Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Muskrat River Ramble

The Crooked River is a high desert stream that meanders through the high desert plateau and canyons of Eastern Oregon. In its heyday it used to harbor large numbers of 2- to 6-pound rainbow trout with some over 10 pounds. Unfortunately, inadequate regulations, constant fishing pressure and poaching took its toll. Today, the average fish is 8 to 12 inches. Those early years, however, are still vivid in my mind, and one trip in particular still makes me smile.

My fishing partner Rob and I were fishing one of our favorite haunts called the Chukar Hole. As we worked downstream my line suddenly stopped. Thinking that I was snagged I lifted the rod to free it, but then more line began to scream off the reel. I knew it had to be large because it was heavy and never jumped as I continued to stumble after it. Rob rushed down with the net and yelled, “Doug, it’s huge! Hang on to him.” The only chance to land it was the large pool below, so I kept the pressure on and walked it down. Finally, it stopped when it reached the pool and I said with urgency, “Get him Rob. I don’t want to lose it!”  Suddenly, as he began to net it, he started laughing and said,

“You won’t believe this Doug.”                 
“Believe what,” I shouted.
“It’s not a fish!”
“It’s a 5-pound muskrat!” 

Although this was a frustrating conclusion, we both agreed that hooking a real muskrat with a muskrat fly was a unique accomplishment. 

How to tie the Muskrat Fly:    
Hook:    Mustad No. 9672, Size 8
Thread: 3/0 Monocord
Tail:      Small bunch of muskrat fur with guard hairs
Body:    Dubbed muskrat 
Wing:    Muskrat underfur with guard hairs
Head:    Black ostrich or mohair.

1. Tie in the tail with the guard hairs extended backward and then spin some muskrat fur on the thread between the hook and bobbin. 

2. Dub the body forward 1/3 and tie in another small bunch of muskrat on top of the hook with the guard hairs pointed backward.

3. Dub a second bunch of muskrat forward 1/3 and tie in another clump of muskrat on top of the hook with the guard hairs extended backward.

4. Spin in 2 black ostrich herls and tie the head off.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A Fluttering Stone or an Impostor?

Adult Salmon Fly

Fluttering Stonefly
The Deschutes River has a variety of water types that harbor the famous Redside trout. It is also enriched with a diversified riparian zone which consists mostly of sage, tall grasses, willows, alder trees and pine trees. Many fish live under or close to this protective canopy and it also gives fish access to a variety of food sources that live in their domain, float through it or inadvertently fall into it. These areas also give the fly fisher good cover from which to make effective casts to an unsuspecting trout. It is almost a setup deal!

I located a place to fish that had these types of surroundings, and I was armed with my favorite stonefly imitation, the Fluttering Stone. I stripped out some line and waited for a rise. The faster current above had blended into a gentle riffle that was broken-down by numerous large boulders. Suddenly, a nice fish rose about 15 feet out and above my position. I quickly stripped out my line and cast about 6 feet above the riser. The fly passed over its holding water without a take. As I paused and waited for another rise, I felt something crawling on my neck. Thinking that it was just a stonefly, I held my position, hoping for action. Suddenly, the fish rose and as I started to cast, I felt a sudden pain on my neck and quickly swatted off a large spider. This experience didn’t deter me from fishing these locations again, but before I entered I always shook the brush and branches to dislodge or ward off any creepy crawlers.

Sometimes you have to have a stubborn attitude and put up with some nagging inconveniences to catch fish. Such is the case in Eastern Oregon where there are many types of noxious weeds and critters that you may have to deal with—a variety of insects, weird bugs, snakes, and even plants like poison oak and tansy ragwort.  In order to survive, you have to try to live and fish in harmony with them or find a less intimidating outdoor activity. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Perfect Imitation

Stew's Black Midge

Hook:    Mustad 94840, Sizes 16-18
Thread: 6/0 Monocord
Body:    Black Poly Yarn
Hackle:  Black
Wing:     White feather fibers or ostrich herl

On a late spring afternoon, my friend Jim Colantino and I were fishing a high desert lake that held large Rainbow Trout. It wasn’t the warm, comfortable day that we had planned on. A blustery cold wind and a drizzle of rain periodically strafed the surface and dampened our hopes of hooking some nice fish. However, there were some windows of opportunity.

