Monday, October 31, 2011

What the heck is this?

Can anyone tell me what bird these wings are from? I received these with some fly tying materials 30 years ago when I started fly fishing growing up back in New Jersey. I've never used these feathers but I'd sure love to know what they are. Can anyone solve the mystery?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tying the "Double" Davy knot

The "double" Davy knot is my favorite non-loop knot, and it's second only to the non-slip mono loop in strength for fly fishing tippet to fly knots. For more info on knot strength and the testing I performed, see my previous post. I call the knot the "extra-turn" Davy knot there, but I think "Double Davy" is a better name.

Here are pics on how to tie it. My previous post mentions this, but it's important to snug the knot mostly tight from both ends but then to pull only the standing end to finish tightening it. You'll hear and feel a little click when it's tightened properly.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Great article about what really happens underwater

You may have seen this already but I recently read a great article in field and stream online called Going Deep in the Name of Trout Research. It discusses a subject that I've been interested in for a while, which is, what actually happens underwater. I think there is a lot of myth, legend, and misconception around what fish really do underwater, and how to catch them, based on their behavior. The only way to really clear it up is to get down there and watch it. These kinds of articles are worth their weight in gold.

This article has the author scuba diving while his partner is fishing. I won't restate the article. Check it out. It has some excellent insights.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cocky Carp

There's this pond near my house that's a kids-only fishing/duck pond. You have to be under 16 or over 65 to fish. It's about 3 acres and 2-4 feet deep everywhere. Since I can't fish it I still go down there to look at fish with my toddler son as well as to practice casting. I see lots of bass and bluegill as well as carp and a few koi down there. A few days ago I was casting down there and this Koi and a few of his golden-brown compatriots were tailing/mudding right at my feet in 2 feet of water. You can see my foot in the first photo and my fly line in the second. The water was pretty muddy, as you'll see, but you can see the one Koi in the photos. I could only see the bubble trails and mud plumes from the other carp. The amazing thing is that nothing I did spooked this Koi and his buddies. I was lining them, making splashy spey anchors over them, and it didn't affect them. I even dropped my little hookless glo-bug on his head and body but he didn't notice. Cocky little buggers when they feel safe in the muddy water. They were fun to watch. When I left I gently poked the Koi with my rod tip and he quickly moseyed 10 feet away. He wasn't too alarmed. These carp aren't fished for, although the kids are chucking lures and bait into that pond all summer long.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No cell signal in the boonies? No problemo.

Well, I went to the Klamath this fall to fish.The cabin we were in was about 40 road miles from a cell signal. My friends, at whose cabin I was staying, had a gizmo that they had used to make calls from way out in the sticks. It was this cell phone signal booster.

We were able to use it to make calls back home. It consists of a main unit that you plug into the wall or cancer stick lighter. This was connected via a long cable to a foot-tall antenna to pick up the cell signal. The other part of the unit was a cable connection to a little handset cradle that picked up your phone's signal. Using this combo we were able to make calls from bumfudge nowhere. I'm going to pick one up next year before my future trips so I can stay in touch with the wife and babies when I'm driving out in the boonies somewhere. Very cool.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Shrinking fish and wildlife habitat

If you're concerned, watch this:. Jim Martin is fired up, rightly so, and articulates the problem clearly!
He makes the analogy of the frog in the boiling pot. Put him in a pot of boiling water and he jumps out. However, put him in cold water and slowly warm it to boiling and he will die.

We, the fish and fair water use advocates are like that frog. Our water rights are being slowly eroded by agribusiness and special interests, so we barely notice, with the end result being that fish runs have been decimated by 90% in the space of one generation with very little public outcry.

Please watch this video clip, it states the problem very well.
Then sign the petition at:

It takes less than 1 minute to sign it.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Monic Clear Fly Line

I bought the All-Weather Clear Floating Fly Line in a 6 weight from the Monic web site after researching clear fly lines and reading some reviews. All the reviews I'd found on it were positive. I've used this line now in warm-ish ponds as well as in waters down to the low 50s in rivers. Here's my summary.

