Monday, December 30, 2013

Traveling Fly Tying Box

Fly Tying Box with Measurements

There are many types and sizes of fly tying boxes available in fly shops and catalogs, but most are expensive. I developed one that has ideal features for use at home and on the go. Depending on the type of wood and hardware you select, you can build your own at a reasonable cost for materials. One quarter to one half inch plywood is commonly used and it can be varnished for surface protection. The dimensions are  20 x 12 x 5 inches and it weighs approximately 10 pounds with tools and materials.  


1. Lid that is divided into three sections for long materials such peacock-eyed feathers, bucktails, quills, rooster capes & saddle hackle. 

2. Fold-out table for materials.

3. Bottom is divided into four sections for the vise, tools, threads and more.

4. Hardwood handle which doubles as the vise platform.

5. Brass hinges, corner brackets, snap locks and a lid chain.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Flying Ant Patterns

The Douglas Fly
The Douglas fly was developed on Badger Lake in the Mt. Hood National Forest. 

I had been trolling a wet fly from my raft without any luck, even though fish were rising now and then to a small insect. I finally identified it as a flying black ant which I did not have. So, I rowed back to camp to try and match the hatch. Within a short time I was back on the water with my new adaptation, and fish started taking it aggressively. I was amazed. It was successful even though it was not an exact replica of the flying ant; however, it did possess the overall size and shape, and for some fish close is good enough. I also believe that the red tail and silver tinsel drew attention to the pattern. 

Ant patterns can be fished wet or dry or in the surface film. Hatches of flying ants can be present from April through September when many get blown or knocked into the water. 

Hook:  3906 B sizes 14-8
Thread:  3/0 black monocord
Tail:  Red hackle fibers
Body:  Black chenille
Rib:  Medium sized silver oval tinsel
Hackle:  Grizzly tied wet

Two More Flying ant patterns:

Black Gnat (Dry)                            Split Body (Wet)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

An Innocent Intruder

Doug Stewart fly fishing for Steelhead on the Deschutes
The sun had just ducked behind the western ridge of Long Canyon and my two clients began to don their wading gear. It was a perfect evening—shade on the water, no wind and fly fishing one of the best runs on the Deschutes River, the Box Car run. Compared to other water types it was quite long, stretching from an upper riffle that flowed into a long glide. From there numerous large rocks broke the surface creating ideal resting areas for steelhead. It was a classic run.

As my clients were rigging up, out of nowhere a lone fly fisher abruptly walked into our camp and said, “Good evening fellas,” and then proceeded to wade into our water. We were stunned, and as I went to confront him he hooked a steelhead on his first cast but lost it after one jump. I quickly confronted him and said, “Hey, Buddy, what in the heck do you think you’re doing?”

Well,” he said. "No one was fishing it, so I just….”

I rudely interrupted him, “You can’t just barge right into someone’s water!"

He dropped his head slightly and said, “I’m sorry. I’m new on this river. Please forgive me.”

I accepted his apology and told him that to avoid a conflict ask other anglers first before you step into their water. As he turned to leave, out of empathy for him I said, “Listen, you made an honest mistake, so why don’t you go to the riffle above and fish behind us.”

As my clients stepped into the water and begin casting, we heard a holler and looked upstream. Amazingly, the novice had hooked and was playing a nice steelhead which he eventually landed. Unfortunately, my clients didn’t hook any fish the rest of that evening which prompted some light-hearted bantering. “Yep,” one of them said. “You pay a guide to get you into fish and you get skunked.” 

But,” the other one countered, “he takes pity on a complete stranger and for nothing gets him into fish. Can you beat that?” Fortunately, I was able to get both of them into fish the next day, so in spite of my embarrassment, it turned out to be a successful trip. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Good Samaritan Loses a Trophy Steelhead

Getting ready to cast for a Steelhead on the Sandy River
One overcast morning a friend of mine was fly fishing the Sandy river for winter steelhead. Jack was a hard luck fisherman at times. He had the right technique and fished hard but he had limited success. On this particular trip he was fishing the lower river below the small town of Troutdale, Oregon. The conditions were perfect! Overcast skies, no wind and perfect water conditions. Within ten minutes he hooked a good fish that immediately got into his backing. It was a strong, heavy fish because he was having trouble turning it out of the current. As he was carefully playing it, another angler approached him with a net. Jack briefly glanced at him as he continued to play it with caution. 

