Thursday, June 23, 2011

Fly Fishing & The Importance of Polarized Sunglasses | Essential Gear | Costa Del Mar

Not all sunglasses are made the same. Don't let the cheap knock offs sway you to purchase their products. You'll get what you pay for.

I have been sensitive to sunlight since I was a little kid. I've always worn sunglasses. My parents have pictures of me reading a book on top of a poolside table at my grandparents house in Florida from around 1981 or so when I was 4. I was wearing sunglasses. I got a pair of Oakley Frogskins that I wore throughout the late 80s and early 90's then graduated to the Ray Ban aviators. I had a camp counselor named Frank. He had metallic insect green looking lenses on tortoise shell frames. They were the coolest shades I had ever seen. His set the mark for what I wanted in sunglasses. I kept offering to buy them off of him. He was kicked out of camp for having relations with some female counselors in our bunk while we were asleep. Thats a story for another time. And I can't believe how skinny I used to be! -->

So I've been wearing shades for a long time and thus wore them while fishing as a kid and eventually fly fishing. It was not until May 5 1999 that I put on my first pair of polarized sunglasses. The day before I swore off spin fishing when I caught my first striped bass on a fly rod. I had to stop at the Fredericksburg Sports Authority for some gear while the slack tide on the Rappahannock moved out. I picked up a cheap pair of plastic shades for $4 at the counter and drove the 3 miles back to the river.

I waded out to my favorite rock and awaited the falling tide. The first thing I noticed was the fish around me. I saw herring, shad, lampreys, eels, and striped bass swimming by in the gin clear water. The herring would hang out just below my shins in the slack water and catch their breath before heading upstream. I could not believe what I had been missing all these years. I continued to catch stripers all week until I graduated from college and moved back home.

Polairzed sunglasses are important for:
  • seeing the fish
  • seeing where to step in the river
  • seeing where my boat trailer parts are when taking my boat out
  • seeing the fly and allowing me to tell when to tell the client to 'set the hook' or 'stick-em'
  • seeing where structure is underwater
  • and a plethora of other things that only one figures out when they put on a pair
  • Allows my clients to see the fish, see their flies get eaten, and allow them to have a better fly fishing experience
The Vietnamese guys on the Potomac last spring kept asking how I was able to pull so many snakeheads out of the water with my landing net. I pointed to my polarized sunglasses and said that I could see them. 

A few months later I got a job at Orvis and started to fish for trout a lot. I picked up some yellow polarized lenses from the store and was blown away by the contrast on cloudy and overcast days. I would fish with Tom that winter before taking a sabbatical to Key Largo. The cold and rainy days as an engineer (my other job) were brighter due to my shades.

I picked up a pair of glass-amber polarized lenses before my trip to the keys. I quickly realized down there that a pair of polarized glasses are more important than the fly you use, the rod you have in your hand, or the lousy boss you have standing on the stern with the push pole. Ralf was a character and that was great, he was lousy at fly fishing and had no business running a fly shop. I blame my drought on landing bones and tarpon on his shenanigans. The guy was a pud. Anyway, those 2 months or so spent down there reinforced the importance of polarized glasses.

I fished for another decade and into a new milennium with those glass shades. The lenses eventually fell out and cracked and I picked up a pair or Orvis aviator style with amber lenses. By far the best lenses I had ever worn. I kept those shades on from winter through spring and into summer. I wore them on my drive to and back from my work in Breckenridge. They served me proudly until the lens fell out last spring and cracked -I think it was the same day my Miata was broken into on the river. It was a tough afternoon.

I spent the summer fishing and guiding with some cheap pair from Walmart. They were sharp looking and did ok but got scratched easily. I was in the market for some really good lenses and after reading by JT a fellow alum from Mary Washington (we were in the same dorm freshman year and hadn't seen each other until an Orvis Days in Clarendon in 2009) that I decided to look into Costa Del Mar sunglasses. JT raved about these sunglasses on his twitter, blog, and facebook page. I decided to get a pair.

