Friday, March 28, 2014

I Need Iron Man's Jarvis To Help Design Flies

Last week I was flipping through Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's catalogs while preparing my largemouth bass podcast. I kept staring at the
swimming frogs and pad crashers. I've been trying to come up with frog pattern like those for several years.

I'm going out on a limb with this blog entry so just go with it, let me rant.

 It wasn't until I came across the bare hooks that I started thinking about creating a frog fly on this hook. After a long day of thinking I went to bed after splitting a bottle of wine with the wife. The mind started to wander.

I started to think about how I could use foam on the double hook, make it weedless, float with the hook up, and have kicking legs.

I jumped out of bed and took one of the pixie's markers and the summer condo pool schedule (the only paper around) and started to outline a fly design. I wanted to take out the vise and start tying but it was in the pixie's room and I didn't want to disturb her.

As I'm doing the doodling, going back to bed, jumping up again (I did this about 5-6 times) I was thinking about Iron Man and his Jarvis computer butler guy. How great would it be to have a giant digital image floating in front of you as you design your fly?

The fly was coming together on the blue prints. I had pipe insulation for a body and black pipe cleaners for the legs (very easy to bend to a leg shape with a twisted round foot. I went back to bed and then jumped up and decided that the foam body had to have a notch on the top and bottom for me to tie it to the hook. If I had Jarvis I could be doing all of this in real time and not on paper.

As I went back to bed I jumped up thinking that the pipe cleaners would rust and probably get bent when stripped through and over weeds. What would be a good substitute?

I came up with Rainy's tube foam. If I tied a knot in at the knee I would get a nice articulation and kicking action.

I haven't tied with this material in about a decade. I used it for a cricket pattern when I fished in Colorado (which hopefully will be home soon).

I'm pleased with how the material tied into the pattern. 

I dropped the pixie off at school and drove straight home and went straight to the tying closet. I grabbed a huge 5/0 hook, Rainy's foam, and the pipe insulation. I proceeded to cut the foam to shape and sliding it onto the hook. I made sure the foam was curved up so it would slide across lilly pads. From there I knotted the leg material and tied that in. I noticed the pipe foam scraps and tied those in as feet. The fly is ugly, beyond ugly. There are no clean edges to it. Its still just a prototype. I threw it up in the air several times and each time it landed on the belly of the frog.

Iron Man has it a bit easier, he just moves his hands, adds things, tweaks a bit, drags and drops something into the computer garbage.

In lieu of a Jarvis,  here is my blue print with the prototype. I won't be able to fish this until the boat arrives so stay tuned. I'll pick up some more materials and get working on improving the fly aka 'Snowhite's Frog Prince' (lame?) until the real test, the Potomac Snakehead Tournament.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Three Tenets Of Shad Fly Design

Continuing on my posts of fly fishing for shad I thought I should explain my three tenets of a shad fly. I keep these as a constant in my shad fly design and construction. As we are fishing off rocks on the upper most tidal sections of the Potomac I expect my clients to loose loads of flies. My patterns are tied with minimal materials and I do not use expensive hooks. The Urban angler pattern uses a conehead, to me that is rather expensive. If you fish from a boat you will have less chance at loosing your fly so go for that pattern.

1. The Fly Should Be 1" Long

During the shad run the river explodes with life. Not only is the river full of target species (American shad, hickory shad, river herring, white perch, stripers) it is full of small fishes that gorge on all of the eggs released by the target species. You might just see a massive school of shiners or other minnows at your feet when fishing from shore. You'll also see loads of shiners and other minnows trapped in illegal cast nets. These fish are usually discarded and left for dead on shore if not already dead from having their gills destroyed by the nets.

These fish range from one to four inches in length. When I started fishing for shad I was using larger minnow patterns and was constantly skunked. I ended up foul hooking more fish. As I've been targeting shad on the fly rod since the late 90's I have progressively gone to smaller sized flies. I have determined that flies in the 1" range have the most success rate.