After another five minutes the fish was tiring, and he started to work it towards the shoreline. As the stranger moved in closer Jack began to wonder what his intentions were, but the hope of landing a trophy fish was his primary concern. Finally, he had controlled the fish and was starting to bring it into the bank. Suddenly, the stranger walked into the water with his net and yelled,

Hey, mister. That’s a huge fish! I’ll help you land it.” 

Jack looked at him and ordered, 

“No, no buddy. I can land my own fish. Stay back!”

This intruder was totally entranced and committed to helping him. As Jack finally began to bring the fish in this Good Samaritan stammered, 

Oh, mister. That’s a huge fish. It’s over twenty pounds and I don’t want you to lose it!" 
Get back, get back” Jack yelled. “I don’t need any help! Get back!”

Then, when Jack started to bring the fish toward the bank, this guy suddenly makes a mad stab with the net in an effort to land it. Suddenly, disaster happened! As he began to lift the fish up, it made a desperate leap, broke the line and landed back into the water. Jack watched as it slowly swam away. Jack was completely stunned when the guy turned and casually said, 

“Well, he’s gone!” 

As the guy started to leave, Jack countered this mindless statement by saying, 

“Buddy, with a friend like you, who needs an enemy!” 

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Ten Second Steelhead

Rob with a Trask River Steelhead
At one time, the North Fork of the Trask River was one of the most productive streams in Oregon for large steelhead. When the river was in good shape--low and clear--it was not uncommon to hook and land a dozen or more steelhead up to 16 pounds. However, if it was high and off color, you might hook the same number of fish but lose every one of them because in high water the river banks were covered with thick brush, vine maple and evergreen trees. Then, when a fish got into your backing you had to hold it, lose it or go after it. The latter choice was not a safe option.   

When you hooked a steelhead, its wild instincts kicked into high gear and it would often jump five to eight times as it streaked up, down and across the river, struggling for its freedom. On one particular trip I remember that three of us had hooked close to twenty fish and landed only two. We enjoyed the river’s challenges for many years, but unfortunately, logging finally took its toll on the fishery and the native runs eventually disappeared.

On one trip an unprecedented event occurred as I followed my dad and my fishing buddy Rob along a brushy path. We had just finished fishing a hole without any luck, and as we walked along the bank close to the water, I paused to undo a snarl in my line. To uncoil it, I smartly flipped it five feet out into the water. Suddenly, a 5 pounder grabbed the yarn fly, jumped twice and amazingly landed at my feet. I held the fish up and gave an exuberant shout. When they turned around I laughed and said, Look you guys, that only took ten seconds. Maybe you should.…” Without hesitation they started casting again with urgency.  


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Marmot Special: A Winter Attractor Fly

The Marmot Special
I developed the Marmot Special for winter steelhead on the Sandy River. It is basically an attractor fly tied to suggest a salmon egg with some of the skein connected to it. It is especially effective when the water is slightly off color. Glo Bugs and other egg patterns are also effective in this water type.  

Glo Bugs
I like to use the High Sticking method primarily to fish riffles and pocket water. A strike indicator is needed to track the fly’s path and determine the subtle takes when dead drifting the fly. Also, split shot is used to keep the fly close to the bottom. To begin, hold your arm vertically at a 65 ̊ or 70 ̊ angle and cast up or across stream. Then, as the line moves down, make quick wrist snap mends upstream to maintain a natural drift. Downstream mends can effect a longer drift.

Strikes are often quick and aggressive so your must be ready to react with a quick response to set the hook. Also, subtle takes are sometimes unnoticed so be ready to set the hook at the slightest movement of the rod tip, the line or the indicator. Again, the old saying of “When in doubt, set the hook,” comes into play. 

