Saturday, April 30, 2011

Friends Flies (& Shitty Handshakes)

He didn’t start off on the right foot—parking sideways in the fly shop parking lot. It was a slow Sunday so the sloppy parking wasn’t really an inconvenience to anyone, but there was something about it that stunk of a deep seated entitlement that those born rich will sometimes have. Then the handshake. I offer my hand to everyone who comes in—that and a proper how are ya? It’s what I do…have done it for years. I feel a fly shop should have that sort of atmosphere. Like a home town bar. You know, like Cheers. So I get all sorts of people and all sorts of handshakes. The limp handed Dead Fish that never fails to take you by surprise, the Four Fingered Curtsy (come on man…let the thumbs lock before you bear down!) that leaves you feeling like you ought to lift your dress and dip…and the Little Pecker Gonzo Squeeze that leaves you with unnecessarily broken phalanges all because Gonzo is feeling inadequate (and apparently spending hours throttling stress balls at the office). But this one was new to me…one pump of the hand, a turn of the back and a dismissive yank out of the man grip. What the hell?
“Got any UFOs?” he asks with his back still to me. Face down in the fly bins.
My smart ass streak had already kicked in. “Haven’t been abducted since I left the rural Midwest,” I say.
He doesn’t appear to appreciate my attempt at humor. Whatever.
“You know the UFO, don’t you?”
“No,” I say. “What is it?”
“Are you serious?” He seems incredulous.
Again, whatever…

I guess being a guy who tends to be hyper-sensitive to body language and tone of voice makes my line of work unnecessarily stressful at times. I don’t like being snarky. In fact, long before I ever worked in the fly fishing industry, my most memorably negative experiences were in fly shops—some over-egoed D-Bag dripping condescending tone like…well, condensation off a cold canteen. I swore I would never become that guy. But, being in a fly shop most days is a double edged sword. It puts me in contact with some of the most interesting and animated members of my community (that would be you, dear reader! Lookin’ good today, btw!) the down side is that I have to suffer the fools…with a cheesy smile on my face. Suffering fools is not on the list of things I do well. So, I suppose I should stop whining about my job. I may have one of the best gigs imaginable (which, however, is why my whining invariably falls on deaf ears!) So what if some of the most enthusiastic story tellers have the worst breath? So what if the worst story tellers usually speak the slowest? So what if occasionally some pompous ass face gives me a shitty hand shake? All things considered, I should not care at all…and I will try not to. 

But…I will never have every silly name of every silly fly ever tied committed to memory (or stocked in our shop bins for that matter). I don’t keep track of what some dude who guided you once on the San Juan is hacking out on his vice between packing himself a fresh bowl and telling the stiffs on the river how awesome he is. Nope. Not paying attention. I fish only three types of flies: My Own Designs (because that is what Umpqua contracts me to do) Old Staples (because I have to know how mine stand up to the existing standard) and Friends Flies (because I know how important other discerning opinions are to the development of a new fly pattern). Also, I am lucky enough to be fairly close friends with some of the best fly tiers in the country.  I ain’t gonna start name dropping, but this allows me to stick pretty tightly to my three-tiered mantra on fly selection! 

I don’t just pander to the big names out there in the tying world…some of the more enjoyable ventures have been involving young fly tiers. I love seeing what they are coming up with, whom or what their influences are, and how much just a little encouragement and feed back can do. I have a good friend, Justin who is 13 and will occasionally get dropped off at the fly shop on Sundays by his mother. Justin is one of these uber-sharp young teens who will inevitably make you look back to when you were 13…and cringe. Bare foot in a mud puddle, a two-inch Ewok in one hand and a rusty machete in the other? No? Sorry…just me I guess.  Anyway, Justin is a fly designer, too. Not just a fly tier. He comes up with his own stuff. And I admire that. And when he left a plastic cup for me at the shop the other day with some new carp flies…I could not wait to try them out!

(After Action Review: Justin, thanks for the flies! They worked! First carp to get a proper look at it hopped on like a hobo on a flat car! My only major critique is the weight. Too heavy for the flats style fishing I like. Too hard to control on short casts and too loud of plop entering the water. That size dumbell would work better in a river, moving water like the South Platte. Try scaling down to a 1/8th Dazel-Eye at the head. Also, give me some other color combos. The one you gave me had the “shad” thing doing (will be sweet later in the summer!) but let’s see some leech and crayfish versions! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Windblown Wanderings on the Big Thompson

Written and Contributed by Erin Block

It is Spring. Although the two inch fresh blanket whose thickness is still being added to as I write, would moonlight you no hint. But yes, it is spring -- and is my least favorite season. It's all that emphasis on growth, and rebirth, and babies, and pastels. It all makes me very uncomfortable. Plus, spring -- she is flaky. Her crust teases with chips here and there, but holds her hand closed. She pretends to melt, you feel just a little bit of warmth, but then snarks with silence. She has a headache. She won't give much. I can't read her tell. What will she do next? Straight faced, she lives each day with the knowledge of her power - and we are left at her whim, thrown about to fit her fancy. Spring is like a relationship -- like that relationship where your 100 % was met with 10%. Barely 10%. You give, and they take. Over and over and over again. They have come to expect your 100% to always be there. Spring never expects for summer to move on 100 % without her.