2. The Fly Should Be Brightly Colored

The females of the target species in the river are relying on external fertilization. In ecological terms, shad and the other fish are considered r-selection organisms. They produce thousands of potential progeny at the mercy of the environment with the hopes that few will survive their first year. Hundreds of thousands of these female fish will be in the river system simultaneously releasing millions upon millions of eggs. There are going to be thousands of smaller fish consuming these eggs. These fish will be right in with the spawning fish. The spawning fish will be very aggressive toward these fish. The male and female shad will bite and strike at these fish to get them out of the way. They are striking them out of aggression/frustration and to protect the eggs. You may or may not have picked up on the fact that my shad buster's have dumbell eyes. These eyes look like eggs in the mouth of baitfish-I don't give shad too much credit with what they think my flies look like. You may have noticed that my shad puffs are three different colors. The reason for this is to make them really stand out, almost clash with their surroundings. I'm rather partial to the variegated chenille I picked up from Urban Angler a few weeks back.

Your flies should be brightly colored to make them stand out against all of the cryptically colored fish in the mix. I prefer chartruese (still can't spell it), hot pink, hot orange, gold, and silver. The lads down in Fredericskburg prefer the gold. Its a regional thing.

3. The Fly Should Have A Short Tail

The shad are striking out of agression. They are not eating. Food is the last thing on their mind. They ate plenty while out in the ocean. Predatory fish strike the prey fish's head. It is the most vulnerable spot. A stunned or dead fish is a much easier meal (i.e., burns fewer calories) than a live fish. That is why so many fish have fake eyes on their tails. If they are not going to be biting the head, you can get away with a shorter hook. The shad will be nipping and snapping at the tail section of the fish. They are not trying to kill it, they are trying to show it who is boss.

If your fly tail is too long (the Snowhite Damsel seems to be the exception in my experience) the fish will be biting at tail fibers and missing the hook. I prefer streamer hooks in the size 6-8 range. If you tie with synthetics it is relatively easy to trip down the tail. If  you are using natural materials you will loose the tapering aesthetics of the fly. The fish will certainly not care. I use a hemostat with a scissor as an added bonus. I can cut down the Flashabou and similar tails.

If you Google 'shad fly' you will come across a plethora of patterns. Everyone has their favorite color, weight, and design. One thing you will notice is that 99% of them are going to have the above three tenets included. Whether on purpose or not, it is a standard throughout east coast and west coast shad fisheries.

Here is another little tidbit. If you don't tie flies you can use small crappie jigs and tube baits. Be sure NOT to hit yourself or your rod with these. I would suggest a 1/32 oz.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

2013 'Shad Map' Notes

These are last year's notes compiled on the Shad Map. As it is a new year I am currently clearing out all of last  year's data and will begin to post 2014 data. Enjoy.

Fishing along the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Federally licensed by the US National Park Service.

Friday 4.19-Sun 4.22Fishing was good on Friday. Loads of crazy snakehead carnage (see my Youtube Page)

White perch and American shad were the only fish biting. We didn't have any sort of record breaking weekend. It was a lot of casting and slow fishing. Everyone got into fish and we even had a few snakeheads foul hook themselves (unlike the guys with weighted trebble hooks purposely snagging.) My biggest concern with the snakehead carnage is that none of the fish were killed before they were taken away in trash bags. Any of these anglers could drop a fish into a new system and spread the invasive species.

Wednesday 4.17.13
Water levels back to something I prefer. Clarity still not great. We got into white perch, and all 3 shad on the fly. Nothing great. I still don't feel the full run is on. Loads of snakehead snaggers and netters. One guy had a massive spear. It was awesome to watch these guys.

Sat-Sunday 4.13-1.14
River levels jumped and visibility went down. Got to river yesterday when the search for the lost angler was called off. Fished with my podcast producer Jason. He caught an American Shad and a huge crappie at the platform. He also lost a fish that took him into his backing. I got a 6lb smallie up there. We then moved down to the VA side where I got about a 8lb channel cat.

Sunday was slower with a higher water level and tide. All clients caught an American shad. One client got a slam of all three shad species. It was much slower. Saw kids in the water up to their waist fishing, cast netters going neck deep into the water, litter, hand liners, open fires and fires from the night before. The US Park Service non-emergency hotline didn't care about me reporting such activities.

