It is January 26th and according to the news stations we are awaiting another "storm of the century". Correct me if I am wrong, but didn't we have a "100 year storm" last year? I will bet you can't find a snow shovel, ice melt, milk, bread, or eggs any where in New Castle county today. All kidding aside, the winter months can be some of the best fishing of the year. Due to the weather conditions we face during December, January and February they can be some of the toughest times to be out in the elements. I would like to give some of my thoughts and insights as to how to dress for the tough months in hopes that you can extend your time on the water. Hypothermia is a serious consideration during this time of year and protecting yourself from the elements should be your first priority. Let’s start with our feet and work our way up.
Layering is the key to staying warm in the winter and our feet are no different. I generally like to start off with a liner sock of some type. Polypropylene gets the nod here as it is the best material to wick sweat away from your feet, the key to keeping your feet warm. From here the temperature will determine the next layer for me. In mild times say 30 degrees and up a simple wading sock works for me. In extreme temps, 30 and below I will usually wear a liner sock, a cotton type crew sock and then a heavy wading sock like the Simms Extreme wading sock. This combo keeps my feet warm in the coldest of days. Play around with your sock combo until you find a system that works for you. One item of note; as you add layers of socks on your feet those wading boots that feel great in April and May might be too tight in January. Tight boots equal cold feet period! A sizable investment for sure, but a pair of boots a size or two bigger can be a godsend. Also, be careful with the tension of your boot laces. If you lace em up tight you will cut the circulation of to your feet. This is sure to send you to the truck early. You will loose a little ankle support, but it will help to keep your feet warm if you leave your laces a little looser than normal. If you do a lot of winter fishing in extreme conditions, say Steelheading in New York, you may want to seriously consider a pair of boot foot waders. Boot foots have more room in the foot section and won't constrict your feet as much as stocking foot waders and boots. They also will keep the warm air inside and circulating around your feet.
Next would be the body layers. Again the conditions will determine how many or how few layers you need. Anything that touches your skin needs to have some wicking properties. We all sweat and the key to staying warm is to get that perspiration away from your body. One of the newer products on the market that gets the nod from me is Merino Wool. A Merino wool base layer will go a long way to keeping your body temperature regulated. My next layer would be some sort of fleece. Simms and Redington both have several different types of fleece in different weights to fit your needs. From light weight shirts and pants to heavy weight crew tops and extremely warm one piece “jumpsuits.”There is a product for everybody. To this I will usually add a Windstopper jacket of sorts and this combo seems to keep me warm on most excursions. On those extreme days I might add a mid weight or heavy weight layer of fleece on top of a light weight layer. The key is to have interchangeability in your system so you can adapt to the changing climate.
We all have heard the saying that you loose most of your body heat through your head. If that is the case lets cover it with a quality hat to prevent that from happening. “Beanie” type hats are fine in mild temperatures; I wear them all the time. I particularly like the visor type of hats from Simms and Loomis. The next step up would be the Extreme hat from Simms. Sometimes called the “Elmer Fudd” for obvious reasons. Insulated to the max with ear flaps to boot if any hat is going to keep you warm this is the one. Not the most aesthetically pleasing hat, but when it is 10 degrees keeping warm is the priority. Remember this isn't a fashion show. To this I might add one of the polar Buffs. This insulated, fleece lined “collar” is designed to keep your neck warm, and can be worn on your face like a half mask. Both are a priority in order to keep warm. Last but not least are gloves. I like the finger-less models so I can have some dexterity when tying knots. Actually I believe it is impossible to tie knots with gloves on. If you are prone to cold fingers one of the fold over mitts may be better. These have a finger-less glove inside and a mitten flap that will fold over the entire thing. A great idea, but fishing with mittens on will take a little getting use to. In the winter time try to touch as little water as possible. Once you get your hands cold in February it is tough to get warm them back up without leaving the river. Some of those hand warmers stuffed in your top wader pocket and help with this.