Friday fishing on the outskirts of Boulder was windy -- too windy for the carp Jay and I were trying to catch. We gave it some time, but soon realized we were just wasting ours. "I hate throwing in the towel," Jay said, getting into the left-hand turning land, over-riding his autopilot back south to Boulder. "Let's check out the Big Thompson."

We ate pickles and headed to Estes Park.

I have this horrible gift of trying to be positive. It is against my nature, and she reveals her true self at the end. If there is inclement weather, my dad always gives me this look of "Erin, don't say a thing...not one single thing..." It was on a family vacation to New York City that I discovered this gifting, and my dad discovered that look. My dad, sister and stood I on a very rainy and cold Ellis Island. Trying to hearten spirits, I said "Well, at least it's just could be worse." And it got worse. The temperature dropped. Rain turned to sleet. I said it could always be worse. Then it hailed. Again, it could always...and it started to snow. "Well, it could always be..." Erin, shut up!

These memories briefed me be quiet. Eat another pickle. But I blurted, "I think we're going to end up farther north than the cloud bank. This is going to be great!" And then I uttered the damning phrase "hey, I think the wind has died down a bit," as the truck shook and veered to the right in a gust. Just to illustrate my point. Yeah. Died Down. Sure. Whatever, Erin.

McDonald's coffee bolstered us to the tailwaters below Lake Estes and the Olympus Dam. It wasn't crowded, and we nabbed a good pool, Jay said. Lines knotted and fingers froze and I huddled around him, opening my jacket to break the wind as he rigged me another deep dropper nymph. (Yes another. I'd lost my top fly to a rainbow, and previously to a bad knot.) My fingers couldn't move, they were too cold. But we are good partners, he and I. And that is the point, isn't it? Of having a partner? When you can't, they can...and they will...

.....give more than 10%.

"If I ever, ever, get in a room alone with the personification of The Wind" Jay said, "I tell you what..." and he continued to describe just exactly what he would do to the wind, as my imagination invented even more serious inflictions.

We decided to go to the truck, blast the heater for a few miles, and move downstream.

We ate cheese.

"Are you ready?" Jay asked. My legs had stopped shaking and I shivered a yes.

The river's flow was almost waist high on me, and I held onto Jay's hand...steady. We found a big pool, spooling with shadows. Get them he said, into a blast of wind.

I cast first. And we went back and forth, taking turns catching rainbows and browns -- standing in front of the other to cast, and providing a brief windbreak for the other. Although I must say, I probably got the better end of that whole windbreak deal.

Jay looked at me. My face was burnt red. "I like fishing with're tough...and you can cast into the wind."

Yes...yes I can.

But sometimes, I tire of having to.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Private School Bass (Versus Public)

Behaviorally speaking, there are two distinctly different types of largemouth bass: private water bass and public water bass. The private water fishing is as incredibly fun and as insanely easy as anywhere in the country I have ever fished. The public water bass, though, are as finicky and tricky as they get. In our area, the public access lakes that have the potential to hold decent bass populations are very heavily fished. There are size restrictions in place when keeping fish (must be over 15 inches) but this is widely ignored by many of the local bait dunkers. As a consequence; most of the best bass water is severely stressed, and the bass that have been able to remain in these places tend to be much more cautious and worldly than their cousins living on the private side of the tracks.
Much of what you will read about bass fishing is written by those who spend a majority of their time on large reservoirs that are mainly accessible by boat (thus limiting concentrated fishing pressure) or smaller, yet private, leases. As a result, a healthy amount of this written advice does the average local fly fisherman little to no good. When fishing private water you can rig up with a short, stout leader and break loose with all your stereotypical, gaudy top-water poppers and have you a real blast! Public water, on the other hand, often calls for a bit more thought and fineness.
On a large body of water (public or private) bass can be found congregated in certain areas and nearly absent in others. Also, they will migrate from one area to another for a slew of different reasons—time of day, season, water temperature and atmospheric pressure. Because of this, learning a larger bass lake can take years. A fisherman who has gotten to know a body of water can use his accrued knowledge to make decisive and strategic moves; such as leaving a shallow cove where he is catching bass sporadically and moving to some deeper water with submerged structure at the other end of the lake. Once there he may wreak havoc on the bass. This move may involve a 15 to 20 minute boat ride with the outboard motor roaring. If done correctly this kind of trouble shooting can win a guy thousands of dollars in a B.A.S.S tournament. This same scenario on a local bass pond may unfold quite differently.
In many ways small bass ponds are easier to fish than larger lakes. The most noticeable difference is the obvious one: the bass are confined to a small area and can be found with much less effort. The “bass pond” version of the aforementioned strategic boat ride may not involve moving at all, but only mean throwing a cast strait out from the bank and letting the fly sink for a bit instead of casting down the edge of the bank and retrieving the fly quickly.
If all this is reminding you of the fun you had growing up trespassing on golf courses and farm ponds…that’s just great. If it all sounds as daunting as hell, don’t sweat it, I’ll get you thinking like a bass in no time!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

They do not play well with others!

"Restless during nap time." "Does not play well with others." These were the types of comments that would show up on my kindergarten grade cards...I guess that is why I have such affection for northern pike! While fishing Ladora Lake a few years ago I came across a commotion in the cattails. I couldn't believe it! Two good pike were mauling a third, smaller pike! I had to intervene by pulling one of the aggressors off and let the other swim off with his super sized #11 (the fillet-o-fish sandwich at the McDonald's drive through).

