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How Beginners Can Get Started in Fly Fishing, Part 1: Simplify

Welcome to part one of TFO’s fly fishing for beginners. Starting today, our series will be divided into five weekly segments — an introduction followed by singular posts on rods, reels, lines/leaders and casting.

Let’s be honest. Fly Fishing, at least at its advanced levels, is not easy. It can be difficult for the beginner, but it doesn’t have to be. You can fish for tailing bonefish and permit on the gin-clear flats of the Bahamas, or, you can try your hand at bluegill on a farm pond with nothing more than a simple out-of-the box setup and a fistful of poppers.

The choice is entirely up to the angler.

A few thoughts on how the beginner can streamline the process:

Buy a Kit

When a beginner first goes into a fly shop, the array of lines, rods and leaders can be daunting. If you’re patient and persistent, you can go through the tedium of putting together a matching outfit. But why endure that stress?

Better yet, a buy a kit — with a rod, reel, line and leader already assembled. TFO has NXT kits (suggested retail: $199.95-$209.95), which are perfect for a youngster or adult beginner. You get a quality, affordable setup that’s ready to fish.

It’s a low-risk proposition. If you eventually fall in love with the sport, you can upgrade to a better rod and reel. On the other hand, if you simply want to dabble in fly fishing, the NXT kit will serve you well for years — and you won’t blow through a monthly mortgage payment, which is easily doable at your local fly shop.

Take a Class

Most fly shops offer classes. Mad River Outfitters in Columbus, Ohio offers outstanding instruction. Most shops offer free weekend casting lessons, and it’s worth your time to invest a few hours with a knowledgeable teacher.

Internet instruction is an option. The only problem with that approach is that the quality of the information varies. Some is good. Most of it is bad and there’s no gatekeeper to sort through the volume of misguided info.

The next best option is to buy a DVD from a reputable source. TFO’s Lefty Kreh and Ed Jaworowski teamed for The Complete Cast, which is a comprehensive look at fly casting. It’s a little advanced for the pure novice, but a good investment for the intermediate angler.

Hire a Guide

One of the hardest things about learning to fly fish is knowing where the fish are, when they’re going to be there and why. And then you have to be skilled enough to put the fly where it needs to be. A good guide can help you sort through the obstacles. And trust me, there will be plenty.

When I first started fly fishing 30-something years ago, I was immediately hooked. I went out and bought a handmade fly rod for $350, which translates to nearly $800 in today’s economic climate. And, I had no idea how to cast or how to find fish.

Sheer perseverance yielded a few trout, but fortunately I found a friend who was not only skilled but helpful. In retrospect, I should have spent less money on my first rod and invested in a guide. You, as a beginner, should do the same.

 Set Realistic Expectations

I learned to fly fish on a spring creek. Of course, I was seduced by the visions of big brown trout sipping sulphurs at dusk. I eventually bagged my share of browns, but not before I honed my skills on a more forgiving species — the brook trout of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I should have simplified even further — with bass and bluegill on the local farm ponds. You don’t need a guide. You don’t need waders. If you can toss a popper a few feet, you have a good chance of landing a fish or two. From there, your confidence will grow — along with your skill level.

 Enjoy the Journey

When I first started fishing, I used to take a few fish home, not because I was against catch-and-release — actually I was in favor of it —- but because I needed proof. I needed validation that I could actually catch something with a limber rod, a rubbery line and a tuft of fur and feathers. I’m not sure if I was insecure or trying to prove to my wife at the time that I was being productive. Beats doing yardwork, right?

As I’ve grown older, I no longer measure fishing or hunting success by empirical output. If I’m still learning, that’s good enough for me. Fly fishing offers infinite possibilities — saltwater, freshwater, big fish, little fish, stocked fish, wild fish. All can be sampled close to home or abroad. You can tie your own world-class flies ala TFO’s Blane Chocklett. You can row a drift boat or pole a skiff. Or you can simply fish from the bank.

That’s the beauty of fly fishing. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. The choice is yours.