During the winter season, especially during bitter times I try to always fish with a partner. Safety in numbers goes a long way when it is 20 degrees out. I try not to stand in the water for extended periods of time. If you feel your self getting cold get out and go for a little walk. The foot traffic on the rivers is usually light this time of year. Many times I can walk for ten or 15 minutes to get warmed back up and return to the same spot. Another tip that can help to keep you warm is to eat while you are in the river. This tip is a carryover from many days spent in a freezing cold Deer stand or Duck blind. In order to stay warm your body needs to burn calories. The more calories you burn the more you need to replenish the supply. Carry some protein bars, nuts or dried fruit and nibble on that while you are out. Your car won't run without gas and your body won't run without fuel. Also, I always have a “fall in bag” in my truck. If I do happen to take a spill (and believe me I do) I have a warm, dry set of clothes waiting for me at the truck. If you do go in the water this time of year IMMEDIATELY get out and head to the truck. As I said earlier Hypothermia is no joke and needs to be taken seriously. Get out, get dry and go home. The fish will be there tomorrow.
Winter fishing can be some of the "hottest" fishing of the year. Hopefully these tips will keep you warm and out on the river this winter. Have a safe and fun filled winter season. Till Next time...
As we move into full on winter time fishing (it was 6 degrees the other night!) this can only mean one thing; Midges, Midges and more Midges. Midges are a non biting member of the mosquito family. They are prevalent in just about every waterway that Trout inhabit. Available year round, they are a large part of a Trout's diet. As the water begins to cool Midges should become a primary focus of our fishing tactics and in the dead of winter December, January and February they may be one of the only active and available food sources. Under water flies will be well represented with patterns in the #18 to #22 size range. Top water or "dry" patterns will be in the #20 to #24 range. Most serious Trout fishermen will have a fly box dedicated to Midges only. As mentioned, you should carry your Midge box year round, I have caught trout on Midge patterns in February as well as in June. I would like to share with you six of my favorite, most productive Midge patterns. Try as I might I just could not get the pictures of the small flies to come out properly. For the sake of clarity the pictures of the actual flies were pulled from the internet. My thanks to the people who's picture taking ability is far superior to mine.
If you are going to become a serious Midge fisherman you need to wrap your mind around a few things. Sometimes as hard as it is to get them to eat a #24, keeping them buttoned up is another story. There will be times when you just cant stick them, by contrast there will be times when you stick them good and after a second or 2 the hook pulls. It is the nature of the beast. Even on the best of hook designs the gap on a size 24 hook is minuscule at best. One suggestion is to use a quality hook and be sure it is sharp. Offsetting the hook point a bit will help in this area as well. Also, when using a curved shank hook with a bead, go up one hook size. This will allow more room between the hook point and the bead and keep the hook gap open. If you roll the hook point clip it off and tie on a fresh fly. These patterns are usually simple and fast to tie. Don't fish with dull hooks! Small flies call for small tippet. It is hard to get a good drift with a size #24 fly on 4X. The next time you have a small hook, 22 or smaller, try to thread 4X through the hook eye. You will be surprised to find out it may not even go through. Get yourself a few spools of 6X and get comfortable casting and fishing a longer than normal leader. At the tying bench realize although there is not typically much detail in these patterns tying flies this small can be a challenge. It can take as long to put the bead on a #22 as it takes to actually tie the fly. Tie in a well lit area, pre bead your hooks and take your time. Just because they are small doesn't mean you should get sloppy. A well stocked Midge box filled with well tied flies is a thing of beauty. Tie flies and arrange boxes you can be proud of. You will be glad you did.
Books are great sources of information and can be used as future reference for years to come. As I get a little older I have come to appreciate books as a form of investment. An investment that I do not need to worry if they will hold their value. I am sure everybody has their favorites, and I am no exception. "Midge Magic" by Don Holbrook & Ed Koch and "Modern Midges" by Rick Takahashi & Jerry Hubka are two of the best. A copy of each should be on every fly tiers book shelf. These two books have more information and patterns than most people could digest in a lifetime. A quick search of the web provided many outlets to purchase each, or you could just click here. I believe "Midge Magic" is out of print so if you are interested I would suggest you get a copy ASAP before it goes by the way of my hair line, the 2008 Phillies World Series, and all of the good Metal music of the '80's...gone forever!
Well, here is where the rubber meets the road so to speak. My 6 favorite Midge patterns. These 6 flies have proven themselves on both stocked and wild fish. An easy to moderate skill level is all that is required to tie them with a minimal amount materials. Tie these 6 flies and you can fish in most any water condition at any time during the year and have success.