Where did this photo come from?

Flex Spex (One Small Great Idea Amongst a Herd of Idiocy)

I have always said fly fishing is a gadget driven industry. This may be one of the reasons fly shops stay in business. The average fisherman has this un-shakable notion that if he hangs out one more time at a fly shop wiggling a new high-end rod or finds that next awesome trinket to clip to his vest he will suddenly stop sucking ass on the river. Well (and I don’t mind being the one to break this to you) the only way to remove the hack status from the lapel of a $120 super SPF breathable fishing shirt…is to spend more time fishing. Very simple. Speedos does not Superman make—just notifies everyone that you have more cash than sense and that you may or may not be attempting to smuggle a pair of blue plums. And, unfortunately, there have been a rash of dismal creations in the very resent past. And, no…I am not referring to the crazy-ugly baby one of your friends just deposited into the world and who now keeps popping up in your News Feed as their new Facebook profile pic…

So, here are what could arguably be the four biggest duds in my world of fly fishing (and one small, great idea!):

Moffitt Flies. I guess you could call them flies. This is one hell of a harebrained idea to turn the pegged-egg bead concept into actual fly fishing. Pegged egg? So…yeah…the second most disappointing thing to infiltrate the lower 48 from Alaska. (Sara Palin) This is taking a plastic bead the size and color of a trout or salmon egg, threading it onto your leader and pegging it into place with a sliver of wooden toothpick—then tying on a bare hook. The idea is that the fish eats the “egg” and the act of setting the hook dislodges the pegged bead and slides the bare hook into the side of the fish’s face. In reality it’s an outstanding way to floss spawning fish but still feel good about yourself. As you can probably assume from my tone, I am not a fan. Can’t argue with its effectiveness, though. Deadly. But, as a commercial fly designer, I am philosophically opposed the whole idea. Now…this Kevin Moffitt guy had the idea to have flies tied on doubled-over bits of rubber and then used in place of the bead. Interesting? The end result is possibly the most hideous flies ever tied and a multi-thousand-dollar pipe dream. Kevin! STOP IT!

Vibram Wading Soles. I gave these an honest try. And, for the first two weeks I was sold. Raved about them to anyone who would listen. (I work in a fly shop, so people are sort of forced to listen from time to time). Then…week three. There was just enough wear on the treads and suddenly I was looking like a scared drunk in a 100-year flood. Disaster. On the plus side…I am now going to get a wading staff sale out of every one of my friends I convinced to buy a new pair of Simms boots during those two weeks!

Monic Fly Lines. How do I best describe these brittle abortions in a box? OK…if you and two of your best redneck friends from childhood (you know, the part of your life you have conveniently not told your spouse about…yet) got together in a garage, blasted Free Bird over and over on an old boom box dug out of the rafters, drank several cases of Old Milwaukee and, by hand, made a fly line. It would suck. You would not want to put it on your reel. No way. But it may still be better than a Monic!

Gateway Hooks. A new line of poorly-made hooks that are designed with eyes that are not closed. Don’t ask. But, if you do ask…The Dude will waist an hour plus of your time with a nonsensical sales pitch that leaves you with the distinct impression that you may be the last one in the room with properly functioning logic.

But I never want to be accused of being a naysayer or standing in the way of innovation. Old School fishermen and infantrymen have a tendency to rightfully believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it—a sick to your guns philosophy (pun most certainly intended). There is a great deal of wisdom in that. But I do firmly believe that an M16A2 is a far better assault rifle than an M1 Garand and that graphite makes a way better fly rod than some tall grass growing along a road in China—although the former in both cases are far more classy and romantic. Their inevitable replacement was the spawn of ingenuity and innovation…an evolution in technology, if you will. So, to conclude this very negative gear review on a positive note…let me tell you about one man (and his daughter) making a simple, but very cool new gadget for us fishermen. Flex Spex he calls them. Sure, there are a ton of different magnifying lenses available already (fastened to your glasses, clipped to the bill if your hat…braided into nose hair?) but that’s what makes these new ones so awesome…the niche has already been filled. But now it has been trumped! They come in two pieces—one clip, one flex arm and one lens each. The clips attach to the side of a hat brim (out of the way!) and the flex arms can be wrapped easily around the top of your hat when not needed. Now, when a fly needs to be rigged, you pull both sides down in front of your polarized fishing glasses, the two lenses connect by magnet…and POW! Ya’ll in bidnis, son!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Rocky Mountain Anglers Hosting Fly Fishing Film Tour!

April 28th (Thursday night!) we at Rock Mountain Anglers (303-447-2400) in Boulder are kicking off for the Fly Fishing Fim Tour! The shop will be open at the normal time, but by about 4:00 in the afternoon many of the Tour guys and most of the Hard Cores in our fine town will begin gathering at the most trout-bum friendly shop in town! RMA! Randy will be grillin' in our shop back yard...pulled pork and fried chicken are on the menu! Oh, and there will be beer a flowin'! The Film Tour Guys are bringing lots of swag and free T-Shirts, as well. Then, at about 6:30 we all will begin the rowdy migration down to the Boulder Theater! Good times! Good times! We have discounted tickets here at the shop, btw...

Free tickets for kids at the fly shop!

