Fly Tying: November, 2018

Fly Tying 101: Beginning Fly Tying—Tools, Tips, and Techniques

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Fly fishing is a great pastime and there are few things in the sport as satisfying as landing a fish on a fly that was created by your own hands. Do you have an interest in fly tying but you don’t know where to start? Do the terms whip finisher, dubbing loop, bobbin, and hair stacker make your head spin because they sound like part of a foreign language? Or have you attended a previous Fly Tying Night and went away discouraged when you came to the quick realization that you were in way over your head?

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It has been almost two years since we have offered a night of fly tying specifically aimed at folks that are really novices, including those that have never tied a single fly. So we will be going back to the basics in November, covering the standard tools and techniques that you will need to get started on a very interesting and rewarding hobby. Everyone should walk away with at least one fly that is ready to be field tested on the water. And who knows, with the holiday season just around the corner, you may end up with some great ideas for this year’s Santa Claus wish list.

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So join us for an evening of beginning level fly tying on Wednesday, November 28th. We’ll be meeting at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn at 6:00 p.m. Bring your own fly tying tools if you have them. If you don’t have any equipment come anyway. Our friends at The Royal Treatment will loan you everything you need. Hope to see you there!

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Fly Tying: October, 2018

The Chum Salmon Slammer

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It has been a club tradition for a number of years to head to the coast for our November Fish-A-Long where we go after Chum Salmon. It is hoped that by our November 10 outing we will have received enough rain (but hopefully not too much!) to draw these fish into our coastal rivers. The Kilchis River is our normal destination, although the Miami River also has a run of chums. If you have some extra time this fall, there are many more opportunities to catch chum salmon in Washington waters. In fact, the WDFW website has a note indicating that Chum salmon are the most abundant wild salmon species in Washington state. Be sure to check out the Washington regulations if you are planning to head up there.

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Chum salmon are sometimes regarded as the “ugly stepsister” of all of the species of Pacific salmon. They can be chrome bright while still in the ocean but soon begin to develop characteristic markings as they prepare to enter freshwater. After entering rivers chums are readily identifiable by their characteristic olive green coloration with purplish vertical striping and blotches along their sides. Chum salmon are sometimes referred to as dog salmon, with research showing two possible origins for that name. One explanation is that name comes from the impressive mouthful of sharp teeth seen in the males as they approach spawning time. A second explanation is that the reference to dog salmon comes from the habit of Native Americans feeding the flesh of the chum salmon to their dogs. Chums are not known for their aerial acrobatics but they fight like bulldogs and are not brought in easily, so don’t go light in selecting your gear.

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Spawning males have impressive teeth!  Carry appropriate pliers!

This month we will be tying up a fly called The Chum Salmon Slammer. Rich Youngers, formerly of the Creekside Angling Fly Shop in Salem, is credited with coming up with the design for this fly. The name of the fly indicates that it was designed specifically for chum salmon but there is no reason to think that it would not be effective for any of the species of Pacific salmon, as well as steelhead. The fly is normally tied in chartreuse. There is an old saying in regard to chum salmon… “it’s no use if it ain’t chartreuse”, regardless of the specific fly pattern. However, many anglers report that if the chums aren’t responding to chartreuse flies it is time to switch to something that is hot pink. So hopefully, we will have both the time and materials to tie up both chartreuse and pink “Slammers”. And if something happens with the weather and it messes with the Kilchis Fish-A-Long, all is not lost, as these flies can also be used as dandy steelhead patterns.

Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, October 24. Even if you are not planning to attend the Kilchis River fish-a-long the Chum Salmon Slammer would be a fly to have in various colors in your steelhead fly box. We’ll see you at 6 pm !

Fly Tying: September, 2018

The October Caddis  (Anderson’s Bird of Prey Pupa)

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After taking a timeout from our monthly fly tying nights it will be great to get back to the vise to work on adding some new creations to our fly boxes. We certainly had more than our share of scorching hot days this summer. As the days get shorter and the sun moves across the sky in arcs that become progressively lower each day, the temperature will be dropping to more comfortable levels for both fish and flyfishers. As the waters cool down the fish will be sensing the change in the seasons, modifying their feeding preferences to match the continually changing insect hatches.

On many of our rivers and streams caddis flies provide an important part of the trout’s diet. The different caddis species tend to become smaller in size as the summer progresses culminating in sizes 16 and 18 on many waters. That is until fall when the October Caddis hatches. There is no mistaking what you are looking at when you see a large bug, almost the size of a golden stone, with a characteristic caddis-type fluttering flight in September and October. It has got to be the October Caddis (also called Fall Caddis or Orange Sedge). In the western United States you can expect to find October Caddis on most freestone rivers and streams and also some tailwater rivers.