1) The Zebra Midge. Possibly the most popular Midge Larva pattern ever. A bead, thread body and wire rib is all that is needed. You can add a dubbed collar if you choose, but may not be necessary. Tied in black, red and olive in sizes 18 to 22. Every Midge box should be well stocked with a bunch of these.
2) Al's Rat. Why is it the most effective flies are often the most simple to tie? Thread and dubbing are all that is needed. I will usually hang this as a dropper off of a tungsten beaded fly to help get it down. This fly is a great choice to add a third fly to your rig without adding bulk. It is rare that my wintertime doesn't have a Rat hanging off the back.
3) The Frostbite Midge. This is my go to fly on my home waters of the White Clay. Probably the most detailed of all the patterns on my list. The red Diamond Braid body on this fly makes for a great Blood worm imitation. I have more confidence in this fly than any other on the list.
The Rainbow Warrior. I don't know If this was originally designed as a Midge pattern or not. I do know the more I fish the more confidence I have in it. I first saw this fly in the great book "Dynamic Nymphing" by George Daniel. Instantly I had an idea where this fly would be successful in my personal fishing. Tied on a #20 this fly has proven deadly this winter tough waters like Maryland's Gunpowder.
We go on top for our next two patterns, and the Sprout Midge is one of the best! Tied parachute style, this fly rides in the film and is very easy to see. Tied with a foam post this fly is an excellent choice for "dry and dropper" fishing, but does quite well all by it's self. Personally, my success has been far better with body colors of light olive and tan. The black version just has not been as productive for me.
This next pattern is near and dear to my heart. My good friend, Rick, introduced me to this pattern one early March day on one of our favorite rivers. When I say "introduced" what I mean is he was banging fish and I, only 50 yards below him in the same run couldn't catch a cold. On the way home, with my tail still between my legs from the beating I had just received on the water, I finally asked him what fly. He told me "The CDC Puff" The next day we sat down at the bench and he taught me how to tie this simple, yet highly effective fly. The picture shows the body wrapped with some type of flash. I have a few tied like this but, over time, have come to prefer using just plain flat waxed nylon thread for the body.
Well, there they are. These 6 Midge patterns have served me well over the years and they will continue to do so. Are these the only flies in my Midge box? Absolutely not. I am always looking for that next "new" pattern, that is how lists like this grow and evolve. I do know I will never be on a Trout river without these 6 patterns! Pick up a copy of "Midge Magic" and or "Modern Midges", pick some patterns that speak to you and get out and give them a shot. Who knows, maybe in a year or so you will have your own "confidence list". Till next time...
As I write this it is a couple of days since New Year's Day. Many people, around this time, are thinking of the past Holiday season, the Winter ahead, Collage Bowl games or waiting on Summer. To me, New Year's day means one thing, up-holding a new 4 year tradition of catching a wild Brown Trout on the first day of the new year. The first 2 years were well before web sites and blogs. Last year I did blog about this tradition while I was writing for a different site. Well, it is a new year, the site is mine, but the tradition remains the same. I was fortunate that my company shut down between Christmas and New Year's giving me 11 days off to do what ever I wanted, and I wanted to fish! Balancing time between the holidays, family and the river is a delicate act at best. Our kids are older and working all the time and my wife is EXTREMELY understanding of my passion (or sickness) and I was able to get on the river 5 of the 11 days I was off. Not too bad considering one of the days I had to go to New York City to look at a new machine my company is thinking of purchasing and the last two days, Saturday and Sunday were a complete wash out with heavy rain.
I had spent a couple of days on the White Clay and one day on Valley leading up to New Year's day. You can read the White Clay post here. I had an OK day on Valley with a few fish landed spending a lot of time fishing a #24 CDC puff over some risers. Hooking and landing fish on a #24 is a challenge in itself and I can say I was not up to the challenge. I could get them to eat, but as soon as they fealt the hook, 2 head shakes and they were gone. It became a vendetta of sorts that I was gonna land a trout on a #24 that day. Finally, after several hours I did get one to hand only to have the hook pull and the fish flop back into the water as I was trying to take the picture. Oh well, it was still a fun and challenging afternoon on the water.
