Sea runs in winter

In the winter and even in cold and turbid water these fish still respond to a trouty fly dancing in the currents past their log strewn (and muddler thieving) holding lies. There are many ways to approach fishing for them in winter, flesh flies, intruders, streamers, egg patterns, even wakers and dries in the right scenario, boots on the ground is the only way to find out. Not plentiful, but still aggressive, and as pretty as they come.

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A fish from December, although they typically spawn later, these fish don’t spawn en masse, instead pairing up sporadically throughout the season. I’ve encountered bright silver fish with sea lice in July through December and post spawn fish from October through July, just another reminder that nature does not function in a linear textbook manner.

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Pretty west coast fish that ate an intruder

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Doom

Hey, your country’s government is flushing the future of this country down the toilet, but the football game is on, so mother nature can wait a few hours for your apathetic attention span to lightly consider that the “economy” is more important than anything in the whole world including people, kids, clean water and air, the future and other such non essential considerations.

I am not a terrorist or a left wing radical, I am also not against improving the economy, but I am a free thinker who happens to see that the energy projects being pursued for the profit of industry by both the federal and provincial governments are not beneficial for Canada, they are beneficial only for certain people and small groups, while the real cost is to be offset on everyone else. The actions that the federal government is taking against it’s own people seem to me to be xenophobic, narrow minded, corrupt, and lacking in tact, vision, or impartiality. It’s taken me a few days to write something that wasn’t 90% expletives. Canada should be better than this.

No matter your view point on the tar sands it’s hard to see how this is good. What has happened to this country?

http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/episodes/2013-2014/the-silence-of-the-labs

but at least some Canadians are honest, free thinking, and non xenophobic

http://www.cbc.ca/q/blog/2014/01/13/neil-young-oilsands-occupation/

Two years ago when the federal government put together the Cohen enquiry in response to the collapse of Fraser sockeye salmon and it pointed to fish farms as being connected to that collapse you’d think that would have had some effect on the direction of policy for west coast fish farm management. Wrong!

http://www.vancouversun.com/news/national/Canadian+federal+government+opens+door+more+fish+farms/9392417/story.html

These stories are just a few from the past week. It goes on and on and on…sour gas wells in north next to schools, oil industry officials making the decision whether an oil pipeline will have an environmental impact, meetings between a government official working as a paid lobbyist for by Enbridge and Canada’s spy agency, the characterisations of people who oppose these projects as terrorists by government officials. Please think about what these things represent, regardless of whether you agree with me, and vote next time. I very strongly doubt that these decisions represent the wishes of the half the country that didn’t vote in the last election.

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On the beach:summer to fall/part three

September/October

(I know it’s a bit late) The light begins to change, the leaves begin to curl and some fall, the weather is calm and warm in the day and cool at night, and there is that immistakable smell in the air. The long shadows late in the day. For many sea run cutthroat anglers and definitely for myself this is the time of year I always wait for. That interminable window between when the days begin to noticeably shorten in the late summer and the first big rains of the fall pour down and the frosts return. A time of year that is almost made for fly fishing. When I day dream about fishing it is usually trips from this time of year that come back to me. Ahh mid September on the lower _____ river. There is no place I’d rather be. It always slips by so fast and there is never enough time, usually only a handful of outings in a short period of time, but if I could target them at no other period of the year I would still be quite happy.

October hatchery sea run

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I spend as much time as I possibly can both on the rivers and the estuaries this time of year. This is a time of transition on the beaches and in the rivers. Most rivers reach their nadir in these months, with various salmon species and the mysterious and diminutive sea run cutthroat amongst others amassing along the coastal estuaries and points. Some of these fish are on their way to southern rivers and some to hold until the first heavy rains begin to open up the rivers to migration and flushes the unique chemistry of their natal freshwater nursery to their olfactory pits. One of the unique and interesting traits of sea run cutthroat is that some of the older fish will make their way into the river before the salmon and the rains show up, not always very far sometimes just inside the estuary and sometimes above tidewater in the first few pools, sometimes quite a ways up river if the low levels and topography allow for travel upriver. Many systems also have resident cutthroat and you can find them mixed in. One thing I don’t find a lot of this time of year is skinny cutthroat, most fish are feeding heavily in anticipation of heading into the rivers to…feed heavily. And right behind them are very few deformed subhumans such as myself are following along fly rod in hand.

