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Monday, July 28, 2014

Crystal Killer

Tried and true stillwater fly

Purple Crystal Killer

I have written about going to new places and perusing shops in search of the local fly pattern that everyone was using, so I guess I'll share the Utah version of the local "legend" fly pattern.  The origination of this pattern varies based on who you ask, and most people will tell you that it was developed by Byron Gunderson (co-owner of Fish Tech in Salt Lake City).  I had the opportunity to work at Fish Tech for several months while I was in between jobs in 2010 and when I asked Byron about the Crystal Killer, he promptly told me that it was his wife Deette who developed the fly.  Regardless of who tied it first, it's a bona-fide trout slayer. (another plug for Fish Tech...  If you are ever in SLC, you need to check it out.  It's not your typical fly shop because they cater to all types of fishing, but they have an insane amount of tying materials.)

It's a spinoff of arguably the world's most effective fly - the wooly bugger, but how does this fly work so well if the main difference is the absence of the free flowing marabou tail?  That's a question I would hear a lot but the answer is simple - "Just because it does."  That, and Byron has been fishing it for about 100 years (He's probably like 115 or something like that).  Substituting a half pound of pheasant tail fibers for marabou seems a bit odd, but it works so well that I found myself adding this tail to simi seal leeches, bling leeches, etc.  Also, because of the copious amounts of pheasant tail that are used in this pattern, it's good to either start pheasant hunting, or find someone who does.  The colors can be varied quite a bit with the fly by just changing the chenille or pheasant tail color. The most popular colors are red, purple, olive, and peacock.

Big thanks to Byron and Deette for developing this Utah classic!


Body: MFC Lucent Chenille Small - purple, peacock, red, brown, olive

Friday, July 25, 2014

Bug Collars and new dubbing

New Tying Fodder

Jig style nymph with Bug Collars
We'll, no doubt, push out a more complete review of both products here, but I wanted to at least throw down a preview into what's brewing.

First off, if you've been cruising the interwebs lately, you've likely seen at least a glimpse of Bozeman Fly Goods' Bug Collars. These are a nice addition to or even replacement for beads. They offer a a variety of colors and sizes in a convenient stackable series of "collars". In the pattern here, I tried them out on a jig hook with a slotted bead. Even though I ended up reversing the orientation of what you'd normally do with a recessed hole bead, they still worked out great.

Next is the dubbing. We're excited to be working with John Rohmer even more with his Arizona line of dubbings. This time around, it's the longer fiber version of Arizona Synthetic Dubbing. If you haven't used the regular style, you need to get you some and double it up with this longer version called Arizona Mega Synthetic Dubbing.  It's some of the best nymph dubbing around and comes in some wickedly buggy colors. We've been tying a lot of our nymphs with this stuff lately and it's the real deal.

Maybe we'll put up a video on this at some point, but here's a quick recipe in case you're interested.

Hook: Allen J100BL #10
Thread: MFC Premium 6/0, Dark Brown
Bead: 3.3 mm Tungsten Bead, Gun Metal
Collars: Bozeman Fly Goods Bug Collars (email us for purchasing information)
Body: Arizona Mega Synthetic Dubbing, Yellow Tan
Over-Body: J:son Realskin Nymph Body, Tan
Ribbing: UTC Ultrawire, Small, Wine
Tail: Coq De Leon Hen Saddle, Speckled Brown

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bikes for Brookies

Mountain biking on the fly

Passing a small pond in a meadow
As I've written about before, I like to spend a good portion of my summers in the high country chasing Brookies, Grayling, Cutt's and those sorts of reclusive ugly trout. For a few years now, there has been a series of small remote mountain lakes, down some pretty gnarly roads, we've been exploring here and there. Some of the roads are 4X4 friendly, some are ATV-esque and others are more hiking oriented. So this time around, rather than worrying about an ATV or an even longer hike, we threw the bikes in the truck and decided to use pedal power to get to some fish.

