Search out the Small Water in the Big Water

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My first few years fishing a fly rod, I spent the majority of my time fly fishing small creeks.

One creek in particular called Little Allatoona Creek, grabbed most of my attention because it ran along the outskirts of my subdivision, and took only a short five-minute bike ride from my house to wet a line. This tiny stream held over a dozen catchable warm water species of fish from the sunfish family. As a kid, the coolest part about fishing this creek was you never knew what you were going to hook up with on the end of your line. Sometimes it would be 12-inch redeye bass, while other times, it would be a crappie or a colorful green sunfish. But what really was amazing about Little Allatoona Creek, was its uncanny ability to regularly hold largemouth bass in excess of four pounds. For a kid in elementary or middle school, that was a true trophy catch in our minds. We caught most of those species early on sinking dough balls on a hook. It wasn’t until my Father introduced the fly rod to us, that we began toting around a fly box of balsa wood poppers and learning the art of fly fishing. If my recollections are correct, it only took a day or two of fishing a fly rod on Little Alatoona Creek, before all of us made a trip up to our local sporting goods store to outfit the rest of our crew. Once purchased we never looked back.

Little Allatoona Creek was a seasonal fishery. When the water temperatures got cold in late fall, almost all the fish would migrate several miles downstream into Lake Allatoona to find the refuge of deeper and warmer water. Come spring though, usually around mid-march, all the fish would begin migrating back up into Little Allatoona Creek, and it was once again game-on, for the next several months. The return of the fish was always a grand celebration, putting us all on cloud 9. It wasn’t easy as kids enduring months of not fishing our favorite little creek. There was no better place for my two best friends, Ryan Evans and Sean O’Donnell and I to bend our fly rods and catch fish. We felt like god’s fishing it. Those small warm-water creeks we spent years exploring, were the first places we learned how to read water and locate fish. Boy, was it a shock to us when we

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Restore an Old Bamboo Fly Rod #4: Video Series

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Today Matt teaches us how to remove a set and apply finish to a bamboo fly rod.

This video covers a ton of fly rod restoration skills. Many old bamboo rods have a set. That’s a permanent bend in the blank, and usually develops due to a rod being stored under tension. No worries, Matt Draft is here to show you how to fix it. Once that’s dome he’ll go on to apply a beautiful finish.

Restore an Old Bamboo Fly Rod #4

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Fish With Benefits

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I was asked the other day what was my favorite species of fish.

That’s a really tough question for me. Sort of a Sophie’s choice question. After thinking about it for a long time I answered trout, for a host of reasons, but I quickly added, “and bone fish”! For some odd reason I then felt like I had to defend that answer. I had said trout and I had just finished talking at length about a tarpon trip I had just been on and here I was blurting out bonefish. Why? I went on to explain using a rationale I have used for years. “The bonefish is just right. It’s hard enough to catch, usually because of the conditions, that you feel like you’ve done something worthwhile but it’s not impossible like a permit. When you hook them it’s a great fight, but not an ass beating like a tarpon. They’re the just right fish”.

That’s all true and I believe it but inside I knew there was more. It ate at me, why do I love bonefish so much? I think I’ve come up with the answer. I love the fish but what I really love is bonefishing. When I think of bonefish I think of the Bahamas and when I think about fishing the Bahamas it’s a whole different feeling.

When I’m headed to the Keys for tarpon, for example, I’m excited, hell, more than excited. I know that I’m taking on a huge challenge and that something truly awesome may happen, and then again it may not. I may catch the fish of a life time or

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The Right-Handed Strip Set

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I’ve talked before about the importance of the strip set in saltwater fly fishing. I think every angler who’s tried their hand in the salt knows that you aren’t going to catch a fish without mastering this simple technique. Simple as it may be, reprogramming your muscle memory for the strip set can be a challenge and has sent many anglers into fits on the bow.
Today, I’m going to talk about taking your strip set to the next level with your rod hand. It was my friend Joel Dickey who first introduced me to this idea. We were tarpon fishing in the Keys and I fed a big fish that followed my fly for a good ways before eating it. As tarpon will often do in this scenario, the fish ate the fly and, rather than turning, kept cruising toward the boat. I gave a hardy strip set but, even with my six and a half foot reach, I was never able to put enough pressure on him to bury the hook. The fish jumped and was gone.

