Steelhead Flies – Fact and Fiction

By Dennis Dickson

I would venture to guess, one of my most asked questions, the most misunderstood answers in steelhead flyfishing is; “So what is the hot fly?”

Steelhead has an allure as an illegitimate son. His noble cousin Salmo Salar, the Atlantic Salmon has a rich and traditional past, fished by kings and nobleman. Steelhead was almost found by accident and early flyfishers knew very little of this great fish’s behavior and life history.

When we approach the topic of “Fly Effectiveness”, I always think of the words of the great steelhead flyfishing pioneer, Roderick Haig-Brown.

He said ” It is good to remember there will be a lot more steelhead caught on a piece of yarn, than all the fanciest flies ever fished”.

This is sage advice, for the angler that comes to me is looking to catch a steelhead, which means he is looking for a fly that will be successful and assumes that some flies, like lures, are more effective than others. He may even be hopefully assuming that the reason for his lack success to this point was, he is simply fishing with the wrong fly. Let me explain something. Flies don’t catch fish…people do. You see, steelhead have a disposition just this side of a large mouth bass. If a lure or fly is presented well, and Mr. Steelhead is in the mood, he will hit just about anything!

Does such a thing as a magic fly exist? Sorry, generally no. Can he prefer types and colors? Sometimes. My point here is not to lead you farther down the path of finding a “Mystery” fly, but rather to teach you to recognize a better constructed fly, coupled with better presentation and more confidence.

I am reminded of an incidence that happened to me up on the North Fork Stilly. I was standing up on a high bank watching a pair of anglers fishing their way down through a popular run at Boulder Creek. The dozen or so steelhead holding here, looked absolutely mesmerized, literally frozen in place. These poor anglers apparently had thrown everything but the kitchen sink at these fish to no avail. A small alder leaf happened to fall to the surface and tumbled in the current. A very nice hen just lifted to the surface, ate the leaf and coasted back down into her holding position. Now I am not advocating fishing with Alder leaves, but rather to make the point, its not the fly.

My guide flies tend to reflect the parameters of the waters I fish. Seasons, water temperature, sexual maturity, (the fish silly, not me), lighting, water clarity, fishing pressure and presentation are but a few parameters that may dictate the fly I choose. Now, before you become overwhelmed trying to compute all these variables into a logical decision let me simplify.

For each river I fish, in a particular water condition, I will fish maybe two or three different fly patterns. Here is a general overview, but before we go there let me re-emphasize….its not the fly.

Early Season Native winter steelhead.

The steelhead that swim our northwest waters in late winter are the large, wild, sexually maturing steelhead (even though he may be rock hard and nickel bright). He is a big brawley, aggressive steelhead. He enters when the rivers are generally running full, and the water is cold. A larger fly will not scare him. Number 2’s and 1/0 are about right. I like to fish flies that swim well. I tell my anglers that if they ever loose confidence in the fly just bring in next to them and watch it play in the currents. A well balanced fly should look alive in the water. Unless I am fishing really dirty water I believe that less is more. The greatest knock that I see with the guys that meet me on the river is the flies they have bought or tied are so overdressed the thing looks more like a lure than a fly. Easy on the flash.

I tend to fish subtle colors like purple, cherise, and blue when the water is clear and bright and black colors when the water is off color. Stiff patterns like the General Practitioner, Poacher, Skunks, and other hair wings are good in the streamy currents that provide lots of action and a good silhouette of the bug. Marabou, bunny leeches, and spey patterns are excellent in the softer flows.

I pay particular attention to fly construction and I will admit, some of my ties are a little unorthodox. Why? Because many flies on the market today are tied to please the angler. The fly I hand to a client, well, it better please the steelhead. Different tying materials will react differently in the river currents and it’s good to know, what does what. For example, marabou plays seductively in mild currents but tends to collapse to strong flows. Hair wing patterns show very little action in soft water, but maintain a great profile and a lively action in streamy flows. Fly construction then is important to fly action, and fly action triggers fish.

I am reminded of an experience on the Skykomish River some ten years ago. I used to spend my March guiding anglers there. It was catch and release and the Sky steelhead enter early. I was fishing a couple gentlemen along this popular gravel bar pool when I happened to look down and find a fly that had fallen off someone’s vest. (I personally think these fly patches are a flyshop conspiracy because there is a lot more flies lost falling off the drying patch than from the river, itself).

I am always curious of other angler ties and I picked it up. I could tell immediately this fly was from a serious flyfisher. This fly was tied on a 2/0 iron, traditional upturned eye hook. (I don’t particularly like these hooks because the angle of attack is wrong at the eye, and the diameter of the metal is too fat) This cagey guy answered both these problems by breaking off the eye and tying in his own braided loop eye. He had also filed his hook point down to a long taper edged on three sides. This angler was good. I then began to examine the fly for color and action. I noticed it was tied fairly sparsely and instead of the long webby marabou that is so popular, but fouls in the hook so easily, he used the shorter chickabou.

The number one knock in materials like spey feathers and marabou is it fouls easily around the hook in the water. This kills the action of the fly. Any time you have a feather that extends beyond the bend of the hook, you risk fouling your material. Some of the most artsy twenty-hour flies are poor fish producers because they foul when fishing.

What should you do? Get to know your fly material. Different fly materials react differently in river flows. I mentioned a couple characteristics of marabou. Bunny fur tends to pooch out, shlappen feathers breath nicely but can also foul. I have swam many a fly (to my patient wife’s chagrin), in the bath tub while the water is turned on. It works really well. If the fly is going to foul it will do it here.

I like to think of the fly in two parts. Any material tied at the rear end of the hook is not going to foul. That’s why most tarpon patterns are tied in this fashion. Epoxy bait fish flies carry a good silhouette but are anti fouling because of the material – it’s hard to the bend of the hook. You should realize that any free flowing material ahead of the hook bend can and will foul if it extends past the rear of the hook. Try the bathtub test. You can see what your flies are actually doing as you nose it up to the turbulent flow.