  • The line is clear, although kind of cloudy clear, since it is obviously thicker than a mono line, but definitely less visible in the air and/or water than any fly line I've seen. I haven't gotten in the water to see if it presents a significantly smaller silhouette from below so I'll try that in the future.
  • It casts well, and has low memory, although not as low as regular fly line. It feels a little stiffer and has a bit more memory than regular fly line, so it retains a few more coils but not enough that it was a problem for me. Cold water appeared to have no effect on the line performance.
  • The only negative I found, and it's a very small one, is that the line is a bit less slick than other fly lines I've used, so it shoots a bit less. It's not quite as nice as the Scientific Angler's Mastery GPX in slickness and shooting. However, I need to update this once I dress the Monic line with some fly line dressing. I haven't done that since I bought it over a year ago.
  • It's got a pretty standard weight forward taper that casts well. It felt slightly heavier than my 6 weight Rio Mainstream Trout WF6F I have and it casts farther than that line. I like the taper.
  • The line is of course harder to see on the water but it wasn't an issue for me at all. I think any decent fisherman with average vision should be able to tell where his fly and line are just from the angle of exit from his rod and his knowledge of currents and presentation. The line was still plenty easy to see at 40 feet away or less, where 95.643% of all fishing takes place.
I'd buy this line again.

Review: The Underwater World of Trout

There are 3 DVDs in this set:

The Underwater World of Trout Volume 1: Discovery

The Underwater World of Trout Volume 2: Feeding Lies

The Underwater World of Trout Volume 3: Trout Vision and Refraction

I've only watched "Discovery" and "Feeding Lies".
These are two excellent DVDs because they are about 95% underwater footage of trout. I find that any trout educational materials that provide underwater footage of insect or trout behavior and feeding are invaluable. That kind of knowledge is hard to pick up via experience unless you get in the river with mask and snorkel yourself.

"Discovery" covers Trout behavior and habitat in a general sense. It's entertaining and informative, allowing us to see bits and pieces of how trout operate underwater. It shows trout spawning, fighting, resting, swimming, and feeding.

I enjoyed "Discovery" but "Feeding Lies" was a bit more directly relevant to me because, of course, it showed where and how trout feed. It shows where they hold, what kind of water they prefer to feed in, what they're picking out of the water, etc. That in itself was a lot of useful information.

The single biggest takeaway I got from both videos was how water that was very shallow and/or very fast, and looked fishless from the surface, held so many fish in active feeding mode. Fish are happier in faster water than we think, and seem to spend a lot of time there. Fish in slower water tend to be resting more and feeding less. I'm going to fish the fast, shallow water that I used to pass up.

I'm definitely going to check out "Trout Vision & Refraction" soon. I'm really curious about this subject.

Early October fishing trip

I took 5 days to hit the lower Klamath as well as the Pit river in early October. The Klamath was beautiful as well as fun, with a few half pounders every morning and evening between 12 and 18 inches. Here's a slightly above average one. (What, you think I'd post a picture of a below average one?).

I learned one important tip from my host, who's been fishing there for 30 years. Which was this. When swinging flies, and you get a take, don't set the hook! Just swing the fly without holding the fly line with your index finger. Set the drag as light as you're comfortable with. When a fish takes don't move the rod tip, don't set the hook, just do nothing. Let the line run off the reel right out the guides. Keep the rod pointed at the fish and let him hook himself. The fish will take, the drag will sing, and the fish will either hook himself or not. There's nothing much you can do except give the fish as little tension as possible so he can pull the fly back down to his lie. After 2 or 3 seconds it becomes apparent whether the fish is on for real or not, and then you can raise the rod and start tuggin'.

This tip increased my hookup rate a ton compared to my last trip in September when I was setting the hook on everything, and losing over half the fish that hit. This actually was a pretty cool way to fish. It was sort of relaxing because I could just focus on getting a good swing of the fly, and didn't have to be edgy to set the hook on a take. Much different than nymph fishing. When a fish took, you just let the drag buzz at first, which was pretty cool, because these half pounders are really fast fish.

Here's a little video from the jet boat I was lucky enough to ride in to get around. Thanks Johnny!