“What the hell are you supposed to do with that?” I asked Joel.

“There’s not a lot you can do,” he shrugged and told me, “about your only shot is to clamp down on the line with your right hand and pull.”

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Fly Fishing Dreams

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By Jason Tucker


They were methodically working over a promising looking pool, skating mice across the surface, discussing the possibilities. I’m kind of impatient so I felt my way through the brush and grass to a spot where I could fish.

The spot I found seemed to be just right- a sluice pouring out of deeper water upstream into the next pool. I stripped out twenty feet of line and put my first cast in the middle of the torrent. The moment my mouse reached the pool the water erupted with the sound of a brick being thrown in the river.

With a rare presence of mind, I actually waited until I felt the weight of the fish before setting the hook. When I did it exploded out of the water, leaping once, twice, three times, before settling into a dogged fight.

“I got him,” I shouted into the darkness, and Tommy replied, “We’re coming Jay! Hold on!” followed by the sound of running in the darkness, and Phil emerged from the brush, leapt without looking into the water and waded across in time to help me land the fish.

It was a male brown trout with a massive hooked jaw. Keeping him in the water, we taped him out at just over 28 inches long. We estimated his weight at 9 or 10 pounds. For me it was the pinnacle of my fly fishing career, and a lifetime fish for almost anyone who fly fishes. I was later told by those who know that it was one of the four or five biggest browns caught in the state that season, on a fly.

A lot of elements came together perfectly that night- the right river, the right time of year, the right weather. I had the right equipment, the right fly. I made a good cast, timed the hookset right and my knots held. I was also with the right fishing buddies- experienced guys who had landed a lot of big fish themselves, who jumped in and helped out in all the right ways. Tommy even knew how to take decent photos in the dark.

What is it that makes us seek big fish?

Of all things in life, why is that such a special moment? There are of course far more important things in life- graduations, jobs, proposals, marriages, buying a home, births,…Deaths. Those things are certainly more important than landing the fish of our dreams, but they don’t seem to excite us and capture the imagination in the same way. At least, not for some of us.

The birth of a child is for most of us one of the most joyful moments in our lives, and certainly one we will always treasure. At the same time, it is the start to an endless cycle of dirty diapers, sleepless nights, first steps, scrapes and bruises, and those are the easy days.

Soon you’re sending them off to school, negotiating the ‘tween years, puberty, rebellion and college applications. All a labor of love, but one that often leaves you wondering, which weighs heavier in the balance, the labor or the love?

I’m not sure everyone has a dream, but

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More Than Just A Cast

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By Owen Plair

You may be able to throw a fly line 100 feet, but that doesn’t always mean you’re gonna have a killer day on the water. The most important thing when hunting redfish in the shallows is communicating with the guy on the platform. He’s not only poling you around on the skiff, but also spotting, and putting you on fish. The chemistry between the guy on the poling platform and the angler on the bow is the most important part of the day because you have to work together for the best results.

Communication is key and that’s why the bow clock was invented. If you are not familiar with the bow clock, it’s a simple idea. Picture the deck of the boat from above. Now overlay the face of a clock with noon at the very point of the bow. Nine o’clock will be ninety degrees to the left and three o’clock ninety degrees to the right. A fish located at twelve o’clock will be straight ahead of the boat and a fish at nine o’clock will be directly to the left.

If you’re new to saltwater, then you should always go over the bow clock with your guide or fishing partner before fishing. Make sure you both have the same understanding from 9 o’clock all the way to 3 o’clock and can adjust quickly while sight casting to fish.

This clock is not only good for casting direction but can also be very important for situations when spotting moving fish on the flats. I like to have my angler point his rod when I call out a clock direction. It helps us stay together and helps him see the fish. Getting the hang of the bow clock isn’t hard and will help dramatically in sight casting to fish from the skiff.

The next key factor is gauging distance. If the angler cannot see the fish, accurately judging distance is key to a good presentation. It can be hard, at first, to judge a forty foot cast compared to a sixty foot cast. When getting used to sight casting, there are visual guides that can help.

One of the best ways to judge distance is to use

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Small Flies For Big Steelhead

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“Most people think, to catch a big fish you have to tie on a Woolly Bugger.” – Christopher Guest

Every year some fly fishing magazine publishes an article about fishing small flies for big fish. The quote above, from Christopher Guest’s 2000 film “Best In Show,” cracked me up because I had read the article in Fly Fisherman that he went on to quote word for word. If you are not familiar with the film, I highly recommend it.