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Adult October Caddis

I came across a timely article by Don Roberts in the September/October issue of the Northwest Fly Fishing Magazine. Roberts refers to noted flyfisher and author Gary Lafontaine who was once asked about what insects provide the best opportunity to catch big trout. His response included three bugs: the October Caddis, the Salmon Fly, and the Hexagenia mayfly. And in LaFontaine’s opinion the October Caddis “is the most important of the three — and the contest is not even close.” I’m sure that could be arguable, but it makes you think that the October Caddis should at least be given a close look by flyfishers.

Judging from recent reports it seems that this year’s caddis hatches have seen a pleasant return to decent levels on the Deschutes. One can only hope that will continue into the fall months and the arrival of the October Caddis. Don’t expect a snowstorm type hatch like you sometimes see with their smaller cousins, but what the October Caddis lacks in numbers it makes up for in physical size. Who doesn’t like plopping some really big bugs onto the water after flipping those little #18 caddis that you struggle to see in the last light of the day’s fishing?

Caddis flies undergo a life cycle called a complete metamorphosis of four stages— from egg, to larva, to pupa, and then adult. It is possible to catch trout on October Caddis larva patterns in the months leading up to the hatch of the adults. The larva build cases, usually made of an assortment of pebbles. Beginning in February the larvae will be available to trout until they begin to pupate in mid-August.  One of the more effective October Caddis larva patterns is the Cased Caddis, originated by John Hazel back in 1978.

The larvae can also be found in the water  without their cases, as they frequently emerge to build new cases as they grow.

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October Caddis larva outside its case

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October Caddis larva pattern

 

 

 

 

 

 

After pupating, October caddis usually begin hatching in mid-September, and adult flies will continue to be available to trout through the end of October. A good imitation for the adults is a size 6-8 Stimulator or Sofa Pillow type fly tied with a pale orange or yellow body with brownish wings and hackle.

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A typical adult October Caddis pattern

In order to cover all of your bases a well-equipped flyfisher should have fly patterns to cover the larva, pupa, and adult stages of the insect. But the question becomes to which stage of the life cycle of the October Caddis should you focus your attention. According to author Roberts, the pupa is the stage of the life cycle when the October Caddis is most vulnerable to hungry trout. While fish do take the larva in or out of their stony cases, and random adults are taken as they touch down on the water’s surface, it is the pupa stage that is when the insect is most preferred by fish. It seems to be difficult for trout to pass up what Roberts describes as “a nice squishy parcel of protein”.

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Anderson’s Bird of Prey October Caddis Pupa

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October Caddis pupa natural

 

I can personally attest to his opinion about the importance of the pupa stage of the October Caddis. I recall a fall day on the Deschutes when there were adult October Caddis naturals on the bushes and water in the evening but they, along with my adult imitation, were being ignored by the trout I was targeting. I was puzzled about why fish were passing up such a big meal. I had no success until I tried nymphing with a pupa pattern, and the trout certainly found it to their liking.

A fine pupa imitation of the October Caddis Pupa is Anderson’s Bird of Prey tied in a size 6 or 8. If you are going to fish it alone keep it along the bottom near the bank using your usual nymphing techniques. Another good option to increase your chances of success is to fish the Anderson’s Bird of Prey as a dropper beneath an adult imitation. You can try adding a slight twitch or strip to your presentation to briefly skate the adult and at the same time cause the pupa to rise in the water column. And don’t forget, if you are fishing on the Deschutes this is also the time of year that steelhead, hopefully, will be around. So rig your gear appropriately!

Our next Fly Tying Night will be Wednesday, September 26 at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn. We will be tying up some Anderson’s Bird of Prey flies that should be just in time for the October Caddis hatch. We will be starting at 6 pm sharp. Hope you can join us!

Fly Tying: June, 2018

Silvey’s Caddis Pupa

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It would be a shame if each of us did not make it over to the Deschutes sometime during the trout season. In fact a number of trips would be more to the point. Dave Hughes refers to the Deschutes as his “river of renewal”. I know that, for me, just catching that first glimpse of the river on each and every trip never fails to lift my spirits.