For the big New Year's day trip we had decided to hit the Gunpowder in Maryland. The Gunpowder or GP as it in known in the vernacular, is a bottom release tail water originating at Prettyboy Reservoir in northern Baltimore county. The reservoir system (Prettyboy and Loch Raven), the watersheds and the surrounding woodlands are owned by the city of Baltimore and they are responsible for about 60% of the municipal water for the city. Be that as it may we are attracted to it for it's scenery, wildlife (I saw several deer including a nice 8 pointer that bounded in the water right below me in an attempt to avoid some people trail running) and it's beautiful wild Brown Trout. I have not fished the GP since late last Winter and decided to fish a spot that always seems to give up a few fish. I had "One Boot" Ed with me and this would be his first time on this particular river.
This is the first thing you see when you step out of your car in the parking lot. No pressure here! After rigging up at the truck we decided I would walk down about a half mile and fish my way up, Ed would start at the truck and fish his way down. We would meet somewhere in the middle, compare notes, and finish out the day. We said our "good lucks" and I started the 30 min walk downstream. When I got to the spot I wanted to start the first thing I did was take a water temp; 34 degrees! so much for the theory of a bottom release tail water being warmer in the winter! I had decided to fish 3 flies under a indicator and let the fish tell me what was there preferred food of the day. I guess I could have used a stomach pump, but the rule of thumb is not to pump when the water is that cold. It is too stressful for the fish to regain the calories you take from them. My rig consisted of a #16 biot bodied BYO nymph, a #18 Flashback PT and a #20 Al's Rat. I have become quite fond of this rig. It has served me well in the past and covers many bases of wintertime food availability. I am happy to say that shortly into my New Year's day fishing (less than 10 minutes) I was snapping a picture of a beautiful, little wild Brown. The tradition continues! (BTY he is not hooked in the pectoral fin. I didn't even realize the fly was laying there until I downloaded the image from my phone)
Nymphing my way up the run produced 3 more gorgeous fish, It was shaping up to be a pretty good day. An hour or two later I came around a bend just in time to see my buddy landing a fish. I snapped a couple of pictures of him landing it and hollered for him to hold it up.
This was one of several fish he had taken on his way down. I asked him what fly and was surprised to hear he had taken all of his fish on the Rainbow Warrior! An attractor pattern, the Warrior has served me well over stocked fish, I never thought to use it on a wild Trout river.
Giving Ed's success with the Warrior I decided to try an experiment. I tied up an "attractor" rig with a Green Weenie, a Rainbow Warrior, and a San Juan Worm. Not your typical "wild fish" rig, and I am sure people reading this, one guy in particular, is shaking his head at me. I had already had a good day fishing naturals and I wanted to see what happened. I broke the worm off in short order so I just fished out the day with the two flies. The first half dozen casts with the new rig produced 2 fish, proof positive that wild fish eat attractors two! Here are some pics from New Year's day.
Here are a few of the pics Ed sent me.
The ride home was a good time. It was filled with stories of "did you fish that log" or "did you see this" type of stuff. These conversations have become as important of a part of the day as the fishing itself. What good are all of these great experiences if you have nobody to share them with. I am fortunate enough to have a bunch of good friends to share with! Now the question... where to fish tomorrow.
After thinking it over and weighing the pros and cons of Valley vs the GP I decided to make the hour and 45 minute ride back to Baltimore County. I already knew the fish there were active despite the cold water temp. I already had an idea of what flies would be effective and based on a few conversations and what I saw on Facebook Thursday evening, it didn't look like Valley was fishing very well at the moment. So at 9:00 am it was Rt 1 south... again.
I arrived at the spot a little earlier than the day before. On the way down I thought up the rig I would fish and decided I would stick with the same rig all day. I rigged up my 4X Harvey leader with a #18 tungsten bead Rainbow Warrior and tied a #18 Flashback PT and a #20 Mercury Midge on 6X droppers. Unless I saw something drastic, like a pod of rising fish, I was dancing with who brought me and this rig would stay on the whole day.
As it turns out the fishing spot and the rig were both the right choice. I had another solid day. Not quite as god as the day before, but very good in it's own right. Forsake of one EPIC leader tangle that required a complete rebuild from the 3X section down the original 3 flies were never off of my leader.
All in all I had a great Holiday season. I received some cool presents from Santa, got to spend some time with family and friends and fished my ass off! What more could you ask for? Til Next time...