I'm, by no means, any sort of biking guru. I ride my mountain bike for exercise and as a means of transportation to my office each day. But I get enough questions from people who ask about ideas on good hikes or even bike rides into fishing locations that I figured it's something to discuss here. There's no harm at all combining a little old fashioned butt-kicking exercise at high altitude with some fishing. Or as I say, "a hike isn't a hike unless there are fish at the end". And it goes without saying to make sure wherever you go that you're not breaking any travel restrictions and to stay on established trails and roads where possible.

So the ride into these lakes is winding and up down approach through some beautiful country at over 11,000 feet. There are a lot of snakey rutty paths over a lot of rocks, loose gravel and such as this isn't your groomed mountain biking trail system just outside the city limits. I would say, however, that we probably made better time on the bikes than we would have in the truck, which has to pick and choose the least-boulder/rut filled path to take.

Brook trout taken on a damsel adult imitation
As far as gear goes, I have a Fish Pond backpack I've used for 7 or 8 years. It has a handy rod holder and plenty of space for my other gear, food and even a hydration pack system built in. That said, a 3 or 4 piece rod is really a necessity so you can easily attach it to or throw it into the pack you have. And although I know people often prefer smaller rods for smaller fish, it's best to have a more versatile 4 or 5 weight rod that can battle any wind and toss hoppers with ease. Unless you want to pack in a couple of rods, that's typically going to be the more universal option.
As far as bikes go, I'd probably recommend a full suspension bike or maybe a 29'er for this type of travel, but I got by with my old hard-tail and ended up with only a bit of soreness from all the jarring business. Make sure to carry a small repair kit and be prepared for something to break down. I have some squirrelly brakes and my tires have been known to somehow collide with sharp rocks every now and again, so you never know.

In the end, the reward was a pristine lake with extremely colorful Brook trout and some nice sized Grayling -- not to mention the fact that we had the lake to ourselves the entire day. Catching a load of beautiful fish on dry flies all day makes the strenuous part of the trip worth it.

As usual, the worst part of the day is making the trek back to the trailhead and having to pack up and go home. Maybe next time, I'll pack in a tent and stay longer.
Grayling from a high mountain lake

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Flying Black Ant Tutorial & HMG Review

Heat up your tying sessions

I had seen a couple videos and photos floating around showing this method from Joe Nicklo, so I decided it was time to try out his HMG (Hot Melt Glue) method for tying flies. If you're interested in the supplies for this method, Joe sells them on his website here.

As you can see here and on Joe's website, there are some really cool patterns that you can whip up using hot melt glue as part of the fly.

HMG Mayfly by Joe Nicklo

HMG Scud by Joe Nicklo

Anyway, my concern to begin with was how well the glue stick material would take to being scorched with a super-hot soldering iron. Surprisingly, it didn't take long to get the hang of light touches and sculpting the material on the hook. With the exception of a few errant stabs and swipes, I found it relatively easy to work with and shape the flies I tied. Overall, though as you can see from Joe's website, you can really tie a lot of different style flies with this method. Definitely worth looking into.
Fly Black Ant

So, for this pattern, I used the new Allen D202 dry fly hook. I think this hook is quickly becoming my favorite for flies bigger than #16. I've been tying on it for the last couple or three months and it's a great hook. The black hot melt glue did the trick on the body, although my OCD comes out and would probably do a final coating in Loon or CCG to get a shiny finish. And finally, in fishing this pattern it actually floated pretty well, so that's a good sign given that I'm floating a couple of clumps of glue on a hook. Anyway, give 'er a whirl!


Hook: Allen D202 #14  -- Buy Here --
Thread: MFC Premium Thread, Black 6/0  -- Buy Here --
Body: Hot Melt Glue. See the HMG Kit here
Hackle: Whiting Saddle or Cape, Black  -- Buy Here --
Wing: White CDC (try the bulk CDC option here)  -- Buy Here --

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Butthead Attractor Fly

It simply floats high and gets eaten

Do any of you have a fly box full of junior varsity players that you can tie up quickly and give to your buddies who always snap off their flies in the trees?  I do.  It doesn't mean that these flies won't catch fish, but I'm not about to give up one of my more complex flies just to have it hang off of a limb or rust out under a rock...  Rant over.  Kind of.