On the way home I hit the Pit river. This river was notable for 3 reasons.
First, it was a complete bitch to wade. It was running 400 cfs and the bottom, as is well known, is just boulders of widely varying sizes so there's no flat bottom at all, and it's full of holes. I fell in once and was a lot more careful after that. The current at that flow rate is very pushy, so if you lose balance, the current helps push you right along into the water. The water visibility is less than 2 feet so seeing the bottom is out of the question. Second, the river appears to be chock full of fish. I only had a morning to fish it but I caught 2 fish around 14" and a few small fry. Also had a couple more hard strikes that caught me off guard while fishing a nymph. I wanted to fish a streamer but ran out of time. Third, this place eats flies. Part of the reason I actually caught fewer fish than the river quality would indicate was that I was losing flies and split shot on the bottom with alarming regularity. Fishing a 2 fly rig with split shot and an indicator, I went through at least a dozen flies in a few hours.

The rainbows I caught here were the reddest rainbows I had ever seen anywhere. This was a beautiful spot to fish, but it's important to have your roll cast and wading game on.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Knot testing

This summer, I read the excellent book, Art Scheck's Fly-Fish Better: Practical Advice on Tackle, Methods, and Flies,

and in it he performed some in-depth knot testing. A couple of knots that he said tested strong were the non-slip mono loop as well as the Orvis knot and 16-20 knot. He said the clinch knot and improved clinch knot both faired poorly by comparison. Here is a summary article of his findings (thanks for posting the link to this article, McTage). I decided to verify some of Scheck's tests as well as test a few of my favorite knots. Here are my results from strongest to weakest:
  1. Non-slip mono loop
  2. Davy knot with an extra turn
  3. Davy knot
  4. Orvis knot
  5. Palomar knot
  6. Clinch knot
My methodology:

I tested both 8 lb Trilene XL monofilament and Seaguar Grand Max FX 4x Fluorocarbon Tippet, which is rated at 7.0 lbs. Happily, my results were consistent for both lines. That is, I didn't see any difference in the knots' strength relative to each other, between mono and fluoro. The above list holds for both kinds of line. Scheck asserts that fluorocarbon has much poorer knot strength than mono. I didn't test the strength of equally rated mono vs. fluoro, though I've been very happy with Seaguar so far. I'll tie some knots using each and try to test them head to head someday.

Here's how I performed the tests. Make sure to wear safety glasses!
  • I tied knot A to the eye of a #8 hook and knot B to the eye of a second #8 hook.
  • I then embedded hook A into a piece of secured wood.
  • I then pulled on hook B in a straight line with a pair of pliers.
  • I did 10 tests for each knot-to-knot comparison for both mono and fluoro.  I alternated which knot was on the hook being pulled by my pliers. Which knot was on which end made no difference to the results.
  • The winner was obviously the knot which held.
By performing lots of head to head tests I saw which knots were stronger relative to the other knots.
I didn't test all knots directly against each other. For example, once it was clear the non-slip loop was stronger than the Davy I only tested the Davy against the Orvis knot.

As you can guess this took a few months of spare garage time to do all this. You get a lot better at tying these knots and tightening them correctly. I found that the non-slip mono loop became much stronger once I got more practice at tying it. At first, the Davy knot often beat the non-slip loop, but once I got better at tying it then the non-slip loop won every time.

What it means:
Well, the Davy knot is about 372% easier to tie than any other knot, and it's clearly stronger than any non-loop knot I tested. That is really cool. I still like to use the non-slip loop most of the time if I have time to tie it because I like using loop knots to allow flies to move more freely. However, in a hurry, darkness, or where a very small knot is useful, the Davy rocks. It's very strong and everyone who uses the clinch knot for fly fishing should immediately start using the Davy knot.

Photo from:

A note on the Davy knot. To tighten it, wet it, pull it mostly tight from both ends, but perform the final tightening by pulling the standing end. Don't finish the tightening by pulling the tag end. Pulling the standing end seats it properly. This is especially important when tying the Davy knot with an extra turn. I'll post pics of the "extra turn" Davy knot. You'll know you got the "extra-turn" version right when it tightens at the end with a little "click" like the 16-20 knot.

Someday I'll do some tests in stronger line, but I believe the results will be consistent in lines up to 15 lb. test. Also, I didn't test the 16-20 knot effectively since it was such a pain to tie that I couldn't see myself using it on a river. I'll report back once I do some trials with that. It lost to the Davy and non-slip loop knot in my few trials but I think I was tying it poorly.