Below is a video from Mad River Outfitters that provides additional insight on the simplicity of fly fishing. Additional thoughts or comments on how to make fly fishing more user-friendly for beginners? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.

 

 

Vision Quest: Fly-Rodding Phenom Maxine McCormick Wins Big

She collects rubber-band bracelets, likes sporty, checkered tennis shoes and the thrill of a springy trampoline. One more thing: She just happens to be the best female fly caster in the world.

Her name is Maxine McCormick. And she is 15. That’s right, f-i-f-t-e-e-n.

She’s not old enough to drive, yet she has beaten Steve Rajeff and her 11-time world champion coach, all while piling up a slew of hardware at the national and world-championship levels the past three years.

At this summer’s world fly-casting championships on the blustery coast of England, the then 14-year-old Portland, Oregon resident won the trout accuracy competition with 52 points, 21 points ahead of the second-place finisher and took home top honors in Salmon (two-handed) distance with a toss of 189 feet. She also placed second in the Sea Trout (one-handed) distance, launching a world-record cast of 161 feet in the prelims.

At the 2016 worlds, at age 12, she won the trout accuracy competition. To put all of this in context, Rajeff, long considered the top fly caster in the world, won his first world title in 1972 at age 16.

What do they both have in common? Extraordinary vision.

“Maxine is a super healthy outdoor kid that happens to have phenomenal eye sight,” Chris Korich, McComick’s coach, said. “Early on I noticed with the steps that I gave her she was able to sight and measure target distances. She was able to make her decisions and pick out the fly, make her measurements and then lay down the fly faster than anyone I’ve seen since Steve Rajeff. Steve had just eagle vision as a kid and still has really good vision.”

McComick’s vision, Korich said, has been measured at 20/10, which gives her the uncanny ability to process the intricate relationships between distance, target and loop trajectory.

“It’s like target shooting,” Korich said. “You see your fly in the air, you measure your target. From an accuracy target shooting standpoint, what people don’t realize is that distance casting is extreme accuracy casting.  When I’m going to cast beyond a normal fishing distance, bomb something over 150, 200 feet, the precision it takes to do that is like any other sport at the highest level, a lot of precision, like when you steer an Indy 500 car, so you don’t hit the guy next to you. Eyesight and reflexes are important at 200 miles an hour. When Rajeff and I are making a distance cast, we’re aiming, figuring out where the wind is going and where to throw this cast. We’re picking a reference mark.  It’s not just side to-side-alignment. It’s a trajectory based on the wind, higher, lower.

“We’re constantly aiming.  It’s like fishing casts. What percentage of your fishing casts are you not aiming?”

McCormick not only aims, she focuses. Her practice sessions are usually short, but rarely does her concentration stray.

“She is like Michael Jordan focused on that task,” Korich said. “I don’t say that lightly. She has that focus. She has that intensity. She can’t stand losing. She can’t stand getting beat.”

The Golden Gate Angling & Casting Club alumna does not lack perseverance. Perhaps that explains her affection for fly casting.

“At first it was a challenge and I like a challenge,” McCormick said. “Competition is also really fun. And every time I go fly cast, I know it’s going to improve my fishing, which also motivates me. That’s something I Iike about it as well.”

McCormick’s training started with the fundamentals, the length of stroke, the grip and the stance — albeit with down-sized tools of the trade — an old Fenwick Eagle. Korich sanded the handle for proper sizing.

“I’m like the Soup Nazi (from Seinfeld) on how you grip the handle,” he said. ”It’s not an option for me. If the grip doesn’t fit, I’m going to get it right.”

Korich chose the Fenwick because of its slow action. He wants his new students to feel the bend in the rod. He now recommends the 7 and 8-foot TFO Bug Launcher for younger beginners to simulate the ebb and flow of the rod load.

“The handle is smaller, for smaller hands with compressed cork,” Korich said. “That’s important, just like if you don’t have the appropriate size with a tennis racquet, baseball bat or golf clubs. It’s ridiculous we don’t have handle options in fly fishing. (The Bug Launcher) has standard graphite and fuller action. It bends deeper down to your hand. You can feel what you’re doing.”

