If, like me, you have an Instagram feed filled with strangers who share the passion of fly fishing, you’ve no doubt noticed that the big deal right now is streamers. It seems like everyone and their brother is coming up with new ways of slapping a fancy head on a couple of wooly buggers that are joined together by coated wire and plastic beads. But rip’n and swing’n streamers is a ton of fun and for those that TYOF (tie-your-own-flies…it’ll catch on, trust me), putting them together is the ultimate way of flexing your creative muscle and earning sick social media cred.
So, as a budding tier , I thought I’d get in on the game before it’s over and come up with some new patterns myself. The following are some recent creations I’ve conjured up based off of trends I’ve noted on Instagram and Facebook. I’ve shared as much of my recipes as I can….but honestly some of it is just pure unaccountable genius that comes from bourbon and copious amount of snack foods from the health food aisle at Kroger.
First up….I call this the Fire ‘Tot Jr. I derived this pattern from the growing trend of using “masks” for the heads of streamers such as the Fish-Skull brand helmets (which in keeping with the tradition of natural materials for flies, are made from real fish skulls. Gross right?!) For the FT Jr., I’ve made my fish helmet extend a….bit….longer down the body of the streamer. I’ve also taken the little “cone thing” that goes with the Salmon Snake pattern, cut it in half and used it on the front of the mask to help with the dive and wiggle of the fly. The hooks are custom made “triple B10s”…but as a friend-to-the-fish, I’ve bent all the barbs so they won’t get hurt. Rounding it off, we have a dubbed collar and legs up front with (of course) copious amounts of marabou out back. This is a big hit for Michigan Salmon and Steelhead.
My second pattern came from watching Chief Rocka’ have a pre-mid life crisis last year with Muskie streamers. Looking more into these patterns, I’ve decided that there are three things you MUST have. More deer hair than you can possibly imagine, Game Changer levels of articulation and massive proportions. What I’ve done here is taken that to extremes…so much so that I need three vices to make it. For hooks, I’ve selected four that Tiemco list as suitable for Blue Marlin and something called a Giant Trevally (I have no clue what kind of fish that is…I’m afraid of the ocean so I’m not Googling it). I’ve wrapped each hook with a full pack of buck tail and distributed at least three packs of Flashabou throughout the pattern. The fly is garnished with some wing feathers from a red tail hawk to give it extra enticing action when you do the required Figure-8 move! Get meat!
My final pattern is aimed at the more artistic tyers who design patterns that look so lifelike, you’d think it were a real critter! Some of you tiers out there are crazy talented with spinning deer hair, shaping “game changer” materials or crafting resin into super realist streamers and to emulate that style I’ve chosen to create a lifelike baby trout pattern. This streamer was made 100% with a hot glue gun, sharpie markers and googly eyes. I have some improvements to make in my next rendition so it’s OK if you don’t quite see the “fish” shape in the pattern. When it’s wet and moving in the water is when it all comes together.
To wrap this up, my last fly here is not a new pattern but more of an idea for an accessory. It’s a known fact that by adhering large quantities of fly fishing brand or shop logos on your truck windows, laptop, boat or family pet you increase your chance to catch fish by eleventy five percent. So why not put them on our streamers as well? If you can super glue googly eyes to a streamer, you can sure as heck glue a small decal on there as well. By doing this, you not only increase your odds of hooking fish, but you increase the odds of getting high fives from your brahs when you show them your Bugger Box. And if you are a fly shop owner or fly fishing gear manufacture, what better way to advertise than to have your logo hanging from trees and logs along the riverside by means of snagged flies? This is my MBA at work here people….
**Special thanks to all you folks out there that share your fly tying creativity and talents with us hack trying to better flies!
