Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Fighting and Landing Fish (Excerpted from "Instinctive Fly Fishing") by Taylor Streit

After watching people fight thousands of fish over my guiding career, I have an idea of why some folks land them—and why some don’t. A guide can’t do much to prepare people for fighting big fish; perhaps tie an old boot on and throw it into moving water to illustrate the mechanics of fighting fish, but that still doesn’t address the main problem. 

Stay Calm 

And that problem is that anglers lose their cool. Often an angler doesn’t have any cool to begin with and breaks off his prize when the fish’s instantaneous run triggers the fisherman’s not-as-instantaneous response. At this critical point, the fisherman might freeze and clamp down on the line, heave, trip over his own feet, fall, flounder, scream, and, sadly in extreme cases of great-sized trout, get hauled in and drown. The dimensions of the fish that causes such a state of insanity varies from one angler to the next. The beginning fly fisher may come apart with any size fish, but it may take a trophy of dangerous proportions to unnerve a seasoned angler. Rest assured that no matter how cool the customer, there’s a fish out there that will rattle him. It’s why we fish, isn’t it? 

Delightfully, the best way to learn how to overcome this affliction is by getting into the ring and duking it out with the lunkers. A bruiser at the other end of the line gets a lot more attention than an old boot, and the learning curve is steep when the stakes are high. Just one day with a good guide on a river like New Mexico’s San Juan will teach you a great deal about fighting big trout. 

Prepare for the Big Fish 

You can do a few simple things to prepare for hooking and fighting Mr. or Mrs. Big. 
First off--whenever in large trout territory, always use fluorocarbon tippet, check leaders for abrasions, and never, never leave wind knots because they decrease the strength of your leader by half. If you check for knots often, you may be able to undo them before they become too tight to untie. After they become that tight, the leader is compromised, and you should cut off and replace the tippet. 

Check to make sure that hooks are sharp and not bent. If a hook is out of shape, don’t try to bend it back. Discard and replace the fly. 

Before fishing a likely spot, examine the proposed battleground in case you should hook “the Big.” Be aware of snags, routes downstream, and places to beach a monster. 
Don’t fish with excess line hanging out of your reel. Use just the amount you need so you won’t have a lot of slack to deal with if you hook a big. Loose line has a habit of wandering around rod butts, reel handles, and other appendages. 

Use Your Drag 

Oddly, there are people who have “opinions” about the drag on a fly reel, and I was once asked if it is legal to use the drag. And someone else told me that when he was a boy his father would forbid him to fish for the rest of the day if the father saw the son using the drag!

Barring moral objections to using the reel’s drag, after the fish is on, it is important to get it onto your quality reel’s drag system. This is a critical point in the fight. If you loop the line between the middle and fourth fingers, you can keep tension on each end while reeling in. Doing this gives you a loop that can be watched and maneuvered as line is reeled in. This process does, however, require dexterity with the fingers and is a tough operation for the inexperienced fly fisher to perform. Often a fish will be accommodating by running off with all the slack. You can augment this by backing up. If you start at midstream, back up onto the bank and in a position where you can follow the fish downstream. If you reach the shore with the fish on the reel, you’ve won half the battle. From the bank you will have greater mobility as well as a height advantage. If one side of the stream has obstructions that the fish might tangle in, get onto the other side so you can steer the fish away from the trouble. 

And beware that fish break off when screaming reel handles come into contact with clothes and hands, so keep the reel out away from your body. If your reel has a good drag, don’t even touch it until it’s time to wind line in. 

And when a big fish takes off, keep the rod tip high. This position keeps the angle of the line as vertical as possible, and that angle keeps fish or flies from fouling on a rock.

When a good fish is hooked, anglers are often too cavalier. Focus on the fight. Stay on top of the fish and keep your arms way up in the air. Doing this is more important than people realize because it keeps the angle of the line as vertical as possible so there is less chance of getting fouled on the bottom. 

When a fish heads for a snag, you may have to apply real muscle to turn it.
Anglers give too much credit to a fish by thinking it heads for a snag so that it can wrap the leader around it. The creature is merely scared to death and looking for a hiding place. For mathematical reasons beyond my understanding, a fly rod has much more power held sideways than overhead. To steer a fish, turn the rod in the direction opposite that in which the fish is swimming. If the fish is going right, the rod should be horizontal and on your left side. 
In the late Jack Samson’s (he was a Santa Fean) wonderful biography, Lee Wulff, Lee talks about landing large fish quickly. “If you can convince them that they don’t have a chance they will give up a lot sooner.” You do this by getting the jump on ’em and using maximum pressure from the start. But only experience teaches you how much that is. Furthermore, although guides go nuts to see fish fought forever, beginners should go easy if conditions allow. I have seen a multitude of fish lost because the fisher had no idea how much heat to apply. You can put a lot of steady pressure on monofilament. The sudden stresses are what “pop” the line. 

A fly may pull out or break off if a heavy fish gets into the current, so be sure and follow it downriver fast enough. Try to stay abreast of it in a strong current so that you are not fighting it and the current, too. The fish’s weight is greatly increased by the added force of the current. 