Another Guide Trick:

“Show them something different.” The popular Blue/Purple marabou that you see in the shops today, is a fly I developed in the early days of the Sauk River, C&R. There was at that time, a goodly number of gear fisherman throwing the tradition bright colors of orange and florescent green in those days. Flyfishing winter fish was new. Even the most ardent flyfishers would often choose their gear rods over their fly rods at this time of year.I noticed that when the water was clear a guide buddy of mine was doing very well with a blue/purple Hot Shot plug. Now that was different. I simply copied the color combination in a marabou pattern. You talk about work. Those clear water fish went nuts for it. To this day, if I don’t mention what fly to start with, many of my long time clients will fish the blue/purple. Why? Shows the steelhead something a bit different from all that color everybody else is chucking.

Here are a few of my pet winter steelhead fly patterns:

Cop Car

Intruder

Articulated Flies

General Practitioner

Popsicle

Will steelhead ever show preferences in color and construction? Occasionally, but even for all these trick fly patterns you are generally better off to simply look for a fly that swims well for the waters you are fishing. Have just enough color to get his attention, fish it well, and let Mr. Steelhead do the rest.

Please feel free to check out more of our steelhead flies at Streamsideflyshop.com

Best of fishing!

Dennis Dickson
Dickson Flyfishing Steelhead Guides
www.flyfishsteelhead.com

Northwest Outdoor Report

I-5 Stretch Producing Springers on the Columbia
Eric Linde from Linde’s Sportfishing in Vancouver, Washington says that about a third of the boats are catching springers on any given day on the Columbia and traffic has been light so far. Linde says he’s been getting a few bites a day fishing just above Interstate 5 near Portland International Airport. His go to setup so far this season has been a green label herring behind a chartruese Fish Flash. Linde expects the fishing to continue to get better in the coming weeks.

Chelan Cranking out Phat Kokes
Don Talbot at Hooked on Toys in Wenatchee says the Kokanee fishing on Lake Chelan is starting to heat up. He said the Kokanee are running in the 16 to 17 inch range and most of the action has been taking place around Wapato Point and Rocky Point. Talbot also likes to troll the area between Wapato Point and First Creek in about 300 of feet of water, targeting the water column between 50 and 100 feet to find kokes. He said to use a pink and white mini-Ace Hi Fly tipped with white shoe peg corn behind a Luhr Jensen 50/50 dodger. He also like to run a couple of larger size 1 hooks with his hoochie rig, as it helps to keep these soft-mouthed fish on the line. Don said to be sure to swing into Hooked on Toys in Wenatchee to get help rigging up any of the troll gear necessary to catch Kokanee on Lake Chelan.
Use Swim Baits to Target Sea Bass off Ocean Shores Jetty
John Martinis at John’s Sporting Goods in Everett has gotten some great reports from the jetty at Ocean Shores last weekend. Martinis has a tackle shop customer that’s been catching his limit of nice sea bass casting swim jigs off the jetty. John says the go-to lure is a 4 inch red-flake motor oil twin tail grub rigged with a 2 ounce jighead. The successful angler has been walking to the end of the jetty on days when the weather is nice and working the jig over the submerged rocks.  Martinis says to wear foul weather gear and to watch the weather carefully though, as the surf often pounds across the jetty at Ocean Shores. Martinis notes that ling cod season opens today in Marine Area 2 and the jetty’s are a great place to find them also.

Catch and Release Only for Sturgeon Starting in 2014
Starting May 1st recreational fisherman will be limited to one white sturgeon per year in Washington. By 2014 new regulations require the release of all white sturgeon in Puget Sound, its tributaries, the Washington coast and the Lower Columbia River below Bonneville Dam. The new rules were adopted to address drastic declines in the population of white sturgeon in Washington state the last five years. Catch and release fishing will still be allowed for white sturgeon in all the effected areas.

Spot Shrimp Seasons Announced
Recreational shrimp fishers will get more days to fish and a larger share of the catch in areas of Puget Sound under fishing seasons announced by WDFW. The spot shrimp season is set to begin May 4th and will run from one day to several days longer in areas of the Sound due to policy changes recently adopted by WDFW to give recreational shrimpers a larger percentage of the overall quota. In the San Juan Islands the shrimp fishery could be open for more than a month in Marine Area 7-West and the shrimp season is expected to run for 13 days in Marine Areas 7-East and 7-South, up from just 6 days last year. Hood Canal and Discovery Bay shrimp seasons will be open a total of 5 days this year and Marine Areas Marine Areas 8-1, 8-2, 9, 10 and 11 will be open two days this year. Please log onto the WDFW website for a complete listing of the new shrimp seasons.

47 Lakes Stocked with Trout
With Spring Break fast approaching WDFW is stocking dozens of lakes in Washington with more than 250,000 rainbow trout. The 10 to 12 inch trout will be stocked into year-round lakes in Grays Harbor, Thurston, Pierce, Mason, Kitsap, Island, King and Snohomish Counties. The State is planting the lakes to give families a chance to get out fishing over spring break and to give them a chance to tune up their gear before main trout opener on April 27th. A complete list of the lakes being stocked can be found on the WDFW website.

Blackman’s Lake Planted with Triploids
The Snohomish Sportsmen’s Club just planted Blackman’s Lake in Snohomish County with about 200 triploid trout ranging in size from one and a half to as large as six pounds. Blackman’s lake is on the north edge of Snohomish County and has a large fishing pier and an improved boat launch.

Little League Raffles off an AR-15 in Illinois
Associated Press – A youth baseball league in the eastern Illinois town of Atwood wasn’t happy with the previous fundraiser’s it’s held to raise money for the league, so they’ve decided to raffle off an AR-15 assault rifle. A local gun shop owner provided the Rock River Arms AR-15 for the league, which is in bad need of baseball equipment that it can’t afford. Charidy Butcher of Atwood Armory is the shop that donated the gun and they said the raffle is going gangbusters. They’re phone has been ringing non-stop since 4:30 in the morning the day after the AR-15 raffle item was announced. Butcher says the lucky winner of the AR-15 will need to have a background check and will need an Illinois Firearm’s Owner I.D. card to get the gun.

