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Monday, November 24, 2014

Belly Scratcher Sculpin

Sculpin Overkill

Belly Scratcher Sculpin

Wet vs dry.
I have to admit that I have been on a mission to tie a realistic sculpin for the last couple of years.  El Sculpito has been a great fly, but it's still a pretty impressionistic pattern instead of being a dead ringer.  When Bruiser Blend came to be, I was trying to incorporate it into flies any which way I could, and I got an idea for some fins.  If you have seen a sculpin you will notice that they have huge pectoral fins, and that it's hard to duplicate how big they are with materials that will stay big once wet.  I have seen them tied with hen hackle, mallard flank, zonker strips, etc...  All of that stuff compresses a LOT when it gets wet.

It's hard to explain all that goes into these fins, so you will have to watch the video to see it.  Yes, it is overkill, but it's the closest thing that I could get to huge pectoral fins.  They get a bit softer as you fish them, but they still hold a shape pretty well.  This is the first fly that I tied "woolhead" style with bruiser blend dubbing, and it works REALLY well in that technique.  I realized that I would waste a lot of the dubbing by tying it in woolhead style, so I started using Bruiser Blend Jr. to avoid excess waste.

Another version with a thicker head.
On the first few that I tied I put stick-on eyes on them, but there was something that just didn't look right about them.  I went through several versions of eyes until I just decided to build my own right on the dubbing.  Because these eyes are epoxied right into the dubbing of the head, they don't ever fall off.  If all you get out of this video is a new way to make the eyes, you will still come out ahead of the game...

Initial fishing tests were pretty insane because the fish would come out of the woodwork to absolutely SMACK this fly.  The best part is that you can tie some that are lightly weighted, and some that are heavy in order to put them in all of the water columns.

The four things to watch for in this video are the weighting system, the fins, the head, and the EYES.


Hook:  Allen B200 or Daiichi 2461 (BUY HERE)
Thread: UNI 6/0 - white (BUY HERE) Veevus GSP 100 - black (BUY HERE)
Tail: Zonker strip - olive (BUY HERE)
Body: Holographis cactus chenille - silver gold or olive (BUY HERE)
Weighting system: Articulation wire and 3.8 mm tungsten beads (BUY HERE and HERE)
Fins: Bruiser Blend dubbing - brown olive (BUY HERE)
Head: Bruiser Blend Jr. dubbing - brown olive (BUY HERE)
Eyes: Loon UV resin - thin, and thick (BUY HERE)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Product Review: Fish Cat Scout

The Swiss Army Boat

Fish Cat Scout -- Frameless Fishing Craft
The first personal flotation craft I got was one of those old-style diaper-donuts with an automobile tire tube for the guts. I felt like I was suspended by a couple of those floatie wing things my kids wear to the pool. And talk about difficulty getting in and out of -- I was tempted to find a way to launch myself from shore and lawn-dart my way into a seated position in the "boat" in order to avoid the awkward waddling fin dance entrance you'd normally have to perform. 

Luckily, over the years, these personal flotation craft have gotten a lot more user-friendly, versatile and comfortable to boot. We went from higher end float tubes to "U" tubes to pontoon boats and now to frameless flotation craft that neither qualify as pontoon or float tube. Between Cheech and I, we've fished from most of these types of boats at one time or another, so when we saw the Fish Cat Scout from Outcast, it screamed out for a look-see.

Before I get into the boat specs and review, let's set the stage on what we normally use these types of boats for -- because for you it might be different. Because we fish big stillwaters, where we need to cover distance and carry a lot of gear, the bass boat is the choice for us there -- for both trout and warmwater fishies. And if we're floating bigger rivers with more rapids, it's probably a bigger raft or drift boat on those occasions. But beyond those circumstances, this style of boat works great for floating all sorts of lakes, reservoirs and less-technical rivers. In other words, it combines the best of a float tube and a bigger pontoon boat in one do-it-all style boat.

Most recently, I had been using a Scadden Outlaw Escape (which is also a great boat), so I have a good baseline to compare experiences with the Scout and this style of boat in general. And in case you've been living under a rock, you've no doubt seen most of the major manufacturers move more to a frameless style boat. Because of this unique combination of features, weight savings and price, I think we'll see more and more people embrace this style of boat unless you're looking to backpack it long distances or really have the need to put a motor on it and rig it with a fish-finder etc.