Each of Korich’s Bug Launchers are balanced with a ultra-light reel — for a reason.

“They’re balanced in such a way you can keep a relaxed grip,” Korich said. “When you get everything right, you barely have to hold on to the rod to rotate the rod correctly. And it’s easy to stop the rod. You don’t have to grip the handle tight, so you can throw smoother loops.”

Meanwhile, McCormick’s skinny loops continue to pierce the competition. With the 2018 World Championships now fully in the rearview mirror, the fly-casting community now turns its attention to the 2020 Worlds in Sweden, and all indications are McCormick probably will return to defend her titles.

“My goal for the longest time was to become the World Champion,” she said. “That continues to be my goal.”

Long-term expectations, however, have yet to be defined and likely will be dictated by how long McCormick wants to compete.

“Assuming fair conditions, no one’s going to beat Maxine,” Korich said. “The foundation we’ve laid, the mechanics, her loops, are so superior to 95 percent of the competition — men, too — it’s just a question of whether she wants to put the work in with all the things that will be going on later on.”

Thoughts on Maxine and her success on the competitive fly-casting circuit? Ever tried the Bug Launcher? Feel free to share your comments on one of our social media pages.

Two-handed Techniques for Fall Salmon, Steelhead

While swinging flies with two-handed rods the typical approach is a consistent, level swing through a long run. Repetitively sweeping the fly across the nose of a salmon or steelhead and pushing them farther back into the tail-out of the pool is usually the best chance to elicit an anger strike.

However, there are times that taking a more active approach, similar to that of stripping streamers, can bring success.

Never more is this the case when fishing around the Great Lakes, where steelhead, salmon and brown trout can tend to hunker down in shorter runs. Due to smaller, deeper pools, which drop off and rise in more dramatic distances than the broader rivers in the West, anglers in the Great Lakes, need to be a bit more creative with their swung-fly approach.

Here are a few methods worth a try next time a traditional slow-and-steady swing doesn’t garner attention, (or you have already worked through the run with a traditional cast, step, and swing pattern).

The Pop

After a downstream cast, subtly pop, (or jig down) the tip of a rod, forcing the fly to sink and pop up again.

This can mimic an injured or disoriented baitfish. This can also help keep the fly from snagging on downed trees common during this time of your on GL rivers.

This technique can be fished at varying depths, (more reason to buy extra sink-tips!) and also various sections of the run. Similar to a nymphing approach, start close and shallow, and work it farther out as you make your way down river. This can also be productive in slower portions of the river where you can’t rely upon the current to make the fly move.

The Drop In

As mentioned above, early fall storms can cause some log jams great for holding big fish. This can make it tricky to work a fly through in a straight-line swing.

Make an upstream cast, when the fly lands, throw an upstream mend to give the fly time to sink under the jam. Due to the different current speeds in the water column, you can really play around with different fly speeds and may be the key to hooking a fish in a ‘logged’ up run. This will take some practice in more congested water, but likely will be something most anglers avoid because they are scared to lose flies.

Rip and Runs

When all else fails when working through a run, I like to walk down to the end of the pool, line-up almost 180 degrees from the head of it and make a cast straight ahead. Traditionalists may cry blasphemy, but making a straight-line cast forward and stripping a fly right through the middle of the run can present a view of the fly fish rarely see. This also presents a very active, aggressive fly that would be hard for a fish not to attack. Imagine sitting in your living room and someone drags a 20-ounce rib-eye right through the middle of it? Would be hard to not have a reaction. right?

Ideally best to save this approach till the end of your time in the pool, and “run,” on to the next one as if nothing strikes from the above techniques, there are probably no interested players. Time to move on to the next section of the river.

Looking for a quality two-handed rod? One of the top two-handers on the market is the Axiom II Switch, TFO’s award-winning stick that has drawn rave reviews from Deneki.

Thoughts on our two-handed techniques for fall steelhead and salmon? Do you have other suggestions? Let us known on one of our social media pages.