The splendor of September

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trout close up

The colouration of the fish this time of year is also interesting as you can catch one sea run that is blue/green backed (hey Oregon) faintly spotted, sea liced and chrome as can be and from the same pool (or back to back casts at the beach) catch a golden hued, heavily spotted large bright slashed olive backed specimen (as above)

On the beach this is often the easiest and consistent time of year to locate sea runs, the weather is often dead calm, and the fish are usually staging, feeding, and cruising the waterways, estuaries and lower rivers. There is a lot of different food types available to them, and I’ve most often seen them feeding on amphipods and stickleback. The biggest problem is usually the various sea weeds start die off and the castable section of water near shore is full of floating clumps of dead jellyfish, eelgrass, kelp and many other types of sea weed. This can make it difficult to cast and retrieve flies without fouling every three feet or so. There are usually more seals around as well which can make landing fish interesting.

September

Like August only better, the estuaries are often a good starting point, and the lower river stretches, particularly the first few flowing pools that are deep enough, usually contain some numbers of cutthroat often times in the same pools as the chinook and coho. The weather is almost always favourable in September, and the water is usually low, making wet wading a preferred approach, and light rods, tips and flies the way to go, in short very ideal for fly fishing. I found fish staging in the estuaries in typical spots this year, with fish staying in consistent areas, and most outings successful. Fish took everything from a simple white/chartreuse bucktail, to a chum baby, to a miyawaki popper. It seems every year that while the fishing is good along the beaches, the weeds washing along with the tide make it difficult to present a fly to the fish you find.

October

4 weekends in october is not enough to chase these fish in the many places they will be reliably found, and if you like to target fall steelhead and one of those weekends is spent with family on Thanksgiving then we are definitely looking at a glut of opportunity with a dearth of time to capitalize. The beaches this year have however held fish as is typical consistently right to the end of October, particularly on the flood right before or after the tide change. Colder weather does not decrease the aggressiveness of this species and when found most jumped on the first fly cast close to them. I spent time between rivers and the beaches this year, and found a number of fat, willing cutthroat on anything from egg sucking leeches and small intruders to small shrimp patterns from the beach right up into the upper rivers.

The fall is without a doubt a truly wonderful time of year to chase the sea run cutthroat on the fly, next year take a break from steelhead…no wait, do yourself a favour, go steelheading and leave all the stocky, aggressive trout to me.

Cheap and awesome

There are many things about the image of fly fishing that make it seem like some kind of yuppie, eurotrash ski chalet douchebag nightmare, but at the end of the day remember it is still just a way of going fishing.

Sages, CND’s, boo, longbellies, Meisers and Hardy’s are cool. So are Jw Youngs, Echos and Amundsons, flannel shirts from a secondhand store, lucky lager (or for my American friends PBR), cheapo wading boots, not fishing the Dean and Thompson rivers, $20 fiberglass single hand rods and medalist reels, sleeping in your car by the river, mac n cheese, whatever stinking “lucky” hat you insist on wearing, yer goreleak jacket that smells like cat piss cause you own satan cat but you still wont get rid of, Jamieson’s, mustads, pheasant instead of BEP, ostrich instead of rhea, waders that are more glue than wader, neoprene, whatever POS rust bucket that gets you to the river for 10 bucks on a paved road so you can park beside the guy with a brand new 4×4 Toyota tundra.

See the biggest fallacy about this sport is this implicit idea that you are lesser if your gear isn’t the right type or expensive. There are many in this sport who would advance this inaccuracy. Many people simply don’t have the money to buy thousand dollar spey rods and the like, it doesn’t make them a worse or less knowledgable angler if they have an Echo rod with a Lamson reel in their hands. That doesn’t mean that the top end gear isn’t good either, I would love to have a bunch of bamboo rods and classic reels, and an Olson is a masterpiece compared to a sage 1880. The ownership of fine tackle can enhance the experience for some, but not all. Of course I don’t think that many will debate that high end tackle performs better, but conversely it also takes perspective to understand and appreciate just how lucky we are and how much fun it is to even have a day on the water with a $20 fiberglass rod. People are also on different paths within the world of fly fishing, some seek enlightenment, while others seek thrills, or just a chance to unwind after a long work week. There is a lot more to skagit casting than it just being “so easy a caveman could do it”, disrespecting other fly fisherman advances or improves what exactly? As long as you respect your resource and other anglers there is no difference between tipping back Macallan on the banks of the Bulkley with your golf hat, top end Simms waders, Hardy perfect, long belly and a 1500 dollar spey rod as the dude with a greasy mustache swinging flies with a echo switch rod, skagit short, neoprene waders on some steep coastal river with an intruder.  They are both good, and especially more if you are having fun. I’m not just saying it, it’s true. We all love fishing, and we are also all basically the same so stop using gear as a way to create the perception that you are better than anyone else.