I was going to head out fishing with a few guys that had just started fly fishing and I wanted to make sure I had plenty of flies in my box that I could pass out.  I was strapped for time, so I started whipping up some stimulator variations with hot spots,and what came out of the vise was a pretty slick little bug that was pretty easy to tie.  It could either pass as a larger caddis, or a smaller stonefly - one of those tweener patterns that make the fish go nuts.  When we got to the river one of my buddies tied one on and hooked up right away with this fly so we all ended up fishing it for the rest of what turned out to be a pretty memorable day.  It was very durable, it floated high, and there was something about it that really got the attention of the fish.  I have fished this fly a lot over the years, and I recently sent some to New Zealand to fish for some finicky trout.  They are trout approved in the northern and southern hemispheres, but best of all, they simple to tie so I can pass them out to buddies. (Except for Curtis...  Tie your own damn flies.)

~  Cheech

Tail: Moose hair

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Fly Airbrushing Revolution

The Copic Airbrush system

First off, this is literally one of the more fun tools and techniques in my tying arsenal. I first learned about these cool fly tying tools a few years ago and have been using them ever since. Nowadays, you'll see a lot of tyers out there that have finally picked up on this little gem, so it's not just a passing fad. Not only can you have a blast painting poppers, but the Copic Airbrush system can be used to paint crease flies...

Smallmouth bass on crease fly popper

Crawdad bodies...

crawdad fly pattern crawfish craw

And whatever else you might have in mind.

bluegill popper fly pattern yearofthebluegill

The beauty to this little system is that you have the creative power of an airbrush but with the convenience of the patented "hot-swappable" marker system. You can literally swap from color to color in a few seconds with no clean-up in between. Not only that, but the airbrush system is portable by virtue of it's "canned air" system or you can go "plugged" with a standard craft or airbrush air compressor. Plus, it's relatively inexpensive compared to other styles of airbrushing out there.

The possibilities are really endless. From the pattern coloring patches, to the airbrushes and markers, you can really churn out a lot of different fly patterns. A fun way to get started is with our plain white bass poppers from Rainy's. It's a great way to flex your artistic muscles.

Check out the starter kits and selection of markers on our store here.

To get started, here's a list of things to keep in mind:

  • The markers themselves are not fully water proof, so it's not recommended that you just color something and leave it uncoated. For my poppers, they're usually coated with something like a Clear Cure Goo or a Loon UV Clear Finish. 
  • Related to the first item, it's important to know that the UV cure products don't necessarily get along nicely with foam and especially don't like foam that's been painted with Copic markers. To get around that, I usually apply a base coat (or two) of a white acrylic paint to act as a primer. Not only does this prevent the glue from bubbling and the paint from running, but it also enhances any colors you apply to the foam because it creates a much less porous yet paint-friendly surface.
  • As opposed to what you see in the videos below, make sure to use latex or plastic gloves as the chance of getting over-spray is high when painting in tight quarters like this. 
  • If you want to get some cool patterns on the flies you tie, be sure to check out the coloring patches or the template mask shown in the video below.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Low Fat Minnow - Perch Version 2

Not so Low Fat anymore

By now you are probably pretty familiar with the Low Fat Minnow and the many shapes and forms it can take.  Also, you have probably seen our Bruiser Blend dubbing that we have been selling on the site for several months now.  Well, I developed Bruiser Blend dubbing specifically so I could get more length on the Low Fat Minnow.  I like the way this minnow swims so much that I'm blending a new length of bruiser blend to take the place of the Lazer Dub on the smaller version of the fly too.  This new version of the minnow has been a great addition to our arsenal, and we constantly get pictures sent to us showing off what the original Low Fat Minnow has caught, so give some of these bad boys a spin and let us know how they do for you. 

This new color scheme is a KILLER for smallmouth in perch filled waters, and the top and bottom colors can be swapped out to make your perch as bright or as subtle as you want.

~ Cheech

Updated Recipe:

Hook: Daiichi 3111 - 1/0 (+)
Thread: Danville 70 - Fl. Fire Orange (+)
Tail/Body: Nature's Spirit Prime Long Marabou - Yellow (+)
Tail/Body: Nature's Spirit Prime Long Marabou - Olive (+)
Underbody: Palmer Chenille - Olive (+)
Head1: Bruiser Blend - Brown Olive (+)
Head2: Bruiser Blend - Canary (+)
Eyes: Fish Skull Living Eyes - Fire 6mm (+)

Resins Used:
Loon UV Clear Fly Finish - Flow (+) 
Loon UV Clear Fly Finish - Thick (+)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hackle Primer - Why Buy Expensive Hackle?