A Few Tips for the Hearty Smallmouth Bass Angler

Editor’s Note: This week, we turn to TFO Ambassador Burnie Haney for a few tips on fishing for late-fall smallmouth bass. Enjoy.

When the water drops below 50 degrees, it’s the best time to down-size your presentation for consistent rod action throughout the day. In central and northern New York, our waters are running 46, 47 degrees, and when other power presentations fail to produce, light line and small baits will get you bit day in and day out.

This past Friday my bass tournament teammate (Mike Cusano) and I fished Oneida Lake with the TFO Professional Series TFG PSS 703-1 paired with 5.1:1 spinning reels loaded with 4 or 6-pound test to present 2.8 and 3-inch Keitech swimbaits on 1/8 or 3/16-ounce jig heads.

Our best presentation was a long-distance cast with a slow steady retrieve. We wanted our baits to imitate the small size forage base of perch and shad, and these little swimbaits baits work perfectly for this application.

Often times in tournament fishing we hear anglers talk about employing a stop-and-go retrieve to help generate strikes. However, when it comes to cold water bassin’ I believe a slow steady retrieve works best especially for smallmouth. My theory: Since the water is colder, the fish usually react a bit slower. If they can find forage in open water that’s slowing passing by, they’re going to hit it nine times out of ten rather than let it go.

We employed this presentation with good results on a recent Friday and knew we could duplicate it on Sunday in the 2018 Brian Rayle Go Anywhere Tournament on Oneida Lake. During the tournament we landed 35 bass and 20 perch, with our five best bass weighing 21.31 pounds, which beat the second-place team by more than a 2-pound margin.

A lot of anglers put their boats away once the late fall hunting starts, and when they do, they leave behind some of the best smallmouth bass fishing of the season.

So the moral of this story is the next time you find yourself surrounded by cold-water smallmouth bass, in gin clear water, make sure you have a TFO Professional Series TFG PSS 703-1 rod paired with a 5.1:1 reel loaded with 4-6 lb. test and a handful of small swimbaits with 1/8 or 3/16th oz. jig heads.

Trust me on this one, you’ll be glad you’re properly geared up to enjoy all-day rod action.

Additional thoughts on smallmouth tactics? Let us know on one of our social media pages.

Casting Carolinas Gives Cancer Survivors Hope

Cancer.

It’s everywhere. And it affects everyone.

In 2018, 1.7 million Americans will contract some form of cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, more than 600,000 will die from it.

“Cancer is evil,” TFO advisor Wanda Taylor said. “We detest it.”

Science can help prevent cancer. Compassion can help those who are fortunate enough to survive it.

It’s the main reason Taylor helped start Casting Carolinas, an organization in North and South Carolina that helps women’s cancer survivors cope. Taylor and other anglers gathered in the Western North Carolina Mountains last weekend to host the Tie-One-On Challenge, a fly-fishing team tournament and CC fund-raiser. Also on hand at the Cherokee, N.C. affair was Starr Nolan, CC’s executive director, who was assisted by a slew of volunteers, who braved high water and a wave of cold rain to pitch in during the two-day event.

“My father died from lung cancer,” Taylor said. “Starr had a close friend die from cancer. We wanted a way to fight back. This is our way to fight back. When you find out you have cancer, your world stops. We wanted a way to stop that. That’s basically it. It’s not just one cancer. We have 17 different kinds on our retreats. When it all comes together, it’s like a posse. Everyone says, ‘thanks for giving your time. You’re so patient.’ They have no idea how much it helps us. It helps me to know my dad didn’t die in vain. There are people out there surviving. Each year we have earlier detection. That’s key for the healing of cancer.”

Nolan and Taylor were both involved in Casting for Recovery, a non profit that provides fly-fishing therapy for breast cancer survivors, but decided several years ago to start Casting Carolinas, which is independent of any national oversight and welcomes women who have faced all forms of cancer.

“We wanted every dime donated, every dollar, every hundred-thousand dollars donated to stay in state,” Taylor said.