Welcome to the first "Irish Flies" blog post of 2015. I truly hope everyone has had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Well, It is that time of year where we take a little time and reflect back on 2014 then look ahead to 2015. It is also the time of year when we usually say to ourselves "this year I am going to..." I think resolutions, if treated properly, can be a good thing. I also feel that if not handled correctly they can become an extreme burden on one's mind and soul. Take for instance the person who has been stuck in the same dead end job for the past several years. They may decide that this year is going to be the year to make a change. They take their time, do the research, and only when all the "I's" are dotted and the "t's" are crossed they make an educated decision to change jobs. They may move to a different department within their current company, move to a new company or change careers all together. Whatever the case may be they have weighed all the options and came up with the one that is the best for all involved. This is an example where the resolution of "I want a new job" was used as a motivator to better themselves. This I can speak to first hand, in 2014 I left a company that I had a combined 21+ year history to move to a new manufacturing job. A decision I can say my wife and I are happy about so far and seems to have been the correct decision. On the flip side take for instance the 20+ year chain smoker. Every year they say to themselves they are gonna quit cold turkey on the first of the year. I have been at parties where people have walked outside 10 minutes before the "Ball Drop" and said this is my last cigarette. Having never been a smoker I do not have first hand experience about trying to stop. I know cold turkey is rarely effective and many people only last a week or less and are smoking the same amount if not more than they were before they tried to quit. This cycle can, for some, can be devastating and is a instance where a resolution can weigh on your mind and soul. This is a fishing web site so I will try not to go any "deeper" than I already have. What I am trying to say is if you are going to make resolutions make ones that are attainable that will give you a sense of success or completion. Resolutions that will expand and improve you and your abilities as a fisher person.
In order to move forward you must know where you are. Take a hard look at you and your abilities and be honest with yourself. If you have never fished the salt and don't own a stick heavier than a 5 wt making a resolution to catch a world record Permit may not be a responsible choice. Remember the attainable aspect of the goal. Perhaps your resolution should be to purchase an 10 wt set up, take a series of casting lessons and fish the local salt for Flounder, Stripers, Blues and Trout. Crawl before you walk, walk before you run. If your resolutions are to far out of your grasp (for one reason or another) you will lose interest or worse become discouraged and you may give up entirely. If your end goal is to catch a world record Permit you need a "jumping off point" and this is an attainable goal to start your quest. When you have built a solid foundation of casting skills, salt water fishing experience, knowledge of your quarry including gear, rigging and flies, then and only then should you start to plan a trip to chase the elusive world record.
With all of this in mind I will share with you 5 of my "fishing" resolutions for 2015.
1) Give "Irish Flies" a solid 100% effort. When started "Irish Flies" I was realistic about my goals and what I wanted to get out of it. I told my self I would give it a solid 100% effort for one year. At the end of the year I would re asses the situation and determine the next step. I believe I have given 100% so far and the response has been positive, A trend I hope continues.
2) Fish with people that are "better" than me every chance I get. "Better" is subjective in this context. Better at what? I guess what I am trying to say is every time I have chance to fish with someone who can teach me something (which actually is everybody regardless of their skill level) I will not be intimidated and take the opportunity.
3) Fish rivers that expand my abilities. If you only ever fish over stocked Trout you will get very good at catching stocked Trout. I am not saying there is anything wrong with that. I fish stocked rivers all the time. What I am saying is you will learn more by catching the skunk on Valley than you will learn landing a bunch of stocked fish.
4) Read everything I can about fly fishing. One of my resolutions last year was to read a book a month. A resolution I fulfilled in September (I finished my 12th book of the year sitting on the beach while on vacation with my wife). This year I want to get more in depth into the history and try to obtain some of the classics. Suggestions welcome...
5) Help as many people as I can start or expand their fly fishing knowledge. We all started somewhere and I am fortunate enough to have a few mentors that have helped me greatly reduce the learning curve. Some of them I still learn from every time we fish together. (see resolution #2) I would like to be looked upon as one of "those" guys and I do enjoy helping people.
There you have it, my 5 resolutions for the new year. I encourage you to pick a few resolutions of your own. Crawl before you walk, walk before you run. Pick solid, attainable goals and I'll bet at the end of 2015 you will have expanded your skill set as a fly fisher and as a person. Until next time...