The Fly Fishing Film Tour is the original and world’s largest event of its kind. It features incredible original, never-seen footage from the industry’s top filmmakers at waterways worldwide. The films offer a great blend of inspiring cinematography, hilarious comedy, poignant commentary, and tons of amazing fish. Featured films this year include fly fishing for Mako sharks with LDR Media, pursuing the elusive Permit in the Florida Keys with WorldANGLING, hunting for Billfish in Guatemala and subsisting on a diet of beer and cheese-curds in Wisconsin with Beattie Outdoors, exploring the Mexican coast in a vegetable oil-powered pickup with Motiv Fishing and a poignant look at how the gulf oil spill affected Redfish populations in the Louisiana marshland with Waterline Media.

Each stop on the film tour features a live emcee, door prizes, special offers to local outfitters and a chance to win a grand prize fishing trip. It’s an opportunity for fans of fish, and film, to come together and celebrate their passions, support local and national conservations organizations, check out never-seen locations, swap stories and get fired up for the upcoming fly fishing season. This annual high-energy spectacle is the sport’s most anticipated annual live event.

Visit and see when the tour is coming near you, check out trailers,
pick up merchandise from the new tour gear store and more. Tickets are on sale now and you can pick them up online or at a sponsoring local outfitter. Don’t miss the fly fishing party of the year.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

How to Tie the UV Asher

The UV Asher is a drastic improvement on a classic fly. The original Orange Asher has been an old staple for many years, but does not get used often anymore. Most fly shops carry them, but many of the newer shop employees may not know what bin it is in...or have no idea what you are talking about! The old, original was a great fly, very popular with the high-lake dry fly fishermen. But the only fault was a severe lack of durability. The fly would fall apart after only one fish...making it essentially a disposable fly. You could put a cross wrap of fine wire over the hackle to re-enforce it, but that would almost always make the fly look disgusting and make it sink easy (not so much because of the added weight of the wire, but because the wire would matt down or tweak the fine dry fly hackle fibers).

The flashy underbody and large black head of this new version gives it a buggier look. Plus, the hackle wrapped through UV Knot Sense creates a super durable and better floating fly because the quill is protected and the hackle fibers are permanently erect and ridged. It is a super easy fly to tie...

UV Asher (Orange): Hook—TMC 100, Grizzly hackle, 6/0 fire orange Uni-thread, and black, Lateral Scale (Orange Dyed Pearl).

Tying Flies

 Written & Contributed by Erin Block

I feel like I am on a movie set. On a scape I have dreamt. Painted into a picture I have seen before --- like when Bert draws Mary Poppins a jolly holiday and they jump into the sidewalk, careful not to smudge what has been created, what is so beautiful...
I wander and wonder when I will wake to find myself alone again. But I don't. We walk towards the river, always towards the water. And he is still there...
...saying, "I think I know how you learn. I will tie one first.....just watch." He pulls close a black folding stool, the kind I used to lug around with my guitar to gig weddings with, and I sit down. I lean in to get a better view, but am careful to keep out of his light.  Of course he is right. He knows how I learn. He knows who I am, and how I work. He watches me closely. He observes. I can tell when his eyes are taking notes -- about me -- lining his memory in ink...not chalk that will wash away, or pencil to be erased.  His hands move gracefully, and every step melts to fluidity. I listen. I observe. I look at him. I take notes.

It is my turn. Three of each color. A dozen total. But, practice the finish first, he says, reminding me of how I always used to practice the last lines of music first, bars measured to perfection. The finish must be strong. I tie whip knot, after whip knot, after whip knot. The motion feels good to my fingers...finishing something I have yet to start. Rounded five times, bowing in's a gentlemen of a knot....
I begin to wrap, just as I saw him do, and thread spools off the bobbin., don't twist the marabou so tight. Yes, much better, and my next fly doesn't look like it has a tumor beneath its tail. If I were a fish, I really wouldn't want to eat a cancerous fly.
He stares at me like I'm a little-green-man, an alien in this new his world. Where did this woman come from!?  And why is she sitting at my tying desk? I wonder the same thing. I have watched him here, at this desk, peeking into this world from far away, up a canyon, before I was let in. Over and over and over again I watched his hands, moving mine as puppets.....shadowing. I wanted to be a part of this beautiful thing too. I wanted his hands to show me how. I watched and listened and translated his trade-talking-tongue.   

He walks over to the futon. To write, he says. And that is when I know I'm doing ok. He leaves me on my own. With my back turned, I smile. The vise is oiled by his hands, with touches of wear and worn fingerways of travel, and I follow them with mine. After a few minutes, I hear a snore. I keep tying...
I illuminate. Like a monk. The water like a skinned parchment, bare; eddying begs for colors, for words -- in order to be read. And, to glean that which is at the bottom and unseen...come out, I say....tying......
Looking down, there is one hook left. "Pick out any colors you want for the last one," he says, waking from writing. "Can fish see colors?", I ask. "Yes they can." And I sense that he is testing my bug-sensibilities as a fisherman. What will I pick? What I like, or what the fish will. I like buggy colors. My lenses are earth toned.
He smiles, and says, as I take my last fly off the vise and turn around for him to see --- You are a good fisherman...and that is your best one yet...