The goal of Casting Carolinas is to provide education and support for women who have survived cancer. Part of the weekend retreats is fly fishing. Taylor, a member of Southern Appalachians Fly Fishing Hall of Fame, has served as one of the instructors.

“You can’t think about anything else when you’re fly fishing,” Taylor said. “When you’re casting toward fish, your world is focused on that. You can’t think about chemo. You can’t think about dying or radiation. The brain needs a vacation, a huge vacation. They’re so giddy, whether they hook a fish or not, just from being in the water, they’re so refreshed. When they come in, they’re so beaten down. When they leave, they’re so refreshed. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.”

Nolan stressed that CC’s mission is much more than fly fishing, but nevertheless its impact is undeniable, particularly when it comes to creating confidence.

“They get to the end of the retreat and it’s like, ‘Wow. Success,’ which is a big rush,” Nolan said. “Part of healing from anything is having successful experiences, maybe doing something that you never thought you could do.”

Taylor has assisted with cancer-survival retreats since the early 2000s. She sees no reason to curb her commitment.

“For me, it’s a passion I have bringing other people into the sport of fly fishing,” she said. “I love fly fishing. I dream of fly fishing. I just think I get a joy of bringing new people into the sport. What we teach our staff is, this is never about you. It’s always about someone else. In any volunteer organization, that’s the bottom line. If you’re doing it for any other reason, for fame, for notoriety, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.”

And CC would not have thrived without Taylor’s expertise and enthusiasm.

“Her heart is in it,” Nolan said. “That’s what moves non-profit organizations along is having people who are so devoted in terms of understanding the vision from a heart place. That’s been Wanda all along. She’s always been there. She’s always been there and supportive, available and part of the vision. We could not replace her.”

Every non profit needs resources, and TFO, through Taylor, has donated rods and reels for retreat participants to use. Taylor and other TFO advisors developed several series of rods as a tribute to various charitable organizations, including Casting for Recovery, Project Healing Waters and Reel Recovery.

“People have such big hearts,” Taylor said. “(TFO) loves creating new anglers, whether they’re missing their arm or leg or part of a breast. If they have a passion for it, (TFO) will find a way to help.”

Thoughts on Casting Carolinas or other fly-fishing related charities? Feel free to chime in on one of TFO’s social media pages.

Lessons Learned While Learning to Row

Nearly 25 years ago, I had visions of being a fly-fishing guide. I went to the Western Rivers Guide School and did well. I could cast. I could read the water. I knew the bugs. I thought I had the curriculum wired.

Until I tried to row a drift boat.

And it was brutal. I could not stay out of the rocks or the bushes. Bow? Stern? Left? Right? Backward? Forward? I was lost.

In retrospect, my struggles were entirely understandable. I learned how to fly fish in the mountains of Virginia in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Very few, if any southerners, used a raft or drift boat back in those days. Freshwater fly fishing by boat was a Western trend.

I never got back on the sticks after guide school. What little guiding I did was on foot.

Fast forward to this past summer. I made the move from the Florida salt to the North Carolina mountains, where drift boats and rafts are now common.

So I decided to buy a Flycraft, a small, portable two-man raft that arrived on the fly-fishing landscape a few years ago. I had the hot new toy, but could I steer it?

I took the new raft for a spin for the first time yesterday. It was far from smooth, but I felt comfortable for stretches of water. Here’s what I learned.  

Take it Slow

Baby steps. We all need them. The first time I took my raft out I rowed on a lake. The main thing you want do early on is trouble shoot potential problems and I, for one, am glad I did. My oar locks weren’t set up correctly. It wasn’t a big problem on a calm pond. On a crowded river, such a misstep would have been disastrous.

While you’re evaluating your boat, get used to its mechanics and how it moves, rowing backwards and forwards with a small pull and push. Watch how the bow relates to the stern.

Some of the boat’s movements are subtle. If possible, find a friend who knows a little bit about rowing. If you can’t find an experienced rower, go with someone who’s got a sense of humor. You’ll both make mistakes, but you’ll learn together.