Lulls in the wind and rain calmed the surface which soon generated a good hatch of size 16 black midges. A few nice trout began to cruise the surface and randomly inhale the hapless insects. We didn’t waste any time in presenting our imitation—Stew’s Black Midge. It was a fly that I had developed at Jim’s request the season before and it quickly proved its worth. Numerous and sizeable fish were quickly hooked and released, when another problem began to develop. We had some unwanted competition—Barn Swallows. 

From the start it was an unfair game.  As soon as the elements abated the fish began to rise for the midges, and unfortunately the swallows began to dive and take the hapless midges as well. Then, as we began to cast, our adversaries began to attack our fragile imitations in midair. Just as our midge landed on the surface, the cagey birds would attempt to snatch it. To avoid hooking them, we had to pull it away. We eventually managed to catch several decent trout, but it was a frustrating experience and in the end the birds won the battle. Jim and I mutually agreed that sometimes perfect imitations can be too perfect, so we reeled in and chalked it up to experience. 

Below are illustrations of the developmental stages of a midge. 

                     Larva                        Pupa                       Adult

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Reversed Wings

This method can solve the nagging problem of wings that loosen and rend apart with constant use. When you spend your precious time tying a fly with streamer wings you want them to stay intact, but a poorly secured wing will eventually unravel. This is quite common with a lot of beginning fly tiers and in haste, even experienced tiers are prone to faulty applications.

Normally, most heads require ten to fifteen snug wraps, varying with the size of hook. To check the wing’s tightness, simply use your thumb and forefinger to firmly pull back on the tips of the wing. If they don’t come apart, they are tied securely. If the beginning wraps are not tight, additional wraps will only build an oversize head and eventually the wing will loosen. Epoxy is another method, but this will only work if the wraps are tight to begin with.

What is the solution? The answer has to do with the type of hair and method you’re using. Bucktail, feather wings and marabou are not very difficult to attach. However, when you are tying in calf tail, squirrel tail, bear hair, polar bear and other stiff hairs, it takes a little more effort to secure it properly. One option to avoid bulkiness is to use less hair, but a reversed wing may be a better solution. Done properly, the wing will not unravel and will last almost indefinitely.  

Step 1.  Pointing forward, tie in a small bunch of squirrel tail, about 1/8 inch from the eye. Tie the butt ends down and tie them tightly with 4-6 wraps.

Step 2.  Reverse the wing by pulling the hair back over the top and secure it with tight wraps.

Step 3.  Finish the head, and make a few hard tugs to test its tightness. You’ll be hard pressed to pull it out.

Monday, October 21, 2013

First Steelhead

            My dad was among the best of the early pioneers in fishing the Northwest. He and his buddies were hearty and persevering guys who spent years discovering the secrets of the Oregon Coastal streams; Southwest Washington streams, Sandy River, Deschutes River, and countless other Northwest rivers and streams. They seemed to always know when the fish were present, where they were located and how to catch them. They also had that innate quality of most fishermen, persistence.

I can painfully recall my indoctrination as a young boy--many cold, wet and exasperating days of casting for hours without any luck. I experienced two years of frustration, but my dad constantly encouraged me to keep trying and assured me that I’d get one. However, catching that winter steelhead seemed as elusive as catching my shadow, which is probably why everyone remembers their first. I was no exception.

 It was a frigid January day on the Nehalem River. It had started out like so many trips before--snagging up, loosing gear and tying rigs with frozen fingers. As I dejectedly made another cast into a fast chute above a tailout, my line stopped and began to move upstream. Suddenly, a silver shape exploded from the water and the fish had me on! It turned and porpoised downstream in frantic jumps, trying to drown me as I stumbled after it. I don’t remember how long I fought it, but after my dad finally arrived with landing instructions, I eased the tiring fish onto the beach.