A long time bucket list of mine had been to participate in a fly-in fishing trip to northern Canada, and in the early part of June last year, I was able to finally check it off. If you are unfamiliar with these endeavors, they are all pretty much the same concept. Drive as far north into Canada that roads will take you, hop on a float plane to any of the hundred remote outpost camps on any of the million lakes up there and start fishing. As long as you can keep from being devoured by a bear, trampled by a moose or suffocated by a swarm of ruthless, evil, hate filled bugs…you will no doubt catch more fish than you can possibly imagine. Besides the obvious appeal of fishing for a week straight, the biggest pull for me was how remote these locations are. You’re out on your own, miles and miles from civilization, surviving off only the gear you bring in and the game you catch (sorry…no “keep em’ wet” happening there) all the while taking in nature that hasn’t been completely altered or trodden over by a herd of humans every weekend. It was an awesome experience that I would repeat in a heartbeat with the only negative memory being those damn bugs (pro tip: don’t let them get INSIDE your bug suit…nightmares). But as the resident new guy on this blog, I thought I’d share one of the things I’d do differently if I were to partake in such an adventure again; my approach and plan for catching fish. I’ll break it out for you.
Where we were fishing:
As with the vast majority of water in northern Canada, the two major species we would be pursuing (and living off of) were walleye and pike, of which I have very little experience fishing for. The particular body of water we were on consisted of a decent sized river opening up to a 7 mile by half mile lake with two other rivers that exited on the other side. Our outpost was located at the mouth of the river feeding in, and I was told that we would be spending most of our time around there for walleye and in the river and its tributaries for pike. The walleye were known to hang by structure in water anywhere from 10 to 20ft with pike patrolling the edges and shallow tributaries. We also would be taking a crazy adventurous day trip, 15 miles up river to a set of falls that are known for holding monster brook trout (trout rule, ‘eyes drool!).
How I planned on catching fish:
At the point I was planning for this trip, I had fully converted my fishing techniques to the fly and had all but rid myself of anything relating to gear fishing. I knew pike would be easy. I would treat them like hyper aggressive trout, slap some wire on the end of my leader and throw big, gaudy streamers at them. Walleye were another story. They aren’t known to be a regular target for most fly fisherman and finding large quantities of information on how to go about it was difficult. But the Internet is full of crazy people like myself and I was able to find enough articles to put a plan in place. My idea was this: I’d set up an 8/9wt rig with a long-headed 300gr sink tip line and tie up a bunch of weighted
leech and clouser patterns with colors ranging from black/purple to chartreuse/orange. I figured that if after I cast out as far as I could, I gave the fly ample time to sink before slowly stripping it in, I’d be close enough to the target depth to get in walleye range. Solid plan right? I should note, my father-in-law, who has been on countless number of trips to this lake, and would be with me on this one, thought I was a fool to only bring a fly rod. So much so, that he went out and bought me a spinning gear combo package so that I’d be guilt ridden into bringing gear with me. He wasn’t taking any chances as I’d be part of the equation of whether he ate dinner or not each night. What’s that they say about listening to those that have gone before you in life?
How it turned out:
Yea…not nearly as well as I thought and I was grateful for that spinning gear. The big thing I forgot to factor in was that I’m a novice who, at the time, couldn’t cast to save his life (an accurate metaphor given the circumstances) nor understood the fish or environment I was fishing in. Let’s break this down:
-When you are a very inefficient at casting, a 300gr line with heavy flies is not only a bear to control, but will wear you out lickety split. Add in that I’m a walking stick figure with a career that emphasizes typing speeds over strength, and I was well worn out after a full day behind my rig. This made my accuracy and distance garbage and I spent more time out of the fishy zone than in it.
-I was the only guy using a fly rod. And since piloting an outboard powered boat is near impossible while casting one, that meant the speed and positioning of said boat was almost always in favor of the hardware guys. When trolling, I couldn’t cast fast enough to accurately hit my zones or keep my fly deep enough if we were in walleye territory. When holding still, we were usually out far enough that I had to muster up monster casts to get to where the fish were. Again, my weak casting did not help me here. We had a 5th guy lined up to go with us that is a fantastic fly fisherman which, had he not had to bail at the last second, would have made this a moot point. But if if’s and but’s were candy and nuts, oh what a Christmas it would be. I was going to a camp designed around hardware…not sure what I expected.