Experience matters. Towards the end of the first trip, I faced a decent riffle. I got the raft where I wanted in a nice current seam that swept near a bank. There was plenty of depth. There was also a submerged rock. I should have gone to the shallow water to the left. Other rafts behind me didn’t get stuck. Why? Because they knew that rock was there. I did not.

Prepare for the Worst

Even the best plans yield problems. I checked everything I possibly could beforehand and still got blindsided. At the put-in on my maiden voyage, there is a respectable rapid, so there’s no time to get your bearings. Once you launch, it’s game on.

Unfortunately for me and my fishing partner, the rower’s seat slid off its tracking, not once, but twice. Eventually, we were able to pull off to the side and diagnose the issue: There’s a latch that secures the seat. Merely sliding the seat on to the tracking doesn’t ensure security. You have to use a bit of elbow grease to make sure the latch catches.

Thinking in Reverse

Remember when you learned to back up a trailer? Or how you learned to parallel park?

Both tasks are counter-intuitive and can be difficult to master. Learning to row falls into that category. Simply put, you row backwards to avoid obstacles while using the current to propel your watercraft. Easy enough, right? Not exactly. You have to be able to have a sense of current flow, your strokes and the positioning of your bow and stern. Every stroke affects both. Focus on the bow too much and then your stern can unexpectedly be swept into an unfavorable position. It’s difficult to have a feel for what you can’t necessarily see. It’s easier to look ahead, but the back of the boat is equally important.

Smaller is Better

When I first wanted to row, I had visions of rowing a boat across a lake with big sweeping strokes. Naturally, when faced with the stress of a swirling whitewater, my strokes were longer and faster. That’s the wrong approach. I should have slowed down and tried for smaller, more precise strokes.

My Flycraft, is small and physically easy to paddle, but my mistakes were magnified. It’s akin to learning to back up a small trailer and overcorrecting. The same principle applies.

Wear your Waders

Back to the counter-intuitive nature of this task. Logic would suggest you wouldn’t need waders to row a raft or a drift boat. After all, you row a drift boat to avoid wading and cover more water. Here’s what most newcomers don’t realize: Inevitably you will get stuck on rocks or other shallow-water obstacles. You’ll need waders (with boots) to get out and push the bow or stern off the obstruction. Is it cumbersome? Yes. Unfortunately, it’s necessary.

Any good tips on learning to row, let us know on one of TFO’s social media pages.

Things to Know Before Your Guided Fishing Trip

I’ve taken dozens of guided fishing trips – from as far west as Montana to as far south as the Virgin Islands. Most of the trips have been good. A few, have not.

I have guided and been guided, so I’ve been on both sides of the skiff. I’ve worked in a fly shop. I’ve been a customer. There hasn’t been much I haven’t seen in more than 30-plus years of fly fishing.

There’s no way to ensure a great fishing trip. There are simply too many variables to control. However, there are a handful of things you, as an angler, can do to help avoid those forgettable guided fishing trips.

Practice Makes Perfect

Fishing requires different skill sets. It doesn’t matter if it’s fly or spin.

Bonefishing requires a double haul. Freshwater trout require precision and line control. Smallmouth bass require long casts with big poppers.

Very few anglers have every skill mastered, so the key is to focus on the type of fishing you will most likely encounter and master that scenario, over and over. In your backyard, or on your local stream or pond.

Failure to Prepare Is Preparing to Fail

Pack early. Not the night before. Start packing at least a week out. Of course, you can’t have everything packed, but at least start organizing your tackle, clothes and gear. Chip away, so when the night before the trip arrives, you’re merely tying up loose ends — and not starting from scratch.

If you wait until the night before, you’ll be stressed. You’ll either run late or forget a key piece of gear, which leads to even more stress, which means you won’t enjoy your trip.