Hook:  36890 sizes 8-4
Thread:  3/0 black monocord
Tail:  Mixed white and purple hackle fibers
Body:  Flat, medium silver Mylar tinsel
Thorax:  Red hot chenille
Hackle:  Purple and white tied wet

Strike Indicators

Monday, December 16, 2013

Patterns for High Lake Success

Carey Special
The Carey Special is a Canadian pattern which was originally tied to suggest emerging dragon flies in the lakes of British Columbia. However, it has since become an all-around lake pattern for Rainbows, Cutthroat, Brook trout and even some warm-water fish. The Carey Special is tied with two materials: peacock herl for the body and pheasant rump for the tail and wing. 

Spark's Carey
The Spark's Carey is a variation of the Carey Special that I developed for Brook trout at Spark’s Lake in Eastern Oregon, but it has been proven to be effective in many different water types.

Spark’s Lake is actually comprised of two gin-clear lava formed lakes connected by a channel which meanders its way to the upper lake. It is a fly fishing only lake that harbors both Brook trout and Cutthroat trout. Both species are attracted to flies that exhibit natural materials with a flash of color. Trolling a fly in this lake in not profitable since the fish mainly feed in rocky areas and reed beds. They also occasionally cruise in the channel. The larger fish were caught in the upper lake by walking on the lava and casting the Spark’s Carey around the submerged rocks. It’s most easily accessible by boat.

Spark's Carey materials:
Hook: 3906B sizes 14-8
Thread: 3/0 black monocord
Tail: Pheasant tail fibers
Body: Hot red or green wool
Wing: Pheasant tail fibers 
Throat: Dark-brown partridge neck feathers

Friday, December 13, 2013

Making Wings for Flies

Cut wings, as they are sometimes called, are manually or mechanically cut and shaped from different materials to imitate the wings of insects. They can be selected from the flank feathers of waterfowl and other types of birds or from synthetic products. They can also be shaped by hand with scissors, fingernail clippers or other sharp instruments. Another option is a mechanical wing cutter, but it is cumbersome to use and the resulting shapes can be inconsistent. A good example of this is the Herter's model which consists of a removable plate with teeth that could separate a feather into wing sections. The pinched sections had to be cemented before they were used, but even so, they were not perfectly shaped.

Wing burners and wing cutters are manufactured in various shapes and hook sizes. They can be used to shape wings for a variety of insects including nymphs, caddis, midges, hoppers, spent wings and adult stoneflies. They have the capability to burn or cut wings from feathers, latex, fabrics and other materials. These tools are very effective, but many tiers feel that they have better results using their hands. 

Four methods are pictured below. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Fish are Smarter than We Think!

Doug releasing a Salmon River Steelhead
An age old question regarding the behavior of sea run salmon and steelhead is why they so readily take artificial flies and lures on their return to their natal streams to spawn every one to four years, even though they do not actively feed during this time.

Anadromous fish that are born in the stream or hatchery constantly forage for food before they go to the ocean. When they return, somewhere in their pea-sized brain, they instinctively react to something that represents their original food sources. This often triggers their feeding impulses. Another reason may be that they foraged in the ocean for several years and upon their return still retain their feeding impulses. Salmon in particular will take bright fly patterns that are tied to represent salmon eggs, shrimp and a variety of other forms of sea life.  

To bring these facts to life, I can recall an experience that I had with a client that wanted to learn how to fly fish. I found a large pool on the Salmon River located near Mt. Hood that held both native trout, hatchery steelhead and wild salmon which had to be released. After giving him some basic casting instructions, I told him to make a few casts to get the feel of the line and the rod’s action. After he had the basic casting techniques down, and with a dry caddis fly tied on the tippet, he made a few errant practice casts and then laid out about 30 feet of line. Suddenly out of nowhere a large salmon took the fly and had my client on. I knew it was a large fish because it hugged the bottom and never jumped. With coaching and a little luck, my client was able to tire and land an eighteen pounder. Undoubtedly, as a juvenile he fed on the river’s caddis flies.  

Anadromous fish have an amazing internal guidance system! Not only can they remember their natal food sources, but they can also navigate hundreds if not thousands of miles to find their precise spawning grounds. Studies indicate that they can locate their natal stream by its distinctive smell, sensing the earth’s magnetic field and by following ocean currents.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tying Norm's Stonefly Nymph

Norm's Stone
There are many different versions of stoneflies and most are effective. Some are tied to look like the real bug while others are tied to suggest the appearance of one. Norm’s Stonefly falls in the middle. It looks close to the natural, but it’s not an exact replica. I prefer this latter style because they are easier to tie and they work just as well if not better than perfect models. It has a soft latex body, a black chenille or wool thorax, a black goose feather for the wing case and goose biots for the split tail. Front goose biots are optional as well as lead wire spiraled around the hook shank to help the fly sink better.