Good hackle = good flies

Royal Wulffs tied with Whiting hackle

Whiting Euro Saddle
I can still remember the first hackle that I bought.  It was a dun colored neck hackle that I had to save my pennies for, and it was definitely put to good use.  As much as that hackle served a purpose, it also caused a lot of frustration when I was trying to tie certain types of flies.  I can remember almost giving up on tying parachutes because the stems would twist, and I remember having to tie in two to three feathers to get the hackle bushy enough to work for some attractor patterns.  Yes, it was useful... but I think I would have been far better off buying a better neck or saddle.  It took me a while to realize that I was better off saving my money to get better hackle, so I decided I'd put my experience and opinions on hackle on the site.

Buying a top of the line piece of rooster won't guarantee that you will tie just like the "pros," but it sure does put you on the right track.  I remember about 8 or 9 years ago when Curtis and I were talking about parachutes.  He told me that he had pretty much sworn off parachutes  because of how much of a pain in the butt they were to tie.  I found out later that he hadn't upgraded his hackle for a while and that was the cause of his frustrations.  Once he upgraded to top notch hackle, it made all the difference in tying "clean" flies more easily.  This especially holds true if you are tying hackled dry flies in size 18 or smaller.

One piece of good saddle hackle can tie 4 to 5 of these.
Like all fly tying materials, cost is a determining factor when considering hackle.  One of the things that I hear all the time is that hackle is "WAY too expensive" and this especially goes for Whiting dry fly hackle.  Sure you can get an inferior piece of hackle for a little bit less money, but if you look at it from my point of view, Whiting hackle is cheaper than all other brands!!! The reason I say this is the quantity of usable feathers on a saddle/cape.  A lot of patches of feathers really look the same until you start pulling off webby fibers at the base of the feather so you can tie with the "sweet spot."  On a whiting feather, the web is very minimal, and it's very possible to get more than one fly out of a feather (depending on what I'm tying).  My point is that you will be able to tie MANY more flies out of a whiting cape/saddle than you would with an inferior cape/saddle.

This was tied with bronze cape feathers.
As far as the grading system with Whiting, I mostly tie with bronze or pro grade hackles.  Some of my favorites are the Hebert Miner pro grades because they come in some really buggy colors, and they are probably the best bang for the buck when it comes to good dry fly hackle.  I would buy silver, gold, and platinum if the bronze and pro grade weren't so good...  

Check out the video for more information on capes, saddles, and a comparison between modern hackle and the hackle from 15 years ago. And don't forget we carry some awesome Whiting products, including dry fly capes, saddles, soft hackles and etc etc. We even have the elusive Euro Saddles in the store.
~ Cheech

For more videos showing Whiting hackle in use:
Royal Wulff
Amphibious Damsel
Fripple Green Drake
Grumpy Frumpy
2 minute Mayfly

Hackle Primer video...

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dry Fly Fishing with a Nymphing Rod


As I wrote about last year, I ended up getting a fancy Allen Icon 10 foot 4 wt rod for Euro style nymphing.
Since then I've put a lot of mileage on this rod and it's pulled in a lot of fish. One of my initial hesitations about going with a 10 foot "specialty" rod was the thought that I'd have to go to a different rod when fishing dries. Now granted, you won't fish the same leader setup on a dry fly rig than you would with a euro rig, but I was still worried about how it would cast and affect my presentation of delicate dries to big attractors.

Allen Icon Series Rod
So I ended up working the 10 footer into my dry fly fishing repertoire for the past few months and have really been impressed with the results. Rather than thinking I'd throw the 10 footer when I didn't want to nymph but still go to the 9 footers for normal dry fly fishing, I've now ended up opting to reach for the 10 footer for most of my small stream and river situations.