One last thing: Be on time. Timing is everything, fishing. I know a saltwater guide, whose clients arrived an hour and a half late without rigged rods and reels. Fortunately, a breeze sustained an incoming tide that saved the day, but it’s best not to rely on mother nature for a bailout.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Tell your guide what you want — from the type of fish you want to catch, and how you want to catch them. Part of that equation is a realistic assessment of your skill level. It’s best to low-ball your ability. Double hauling 70 feet of line in your yard on a windless weekend afternoon is not the same as being able to duplicate that feat while trying to maintain your balance on the bow of a skiff with a swell. If your guide knows your skill level ahead of time, he or she should be able to put your in situations where you can be successful.

Do Your Homework

You and the guide, to some extent, are a team. It’s a working relationship. To fortify that relationship, personalities have to mesh. No one can change their personality. That’s why it’s important to find a guide that matches your personality and needs.

If you want a guide who’s patient with beginners, state that goal before you agree to a trip. If you want a high-octane guide who can put you on big fish, that’s different. Ask for references. Check at the local fly shop. More often than not, you’ll be glad you did.

Be Realistic ON YOUR GUIDED TRIp

Many clients assume that hiring a guide ensures success. It does not. There’s no question that hiring a good guide can increase the likelihood of catching fish. Good guides know where the fish are and how to catch them, but typically that’s under standard conditions. Sometimes conditions change. Weather patterns can be tough to predict. Tailwater releases can be random. Sometimes the fish don’t want to eat, even when conditions are favorable.

I don’t evaluate a guide on the quality of fishing. I evaluate on the quality of effort and professionalism. Guides can’t control the former. They can control the latter, and I tip accordingly, usually 20 percent.

One last thing: Bring cash for the tip. It’s much easier than a check or debit card at the end of a long day on the water.

 

Any other suggestions for getting ready for a guided trip, let us know on one of TFO’s social media pages.

TFO Ambassador Tucker Smith Basking in the Glow of a Championship Run

TFO Ambassador Tucker Smith helped Briarwood Christian win the 2018 Mossy Oak Bassmaster High School National Championship this past summer. The Birmingham, Ala. resident joined with Briarwood Christian teammate Grayson Morris to prevail in the prestigious Paris, Tenn. event.

Smith chatted with TFO blog editor Mike Hodge about his championship run, his favorite tactics for bass, his mentor Joey Nania and his goals down the road among other things. Below are excerpts from last week’s interview.

TFO: How much did the national title mean to you?

TS: “That (win) meant everything, because the past year I’ve focused on fishing a lot. I quit all the (other) sports. Fishing’s my only thing right now. It means the world to me. I started fishing when I was … I’ve been fishing since as long as I can remember. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s my biggest passion.”

TFO: What was the key to victory for you in that tournament?

TS: “Staying in one spot, focusing in and being patient, waiting for those key bites. We knew we were around fish. We had to keep fishing and not give up, because we knew the fish were there. Basically, it was a matter of being patient.”

TFO: Do you have any tournaments coming up, any more events you’re looking forward to?

TS: “Our high school season just started. Bass Nation, all the tournaments are just starting up. I plan to fish around fifteen team tournaments this year, but with weekend tournaments maybe a little more than that.”

TFO: Do you have any short-term goals you want to accomplish in the next year or two?

TS: “Obviously a goal is to win the (national) championship again. A smaller goal is to qualify for it. Qualifying is hard. It’s a huge deal. Sometimes it’s harder to qualify than the actual tournament. We qualified at Toledo Bend. We had never been there before. It was tough, but we got third in that one, so. ..”

TFO: Any long-term goals, maybe to fish competitively in college?

TS: “I’ve been looking at Montevallo, Bethel and Auburn. When we won the championship, we got a scholarship to Bethel. I don’t know if I want go there or not.”

TFO: Anytime someone competes, they usually get something out of it, whether it’s basketball, baseball or football? What do you get out of fishing?

TS: “It’s my favorite thing to do. You can win money doing it. I think that’s really cool when you do something that you love and can get money out of it. That’s great, especially as a high school angler. I would never think that’s something you could do. That’s really cool.”

TFO: What appeals to you about bass fishing?

TS: “The camaraderie. I’ve gained so many friends from fishing. I know people from different schools that I fish with. All of my buddies. We all hang out on the lake and stuff. It’s good to get together with people and have fun.”