Before we get to the written review, here's a quick summary by way of review video with Cheech at the helm:

Pictures are worth a thousand words, but we'll summarize the main functional aspects we look at for this style of boat and how the Scout stacked up.

Portability: One of my "non-starters" with any fishing rig these days is whether or not I can carry it
Cheech's new tutu
at least a short distance to the water or pack it onto an ATV. The Scout weighs in at 35 lbs, which is definitely not a deal killer, but probably not something you'll want to backpack in longer distances. My Outlaw Escape came in at roughly 22 lbs, however, due to the way Outcast designed the "carrying" handles at the center of gravity on the Scout, I have an easier time carting it around. We've even carried them up to a mile in very windy conditions.

In addition to being relatively light-weight, I can deflate the boat and put it into a Rubbermaid tote for storage and transportation. Whereas a framed pontoon boat would require much more assembly/dis-assembly, I pull this guy out of the tote and it's inflated in a few minutes with no assembly necessary. That's a huge win for this style of frameless boat.
Stability: I think the only thing I need to say about stability is that Cheech, with his 290 lbs of muscle mass, is perfectly stable on the Scout in even some of the rougher water we've experienced. See the video above for examples. In any case, you feel much safer and stable in this than you would in most tradition float tube style boats (or even when comparing against the popular Fat Cat boats from Outcast).
Durability: Probably one of the most pleasant surprises to me was the quality of PVC skin construction on the Scout. The first thought that went through my head was "hey, I'm sitting on a modified white-water raft". Because of this construction, the boat held its shape very well on the water, with little to no flex or give when moving around. This helps both stability but also speaks to the durable construction. Now obviously, durability is a longer term aspect, but I'd say the chances are good this will stand up to a lot of years on the water.
Maneuverability:  First off, we didn't have the chance to take the boats on any rivers in the past few months. However, I have it on good word that they handle rivers quite nicely, track nicely and make for a good fishing experience. As for lakes of varying sizes, when you combine the fact that you have oars to cover distance and the design and shape of the pontoons, there were no issues maneuvering around. As part of this, I'm mention the seat design because I think that lends to increased maneuverability in the sense that you're seated above the water on a nice air cushion. This reduces the amount of drag your non-hydrodynamic legs are in the water. It definitely made it easier to put into position than a framed pontoon.

I'll also throw in the oars for discussion here. Obviously a huge advantage to this style of boat is the fact that, unlike regular float tubes, you have oars to move around with. While not as big as pontoon boat oars, they get the job done. Plus, they have a great oar "lock" system that will keep them out of your way while you fish.

Price: It's tough to rate the price, but at a retail price of around $650, you're only looking at a few more bones than the Fat Cats (or other "high-end" tubes and substantially less than the Scadden boats of similar size and function.

Fishing Comfort: Comfort may be a bit more subjective in nature, but there are a few things worth mentioning. Like I mentioned earlier, the seat bottom being a nice fat comfy air cushion that sits your butt above the water, I didn't get numb legs or rear-end like I would in previous pontoons I'd owned. The seat itself is a kayak style adjustable seat and is easily the most comfortable one I've used. And just being that far out of the water is going to make you more comfortable regardless of the seat type.

The stripping basket is a clever design that sits at just the right level to contain your line but not interfere with your cast. Plus it's adjustable enough to accommodate a few different positions and is easily removable -- no snapping, attaching or buckling (see the video for how it works). My only complaint there is that I had a couple of instances where I accidentally jarred it loose and it also can get in the way of rowing. Otherwise, it's a great feature.

Also a huge win for the Scout is the very roomy "trunk" for storage. Immediately behind the seat is an area big enough to hold all the gear I'd normally have on my pontoon or tube, including my camera bag, food bag and the kitchen sink. And the nice thing is that it's completely dry and easily accessible. It's important to note that while the Scout comes only with a smallish gear "pocket" attached to it (something I initially viewed as a negative), I much prefer to keep my gear in the same bags and not have to transfer all my crap from my stream or wading bags into the pontoon style saddle or gear bags. Plus, the gear pockets on the Scout work great for rod holders.