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
TheOutdoorLine.com

Gearing Up for an Alaska Charter Season

It’s March 13th and while I should be thinking about steelhead fishing or something “current” my mind is already preoccupied with all the little things that could make my life easier on the boat this summer in Southeast Alaska. If you didn’t already know I own and operate Prince of Wales Sportfishing in Craig, Alaska during the summer months. I leave the Outdoor Line radio show in the trusted hands of the very-capable Tom Nelson and head north to Alaska to make a living doing what I love…fishing.

You’d think after ten plus years of running charters in Alaska I would have just about every gizmo known to man. That’s partially true, but there’s always something that will put more fish in the boat, provide a higher level of safety for my customers, and possibly make my job easier.

Here are just a few of the items that are on order for the coming saltwater charter season in Alaska:

I just picked up two new retractable steps from North River Boats for getting into and out of my 28′ aluminum charter boat, the “Polar Bear”. It’s a long step down from the dock to the deck of the boat and stepping onto a bucket, well, that just isn’t safe. It’s high time I installed some of these steps to make that transition in and out of the boat a lot easier. Plus, I’m not a spring chicken anymore and these steps are just as much for me as our guests.

A new custom bait station is on order from Three Rivers Marine and Tackle in Woodinville, Washington. The constant bending over cutting herring or simply reaching down to pluck a cut plug herring out of the cooler can put a serious strain on your back. Last summer I went thru 20 cases of bait, which means I had to bend down around 8,800 times. That, folks, is a recipe for major back problems.

The bait station will attach to the stern of the “Polar Bear” and can be adorned with any number of attachments. I’m thinking cup holders and rod holders on the side will work great. I’m very much looking forward to this upgrade to the boat.

Good luck trying to find one of these in Alaska. This is a long-shanked stainless hook remover that happens to be built by Calcutta, although there are several others on the market that also work. When we’re salmon fishing in certain areas we are constantly, and I mean constantly having to release ping-pong-paddle sized halibut and this tool is a must for that chore. Reaching down the throat of a gyrating halibut with mooching hooks flying everywhere results in barbed hooks right where you don’t want them…in your hand. This tool is a must for that task!

I’ve got two Lowrance HDS Touch 9′s going on the boat this summer too. I mounted a Touch 7 on my jet boat this winter and all I can say is this machine is the cat’s ass. They are super easy to operate and have a much brighter display than the Gen 2 HDS 10′s that are currently mounted on the charter boat. I thought the 10′s were bright…I will have no problem seeing these all the way from the stern of the boat. If you’ve operated a touch screen iPhone you will have no problem dialing in one of these units.

A Lowrance 4G radar will replace the 3G radar that’s mounted on the boat now. These broadband radars don’t require any warm-up time and the image you get with this technology is second-to-none. My Lowrance gear has treated me great over the years and I have the same high expectations for the new Touch 9′s and 4G radar that I’ll be mounting on the boat in May.

I’m making the switch to Daiwa Saltist line counter reels this summer. I’ve used their spinning and small levelwinds for years for steelhead and salmon fishing on the rivers in Washington and they have never let me down. I have some old Daiwa Laguna spinning reels that are pushing a decade old and remarkably they still work. That’s unheard of for a spinning reel that get’s that much abuse!

The new Saltist’s are built with a one-piece aluminum frame, alloy gears, and a drag that can hold up to 22 pounds of pressure. You simply can’t test them in a more harsh environment than Southeast Alaska and I’m hopeful that these reels will perform just as well as all the other Daiwa products I’ve used over the years.

I finally broke down and added Cannon downriggers to the charter boat last summer and I am so glad that I did. The fish were scattered early in the season and we tore up the king salmon using Cannon DT5 downriggers to cover large chunks of water. We simply couldn’t have covered that much water mooching.

This year I’m upgrading to Cannon DT10 downriggers for one very important reason…they have the Bottom Track feature. I’ve used this on my partner Tom Nelson’s boat on numerous occasions and it’s nothing short of a lethal weapon.

In the beginning I was skeptical of this new gizmo and being the stubborn sort I decided to run the downrigger on my side of the boat manually while Tom ran his on Bottom Track. What was the end result after multiple days of testing? He soundly kicked my ass. Bottom Track is da bomb!

Another news bit about Cannon downriggers is that they just redesigned their boom-ends, so they won’t jump out of the track. This is welcome news!

That’s just a little taste of what I’ve been up to folks. I’ll be diving into a huge pile of Mustad 92568 black nickel hooks here shortly too, as I begin the task of pre-tying all of our mooching leaders for an entire summer of hardcore saltwater fishing. More on that later.

Good fishing to you and thanks for stopping by!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

 

Rockfish Submersion Devices Required for SE Alaska Charters in 2013

One of the regulations that’s been looming for a while for sportfishing charters in Southeast Alaska is the requirement to use rockfish descenders for all rockfish caught that aren’t going to be kept. These devices will be required on all charter vessels for the summer of 2013. That’s me…I’m a charter guy in the summer!

While it’s going to be somewhat onerous to connect a rockfish up to the device and send it back down to a safe depth before releasing it I’m firmly behind this new rule. I grew up fishing in Washington’s Puget Sound and if you don’t know how many rockfish are left in the sound I’ll tell ya…very damn few!

We didn’t have this rule sooner because no one knew exactly what submersion method was best for the fish. After a lot of experimentation with fizzing needles and milk crates, to name a few of the test methods, biologists finally landed on this type of device.

Some of the gents associated with this rockfish catch and release project tell me that 50 to 60 feet of depth was all that was needed to relieve barotrauma and get these precious bottomfish headed in the right direction. And get this, they had a more than 90 percent success rate during the study. The regulations state that fish need to be released at a depth of at least 100 feet, so I’m guessing that fatality will be next to nothing.