TFO: What’s your favorite way to catch bass? Your favorite tactic?

TS: “In the national championship, I was using a Chatterbait. That’s probably my favorite way to fish. I’m a power fisherman. I don’t like the finesse stuff as much. I’ll do it if I have to.”

TFO: Any advice you’d give to those who want to improve their fishing?

TS: “Time on the water is the most important thing. I fished ponds to start out and fished until I got those techniques down, then moved on to the lakes. Time on the water makes you better. You have to spend time on the water to find the fish.”

TFO: What do you think of TFO’s equipment, the rods?

TS: “I’m really good friends with (TFO Ambassador) Joey Nania. He’s been my fishing mentor. I grew up fishing with him. He introduced me to (TFO’s) rods. I’ve been fishing them ever since. I love them. They’re not too heavy and they’ve got great action. The 7-3 Heavy, you can throw so many things on that.”

TFO: What about the Pacemaker series? Do you like those rods?

TS: “I do. I just ordered eleven rods from (Bass Category Manager) Collins (Illich). I just got some Pacemakers. I haven’t fished with them a lot yet, but I like them so far.”

TFO: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from Joey?

TS: “How to locate fish. The best thing he taught me is finding fish deep. A lot of people can fish the bank, but not a lot of people can look at their graphs, find fish and catch them. I’m a shallow guy, but catching fish when it’s cold is a real big key.”

 

Be sure to follow Tucker, Joey, Cliff Pace and other TFO ambassadors/advisors on one of our social media channels.

Five Tips to Catch Flood Tide Redfish

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 Fork Axiom II with a Power reel 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 Guide are 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.

Rod Repair 101: The Basics of TFO’s Warranty Program

TFO has offered the same no-fault lifetime warranty on all its fishing rods since being founded in 1995. Today, the warranty program is a core part of our business and an area that we’re constantly working to improve, so that it represents another value-based reason to be a TFO angler.

When a TFO rod is broken, we always want to get a TFO angler back on the water with as little hassle as possible. And with this goal in mind, our warranty program is built on two simple principles: First, we run it as a break-even part of our business – no profit. This means we charge the least amount possible to quickly repair or replace rods to get them back in the hands of TFO anglers. Second, we always try to be fair or in the angler’s favor when we make a warranty decision.

Sustaining these principles is getting more difficult for a few interesting reasons. First, all the major fishing rod manufacturers make very good rods. As a result, it is extremely rare that a rod breaks because of manufacturing or material defects. Tom Kirkman’s article Rod Failure does a great job of exploring the subject and provides easy-to-use examples to determine why a rod broke. We never like to be the bearer of bad news to our anglers, and the “why-your-rod-really broke” conversation can sometimes feel unfair.

Second, about 10 percent of the rods sent to us include no information about the owners. Nothing – no phone number, no address, no email. We just get a broken rod. Over the course of few months, this can quickly add up to many “orphaned” rods at TFO. We take great care of each one, but reuniting angler and rod doesn’t always go as smoothly as we’d like.

A related tragedy is when anglers don’t know that shipping companies have invented machines that survive by consuming unsuspecting fishing rods returned for warranty. Trust me, high-speed conveyor belts and fishing rods do not mix well. Last month a warranty rod arrived wrapped in cellophane with a shipping label stuck on it! It was not in good shape!! Always follow the warranty return instructions, and think defensively when shipping your fishing rod!

However, the above problems pale in comparison to a new reality – counterfeit and used rods sold as new. When we warranty a rod that was purchased “used” (and damaged) or replace a fake rod with a real TFO rod, the cost of warranty for every TFO angler goes up. We are deeply committed to the principles of fairness and minimized costs. Both of these principles are in jeopardy when anglers buy rods from folks other than our dealers and expect us to provide warranty service. While we will always go out of our way to help any angler, at the end of the day our loyalty will be to TFO anglers and the dealers that support them.

Lastly, a remark recently on our social media feed said, “if that’s the warranty program, then I’ll never need to buy another rod?” Exactly.