Like most nymphs, it must be cast upstream and dead drifted as it sinks and tumbles close to the bottom. Strike indicators can help detect a strike, but oftentimes a good nymph angler has that innate quality of sensing a subtle take. But, to use an old saying, “When in doubt, set the hook.”

Materials for tying Norm's Stonefly:
Hook: 36890, 9672 sizes 8-4
Thread: 3/0 black
Weight: lead wire (optional)
Split tail: Goose biots
Body: Black latex over black wool
Thorax: Black hackle palmered over black wool
Wing case: Black goose feather section
Antennae: Goose biots (optional)

Instructions for tying Norm’s Stonefly:

Tie in 2 goose biots split apart. Attach black wool and latex. Spiral on lead wire if desired.

Wrap the wool 2/3 inch forward and tie off. Follow with 7-10 wraps of latex and tie off.

Tie in wing case and black wool. Then, wrap the thread forward to 1/8 inch of the eye.

Wrap wool forward to form the thorax and pick it out. Then spiral in 3-4 turns of hackle and bring the wing case over the top. Tie the head off and cement.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Steelhead taking a trout fly?

Norm with his Steelhead.
A number of years ago my friend Norm Anderson and I made a trip in February to a small coastal stream in quest of winter steelhead. He was primarily a trout fisherman and a good one at that. He was also a very creative fly tier and could tie exquisite size 20 dry flies as well as size 6 realistic stoneflies. One of his patterns became a very popular pattern called Norm’s Stone. He was also an unorthodox fly caster because he would cast the fly using a lot of wrist action, but he caught fish. However, since he had never caught a steelhead, I wondered about his chances for success. 

As we rigged up our outfits, I suggested that he use a sink-tip line and a typical winter steelhead fly, but he flatly said that he’d rather use his dry line and one of his own patterns. I tried to offer him a pattern that I had caught fish with, but he politely thanked me and headed downriver.

I began fishing with a 10-foot sink-tip line with a Polar Shrimp tied to a 6-foot leader. To my chagrin after an hour I had nary a strike. As I began to tie on another fly I heard Norm yell, “Fish on, fish on!” I couldn’t believe his luck. I immediately went down to help him, but by the time I got there he was hoisting up a nice 7 to 8 pounder that he had caught on his Norm’s Stone.

Sometimes, when the water is low and clear, bright patterns can spook fish. But, if you switch to flies that are buggier and represent natural insects, steelhead will often take them instinctively. Caddisflies and Stoneflies are good examples. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Stream Strategies - Pools

This is the last in a four-part series of identifying and fishing water types. 

Look for eddies that contain insects.
Pools are deeper waters located at the edge of the main current. They display a mirror-like surface which allows the fly fisher to spot fish. Light tippets and longer leaders are necessary for success. I normally use smaller flies. My favorite patterns are the Blue-Winged Olive and Griffith Gnat in sizes 16-20, Soft Hackles in sizes 12-14 and searching patterns such as Spiders and Bivisibles from 10-16. 
Keep a low profile when you are trying to spot fish in a clear eddy.
These wily creatures can be very analytical, so stealth, careful presentation, closer imitation and patience are necessary for consistent success. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Stream Strategies - Pocket Water

The following photos are the third in a four-part series of identifying and fishing water types.

A glide flowing into pocket water.  
Pocket water is easy to identify because large boulders and rocks are dispersed throughout two- to four-feet deep water. It’s also a prime lie for fish because they have protection and quick access to food that currents wash into them. Many different types of flies will work in this water type. I’ve had good luck fishing an Elk Hair Caddis, the Adams, the Hare’s Ear and a Prince Nymph. Fly fishers have a clear advantage in this water type because the broken water helps conceal them from the fish.

Pocket water at the edge of rapids.  
Pocket water seldom requires long drifts since casts are usually short, and you can fish numerous pockets without moving. Be prepared to set the hook because the strikes are usually quick. 
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