I got on the Costa website and ordered a pair of Howler with amber glass. The sunglasses which are made in Florida arrived just a few days later. I put them on and it was a revelation. The clarity of everything was friggin brilliant. It was like opening my eyes to an entirely new world. I was recently at a happy hour with friends and Ray Ray put on my pair and said 'holy shit that is fucking clear'. That is all you need to know.

With those sunglasses I was able to clearly see the water, what was in it, where the fish were, and more than that, I felt that my eyes were protected from flying hooks and split shot. As its super humid down here now the sunglasses tend to fog up. I have an old sunglass shammy from Orvis that I keep in my front shirt pocket when working. I quickly wipe them off and can see again.

I went to do the same yesterday on a local tailwater. I had a client husband and wife out. Their son was at summer camp and they had 2 hours to get out. I went to clean them and the lens popped out and my butter fingers let them go as I tried to catch the lens. The lens hit a rock and shattered. I stood their stunned.

It was like someone had taken away my sixth sense of sight. I dug through my bag and grabbed a pair of sunglasses from another company that are reserved for my clients. It was like looking through glasses schmeared with bacon fat. I was bummed.

I guess you can't describe how good a pair of Costa sunglasses are until  you put them on and experience them for yourself. Then imagine someone taking them away. I spent the next half hour with crappy glasses. I went home and filled out the Costa repair form and sent in my shades. The thought of not having them for the next days, weeks even was very upsetting. Probably the most important tool for me as a fly fishing guide is being able to see. I can't do that with confidence now. THW just does not get how much I rely on my shades.

I had to go to a funeral today and went through my cheap shades drawer. The various gas station shades I wear to parties and DC United games. I pulled out my old stand by black shades with silver lenses. They suck.

I came home from the luncheon today and just ordered another pair of Costas. THW is in the other room with her mom, the baby, and dr jones. I won't post this to twitter because she will know I just dropped some duckets on a new pair of shades. I can't throw this up on the facebook cus she'll see it there too. I'll just have to wait for her to the the Visa bill. That or the fact that I'll be wearing the green mirror shades when I normally wear amber lenses.

As I wait for those new sunglasses to arrive in the mail I am going to wear the lousy ones that the other company calls high end. Costa Del Mar RIOMAR (Shiny Tortoise, Green Mirror 580 )

If you are wearing some cheap sunglasses or high end ones that don't perform as Costa's do, do yourself a favor and get a pair of them. There is a reason you see so many anglers wearing them, so many swamp people on tv reality shows wearing them, and commercial fisherman on the food cooking channels. They are the best.

JT, thanks for the help. I owe you one!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Remember Kids, De-barb Your Fly Fishing Hooks

Just a simple reminder to smash those barbs. People get hooked mostly when they rotate their wrist or arm and keep either their forward cast from going in the same plane as their back cast or vice-versa. If there is wind and the line changes direction too. If you do get a hook stuck in your skin, be happy that  you smashed the barb beforehadnd.

I felt ok when this one happened. I had spent all day in first aid class. I had smashed the barb of course. However, we had a bleeder on the boat...

I patched it and we kept on fishing.

Friday had another set of non-fish catches. Robert first hooked his dad in the face.

Most smashed barb hooks slide right out from where they come. This one was not budging. I pulled it a bit and then tried the mono method from which I learned when I put a 4x long size 2 streamer hook through my arm in 2009. He wasn't getting queasy so we agreed to just yank it out and sure enough, it popped out.

Today we had a minor hooking. This damsel hook barely penetrated the epidermal (top skin for  you bio nerds like me) layers. It was more of a scare of having a hook just stop in her arm than actually making any damage.

I'm going to throw this one up in the mix, this is Liz from a month or so ago. She put one in her face.