When the salmonflies and golden stones have finished their annual show on the Deschutes it is time for anglers to move on to the insects that fill up the rest of the trout season. Some of the more dependable hatches involve caddis flies, with hatches that can often be very prolific, and at times almost mind-boggling. I recall one evening getting off the river at Beavertail with Gil Henderson after a day of fishing. As we loaded our pontoon boats piggyback style onto the top of his GMC Yukon, it was all we could do to keep from inhaling the swirling snowstorm of caddis flies that surrounded us during an epic hatch.

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Caddis flies undergo a complete metamorphosis which involves the following stages:
egg —–> larva —–> pupa —–> adult

A commonly used larva pattern is the basic Green Rock Worm, which can also be tied in different color variations depending on the caddis species. A reliable go-to dry fly pattern for the adult caddis is Al Troth’s Elk Hair Caddis. But what do you use for the pupa stage, when the insect is transitioning from a stream bottom dweller to the flying adult insect? One pattern that has gathered a lot of fans is Brian Silvey’s Caddis Pupa. I came across a Youtube video of Jason Osborne from Northwest Flyfishing Outfitters where Jason mentioned that if he could only use one fly on the Deschutes it would be Silvey’s Caddis Pupa. Of course we are not just talking about a fly that is only to be used on the Deschutes, as caddis flies are more numerous and widespread than mayflies in western rivers and lakes. In one of his recent newsletters Joel La Follette of The Royal Treatment Fly Shop mentioned Silvey’s Caddis Pupa as one of only a couple of flies that he would not go anywhere without.

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So what is it about Silvey’s Caddis Pupa that makes it so effective? Mark Bachmann of The Flyfishing Shop seems to think it has to do with the body material called “pearl core braid” that Silvey started experimenting with a number of years ago. As the pupa is emerging air bubbles develop between its layers of skin helping the emerging insect rise to the surface. The pearl core braid material used in the abdomen does a very good job of simulating the reflective appearance of the bubbles. And the pearl core braid comes in a range of colors that can be used to imitate a variety of caddis species.

You can fish the Silvey’s Caddis Pupa any number of different ways.  You can nymph it, fish it on the swing, or fish it as a dropper.  Casting it out in the current and then letting it swing and rise back toward shore does a good job of imitating a natural pupa rising to the surface to emerge as an adult. Brian Silvey says his favorite way is to fish it as a dropper under a dry fly.

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Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn for our next Fly Tying Night on Wednesday, June 27th to tie up some Silvey’s Caddis Pupae. As always we will be starting at 6:00 pm. Hope to see you there!

(Note:  We will be taking a couple of months off from fly tying.  This will be our last Fly Tying Night until we start up again in September.)

Fly Tying: May, 2018

Bill Schaadt’s Shad Fly

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Much of the time we focus our attention and energy to those anadromous fish whose numbers are dwindling and the forecast for success seems marginal at best. This year our chances to hook up with an elusive steelhead seems to be no different. Perhaps we should be taking advantage of fishing for shad, an anadromous fish whose numbers each year apparently are in the millions in the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.

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When we say shad we are talking specifically about the American Shad, a species of shad that were originally native to the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Florida. The American Shad are members of the herring family and are mostly plankton feeders, spending three to five years in the ocean before returning to their home rivers to spawn. At this time they usually range in size from 1 to 5 pounds, but will sometimes reach up to 8 pounds in size. After spawning about half of the fish will survive to return to the ocean to repeat the process again. Historically the American Shad was an important food source for the founders of our country and are still regularly consumed on the east coast. In 1871 American Shad were introduced to the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento River systems and they spread from there up and down the Pacific coast. The shad became so successful that the Columbia River system now has the largest shad run in the world, an estimated three to five million fish yearly. Unlike some introduced species, at this time there seems to be no documentation about harmful effects of the shad numbers on other native species of fish. Some depleted populations in eastern rivers have needed to be replenished with eggs from Columbia River shad. While still regularly eaten on the east coast, American Shad are often released by west coast anglers or are retained to be used as bait for crab or sturgeon fishing.

In June Nick Wheeler will be speaking to our club about fly fishing for shad, a species that is generally overlooked by most flyfishers. Nick, working out of The Royal Treatment Fly Shop, has become somewhat of a local guru regarding shad fly fishing. Before moving to Oregon, Nick learned about shad fishing in his native California rivers and later transferred that knowledge to our local waters. He now ties the shad flies used by Water Time Outfitters guide Rob Crandall, who seems to be the only fly fishing guide that is taking advantage of the shad fishery in the nearby Willamette Falls area. Some of our club members have been clients on Rob’s shad adventures and they all seem to come back with stories regarding the epic number of hookups. Following a trip with Rob, club member Linda Becker reported “numerous multiple hookups” and how she eventually “got tired from catching fish”. We should all experience that feeling once in a while! Of course that was fishing from a boat. For June’s Fish-A-Long we will be relying on Paul Brewer and Dave Kilhefner to find us a location where we can reach the shad from the bank.