-I didn’t tie nearly as flashy patterns as I should have. The water levels were abnormally high and strong winds had the water very cloudy. I obviously could not have predicted this, but you should prepare for everything on a trip like this. The only places I had any success were in the tributaries were the water was clear or low. But the name of the game that week was either motion (more than an articulated streamer can provide) or flash, neither of which my patterns overly excelled at. This was the most obvious the day we spent at the falls. I was the first in the water and on my fourth cast landed a real nice brookie on a white boogieman pattern. At last, I thought, it’s my time to shine! That was the last fish I caught that day. My boogieman was crusty leftovers in the eyes of the trout once they saw the Mepp’s my uncle’s were throwing. And they could cast them farther and faster than I could ever dream of. They put up some impressive numbers of some of the biggest brook trout I’ve seen and left me with my one measly fish and a sore shoulder on the boat ride home.
Did I catch fish on my fly rod? Is the pope catholic? I hooked up with plenty of hammer
handled size pike and even proved my theory correct with a few walleye. But I had to work my butt off to get them while my companions were kicked back slaying them one after another (literally) with spinning gear. And believe me…they let me know it. I eventually gave up and just switched to my spinning rod. I still refused to jig or troll…what a boring and uninvolved means of fishing. But I ended up having a fantastic time ripping stick baits for pike and spoons or spinners for walleyes and ended up with the record for most consecutive fish per cast by going 10 for 10 on pike one night. Quick side note here…the pike in that lake were some of the most aggressive, brutal predators I’ve seen. If it moved, it was food. They would come up and take chunks out of walleye we had on stringers and I swear to you, one even smashed a Rapala that was covered in a foot of weeds. Made for some fun times…but nature, you scary….
What I’d do differently:
Obviously, get better at casting. It’s coming up on a year since that trip and although I’m far from being Paul Maclean, I’ve made big improvements in this category thanks to some relentless backyard practicing and some great guidance from a friend. I also think I’d upgrade my fly rod. Over the summer I switched my Redington Crosswater 6wt over to a Mystic Reaper and it made a world of difference in my casting, especially for large streamers. I think if I did the same for my big streamer rod (combined with even more practice) I’d have a better time at it. But maybe I’m just looking for an excuse to have three Reapers in my collection. Also, I think I’d focus all time with my fly rod on hunting trophy pike and just be happy if a walleye randomly hits my fly. For walleye, I’d upgrade my spinning gear, chuck heavy spinners with ease and be happy doing it. Or pack in some steaks and leave the monotonous task of working a jig to others. Finally, I’d bring along a better assortment of flies. And I’m not talking about anything super fancy here…did you read the part about that pike hitting a grass covered lure? But maybe a little something more to get their attention and mix it up like some floating frog/mouse patterns or a pack of flashabou tied to a hook. That’d get it done.
So at the end of it all, these shortcomings with my fishing strategy by no means took away from an awesome trip. For that matter, it’s made me realize that living in Michigan, I’m limiting myself…just a bit…by swearing off gear fishing for life. The fall salmon run for instance has all be written off for me since I’ve given up the ol’ chuck n’ duck. So I think this September, IF the salmon come back up the river and I have an opportunity to get in there and battle it out, I’ll be throwing plugs and hot n’ tots instead of streamers and eggs. OK no joke…it was really hard to type that. But I’m trying to be open-minded and I promise I won’t be petitioning for this blog to be renamed michiganflyandgear.com. Fly or die people. But, in the meantime, I’m going to go look at pictures of steelhead sized brook trout, Bob Ross level Canadian sunsets and Fireball stealing in-laws to remind me of an incredibly memorable trip…and to keep practicing casting. So hey ya’ hosers, keep some tight lines eh?
Everyone knows that your Internet browsing history can be awfully incriminating if brought to the public eye. However one man feels he was unjustly dragged into a domestic argument with his wife over the contents of his Firefox history and bookmarks folder. The man is a well known fly fisherman in his social group and an avid fly tier. He prides himself with his ability to tie some of the sports most exotic and complex streamer patterns that often have equally exotic and complex names. However it is these suggestive names that have landed him in the hot seat with his wife.
“So, I just HAPPENED to stumble into his browsing history looking to install an extension or whatever and the list of YouTube videos and websites I saw just disgusted me” says his wife. “He claims they are instructional videos for the flies he ties, but I wasn’t born yesterday. He clearly has a porn addiction. I heard about this on Dr. Phil!”
