Thursday, March 26, 2015

How to Unsnag a Snagged Fly

Snagged Up!
Following are some techniques I've used over the years to unsnag a snagged fly. But a note of caution: Don’t take any unnecessary chances when trying to retrieve your favorite pattern. Losing a fly is always better than risking the possibility drowning, breaking a bone or hooking yourself. 


1. First, use 5 or 6 roll casts over the suspected snag area to try and unhook the fly.

2. Put a few feet of slack line out and twitch or jiggle it several times in different directions.

3. If possible, wade as close to the snag as you safely can, point your rod tip slightly under the water and reel the line in until it is taut. Then, slightly tug on the line a few times to try and free it.

4. When all else fails, reel in all of the slack line so that it is taut, point the rod in the direction of the snag and give the line several straight pulls to free it. If it doesn't, break it off and tie on another fly.


1. To begin, locate the snagged area and slightly jiggle the line to see if it will come free.

2. If possible, reel in the line so that the rod tip can reach the fly and jiggle the rod several times to try and free it.

3. If the snag is close enough to reach with a long stick or wading staff, use either one to try and jostle the fly free.

4. Like a snag in the water, reel in all of the slack line to the tip top guide, point the rod and steadily pull it until the line breaks or the fly comes loose.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Fishing Muddy or High, Off Color Water

Doug Stewart fly fishing in off color water.
Fly fishing for steelhead when the water turns brown or when there is a whiteout is not really desirable, but if you want to fish muddy or off color water, here are some possible solutions to help you do that. 

First, if the river is rising, fish will move away from  the heavier current and move to the edge of the bank. They will also move away from heavy debris and into less turbulent water. Fishing close to the bank of the river can often be very productive. 

A 10-foot, sink-tip line with a short 6-foot leader can work well if you swing the fly down and across the current; however, if you’re limited to just fishing near the bank, high sticking using the dead drifting method can work effectively as well. See my December 18, 2013, post, The Marmot Special: A Winter Attractor Fly, for more information on this method. 

Next, dead drift patterns that have black, red or orange in their composition because in muddy water these colors show up better than others. Patterns that have a black and orange combination--like the Egg Sucking Leech, The Boss and a Dark Max Canyon--are good choices. Hook sizes for these and the following patterns should be on a larger hook, say a No. 2 to 1/0. 

Melting snow flushes glacial silt into rivers and clouds them with a white or light brown tint. Fish can see much better in these conditions, unlike muddy water. And because there isn’t usually a great increase in the water level, fish will usually hold in their normal drifts. However, you must still be very thorough and cover nearly every inch of water because their sight range is much shorter. Good patterns to try in these conditions are The Black Leech, The Stewart and the Red Butt Skunk.

I remember a trip on the Deschutes River when the water turned white due to glacial silt. As I floated downriver, I noticed that a boat was anchored where I wanted to fish and three fly anglers were sitting under an Alder tree. I docked my boat, walked up to them and asked if I could fish one of my favorite runs below them. They quickly advised me that they had covered the water without any luck and suggested that I would be wasting my time. Nonetheless, I stepped into the water and began working a Dark Max down through the run. On the fourth cast my line stopped and I hooked a chromer that put on an acrobatic show of multiple jumps. After I landed it, I thanked them for letting me fish their water and left them with a few Dark Max flies. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Strange But True Fly Fishing Story.

Doug on the Crooked River with some nice trout.
Fly fishing stories that are uniquely similar are interesting, but when the same circumstances occur over 50 years apart, it’s a very rare occurrence. An incident like this surfaced during the 2015 Albany Fly Fishing Federation show when Gary Vox, a friend of mine, sat down at our booth, the Practical Fly Fisher.