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At this month’s Fly Tying Night we will be tying up a fly designed for American Shad in preparation for the club’s Fish-A-Long in June. Nick Wheeler shared with me the pattern that has been proven time and again to be the most effective fly for shad in our area. Being the gentleman that he is, Nick is not taking credit for the design but I think it is fair to say that he has taken a pattern that was first introduced by Bill Schaadt in California and tweaked it to make it a real deadly fly for our local waters.

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Curiously enough, Bill’s last name “Schaadt” is pronounced “Shad”. How appropriate is that!? Bill Schaadt (1924-1995) was a larger-than-life figure in the world of fly fishing and could be the topic for an entire article just by himself. In fact he was the focus of a Sports Illustrated article called The World’s Best in 1974 (si.com/vault/1974/12/02/619297/the-worlds-best).  Schaadt is also featured in an acclaimed film called Rivers of a Lost Coast which documents the rise and fall of steelhead fishing on California’s north coast rivers.  The movie is available in the Clackamas County Library system and can also be viewed online through Orvis. In 2014 a book came out called I Know Bill Schaadt. It is a tribute comprising tales from thirty people who knew this unforgettable fly fishing legend.

 

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After much experimentation and testing Nick has found what works best!

 

Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, May 23rd to tie up some Bill Schaadt shad flies. As always we will be starting at 6:00 pm.  The flies are easy to tie and should be suitable for tyers of all levels of experience.  Nick Wheeler will be on hand as the celebrity guest tyer for the evening.

As far as equipment, techniques, and locations we will be looking forward to Nick  sharing all of his knowledge about catching American Shad during his presentation June 19th.

 

Fly Tying: April, 2018

The Balanced Leech

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As many fly fishermen have discovered, it is not so much which fly you choose to use, but the presentation of that fly that determines your success. Last October we featured a weighted jig fly called Dave’s Devil that certainly can be effective. I observed the rising and diving action of that fly to be just the ticket to success for Dave Kilhefner one day at Rocky Ridge Ranch. In researching material for the Dave’s Devil article I came across a lot of information that indicated on some days, in some places, a different presentation may be the key to success.

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And that brings us to this month’s featured fly, The Balanced Leech, a pattern similar to Dave’s Devil in that it is also weighted and tied on a jig hook, but with one innovative difference. Instead of a rising and diving action, the Balanced Leech is designed to sit and move horizontally in the water.

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Extra time on the hands of some fly tyers simply gives them more time to tinker around with new ideas. The Balanced Leech came from the efforts of Jerry McBride of Spokane, Washington about 2005. Jerry was trying to improve his success with his usual stillwater patterns by fishing them under an indicator. After varying degrees of success, it was pointed out to him that most stillwater life forms, with the exceptions of chironomids, sit and move horizontally in the water, not vertically. Jerry used his background as a mechanical engineer to apply the principles of physics to get his patterns to remain horizontal when fished under an indicator. Basically, McBride used an ordinary straight pin to hold a weighted bead slightly out in front of the fly that is tied on a jig hook.

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A Balanced Leech under construction; a straight pin with a tungsten bead for weight,  along with a glass bead             as a spacer.

The result is kind of a teeter-totter effect with the eye of the jig hook being the pivot point and the cantilevered bead out in front balancing the weight of the materials behind the eye. Jig hooks are preferred because the leader is allowed to hang vertically in the water under an indicator, while the fly, tied on with a non-slip loop knot, sits horizontally in the water column. An added bonus of using a jig hook is that the flies will ride with the hook point up, thus reducing the chance of snags.

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The exact positioning of the bead head can be a bit of trial and error experimentation. Too large of a bead, or the bead being positioned too far forward results in the fly sitting with its nose down. Too small of a bead, or the bead being not far enough forward, results in the fly sitting with its tail down. There are a number of other factors that come into play when determining the optimal positioning of the bead, including the length of the hook shank, the size of the bead, the type of bead (tungsten or brass), as well as the type and amount of other fly tying body and tail materials. With a little practice a fly tyer will be able to figure out the proper balance of materials before starting the tying process. While some physics is involved you have to keep in mind this is not rocket science. You can test the balance of a finished fly by hanging it from a loop of leader material. If the finished fly is close to being balanced that is good enough. Any slight tilting up or down will be evened out by the support provided by the water when the fly is being fished.

