Sunday, February 27, 2011

Improve Your Indicator

The thingamabobber has become the indicator de rigueur on most trout streams- and for very good reason. It's less wind resistant and floats better than yarn, it's lighter than cork or stryro-foam, it rides high and can suspend some heavy rigs, and it is super sensitive making strike detection easier. The new thingamabobbers come with a handy peg, so you can lock them in place, eliminating the slip when fishing fine nymph leaders with no heavy butt section.

In my mind, it pretty much describes the perfect strike indicator, and has helped to make a lot of anglers become even better nymph fisherman. You can't say that about every angling inovation that comes down the line. But what's going on with your drift under the surface-  from "bobber" down?

Good question. Here is a little trick that can make your bobber even better.

Get some Rio Kahuna strike indicator (basically the coating from a heavy fly line, but it's a little more foamy than actual fly line). Break off a piece about 1" long. Slide it on your leader before you tie on a fly. Set your thingamabobber at the appropriate place on the leader for the water depth that you are fishing. Now, slide the Kahuna indicator up to about 4 to 6 inches below the bobber.

The Kahuna will be pulled under the surface from the weight of your rig. When you cast upstream do your usual mends to control drag, but watch the Kahuna indicator just below the surface. When the Kahuna is straight down, you know when you have achieved a DFD (drag free drift baby!), and you are in the strike zone.

The added bonus is that you will see the Kahuna move before the bobber- SET! So in essence the Kahuna becomes your indicator and the thingamabobber becomes an RSD (that would be a "Rig-Suspension-Device" in fishing nerd speak).

It's almost like cheating.
Drag. Bad.
DFD. Good!
Have fun out there.


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Where the Rubber Meets the River

Let’s face it, at this point, felt wading boot soles might qualify for a listing with the Endangered Species Act. 

New Zealand, Alaska, and Maryland have already said no. Montana, Oregon, New York, Vermont,  and Missouri are all considering bans. Trout Unlimited has taken a "no felt" position. And major manufacturers such as Simms and L.L. Bean have dumped felt from the line up. It seems that the writing is on the wall. 

Sure there are going to be some stubborn holdouts who moan and complain that “nothing beats felt,”- and if you are talking about straight rubber vs. felt, that statement would be accurate. But when you add some steel to the rubber, the differences become pretty slim. 

Up Armored Streamtreads. Star cleats and Hardbites.
There is little doubt that Maine’s coldwater fisheries have had to contend with a lot of insult in recent years. From illegal pike introductions, to bass in the Rapid, a collapsed hatchery strain of brown trout, to seemingly warmer and warmer trout seasons (remember last summer?)- at this point, the last thing that our streams and rivers need is to have “rock snot” (didymo) turn up. 

Last year a nasty rumor went around that rock snot had turned up in the Kennebec River near Solon. I haven’t personally witnessed it, and so far those reports remain unsubstantiated. But it certainly brought the issue home in a big way- no more stoneflies in the Petroglyph riffle in June? No more risers in the glassy tailout of the Hellgrammite pool? Thoughts of a potentially collapsed fishery were a tough pill to swallow, and it certainly brought the issue home in a big way.

I made the switch last season and retired my trusty felts for a pair of rubbers soles. I went with a pair of Simms boots with the Streamtread soles. First impression- there is no doubt that felt works better than naked rubber. Felt is soft and rough, which creates a huge surface area that can form around slimy rocks, gripping from multiple angles and directions. Rubber is harder, and there is probably no practical way to create a durable rubber sole that would be soft enough and rough enough to exactly mimic the grip-ability of felt. That’s where the heavy metal comes in- cleats and studs are the answer to better rubber sole performance.

I tested the Simms Streamtreads in 3 basic configurations. Plain-off-the-shelf, carbide star cleats, and finally star cleats with Hardbite studs. I fished them all over, from the Rapid, the East Outlet, the Dead, the middle Kennebec, the Upper Andro, Montana and some smaller streams and rivers in between. I also had a chance to use them on the Salmon River in New York this winter, a rich stream that holds a lot of slime of on the rocks even in January, and will test the limits of any type of wading boot.