As we were admiring my ten-pound trophy, a stranger walked up and with a gruff voice said, “Nice fish son, may I check your license?” As I reached for my wallet my heart almost stopped. It was gone!  My dad pleaded my innocence telling the warden he had bought it for me. The man looked at me with stern eyes and said, “Boy, is this your first fish?” I grimly answered, “Yes.” After a few moments of thought he said, “You know, technically I should write you a ticket, but I’m gonna let you off. Next time I won’t be as easy!”  As he turned to leave I saw a modest smile on his face and needless to say, I never forgot my credentials again.first  

Friday, October 18, 2013

How to Tie Tandem Flies

Tandem Fly patterns were developed in the early 1940’s and were used to eliminate short strikes that often occurred with single hook streamers. Dr. J. Herbert Sanborn tied one of the first successful tandem flies when he caught a Salmon on Messalonskee Lake in Maine. The streamer was named the Nine-Three because the fish weighed in at nine pounds, three ounces. These colorful flies are ideal for larger fish that are in constant pursuit of minnows and other baitfish. A tandem streamer will produce solid hook-ups if the materials depict a sizeable fish and effectively cover the trailer.

The most effective patterns exhibit a bit of flash, lively motion and proper coloration which will attract even the most discriminating fish. For smaller fish use 2- to 3-inch tandems and use 3 1/2- to 4-inch for larger fish. Standard 9671 2X long hooks are commonly used with a front #4 hook, and for larger fish, a rear #6 hook. The trailing hook can be placed in an up or down position. Tied properly, fish will also strike a tandem fly out of curiosity or anger.

To begin, cut a 6-inch length of 25- to 30-pound leader. (Large fish such as salmon or ocean fish may require heavier tests or wire.) Fold the leader in half and push the loop through the eye of a #6 hook. Then slip the loop around the #6 hook bend and pull the end tight.

Before you attach the trailer to the #4 hook shank, wrap it with 3/0 monocord so that it won’t slip. Next, on the #4 2X hook, place the trailing leader on top of the shank, so that it extends one to two inches behind it. Finish by making multiple tight wraps back and forth over the leader and then firmly pull on it. If it doesn’t slip, you’re ready to apply materials. The wing should cover the trailer hook.  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Matching the Hatch

Chordeiles minorEJN31CB
My son Jeff and I were fishing the Deschutes River below Maupin, Oregon at an area we called the Boulder Patch. It was evening and a major Caddis hatch was in progress. At times, caddis hatches can be very prolific when they emerge. Thousands of these insects can infest your eyes, ears, nose and even your mouth if you keep it open. This phenomenon can create a feeding frenzy and this evening the trout were gorging themselves on the naturals. We were using one of my favorite emerging caddis imitations called the Dark Caddis Emerger, also called the Stewart Caddis. Not only were we catching fish, but we had some unique competitors called Nighthawks or Bull Bats that were swooshing up and down taking the emerging insects off the surface and in midair.   

The competition was so intense that as we prepared to cast, we had to duck away from these dive bombers. Suddenly, I yelled “I gotta a fish…er I mean bird on!”  A Nighthawk had taken my caddis pattern and was taking out line. Fortunately, the fly immediately came loose. As I prepared to make another cast Jeff yelled. Amazingly, he had hooked another Nighthawk. This time the bird was firmly hooked and started stripping his line out as it flew erratically away. “Jeff,” I yelled, “you better stop it or it’ll spool you!”  He immediately grabbed the line and started pulling it back. In a matter of minutes he had the poor bird in his hands and quickly unhooked it. I think the feathered flycatcher was somewhat in a state of shock, because after he placed it on the water it laid there for a few seconds before it took off. 

Although fish were still rising, rather than take the chance on hooking more birds, we reeled up and headed back knowing that the Dark Caddis Emerger had perfectly matched the hatch.   

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Pinch Loop

In the beginning, attaching materials can be cumbersome for beginning fly tiers because there is a tendency to roll the material; however, the Pinch Loop will eliminate this problem.  

Step 1.  Wrap the thread over the hook bend and make 3-4 tight wraps over it to form a base to set the materials on the hook shank.  

Step 2.  Tightly pinch the tail material and place it on top of the hook bend. Then, in one motion, make a loop by pulling the thread straight up and bringing it down between your forefinger and thumb. 