One final note on knot tying. Make sure you wet the knot. Seaguar, the world's largest fluorocarbon manufacturer, even states this on their web site. So, if they say it, I would believe them. I wet all my knots and it makes a difference. I think you can get the knot tighter so it doesn't slip once you actually have a fish on. A partially tightened knot is going to be a weaker knot since it may not tighten how you want it to when it is challenged.

Still on my todo list is to test the Davy knot with extra turns, test the 16-20 knot, and to test tippet-to-leader knots.

10-24-11 Update

- I've tested the Davy knot using 2 extra turns instead of one and it breaks easily. The knot is hard to tighten with the extra line in it. One extra turn is the magic ingredient. More than that is junk. The original Davy with no extra turns is still an excellent knot, and only slightly weaker than the extra turn version.

- I'd also like to test the 16-20 knot when I get time. However, Art Scheck has shown that it breaks more often than the Orvis knot in head to head tests. Since the Davy beats the Orvis every time that's enough evidence for me that the Davy would beat the 16-20.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ramblings on fly design

So, I've been thinking about tying flies and how they trigger trout to take them. Here, in order of importance, are what I think are the triggers for a trout to take a fly.
  1. Size
  2. Silhouette
  3. Motion/Action
  4. Flash/Contrast/Color
  5. Details (segmentation, curve, legs, antennae, eyes, etc.)
Here's my reasoning for each of these and why they're ordered as such. I've been reading a lot about how fish perceive color and I've also been doing a lot of thinking about how fish operate in current. My comments here relate specifically to subsurface nymph fishing in moving water, but can also apply to dry flies and streamers.

1. Size
According to all I've read and experienced, this is the most important trigger. If the size of your fly isn't close to the size of the food they are fixating on then you ain't catching.

2. Silhouette.
Fish have to make a fast decision on whether to eat something, especially in faster water. Once the size is determined to be correct, the fish has to make sure the outline looks like something it is familiar with as a food item. The fish has to decide in a short moment if that thing drifting by is food or junk, and the outline of the item is one method it used to sort the item into the "eat" or "ignore" pile. Also, fish in many cases don't have the luxury of seeing detail. The lighting and the water clarity are much worse than what we see above the surface, so silhouetting its prey against a contrasting background is essential to identifying it.

3. Motion or action.
I think this is a really underestimated element in fly tying. Most tiers of "realistic flies"  tie up flies that are anatomically correct but that have little movement to them. When compared to a living, breathing insect this isn't very realistic at all, is it? I suspect that's why most realistic flies have failed to make a difference.

Motion is the missing element. I believe, that once a fly is the right size, with roughly the right silhouette, if it moves like it's alive then the fish will take it. Think about how a non-moving fish in a stream is very hard for us to spot, but as soon as it moves, it's easier for us to see it. Well, I think that applies to how action on a fly makes it stand out more to the fish as well.
To that end, I think fly action is best achieved by using long, soft hackles in various places on the fly, as well as using soft materials like long, buggy dubbing and very soft feathers like marabou and feather aftershaft fluff. You can go even further and build in articulation for larger flies. All in all, I think you make a fly more lifelike by imparting movement to it rather than by making its body hyper-realistic in the details. This explains a lot of the success of more impressionistic flies.

4. Flash/Contrast/Color
People love their colors but I think the fish are less impressed.
Color perception varies widely among fish species, so I'll stick to Trout and Salmon in rivers, where the water is usually less than 10 feet deep where we are fly fishing. From my reading, based on the amount of cones in their eyes, it appears that these fish don't see colors as well as humans do, nor does it appear that they need to. Also, according to this article, human vision is about 14 times better at resolving images than salmonids'.

Based on the above, as well as the fact that visibility is generally much worse underwater than in air, it appears that color would be much harder for fish to perceive than we do in our fly tying vise. Boiled down to the essentials, I think one could be very successful by just deciding where in the range of light cream colored, light brown, or dark brown the fly needs to be (hare's ear vs. pheasant tail anyone?), depending on what's being imitated. In pressured, clear, and slow water I think a closer color match becomes more significant but still to a lesser degree than size, silhouette, and motion.