Concluding the Fight 

After the quarry has grown tired, you need to get its head above water and keep it there. This is when you finally have control, so don’t ease up. Keep the fish coming at you and try not to let it get its head back under the surface. With its head above water, it can either be beached or netted. 
Beaching a large fish works well if gravel bars or gently sloping shores are nearby. If the banks are steep or if you are in the middle of a large river, a net will save you many a prized catch. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Gear 101: #3 Flies


In the third installment of our 101 series we will tackle the very broad subject of flies, which can be broken down into two main categories, dry flies and wet flies.

Dry flies are designed to be fished on the top of the water and mimic the adult stage of a bugs life. Generally, they are fished on the surface of the water in a dead drift, riding the surface in a natural pace. However, other techniques can be employed depending on the fishing conditions. For example, dry flies can be pulled gently across the surface of the water so that they skim along the water instead of drifting, this technique is called skating. Or, you can intentionally pull the dry just below the surface of the water and fish it half sunk. Deciding which technique works best takes a combination of practice and an understanding of the behaviors of the flies you are intending to mimic and the behavior of the fish that you are trying to catch.

Wet flies are designed to be fished below the surface of the water and can be broken down into two smaller categories, nymphs and streamers. 

Nymphs mimic the pre-adult stage in a bug’s life cycle and like dry flies, are generally fished in a dead drift technique. They are cast upstream and allowed to sink, where they drift down river naturally being swept along in the current. Nymph patterns are tied in a variety of sizes and colors. Some nymphs are tied with beads which provide weight to the fly and allow it to sink faster and reach a deeper point in the river. Others are tied without beads, making them lighter therefore allowing them to be fished closer to the surface. Fish feed among the river from the bottom to the top. With study and practice you will soon figure out which nymph is best used in each condition. 

Streamers, like nymphs, are designed to be fished sub surface. Unlike nymphs they are most effective when they are pulled through the water, a technique called stripping. The streamer is cast out into the water and allowed to sink, but instead of just letting it drift naturally down stream as you would with a nymph, the streamer is pulled back toward you, through the water, as you retrieve your line. Most streamers are tied to mimic small fish and various aquatic insects and therefore the movement is the most important aspect. When fishing streamers try different styles of retrieve, alternating slow and fast strips to see what works best. 

This is a general explanation of how to start identifying different types of flies and how to fish them, if you want to dive deeper there are numerous resources available online that go into the entomology, or science, of bug life and can offer you a precise explanation of the different stages and behaviors for each species. 

Friday, February 3, 2017

Gear 101: #2 Terminal Tackle

Terminal Tackle

In the second blog in this series we will be covering what we refer to as “terminal tackle,” or the materials that transition us from the fly line to the fly. This is a small category and includes two main items, leader and tippet.

The leader is a tapered length of nylon monofilament. Most leaders are sold with a pre-tied loop at the thick end, which makes attachment and replacement quick and easy. The leader attaches to the fly line and tapers down to a fine tip, and vary in both length and thickness. When you look at a pack of leader you will see two sets of numbers. The first usually corresponds to length, the most common being either 7.5 feet or 9 feet. The second number is followed by an “x” and refers to the thickness of the small end of the leader. These numbers inversely correspond to thickness, meaning a small number refers to a larger diameter. When choosing the right leader think about matching the leader to the flies you will be using. For example, a 3x leader is a good choice for flies size 6-10, a 4x leader is good to use for flies size 12-16, 5x for flies size 18-20 and so on.

Tippet is also made of nylon monofilament but unlike the leader, tippet is not tapered, instead it is a single diameter and comes in a spool. Tippet is generally used to rebuild your leader as you cut into it and shorten it every time you change flies. Tippet is also used to add a second fly to your rig. We often fish two, sometimes three flies at a time, and attaching tippet to the hook of the first fly and running a length 18’-24’ down to a second fly is a trick to add a seamless second fly. Tippet also comes in varying strengths and like leader you will see the spools range from 0x to 7x. The same rule applies here, where the smaller number refers to a thicker diameter and you should always have a variety of tippet spool on you so that you can quickly make adjustments for the conditions while on the river.

Lastly, we should mention that you have an option to purchase leader and tippet not only in nylon but also in a material called fluorocarbon. The benefit of buying leader and tippet made of fluorocarbon is that it is stronger, invisible in the water and sinks faster than nylon. You will pay a pretty penny for these improvements but will likely forget the sticker shock when you successfully land a monster.   

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Gear 101: #1 Rod, Reel and Line

GEAR 101

Nobody is born a professional. At one time or another we all stood as ignorant ‘fishermen and fisherwomen to be’ staring at gear that meant nothing to us, oblivious of what anything was, much less how it all fit together. For some of us this moment was when we were too young to remember, for others this moment is now. This is the first of 6 blogs in a series we are calling “Gear 101” and it is aimed at those of you among us who are at this precise point, the very beginning.