And yes, I always ask if I can get a picture of the impaled fly before I begin to take it out!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fly Profiles | Sucker Spawn + Crystal Meth

Frammus. Say what? Gibberish? Nope, its a name of a fly. A guy named Chad Chorney suggested I bring a pattern by that name with me on my first trip to the Salmon River in New York. I had no idea what he was talking about. He said it was a fly to mimic a cluster of eggs. And that it was his go to fly, possibly the first pattern he use to catch his first steelhead. This was back in the year 2000 so I don't really remember.

I tied the pattern from his instructions and it was ghastly. Big orange puffs on a hook that was way to big. It never worked. I didn't blame Chad, I blamed myself.

Fast forward several years later to 2004. Tom and I were fishing with Joe on the Salmon River in New York. Our go to flies at that time were the flashback pheasant tail and the estaz fly. Joe told us to keep up with the estaz pattern a it was bright and looked different than other flies being used and the steelheads would probably go for them. Tom was hooking up left and right.

The pattern finally stopped working. Joe took out a tiny puff of yarn on a hook and called it a sucker spawn. He said we should try that. It was a cream colored fly with red thread. Sure enough the steelhead were hammering that pattern in the Lower Fly Stretch. We lost all of the flies and used strands of my Barbour sweater to tie some up on the stream (Tom and I always take a vise with us ).

We were exhausted by 3pm or so (we had been up since before sunrise) and headed back to Joe's camp to have some beer and cigars. Joe and I drove together and stopped at this random store next to I81. The store had a bit of everything from food to clothing to crafts.

Joe made a bee line (not b line, its named after the path a honey bee takes when traveling from food source to nest. People would watch the bees leaving their feeding ground and follow them back and make notes of the path they took. The path eventually led them to the hives where there was a cache of honey. The honey was then taken as a food source. The path the bees took from food to hive is known as a bee line. And the bees use polarized light to see) Joe picked out a cream colored yarn and we headed back to his camp. Its a terribly easy pattern to create:
  • Take curved nymph hook. We used Mustad Signature C67s Egg 2x Heavy/ 3X Short. 
  • Tie down 3 strands of crystal flash. 
  • Cut about 6 inches of yarn and separate it into 2 strands. 
  • Tie in one strand above crystal flash, over the point. 
  • Make small loops about 1/4inch and point them back toward the bend, tie down. 
  • Keep this up until  you get just  behind the hook eye and tie off your thread and cut.

I tied up a few dozen of the cream patterns and we drank the night away watching the World Series (Red Socks) and listened to Schmitty tell stories about a guy getting a mouse face tattooed on his thang.We went to bed late and got up early. We packed the cars and headed down to the lower Black Hole in the dark, we had lanterns hanging off our backs and headlamps guiding the way. There are few things more frightening than stepping on an adult king salmon in the shallows in the middle of the night.

We whacked the steelhead and salmon that day on those flies. The yarn when wet had this creamy translucence to it. We swung the flies through the riffles and deep holes. Joe's client from Falls Church VA was hooking up left and right. It was ridiculous. To boot we had the entire stretch to ourselves. I was sold on this pattern.

=Step forward a couple of years and I hear about a hybrid sucker spawn fly called a crystal meth. It is tied using synthetic materials. I started to tie mine using dyed pearl diamond braid by Hareline Dubbin, Inc. I played with the pattern and finally fished it during my two week long trips to the Salmon with Joe in 2007.

My pattern had rainbow crystal flash as the tail, several loops of braid for the body, and the kicker is a couple of puff of stuffing from my dog's toys.

The fly looked great and the wet stuffing made the fly look like it had been fertilized. We caught a bunch of steelhead and salmon in the Black Hole that year. That was the last year the Black Hole was open to the public. Troy and Kiwi Dave both landed some big fish in a downpour.

I tried fishing the pattern out west on the Colorado tailwaters when Tom was fishing eggs. It was March of 2010 and he caught a monster cutthroat and I got nothing. I stopped fishing my Eastern patterns and went back to my Western favorites.