Friday, April 15, 2011

A comparative analysis: IF FISH WERE DRUGS

Written and contributed by TK Connor III

 Bass: Medical Marijuana. This a chill experience, spent mid summer casting a popper along some peaceful pond, lined with cattails. You might be in a small, manageable jon boat that you pushed from the bank into the enticing water that awaits. At some point you'll have the time and energy to whip out a snack, maybe drink a beer to compliment the vermilion setting sun over the front range. All in all a good experience, something that you'll do again, maybe even get a license - I mean private bass lease - so you can do it all the time, cause - you can always fit it in with the kids after work. And hey, if the bass aren't biting, its all good - we'll just catch some blue gill and laugh our asses off.

Wiper: LSD combo'd with street amphetamines. Usually bad weather, you're gonna get wet, be cold and you're definitely awake, in some foreign environment battling the urge to run away and never come back, but hell bent and committed on the idea that something good might come of this. When you finally hit the peak, or catch a fish, all hell is breaking loose, reels are falling apart, the wind is pushing the boat into the rocks and once again, your battling a chaotic fish that might leave you empty handed and frazzled. If the stars align and you're holding a 10 pound wiper, you'll be convinced that you're just tripping your balls off. Now, if you make it out alive, I guarantee you'll have some experiences and that you'll never forget, and you'll want to do it again, probably with your buddies, when your wife doesn't know about it.

Pike: Cocaine combo'd with alcohol. You gotta have the energy to fish hard for pike, and have the lowered inhibitions to put your body at risk to a mean and pissed off fish, that will cut you up if he needs to. Its a fine balance of maintaining a comfort level and taking off the edge, but staying focused and ready to drive a distance, and fish with skill and tenacity. The pay off is generally really great - but you usually want to keep doing it all night and into the next day.

Carp: Three red bulls combo'd with 1/2 hit of ecstasy. Carp fishing is similar to trout fishing in that you get constant feedback on whether or not you're doing the right thing. This however, requires a good deal of energy and ambition but also requires a relaxed, patient and glass half full, ambivalent faith type attitude. You can't be too jacked up, but also can't be too lazy - its a fine balance.. In the likely scenario that you'll get skunked, its okay because you're not completely exhausted from the experience, and you can easily do it again the next day - and interestingly you will have loved doing it - I mean loved it. The carp effect will keep you laughing and going back for more on the weekends and you'll probably spend a whole day planning it out. Although, if this is your sole focus, you'll end up a little tweaky and strangely distant.

Trout: Heroine. feels good, laid back, you relax, maybe pass out streamside for a nap during the day. wake up and easily repeat. find yourself 10 years later still guiding for the same shop, same meager rations and generally starving for good food and meaning in life. Eventually you'll get a good job with some corporation and fish two weeks a year, for the same dumb 12" brown on boulder creek.

As far as I'm concerned, the Colorado Grand Slam is a carp, wiper, pike and bass all in the same day. If you do it in Boulder County then you're just an incredible bad ass and it would be an honor to chill with you. In a sense, you're committing both mental and physical suicide and it'll leave you exhausted for days - and you'll probably only try once a year (in Vegas, where anything can happen). I tried it last year and was a bass away from completing the quad-fecta - Hunter S. Thompson uncontrollably narrated my thoughts, very much reminiscent of fear and loathing. All I had to do was just smoke that joint, but it was late after a long day, I was wet, cold, battered, tired, bloody, out of energy drinks didn't have that little red card - um I mean - a private bass lease. I will try it again and I hope you do to - you'll be better for trying and it will tell you a lot about who you are. And don't worry, the trout will always be there like a king size bed, spread with a giant goose down comforter for when your old, lazy and looking for the easy way out.

 By TK Connor III

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fly Fishing for Pike in Colorado (a crash course)

Northern Pike are an exciting quarry. Many spin fishermen and bait casters are aware of how fun pike can be, but fly fishers are mostly oblivious. Less than 15% of fly fishermen in Colorado have ever cast to pike or musky. I believe the main reason for this apparent lack of interest is intimidation. This intimidation is not necessarily a fear of the fish itself (although they are a vicious, potentially dangerous animal) but a fear of the heavy gear that comes along with fishing for them. Most of us are trout fishermen at heart and have long owned the gear that goes along with it. We are comfortable with a 4 or 5 weight rod, 9 foot 5x tapered leader and hordes of size 16 and 18 trout flies. But a pike fisherman needs to possess a larger rod, usually an 8 weight, and a strong casting arm. You will be casting heavy flies—that won’t fit in your trout box—and you will have to cast them as far as you can…over and over again. Once a fisherman gets over the initial gear and casting challenges, catching pike is relatively easy. These fish are hyper-aggressive predators, sometimes preying on other fish with reckless abandon. It is often easy to take advantage of this type of behavior. However, becoming a consistent and productive pike fisherman does take years of experience and close observation.

Choose Your Rod

The most common fly rod used for pike here in Colorado is a fairly stiff 9 foot eight weight, but sometimes a longer rod can be useful. Often a 9½ or 10 foot eight weight is used. The advantages of a long rod are many; you can cast larger flies longer distance, throw your back cast over tall cattails (even when you’re in waist deep water) and you can bring the fly past you at the end of your retrieve farther away making the fish less likely to spook. If you are planning a fishing trip to Alaska or Canada you would be well advised to take along a nine or even ten weight rod. There are areas up there where pike well over 50 inches long are not uncommon. An eight weight rod can handle these big fish, but casting the large flies all day is made much more enjoyable on a heavier rod.

