March 29, 2007

Big Game Fly Leaders

When fly fishing for freshwater big game species, a bite guard is necessary to keep from losing your fly to toothy critters. Pike tend to bite a fly at the head, and that causes me to believe that's why there are more bite offs, than say with a walleye; I can't vouch for the muskies since I haven’t caught one on a fly yet. The main choices for a bite guard consist of a large diameter “shock tippet” usually around a 150 lb test hard monofilament line, or wire coated line. I will be refraining from using the mono shock tippets for pike. Even with 150 lb test mono, I've heard anglers report bite-offs. I've yet to hear a report of a pike biting off a wire tippet. With the availability of cheap tieable wire nowadays, it leaves me little incentive to use monster diameter saltwater line. I use 49 strand (19 will also work) coated wire as the bite guard. It ties as easy as mono and is simple and quick to use.
I usually am fishing a sinking tip line, so I tie leaders with fluorocarbon. I have been using about a 3-4’ butt section of 20lb fluorocarbon line connected to a 12-18" wire bite guard with a surgeons knot. This year I am going to get a little bit heavier butt section and use 50 or 60 lb fluorocarbon line, tie on the 20 lb fluorocarbon tippet, and then tie on a 12" wire bite guard ("shock tippet"). This setup should be IGFA kosher. Hopefully I will get a little bit better turn over on some of the larger flies I fish with.
One thing I may try this year instead of knotting the wire tippet to the fly, is to twist the wire and re-melt the plastic coating. I've heard from many other anglers that they've never had a line failure due to the melted coated coming apart. Some guys leave a larger loop tied on the other end of the tippet and pre-tie their flies to the wire tippet, and swap out the entire tippet section when switching flies. I'll also be tying up similar leaders using monofilament for my floating lines. I've had good success using the Berkley big game mono for leader sections, plus it’s cheap and readily available.
Here's the bottom line: finding materials for pike leaders can be difficult if your looking for fly oriented brands like Rio, Climax, SA, Maxima. I've had really good luck using Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon and Beadalon 49 strand bead stringing wire. Try to find anything larger than 40 lb test Rio fluoroflex or hard mono, frog hair, or Maxima big game leader spools in stores in the metro. I couldn't. I went to several different fly shops and a big box store and they didn't have them. The big box stores had vanish leader spools, though, from 10lb through 100 lb. Beadalon you can find at just about any craft store.
Yeah, some of those other lines may seem to be nicer to use, but I'll stick to using what I can readily get at the store, and it seems to do the job just fine.

March 15, 2007

2007 Fishing Minnesota Fly Swap

The Fly Fishing forum on Fishing Minnesota is hosting a fly swap this spring. There were a dozen participants who entered, so there will be 11 different flies arriving in my mailbox at the beginning of April. There is a pretty eclectic mix of fly fishers on the message board, so the results should be interesting. There will be flies of all types, including flies for trout, warmwater species, and maybe even a saltwater pattern or two. Sounds like fun.
The due date for the flies to be received by the swapmeister is the end of March. I finally got around to tying the dozen flies last night after taking a bit of time figuring out what pattern I wanted to tie. I wanted to pick a fly that reflected the style of fishing that I do, as well as choose something that all swap participants would be able to use. Not everyone uses a 9 weight rod, so I decided on a size 6 streamer, that even someone using a 6 weight should be able to use.

Here’s the recipe:

"Mini-Me Reynolds"
hook: #6 Cabelas Model 40,4X Long Streamer Hook (Mustad equivalent: 9674)eyes: 3/16" brass hourglass eyes, nickel; black paint pen/sharpietail: white rabbit strip, 2"; 4-5 strands pearl krystal flash; 2 strands gold krystal flash.body: red crosscut rabbit, 2”thread: Danville 3/0 pre-waxed monocord white; UNI-thread 4mm thin clear monocement: Loon clear head; Hard as Nails, “diamonds” color