I wouldn’t say it’s news that small flies catch big fish. Of course, big flies catch big fish, too, and an effective angler is the one who knows how to match the size of their fly to the conditions. Fly size alone is not a guarantee of catching fish, large or small. When it comes to summer steelhead, there are some pretty good reasons to consider sizing down.

It’s pretty well documented that summer run fish will eat flies who’s size might be more associated with resident trout. There are plenty of theories about why that is. I’m a pragmatist, and I think it’s likely they eat them for the same reason the trout do. Because they more accurately resemble what the fish see around them.

Fishing a big squid pattern to a winter fish, who has likely only been in fresh water for a day or two makes sense. Summer fish spend months in the river. They wouldn’t have seen a lot of squid around but they are likely seeing a lot of aquatic insects in the size 4-8 range. Unlike trout, the steelhead is not feeding, but it would be foolish to think that flies are the only thing they are snapping at. For whatever reason they bite, they bite what’s at hand, so imitation makes sense.

Small flies, especially on a floating line, are a pleasure to cast, which is reason enough to give them a try. The main reason I like fishing these flies on a floating line is the way

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The Right Stuff: Video

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You know that feeling when you hook a fish and everything goes wrong?

I saw that play out just recently, and I saw a great, if not unconventional, recovery. I was fishing with Jesse Lowry on South Andros. Jesse hooked a nice bonefish and things went sideways. The fish ran straight at Jesse and there was no way he could take up line fast enough. When the reel couldn’t catch up, he went to stripping and then he couldn’t strip fast enough.

Most anglers would have lost it at that point. I’ve seen it a hundred times and most folks just watch it happen, but not Jesse. You could see his determination. He wanted that fish. He reached out and caught hold of the slack line outside the rod tip and hand lined the fish. It was hysterical, and effective.

Jesse landed the fish but when he tried to lift it for a photo the fish had other plans. He flipped out of Jesse’s hands to freedom. Jesse made one more attempt to grab the fish out of the water and it showed him up by swimming right between his feet. That guy does not give up and I respect that in an angler. That’s the right stuff.


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Bends Are Like Best Friends

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Bends in rivers and streams are like my best friends.

They possess all the qualities that I value and they always provide me consistent support in my endeavors. I don’t know about you, but when I find myself staring at a section of river or stream and I see a nice bend, I quite often head straight for it. I do this because I know it will usually produce a quality fish or two on the end of my line, and it’s generally very obvious to me where I should present my flies.

Just about every bend you encounter on the water will hold these three qualities.
1. One Well Defined Current
There usually will be one well defined current, collecting and moving food through the bend. This clearly indicates to anglers where the most food is drifting and where the fish should be positioned to intercept it.

2. Clear Channel or Trough
That well defined current usually has cut out a deep channel or trough in the bend. This reinforces further why fish will be located here. The deeper that fish can get below the surface and current, the less energy they’ll have to exert to maintain position and feed. The deeper water also provides

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Reel Balance

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Watch the Video


Odds are good you haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about that little button opposite the handle on your fly reel. Some of you may have thought it was just there for decoration. Well, it isn’t. The counterweight is actually a really important piece of your reel’s design and without it you’d be in trouble.

Think of it like the lead counterweights on your car tires. When you buy a new set of tires the guys at the tire shop balance each of them once they’re mounted on the rims. Without those counterweights your car would feel like it was driving a washboarded forest service road all the time. Your reel works the same way.

Without a counterweight every time you hooked into a fish big enough to pull some serious line, your reel would buck and vibrate like that car tire that’s out of balance. That would cause a couple of things and none of them good.

The jerking motion of the rod caused by an out of balance reel would cause you to lose fish, either by breaking them off or dislodging the hook. It would also cause extra wear on the reel shortening its life. It would also be annoying as hell causing you to throw the reel as far as possible.

It’s easy to understand why a reel needs to be balanced. What’s tougher is actually balancing one. It’s a surprisingly tedious process. The slightest change in the length of the handle makes a big change in the counterweight. There are formulas, but reel balance only comes from a process of trial and error.

When I was at the Nautilus factory a few weeks ago my friend Kristen Mustad showed me how they balance Nautilus reels. It’s pretty clever and a great example

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