Considering color from an evolutionary perspective, what does a fish need to see to survive? Well, for people, color is very useful to identify food. However, in the much more muted colors of the subsurface world, color is less important. Fish deal in shades of gray with some brown, green, and blue. Maybe red can be significant since it indicates gills or blood, although water quickly absorbs red spectrum. However, for the most part, if you were a fish seeking food or avoiding danger, what would you look for? I'd say: size, silhouette, and motion. Color is way down the list of useful things to a fish. Everything looks sort of light or dark brown underwater. (Blue flies are an exception to be discussed in another posting).

That said, color is useful to the fisherman in one significant way: contrast. If you can provide the proper contrast of your fly to the water color, or contrast within the fly body itself, I believe you can make your fly both visible and interesting to the fish. Water is less clear than air, and it varies widely in its color and clarity. If the water has color to it, there are colors you can incorporate into your fly to make it stand out. I think this is one of the reasons purple is so popular for steelhead flies. Purple looks essentially black under water but in green water, it will stand out a bit better than black. Chartreuse is known to work in off-color water as well. Likewise for the contrast of pink on black in an Egg Sucking Leech fly or Ralph Cutter's Goblin streamer. These flies have contrast within themselves, so when they move, the contrast makes them stand out more than a monochromatic fly, especially in off-color water. I believe that contrast put into any fly, for example, a dark head or thorax and light body on a nymph, will be noticed by more fish than a fly of a single color. However, I think this is way down the priority list.

Finally, Ralph Cutter, Gary LaFontaine, and others have documented how many nymphs appear to shine or glow underwater because they carry an air bubble with them. This provides some shine to the nymph and I do believe that trout key in on this shine, especially on sunny days. I think a small amount of flash is more important than color for subsurface flies.

5. Body details. These are the items that realistic fly tiers focus on. While they are works of art, I don't believe they catch many fish. This includes details like eyes, legs, antennae, egg sacs, and who knows what else. Maybe in super selective trout situations on clear, slow spring creeks these details make a difference but I still bet they take a back seat to the above items.

A word on eyes. Many people swear by realistic looking eyes on streamers. I don't think they are useful but that's purely my opinion rather than based on any evidence. Ralph Cutter has some good reasons why eyes are counterproductive in streamers. Among them is that in nature, one of tropical fishes' evolved natural defense is to have patterns that look like eyes on their tail to deter predators. That evolution alone is enough to convince me.

In the body details, here are what I think are the most important priorities.

- Segmentation: This is a cool one, albeit unscientific. If you think about it, segmentation is one of the things that visually distinguishes insects (and some other animals) from the detritus that's floating around in a stream. Think about when you're walking around a stream looking for bugs, what do you think catches your eye? Well, for me it's the organization of the insect's body. The body organization is not random, and the segmentation and symmetry make it stand out from the background junk. My brain recognizes this on an instinctual level, much like I bet a trout or other predator does, and it immediately recognizes this thing as a living animal. When I see an orderly segmentation or pattern, that to me signals a living thing.

- Body curve. Most fly tiers take care to make their flies straight. However, if you look at subsurface nymphs floating in the current, they are wriggling, and often their body curves as they move. I tie all my nymphs on curved caddis and scud hooks for 2 reasons. First, to mimic this curve. Second, to hide more of the hook shank in the curve of the insect's body. On a curved hook, much less of the straight point sticks out, making the silhouette that much more convincing. The scud/caddis hooks have a continuous bend all the way to the point section so the body shape follows a plausible curve.

So this is my list. What it boils down to is that I tie a lot of soft-hackle type flies, some with skinny bodies, some slightly fatter. The fatter ones are usually made that way using marabou or after-shaft feather fluff, palmered hackle, or less often, buggy dubbing. I also tend to tie a lot of small flies. Rick Hafele has made the point, which I have corroborated on the river, that in most cases, the natural nymphs/flies we are imitating are smaller than they look, so we should use smaller flies than we think. This means that I tie lots of 16s - 20s with skinny bodies and sparse hackles. For color, I tie some dark brown flies and a lot of light cream colored flies. The advantage of the light flies is that I can quickly darken them with magic marker on the river if needed. The one detail I add to most of my flies is that I rib them with silver or copper wire. I do this to reinforce their body material but mainly to provide segmentation and a small amount of flash.