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Hanging a completed Balanced Leech from mono leader to check its balance

You can fish the Balanced Leech slowly with an intermediate sinking line. But you will get the most out of its design by fishing it with a floating line under a strike indicator. Why fish with a strike indicator, you ask? Well, here are some reasons:
1. You can suspend the fly at any depth that you choose. If you are finding fish consistently at, say a depth of six feet, you can set the depth for your fly at six feet with your strike indicator and keep it there in the zone.
2. You can choose to move the fly slowly or not at all.
3. Slow and short strips of the line will provide motion to the indicator, which will transfer that same degree of motion to the fly, which still remains at the desired depth zone.
4. Wave action can provide some interesting motion through the strike indicator. Some flyfishers report that the balanced leech under a strike indicator has proven to be most effective when wind drifting across a lake in a float tube or pontoon boat. At such times the fish can find the tantalizing random jigging motion created by the wave action to be irresistible.

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So there you have it… another option to add to the arsenal in your quest for those elusive fish. Once you have figured out how to tie a balanced leech you can extend the same principles to other stillwater patterns like damselflies, dragonflies, and minnows, etc. The list goes on. You should continue to use your favorite patterns that you have had success with in the past. Just try tying up a few of those same favorites as balanced patterns. It certainly is worth a try on your next stillwater adventure.

 

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Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn for our next Fly Tying Night on Wednesday, April 25th to tie up some Balanced Leeches. As always we will be starting at 6:00 pm. Hope to see you there.

 

 

 

 

Fly Tying: March, 2018

The Smurf Emerger

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For the past few months we have focused our attention on large streamer or steelhead patterns. Partly because steelhead fishing has been less than stellar, perhaps it is time to begin focusing on trout patterns again. This month we will be looking at a small mayfly that is so widespread we should be able to put it to good use on almost any northwest stream or river.

At our March Fly Tying Night we will be tying up a blue wing olive emerger pattern called The Smurf Emerger. Credit for this creation goes to John Smeraglio of The Deschutes Canyon Fly Shop in Maupin. When John last spoke at our meeting in April of last year he gave us the details of the fly, including the recipe. It has few materials and is an easy pattern to tie, as long as you have good eyesight or have some kind of magnifiers for the smaller sizes. Club member Lane Hoffman has shared with me that it is an easy to tie pattern and is very effective, especially in the smaller sizes.

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Adult Blue Wing Olive

First, a little background about Blue Wing Olives. Mayflies come in a great number of of sizes and colors, with around 2500 species worldwide, and about 700 species in North America alone.They can be divided into four major groups based on the behavior of the nymph stage of each species: the Swimmers, the Crawlers, the Clingers, and the Burrowers. The Blue Wing Olives, or BWO’s as they are known affectionately by flyfishers, fall into the Swimmer category of mayflies. This is important to flyfishers because the nymphs use their tails to help them swim around and that frequently carries them out into moving water where they can be easily taken by trout.

Blue Wing Olive is a common name for a large group of mayflies within the Baetis family, made up of over 150 species. They are present in all kinds of waters and it would be difficult for a flyfisher to collect aquatic life samples by screening any stream or river without collecting some BWO’s. Individuals of all species exhibit similar looks and behavior, with small differences that would be important only to an entomologist (insect geek), but not to the average angler. And the name itself for the BWO group can be confusing at times to the angler because not all mayflies that fall into the blue wing olive category have blue tinted wings or olive colored bodies.

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Blue Wing Olive Nymph

On our western rivers we can find BWO’s hatching strongly from September through April, but extending through the end of spring. Along with midges, the BWO’s are the flies that the trout fishers can rely on during the colder months of the year. If you are seeing mayflies size 16 or smaller chances are they are some variety of blue wing olive. Pheasant tails and hare’s ears are good nymph imitations. Baetis cripples, CDC cripples, and soft hackles, along with the Smurf Emerger are good BWO emerger patterns. The adult BWO is well matched by Sparkle Duns, Comparaduns, and Parachute Baetis patterns.