Fly Line & Leader

Usually I recommend a weight forward floating fly line of a line weight corresponding to the rod you are casting. There are several exaggerated weight forward fly lines out there designed specifically for casting large flies…naturally, these are ideal. There are times when a sink tip fly line can be a good choice. If you are searching for pike in deep water (late season/late afternoon) or if you are casting lighter weight flies. Most leader conversations revolve around the type of bite tippet preferred. The entire leader is anywhere from 8 to 10 foot long and fairly robust. There are three main types of bite tippet commonly used at the end of a pike leader.

1. Wire. The advantage of a wire bite tippet is eliminating all bite offs, but the disadvantages are many. A thick wire adds weight to an already heavy fly and makes casting more challenging. Heavy wire is stiff, too, so the fly looses much of its’ natural and seductive movement—a loop, or jam knot will solve this problem, but add an ugly mess to the front of your fly. If the wire is thin enough to minimize the disadvantages, it will have an annoying tendency to “pig tail” or permanently coil up after the shock of fighting even an average-sized pike. The only time to consider using a heavy wire bite tippet is when you’re traveling to a fishing destination that is known for harboring large, unpressured pike. The fish in these areas aren’t usually as sensitive to clunky gear and you will be using a heavier rod (9 or 10 weight) so the bulky rig won’t be as detrimental to your casting.

2. Hard Mono. There are great advantages to using hard monofilament. Mono is much lighter weight (so casting is not a concern) and coiling isn’t as problematic. The disadvantages are still many, though. Hard mono is fairly stiff, so you will still have the problems of unnatural fly movement. Also, tying knots is cumbersome. But the worst disability is the toughness. Many fly fishers use this type of leader and live with a high loss rate of hooked pike due to bite off.

3. Braid. The braided material usually used is Spiderwire. It is quite limp, so you will get excellent fly movement and it is no heavier than regular monofilament. The two main disadvantages are maintenance and availability. Most multi-venue fishing stores carry the stuff, but here in Colorado they usually only have it up to 20 pound test. The kind you want is the 80 pound Spiderwire. The most reliable source I have found is ordering from Cabela’s. You can get a 300 yard spool for $25.99…and this could last you and two of your buddies a lifetime. The best way to set up a pike leader with braided bite tippet is as follows: start with a 9 foot 0x tapered monofilament leader and clip off the last two feet of tippet. Replace what you removed with 24 to 30 inches of the 80 pound braid. The braid is strong and can easily damage the mono, so use a double uni knot to attach the two and be gentle when tightening. Use an improved clinch, or whichever knot you usually use for attaching the fly. And lastly, always cut off your fly after every landed pike, trim the couple inches of gnarled braid and retie. If you do this religiously you will reduce the number of bite offs to almost nothing.

Pike Flies

Pike flies are some of the largest and flashiest that you will find in a fly shop. Most are a subsurface baitfish imitation ranging from three to seven inches long with size 2 to 4/0 hooks. Some of the common color combinations are black/white, red/white and red/yellow. Occasionally top water flies are used. You can identify these top water pike flies from their usually large clipped deer hair head and long tail. Hooking a pike on a surface fly is unbelievably cool (the take is always impressive!) but this type of fishing is usually only productive when chasing unpressured fish in a body of water that has a large number of pike. The high level of competition for food forces them to be more aggressive and opportunistic. If you are trying to get by using a lighter fly rod than is recommended, you have to be very careful with your fly selection. Look for smaller streamer patterns—three inches long and slim in profile—and take note of what materials the fly is tied with. Synthetics retain far less water than natural material once you begin fishing. A big rabbit-strip fly can almost double in weight after the first cast.

Some Tricks

As the water begins warming up in the spring the pike will start moving out into deeper water. They won’t all move out at the same time, they will disperse in waves according to their size. The larger ones are the first to go and by the time the water temperature rises into the high 60’s there will be nothing but the smallest pike left in close to shore.

Pike see color, but don’t see details clearly. This is why the gaudiest and most obnoxious flies will often work as well as some of the more realistic ones. The pike see what looks to be a crippled or wounded young fish (erratic, flashy movement) and the attack instinct kicks in!

Most of pike fishing consists of either blind casting to deeper water or along shore and weed lines, but sometimes you will see a pike in shallow water laying still…always cast to it! The pike could be laying in ambush, waiting for a frog or small bass to bumble out of the weeds, and will pounce on your fly. If the pike doesn’t make a move for your fly—and some won’t—don’t beat yourself up. Many times they are just basking in the sun, trying to increase their body temperature and are not interested in eating.

Use a stripping glove, or finger wraps on the index and middle fingers of your casting hand. Continually bringing in line with quick, jerky strips over those two fingers with the weight of a large pike fly at the other end will burn nasty groves into your skin. They hurt like hell and take forever to heal.

A bit of wind can be good, especially on a sunny day. The chop on the surface will break up the sunlight and stir up baitfish from their hideouts in the cattails and tall grass. An overcast day can mean excellent pike fishing, as well—the low light is ideal for hunting. Although, above all else is weather consistency.

Always watch close for followers…fish each cast past yourself so that you can see if there is anybody tailing your fly. As you are retrieving, try to spot your fly in the water as soon as possible…then focus hard on the void about two feet behind it.