The device in the photo above is made by Shelton Products and it’s had great reviews. You can either order one directly from Shelton or build one yourself. Ron Garner, President of the Puget Sound Anglers here in Washington, has been building them with a large Siwash barbless hook, a couple pounds of lead, and a large snap swivel. I think a pipe jig with an upside down barbless hook attached to it would also work.

Most of the bottomfish that live in Southeast Alaska waters live a very, very long time and releasing them alive is a good thing for the long haul and the sustainability of charter fishing. If using this device means that my daughter can enjoy rockfishing with me in the years to come I’m all for it. I also want to continue taking all of you fishing, as well.

Good fishing!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Northwest Outdoor Report

Cowlitz Slow for Steelhead, Columbia Picking Up for Springers
Justin Leach at Bob’s Sporting Goods in Longview says the fishing has been really slow on the Cowlitz for steelhead. Leach says the guys that are catching fish on the Cowlitz right now are working extremely hard for them. He says most of the guides are catching just a couple of steelhead a day for four or five rods. The springer bite in the Portland area, however, has picked up quite a bit this past week. Leach said he’s heard reports of springers in the Lower Cowlitz around the Camelot area, as well.

The Year of Big Fish Continues in Forks
Bill Meyer of Anglers Guide Service in Forks said he taped three steelhead in the mid-20’s last week and he heard of several more trophy class steelhead being caught by other local guides. Meyer’s customers caught two of the big steelhead on the Sol Duc and the third one came out of the Calawah River. He said to time your fishing with the rains on the coast for the best chance at good fishing.

Blackmouther’s Still Catching Fish in the San Juans
Kevin John from Holiday Sports in Burlington is reporting decent blackmouth fishing on the banks and on the northern side of the islands around Parker Reef and Pt. Thompson. He says the fishing seems to have slowed down quite a bit in the Rosario Strait, which has been producing fish all winter. Kevin’s top choices in the Strait of Juan de Fuca would be Coyote, Hein, Eastern, and Salmon banks. He said most of the blackmouth have been falling to either cut plug or whole herring or small spoons and hoochies.

Kokanee on the Surface at Lake Stevens
Marcy Rockenbach at Gregs Custom Tackle in Lake Stevens says the kokanee fishing is starting to pick up on Lake Stevens. She says the fish have been really shallow and anglers are catching them flatlining Dick Nite spoons, Apex lures, or wedding rings tipped with shoe peg corn or Berkley artificial maggots. Marcy says the fish are averaging around 10 to 12 inches and that the numbers of fish being caught has really picked up this past week.

Trout Still Biting on American Lake
Mike Barr at Bills Boathouse on American Lake said that anglers are still catching nice rainbow trout off the boathouse dock. He said there’s been some nice trout in the 16 to 17 inch range and they’re mostly hitting Berkley Power Egg’s in yellow or lemon lime. Mike hit the lake for Kokanee yesterday and didn’t come up with anything. Barr says the kokanee bite usually starts to pick up around early April.

Yet Another Razor Dig this Weekend
State fishery managers have approved another razor clam on the Washington coast this weekend. Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis, and Mocrocks beaches will be open today and tomorrow and Twin Harbors beach will remain open thru Monday. Todays low tide is at 4:50 p.m., tomorrows tide is 6:33 p.m., and Mondays tide at Twin Harbors is at 7:12 p.m..

Poachers Busted in Okanogan
Wenatchee World – State Department of Fish and Wildlife officers seized 9 trophy deer heads from a poacher in Okanogan last Friday. A 10th deer head was recovered last month. Officers say the killing was the work of a poaching ring made up of several individuals working together to poach trophy bucks. Both mule deer and whitetail deer were taken and all of them were 4 point or better. One impressive buck was a 5 by 6 with an impressive 29 inch spread. Those arrested in the case face a fine of up to $6,000 per animal.

New Product Allows Mushers to Go…on the Go
With the 2013 Iditarod dog sled race underway in Alaska this past week some of the female mushers are testing out a new product called Pee Pants. Pee Pants are described as a combination of bicycle shorts, a funnel, and a tube that pokes out next to the mushers boot. The women mushers testing the product are hoping the invention will allow them fewer pit stops along the 1,000 mile long Iditarod trail. Pee Pants were developed by a North Carolina doctor seeking to provide a more pleasurable outdoor experience for women. You can find Pee Pants online at MyPeePants.com!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Flyfishing Leaders – The Steelhead Connection

By Dennis Dickson

I would like to think my success in helping anglers find and catch steelhead has improved over time. I will openly admit, as a biologist I study  “cause and effect”, “stimulus and response”. I don’t mind adhering to tradition as long as my personal experience concludes that it is the most effective way to fish. My assignment as a flyfishing guide is quite simple, attach angler to fish.

There are elements of flyfishing equipment I am fairly flexible on. For example, I was a G Loomis pro staff and so are some of my rods. I personally don’t care if the rods you fish are Sage, Scott, Loomis, or whatever. Single-handed, double, it doesn’t really matter. Waders: You should be comfortable, and they shouldn’t leak.

I do get fussy about items that can determine the outcome in hooking and or landing steelhead. These components are; hooks, leaders, flylines, and reels.

Today I will talk specifically about the leaders for sink-tip lines.The sink-tip leader has several functions but the three critical parameters for steelhead are; abrasion, tinsel strength, and camouflage.

Let me preface these remarks by saying I am going to speak speak from personal experience of teaching fly fishing hundreds of days a year. Ever want to find out how good you really are? Spend one week taking a new angler out each day, try and coach them into a steelhead. You will find out real quick, what you know, and what you think you know. I don’t say, what I teach is the only way to approach steelhead, but these techniques must be effective, because we do find the fish.

Leaders are broken down into two categories: Those on floating lines, for fishing in or on the surface and leaders attached to a sinktip. Today, I am only going to address sink-tip leaders.

Sinktip Leaders: Tradition in steelhead fly fishing says that to fish close to the river bottom, leaders must be short. (Less than 5 feet in length). Tradition also says steelhead are not leader shy and you can fish leaders as thick as you want.