If you read this and at no time did you think “hey, I am special, I have a hardy perfect” then you may enjoy Hank Patterson’s brand of humour  http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=hank+patterson&qpvt=hank+patterson&FORM=VDRE

Rolled muddler

The sea run cutthroat fly and probably the most widely known and used sea run cutthroat pattern today. A great anytime of the year pattern orginated by Tom Murray for estuarine sea run cutthroat. Intended originally to be a stickleback imitator, it has caught me coho, rainbows, browns, smallmouth and largemouth bass and of course, many sea run and resident cutthroat. It has also incidentally caught me chinook, chum, winter steelhead, and all kinds of intertidal beach species. Like many of the best patterns effectiveness and simplicity define this pattern. It is tied sparse and skinny to imitate slim profile baitfish like stickleback. It can be tied in many many variations of size (large head to imitate sculpin) and colour depending on local forage, or as an attractor such as the blue versions used for coho. No BC sea run cutthroat fly box would be remotely complete without it.

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Tying them sparse is key, I usually tie them like this and then trim on the river or beach as needed.

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Hook:

Salt: gamagatsu ss15 size 12-14 or mustad saltwater (short shank) size 8

Fresh: This fly can be tied on any hook you like, however I recommend a finer wire, shorter shanked hook for cutthroat as they hook deeper and bleed easier than other species, i usually use a tiemco short shanked size 8 or 10 hook and tie the body longer. While much is written about short striking or nipping cutthroat takes, I find that a fly tied longer than the hook with a small thin wire short shanked hook rarely nets less hookups.

I usually tie them for fresh or salt about an inch to an inch and a half long, you can go larger, but instead of increasing hook size just lengthen the wing. Those big streamer hooks (4xl +) in my experience tend to cause lots of bleeding cutthroat. The longer shanked patterns shown are old ones that I don’t use anymore for this reason.

mouthful of muddler / trout education

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Thread: red to fire orange

Tail:  Small pinch of rolled natural mallard flank…or teal, widgeon, or other barred feather dyed or natural depending on the colour of the deer hair or your preference, a bit short of the full length of the wing.

Body: gold or silver tinsel, overwrapped in an opposite direction with gold or silver oval tinsel (or wire, light mono) for durability, I have seen both olive/silver and olive/gold coloured stickleback in local areas. The rigours of casting and the cutthroats fine teeth shred tinsel  fairly quickly if it is not glued or counter wrapped.

Wing: small section of rolled (rolled in your fingers) mallard flank fibres placed a bit longer than the tail. I sometimes add a small amount of yellow polar bear or sub in the wing when tying them for sea runs. Some people put a few strands of krystal flash or UV material in the wing as a variation, I’ve never seen a difference in catch rates with or without.

Head: olive deer hair tied in sparse and trimmed around the head in a triangle shape with a small amount of fibres (only 4-5 strands in the original pattern) running back along the body. Black, blue, white, cream, green, chartreuse, gray, dark brown, and natural deer hair have all worked well, and don’t write off moose, caribou and elk hair versions as they have all been successful for me as well. There is no “too sparse” for this fly, the more chewed and wrecked they are the better they fish. Honestly, even if the tinsel unravels I have still caught fish. It is very easy with these flies to get frustrated trying to spin the perfect head, my advice is don’t worry, this pattern is designed to catch fish, not look pretty in your vise.