Pike are a strong fish, but will rarely take you the 90 to 100 feet necessary to get you into your backing. With long, snake-like bodies they are built for short bursts of speed—they will often coil into a loose S and then lunge. This perfectly suites their ambush style of hunting. The pike body shape is the main reason for their reputation among anglers as a weaker fighting fish. A fisherman can keep a long-bodied pike off balance during the fight without having to try too hard. Consider the scenario from the perspective of the fish. A tussle with a fisherman is an aquatic version of the bus-pulling venue at a strong man contest. You never see a basketball player allowing himself to be tethered to a bus.

When fighting a pike always be conscious of how your fly line is being wound back onto to the reel. The heavier weight-forward lines used for casting pike flies are generally much thicker than most trout fishermen are used to. Treat the pinky finger of your casting hand as if it were the level-wind mechanism on a bait casting reel.

It is a good idea to bring along some sturdy pliers to help with fly removal once you land a pike. A set of wire jaw spreaders ain’t a bad idea either.

The Spawn

Pike spawn early in the spring when the water is still very cold (low 40’s). The larger females move into shallow water accompanied by several smaller males. The female will spew her eggs over muck and weed-lined bottoms, usually in shallow bays and creek inlets. This goes on for less than a week, although all females don’t start and end at the same time. Then the females move back out into deeper water to rebound from the pike version of spring break gone wild. The males will hang back in the shallow water to watch the game on television…always with an eye out for an easy meal.

Terminal Strategies for Landing More Pike

Leader: Loosing fish to “bite-offs” is a part of pike fishing, but it does not have to play as big a part as most fly fishermen let it. Use a bite tippet that limits these bite-offs to a minimum. (See leader section)

Fly: Because northern pike are notoriously over-aggressive predators the flies most commonly used are attractor streamers. These are usually large and extra flashy. A good pike fly fisher will use these types of flies, but also have a decent selection of smaller and/or more realistic baitfish and crayfish patterns. Have these flies available, but also be willing to use them. Knowledge of the most abundant and available food source in the water at hand is very important.

Hook: Hook selection in pike flies is usually overlooked—but it is very important, especially when the fishing is slow. In a typical day of pike fishing in Colorado a handful of fish hooked is a great day. Using flies tied on the best hooks will dramatically improve your hooked to landed ratio. Often you will see commercially available pike flies tied on very thick hooks with over-sized barbs. These are fine if you are chasing the big boys up in Alaska, but are responsible for countless hooked and lost pike here in the lower forty-eight. The hooks do not have nearly the penetrating ability on lighter-weight pike. Also, many of these hook styles are rendered completely worthless for holding fish once the barb is mashed down. Carry a good hook sharpener with your pike gear…more importantly, use it! I tie the majority of my Colorado pike flies on two different hooks—the Tiemco 8089 sizes 2, 4 and 6 and the Gamakatsu B10S sizes 1, 1/0 and 2/0 . One hook style I have learned to avoid is the Dai Riki 810. At a glance this hook looks similar to the more expensive Tiemco 800 series (also a great pike hook) but has two major differences: the “spear” is shorter and not nearly as down turned. If you don’t tie your own flies, don’t hesitate to wander over to the hook wall of your local shop and get to know these hooks. Look for commercial flies tied on hooks that have a wide gape and a long spear.

The Barbless Fly Debate

For trout fishing it is a no-brainer: crimp your barbs! Barbed flies will kill or at least severely mane and disfigure trout. But pike are tough; a barb alone will not do much lasting damage. Having said that, here are three good reasons for de-barbing pike flies: 1—The excessive handling that goes along with releasing a large fish hooked on a barbed fly WILL do harm. 2—Barbed flies are very difficult to remove from deep in the mouth of a pissed-off fish that happens to have far more (and sharper) teeth than you do! You will save doing damage to both your hands and your flies. 3—If you are ever going to have a fly buried deep in the back of your scalp…it is a pike fly. They are usually larger and heavier, thus a lot more difficult for a trout fisherman to cast.

Read More About Pike!