Monday 4.8.2013
Days on the river don't get much nicer than today. Water was extremely clear. I could see rocks at least a rod length deep. Loads of herring with minnows chasing them to eat their eggs. I managed one white perch before my kid wanted to go to a playground. An angler downstream landed an arm-length striper on spin gear.

Sunday 4.7.2013

The first shad of the season. Two hickory and one gizzard were landed today. The hickory took damsel nymphs and the gizzard took a shad jig. All fish caught along the seam of the fast/swirly water.

Saturday 4.6.13Slow day. Sporadic schools of river herring showed up along the shores but none landed. A few biters and bumps but that was it. Called US Park Police to report cast nets and dip netters taking herring but no one showed up.

Thursday 4.4.13
No signs of fish other than a herring pulled up by a cormorant. I spent about 30 minutes searching for fish. Two more warm days and it should be on. Remember water takes longer to warm and cool than air.

Wednesday 3.29.13
I'll be giving a power point slideshow on fly fishing for shad at the Seneca ValleyTU meeting.

Friday 3.22.13
I fished above and below the platform today. Didn't see any sign of life. Fished the mouth of Pimmet Run and the same. Water is clearing and dropping.

Sunday 3.17.13
I fished below the platform where the kayakers take out. I saw one gizzard shad surface and foul hooked two. Water conditions too high and cold. It will be on soon.

Monday 4.30
Water is very low. Fishing from spots that were under water a week ago. Not much activity. White perch bite is still good. We only fished for 2 hours on outgoing tide. Shad jigs and damsel nymphs. Herons fighting on rocks for 1st time this season. Baby geese looking for their mom. One vanished, prob eaten by a heron. HUGE beaver swimming around.  Called US Park Police to report cast netters taking dozens of fish on each toss. Of course as 99% of the the time I call, no one showed up. We moved to Tidal Basin to fish together when their time was up.

Tuesday 4.17 Morning
Outgoing tide. White perch on every cast if retrieve slow and twitch. Schools of perch and herring all along shore. Hickory shad in deeper water. Schoolie stripers mixed in with perch.

Afternoon incoming tide. White perch on every cast if strip and twitch slowly. 1 schoolie for every 10 perch. Largest striper 10". Lots of hand liners, spears, cast netters, dip netters along shore with camp fires. Watch your line as several hand lines up to 80lb mono broken off in water.

Sunday 4.15
What a difference a day makes. Warm water possibly? Pimmet Run was loaded with herring today. We got into American & hickory shad, white perch, herring, and a sucker today. 99% of the fish took the damsel dropper. Most fish were on the swing. Fished 11am-5pm. Action constant. Saw the biggest (female) American shad on one of Alex B's shad flies. Thing barely fit in my net.

Saturday 4.14

The shad and perch bite has shut off for us on the shore. Had an 11 year old client WORK a school of white suckers (Catostomus commersoni) After several hours, she hooked and landed one on a size 10 Copper John. She got the 'grip and grin' shot. Tomorrow we'll walk the shore to look for deep currents. Glad to see the park police out enforcing rules. Glad to see Marymount Univ doing a river clean-up.

Friday 4.13
Plenty of fish busting the surface at dusk. Carp or Stripers? We got the 1st smallie of the season on a shad jig.

Sunday 4.8.12 & Monday 4.9.12
The bite has been slow the past weekend. Only white perch. No shad. Very few fish spotted in the water. No snakeheads spotted since Friday.

We have been fishing 5-8wt fly rods with 15' sink tips. Leaders of 8 or 12 straight mono. Flies silver/red shad jigs, orange or pink comets, chartreuse damsel nymphs. Perch hitting flies slow retrieve along bottom. Shad when in, will hit fly on fast or slow retrieve.

