Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ice Fishing

I've never been a fly fishing snob.  It is without a doubt my preferred method of pursuing fish and spending time, but I have spinning rods, heck even baitcasting rods.  I don't use them much anymore, but would certainly rather throw a sluggo than go to work.  I'm also more than willing to drill some holes in the ice a few times each winter and set some lines into the dark, cold depths.

It would be wrong to call it a passion, but waters in Maine are locked up for 4 months most years so if you want to fish, you need to come to terms with the options available to you.  There are certainly some rivers in southern maine that tend to remain fishable during all but the coldest stretches, but the fish are mostly newly stocked cookie cutters and frankly not that interesting to me.

One of the best things about ice fishing is how casual and social it is.  There really isn't any amount of prodigious skill required to drill some holes and suspend a minnow a couple of feet from the bottom.  Because of that, it encourages a bit more community.  The group of guys that I fish with in the winter are, like me, equipped with the bare essentials.  A few tip ups, a jigging rod, bait bucket and hand auger is all you need, and all we have.  We always walk to our spots, no matter how far or how deep the snow may be.  In the last year or so, we've begun to pamper ourselves by getting sleds for our gear and small portable shacks for the coldest, windiest days.  Another nice aspect of the fishing is that any notion of competitiveness is out the door.  We just want to see some flags and drink some coffee.  I'm nearly as happy to watch a friend pull a fish through the ice as do it myself.  Hell, let his hands freeze, I can wait my turn.

This weekend, I made it out for the first time with a couple of former co-workers.  We've been ice fishing together for a few years though we rarely see each other on the open water.  The fishing was slow, though there were a couple of flags to keep us awake.  The coffee was flowing and the banter came back as though we had never stopped working together.  I'd never want to loose touch with times like that simply because I made the mistake of rigidly defining myself as a fly fisherman.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


I fish for a lot of different species over the course of a season.  Based on where I live the easiest access tends to be for stripers when they are around, as well as smallmouth and largemouth bass.  Every year, I end up taking a at least one or two forays for steelhead, perhaps a few trips north for brook trout and landlocked salmon and more recently I've spent time for pike and am looking forward to trying my hand at musky in the coming season.

Because of all of the different species I target, I really need to tie a wide variety of flies.  Tying for a destination trip is pretty easy.  I know the time of year and basic techniques I'll be using, so it is a simple matter of accumulating enough of the go to patterns to ensure I've got something to tie on.  It is really the local fishing that requires the most diversity and options, because I really don't know what I might be targeting with my next trip, or whether there will be hatches.  Shouldn't be an issue, winters in Maine are long enough to tie up plenty of nymphs, emergers, dries...anything I could ever need.

Only there is one problem, for about the last 18 months, every time I sit down at the vice I have streamers swimming in my head.  Some of this is certainly just a phase.  It has been just a couple of years since I began targeting steelhead with a spey rod and for whatever reason I'm still not even able to look at a egg pattern.  More than that, I've just got this recurring daydream of an oversized streamer pattern getting chomped by a fish intent on killing it, not just swallowing it if it happens down a feeding lane.

Most who fish streamers can call upon memories of giant shadows appearing behind the fly as it approached the rod tip.  Occasionally one will even make a desperate final dash at the boat or shore, sensing the window on it's free lunch closing.  Who knows how many times that scenario plays out away from us when the streamer swims by a predator in a bad mood.  I just seem to be addicted to urgent strikes against a tight line these days.

Another thing I love about tying streamers right now is the amount of innovation going on out there.  My favorite tyers in the game right now are streamer guys.  Kelly Galloup is well known to anyone who is targeting the biggest trout in the river.  I love his articulated patterns in particular like the Sex Dungeon and Boogie Man.  There is no way I would consider a trip to Montana without an assortment of those patterns tied about twice as big as anything I would have used 5 years ago.

Kevin Feenstra is an outstanding guide and designer of some amazing streamers for steelhead on Michigan's lower peninsula.  I've been out to fish with him the past couple of years and have more confidence swinging his Acquatic Nuisances, Halloween Leeches and Thunder Chickens than anything else.  Already looking forward to another trip next fall.

Brad Bohen is another interesting guy out in Wisconsin.  I went to a Thursday night tying group where Jeff was tying something called a Hang Time.  It is a musky fly, that has some qualities that make it a really versatile fly for pike, bass and I'm sure other species as well.  One thing I love about this fly is that you can tie it any size between 4" and 12", adding tandem hooks, anything you want.  It also requires a ton of steps which is a unique opportunity.  I often forget a step somewhere along the way and as a result, get a fly with a different profile or action.  All of those steps also give great opportunities to experiment with color blending which we did all last year with some interesting and promising results.  These flies suspend in the water and have great action without much movement.  I absolutely love fishing them for bass and pike.

On the saltwater side Jonny King is adapting a bunch of patterns that I've used for years, but mixing natural and synthetic materials in a pretty cool way.  The striper fishing has been so poor the last few years that it has been difficult to convince myself  to deviate from bread and butter flies that I know are effective, but I've finally taken the plunge and begun tying some Kinky Muddlers, which won't be wasted as they should be excellent smallmouth bass flies as well.

Here are a few pictures of the streamers I've been tying over the last month or so.  Keep in mind, I tie "fishing flies" so my apologies to the creators.

Kinky Muddlers:

Variations of Hang Times:

Feenstra's Thunderchicken

And some other flies I've seen and worked on like this Long Strip Crayfish and Lake Eerie Tube Smelt