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Adult Blue Wing Olive Emerging

Fishing Tips:
The emergers can be presented just as you would a dry fly, although the emerger may rest just under the surface film. You can cast upstream and let it dead drift past you and finish the cast by letting it swing across the current. I have had decent success in some waters fishing the emerger as a dropper off a dry fly or even off a nymph. Moderate to slower moving water, including eddies are good places to fish BWO patterns. And don’t forget those foam lines which seem to concentrate the insects, and therefore also concentrate the fish.

Fishing BWO imitations may appeal to many of you because it doesn’t require you to get up early and you don’t have to fish until dark. The peak time for BWO hatches is mid-day through early afternoon. And curiously, the best BWO hatches seem to be on overcast or drizzly days.

Tying Tips:
When trying to match a blue wing olive hatch, the size of the patterns is critical. BWO’s get up to size 16 at the most, and the majority are 18’s and 20’s, with some species being 22’s. The smaller sizes can be challenging but you should have a variety of sizes in your flybox. Whether it is a nymph, emerger or adult, start tying the 16’s and work your way down as you master the process. Finer thread sizes will make the tying of smaller flies less frustrating and you will be happier with your finished product. I have become fond of Veevus 14/0 thread.

 

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Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, March 28 for our next Fly Tying Night. We’ll be meeting at 6:00 pm sharp to tie up some of John Smeraglio’s Smurf Emergers. Hope to see you there!

Fly Tying: February, 2018

The Muddler Minnow

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Back in October the guest speaker at our club’s meeting was Kevin Erickson who gave us a fine presentation that centered on his new book, “Feather Craft: The Amazing Birds and Feathers Used In Classic Salmon Flies”. It was readily apparent to most of us that we have neither the skills nor the patience to produce the quality of flies that Kevin is crafting.  Amazing stuff! (I clearly remember him saying that the completion of a Jock Scott fly required 32 different materials. Whew!) At the conclusion of his talk Kevin graciously offered to come to one of our Fly Tying Nights to lend us a hand in improving our fly tying skills. After explaining to Kevin that our tyers are not quite ready for classic salmon flies, we decided to focus on the Muddler Minnow as a fly that would teach us some new skills that haven’t yet been emphasized in our monthly fly tying sessions.

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Although perhaps not as in favor as it once was, the Muddler Minnow, or Muddler as it is commonly called, is still the“go to” fly of some flyfishers and the Muddler should occupy a spot in your fly box. I have come across a few testimonials to the effectiveness of  the Muddler. At a fly shop I met a gentleman that has had terrific success fishing only Muddlers, in various colors, for steelhead on the Deschutes. And famed flyfisher and author Gary Lafontaine is said to have only fished Muddlers in a variety of forms and sizes for one year and reported that he had landed as many fish as if he had fished his usual array of patterns. And the historical importance of the fly to the tradition of fly fishing in this country was emphasized in 1991 when the US Postal Service included the Muddler Minnow as one of only five flies in its fly fishing stamp series.

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The Muddler Minnow has played an important part in my fly tying history as it was the first fly that I ever watched being tied. My dad, brother Steve, and I were fishing at Diamond Lake when I was probably 10 and my brother was 8 years of age. A hot tip told us that a couple of fly patterns were very productive late in the day. We wandered over to the resort and found an elderly gentleman outside tying flies and selling them as fast as he could tie them.  We were both fascinated watching the man fashion Muddler Minnows and another pattern from miscellaneous materials sitting on his fly tying bench. We purchased a few and had great success fishing the flies on a very slow troll far behind the boat on unweighted monofilament line using spinning rods, with the fishing getting better and better the darker it got late in the evening. (Fishing flies in this manner was a welcome relief after trolling Ford Fender flashers around all day.) I guess there is reason to think that the same success could be had at Diamond and other lakes, using a flyrod and a Muddler Minnow some 60 years later. At least it ought to be worth a try.

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The Muddler Minnow was first tied by Don Gapen of Anoka, Minnesota back in 1937 for use in pursuing brook trout on the Nipigon River in Ontario. Gapen’s family ran a couple of fishing resorts and Don later started the Gapen tackle company that is still a family owned business today. Their online catalog shows that they still carry the Muddler Minnow but they also have some lure offerings with intriguing names such as the Ugly-Bug, the Bait-Walker, and the Walk-N-Lizard. It looks like a lot of their products are aimed at the pike and muskie fishers in their area.

When you look at the original Muddler Minnows you will notice that they are kind of scraggly, almost messy looking, compared to what we commonly see in fly boxes today. The heads of Don Gapen’s Muddlers were largely left untrimmed as is seen in the photos below.