Only 1 striper caught all season.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Prepping For 2014 Shad Run | Potomac River - Fly Fishing

Its almost that time of the year. I spent the day in Costco looking at allergy medicine. Why you ask? Because I'll be outside almost daily for the next two months, on the water, fishing and guiding for shad.  I'll save y'all my talk on pollination ecology, we can discuss that on the water. This is a post to get you prepared for the shad run. Don't touch the gizzard shad. They are nasty.

First, you need to be able to identify the fish. Can you tell a herring from an alewife? An American shad from a hickory shad? A northern snakehead from a bowfin?

Please remember that there I am the only guide with federal authorization to fish the tidal Potomac in and around Washington DC for shad. There is no guide who can legally take you out at Fletcher's, along Chain Bridge on either side etc.  While on topic of legality, remember that both sides of 'Chain Bridge' are national parks. The DC side is the C&O Canal Park and the Virginia side is the George Washington Memorial Parkway Park. Both parks are closed to visitors at dark. There is no alcohol allowed. You are not allowed to enter the water. No open fires. You need a valid DC fishing license (visible on your person) at all times on BOTH shorelines.

There are no trash receptacles so if you pack it in, pack it out. It is a good idea to bring an empty trash bag with you to be a good steward and fill it up on your walk out. It won't take but five minutes, trust me. Leave the bags at the trail heads and the rangers will remove them.

It is illegal to remove American shad, hickory shad, and 'River Herring' aka alewives and blueback herring from the river. All fish must be caught with rod and reel (Tenkara should be ok. I've had no issues using Tenkara for shad).

Keep it fun, keep it safe. There were around two dozen deaths in the Mather Gorge last year. Producer Jason and I were fishing when the search for a body was called off, the man's body was found two weeks later). He fell off wet rocks.

I have been tying flies by the dozens for myself, clients, and Tochterman's Fly Shop.I've gone through about six yards of hot pink chenille and will have to get some next week when I'm in Baltimore.

Below is a list of sites you need to know for this year. You'll want to look for water temps in the mid to high 50's as that is the viable shad spawn and fertilization temperature. Fletcher's won't rent boats if the gauge is above 5' at Little Falls. Thus that is a good indicator of high water. You cannot fish with more than three flies at a time. You should call the park police for any illegal activity (wading, use of nets, open fires, etc).

Fly fishing for shad is not very technical. As long as the fish are there they will bite. You just need to get the fly in front of them. If you can't make it to your local fly shop for supplies, I have compiled a Pro Guide Direct Shad Gear List where you can purchase directly through me. I'll get commission. Here is what I suggest

  • 9'-10' single handed or 11'-12'9" two handed
  • Medium to fast action
  • Floating or sink tip from land
  • Sink tip or full sink from boat
  • Shad flies 1" long, shiny, barbless, short tail
  • 8lb Berkley Vanish tippet
  • Sunscreen (to prevent sun and wind burn)
  • Rubber bag net (don't hold them by their bellies they'll cut you #scutes )
  • Waders or Welllies (no wading up here, if you do, you'll die).

If you need ideas for shad flies, the one's I suggest are my Snowhite Damels, shad puffs, shad jigs, and shad busters. Any 1" Clouser, generic bonefish fly etc will work. Urban Angler in Alexandria and Orvis in Arlington both have selections of proven patterns. I've also seen these spoons work crazy good.



 Here are some fly tying tutorials. The Snowhite Damsel is my #1 go to fly during the shad run:

And watch out for poison ivy

Monday, March 24, 2014

National Capital Fly Tying Marathon 2014 For Project Healing Waters

Here are some pics from the past weekend.

I got there around 0950 to set up. My first decision was where to sit for 5 or so hours. It  had to have a good seat with a back, ample light, and a table that would not wobble. 

As this is an outside covered patio with patio furniture, this was a rather daunting task. I opted for a spot along the wall to charge my  phone as we would have 'soccer' matches on during the day.

The next major decision was to do the buffet or order off the menu. I went for the buffet.

 I started off with foam beetles. The first were really dodgy and didn't make the cut.
I scoped out the buffet and decided that was the way to go.

Round one of the buffet was biscuits and gravy with a side of bacon. 
Once I had that in my system the flies were plausible. 
 Trent had a bloody mary with his celery. Then he cranked out some Clousers. Dalton worked on beetles.
 Round two of the buffet included their mac and cheese, fried chicken, and more bacon.

