The past few weeks have been busy around the Irish Flies camp. My wife and I took a mini vacation to Atlantic City for a few days of rest and relaxation. We did get to see the Eagles (the band, not the Philadelphia Football team) for the second time in less than a year, and they were awesome. If you are a fan and you can catch "The History of the Eagles" tour I would highly recommend it! I have been tying flies, filling orders and I have started the preparation's for this winters classes. I also have several videos I am working on and will be posting them soon. The past two weeks I was fortunate enough to get out on the water with my good buddy "One Boot" Ed. We floated both of the last 2 Sundays, the first on the Brandywine and the second on a tributary of the Susquehanna flats. Smallmouth season is in full swing right now, the water levels and temp's are good and the fish are attacking our flies the way a Hobo attacks a Bologna sandwich. As mentioned we floated the Brandywine 2 weeks ago. We put in at the Brandywine River Museum and floated down to Smith's Bridge. Ed had recently purchased an Outcast "Fat Cat" float tube and he used it for this float. My Fat Cat had not come in yet so I used my IR-10 single man pontoon. You may ask "why if you have a pontoon would you need a float tube" more on that later...
We floated for about 9 hours that day landing a fish here, a fish there, a decent day, but nothing to get real excited about. Several hours into the float my buddy connected with this solid, shouldered up, Bronzeback. His personal best out of this river and a respectable fish any where in the country.
We had just finished taking pictures and releasing this brute and Ed started to fish the next hole. Within 3 casts I looked down and saw his Sage Method bent over and bouncing. He looked up and said two words "good fish"! Ed worked the fish out of the hole and brought it to the net. Not as big as the first one, but the colors speak for themselves. This is truly a beautiful Smallmouth.
After taking two good fish in a row on a stretch of water that is notoriously tough to take big fish on I had to ask..."what fly"?
Ed was fishing a fly designed by Chuck Craft and sold by my friend William Heresniak of Eastern Trophy Fly Fishing called the Clawdad. You may remember my last post was a step-by-step of a my version of a ETFF fly called the Crittermite. If you missed it you can catch it here. The Clawdad is another simple but VERY effective pattern. Kinda like the fly fisherman's answer to the "Jig and Pig" of hard tackle fame. You can dead drift it, strip it, twitch it, or let it lay on the bottom. After these 2 fish Ed gave me a few to use and I am an instant believer. Here is how effective this fly is. EVERY FISH IN THIS BLOG POST WAS CAUGHT ON A CLAWDAD!
We fished out the day landing several more smaller fish until about 2:00 when we were mobbed by tubers. When I say mobbed I don't mean we had a few around us and we had to let them pass. The heat index that day was 107 degrees and everybody must have had the same idea. At one point I was completely surrounded by tubers as far as I could see. I stopped fishing (I couldn't cast) and just floated down the river for about an hour. I have floated this section for the past 25 years, probably over 125 times and I have NEVER seen the amount of tubers I saw this day. Next time better planning is in order.
Maybe this is why this section of river doesn't give big fish easily!
All in all it was a good float. I got to get out on the water, get my pontoon wet, catch a bunch of fish and spend time with a buddy. What more could you ask for?
Pontoon vs float tube
As mentioned I have a single man pontoon and I just received my "Fat Cat" float tube. I am sure people are asking "if you have one why do you need the other"? As much as I love fishing out of my Pontoon, and I do enjoy it, they are not without issue. My boat is on a trailer, that is the easiest way to transport it IMO. Trailering a boat has its own unique set of challenges. First off you need a vehicle that can tow a trailer. The boat / trailer combo is very light, so you don't need much horse power, you do need a vehicle with the proper equipment to tow (ball hitch, light hook up's etc). You will also need to register and tag the trailer. I don't know about you but, if given the choice I would rather get my teeth drilled than go to the Delaware DMV! The other thing to consider are boat ramps. The Brandywine is not like the Schuylkill or the Susky, there are no true boat ramps on the Brandywine. This means carrying your boat, sometimes great distances, (a 2 man job) to the water. All of these are challenges that can be worked through and my pontoon will remain a staple in my fishing program. Combine these with the plan to fish some smaller rivers in our area this year and this makes the choice to invest in a float tube a no brainier. Enter the Outcast "Fat Cat"
Basically a floating reclining chair, these tubes are light, easy to travel with, and extremely comfortable. They fit easily in the back of a mid to large SUV, and with the optional back pack straps you can hitch the tube to your back and down the road you go to the fishing spot. Ed calls it the "Mummers Strut" when he has the tube on his back...those of you from the Metro Philadelphia area will understand. I got my tube mid last week and Sunday morning we were on the water by 7:00 AM
It is gonna be a long float...
Here is an Irish Flies tip...If you are floating a river for the first time err on the side of caution when setting up your first float, It is better to set up a float that is too short than a float that is too long. Why do I know this???? Read on.