That fall I went up to the Salmon with my friend Chris. I was using the fly I now called the 'sucker meth' as it was a hybrid of the two patterns. Chris insisted on fishing purple buggers. I caught the above stelehead at sunrise on the second to last morning. The next day we fished lower down. I was swinging my fly through a deep hole and the line went tight. I set the hook and my 11' 8wt rod was instantly bent in half. Line was coming off my reel as this fish headed back to Lake Ontario. I put the fighting but into my gut and starting to work the fish.

I thought I was hooked into a king salmon. Chris ran for the net and I swung the exhausted fish to the shore. Upon netting the fish we realized it was a monster brown trout.

Some more pics from that legendary 2004 trip:

Friday, June 10, 2011

Fly Profiles | Damselfly Nymph

This is the first in a series of my favorite patterns to fish with, be it on the end of a client's rod or my own. I'll make a podcast out of it too.

It was back in 1999 when I started working for Orvis. There was a fly we sold called the 'Orvis Living Damsel' and it was a rarely sold pattern. I don't think any of the shop employees had touched one. The dozen or so flies sat there in the bin covered in dust from fall into winter then spring. At some point I picked one up and put it in my fly box where it sat for several another month in the dark.

I shop regular hired me to guide him for shad down in Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River. It was early May of 2000. We wet waded and the shad fishing was off. The water was low and swimming pool clear. I had a V shaped tan on my chest from where my shirt had been open all day-which lasted well into fall. After an hour or so of no shad I changed plans and we started moving up above the fall line to fish the rock drop offs for smallies. I tied on a foam popper and we got into sunfish and small smallmouth bass right away. 

We moved our way up the river and ended up on top of a steep drop off with a 3-4 foot waterfall with a deep and clear plunge pool below. We could see all sorts of fish holding in the water. Shad, bass, sunfish etc. We threw the popper down there with no luck. I don't remember what made me decide to put on the damsel but I clearly remember sitting on a rock on the left edge of the pool, cutting off the popper, and tying on the damsel.

Adam tossed the fly in and the line went tight and the rod bend. He set the hook and pulled out a nice schoolie striper in the 10 inch range. The fly worked, who knew. He tossed it in again and wham, another schoolie. This went on for half an hour or so of constant action on this extremely neglected fly. It was soon lunch time and Adam was hungry and needed a break from catching fish. I still had my Mary Washington College school ID on me. We went up to Papa Johns just off the river and used my ID to get a $5 large pizza. We ate the 'za on the hood of the car and then drove up to the Plank Road section of the river. I climbed up on some rocks above the 'hot tub' (someone took rocks and made a pool against the line of rocks going across the river, when its hot the water in it heats up and people hang out and drink beer). I was sighting the fish from above and he cast the damsel and caught a handful more sunfish and smallies. We went home.

So this fly worked. I was also working at this lousy consulting firm in Reston at the time I worked at Orvis. I had a co-worker from Scotland who wanted to go fishing. He wanted to spin fish. I met him and my roomate Gary in the office parking lot on a Saturday morning in July of 2000 and we headed to Lock 5 on the Potomac. Gary was using a crank bait or beetle spin or something and Andy had an ultralight rod with a damsel nymph and a split shot. I fished the same pattern on my 9'5wt. Andy caught fish left and right. He outfished Gary who was a proud redneck and proud of his heritage fishing skills.

Later that year was the Orvis warehouse sale. Some of the shop employees got to set up this sale and pick out merchandise before the crowds arrived. I loaded up a cardboard box of gear, clothing, shoes, and flies. Back then the guys running the show would sell me a box of flies for $1-$3 no matter what pattern or how many I could stuff into the box. One of the patterns was the damsel nymph. I loaded about 70 of those flies into the box (I still have about 2 dozen hidden away for emergency purposes). I assume since our shop didn't sell any that maybe others didn't and thus they were getting rid of them.