Initially I waded with just the Vibram Streamtreads (naked rubber) this spring. This option is really a non-starter for me. While the soles grabbed on some surfaces acceptably well; clean, rough granite; they were miserable on rocks with any amount of slime and surprisingly poor performers on pebble-gravel in faster currents. If you were only going wade very small, clean, cold streams that required a lot of backcountry hiking, this might work for you. But if you plan to fish richer rivers with swift currents, I wouldn't recommend this option.

Next I added some carbide-star cleats, that are designed to integrate into the Streamtread’s tread design. The star cleats consist of chunks of carbide that are clumped together to form very rough, and grippy surface. Major improvement. I was again able to move around the river with ease in most situations, but to be honest, the sole still left a little bit to be desired. While cat walking on some wet/slimy granite boulders at the waters edge along the Dead River, I took a digger that was pretty scary. It happened fast, I took a step, and almost instantly I was laying in the prone, face down in granite rubble. The only thing that I can surmise is that I stepped on an area of the sole where there was no steel between the earth and my foot, and bang-  down.

The next evolution was the addition of the Hardbite studs. These are basically just carbide, hex-head screws. The Streamtread has “spots” that are designed to receive the Hardbites. I used the Hardbites to fill the gaps between the star cleats. At this point we are talking about some pretty heavy metal, up-armored, wading boots. The results are awesome- these soles grab. I ran around the Salmon River for three days on some of the nastiest, slimiest cobble I have ever seen and not once did I have an issue with slipping. As an added bonus, rubber soles do not pick up snow when you walk, eliminating the need for strap on style Korkers during the winter months.

It is inevitable, rubber soles with a lot of heavy metal are becoming the new normal. Metal studs and cleats are notoriously hard on boats and canoes. For years many drift boat guides has a “No Stud” policy in their boats to save the wear and tear on fiberglass decks. That really isn’t a realistic option anymore. If you fish from a boat or wear your wading boots in a canoe, a good option is the use of vulcanized rubber fatigue mats. Most home improvement stores sell them. The best ones have the holes them which allows water to dry underneath them. They can be cut with a utility knife to custom fit the deck of a boat or canoe. They are super durable, are heavy enough that they won’t blow out when you are trailering 70 miles per hour down the highway, and have the added bonus of keeping your gear out of the water on the deck and help to make your craft that much quieter.
Cover the major contact points, especially the edges.

Tips For "Up-Armoring" your Streamtreads:

  1. The screws on the star cleats have a tendency to loosen after a while. Simms states that the screws thread design keeps the screw from backing out, and I’m sure it works better than a standard screw, but they still are not perfect. Add a gob of Aqua-Seal or Shoe-Goo to the screw before drilling it into the sole. This will act sort of like a “locktite” and keep the screw from loosing over time, eliminating the need to retighten your screws and possibly losing a cleat in the river.
  1. The Hardbite studs come with a hex-head spanner style wrench. Don’t even bother trying to drive the screws by hand. Put a ¼” hex-driver on your trusty old DeWalt and wind the screws to her. Again, a dab of goop can help keep these from working loose.
  1. The pattern that you use doesn’t really seem to matter. Go for an even distribution of the Starcleats along the outside edges of the sole and fill in the gaps with the Hardbites.
For those interested in learning more about becoming a Clean Angler, check out the following link:

Good luck out there, and keep the top of your waders above the waterline.


Friday, February 18, 2011


Weapons of Bass Destruction
Nothing like a couple of warm late winter days to remind you that it will be spring very shortly!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

In a slump?

The other day I was chatting with a buddy that I get to fish with on occasion, and being the middle of winter, the conversation inevitably turned to "whatcha' been tying?" I told him that I was at work on refilling streamer boxes- specifically the "meat box" at the moment, which consists of a lot of bunny fur, marabou, and rams wool.

Chris has shared with me some of his hot flies, and I've reciprocated the favor by sharing a few of my own favorites. A few years ago I introduced him to the Slumpbuster, which like many of John Barr's patterns has become very popular due to its effectiveness.  Chris mentioned that he had been attempting to spin some up, but the results hadn't been quite up to snuff and suggested that I post up a video of one being tied.