Ed has been fishing this tributary of the Susquehanna Flats for years. He introduced me to it a few years ago and we have had some great days wading this river. A quick check of the map and some scouting shows this trib flows a long way, but the upper reaches would be extremely hard to wade. We decided a float would be the best way to attack it. Pontoons were out of the question. Getting to and from the river with the trailer would be a logistical nightmare, not to mention the distance and terrain we would have to carry the boats over to reach the water. The river is narrow at some points making passage in a pontoon difficult. It is just not a "pontoon" river. Today, this river, this float was the initial reason for the investment in the float tubes. We talked back and forth all week all the while looking at Google Maps. Ed scouted the put in and take out on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning we met up and headed out for a day of new discovery. As we were gearing up Ed said "you know this is gonna be a long float" Irish Flies tip #2 when your fishing buddy says something like that pay attention!!!! I think I said something like "more fish to catch" Yeah, OK. We put in at around 7:15 and started down. 20 minutes into the float I hooked a good, possibly a great fish! Three head shakes and one STRONG up river run and the line went slack and the pole limp. I stripped in the line and the brand new Fluorocarbon leader was snapped at the tippet. 1X tippet. 12 pound tippet! I don't know what it was, could have been a Carp. I do know he ate the Clawdad like he was starving and I will never know for sure what it was. We continued floating down having a great day catching many solid Small jaw's. About 3:30 I decided to check the GPS. To my shock (and horror) we had been on the water for nearly 8 hours and we were only about 1/2 way! We knew we needed to pick up the pace and as the day got longer we fished less and paddled more. The last 2 hours of this float were what I akin to hell in the river. About 3 miles of the nastiest, rock infested boulder field you can imagine. I bounced that Fat Cat off of bounders, drug it over rock and gravel bottom, blasted through dead falls, you name it I did it to that tube. It is hanging in my garage a little scratched up, but non the worse for wear. A cheap tube would not have made it through that stretch of river, I am confident of that because one cell phone, one swim fin and one rod did not make it through! An epic float indeed, we just need to come out with a better take out spot! What time did we make it to the lower end did you ask...8:30 pm! That's right, 13 hours on the water. Was it worth it? You be the judge, because I am still not sure!
As mentioned every fish in this post was caught on the Clawdad. If you are a serious Smallmouth junkie like we are, you owe it to yourself to check William's stuff out, it is as good as it gets! Check him out here. He is also on Facebook under William Heresniak as well as Eastern Trophy Fly Fishing. To check out all the great products from Outcast Boats click here. I am proud to have Irish Flies affiliated with both of these great companies.
We have about two more solid months of Smallmouth action this year. Get out there and stick a big one before it is two late! Till next time...
Well, this past weekend I finally got out on the Smallmouth river after 3 straight weeks of storms, blown out rivers, or just plain poor timing. I had a great day on Sunday spending over eight hours on two of my favorite, local Smallmouth rivers. I had some good luck with the pattern I am going to share with you today. I also shot some great GoPro video which I will edit and post shortly. I love fishing Hellgrammite patterns for Smalljaws. Even on rivers that don't boast a good amount of these prehistoric looking bugs, they always seem to produce! I don't know if it is the profile and shape of the pattern, the dark color or the action (probably a combination of the three) the Smallies can't seem to resist them. My guess is it is in their DNA. Much the same way Trout eat eggs, or I eat Bacon, I believe a Smallmouth's brain is programmed to eat Hellgrammites so, they eat em. I have used the Clouser Hellgrammite for years with good success, and believe it to be an exceptional pattern. Lately I have been using some products from Eastern Trophies Fly Fishing and let me tell you William's products are awesome! Before we get too far into the fly lets take a look at the Natural.
Hellgrammites are the larval stage of the Dobson Fly. Hatching from an egg sac deposited on a rock ledge or a low hanging branch, the young larva fall into the water where they will spend the first 1 to three years of their aquatic life living among the stream bed. Growing to a length of about three inches, the adult Hellgrammite is an ugly dude with powerful pinchers on his head, a hard shell and spines running down the sides of its body. (the spines are actually gills for breathing underwater)
Hellgrammites live under rocks, logs, river debris in swift river currents hunting and feeding on other micro-invertebrates and small forage fish.
As mentioned I believe Smallmouth are just hard wired to eat these things. The pattern I am going to share with you was modeled after the original Crittrmite pattern tied by Chuck Craft and also drawing inspiration from Jake Villwock's Taramite 2.0 fly This fly is simple to tie, effective, and just plain looks bad ass! BTW, if you think the larva looks crazy do a search for the Eastern Dobson fly...yeah, that is real!
Here you go...
Thread ; Black flat waxed 6/0
Hook ; TMC 5263 size 4
Under body ; 20 wraps of .020 lead wire
Eyes ; Lead dumbbell size medium
Tail ; Eastern Trophy Fly Fishing Crittermite Tail #2 to order click here
Body ; Black Estaz
Legs ; Black Life Flex
Head ; Eastern Trophy Fly Fishing Game Changer Tail to order click here
Put the Crittermite tail on the hook and place the hook in the vise. There is a hole pre punched in the tail. You can use that one or use the hook to punch another one to get the desired length.
Tie the Game Changer tail on the UNDERSIDE of the hook. This pattern will ride hook point up and this will eventually be the top of the fly.
Tie a medium lead dumbbell eye on the top of the hook shank (this will eventually be the bottom) For a cool way to tie in dumbbell eyes that won't move check out this link. Dumbbell eyes
Put 20 wraps of .020 lead wire on the hook. Build a thread dam at the back of the wire and force the wraps up against the back of the dumbbell eyes. Tightly spiral wrap your thread over the lead to bind it to the hook shank. Don't be afraid to use a little Zap-A-gap here.
Tie on a strand of Life Flex in front of the dumbbell eyes for the pinchers.
Tie on a piece of Life Flex on both sides of the body at about the mid point of the hook shank. A real Hellgrammite has 3 legs coming out if each side...I don't think the fish will count them.
Move your thread to the rear of the fly and tie in a piece of black Estaz.
Palmer the Estaz up the hook shank in tight, successive wraps. Cover up all of the under body being careful not to catch the legs underneath. Wrap all the way to the eye of the hook. Tie off and clip the Estaz, position the tail so you can tie it off just behind the hook eye.
After tying off the tail whip finish and clip your thread. Coat the top of the tail section with Zap-A-Gap, fold the "head" section over and glue it into place on the top of the tail section.
Here is the side view of the finished fly. This is a very durable pattern that will withstand many angry Bronze Backs. The fact that it rides hook point up allows you to crawl it along the bottom of the river just like the natural.