chance at that first section of soft water. You have all the oxygen coming off the rapids, then that first section of soft water is a real deadly place for a fish to hunt. They’re essentially in the air conditioning system with the oxygen of all the waves and rapids, but they’re also getting first dibs for food. I’ve found so often that the biggest fish, or the alpha tends to hang out in this spot.
The further away you get from the rapids, your statistics for catching bigger fish go down. Sure you can catch fish in these sections, but your odds are much better fishing right after those rapids on the head of a run.
Any recommendations on fly lines, leaders and tippet?
Fly Lines – For fly lines I go with the traditional weight forward WF floating line. I’ve been using Rio fly lines and been really happy with them, although I’ve heard great things about Scientific Anglers as well. I used to oversize the rods with one fly line size, but now I just go with the line size that applies to the rod size.
Leaders/Tippet – For the hopper/dropper rigs, usually I’m going with a short leader. I use 16-inches of 20lb test, and then I’ll have about 16-inches of 1x tippet to my first fly/hopper. Currently, in the middle of August, the fish are down deeper, so I’ll drop about 4 feet to my first dropper, and then another 20-inches below that to the next dropper. It’ seems like a lot, but it’s really a short leader with all that on there. Having this short leader that turns the flies over easily for my clients from a boat has worked really well.
What are you some of your go-to hopper/dropper rigs and flies?
Being able to tie and use a hopper fly that is incredibly buoyant and can hold tungsten and split shot well is critical. There are tons of great grasshopper patterns on the market right now that you can purchase in fly shops, but we tie our own foam hopper patterns.
We have a lot of fun going by the days and what we feel works best and we’ve nicknamed them random things like the Steroid Hopper, the SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard). Basically, a lot of foam, and a lot of vision is what we go for.
We do a lot of chubby chernobyl variations. We were actually able to get our hands on 5mm foam – which is about 3x thicker than the foam that some of the shops use here. With that, these flies are incredibly buoyant and visible, and we also add in hunter orange yarn to assist with the visibility for both the clients and the guides. When the fish looks up, they don’t see the orange, they’ll just see the underbody.
Adjusting to the Elements – For this year, our rivers have gotten incredibly mossy with the drought we got. Therefore, we are snagging into moss a lot more, so we had to creative on how to deal with this. We put a small swivel below our bottom fly, and that swivels and rotates through the moss – not catching the moss but getting the fly down quickly and right in the fish’s zone. This setup has been a game changer for us, and we are running this same setup (swivel below the bottom fly) for our nymph rigs as well.
Nymphing Hoppers – A lot of the times, I’ll go back to the “old school” hoppers – let’s say, the Dave’s Hopper. This particular pattern is not made of foam and is a great sinking hopper pattern that imitates grasshoppers that have been blown into the water and are drowning. Fish can be lazy and might not want to come up to the surface, so having a sinking hopper pattern that gets down in the water column to the fish is a great setup to have. Usually behind that subsurface hopper, we’ll trail a red quill nymph or a baetis nymph as an attractor. Other attractor meaty patterns we use are the very popular Pat’s rubber leg nymph and of course the San Juan worm.
Hopper & Streamers – With our streamer rod setups, I use hoppers as well. In years past, we’d be throwing streamers, and we’d have a pinch on indicator right next to the fly line. The pinch on indicator helped with detecting strikes during those dark and cloudy streamer days, but we started noticing that fish were attacking and striking at the indicator very regularly.
That magic light bulb went off in my head and I decided to invent a hopper/streamer rig. One foot off of my fly line, I put a big grasshopper pattern, and then I put on my streamer six feet below it, then an additional streamer. Now we’re getting hits on the hopper as the streamer is being retrieved. The fish love the movement of that hopper.
And last words or recommendations for our readers?
Like many rivers, lakes and oceans – every year is different, and every day is different. Some years, like this year, we’ll have banner hopper years. Yesterday I had 30 hopper eats, but today we had 8. Both days similar conditions, but that’s just fishing, and why I love the challenge of being on the water and helping clients out. Always be willing to switch it up, and just remember to enjoy yourself!
About as low as you can go short of Antarctica, Cape Horn, Chile overlooks the bottom of the world. Yes, even further south than Australia and Tasmania. I never realized just how far it was until we finished the fourth plane ride and nearly twenty-eight hours of travel. The planes grew smaller with each successive flight and landed at smaller, more remote and less populated airports. In my book, that’s a good way to know you’re going someplace special. The final stop was little more than an asphalt airstrip.
Some clues that that we weren’t in Kansas anymore greeted us upon arrival; the obvious language difference, a few cultural changes and the fact that southerly winds brought cold air which blasted us as we deplaned. Other dissimilarities came as welcome surprises over the coming days as we ventured into a totally unique environment. One delightful discovery; the night sky looked different. A lot different. You could see the Southern Cross.
Our group of nine intrepid travelers included Jo, my wife, proficient angler and our groups photographer, our son, Evan, and good friends, Dan Pesavento, Stan Diment, Dick and Danny Gebhart, Dean Williams and Sara Lyle, all looking forward to a week at the end of the world and the opportunity to helicopter into some of the most remote rivers imaginable to fish for giant brook trout, sea run and resident brown trout. We’d been excited for this trip for the two years we’d been planning it.
