Sunday, October 28, 2012

Epic Brook Trout Water - Chasing Blue Lines In SC and taking a ton of Pictures on the way!

   There are few fish that can match the pure beauty of a wild brook trout during the fall.  Their colors read like an artists pallet:  deep red fins trimmed in ivory white, the oranges and deep black flanks are strikingly broken up by bright yellow spots and neon red points surrounded by cobalt halos.  Add in the surrounding colors of changing leaves, the clear cool streams in which the brookies dwell, and the blue skies of a perfect fall day and any angler might think he had found heaven on earth.
    So when I found myself alone on a stretch of magnolia choked water deep in the hills of South Carolina I felt the need to pinch myself just to make sure I wasn't dreaming.  Before I did however, a thin branch sprung loose from my grasp and smacked me in right in the eye.  I was awake and wiping away a cobweb from my hat I continued to search for a clear stretch of water in which to flick my eager fly.
    The day started like so many  other days chasing trout.  Up by 5am, coffee, gas-up, grab some little Debbies from the .99$ rack, and hit the road for the the hour trip to the foothills.  Only today I set out for a stretch of water that had been my nemesis for years.  Nearly inaccessible, brutally hard to fish, and completely unknown, It had been my white whale and today I was set out to kill it.
    At 7am I arrived at the parking lot and filled out the hiking permit just in case I fell off a cliff or got bit by one of the numerous species of deadly snakes common to the area.  When trekking in the wild I always let people know where I am just to be on the safe side.  I had already told my wife the location but the form provided me with that added illusion of safety to make me feel invincible   So with all notifications made out I started the four mile trudge.
     The first interesting form of life was a toad that crossed my path about twenty minutes into the hike, but I wasn't here for toads even if he was interesting to observe.  I was on a mission for the brookies that had eluded me for years.
    The first time I attempted to fish these waters was four years ago.  It was February and a late night snow storm had dumped three inches of snow that was then covered by an crust of ice.  The four miles in was more than I anticipated and when I arrived I found the stream completely un-fishable.  The second attempt was a year later and I took a different route in which to my dismay included a nearly 2000ft vertical climb.  I reached the top completely spent and made a dozen half--hearted casts then packed it in and hiked the long hike back to my car.  Over the years the reasons for failure continued to pile up and that promising stretch of water seemed to laugh at me from the topographical map.
     When I finally arrived this day however, the sun was up and the air was filled with promise.  I quickly suited up and began looking for a place to drop my fly.  Unfortunately what I found was a stream completely covered in a canopy of magnolia trees, dense brush, and fallen trees.  A back cast was not only going to be impossible, it was going to be dangerous.  I stood a good chance of not only loosing a box full of flies but more than likely breaking off the tip of my 6.5ft - four weight fly rod.  My only spare was a 12ft Tenkara rod which I had hoped to use.  Surveying the lay of the land I determined that a 12ft rod never stood a chance and even my 6.5 ft rod might have been to much.  Undaunted I switch tactics and began to use a technique most anglers and guides would scoff at.  I was going to fish my fly downstream Without a cast.
   With my back cast enabled I took another approach and drifted a Dace down with the current and began a jerky retrieve.  Instantly I saw activity as a bright flash of red fins streaked to the Black Nosed Dace.  He grabbed it and began coming up stream to me with the speed of a torpedo.  That was the first of many hookups on streamers.
Then I tried another tactic.  Down stream where I had been letting my streamer drift, I peeked through the tree limbs and saw the shadows of trout with a few taking midges off the top.  Quickly I tied on an ever present Adams - the coverall fly - in a size 12!  Not really midge material but it was the only size Adams I guess I packed.  I said what the hell.  Its an Adams - It has got to catch fish.  Using the same drift I used before with the streamer, I crouched down behind a dead-fall in the river and let out as much line as I dared while keeping the Adams in my fingers.
  Tossing the small fly into the current, I watched in eager anticipation as it floated toward the end of a small pool.  As it neared the end of the line I saw a shadow dart from the bottom and take it.  the first fish wasn't large but as with most mountain stream brook trout, what they lack in size they make up for in beauty.  Releasing one after another of these beauties, I went on to clean out another four or five from that stretch using the same tactic- every fish bigger and more aggressive then the last.  Then I moved on down stream to the next stretch to do the same.
   Pool by pool I worked my way down stream.  Each turn in the river offering a new casting challenge to overcome, each overhanging mass of magnolias was a new obstacle to work around.  Often I found myself giving up stealth all together just to beat my way through a choked stretched of river wishing I had a machete to go along with my 4w.
   When a tree blocked my path - which was more often then not - I found myself looking for a way around it until eventually settling on just climbing over it.  Sticks in the eye and tree limbs grabbing at my fly line weren't enough to detour me because I was catching fish.
  I began to appreciate the mass of foliage and tree snags for what they were and what they had done to this secluded stretch of water.   Even as my fly got caught in the may-lay I knew that without it I could be fishing a fish-less river.  Undoubtedly other anglers had stumbled on this stretch and only seen a wall of trees.  It was a fly fisherman nightmare, full of countless reasons never to attempt to wet a fly or even string up a rod, but without the dense brush and low overhanging trees, this river would known and the fish would have suffered for it.
Every fish was more stunning then the last
Every spotted side more colorful then the previous.  The lateral lines popping off the black and blue backs like they were painted on with a fine brush and you see God for the artist that he is.