On the other hand, experience has taught me to adapt to the river conditions I fish. If fishing during spring runoff with less than 3 feet visibility, I know I could probably tie the fly on the end of the fly-line and these new fish  wouldn’t care. My dirty water leaders are usually less than 4 feet long.

Do steelhead ever find conditions where they do care? Yep. A good example may be the time was fishing the Sauk river a few years ago. Conditions found the water that day both low and clear. Fish were skittish at best.

You see, steelhead didn’t grow to maturity by being stupid, they know when conditions are such where they feel secure. They also catch on fast and know when they feel “exposed”.

Low lighting such as found at daylight and dusk find steelhead holding and moving through soft and or shallow waters. They know predators can’t see them. Dirty water does the same thing. Why do I enjoy fishing off colored water for native steelhead? Because that’s when the really big boys feel comfortable about lying in close to shore. Why can the Dawn Patrol fish with light sinktips and thick dark leaders? Because at first light, the unmolested steelhead are lying in soft shallows and these fish can’t see the leaders.

As conditions in the day change to bright and sunny, the water clears and angling pressure increases, steelhead naturally move to waters that are deeper and faster. Line shadow and boat shadow can both produce hide and seek conditions.

I grew up fishing the Stilly North Fork. This little river becomes gin clear through the summer and angling pressure can really wise these fish up. That same leader that did just fine in the security conditions can send these mid day gin clear fish a scurrying. (My low lighting summer time sink-tip leader is generally about 6 feet.) So what does Joe angler think when sun gets high and his short leaders won’t work?  “Fish won’t bite”.

Solution: You can extend your fishing day significantly by changing your leader length and material. How long will I go? Out to nine feet. I can almost hear you now. “A nine foot sink-tip leader? You must be nuts! you can’t get a fly down on a 9 foot leader.”

It used to be a trade secret, but I learned long ago, these longer leaders accomplish depths simply by using compact weighted flies. By the by, that new fluorocarbon mono leader material that was originally built for lakes, and saltwater flats is awesome camouflage in clear water conditions. Same principle.

Now here is the rub:

These same leader materials that have smaller diameter and camo so well are not what I prefer to use in sink-tips conditions. Many tend to be brittle and have little abrasion tolerance. – not good for fishing your flies in and around the rocks. But if and when the water goes to clear that new fluorocarbon that has revolutionized gill netting is getting the bite, I will take my chances on a broken leader.

What leader gives me good abrasion factor and camouflages well? For sinktips I fish Maxima Ultra Green, until the water goes to 15 feet visibility, then I go to Max. Clear. Max. The camouflage is hopefully fine under normal “feel secure” conditions.

If you are having trouble hooking steelhead in “exposed conditions”, instead of telling yourself “they just aren’t biting”, try changing your leader up a little. What do you have to lose?

Here is a summary of my favorite knots for steelhead sink-tipping:

Knots

Nail Knot:  

This description shows tying directly into the fly line end. For steelhead & tarpon, I prefer doubling the fly line end into a loop and whip finishing it with the nail knot thus making this fly line/leader connection twice as strong.  Its only down-side is that the connection is also twice as bulky going thru the rod tip guide, while landing a fish. A solution: If you find yourself pulling the fly line/leader connection into the rod while your big fish is in close and he decides to make that one last run, try rolling your rod over (reel up) thus inverting the guides, and the connection should pass easily through the rod tip. “Knot Sense” or better yet, “Aquaseal” over the knot will both protect the knot and build a smooth line/leader transition.

Butt Leader Knot: Instead of tying a round perfection loop on the leader butt, try the double surgeon loop. It’s faster and easier to tie, especially with cold hands. Makes a nice loop-to-loop connection with the fly line in my opinion.

Leader/leader connection: Double Surgeon Knot

I know, I know. There is a myriad of leader to leader connections. The blood knot being the most popular. It’s not the knot I use and this is why. My son Mike and I teach some 300-500 new anglers the sport of flyfishing each year. Couple that with a full guiding itinerary and you are talking some busy guys. Sorry, I digress. Anyway, when you spend this much time teaching, you have to break it down. …Keep it simple. The only leader to leader knot we teach is the double (and triple) surgeon. Why? Its simple, strong and anglers pick it right up. Blood knots are nice, maybe a little straighter, but not stronger, and not easier to tie.

Leader/fly connections:

Duncan Loop [Uni-Knot]:

Ok, for all you clinch knot people, listen up, I am about to show you a knot that has not failed me in the past 30 years. (all the clinch knots have) fly-boys call it the “Duncan Loop’  everybody else calls it the “Uni-knot”.

I use this connection on all my steelhead sink-tipping, but I do it with a modification. Tie the knot as normal, but instead of cinching it all the way to the fly, pinch the leader with thumb and finger, right in front of the fly. pull the knot down to your thumbnail and you have a n open loop. Fly will swim more naturally until the fish grabs it, loop closes, and knot holds. I don’t bother to fish this open loop with an articulated or marabou streamer because the back end the fly is wiggling independently, anyway.

Non Slip Loop Knot:

I like the loop knot anytime I am fishing a nymph or wet fly that isn’t imparting action to the fly. Sometimes I want a weighted wet to have a certain “hang”. It is not as easy to tie as the Duncan Loop, but it is never a bad idea, if you want to take the time to tie it.

No doubt you will come up with your own favorite knots, but until then, feel free to use these, I do.

Best of fishing,
Dennis Dickson
www.flyfishsteelhead.com

Northwest Outdoor Report

“B” Run Steelhead Trickling into the Cowlitz
Phil Stephens from Mystical Legends Guide Service says there’s some really big three-salt hatchery steelhead cruising up the Cowlitz River right now. The “B” run on the Cowlitz just got started and while most of the guides are only picking up a few fish a day it won’t be long before the run gets into full swing. Stephens says these late steelhead hit a yarnie really well and he fishes them almost exclusively when he’s sidedrifting. He suggests using a 4 to 5 foot leader and using a little shrimp scent on the yarn sometimes helps to draw strikes. The Cowlitz “B” run starts to hit the river in earnest in early March and runs strong thru the end of April.