Step 3.  Pull the thread straight down and tightly secure it with 5-6 additional wraps. Use the same method to attach additional materials.  
After you’ve mastered this method you’ll be able to secure material without using the Pinch Loop and tie a better fly. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Tying and Fishing the Max Canyon

Max Canyon
In the early 1970’s I developed this fly for Steelhead fishing on the Deschutes River. We had experienced success with a Skunk fly and the Brad’s Brat developed by Enos Bradner. Using the black color of the Skunk and orange from the Brat I tied a fly that had an orange and white tail, orange and black body and a wing of orange and white. With the addition of gold tinsel around the body and a black front hackle, the Max Canyon came to life. In spite of my friends Dick Hans and Steve Dorn razzing me about the contrasting colors of the new fly, I had high hopes for the new fly’s success. I waded into the water the next morning with anticipation. My leader was rigged up with a Skunk on the point and the new fly on a dropper. As I began to cover the water with hopeful casts, I idly gazed across the canyon at some deer feeding on the hillside.  
Suddenly, my line stopped and I was into a strong fish. It was a heated battle for 7 or 8 minutes but I finally beached a chrome 8 pounder. The Max Canyon was buried in its jaw. I was elated. In the next few hours I hooked six more and landed five, all of them taking the new fly. Switching the position of the two flies made no difference. I was totally gratified with the success of the new pattern. When I returned to camp it was my turn to razz my buddies which immediately prompted a crash course in tying Max Canyons. 

Hook: 36890 Mustad, Sizes 6-2
Thread: 3/0 black monocord, 
Tail: Small mixture of orange and white calftail,
Body: Rear 1/3 orange, front 2/3 black wool,
Rib: Gold or silver oval tinsel, 
Hackle: Black saddle,
Wing: 2/3 white and 1/3 orange calftail. 

Step1.  Tie in the orange and white tail and attach the tinsel. Then, tie in the orange yarn and wrap it forward 1/3 inch. Attach the black yarn.

Step 2.  Wrap the black wool forward 2/3 inch and tie it off. Then spiral the tinsel up 5 to 6 times and tie off.

Step 3. Tie in the black hackle. 

Step 4.  Spiral the hackle forward 3 to 4 times and slightly wrap back over it to form a 45˚ angle. 

Step 5.  Arrange the orange and white calftail so that the orange is 1/3 on top and the white is 2/3 below. Secure them tightly and finish with a neatly tapered head and tie off. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Phantom Fish

            Once in a while you get a tip from a reliable fishing buddy that turns out to be a jaw-dropping experience. A friend of mine from Kalama, Washington called me one evening and said that the Eastfork of Lewis River was loaded with a fresh run of winter steelhead. The next morning I drove to a good fishing hole above Day Break Bridge where I parked my rig just at dawn. In nervous anticipation I rigged up my nine-foot Orvis Rivermaster, put on my waders and fishing vest, and headed toward the river.

            The water I was going to fish was located below some pocket water that was broken up by boulders, fast chutes and riffles that mellowed out into a long run. I could almost sense the presence of fish. I waded five feet out and peered intently into the water to spot some fish, but nothing was clearly visible because of a slight tinge of silt. I began casting my ten-foot sink-tip line with high hopes.

It took almost an hour to cover the water all the way down to the tailout and I never had a strike. Were the fish still in the lower river or had they already passed through?  Maybe I had the wrong fly on, or maybe I needed to change to a different line so I could cover the water better. With a low morning sun beginning to grace the water, I tied on a new pattern and I waded out again to work the run with more intensity. However, after another hour of fruitless casting I reeled in. Suddenly, I saw two fellows in a drift boat floating downriver and within minutes they drifted into my water. 

“Hey, you guys,” I yelled. “Are you catching any?”

“No,” one of them hollered. “We’re from the Fish and Game and we're just counting fish.”

“No kidding,” I said. “You know, I’ve been fishing here for over two hours without any luck. Could you tell me if you can see any fish in this water.”

After several moments of searching one of them said, “Well, so far we can see at least ten right under our boat!” 

As they drifted downriver I put on another fly and started casting feverishly. Sometimes in order to catch steelhead you have to have patience, persistence and a hard-headed attitude.  I caught and released one steelhead later that morning.          