Friday, April 8, 2011

April Fools on South Boulder Creek

We were not the first ones to the gravel pull off, Erin and I. A late start, a stop for coffee and one wrong turn up a dirt road. Oh well. The two guys ahead of us looked decent enough—two fellow fly fishers—not a couple of turds who would likely camp out on fish or high hole us. I’ll get back to this. They were already wadered up and about to hit the trail down to the South Boulder Creek tailwater. I was going to give a good luck wave and see ya down there, but before any of those niceties could be exchanged a big pickup truck lurched into the pull-out next to us. As the dust was settling a big man in a tight “I Once Went to Sturgis” T-shirt rolled out of the cab with his scraggly haired son. He strolled over to us somehow coming across as a condescending jackass and a hapless oaf all in the same greeting. “Looks like ya’ll goin’ brookie fishin’!” (To me.) “Hey there, kiddo.” (To Erin.) He slung his beefy arms over the gunnels of my truck bed, his boy lingering sketchily behind him like that crazy pet-like-thing-on-a-chain in Jabba’s palace.
“Hope ya don’t mind us as ya’lls competition! We’re goin’ down do some worm fishin’!”
I looked up from my knot tying and totally strait-faced him though polarized sunglasses. “Yeah, about that...this stream is strictly catch and release, flies and lures only.” Verbiage regurgitated right out of the Fish & Game pamphlet…albeit for another river entirely.
The Hut reared back and yelled at his squirrely, blonde-haired pet, “Hey! We can’t fish here!” The pet opened its beak and made some strange, disappointed gurgling. “All we got’s worms!” yelled The Hut.
And, as the over-sized four-wheeled palace lurched dustily back off of our own little patch of Tattooine I heard him ask, “Now ya wouldn’t just be tellin’ us that to be rid a the competition, would ya?”
Who me? The walk down the trail was steep and twisted, but we were down to the bank of South Boulder sooner than I would have liked. It was one of the first really hot days of the year and I was enjoying the walk and the company. Erin and I were having a good chuckle over the encounter in the parking area. I was finding every opportunity to call her “kiddo”. I had my 3wt rod rigged with a two-fly nymph set-up—a #20 midge pupa and a BWO emerger—same rig that was working so well for me on the Big Thompson just the other day. But, the trout on SBC were not interested in either bug this day. It took me swiping at several annoying insects crawling up my jacket collar before I had the sense to look down and focus on what they were. Stoneflies! Tons of ‘em. Everywhere. Crawling on rocks, up our waders, onto our ears and into our hair. And the trout were ambushing them in the pocket water as they sputtered about on the flat surfaces of water behind rocks. Bugs were moving! Trout were feeding! Erin and I held onto each others wading belts and moved up the middle of the fast-moving creek, taking turns casting into pockets and pools as we made our way up to them. The best match I had in my fly box was a #12 Clown Shoe Caddis dry fly and a slightly smaller Banksia Bug as a dropper. But they worked perfectly! Fish were turning in the current to chase down the big, high-vis dry fly. Then the two fly fishermen from earlier appeared out from behind a large boulder. They looked down at us in the creek, didn’t even offer a nod or wave…just promptly high holed us. Turds. They dropped down and fished the big pool directly upstream. The craggy hole just below a short water fall that Erin and I had been diligently working our way up to. I sputtered and swore to myself, but did my best not to show it. I didn't want to ruin the perfect day that was unfolding. But the turds only made a few poorly-positioned drifts through the pool and then gave up, fishless. I then quickly moved into the violated pool and hooked a decent brown. And laughed out of sheer smug spite! Then I clambered farther into the craggy nest of deeper than most fishermen are willing to go. It felt a bit like a miniature Cheesman Canyon. And on the third drift a fat rainbow ate the Banksia Bug dropper. Best one of the day.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Stockers for Dinner

“Naw whatcha need ta do is git yerself a jar a peeewr bait…git out ta res n catch yerself some them staaawker trouts! Fry em up!”

Snicker snicker hardy har har… We both did our best redneck reservoir fisherman impersonations all the way back home. The snow was coming down sideways across the road in front of us and our pants were soaked and our hands frozen into bright red sclerosis-ish mitts. I was driving, but could not feel the steering wheel.

“Reservoirs full a them stawkers! Yuk yuk…!

The day had begun with fairly noble and complex intentions. We were going to first go check out a local res that was rumored to hold some good-sized northern pike, then shift gears to another spot that we knew would have some feeding carp. I had a Dixie Cup full of a new carp fly tied by a 13-year-old friend of mine. His flies looked like winners and I was eager to give them a try. And the nasty weather reports didn’t scare us none. We both had the day off and were bound and determined to find some sort of fishing adventure…somewhere. But, the wind was roaring hard over 70 miles an hour when we pulled into the parking lot of the “pike-rumored” res… This is gonna suck. “Let’s take a walk up over the burm and see just how bad this is.” And we did. And we could barely stand up against the wind. Whitecaps pounding the rocks and rip rap. Cold spray of water and clouds of dust blowing off the dry dirt path. Yup. Sure gonna suck. Erin rigged up a 5wt with a small Bellyache Minnow streamer for trout (we saw a guy with a spinning rod and a stringer full of stocker rainbows clinging to the rocks) and I strung up a fast action 7wt with a bite leader and big pike fly. And we were off… But the howling wind only brought worse weather. The temperature plummeted and the snow hammered us as we did our best to huck and jive against the ever-worsening elements. A couple hours into the ordeal I was ready to throw in the towel. Admit defeat. Reel in and head for the warmth of the truck. Then Erin hooks a fish. A plump 14 inch stocker trout eats the damn Bellyache. As she prepares to release the fish, I have a wave of inspiration. This is a put-and-take trout fishery. Designed to feed and entertain the nearby townies, and the reason some rouge pike have managed to live high on the hog. Why not keep a couple for dinner? So I found a fist-sized rock and put the trout out of its inbred misery. Whack! Right to the top of the head. Only problem now was we needed another similar-sized trout to round out the meal. And a long, hand and face freezing half hour passed with nary a strike. It was beginning to look as though the plan for dinner was a bit premature…and Erin continually cackled over the howling blizzard, taunting me with underhanded suggestions of what I would be having as she dined on her trout. Oooooh! You could always have potatoes! But I pulled through in the final moments before we both froze to the bank of the reservoir. And a hardy trout dinner was shared!

“Thems good pan-sized trouts ya got thar, mister! Gonna fry ‘em up, naw!”

Friday, April 1, 2011

Arctic Rose (...ten years deep)


News, cold and lonely as the distant sea,
ran wild, like the midnight lights of winter.
Head down, the words were read aloud to me.
Gone: the Arctic Rose, all hands aboard her.

Those frigid Bering waters are the broth
from which the dreams of hardy men are made.
Some, now, wrapped together in ancient cloth
are filling the ranks of a lost brigade.