Lake Washington Still Productive for Cutties
Todd Daniels from Tall Tails Guide Service says he’s still catching around a half a dozen nice cutthroat a day on Lake Washington. Daniels says the fish have moved a little deeper and he’s been getting most of his bites trolling 20 to 35 feet deep. His best lures have been orange label cut plug herring and fire tiger needlefish spoons trolled at least 100 feet behind the boat. Daniels said the area between the Cedar River, Mercer Island, and the Boeing plant is where most of the action is occurring.

Skwala Hatch Nearing on the Yakima
Josh Holt from Red’s Fly Shop on the Yakima River says there’s been a few Skwala’s around, but overall the fish are still in their winter feeding mode. He says most of the trout are being caught nymphing with size 16 to 20 red or black brassy’s. The guides working out of Red’s have been getting a couple of trout a day on dries and he suspects that the Skwala hatch should get into full swing in the next couple of weeks when the weather starts to warm up. The forecast is for 60 degrees in the Yakima Canyon tomorrow and if that weather pattern continues the hatches should start to come off soon.

Puget Sound Salmon Forecasts Released
The salmon forecasts for the Puget Sound and the Washington coast were just released and numbers for Puget Sound look very good for the summer of 2013. Salmon runs of note are the Nooksack with a forecast of 46,500 Chinook. The Nooksack run has increased steadily from 23,000 king salmon in 2009 to this year’s forecast of over 46,000 fish. Hood Canal will also see an increase of Chinook with a combination of wild and hatchery Chinook making up the 69,000 Chinook projected to head back to the Canal. On the coho front the Skagit is forecast for 137,200 wild coho this fall, up from just 48,300 last year and the ever-solid Snohomish system is forecast to get just over 163,000 silvers. And the pink salmon forecast for the Puget Sound is for an astonishing 6 million pink salmon to stream into Puget Sound. While it’s too early to tell what the seasons will look like many think that with the rock-solid forecasts for both Chinook and coho they should be much the same as last year on Puget Sound. A more detailed look at the salmon run forecasts is posted in the Outdoor Line forums.

Spring Chinook Seminar at Outdoor Emporium Today
Don’t miss the yearly spring Chinook seminar today from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Outdoor Emporium in downtown Seattle. The seminar features longtime Columbia River guides Eric Linde and Steve Leonard along with Outdoor Line host Tom Nelson. They’ll be covering everything from run timing, where to fish, and how to rig up for spring Chinook. Outdoor Emporium provides a free lunch and there will be a ton of tackle giveaways, as well.

Duck Dynasty Crew Runs off Singer Morissey
Grammy award winning singer Morrissey cancelled a performance on the Jimmy Kimmel show this past week after finding out that the cast of A&E’s hit show “Duck Dynasty” was also booked as a guest on the show. The former front man for the Smiths is an ardent animal rights activist and said he couldn’t take the risk of being on a show alongside people who amount to animal serial killers. The publicity didn’t hurt Duck Dynasty one bit either, as it posted the largest viewing audience in A&E’s history the night after the Morissey/Kimmel catfight with 9 million viewers.

Squirrel Cookoff World Championships Announced
Joe Wilson of Squirrel’s Unlimited just announced the 2013 World Champion Squirrel Cook Off to be held on September 7th. The event will be held in Bentonville, Arkansas and will feature hundreds of contestants from across the country that are the best of the best at whoopin’ up a mean batch of squirrel. Squirrel’s Unlimited president Joe Wilson says the event will draw an estimated 10,000 people to the area. Last years squirrel cook off will be televised on Bizarre Foods on the Cooking channel on April 1st. Interested parties should log onto squirrelcookoff.com for more information.

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

Leupold’s VX 3L Rifle Scope

While everyone else around here is in fishing mode I’ve been quietly plotting a fall hunting trip to the Missouri breaks in Montana that will likely require some long range bombing. I just ordered a Savage .300 Win Mag (more on that later) that delivers a serious punch down range and I finally settled on a Leupold VX-3L 4.5-14 rifle scope with a 50 millimeter objective for light gathering and the CDS system. My goal was to set up a rifle that will shoot accurately out to 500 yards and this one will get the job done just fine.

I went with the larger objective for it’s light gathering characteristics because this gun will not only be used for longer range shots at mule deer, but also for blacktails and Roosevelt elk in the dark forests of Western Washington. Not only that but we all know how critically important the early morning and evening minutes are when you’re hunting big game. Light gathering is critical during these precious minutes when animal movement is highest.

While it’s appearance may seem awkward at first the low profile of the VX-3L allows the scope to sit low on the rifle and is very comparable to a scope with 30 millimeter objective.

I did a lot of research and ended up going with the CDS system because it seemed so darned easy. CDS stands for Custom Dial system. You simply fill out a card with your ballistics and send it along with your elevation cap to Leupold and they return a new custom dial that matches your ammo. The dial is set up to shoot out to 500 yards and to be honest I won’t be taking any shots longer than that. The CDS system it is then.

The only catch I see is that I better be darn sure of the load I’m going to use and have plenty of it on hand. In todays age of ammo-madness you need to have a bunch of ammo on hand for both hunting and sighting-in because it doesn’t last long on the shelf at the local shop before POOF…it’s gone!

I’m leaning towards a 165 grain Sierra boat tail for the long range stuff, but the verdict is still out on this and I can definitely be swayed. This seems to be a good all around bullet and weight for both deer and elk. Between now and the time the rifle shows up I’ll be doing some more research on this and will make a final determination on a load.

I’ve been needing a new deer and elk rifle for many years and I’m certain that this Savage/Leupold combo is going to work out great. I’ll be certain to post up my experiences with this combo as they come along and don’t forgot that the deadline for applying for special hunts in Montana is March 15.

Now…back to the regularly scheduled fishing program already in progress!