The man claims that it is all a misunderstanding and that he has just been working on developing his skills tying various streamer patterns that are known to be top trout producers. When we inquired about what patterns lead to this dispute, the following list was provided:
Even with links, that list seems sketchy. But a trip to a local fly shop confirms these gaudy globs of feathers and synthetics toting sexy names are in fact real streamers that SUPPOSEDLY catch fish. After our interview, we’ve been unable to contact the man as his wife informs us he is in therapy. Which leads us to the question; are pro-fly tiers just having fun when naming their creations? Or are they a cover for the online pornography industry and creating a new breed of porn addicted sportsmen? We may never know….
The industry segment of the fashion world that serves up design and marketing to long haul truckers is considering a change in focus as a result of apparel trends in the fly fishing community. Industry spokespeople claim that fly fisherman are more and more emulating the traditional “trucker” look with their style. “Trucker” style mesh/foam hats, plaid shirts, puffy vests, comfortable pants and slip on shoes are all common sights at both local fly shops and trucker stops these days. As such, the textile industry is shifting focus to marketing products to the fishing industry.
However, this merger of styles has been causing some confusion in several social circles as the two groups are often mistaking each other for peers. A long haul trucker based out of the Grand Rapids area was recently quoted saying:
“I was at a gas station last week, saw a guy over at the instant latte machine who I assumed was a fellow trucker based on his appearance. Had the mesh back hat, fancy vest for holding sunglasses and road snacks, comfy pants and the all important crocs. But when I asked the fella what kind of rig he was running, he rambled on about a custom scandi butter stick rocking a hella aggressive front taper and mow leaders’. I figured he worked for some European trucking outfit until I saw him walk out and get in an early 2000s Toyota Tacoma with more stickers on it than should be legal. It was at that point I realized he was a into that whippity whip fly fishing and NOT a trucker. So confusing….”
Petitions by truck driver unions for a ban on companies producing fly fishing clothing that mimics their uniforms has thus far been ineffective but they vow to keep on fighting to protect their image. In the meantime, fly fisherpeople continue to take to the rivers looking exactly like truck drivers.
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For our first official Amateur Hour post, I’d like to chat about a topic that I feel often goes overlooked when introducing people to fly fishing: knots. While doing so, I’ll try my best to knot get too tied up with puns and will just attempt to clinch my speaking points. Ha, OK, I’m done.
I feel that when most people take up fly fishing, they assume knots aren’t that big of a deal. After all, they’ve been fishing since their days in Underoos, and already know how to tie a clinch knot. And that may be so. But rigging up a fly rod poses a whole new set of challenges if all you’ve done is tied Trilene to Rapalas and crawler harnesses (not to say hardware guys are incompetent at tying knots…I’m just saying…well….yeah, let’s…let’s just not). You have to deal with tying super thin tippet material to impossibly small eyes on size 100 hooks that always seem to be trying to impale you while you are seating your knots. You also need to know your way around several different types of line-to-line connections that have ominous words in their names like “blood,” “nail,” “perfection” or “albright” (which is Latin for “good luck holding onto all those wraps, loser!”).
Fluorocarbon tippet is also a must now, which means dealing with the line self-destructing every time it turns over on itself. (You do use fluorocarbon tippets, right? I mean, everyone uses fluorocarbon. I heard the DNR is trying to outlaw it because it works so well. I’m pretty sure it was designed by NASA to tether their space ships to space stations). And, in the end, every single one of these knots needs to be as close to perfection as possible when you rely on them to hold as you try to put the brakes on that solid slab of river-current trained muscle making a hard run downstream for the safety of a submerged Forest of Fangorn (NERD!).
So, now that we’ve established how important knots are, let’s talk about how you can step up your knot game.
Use the knot in which you have the most CONFIDENCE, and that you can CONSISTENTLY tie well in ALL conditions and scenarios.
This amazingly wise piece of advice was shared with me by our very own Chief Rocka (and was probably followed by “Please stop messaging me at 3 a.m. with questions about knots.”). Sure, some people with a lot of time on their hands have said the San Diego Jam knot is the strongest terminal knot in the universe, but if you can’t tie it to near perfection after being on the river all day in cold rain with a belly full of Fireball, you won’t be able to use it. A well-tied clinch knot is better than a crappy tied SD Jam Knot every time.