Tie in the white thread and wrap a base along the hook shank to the hook bend and back to the eye. Tie in the hourglass eye about ¼ of the way back form the eye (or about 3 eye lengths) using a figure eight pattern. Whip finish and tie off. Cement the thread wraps around the eye using the Loon clear head; let dry.
Tie in the clear mono thread. Trim about a ¼ inch of hair off from the tip of the white rabbit strip. Tie in the strip about a third of the way up from the hook bend, back to just above the hook bend. Find the middle of the strands krystal flash, and tie in at the base of the tail. Bend the strands back along the other side of the hook shank and wrap. Whip finish. Tie in the crosscut rabbit strip at the base of the tail, again trimming the ¼ inch of hair off from the tip. Make sure the hairs are facing the direction of the hook bend. Wrap the thread forward, towards the eye. Palmer the crosscut strip forward to the eye. Whip finish and tie off. Coat the thread wraps around the eye with the Hard as Nails. Paint in an eye with paint pen. Dry
This fly is a miniature version of Barry Reynold’s pike fly. While originally designed for pike, this fly will also catch bass, panfish, walleye, and big trout. This fly can be fished aggressively, as well as like a traditional streamer. The rabbit will give this fly a lot of movement in the water, and the krystal flash should give off just enough flash as to not spook wary fish. Using a Duncan loop, or other loop knot, to attach to the fly will increase movement and help add realism to the fly.

March 13, 2007

Muskie on the fly

Recent temperatures breaking 50 degrees have got many of us thinking about open water fishing again. Melting snows have begun to swell river banks, and soon water temps will begin to rise, bringing the start of the fly fishing season. I’m planning on chasing muskies on the fly this summer. I’ve never targeted muskies with a fly before, but have caught plenty of their cousins, the northern pike, on a fly before. There are many similarities between pike and muskies, including foraging and habits and locales. The main difference between fishing the two is upsizing all of your gear for muskies. The following is a brief synopsis on the equipment needed for getting started for fishing muskies on the fly.There is not much information out there on the web (or in text) on fly fishing muskies. It is a very specialized niche in the fly fishing market and is relatively unexplored by most anglers. There isn’t much market saturation taking place. Even pike information is still relatively obscure. Warmwater fishing for species like bass and panfish, though, has begun to get more press from the fly fishing industry in recent years. Equipment needs for targeting muskies include a stout fly rod; I’ve noticed that people use anything from an 8wt to a 12wt for muskies. An 8 wt is a little underpowered, in my opinion, to be casting flies large enough to catch muskies. You arm will tire, which will lead to sloppy casts after a long day on the water. I think that 12 wt is overkill, and was mainly preferred for its fighting strength. I don’t think this is an issue anymore with the newer high modulus blanks used today. I’d opt for a 9wt or 10 wt rod, around 9′ long. These rods should provide enough backbone to cast those large flies as well as have a fighting butt to fight those muskies.A decent reel with a good drag should be used. Pike and muskies are known for short fast runs; you’ll want to protect your tippet to keep from the fish breaking off. I wouldn’t be concerned about needing a lot of backing, so a large arbor reel would fit the bill. It will have a faster retrieval rate and will reduce the amount of memory on your fly line.I would recommend having at least two fly lines. A floating line in a bass bug, clouser, or pike taper will help get those big bushy wind resistant flies to your target. These lines are designed with an oversized head, to help deliver big flies. The second line would be a sinking tip line. You may need to adjust your sink rate based on the depth of water you will be fishing, but will most likely an angler would be fishing weed beds, so a Type II or III sink would fit the bill. A type V or VI sink rate would be preferable in deeper water, or fishing rivers with heavy flows, and/or current, to get your fly down to the bottom.Unfortunately, there are not many muskie flies available in the marketplace. Your best bet for purchasing, would be finding the largest pike flies that you can. Reynolds pike flies, dahlberg divers, rainy’s tsunami, and double bunnies are very good patterns. Often times, muskie/pike anglers use saltwater patterns, due to their size. They are effective as well; clouser deep minnows and lefty’s deceivers are two good saltwater patterns. I prefer to tie my own flies, since many of these patterns are not available locally. By tying my own, I am able to match the color combinations that I prefer, and use materials that I prefer. Bucktail is the preferred material used in many large flies, however, I like to use synthetic hairs, because they stand up better to toothy abuse, are longer fibers, and tie better.Chasing after muskies is very demanding, and you will need some of the best equipment available, regardless of skill level, just to deliver flies to the beast, and to prevent severe equipment failure. Even the stoutest, highest quality equipment is known to break from these monsters. I would consider for purchase equipment with lifetime warranties. Fortunately, there have been recent breakthroughs in technology and overseas production that have brought high quality, affordable equipment to the marketplace. The Muskellunge is North America’s fiercest freshwater game fish, and definitely one of the largest to be caught on fly rod and reel. My goal for the upcoming season is to catch one of these toothy critters on the fly. Fortunately I live in an area with prime muskie waters, and catching a trophy sized fish is a very real possibility. This will be a challenge with many hours spent casting for this often elusive fish. Hard work and effort will payoff, however, when I land that first muskie on the fly.