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

River Etiquette 101

By Dennis Dickson

I was floating a popular run on the Sauk River one spring day. The April morning found the river in prime shape and I knew the flyboys were going to be out in numbers. As we rounded the corner of a long bar, there near the bottom of the half mile run, was another fly guide boat I hadn’t seen for a while. There is a nice slot in the tailout, so I figured they probably had already fished the upper drift, and were about to fish the lower. The day was still young and there could be new fish moving in so why not give this upper pool a go anyway? The guide and his client were just chatting in their boat. Couldn’t really tell if they were climbing in or getting out, and as they were not within shouting distance, I thought I would drop down and talk, after I got the boys fishing.

My guys had been fishing for a few minutes, and the guide heads up the gravel bar towards me so I waded out of the river to talk.

“How come you stole my water!” He demanded.

Gee, I am sorry,” I apologized. ” I saw you parked down in the lower run so I assumed you had either passed on this water to fish the lower pool, or had already fished it.”

“Everybody knows I always park my boat at the bottom of this run” He said. ” You should have asked.”

“No,” I said, “Obviously I didn’t know, (I had been on the water every day for the last month) and its not river etiquette to have ask permission, to fish the water behind someone, particularly, when they are not even in the river. Now, if it’s a really big deal, you take the pool, and we will slip on down the next pool.”

He declined.

Contrast this episode with an experience a few weeks before.

I was fishing some new water in early season, and we passed another guide with a couple clients. They were pulling plugs so I gave them a wide berth so not to disturb their water.

“Good morning Dennis!” Rod yelled. ” Swam anything this morning?”

Not yet,” I answered. “You?”

“Lost one in the upper run” He said. “Say, have you fished that new fly water down in the tailout?” “We hit two in here yesterday.”

I had to admit, it looked fishy. I shook my head, No.

“Tell you what,” He continued, ” Why don’t you fish it today, and tell me how you do?”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

I wanted it bad but it was his water.

“Yeah, What the hell.” He answered.

We hooked three steelhead that morning……all from that pool. I made it a point to thank Rod the next morning. As more and more anglers hit the rivers, it seems this fishing pressure brings out the aggressiveness in some anglers. It’s a little like driving in freeway traffic. We are all trying to get somewhere, but we sometimes forget we are All trying to get somewhere. The rules of the road get forgotten.

Here is a rundown on some of fishing rules on our local rivers.

Rule # One: First Comes First:
Anglers know that a steelhead undisturbed is probably going to hit the first thing that is presented reasonably. The Dawn Patrol is the angler that gets on the water in the wee hours of the morning to take advantage of “new fish”. The rule is ” If you are first on the water, you get to fish down through first, provided, you are on the pool ready to fish, and you are stepping downstream in a reasonable manner, so the next angler also has a chance to fish.” Standing at the head of a run and fiddling with your gear, in hopes that the angler who showed up, a few minutes after you, will finally get frustrated and go away, is not good etiquette. Neither is any reason that hinders or prevents an upstream angler from fishing down through the run.

My assistant Jackson said he was following a fellow down through the Buck Island Pool, on the Skykomish, when this downstream angler sees another fly boy walk up. By the number of patches on each of their vests, you would think they were in the armed services. This fishing angler wades out of the pool and begins a conversation with the new arrival.

Jackson continues to step down. The boys keep talking and Jackson keeps
stepping down.  When Jack gets even with these boys, the guy that was fishing, yells out, ” Don’t you be fishing down through my water, buddy!”

Fortunately for him, he caught Jackson in a good mood. He breaks people. The rule implies that, if he begins fishing upstream of you, he has every right to be there. If you get out of the water long enough to slow the progress of the upstream angler, let him fish through. The key, be reasonable.

Rule # Two: Don’t Crowd;
Just as you do not appreciate it when you have someone come up and tailgate you, when your driving, try to maintain a reasonable distance between you and your downstream buddy. Downstream buddy – read rule # one.

Rule # Three: Be reasonable about your concept of the pool. Little rivers tend to have little pools. Sometimes when I am fishing even two anglers, I will space them, allowing each to fish his own pool, if the waters are strategically close.

By contrast, a river the size of the Skagit may have pools a half-mile long, if you were to fish the whole thing. The Mixer on the Skagit comes to mind….but the taking water may be only about one hundred yards in length. If you know you won’t be fishing the lower waters for a least a half hour, and a guy walks up to ask if he can fish, let him. If you are looking forward to fishing that water yourself, and you know you are fishing iffy water, you should reel up and go down and fish the prime stuff yourself, but do not hoard the whole pool, simply because you happen to get there first. IT’S NOT YOUR POOL! You just have the right to fish it first.

Don’t pull this crap about ” We consider this to be two pools”, which is your excuse to step down in front of someone into prime water. If there is a question about what the fishing anglers intentions are, ASK, but permission is only necessary, if they are downstream of where you want to fish.

Rule # Four: Hooked fish goes to the back of the line.
You really see this get abused on the popular waters. The idea here is, If you are lucky enough to play a fish and you are in front of somebody fishing through, give him a chance at the next fish. I once saw an angler get on a Grande Ronde pool and proceed to play and release five steelhead, always going back to the front of a long line of anglers after each fish! What was he thinking?

Rule # five When in Rome…..
Different rules apply to different waters. All these rules don’t mean jack to a combat fishery like Hoodsport ,or around a bunch of gear guys, or even a crowded morning at Fortson Hole. If you go waltzing in and start in on the locals as to where and how they can fish…You Are Out Of Line. Not only that, but you are probably going to get thumped.

Rule # Six No Sponging or Bragging
I was just pulling into the Ben Howard boat launch. It was the same two guys I had seen the day before, and the day before that. The conversation would start off innocuous enough with a “So how was fishing today?” and then they would launch into the twenty questions, about where, when, how many, which fly and yada yada…….. As soon as they would sponge as much information from one boat, they wouldn’t even say thank you, they were off to the next boat. I actually witnessed one guy sponge the new arrivals and walk back up and get on his cell phone to pass on the information, like he was doing the flyfishing kingdom this great service! I finally got so irritated by the third day, (didn’t these guys have a life?) that as sponge # one came up while I am pulling my raft up, before he could even open his mouth, I said, “look, I don’t mean to be rude, but I will make you a deal. If you don’t ask me the questions, I won’t lie about them.”