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Free Bobbin Threader

­Bobbin threaders are handy tools and important time savers because without them the task of inserting the thread and working it up through the tube prolongs the tying process. However, if you don’t have one available you still have a personal tool that can accomplish this task. It’s called your mouth. First, the thread must be cut cleanly with no fraying at the end. Next, push the thread one-eighth or one-quarter inch into the tube. Then, place your lips on the top of the threader and give one or two powerful sucks. If the neck is free of dirt, lint or wax this action will shoot the thread into your mouth.  

If you have a bobbin with a smaller diameter hole and longer neck, you will have trouble using the above technique. To counteract this problem, push the thread a short way into the bottom opening of the tube and place a finger over it. Then, simultaneously suck the thread and release your finger. This creates a small vacuum inside the tube which will help to shoot the thread out the top end.  Below is one type of bobbin threader and three different style of bobbins.

                           Threader        Ceramic           Stainless          Old Style

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Wading Wet for Winter Steelhead?

Sometimes looks can be deceiving.  

I was fishing a small coastal stream near Astoria called Gnat Creek. In December and January it had decent runs of hatchery steelhead, but it was not very easy to fish. It was located in a forest of tall Hemlock trees, some of which had fallen across the creek, and its shoreline was entwined with old snags and brush. This called for the need to cross the stream in many places, as well as hiking through wader puncturing sticks, branches and briars. In order to protect my waders from this potential hazard, I put a pair of old jeans on over them.  At this time I didn’t realize the curious interest it would cause. 

It was just breaking daylight when I reached the stream. Six inches of snow already covered the ground and light powdery flakes were still falling. It was going to be an interesting challenge. As I headed out another angler approached me. When I greeted him I noticed he gave me an odd double take, but I thought nothing about it. I finally reached a pool that I had fished before and covered it for an hour without any takes. To reach another hole I waded across a shallow riffle and headed downstream. Just then two spin fishermen approached me with quizzical looks on their faces. We stopped to talk.  

“How’s fishing,” I asked.

The taller one said, “Not too good today. Just losing gear mostly.” 

“How about you?” the other asked.

“Not much yet. I just fished one hole.”

The first one looked at me again and said curiously, “Pardon me for asking, but ain’t you getting a bit cold in those pants?” 

“Nah,” I said. "I’m warm as toast. What makes you ask?” 

As they left I heard one of them mumble something.  Then it suddenly dawned on me. They obviously thought that I was some kind of fly fishing diehard in jeans and wading wet. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013


            It was January and Oregon’s Sandy River below Marmot Dam was loaded with winter steelhead. The location was called the Slaughter Hole so named because steelhead would stack up below the ladder waiting to continue their spawning run. It was almost like fishing in a hatchery and it led to an experience that I never forgot.  

            The hike down the steep, winding trail to the river required a coordinated use of both arms and legs to prevent a nasty fall. In certain places my friend, Jim Teeny, and I needed to hang on to each other to prevent a dangerous plunge into the river. From the trail we could see into the Slaughter Hole, and it was not uncommon to spot dozens of steelhead. The pool was loaded and as we waded across the tailout Jim sarcastically said, “Hey, buddy. Do you think we’ll get lucky today?” 

            It didn’t take long to rig up and we immediately started hooking fish using Jim’s Teeny Nymph patterns. Over years of experience we had learned that in clear water fish can be spooky and are often choosy about what they take. This was clearly evident in the Slaughter Hole, because after seeing bright lures such as spinners and wobblers, fish would not take as well. They would, however, take natural looking patterns that were smaller, darker and buggy looking. This is why Jim’s flies and other natural looking patterns like a caddis or stonefly are often deadly. On this day, to the dismay of onlookers, we had great success as we hooked and released quite a few steelhead between seven and fifteen pounds. Our next trip to the Slaughter Hole was a few days later, and to quote Yogi Berra, it would be “Déjà vu all over again!”  

            When we reached the river, fishing was still good, but many had moved up river closer to the dam. After several hours I told Jim that I had to get back to my shop, but as usual he was trying to catch one more fish.  Rather than watch, I decided to make a few more casts for good luck and it paid off. I hooked one about ten pounds, but it lacked the usual explosive power that steelhead are noted for. After only a few minutes it was played out, and when I landed it I understood why. There were two flies hooked in its jaw--the fly I was using and the one I left in its mouth two days before.  
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