#1 Rod, Reel and Line

These are the three most important components in the sport of fly-fishing and they are designed to work in conjunction with one another to perform one task: get the fly from the end of your fly rod out to the river where you want it to go. The process of getting the fly out to the water is called the cast and is often the most challenging aspect to the beginning angler, a subject we will cover in detail later in this series.

For now, let’s skim the surface of how these three basic tools go together.

 The modern fly rod is made from graphite, a mineral that is both strong and lightweight. The rod is made in a taper, thicker at the butt end where the reel is attached and slowly slimming up to a fine tip. Most fly rods are made to break down into either two or four pieces. Guides, which are small circular shaped metal pieces, are attached to the rod. The guides serve the purpose of holding the line and allow it to run smoothly along the rod as you cast. At the butt end of the rod is the reel seat, which is a metal nut that threads along the base of the rod and tightens down onto the reel to hold it into place. The last component to the rod is the cork handle, located just above the reel seat.

Fly rods are given a “weight” ranging from 000 to 14 that corresponds both to the weight of line the rod is made to handle and the type of environment that it is best used in. For example, a 000 rod should be used with a 000 line and best for small streams when you are most likely going to catch small fish, a 14 rod is intended to be used in saltwater, fishing for beasts like Marlin. In addition to various weights rods also come in varying lengths. In the language of fly rods you will often see the specifics of each rod printed in a series of numbers on the butt end piece of the rod. These numbers are deciphered as such: weight, feet, inches – pieces. For example, a rod that has these numbers: 490-4 is a 4 weight, 9 foot, 0 inches, 4 piece. 

The modern fly reel is made up of two parts, the spool, which holds the line and clips into the frame, which houses the drag system and allows you to turn the handle to take in line. The drag system is a mechanism built in to most reels that regulates the rate at which the line is pulled off the reel, think resistance. The purpose of this drag system is to allow you to choose the appropriate level of resistance depending on the size fish you are hooked into. A larger fish needs more drag (resistance) as it will more likely put up a bigger fight. The more the fish has to work the quicker it will tire out and allow you to bring it to the net.

Most reels are made of either composite plastics, which are cheaper and less durable, or aluminum, which are lighter, extremely durable and more expensive. With the more expensive reels you often get more refined drag systems, which allow you to fine-tune your drag while actively fighting fish.

Fly line is the driving force of the entire operation. We often refer to it as the “engine” of the rod, as it is the weight of the line itself that bends the rod during the cast. In spin fishing the entire operation hinges on a weighted lure. This weight is used to pull line out as you cast, thus achieving distance. In fly-fishing we are casting the line not the fly. As you back-cast the rod bends with the weight of the line and on the forward cast the rod springs back and the line shoots through the guides, running freely out to the water.

Fly lines are made up of two parts, the core and the coating. The core is the strength of the line, engineered to provide the backbone and is most often made from nylon, which is braided in order to increase strength and durability. The coating is plastic and protects the core by being pliable and flexible throughout the many conditions you find on the water. The coating is also the place where line engineers have room to experiment. Through different techniques companies have discovered ways to taper, weight and aerate these coatings to provide a line precisely tuned for any fishing technique and situation.

There you have it, a surface explanation of the most basic tools of the trade. The depth to which you can continue to explore and learn is relatively endless as companies are constantly refining manufacturing techniques and materials. However, all you need is a rod, reel and line, oh yeah, and the fourth most important element is time, lots and lots of time.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

How to Ease the Winter Fishing Blues

When the snow starts to pile up and the outdoor temperature gauge produces numbers in the single digits that is the signal for many of us that the fishing season has come to an end. While there are a die-hard few who don’t mind frozen fingers and icy guides, the majority of us must now face the winter fishing blues. Here are a few suggestions on how to battle those blues when tight lines are found only in our dreams.

1.     Tie Flies
The winter is the perfect time of year to re-fill half empty fly boxes. We recommend you start by building a fire, pouring a whisky and putting on your favorite record. If you need inspiration the internet is an unparalleled resource for learning new patterns. We also have a library of tying books at the shop that you can come in and browse. If you have never tied a fly but want to start we can help! Remember, every fly you tie is a future fish.

2.     READ!
When is a better time to catch up on fishing related reading material than when you are housebound and the snow is piling outside your door? Again, we recommend you start by building a fire, pouring a whiskey and putting on your favorite record. Books, blogs and magazines on fly fishing abound. Whether you are looking to learn a new technique or just want a story that whisks you away this is the time of year to do it. Lord knows we won’t be caught reading when the hatches are coming off the water in sheets.

3.     Watch Fishy Films
As the sport of fly fishing continues to gain popularity so has the act of making films about it. With wearable and flyable technology that allows us to go higher and deeper than ever before, the ability of the tech savvy everyday angler to capture the essence of the sport is getting scary good and the internet is full of killer videos ranging from small clips to full length movies. Of course there are the classics, who doesn’t love A River Runs Through It, but there are a plethora of other films out there to be discovered, both story driven and instruction based. Again start by building a fire and pouring that whisky, leave the record player off for this one…

  Here are some websites that will help get you going:

              Charlie's Fly Box 



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