At first he was shocked, then he just laughed, and ambled over to the next boat. Some fellows want desperately for everyone to know, just what a wonderful fisherman they are, they can’t wait to tell everybody about it. Young guide want-a-be’s are bad for this. They will start by asking how the day is going, and before you can hardly answer the question, they will start in about all the amazing fishing they have had that day. If they are really feeling their oats, they will hang around the takeout and drill the guide boats as they come in. Kind of their way of saying ” Boy, now if you were in my boat today, you could have had thissss much fun. You could term this as “Reverse Sponging”. Very annoying.

You see, the problem with all the rule breakers are, they simply don’t care about anyone but themselves. The problem is, even if they read this, they won’t get it. Nothing tries my patience more than some flyboy that will scream bloody murder when they think someone else steps out of line, but will do the same thing, given the opportunity, and never even think twice.

The Golden Rule is still the best rule:
Simply treat others the way you would want to be treated, and we can all get along.

Best of fishing
Dennis Dickson
www.flyfishsteelhead.com

“There are only two types of anglers in this part of the world, those that catch steelhead on a fly and those that want to.”

Northwest Outdoor Report

Jerry Thomas Wins Oly Pen Salmon Derby

A record catch of 351 hatchery Chinook were weighed in at the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby last weekend setting a new record for the 40 year old derby. 820 anglers fished in the event compared to 650 last year. Mount Vernon native Jerry Thomas took first place and $10,000 with a 15.90 pound blackmouth, Lauren Selvig from Port Orchard took second with a 14.80 pound blackmouth, and Don White of Hansville took 3rd place with a 14.35 pounder. Thomas hooked the winning fish first thing in the morning on Saturday near Protection Island on an orange label herring. It’s the first time he’s fished the Olympic Peninsula Derby and he says he’ll be back next year.

Lake Roosevelt Producing Limits of Rainbows

Don Talbot at Hooked on Toys in Wenatchee says the rainbow fishing is still good on Lake Roosevelt. He recommends trolling small Apex lures in either purple or bright red with anywhere from a half ounce to an ounce of lead. Talbot says the fish are cruising in the top 20 feet of the water column and anglers should set the gear as much as 200 feet back from the boat to get strikes. Talbot also recommends using a K-Fly tipped with a nightcrawler if the Apex’s aren’t working. Talbot says to launch at Spring Canyon boat launch and fish the lower six to eight of the lake just above Grand Coulee Dam.

Steelhead Showing in the Cowlitz

Derek Anderson from Screamin’ Reels Guide Service reports that a few of the “B” run steelhead are starting to show up in the Cowlitz. He said a friend of his caught three the other day and there were some fish being caught by the bank anglers at Blue Creek, as well. Anderson thinks that things will pick up the first week of March when the run typically starts to show up. The majority of the hatchery steelhead planted in the Cowlitz River now show up in the river as a late “B” run that starts in late February and goes all the way thru the end of April. These fish are big too…averaging around twelve pounds and steelhead into the upper teens aren’t uncommon.

Razor Clam Dig Scheduled for this Weekend

WDFW approved another razor clam dig for this weekend at Long Beach and Twin Harbors on the Washington coast. Today’s tide is at 5:12 p.m. and tomorrows tide is at 5:47 p.m.. Clam diggers are limited to 15 razor clams per day and are required to keep the first 15 clams they dig. Check out the WDFW website for more details.

Spring Chinook Seminar at Three Rivers Marine

Northwest salmon fishing expert Josh Hughes will be doing a spring Chinook seminar at Three Rivers Marine in Woodinville on March 9th. Hughes will cover in detail where to fish on the Columbia River for springers and exactly how to rig up to catch these prized fish. Three Rivers will also be conducting mini-clinics starting at 10:00 a.m. on everything from how to rig a cut plug herring to wrapping and tuning a Kwikfish. If you’re at all interested in fishing the Columbia and its tributaries for Chinook this spring this seminar is a must. There’s bbq’d hot dogs and soda at the event and please RSVP to let them know you’re coming.

100,000 Descend on Tulsa for the Bassmaster Classic

Approximately 100,000 people are expected at both Grand Lake and in the city of Tulsa this weekend for the 43rd annual Bassmaster Classic. It’s the first time the Bassmaster Classic has ever been held in Oklahoma and the farthest west the Classic has been in more than 30 years. The angler with the best three day bass total in the Classic wins an impressive $500,000 and much, much more in endorsements. The big story at the Classic this year is the weather. There was snow on the ground for practice during the week and temperatures are supposed to drop below freezing every night.  The cold weather didn’t slow down Mike Iaconelli and Cliff Price though, who are both tied for 1st place after day one with 21 pounds, 8 ounces apiece. 4 time Classic champion Kevin VanDam is in a very close 4th place with 19 pounds 12 ounces.

Wolf Population Doubles in Washington

According to a survey just released by WDFW the number of gray wolves in Washington has nearly doubled in the past year. The survey found at least 51 wolves in 9 packs in Washington state. In 2011 there was just 27 wolves in the state. Bioligists suspect that there are two additional wolf packs in the state and think there could be as many as 100 wolves in Washington state.

Russian’s Crowned Ice Fishing Champions

From the A.P. – The Russian’s just took the gold medal in the World Ice Fishing Championships in Central Wisconsin last weekend. Eleven teams from around the world competed Saturday and Sunday on Beg Eau Pleine Reservoir near Wausau. The Finland ice fishing team took 2nd place, Lithuania took 3rd, and the the U.S. team took fourth place despite having the “home ice” advantage. Last year the ice fishing championships were held in Khazahkstan where the U.S. team took 11th place.

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com