  Then when you get them close and they open that gaping black mouth lined with rows of teeth you wonder if this fish isn't part Parana.  Even the small 8-10 inchers had the rows of teeth that make you think twice about trying to remove the fly with your fingers.  You look in there and instantly grab the hemostats for the delicate procedure instead of risking a slightly painful finger injury.
  Without a doubt, these fish are the best looking fish one will ever catch on a fly rod!

  The day was not without injury however.  After crashing through one to many magnolia road (river) blocks, my fly line snagged a branch and yanked the small caddis fly DEEP into my finger.
  For a good fifteen minutes I worked to to free the hook and eventually, and with much pain, I yanked it free and finally got the chance to use my emergency first aid kit I had happened to pack.  I knew one day I might need some neosporine and band-aids on a hike and I am glad it was only a hook in the finger and not anything worse that finally led me to open the kit.

  In the end, this trip was by far one of the most challenging trips I have taken as an angler as well as the most rewarding.  If you have actually read this post all the way through you might have gathered that I enjoyed it more than words can express and I ask your forgiveness for all the flowery language related to the fish.  In truth I lack the words to truly convey the beauty of the day and all I was lucky enough to experience.  I guess all you really need to know was that I couldn't stop smiling on the entire four mile trek back to the car or the hour plus drive back home.  Even now, four days later, I am smiling - that's how good it was.
If you are wondering where this stretch of heaven is, I can take you there but for now only the fish, the snakes (this one scared the s*#* out of me because I nearly grabbed him while climbing over a log), and myself know the true location.  What you need to know is its out there and all you need to do is find a blue line on a map and chase it.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Fly Friday + A Givaway

    Fall is a time for streamers and what better way to celebrate this special Free Fly Friday than with my all time favorite streamer, THE BLACK-NOSE DACE.  This classic fly created by the legendary fly angler and fly tying expert - Art Flick - around the mid 1940's and is just as deadly today as it was back then.
    I absolutely love this fly.  I can barely remember a day on the trout water where I haven't tied on this fly and hooked into a gill or two.  When given the choice between a bugger and a dace, I will decidedly chose the dace.  It is my go to deer hair hail-marry when the day has been crap.  In my box you will always find the Dace in a place of honor and I suggest it do the same in yours.
    Original Mr. Flick tied this fly with the underlying white hair of a polar bear to match the black bear hair used to mimic the black stripe of the actual fish.  Today the polar bear is protected and fly tiers have found that the white hairs of the buck tail do fine as a substitute.