Rafael Gonzales, the manager of Lakutaia Lodge, and two guides, both named Felipe, met us in Punta Arenas and flew the final leg to Navarrino Island and welcomed us to the luxurious lodge. We gathered together for evening cocktails to enjoy Sebastian tending bar, serving Pisco Sours, the local favorite drink that to me, seemed one part pina colada, one part whiskey sour and one part baseball bat that would sneak up and smack you in the head after the third one.
The following morning, the helicopter rose from a self inflicted whirlwind of churning leaves and dust that would remove the hats of those who watched and awaited their turn in the air taxi. It touched down on the shores of a different river each day and deposited groups of three anglers and a guide who scuttled beneath the turning blades and then waved as the pilot lifted off to fly back to the lodge in order to ferry the next group to their river.
By the second day, we’d all taken a deep, relaxing breath- more of a sigh actually, and settled into the lifestyle of gourmet food, fine drink, evening conversations and a new place to fish each day. It’s a joy to watch each person unwind the knots that daily life so often binds around us and settle into their own harmony and rhythm. For some, it meant a half hour nap after lunch by the stream. For others, just a quiet midmorning respite at the waters edge just to take in the moment. Danny and Evan, being the younger of our group, were also the most hard core anglers. While many of the rest of us were leaning or napping against the tree, these two were back on the water catching fish.
Streamers produced in the early morning hours. The six weight Axiom ll-X excelled at casting small streamers to bank-side lies. Charlie Craven’s Double Gonna elicited some voracious strikes. Evan switched to a Mr. Hankey, a simple mouse pattern in the late afternoons on his five weight Axiom llwith exciting success. One morning, Felipe Ignacio Kovacic tried his hand an Euronymphing with TFO’s soon-to-be-released nymphing rod- the Stealth. Fortunately, I had a prototype with me and we had a blast together. Each night, Sebastian met us in the wader room after the helicopter ride back to the lodge with Pisco Sours and a full tray of appetizers.
I don’t remember who caught the largest fish; I know it wasn’t me. Maybe its was Stan, or possibly Dean. Sara caught more fish than she ever had before. It was special to see Dick and his son Danny fish together. My favorite memory with Dan was huddled behind a sparse clump of bushes waiting out a snow squall. Evan and Jo caught the largest brook trouts of their lives.
Of course, the week ended too soon as we gathered for a festive barbecue on the final night, complete with flayed lamb over a wood fire and an assortment of tasty local appetizers. And of course, Sebastian manning the bar. We celebrated new friends and old friends joined by our common passion.
If you ever get the chance to go to Lakutaia Lodge in the southern most part of Chile- don’t miss it. You’ll make memories of a lifetime, see a remote and beautiful part of the world, and a lot of Patagonia waders and TFO rods and reels- the workhorses of the lodge. Have fun, but of course, beware of that third Pisco Sour.
Euro nymphing is one of the most talked about–and effective– techniques for trout anglers, and we’ve used all the information shared to us by our dealers and those in the “know,” to develop the Stealth series of rods.
Designed for anglers the need the perfect tool to dead drift nymphs in small riffles and tiny pools – the often overlooked lies where trout feed.
The Stealth series provide anglers a rod with the accuracy, quick recovery and overall balance to repeatedly hit specific lies and bring fish to hand.
The Stealth series is offered in a four-piece, 10 foot, two weight and a 10-foot, six-inch, three weight. Stealth rod weigh, 2.8 and 3.2 ounces respectively are finished with machined, cut aluminum reel seats and black, single-foot snake guides.
All Stealth rods come with a rod sock and tube, and retail for $299.
Introducing the all new Blue Ribbon Fly Rod Series. Designed for fly anglers that need a rod to cover a range of trout and warm water techniques from small flies, hopper-dropper rigs, indicators or big streamers for trout, bass and carp.
Very technical, magnum taper trout rods are not always the right choice for all anglers in real fishing situations. A rod that anglers can feel load and that can represent an efficient and accurate cast, (especially in small rivers, out of drift or along a lake shore) is what the Blue Ribbon provides.
The medium-fast action, Blue Ribbon series is offered in a two-weight, through seven-weight, in lengths of seven-foot, six-inches to 10-feet.
The NEW LK Legacy series is designed and built as an evolution to the BVK series and a homage to fly fishing legend, Lefty Kreh.
Designed for the intermediate to advanced caster, the fast action LK Legacy utilizes a mix of new materials that dramatically reduces the weight while creating an aggressive blend of power and strength – excelling in presentation and distance.
The LK Legacy single hand series is offered in a 3-weight, through 8-weight. in length of 8-feet to 10-feet. All rods come with a rod sock and rod rube and retail from $269-$299.
Built off the same componentry as the LK Legacy single hand series. The fast action LK Legacy two-handed series is offered in a four-piece configuration in a 6-weight through 8-weight, in lengths 11-feet, six inches to 13 feet, six inches.
LK Legacy Two-Handed rods feature both a grain window and gram rating for easy line pairing.
All LK Legacy TH rods come with a rod sock and tube, and retail for $399-$409.
Once again, these new rods are available now! To see our entire catalog of fly fishing products, click here.