Overall assessment:
After having fished in the boat a number of times, packed it up, unpacked it and put it through a couple of big storms, we'd give this boat a solid "A". If you're in the market for a new pontoon boat or float tube, it's definitely time to think about the move to a frameless model. So unless you need to attach a trolling motor or need to backpack it long distances, the frameless models like the Scout are the way to go. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Belly Scratcher Minnow

Weighted flies can have a very slim profile.

Belly Scratcher Minnow

In the past year and a half the Low Fat Minnow has quickly become one of my favorite flies for any specie of fish that eats other fish...  One of the things I really like about the Low Fat Minnow is that it suspends nicely in the water, and is designed to be fished on a sinking line in order to control the depth of the fly.  I knew that I wanted to make a weighted version for rivers, so I started researching about a year ago.  I really like throwing big articulated streamers, but I wanted to come up with something that I could throw at those lookers and chasers that might not want to eat something on the large side of the spectrum.  I also wanted something that I could tie in various weights without effecting the profile of the fly.  Most of the time, more weight means bigger barbell eyes or tungsten beads.  One of the great things about the low fat minnow is the slim profile, and adding heavy barbell eyes would take away from that.

Enter the Belly Scratcher Minnow.  Pretty much a Low Fat Minnow tied with a weighted belly and a zonker strip for a tail instead of marabou.  I also made the head a bit different because I have been playing with some different glues to attach eyes with.  I really like the fact that I can vary the weight of the fly to match the water I'm fishing by simply adding or subtracting tungsten beads when I tie it.  The initial test for this fly included lots of interest from hungry fish, but my tie-in technique for the beads was flawed, and they ended up falling off of the fly.  Once I dialed that in, the fly produced just like I thought it would.  It worked along the bottom of the stream bed and proved to be irresistible to some big browns.

This weighting technique is nothing new, so I'm definitely not taking credit for using it.  What IS brand new is the new short length of bruiser blend that we are introducing.  It's perfect for tying flies like this that don't need the extra length of the original bruiser blend.

~ Cheech


Material List

Add to Cart   View in store

Hook: Gamakatsu B10S - 1 - 25 Pack     
Thread: Danville Flat Waxed Nylon Thread - 140 Denier - White     
Beads: Plummeting Tungsten Beads - Gold - 5/32" (3.8mm)     
Wire: Senyo Intruder Trailer Hook Wire - Black - Regular     
Body: Holographic Cactus Chenille - Silver Gold     
Tail: Micro Pulsator Rabbit Strips - Black Barred Grizzly     
Head 1: Bruiser Blend Junior Dubbing - Alpha Wolf     
Head 2: Bruiser Blend Junior Dubbing - Cream     
Eyes: 3D Holographic Eyes - Super Pearl - 3/16"     
Marker 2: Chartpak Fly Tying Markers - Delta Brown (Dark Brown)     
Marker 2: Chartpak Fly Tying Markers - Goldenrod     

Other tools from the tutorial:
Tear Mender Waterproof Adhesive (6 oz)     
Loon Applicator Bottle, Cap & Needles     

Friday, November 7, 2014

Dude, Where's My VCR?

Welcome to Fly Tying 2.0

When I was a kid, I remember the epic battle of video formats between Betamax and VHS and my Dad's choice on which one to buy. We went with VHS and soon began filling our basement shelves with those huge VHS tapes. My first exposure to fly tying actually came from a couple of borrowed VHS tapes from the local library. 

Much later on, Cheech and a couple other buddies and I had the "great" idea to create a series of awesome fly tying DVD's. Between the time involved getting it all filmed, edited and the price to create the DVD's, we probably only came out a little ahead of the game by the time we sold some in a few fly shops, at shows and over the internet. By the way, those DVD's are now officially collector's items and might be worth something like a couple of bucks by now. Start your search on eBay right away!

Nowadays, you can find an online video or SBS tutorial on pretty much any fly pattern or method you can imagine and the best part: you don't have to pay a dime to view it!