 The Black-Nosed Dace is a fairly easy fly to tie and I usually tie this fly as sparsely as I dare.  I have found that when I use to much hair the fly looses its natural movement through the water, it doesn't sink well, and the fish rarely take it.  In the fly shops I see this fly often over dressed, looking more like an ass end of a deer than the fish it is suppose to mimic.  I have tied these in sizes as large as a long shank #4 down to a small #12 and always find myself drawn to fishing the smaller range of these flies.
    Last year while on a trip to northern Idaho, I tied on a #10 of this black-nose dace pattern and hooked into a beauty of a cutthroat trout.  It also did a number on about a dozen other smaller trout that day and was the top fly of the trip.  I never leave home without it.

     The Black-Nose Dace
* Hook   - Long Shank #6-#12
* Thread - Black
* Tail      -Short Red Wool (or Red Marabou)
    (I used a redish pink wool because it was all my wife had in her sewing box and I ran out.)
* Body    -Silver Tinsel wrapped with Oval Tinsel
* Wing    -Three Parts - White Bucktail under Black Bear Hair under Brown Bucktail

The best technique I have found to fish this streamer is short quick strips across stream or fished down river at a 45% angle and stripped near the tail end of a run.  I also have found that you should never give up on this fly to soon.  When I have spotted a fish tailing the Dace I have found that if I slow the retrieve of this fly to soon, the fish will quickly loose interest.
Just like the real dace, your fly should behave erratic and use that darting, quick movement typical of a baitfish trying to escape.  Without that movement the trout tailing the fly will discover your ruse and simply reject the streamer.  Now go tie up a box full and have fun.
    But here is what you all are waiting for - The FREE part of today's post.  I am giving away this framed painting of a March Brown.  To enter for a chance to win this small - fly tyers bench painting - all you need to is leave a comment on this page indicating that you want in for a chance to win it.  I will select a winner via random number generator next Thursday (11-01-2012) at midnight and the winner will be announced on the next Fly Friday post.  Good luck and don't be greedy - spread the word.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Nymphing Ain't Bait Fishing

"The Modern Salmon Fly"
    I read a magazine article the other day in which an angler touts the reasons why he only fishes dry flies and how he feels that the only true way to fish for trout is with a dry fly.  I know that this idea has been out there for decades (if not centuries) but I had thought that we have evolved beyond that.  To me it sounded as if this particular angler had watched 'A River Runs Through It' one to many times and felt himself somehow above us anglers that sink to nymph and streamer fishing.  I'm not going to name the magazine because I don't want them flooded with emails and the article actually had some good tactics for fishing dries.  I only bring it up because I'm wondering how can an angler refuse to fish below the waters surface where it is proven that fish feed 70-90% of the time.  All I can guess is that he has some very frustrating days or is the best dang angler the world has ever seen.
    I love the take of a trout on a high floating Adams as much as the next guy but sometimes you need to go where the fish are feeding.  Nymphing and streamers aren't bait fishing people.  Get off your high horse, tie on a Sculpin, and hook into some gills.

    "The Modern Salmon Fly"
-Pen & Inked Sketch on Paper
-Computer Manipulated

Now that I finished with that little rant I want brag.  The other day I got one of those packages in the mail that anglers love to get.  No Bills, No junk, No... Its a package of SWAG!  Cameron over at The Fiberglass Manifesto partnered up with Loon Outdoors for a little givaway and guess who walked away with some top notch stuff.  I needed a new set of nippers and Loon's Nip n' Sip are down right perfect.  nippers with a beer oppener!  SWEET. Add a hat and some freaking cool stickers and boy I am set.
  Thanks to the TFM and Loon - you made my day!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Fly Friday - Tellico Nymph - History & Tying Instruction

    As truly Southern as a fly can get, the Tellico Nymph is a classic that catches trout today just as it has for the past century.  I have been looking for a new idea for this blog to keep my post on a more regular time table and finally settled Fly Fridays. (Yes, I know this post was originally posted on Thursday.  The scheduler on blogspot malfunctioned.....or it was user error)    The idea is to feature a fly with a drawing or two while including the history of the fly and quite possibly a tying instruction to go along with it.  For this first of many Fly Friday post I chose the Tellico Nymph because as a southerner I feel this little guy gets little recognition in today's fly fishing world.