Hope this is useful to someone. Figuring all this out has helped me simplify my fly tying, reduce the number of patterns I carry, and most importantly catch more fish.

Review: Simms Headwater Wading Boot

So I bought the Headwater boot 2 months ago and have used it about 12 river days now on varied terrain. I have never owned a wading boot before so I have nothing to compare it to but the summary is that I am very happy with my pair. They feature the Vibram Streamtread rubber sole and I also bought their aluminum cleats to go with it. I haven't tested the boots without the cleats. I've always had cleats in. Also, I traveled in a jet boat for part of my fishing and the cleats don't seem to damage anything. They are flat and flush so the boat's floor was unblemished. That wouldn't be the case with studs.
The pluses
  • Very light compared to other wading boots.
  • Traction appeared to be comparable to my companions' who were all wearing felt.
  • The rubber tread seems to be more aggressive than any other wading boot I've seen
  • Easy to get on and off
The minuses
  • The shoelaces that came with the boot are already starting to wear through after only 12 days of river use. I'm going to have to find some tougher replacements.
  • The Alumibite cleats that Simms sends only come in a pack of 14. That's only seven per boot but all their photos show at least 10 cleats per boot being used. I used the boots like this for 6 river days and they performed fine, but under easy to moderate wading conditions. I later ordered 6 more Hardbite cleats (3 per boot) to see if they would improve the traction. To be fair, I didn't notice a difference in traction. However, I need to test this further in more difficult conditions (let me see if the wife will give me time to perform these very important tests).
  • This is minor for me, but these boots aren't going to support your ankles as much as sturdier boots when you're stumbling and sliding on the sides of underwater boulders, so you're going to have to work a little harder to support your ankles yourself. These lighter weight boots just have less material in them. For me it's a worthy trade off.
My only other minor gripe is that Simms' web site has very little descriptive info about their boots and cleats and why you'd want to use one or the other. I had to scour the web for reviews to figure it out. They really should have someone write up why and where you'd want to use one boot and/or cleat or the other. Their web site would be much better if they put some sort of buyers guide on it for the boots and cleats.

The Hardbite cleats look more aggressive than the Alumibite cleats but I couldn't tell the difference when wading with the mix of cleats on my fit. I still don't know how the cleats differ. A review on the Simms website indicates that the Alumibite cleats are actually more aggressive. It appears that the softer aluminum cleats mold to the bottom more so they provide a bit better traction. However, I'm still confused. My wife would agree with that statement.

Finally, the sizing was hard to figure out. I called Simms and they said to get the boots 1 size larger than my street shoes, in order to compensate for wader booties. However, other reviews/forums said to get them true to size. I'm a size 12 shoe so I tried on the 12 and 13. They both fit ok, but the 12 just felt a hair tight and the 13 a hair loose with my wading booties on. Since tight boots generally will hurt more than loose boots I went with the 13. I also figured I could add socks on cold days as well. They have been comfortable and very functional for hiking and wading all day with just bare feet in my waders. I just make sure to lace up tight. I think my toes would have jammed up in the size 12s.

All in all, I really like the boots, my gripes are minor, and I'd buy them again in a heartbeat.

Psyllium is the sh*@, so to speak

This post is a bit graphic as to body functions so please stop reading if you don't want to hear about my intestinal adventures. I'm writing this in the hope that it helps someone.

Well, I went on a boy's fishing trip for a week, and you know what that means...lots of good food, but, at least in my case, very little fiber. Just meat, eggs, carbs, and dessert. Decadent, but a bit different from my usual Paleo way of eating. So, to make a long story short, I was a little backed up after the trip, which has never happened to me before. So, I read up on cleanses, etc, but they all seemed like scams, so I just bought some Psyllium called "Secrets of the Psyllium" at Trader Joe's and took that for 3 days. It's not a laxative, it just lubes the pipes. On day two I had a poo-gasm. Just came out easy, no diarrhea or anything. Just lots of firm-ish, somewhat intestinally shaped stuff. Came out like it was wrapped in saran wrap. Clean and easy. Psyllium is very cool. Just add half a glass of water to a few tablespoons and drink it IMMEDIATELY before it expands. It expands in your bowels and coats and lubes up what's in there.