It is interesting to note that the Gapen family today still sells Muddler flies that resemble the original version and have testimonials that state that they fish just fine. One reviewer says, “Just like movies, the original is usually the best. I tie and fish both original and modern muddlers and found the original out performed the modern on many occasions.” A lot of us that tie flies today like them to look nice and neat in our fly boxes. Maybe we are trying to tie for ourselves and not for the fish.

Credit for the appearance of today’s Muddlers generally goes to famed Montana tyer and flyfisher Dan Bailey. The dense and neat heads that he developed back in the 1950’s require a process of spinning and packing the deer hair, followed by a trimming done with scissors or a razor blade. Muddlers today typically employ mottled turkey quill segments for the tail and wings and gold or silver mylar for the body. Often there is an underwing of squirrel hair and a collar of deer hair. The variations and colors of Muddlers today is limited only by the tyer’s imagination, but the one thing that all Muddlers will have in common is a head of spun deer hair. A densely packed head provides plenty of flotation but the flies can be tied weighted or unweighted according to the targeted species and water conditions.

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Some Variations of Muddler Minnows

From its name the Muddler Minnow will mimic a variety of small “minnow” fish like shiners, chubs, and dace. Weighted and fished along the bottom the muddler is a great sculpin or tadpole imitation. But the Muddler is a versatile fly that is said to mimic a variety of other life forms like grasshopper and crickets. Tied in a variety of sizes, Dan Bailey often used the Muddler as a late summer grasshopper imitation on his favorite Montana rivers.

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A Muddler Minnow Variation Called A “Spuddler”

Nothing can be ruled out when deciding what is the proper way to fish a Muddler. Quick and irregular strips may be effective at times, but on some days and for some fish a simple down and across swing may be just the ticket. Gary Lafontaine reported that while a retrieve using rapid wild strips was effective for bass, a smooth strip with less action was much more effective for trout. Unweighted Muddlers can be very effective as a waking fly for steelhead while a weighted pattern fished at or near the bottom using rests between short strips can be a fine sculpin imitation. So it sounds like anything goes when fishing a Muddler. Good advice is probably “If what you are doing is not working, try something different.”

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Take advantage of having Kevin Erickson on hand for our next Fly Tying Night. Join us at the Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, Feb. 28th for an evening of hair spinning, packing and trimming. As always we will be getting started at 6:00 pm sharp.
Hope to see you there!

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Fly Tying: January, 2018

Winter Steelhead Tube Fly

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If the turnout at last month’s fly tying night is any indication, there seems to be a good amount of interest in winter steelhead fishing. As we move into the season it makes sense to continue our focus on winter steelhead patterns. But this month we will vary it up a bit by tying a tube fly.

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Famed steelheader Lani Waller has become a a big promoter of fishing with tube flies. Waller was not the originator of using tube flies for steelhead and he freely admits that the system he uses is a result of experimentation and refinement by himself and others over a number of years. Waller has been fly fishing for over fifty years and his name became synonymous with fly fishing for steelhead when he came out with a set of three videos on the topic for Scientific Anglers 3M back in 1984. His evolution in steelhead angling made a quantum leap in 1997 when he was fishing with guide Bob Clay on the Kispiox River, a tributary of the famous Skeena River in British Columbia. Waller was reluctant to try the tube flies that Clay offered for fear that the small hooks on the tube flies would not hold up to the strong 20 plus pound Skeena system steelhead. But during a week of fishing Clay landed one hundred percent of the fish he hooked while Lani landed sixty percent of his hooked fish. That certainly turned Waller into a believer. When I first read that story I figured that if tube flies got Lani Waller’s attention they were definitely worth looking into.

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So what is a tube fly, anyway? Well, tube flies differ from traditional flies in that they are tied on some kind of tube material instead of being tied on the shank of a metal hook. Tubes today are often made of different kinds of plastic or metal onto which are fastened the usual array of thread, feathers, hair and flash materials that normally go into the tying of a fly. The angler then ties a short shank hook onto the tippet material which has been threaded through the tube. The hook can then be pulled into a soft plastic junction tube that has been attached onto the back of the tube fly.