    While researching this standard American Fly I ran into a whole lot of historical data that was new to me.  That is not to surprising since this fly was virtually un-known to me till only a few years ago. As with a lot of older flies, this little gem has fallen victim to newer, flashier flies and nymphs.
    First thing I discovered was that this little guy was a bastardization of a wet fly - The McGinty, an old bee pattern used overseas to excess.  Another thing I found out was that Hemingway mentions this McGinty in his classic book - The Sun Also Rises (One of my TOP five books of ALL TIME!).  How this fact escaped me over the years is a mystery to me.  Anyway, it seems that in the early part of the last century and late 1800's the McGinty was a standard wet fly readily available by mail order.  When Yankees began to vacation in the south they took this little fly with them and found that the southern trout loved it.
     As southerns do, and out of tradition, they flat out rejected the full use of anything from the north but decided that this 'McGinty' wet fly was just too productive not to use.  So in true southern - do it yourself style, a local Tennessee angler came up with the Tellico.
    With most old flies, it is unclear just who tied up this very first version of this little bug but I did find out who sold it first  According to Southern  Trout, it was a bass angler and bass bug tier by the name of Ernest Peckinbaug hailing from Chattanooga TN.
  Regardless who tied it first or who sold it first, or even who caught a trout on this fly, one fact remains constant, this fly is effective.  I have included a few basic original drawings of mine on how to tie up this fly for the beginners as well a recipe below.  For the photo at the top I tied this Tellico Nymph with a few variations from the original because..... well because that's just how I roll - Southern Style.

The Tellico Nymph Recipe:
* Hook       -#10-14 strait nymph
* Thread    - Black
* Tail        - Guinea fowl hackles
    (I used Partridge)
* Body      - Yellow floss
    (I used 99%wool yarn mixed with yellow Ice Dubbing)
* Rib         - Peacock herl
* Back       - Pheasant tail
* Hackles   - Brown

   I have found that there are several versions of this fly are floating around out there.  Like anything over 100 years old, people are bound to mess with it just as I have.  If you keep to the basic concept though, any version that you tie up should work regardless.  If it doesn't then head back to the vice to tie up an original and work back from there.)

    Also, I have added a video - the first one I've ever done - of me tying up the Tellico.  Please excuse the poor quality as well as the poor tying.  I am not a professional fly tier.... I only play one on YouTube.  Anyway, if you have 7min of your life to waste (I do mean waste and no, I don't give refunds for your time) then Enjoy...

(If you use any illustrations on from this site please give credit where it is due and never use for profit without permission.)

Monday, October 15, 2012

Breeches River Brown Trout

    Last week I was confined to the house after an out-patient surgery that drastically hampered my mobility for a few days.  Nothing too major but I wasn't going to wade the river during the recovery.  Luckily during my time at home I was contacted by a New England fly angler that expressed some interest in having a painting done of his recent catch.  My reaction - YES, a welcome distraction.  A man can only take so much daytime tv.
   We quickly worked out the details and the very next day I got to work on his wall hanger.  Through the coarse of talking about the trout he wanted painted I learned that while on the way to a guided trip a few months ago he had stopped by a Pennsylvania river to test his luck.  The river that he wet his fly in was The Breeches - a stretch of water probably known to many PA anglers that follow my blog.

   He actually wasn't expecting to hook into anything bigger than his palm so when this beauty of a Brown Trout hit the fly his heart probably skipped a few beats.  At the time he was fishing a Black Elk Hair Beetle with an orange spot for viability so I can only imagine the take of the dry was a sight to see.
    For this painting we settled on a 11x14 in format.  I added quite a bit more detail in the background than I usually do mostly due to the fact that I felt good about this painting from the start.  I had a vision of what it should look like from start to finish and when I added the last stroke of the brush, I stepped back and looked at one of the better painting I have done in while.
  This was also one of the quickest turn around times in the history of this blog.  From the first email to shipping was less than five days.  The client should get it today - not a bad way to start off a new week.  Congrats Evan on the great catch.  Thanks again for giving this humble artist/angler a welcome distraction.