Remember that practice really does make perfect.
Being able to tie a good knot in adverse conditions (be it chasing steelies in the rain or smallies under the influence) is a product of muscle memory. My advice for practicing your knots? Find the following items and put them in a big ziplock bag, tupperware container or elegant, hand-crafted, wooden keepsake box:
- Two, differently sized spools of line. Those old spools of Berkley from your spinning gear days should work. Or, if you are super rich, actual Maxima and a few sizes of tippet.
- Some old flies with the hooks cut off, and maybe a barrel swivel if you run indie rigs.
- A good chunk of old fly line (you know you have to change that out eventually, right?)
- A set of nail clippers. It’s not like you are cutting those Sasquatch toenails, anyway.
Now put that bag/box someplace where you usually have down time, like in front of your Netflix box. When you are sitting there watching The Good Wife and eating cheesy poofs, practice your damn knots. The goal is that by the time you get to Alisha dropping out of the governor’s race due to a scandal, you should be able to tie your preferred knots with ease and confidence. And, when you are on the river tying, try to tie all your knots the exact same way. Hold the fly the same way, twist your wraps the same number of times, say the same prayer each time, etc…muscle memory is a beautiful thing.
I don’t care if you use nature’s universal lubricant (spit), river water, whiskey or the tears of your fishing partner. Just lube up that line like your life depends on it before you seat it down.
How to teach yourself new knots
As with most problems in life, if you Google it, you will find an answer. Here are some great resources for learning how to tie knots online. I didn’t include YouTube in this list, but I also highly recommend searching there if you are struggling to learn from animated pictures. I will try to link all knots I mention in this post to one of these resources but don’t take that as the end all say all for learning it.
Rio has a good library of knot tying videos and in each one show the breaking strength of the knot.
Rio Knot Tying Videos
Also consider finding a printed guide that has your favorite knots in it for keeping in your backpack (or fannypack if that’s how you swing) when on the river. The Little Red Fishing Knot Book seems to be displayed in every single fly shop I’ve ever been to. I have two of them.
The Little Red Fishing Knot Book
Bonus link: The Yellowstone Angler did a very in depth comparison of tippets a few years back and in their lengthy article, had some awesome notes and discussions on various tippet and line-to-line knots I feel are worth the read.
Yellow Stone Anglers Tippet shoot-out
Apparently fluorocarbon is super-big-time invisible under water and less susceptible to abrasions. As such, it’s perfect for tippet material. I’m way too cheap to buy actual tippet material in fluro, but I do cheat and buy Seaguar Invizx on a spool and use that, instead. The size difference in diameter is negligible for how I fish (my opinion, calm down, Internet) and after a few years using it, it does seem to be a ton stronger than mono tippets. However, I freaking hate tying knots with it. I don’t understand how something that is so “abrasion resistant” can be so abrasive to itself. I would literally tie the damn knots under water and still have them get all mucked-up. Eventually I realized that you just need to be patient, lube er’ up and SLOW DOWN when you are seating it. I still only ever tie standard clinch knots with Fluorocarbon as all other knots have just been disasters for me. I would like to get to where I have confidence with improved clinches, but I’m still working on that. Speak up in the comments if you are a master of the fluoro. Maybe it’s just me.
Finally, a post on knots wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t talk about actual knots. There are a plethora of knots that are useful in the world of fly fishing, and the ones you need to know will vary depending on what line/gear you are using and how you use it. Since I’m far from an expert here, I’m just going to talk about the ones I regularly use and practice. Let’s break this down from reel to fly shall we?
Reel to backing
The Arbor knot is the best bet here. Before I knew this existed, I would just throw a bunch of overhand knots on there and call it a day. My thought was, if the fish I’m fighting has taken me all the way down to the end of my backing, it’s probably a done deal, anyways. But it’s worth using the Arbor knot, as it’s fairly easy and will definitely hold better than your shoelace knot.