Anyway, since July I had been praising that fly and selling it to anyone who would bite. I used it on Lake Audubon from my float tube and caught sunfish that would pull my boat. I loved to fish it on my 3wt Superfine 'Tiippet' rod. I used it on the Potomac, Shenandoah, and Rappahannock rivers. Small streams and ponds. It was awesome. If I was taking someone fishing I put that fly on as my go-to pattern. The first time I took my wife fishing back in April of 2001 (at my brothers farm pond before a DMB show) she was hooking fish left and right. If she isn't catching fish she won't fish. She stayed with it.

Around 2001 Orvis stopped selling the pattern. It was only available on the UK site. I was starting to get low on my stash. This was the one fly that I would go out of my way to get out of trees and snags. One that I could not afford to loose, it was that good.

One night I asked Tom if he could figure out how to tie the pattern. If we could not get it from the stores anymore we had to make it ourselves. Tom came through and made them up to 4" for bigger fish. His replication was spot on with the braided tail, duck thorax, ribbing, and eyes. That was too much work for me. We had to figure out how to tie this fly out of necessity and we came up with a terrific if not better pattern.

I sat down and started to play around with marabou and dumbell eyes and after a month or so I figured out how to tie the pattern. By the way, I'm not going to tell you ;)

I use one olive marabou plume and a medium sized bead chain for eyes. The fly can be tied relatively quickly and a handfull can be cranked out in an hour. Out of all the patterns that I tie, this is by far, arguably, hands down THE MOST PRODUCTIVE FLY FISHING PATTERN I  HAVE EVER USED!

I'm not sure if all fish caught think it is a damselfly larvae or possibly a tiny baitfish. Heck, stripers don't eat damsels do they? I have even tied the pattern on saltwater hooks and taken fish in Hawaii. Maybe they looked like shrimps? Whatever it looks like to the fish I thank the undulating tail for the action. Fish suck it in or pounce on it. Some of the largest bass taken in the past two years by clients have been on this pattern.

This is a list of the fish species caught on this pattern:
  • largemouth bass
  • smallmouth bass
  • striped bass
  • bluefish
  • american shad
  • gizzazrd shad
  • hickroy shad
  • white perch
  • yellow perch
  • needlefish
  • channel catfish
  • bluegill and other sunfish
  • crappie
  • grass carp
  • brook trout
  • rainbow trout
  • fallfish 
  • lizard fish
  • and more I can't think of
This fly is most productive when fished in a tandem rig. I used a terrestrial all summer with a damsel dropper. In the spring and fall I use a baitfish pattern with a damsel off the bend of the lead fly. This pattern is so effective that I carry a box of just this pattern.

At some point I realized my original pattern was taking too much time to tie. The fact that we lost so many during the shad run made it worse. I started to tie them in a simple pattern (chartreuse on right side) and that has proven just as effective.  The brighter color allows me to see the fly easier in the water off the boat which enables me to shout 'set the hook' when I see the fish inhale the fly.

I carry a case of Orvis fly fishing catalogs in the back of my car to hand out to clients. They often ask me what flies they should purchase and I flip to the page with the damsel (they started carrying it 2 years ago) and circle the pattern with my sharpie. I tell them that is the only patten they need to fish the D.C. metro area.

I hope I have inspired you to go out and get one today. If you want to order one of mine, please specify original (marabou) or simple (another bird). I sell each for $2 compared to Orvis at just under $3.

My site for custom flies is

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Quest for a Snakehead via Orvis News

Quest for a Snakehead

I was featured on the Orvis News Blog today. Thank you Orvis for sharing my story.