On another topic somewhat related, What is it about the brown trout that makes them a favorite for anglers.  I love them.  I love painting them, catching them, and researching flies that hook them.  Over the past few years I think I have painted about fifty Brown trout watercolors.  Below are just a few of the many paintings of the brown that I am most proud of.  Now I have another one to add to the list.  The Breeches River Brown as good company..... ENJOY.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Fly Display Case Redux

Finished Fly Display Case
   Ideas often come to me while I sleep and the other day I was hit in the middle of the night with an idea that drove me into action the very next day.  I have always admired the vast fly display cases in the fly fishing stores.  Beautiful wood filled with all sorts of flies as far as the eye can see.  I asked myself; 'wouldn't it be awesome to have that next to my fly tying table?'.  Well when I awoke I was struck with the idea to make a small version of this concept with a artistic touch.  Thinking it over I wasn't to thrilled with making a box from scratch - it more work than it looks like - so another idea came to mind.  Re-new and Re-use!!!

Everyone has seen these raddy old silverware / flatware boxes in antique shops and garage sales but has anyone ever seen this felt inlaid mess and thought - Now that would make a perfect Fly Display Case!  Well I did and after breakfast I  quickly made my way down to the local goodwill store to see if they had a specimen to fit the bill.  Wouldn't you know it - they had one.  It was my time to rescue this discarded box from the rubage bin.
It was beat-up and broken but that only helped me get it for a steal.  I snatched it up and went home to rip the guts out of it.  One thing was for sure - this box would never hold another piece of tarnished silverware.  This old box was going to hold Flies!
Stripping the old varnish and sanding down the surface took some work but when you have a vision on how a piece is going to look once completed it drives you to complete it that much quicker.

I repaired a few scratches and fixed a spot in the back where a hinge popped loose from the wood and then I re-stained the top lid and oiled up the inside and outside of the base.  I then took the lid inside for an original touch that would really make this box stand out.  Using acrylic paints I painted a rainbow trout on the lid and then added a triple coat of varnish to ensure that the artwork would be protected.  The result was a stunning painting on a walnut finished plank of wood.

Moving my attention to the inside I stripped off some wood and notched them to form a bunch of compartments for the flies.  I then oiled them up with tung oil and glued them together to the bottom of the box.
    The next step is to fill it with as many flies as my tying station can produce.  It has 42 compartments at about an inch and half each and I suspect it will take me some time to fill it.  I emptied my Tenkara box I made last spring as well as a box that was holding recently tied flies from my desk and it barely made a dent.  Guess I had better get to work tying up flies.
     Halfway though the process I thought to myself - hey, this is something I could sell (and I might eventually) but for now I am enjoying this box.  My loving wife just shakes her head.   First question she has at the start of every project is - where are you going to put that, quickly followed by - I bet you could sell that.  She puts up with it though and for that I am appreciative.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


    I need to make some room in my studio!!!  Seriously, I am overrun with artwork and need to free up some space for new artwork.     Right now these painting are collecting dust in a dark room because I have nowhere to hang them.  They need to be hanging over a mantel or fly tying desk where they can be appreciated instead of tripping me up every time I enter the room.
      Over the next few months and up to Christmas I will be adding original artwork for sale at drastically reduced prices.  All of these paintings are already framed and ready to hang in your den or over you fly tying desk.  Most will cost less than a new fly rod or reel and are priced to sell.
    Check out my ART SALE page at the top of the page for frequent updates.  Christmas is just around the corner people.  Make your significant other aware that you have added these original artwork to your wish list. Below are just the first batch of paintings that are up for sale.

Go to ART SALE!! page to see new prices and details on how to purchase these works.