 With food in me I started to crank out foam mice, curly tail bass flies, 2-3 layer Chernobyl ants, and some red damsels.
 As the bacon sweats started I got into a dozen chartruese (still can't spell that word!) buggers.
 Then David Folkerts made an announcement.
 He presented Dan Davala with an award.
 After the buggers I switched to damsel mode and cranked out a couple dozen Snowhite Damsels.
 Holt arrived with his Ipad to watch the 2nd half of the ManU match.
 If you missed it, see Rooney's goal here:
Here are some of the pics of people tying. It was a full house ALL DAY.

 My almost completed bin for the day.
 I had to stretch my legs after my 4th round of the buffet. This time it included shepards pie and curry chicken. The  kids were cranking out buggers and caddis.

 My tally of damsels.
 Here is the box of flies donated. With the total including generous donations I received in the mail we totaled about 2k flies to be used in healing waters events around the country!!!

 My total of flies. It was a long and exhausting day. I missed beautiful weather outside but it was more than worth it. Can't wait for the next event.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Project Healing Waters Ice Out Event Yesterday

Rose River Farm hosted an ice out event yesterday to kick off the fishing season for Project Healing Waters. Participants from Walter Reed got a chance to use the skills they have learned throughout the winter Wednesday sessions.

The weather was much colder than most of us anticipated (we did get about 8" of snow here last night) thus my phone didn't last long. I managed to take a few pics. Others had their DSLR cameras and will hopefully post some soon that I can link.

There were about two dozen people at the event. I arrived at the barn to find everyone setting up, drinking coffee, and eating pastries. It is always nice to have a local group organize and donate meals for these events.

 Forgot to mention the drive down-no traffic. Hit the 146,000 mile mark on the car
 And I saw some mistletoe
 Participants making their way down to the pond to fish
 Participants on the dock. I worked with a 12 year old partipants son. He had never cast a fly rod before. He was given a bamboo rod to learn. He was casting great-too bad the fish weren't biting.
 One of the guys got a nice bass on a san juan worm. Notice the pale color of the fish from the lower pond.
 The PHWFF drift boat on the pond
 Two PHWFF employees were gifted bottles of wine in these custom wine boxes
 View from the barn. I want a barn when I get my own place
 'Big John' stirring some chili. Probably the best type of food for a chili day fly fishing
 A volunteer working the grill. This was the warmest spot all day
 We didn't get any fish on the lower pond. We moved to another pond and I started to fish with my Iwana Tenkara rod. I hooked into a trout almost instantly- damsel fly nymph. I have not caught a rainbow trout in over two years. It was just as much a surprise to me. We took turns netting each others fish as we raced around the pond with the nets and rods in hand

 This was a big bass. I'm going to say 3lbs easy. It took the damsel nymph by a tree. The fight was massive. Look at that bent rod. By the time someone showed up with a net the fish had thrown the fly
 Note the color of this fish from the other pond. It was a gem. I also fished my old Orvis 3wt Superfine. I started with a splat rat pattern and had a bass and a trout attempt to engulf it. No luck. I fished the 3wt with a damsel and had several bites and follows but no luck again. All fish were caught on Tenkara.
 Kiki was a champ with the net. We took turns on the little dock
 The action of the Tenkara really allows for the damsel tail to dance. I had fish chasing the fly all the way to my feet. The takes were very subtle
 Then it was time for lunch. Oh my was this good
Snow started to move in
 I caught several nice sized trout. The word got out on how this pond fished before lunch so it was full of anglers after. It took a while to land a fish. Lots of fish were hooked and tailwalking. Everyone was hooting and hollering
 More snow moving in
 Let this serve as a reminder to de-barb your hooks. He walked behind someone casting a barbed hook
 One of the larger bass I landed.

 Overall it was a great event. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone again at the fly tying marathon this weekend and then again at the 2-Fly tournament at the end of May. Hopefully by then we'll be done with all this snow shenanigans.