Quest for a Snakehead

Posted by: Rob Snowhite
Date: 06/07/11

Comments (7)

Snakehead 1

After a year of trying, guide Rob Snowhite finally landed his snakehead on a fly.

photo Courtesy Rob Snowhite

I have wanted to catch a northern snakehead (Channa argus) since I first heard about their introduction into the Potomac river around 2004. I didn’t give much thought as how to go about catching one on a fly or even think it was possible until I saw a photo of one caught during the 2010 shad run by Trent Jones--who works at Orvis Clarendon and is a fellow member of the Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders, our local Federation of Fly Fishers club. From then on, I was dedicated to catching one of these elusive fish.

Snakeheads like to tease you. They will come up to breathe right under your rod tip, they will surface behind your popping bug and ignore it, and some of them will hang out under your feet during their spring spawn. They show no fear of you.

My goal turned out to be extremely difficult to achieve. Each shad or bass brought in during the spring run was a great fish to land, but not a snakehead. I have fished from shore, from kayaks, and from a drift boat. I even went out with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to electro shock for snakeheads. I asked anglers along the river if they had caught any snakeheads and if so on what. I will admit to having dreamed about them at night.

I spent a year showing Trent’s photo with the fish to everyone who would listen to me talk about how bad I wanted to catch one. I read as much as I could about this fish, and with all of my hard work I knew it was just a matter of time before I eventually caught one. Heck, I’ve seen guys with pitchforks and spears take them out of the river.

I spent the next year fishing the tidal section of the river in hopes of catching a snakehead, throwing every type of fly I had in my bag to no avail.

A couple weeks ago, I had the day off from guiding and was working on the computer at home. Trent and John from Tidal Potomac Fly Rodders posted a fishing report of catching carp on the Tidal Basin in Washington D.C. I read their report, quickly tied up some rubber-legged, beadhead nymphs, and headed out to fish.

Snakehead 2a

The snakehead taped out at 34 inches, and Rob had to wrestle it from the
water after his tippet broke at the end of the fight.

photo by Rob Snowhite

From the bridge over the basin, I saw several snakeheads swimming around. They were along the edges and out in the middle. They surfaced nonchalantly (at their size, they have no natural predator here so they appear fearless) to breathe and then slither back down. I used a foam bug as an indicator and about 5’ of 8lb mono to separate my nymph from the indicator. I landed one channel catfish and foul-hooked a carp in the tail. I moved along the flooded shores, sight-casting to cruising carp and allowing my nymph to drift in the current. Suddenly, my indicator went down and started to move. I set the hook and it was on. A huge swirl and splash and I knew I had something big.

I was using my 906-4 Hydros rod and mid-arbor reel. The fish took off for the deep center of the basin, so I backed up to keep the fish from going over the flooded edge. I called over to a tourist walking by and handed him my camcorder to film the whole thing. After 2 minutes of slashing, short runs, and frothing water I got the fish to the shallows. The fish then took a second run, and my leader wrapped around my rod tip. The tension of the fish broke the line, but I was not going to lose this fish. I proceeded to bear hug the thing while it was in the water and wrestled it to shore.

The tourists were all applauding. I put the fish down on the sidewalk to start my celebration. My hands were shaking with adrenaline. We photographed and measured the fish. It was 34 inches from snout to tail. Of all the flies I had thrown to snakeheads over the past year, I never thought it would be a nymph tied on a size 10 shrimp hook with lots of rubber legs and a dubbed body.

Snakehead 3

The face of an alien invader. By law, all
snakeheads landed must be destroyed.

photo by Rob Snowhite

Unfortunately for the fish, Washington D.C. requires all snakeheads caught in its waters to be terminated. I had made my past two fly fishing New Year's resolutions to get a snakehead on the fly and it finally happened. I’ve been showing the picture of my fish to people and put Trent’s on hold.

Rob Snowhite is a guide and fly-fishing consultant in northern Virginia and Washington, DC. He has offerred to buy lunch for the first client of his who lands a snakehead on a fly.

People That Are Doing It | Fly Fishing - Emily Skinner & Raymond James

More fly fishing on the TV. Just a short clip in this commercial of Emily Skinner. I've gotten you a screen shot so you don't have to sit through the commercial.