This one is for you Chris!

Here's what you are going to need:

Hook: TMC 5263 #6 & #8 (2x heavy/3xl nymph/streamer hook)
Bead: Med. Cone
Weight: .025
Thread: 70 Denier or 6/0
Body: Sparkle Braid
Rib: Brassie Uni-Wire to match the braid
Wing & Collar: Pine Squirrel Strips
Cement: Zap-Gel

Use pine squirrel rather than rabbit zonkers because the guard hairs are shorter which allows you to tie smaller sizes. You will want to tie the collar with the same piece of squirrel that you use to make the wing, without cutting it off and retying it in. Leave a small gap behind the cone and apply a couple of dabs of Zap-Gel before wrapping the collar, this will keep the collar in place after the rabbit skin starts to stretch and loosen after being exposed to water. I tie 10 wraps of wire to help keep the cone in place and to build a tapered underbody with thread.

I like black for low-light/dirty water, rust/copper which fishes well on the dead drift (kinda' crayfishy), natural gray/tan to imitate a range of minnows, and olive to imitate sculpins and juvenile bass.

It meets my three criteria of a good fly: easy to tie, durable, catches fish.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Frozen Chosen

There is really only one way to shake a winter fishing jones. Distractions like sliding down the side of a mountain, reading fishing rags, heading to sportsman shows, and drinking can only go so far to cure the winter blues. The only real tonic is to step into the river. 
Fat Nancy's- If they don't have your bead, you don't need it.
For the Northesterner, the Great Lakes provide a good outlet for cabin fever-crazed anglers during the dark months. Winter steelheading on a Great Lakes trib is not a fairweather sport. But if you hit it right, and catch a break in between the lake-effect snows and sub-zero cold fronts spilling down from the Canadian arctic, it's unlikely that you will be disappointed with the fishing.

If you head to Pulaski, NY consider a stay at Whitaker's. Rooms sleep three, and go for around $75 per night. They rent Korkers, which you are going to want unless you have a pair of rubber soles with some pretty aggressive traction (i.e. cleats & studs).

It beats the Super 8, but doesn't have the waffle iron and fruit loops at the free continental breakfast. It does have a really kick ass fly shop in front of the log cabin "motel" that carries just about anything you forgot to pack, including your NY fishing license (that goes for $15  per day) and a good assortment of flies. For breakfast check out Timbers Diner, just down past the Dunkin' Donuts on Port Street. They serve up some solid breakfast grub (on the greasy side, of course) and the waitresses are more than happy to fill up your travel mug with coffee for the road. 
Whitaker's Sport Shop and Motel
As for the fishing, river access is pretty easy to figure out. Public access areas are well marked with big parking lots and river maps that are readily available at most fly shops (including Whitaker's). Another good fly shop to check out is Melinda's in Altmar. They will give you the low down on the bite, and they are a spey junkies dream come true with a ton of two handed rods, lines, etc... They also carry some pretty cool, hard to find tying materials that you cannot find around here (custom dyed electric blue goose biots anyone?).

Getting Tight.
The Prize.
Fish can be taken on the dead drift or on the swing. Long rods are the weapon of choice. Ten footers and 11 footers will help you roll (or spey) cast heavy rigs and allow you to make big mends for drag control. An 11' 6 wt. switch rod is a good choice and is light enought to protect tippets in the 4 to 6 pound range.

Salmon Rot- Got Flesh Flies?
The Big Bend.
For flies, egg patterns such a glo-bugs and estaz are a solid choice, and pegging beads under indicators make a good rig. Just be aware that you cannot fish the hook below the fly in the lower fly fishing only zone of the Salmon River (located in Altmar), so pegging is not an option there. And don't ignore the bugs. Stoneflies, caddis, as well as general and steelhead style attractor nymphs are all going to produce hookups when presented properly. 
Frozen Fish(erman).
NY Buck. That blew up my reel.
If you are looking for winter solitude, the Salmon River probably isn't going to be your scene. But if you've got the itch to wet a line and feel the tug, it's pretty hard to beat.

Have fun out there.