Backing to fly line
How-to guides or articles almost always seem to say to use an Albright knot here. Maybe a loop-to-loop, but pulling the whole spool of fly line through the backing loop doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve always used the Albright. It’s really a simple knot, with the hardest part being the management of the nine wraps it calls for from laying overtop each other while you stack them up. Otherwise the best tip I have for you (again…credit to Chief here) is to close the gap between the backing wraps and loop in the fly line before you tighten it down by pulling on the standing end of the fly line VERY SLOWLY. Just leave enough of the loop showing so that when you tighten it down it doesn’t disappear into the wraps of backing.
Fly line to leader
Again, this will vary greatly depending on what fly line you are using and what you are using it for. I see a lot of recommendations for the Nail Knot (with a straw) for this connection, as “apparently” it’s strong and transfers energy really well. I hate this knot, though. First off, you have to have a nail, paper clip or magic tool to tie it (apparently there is a version where you don’t, but I still stand my ground) and even then it’s a pain to get it right, as wrangling the wraps after you remove said nail is nightmare material. Even if it’s tied correctly, the whole principle of how this knot works is crazy to me. You are basically relying on the leader to squeeze down on the fly line hard enough to not slip off under a load. For me, it’s always going to be a loop-to-loop knot. All but one of my fly lines have pre-made welded loops, and once you understand the trick to tying them, perfection loops are a snap. Chuck n’ duckers should be using the blood knot here, but we’ll discuss that in the next section, as the shooting line used in that application is more akin to a heavy leader material than floaty fly line.
Leader to tippet or custom leaders
The blood knot (and if you are insane, the improved blood knot) is widely known and regarded as the strongest line-to-line knot for this scenario. You also need four hands to tie it correctly. Seriously, if you look at this knot online or in a knot book, it will show you need to pull on two tag ends and two standing lines at the same time in opposite directions.. At the very least, you need three hands since the two tag ends are pulled in the same direction. They way I’ve gotten around this is to…..all dentists stop reading for a bit….use my front teeth to hold the two tag ends and my hands to pull the standing lines. Depending on what you have going on in the teeth department and the variances in diameter of the two lines you are joining, this may or may not be a good solution. But I have no idea how to make it work otherwise. I pride myself on tying pretty awesome blood knots, but if I’m having an off day, my back up knot is the Double-Uni knot. It’s essentially just two clinch knots tied onto each of the lines that then smash against each other when tightened down. I don’t think it’s as strong as a blood knot but it’s just as streamlined, and (I think) much easier to tie. The Double Surgeon’s knot is also a really strong line for this connection, but it is super bulky and doesn’t traverse through eyelets well.
Leader to fly
And now the bread n’ butter knots: terminal connections. Look, there are SO many knots that can work here, so please re-read my first bullet point about using what you can confidently and consistently tie in all scenarios. I’ve been down a handful of roads here, but have come full circle and with the exception of my trout streamers, always tie either a standard clinch or improved clinch knot. These knots will never come out on top in a terminal knot strength contest but come on, it’s literally called the “fisherperson’s knot,” for Pete’s sake. And as I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I bet every single one of you reading this post (all 12 of you) already know how to tie it. For me, I just had to get to the point that I could tie it LIKE A BOSS. I will say that for whatever reason, I still struggle getting the improved version to seat correctly on my heavier leader material. But from a line tensile strength standpoint, my tippets usually break off before that knot comes into play anyway, so I haven’t been super concerned about it. However, I’ve debated going back and mastering the Trilene Knot. I used to tie it a lot for terminating my leader to swivel for indicator rigs, but lost confidence in it. For my big nasty trout streamers, I will often tie a Non-Slip Mono Loop for even more dip-in-the-hips action. It’s a fairly simple knot to tie, but again, takes some dedication to get right every time. For me, the struggle has been getting the loop size to not be ridiculous big. But I’ll get there, as I really like the drunken swagger it gives my streamers.
I’ll end with a quick P.S.A about the line itself. No matter what size or material of line you are using, make sure you are checking it for nicks, frays or extreme kinks frequently throughout your fishing escapades. I know you don’t want to hear this, but if said anomalies are found, you need to change out that section of line as they are DRASTICALLY reducing the tensile strength. Unfortunately I’m speaking from experience here.
Alright! That’s all I have to say about that. I know we aren’t really a heavily comment-orientated blog, but if you are so inclined, I’d love to hear what knots you all run!
Peace out girl scout!