Here are some points of interest in case you want to consider a nymphing rod that can be used for double duty:

  • Similar to the concept of using the longer rod to control your line and presentation for nymphs, the same applies to dry flies. Duh. Bigger dries on a smaller water produced more fish on my 10 footer than I think I would have seen with the shorter "small stream" rods I have due to drag control and presentation factors. I was really impressed with the way I could flip a bit of leader out with the fly and maintain a totally drag free drift by virtue of that added rod length. I was reaching over crazy side currents and working flies into back eddies and pockets I don't think I would have been able to with a shorter rod.
  • Related to the idea above, I've found that mending line with a 10 footer is also a much easier and accurate process than with a shorter rod. More line control again. Better drifts. More fish.
  • I was initially worried about going from my 7 1/2 foot or 9 foot rods to a 10 footer and tangling with the trees and overhanging branches or bushes. What I found was that yes, I had to be a bit more mindful of my casts and rod placement, but this was offset by the fact that I wasn't doing as much false casting due to the longer reach of the rod. Plus, when needing a bow-and-arrow style cast, the 10 footer did an excellent job at flinging the fly into confined spaces.
  • As I mentioned initially, if you're going to Euro nymph and then expect to just tie on a dry fly with the same leader setup, you're not going to have as smooth a casting or presentation motion -- especially with smaller lighter dries. I've done well with bigger attractor patterns and it works ok. But to get the best performance, you'll want to swap out leaders. Going with a loop-to-loop connection or something similar that's easy to swap out will pay dividends.
  • Think of it this way: You can't as easily pull out a 9 foot rod and do the tight-line or Euro style nymphing as you can use a 10 foot rod for dry fly fishing. Ideally, you have a specially-trained rod monkey that holds your specialty rods and follows you around on the water all day swapping out your rods like a caddy does on the PGA tour. But until then, I'm leaning more towards a 10 footer as more of an all-around rod in a lot of situations.
  • Now, one minor complaint: Probably the only downside for me on a 10 footer has been the extra workout my arm and wrist will get. At first I chalked it up to being out of shape, but I've since found that I definitely have more sore muscles and aches after throwing the 10 footer all day. Euro-style nymphing alone, with your arm cocked like it is will definitely do that, but I think the longer length just requires a bit more force (think of the force it takes to open a really wide door vs a shorter door). And not a big deal, but something worth mentioning.

Anyhoo...that's just my two cents on the matter. Everyone will be different, but for me, the next couple of rods on the radar for purchase are both 10 footers. I think they're definitely worth a 2nd look.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Un-Matching the Hatch

Sometimes you gotta go against the grain

brown trout taken on blingnobyl ant
A Brown trout took kindly to the Pink Bling
On a recent trip to the river expecting some big fish on some big bugs, we weren't disappointed as we arrived on the water to begin the flogging. Bugs were everywhere:  caddis, stoneflies, a few mayflies and some nice juicy cicadas. Knowing the bigger fish will often target the bigger meals, I tied on a big chunky cicada pattern and began hucking it into the promising spots. An hour later and only a couple of fish to hand and I tried a stonefly pattern hoping that would be the ticket. Not a bite. 

Cheech was having similar results as we switched off throwing different patterns at a very fishy looking seam. Time to change it up. Similar to George Costanza's opposite day, as Jerry puts it, "If every instinct you have is wrong, then the opposite would have to be right." So, as these fish obviously didn't care much about our hatch-matching attempts, I figured it was time to do something unconventional and bust out a new favorite: the Blingnobyl Ant. And as we've written previously here and here, the Blingnobyl ant has been a stellar addition to the dry fly arsenal.

brown trout attractor pattern
Another Pink Bling 
The Pink Blingnobyl wasn't going to win any hatch-matching contests yet, it began to immediately produce results. The rest of the day consisted of throwing this gaudy pink attractor pattern into the holding lies and it was topwater carnage.

A pile of fresh Blingnobyl Ants
Granted we've had some great results with this pattern in recent months, but it just goes to show that sometimes you have to shake conventional hatch-matching convention and do something so crazy it might just work. And work it did.

If you missed it the first time around, here's the recipe and the video tutorial:

Material List:

Legs: Rainy's Barred Rubber Legs -- Buy Here --