So the point I'm getting to is that the method of fly tying "edutainment" consumption has evolved a LOT in the past 10 years. I like to refer to where we are today as "Fly Tying 2.0". Gone are the days where you need to buy or rent any sort of old-school physical media. 

Today, in the world of Youtube, Vimeo, Facebook, Instagram and all other avenues to get video delivered to any device you wish, there are literally thousands of options to either learn how to tie or learn new patterns -- at no cost!

So with this incredible level of no-cost on-demand material, I'm always surprised when I see tyers or even media companies that still try to hock DVD's or worse: charge people to view tying videos online. Hmmmm...let's see, $0 vs $30? Or even $0 vs $3? I know the math might be hard, but come on! 


People have asked us why we don't charge for or sell the videos we produce. I think first and foremost, we're not naive enough to think we've somehow discovered the end-all-be-all solution to catching fish or tying flies or come up with a super-secret technique that, if shared publicly, would somehow cheapen it for the elite few who can afford to order a DVD or pay an on-demand fee to watch. We tie a lot of flies and so we will often slap the camera in front and let 'r roll. No reason to charge you to watch us doing something we love.

Now we're obviously not filming with a camera phone and I happen to have about 12 years of video editing and photography experience under my belt, so I hope our material is top-notch quality compared to a lot of the other stuff you'll see out there. But if you look out at the fly tying material tutorial landscape, you'll see the likes of Davie McPhail, Fly Fishing the Ozarks (Brian Wise), TightlineVideo, In the Riffle, Hans Weilenmann and a few others -- all throwing out high quality stuff at no cost. I can't imagine paying someone else to see a level of fly tying that would likely not equal let alone surpass what's already out there.

Now that's not to dismiss the usefulness of a book or even better an in-person class, but that's comparing apples to oranges. And I'll give slightly on the argument that there are tyers out there with some wicked skills that might not feel comfortable in the public forum or who could legitimately command some level of compensation to see them work. I get that, but those are, by far, the exception.

So if you're making or buying old-school physical media or making/buying video downloads for fly tying, you're wasting time and money. Those DVD's will make good coasters for your coffee table and they put off a great light display if you nuke them in the Microwave. Whether by karma or just overall exposure, you'll be much better served by joining the Fly Tying 2.0 world and letting the tying footage flow for free. And if you're wanting to get into tying or have the need to learn some new patterns, Google is your friend. Well, and we'll be your friend too cuz we've got a few videos to share....

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Pre-Poob Damsel

Fish 'em young

Pre-Poob Damsel

The first time I ever saw a lighter lime colored "baby" damsel, I noticed how much they really stand out from their surroundings. As opposed to the more natural colored olives, browns, tans etc, these little immature damsel nymphs would stick out like a sore thumb.

So the first time I started to notice these little dudes in the water was an early spring outing a number of years ago. I also had a friend that had taken a nice photo of the bugs previously and so I was inspired to throw out the pattern below. It was fairly complex, bigger and chunkier and never did as I had hoped. It caught a few fish here and there, but nothing crazy. It's a fun fly to tie though, so you can check it out here if you're interested...

The pre-cursor to the pre-poob
So, flash forward to spring this year and I came across good number of these lighter colored smaller bugs in a few throat samples. My noob theory (and later confirmed by my bug buddy Phil) was that as these little guys go through their instar phases, they often maintain a lighter complexion. So in the early spring and fall when  they're still going through these phases and haven't yet reached full maturity (in size or color), they stand out as bright little targets for trout on the prowl. The key is light color and slender profile, so the Pre-Poob (pre-pubescent) Damsel was designed to fit that bill.

I tried to keep the pattern relatively simple, but still life-like enough in appearance and motion to keep fish interested. There were a few variations tested before settling on this pattern, but overall the concept has proven to be crazy effective. And if you haven't tied with Arizona Synthetic Dubbing, this is a great pattern to start with. The light dubbing loop method for the body helps keep a slender profile and gets some flashiness in there to boot.

So if you're fishing waters with damselflies, this is a pattern you might definitely want to have on hand. See the video tutorial and material list below.

Nice Brookie on a Pre-Poob

Material List:

Eyes: 25 lb Mono, melted