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And who came up with this revolutionary idea? Well, that depends on who you talk to or where you look. The vast majority of sources that I came across give credit for the first tube flies to Minnie Morawski, a fly dresser who tied flies for the Charles Playfair Company in Aberdeen, Scotland back in 1945. Minnie was apparently using the hollow quills of bird feathers for her tubes. But then I found references to a British angler named Alexander Wanless who actually published a book with colored drawings of some tube flies in 1932. It is possible that Wanless is less often credited for the earliest tube flies because he was mostly a spin fisherman and the idea caught on later with the fishermen that really embraced the tube fly…the fly anglers. In the USA, tube flies were first used in patterns that were trolled behind boats. Although it undoubtedly happened earlier, the first documented use of tube flies in this country for casting for salmon or steelhead was in the Puget Sound area in 1985 (Fly Fishing for Pacific Salmon by Ferguson, Johnson, and Trotter). Traditional flies tied on hooks surely remain the most common type of artificial fly, but tube flies are now used worldwide for nearly all species of fish that are sought by fly anglers.

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Tube Flies (the two flies on the left) from the 1932 book by Alexander Wanless

You may wonder why would anyone bother with tube flies in the first place. Well, there is a definite upside to tube flies due to a number of advantages that are often quoted in a variety of resources:
1.  More fish landed— The short shank hook results in less leverage for a fish to throw a hook (see the example above of Lani Waller on the Kispiox)
2.  More hook-ups— The positioning of the hook in the junction tube toward the rear of the fly can help eliminate short strikes by fish nipping the tail of the fly
3.  Longer fly life— A strike by a fish will often cause the hook to be pulled free of the tube, causing the fly to slide up the leader away from the jaws of the fish
4.  Easy to change out hooks— If a hook becomes dull or damaged it is easy to swap it out for a brand new laser sharp hook right out of the package
5.  Easy storage of flies— Without the hooks on, it is easy to store a bundle of tube flies together without them getting all tangled up

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Don’t be intimidated about tying tube flies. If you have tied a traditional fly before, you can tie a tube fly. The same basic skills are used to tie materials onto a plastic tube instead of tying onto the shank of a metal hook. Join us for our next Fly Tying Night and give tube flies a try. We will be meeting at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, Jan. 24 at 6 pm. Hope to see you there!

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Fly Tying: November, 2017

The Metal Detector

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For some of us the dropping temperatures and the falling leaves are signals that the annual approach of winter steelhead fishing is just around the corner. Instead of traveling to the Deschutes for our steelhead “fix” we are able to stay closer to home and fish local waters like the Clackamas and Sandy rivers. So now is the time to get ready by checking those fly boxes to make sure you have a full arsenal of winter steelhead patterns.

When asked to give me the name of a likely winter steelhead fly candidate for our November Fly Tying Night, two of my regular sources of information, Josh Linn and Dave Kilhefner, both mentioned the fly with the promising name of “Metal Detector”. When searching for a grab by a steelhead it makes sense that you can hardly go wrong with a fly called the Metal Detector.

Northwest guide Marty Sheppard is credited with coming up with the Metal Detector series of flies. Marty and his wife Mia have been the owners since 2003 of Little Creek Outfitters, a guide service based in Maupin. They specialize in swinging flies with both two handed and single handed rods and regularly guide on the Deschutes, Grande Ronde, John Day, and Sandy rivers.

Marty, along with his friend Josh Linn, experimented with a variety of materials in hopes of coming up with a large profile fly that was also easier to cast than some of the flies on the market at the time. The key turned out to be using materials that don’t soak up a lot of water. This makes the Metal Detector flies lighter and thus easier to cast than many flies. And we all know that heavy flies and sink tips can turn a promising day of fishing into an unpleasant chore. Marty Sheppard’s fly was originally tied with bucktail but now is also tied with finn raccoon. Both materials are buoyant, absorb little water, and don’t clump together when wet. Polar chenille, while also absorbing little water, is included in the body to give a translucent glow from the inside out. The flies are finished off with some flash and a marabou collar which provides added movement in the water. Trailing stinger hooks are used to help ensure the greater chance of a hookup.

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Metal Detectors are usually two toned flies with favorite color combinations being black and blue, and red and orange. Black and blue is especially good on overcast days, dark conditions, or when the water is off color. The red and orange flies are preferred in bright sunlight or when the water is especially clear. It is interesting that all of the Metal Detectors I found in fly shop bins were tied on metal shanks, while Dave Kilhefner says that Marty actually ties his own on tubes.

Join us at The Royal Treatment Fly Shop in West Linn on Wednesday, November 29th to tie up some Metal Detectors for the start of winter steelheading. It would be helpful if you brought your own super glue along with your vise and fly tying tools. As always, we will start at 6:00 pm. Hope to see you there!