Beadhead: optional, adds a bit of movement when stripping the fly in, good for faster water but not necessary, and on shallow gradient beaches usually a detriment

The book “The Gilly: A fly fishers guide” by Alfred Davy (usually available on amazon) features many interesting stories about the origin and use of fly patterns in BC and there is a good chapter on the rolled muddler, which is worthwhile reading if you are interested in the history of BC fly tying and fishing. There are also mentions, history, and pictures of this fly in many other books including Fly fishing Coastal Cutthroat by Les Johnson, Contemporary fly patterns of British Columbia and Fly patterns of British Columbia both by Art Lingren, amongst others.

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Each muddler usually looks a little different, and in all the books I have from Les Johnson, to Chester Allen, to Art Lingren, to commercially tied flies, each one is tied a little different, don’t get too hung up on a particular exact look being required, as long as it is sparse it should work.

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Skagit lines for trout

These days there is a lot of interest in trout spey and switch rods. While scandi style lines are a pretty obvious and effective line choice these rods also are a lot of fun with appropriate skagit lines. I’m not talking 600 grain fire hoses, but 150-320 grain skagits. Before we go any further nobody has pushed the envelope more than Ed Ward, who has written very extensively on the use of micro skagits on skagitmaster forum, 2 handed trout, and speypages(all on my blogroll). His singlehand conversion rods and sliced and diced skagit heads to match them are explained in minute detail. The guy has revolutionized two handed casting, line development, and fly design, so even if you don’t like him, he’s worth listening to.

So, why would you use a skagit on a trout rod? First of all you don’t need one at all, it’s just a different, specialized way to open up water to swing flies in. If you fish these conditions with a single hand rod and standard sink tip line and find no problem that’s fine, I’ve just never been there. I find micro skagits a lot of fun, your mileage may vary. When fishing rivers with lots of streamside brush right at your back, and water that is up and pushing hard such as many rivers on the island (and the coast) a single hand rod with a standard sink tip line isn’t going to get you out there very far. I’ve never found them to be workable in these kinds of conditions. A lot of times on such rivers you may not be able to fish each side of the river and seams and slow spots may be out on the other side of the river or the river is just wide. fast chutes that change into deep pools quickly, and where access restricts ideal approach. Fishing these spots requires getting down beneath fast surface water, casting farther out and good line control. There are lots of areas in rivers with fast surface current but slower (read trouty) water beneath the surface. Slowly swinging or stripping flies through these lies effectively are the scenarios where a skagit on a trout switch, spey or even a single handed rod comes in handy.

I’m not talking about chucking t-14 or huge intruders, hell you can’t really chuck T 14, and I’m talking about using regular trout streamers anyway but lighter tips like the heavy polyleaders or T-8 that used correctly get your fly into the zone for swinging flies. I don’t know about you but where I fish for trout whether sea run or resident my back is up against the bushes a lot of the time, or I am casting across faster water to get to individual seams or boulders. A dry line in this scenario is useless. Unless you think that swinging your fly on the surface downstream at 100 mph is a good way to hook trout. This is where the utility of a small skagit on a trout rod (be it single or doublehand) shows. A skagit allows you to cast a tip in tight quarters and still acheive distance, slowly swinging lies on the other side of the river, something a single hand sink tip line in the same scenario doesn’t usually excel or even work at.

Dialing in lines is an entirely subjective task, especially for some reason with skagit lines so this is only a line guide based on my experiences. You will most likely have to slice and dice lines if you go lighter than this, or to dial in particular rods, or for individual preference as some fast 10′ 4 wt rods are stronger than 9′ med action 6 wts. These recommendations are based on fishing with 10′ 5-7 IPS poly leaders and T8 and flies up to large streamers and smaller intruders.

9′ 5 wt med action singlehanders will take a 220-250 gr skagit or similar

9′ 6 wt  fast action singlehander = 20′ 300 grain skagit is a perfect match for me

4/5 switch rods(Echo/Tfo/Beulah) = 300 grains again is a perfect match on the rods I’ve used

Skagit lines are not for every trout situation, or river but for those places where standard lines seem to lack they can be incredibly fun and efficient.

Beach switch rod technique

When it comes to switch rods I havent delineated the techniques I use at the beach for sea runs at all, so here goes.