As we were discussing our experiences and fishing successes on Eastern Oregon’s Crooked River, the subject of big fish entered into the conversation. In the early 60’s and 70’s, 4- to 6-pound trout were common with many going larger. The biggest I ever caught was 5 pounds, but I had lost several that were 8 to 10 pounds. A few of Gary's photos showed some fish in the twenty-inch range. Larger fish are not that common anymore

As we continued to trade stories, the subject of large fish dominated the conversation, and Gary led off with a whopper. He said that he had hooked a very large fish in what we used to call the Chukar Hole and had to go downstream to land it. It was difficult to control because it was entangled in weeds. Fortunately, there was a large pool where he was able to land it. To his dismay it turned out to be a large muskrat that was covered in weeds. 

I was stunned because in the early 60's, I hooked what I thought was a huge fish on the same stretch of water. It was also entangled with weeds, and as I followed it down to the pool below, I hoped it would be a trophy trout. Amazingly, as I unraveled the weeds my expected trophy fish turned out to be a large muskrat. 

The history of fishing sometimes has a habit of repeating itself, but usually not to perfection.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Huff Lake, BC - Days Gone By

Kamloops Trout
One of the best bodies of water that I ever fished in British Columbia, B.C. was called Huff Lake. By normal standards it was a relatively small, narrow lake that had a large population of Kamloops trout. It was chuck full of freshwater shrimp, caddisflies and a variety of other insects. It was not uncommon to hook 10-15 fish a day that averaged 4-6 pounds. Some were much larger, with a record fish weighing close to 14 pounds.

Their length belied their size as a 20 incher could weigh 5 pounds or more. Their small heads and thick bodies were the size of a football. I believe that this probably occurred because, after the ice melted in June, they became voracious feeders and devoured everything that was edible. The largest fish that I caught was 24 inches and weighed almost 10 pounds. My friend Rob played one that towed him around the lake until it broke him off.

At times during harsh winters, the lake would freeze over and have high incidents of winter kills. The problem was resolved when the Wilson family installed a windmill to aerate the lake. This greatly reduced the damage to fish. Sadly though, this great fishery fell on hard times when anglers began to keep fish instead of releasing them. It's doubtful today that Huff Lake holds any of the trophy fish of the past.

Tying the Purple Peril Fly

Purple Peril Fly
The Purple Peril was developed in the early 40’s by George McLeod, a prominent fly tier and fly fisher from the state of Washington. His father Ken fished the Stillaguamish River for summer steelhead. Admittedly, he was not a fly tier, so he asked his son to order dyed claret hackle from M. Schwartz and Sons in New York. However, a shipping error occurred. Instead of receiving the claret hackle that Ken wanted, the company sent him purple hackle. Rather than returning the material, George went ahead and tied a bucktail fly that was predominately purple. It was dubbed the Purple Peril. It is a dark steelhead pattern that It is effective in many different water types especially off-color water.  

His father also requested that he tie him a bright fly that looked like the color of the sunrise. The result was the famous Skykomish Sunrise. He also tied a contrasting black pattern called McLeod’s Ugly. 

Hook:  Mustad 36890, sizes 2-6
Thread:  Black 3/0
Tail:  Purple Hackle
Body:  Purple chenille
Rib:  Flat silver tinsel
Hackle:  Dark purple saddle
Wing:  Dark brown bucktail or squirrel tail
Optional:  Add a silver tag and/or jungle cock eyes 

 Step 1.Tie in the tail, chenille and tinsel.

 Step 2. Wrap the chenille forward to 1/16 inch of the eye. 
Follow with 5-6 turns of tinsel and tie off. Tie the hackle in.

 Step 3. Spin the hackle three to four times to 1/8 inch of the eye. 
The hackles should be tied back at a 45 degree angle.

Step 4. Tie in the wing and cement the head.  

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Cutting and Tying Bead Chain Eyes

Bead chain eyes are primarily used to simulate the eyes of certain patterns. You can purchase them at fly shops and hardware stores in lengths of 18 to 24 inches. Hardware stores are the least expensive of the two. Besides silver and gold they come in a variety of other colors such as copper, red, black and yellow. 