Disclaimer: I am not a professional casting instructor, nor am I Ed ward, but I do fish these rods a lot. If you don’t like switch rods or the idea of them, the techniques apply completely to single hand spey casting as well. If you are a beginner to these fisheries, or just want to catch some sea runs I honestly would just start with a singlehand 6 wt rod and a 40+ line. From there you can move into singlehand spey casting by purchasing a few extra lines if you are interested, and then only if you are still interested move into experimenting with switch rods. Going this route is expensive (the cheapest trout switch rod/reel/line combo I could go and buy right now is about $400) and it is a super tiny niche of fly fishing, it’s not cool, it isn’t for everybody, and it probably isn’t the best way to go about it either.

There are a few issues you will run into when fishing the beach or any other areas with slow or non moving water, and because spey and switch rods were designed primarily around swinging moving water you have to adjust your technique. Honestly over a long day at the beach casting the longer rod can be cumbersome and it can become tiresome to repeatedly roll cast your head back out for anchor setup before you cast, but with a bit of adaptation switch rods work quite fine at the beach. Below is a simple description of how it works for me on the beach.

Two hand overhead-(single hand overhead with a switch rod is honestly not worth bothering with for most rods) The technique is simple once you’ve dialed in the appropriate line. The best lines are usually a short floating scandi style head like the elixir switch, or airflo scandi compact, etc. not because a longer belly wouldn’t work but because typical beach technique is stripping the fly in close.

Note: Skagits are usually a poor choice for the slow moving shallow beaches because they make a lot of surface disturbance, are imprecise, and spook fish that are cruising in crystal clear, shallow water. I have also yet to find a beach like this that required T11 or 14 to fish properly. There are however areas (like chester allen describes in his book) where rips flow quickly and on the downtide side there is significant depth, I can see skagits being used as a specialty line here, but as a general beach line I would avoid them.

Strip your fly in to where is comfortable(on the beach for me that’s about 15′ away, the point where any fish that’s following the fly in usually sees me and bolts). Usually you will have stripped the head in past the tip already at this point, so what you need to do is get the head back out of the tip with a quick couple of roll casts or a poke. Many people don’t like this process, and if it sounds stupid well be forewarned before you go buy a switch rod for the beach, but it’s fairly quick and simple and not all that different to a getting a singlehand line back out. Rollcast your head back out past the tip (most suitable heads are 20-30 ft long) and then its a simple two hand single backcast and shoot, in what is usually a quick compact motion that takes all of a couple seconds. Once you get this dialed in it can be a very efficient and quicker way to get your line back out. An easier way that skips roll casting is to strip the head partially in so the fly is close but not all the way to the tip and then use a couple of false casts to get the head out, and then shoot your line. This is a good remedy for when it is weedy.

The lines that are suitable for these fisheries are usually heavy, short, and shoot far and are actually quite efficient at achieving distance once you get the hang of it. Another thing these lines are good at is casting larger poppers and other bulky flies used at the beach. Control of your running line is paramount as it is with single hand casting so if fishing a weedy area or somewhere where there are lots of snags or brush, a stripping basket is quite handy. Weed snagging your coiled running line sitting in the water or snagging your fly while you set up the anchor will usually destroy your cast. Be it single hand or not there are times in the year where I honestly will call it a night because of continuous and immediate fouling from massive amounts of seaweed drifting by on the tide.

In short where the switch rod technique excels is at long distance casting, and then stripping in to about 15-20 ft away. If you need to strip the fly right in, and you don’t need to cast far then the singlehand rod is usually a better call.

Spey casting on the beach

If you are stripping your fly in this is exactly the same as two hand over head until you start the cast. Without moving water you have to actively set your anchor, usually best done with a simple rollcast out in front or to the side “down” or “up” stream (parallel to the beach shore) depending on the cast and wind direction. I find a circle or double spey are go to casts and the snap T useful for getting weeds off the fly.  The biggest issue here on the beaches is wind and weeds, if there is lots of flotsam on the surface your line and fly will often come up fouled due to the mechanics of setting and moving so much of your line in and across the water. The best solution here is to cast overhead. Another issue people have with switch or spey rods at the beach is the head loop or (poly)leader loop catching in the guides as they strip in. There are lots of integrated lines out there(no loop between head and running line), and the type of knot you use for your leader can definitely have an effect, but essentially it’s just part of the game. I have the same problem with my singlehanders when stripping flies in. I find spey casting at the beach efficient in terms of distance, and can offer versatility where there is no back cast room, especially where the is less wind and weeds. Then again sometimes I also use a single hander at the beach. Your mileage may vary.