My earlier blog post, "Tying Dumbbell Eyes,"  showed the method of cutting the eyes inside of large zip-lock bag to prevent them from becoming flying missiles, but there is a better way. This blog will show you another method that does not require a container and the eyes will not be misguided. 

Step 1 - Tying in Bead Chain Eyes
Step 1. Hold the entire chain in your hand and place the eyes 1/8 inch behind the hook eye. Next, make 6-8 tight figure-eight wraps around the set of eyes. 

Step 2 - Tying in Bead Chain Eyes
Step 2. Tie the thread off and use side cutters to separate the bead chain eyes from the hook. Use the same procedures to tie in the next set of eyes.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fly Fishing for Winter Steelhead

Doug Stewart holding a large winter steelhead while kneeling in shallow water with a fly rod.
Doug Stewart with a Winter Steelhead caught with a fly rod.

Methods for catching winter steelhead on a fly rod.

When I was eleven or twelve years old, my dad taught me how to catch winter steelhead using a drift rod, but it was an arduous endeavor. Getting snagged up and tying new outfits in the rain and sleet was a very cold and frustrating experience, but in time I learned how to catch fish. As I got older, I started to fly fish for winter steelhead, but I was not fully committed. Hence, I would start out by trying to hook one on a fly rod, and if I didn’t I would switch to using my drift rod. Sometimes I would use the drift rod first and then my fly rod.

I eventually knew that if I was going to be successful I had to make a total commitment to fly fishing only. I also realized that the reason I wasn’t having any luck was because my 7 1/2 to 9 foot leader was too long and it was drifting above fish. I had to cut my leader down to 4 to 6 feet, and in many cases used a sinking line, lead core lines or split shot. Finally, in the early 60’s, my frustrations were over as I caught my first winter steelhead on the Sandy River using a sinking shooting-head. The fly was the classic Polar Shrimp.

However, these types of lines and terminal tackle were prone to snagging up, so I began to use the dry line “high stick” method. This allows one to cover waters that have ledges, pocket water and rough troughs without snagging as much. Strike indicators will also allow you to detect both strikes and snags. With your arm vertically extended, this method will help you manipulate the line by using mends, twitches, slack line draws and line lifts to avoid hang-ups. The use of a bobber near the butt extension will help to float the line and detect quick takes.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Tying and Fishing Effective Streamer Flies

Muddler Minnow

Streamer flies represent minnows that can suggest many types of food sources and can be fished in a variety of ways. They can be stripped to imitate an escaping minnow or scurried along the bottom like a sculpin. They can be greased up and fished as a dry fly or stripped across the surface like an escaping grasshopper or beetle. They can also be dead drifted near the bottom to suggest an injured or paralyzed fish.

There are many effective streamers that are productive like the Spruce Fly, Clouser Minnow, Woolly Bugger and Mickey Finn. However, the Muddler Minnow, developed by Don Gapen in 1937, is arguably the best of the lot. It works very well for many different types of fish including trout, steelhead, salmon and a variety of ocean fish.

The design of the Muddler was a key factor in the development of some of the popular variations tied by Dan Baily of Bailey’s Fly Shop. They are the White Marabou Muddler, the Missoulian Spook and the Spuddler. Below are instructions to tie a Muddler Minnow.

Hook:  Mustad 9672 sizes 10-14
Thread:  3/0 black Monocord
Tail:  A small section of mottled turkey
Body:  Flat, gold tinsel
Wing:  Two mottled turkey sections tied in tips down
Collar:  Spun deer hair tied and flared backwards
Head:  Deer hair spun and cut to desired shape-round or tapered

Step 1. Tie in the tail and tinsel. Then wrap the tinsel forward and tie off 1/4 inch from the hook eye.

Step 2. Tie in the collar leaving room for the head of the fly.

Step 3. Spin the head around and forward to 1/8 inch of the eye. Trim it to the desired shape and finish off the head.

Please read our terms of use policy