How I Became A Fishing Guide

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The real story is probably not what you may have assumed.

I’ve never written in general regarding this strange turn of events that led to my being a guide for visiting anglers. I’m going to try to lay this out so that it makes sense, I think you’ll get it.

Right up front people need to know that I do not believe that I am somehow the genetically superior fisherman, nor am I over endowed with the Hunter Gatherer gene. I also fell way short when they were passing out ego’s because I feel like a normal guy every day when I wake up and every time I rig up a rod. One other thing that deserves mention is that this was never about money it was an accident. So this didn’t come about the way you might expect.

I’ve been fishing since I was a kid, I won’t go into how I got started because that is the bulk of my ‘About Me’ on the profile page here. As I progressed through my own personal Life On The Line experience I was fortunate in that I often caught fish. I faced many challenges when I tried to transition to fly rod only fishing just like many others have. Somehow I made the right choices and through determination and selfish use of my free time I progressed from a thrasher to someone who fished using more of a transcendental approach. I spent a lot of time just watching everything that was happening both in and out of the waters where I spent my time. Somehow that seemed to enhance my previous good fortune at catching fish.

During the late 70′s – 80′s – 90′s and right into the 21st Century I fished in Pennsylvania and traveled in what I could call an extensive manner with the intent to fish at the destinations. During all those years I never hired a guide although in hindsight I would have been well served to have used such services in many places I visited. There was a mental block that came from experiences on my home waters and that block was rooted in my belief that those people who worked as guides were bringing people who otherwise would never find places where I fished, into those spots. They were the enemy and I knew I would never do that, it just wasn’t right! I actually had an active dislike for the whole concept of guiding because of what I saw happening in my home range.

I came to Alaska back in 1989 and stayed for 6 months and returned to stay in 2004. When I made this my home for good I dove into the fishing. I found my way because I live here and I had time for trial and error trips. There was however a big difference between my situation and that of someone visiting here for 5 to 10 days, I was here 365 days a year and had time to figure this out.

By the time that I discovered fly fishing forums I had gotten married and moved from my home in Anchorage out to The Valley. That same year I bought a boat because out there you needed one unless you wanted to be relegated to fishing at road access points with a hoard of others. So I began exploring rivers, I drove the boat, I drifted on rafts, and I hiked. With each passing year my knowledge of where and when to fish grew, but remember, I live here so a bad day was quickly forgotten when the 20 silver salmon day rolled around. I caught all 5 species of salmon, rainbow trout – steelhead trout – grayling and char, I was on a roll.

Through out the years 2007 and 2011 I was there on fishing forums forum posting technique threads and occasionally I would see a thread titled “Going to AK.” or “Advice On AK. Trip” and if I recognized the posters name I would send a Private Message to them. In those messages I offered to take them fishing. I explained that I had a boat and several rafts and that I go fishing all the time so having them along wouldn’t be a problem. I made those offers to quite a few people on forums. Only one person ever contacted me and took me up on the offer. He got in touch on the last day of his trip and I directed him on how to find me and then went to meet him at a parking lot in town and had him follow me home. We had a quick dinner and got him into the truck and took him to a river where we fished until almost midnight. The next morning we left at 5 AM. for some more fishing, his flight was leaving at 5:30 PM. so we had to knock off at noon but he was able to catch a bunch of salmon and a couple trout, the salmon had eluded him over the first 6 days of his time here so he was very happy.

I continued to extend invitations for a while but no one else took me up on the offers. There were however members who when they got home posted reports about their trips, some went to fish the Kenai & Russian Rivers while others went to very expensive lodges. Even the guys who went to the Kenai & Russian stayed at lodges and hired guides in most cases. Some knocked the spots off the fish and some didn’t. One thing I knew was that I didn’t go down there to fish during summer because of the combat fishing environment that is unavoidable on either river, guide or no guide. Heck, I have heard stories about guides getting into fist fights down there, OMG. There is one case where I had offered a guy to fish here with me that sticks in my mind. He never really got back to me until he informed me that he was booked into a lodge out on the Katmai Peninsula, it turned out that things didn’t go that well out there but here at home I caught and released over 40 king salmon and kept 3. The total weight of the three I kept was over 100 pounds. This picture is from that season…………

All 2011 Nikon Pictures Oct 31652

You’ll never know how I regret not shaving and choosing a different cap that day :)

I stayed out here in the valley basically slumming it but I continued to look for places where crowding was minimal and I continued to catch a lot of fish when fish were available. Finally after a guy from a forum stood me up even though he was within 22 miles of our home but never called; I ask my wife Nancy………… What do you think? You think they figure I’m an axe murderer or some other kind of crazy man trying to lure them away into the bush? I don’t get it. Why would anyone turn down an offer like that only to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars for basically the same thing?

I was only joking when I said, “I should look into getting a guides permit because then people would line up to pay for fishing trips”. I was kidding but I was also serious. I guess I had hurt feelings, I knew that when I fished in New Brunswick – Nova Scotia and Newfoundland if someone had offered to show me where to fish so I could have a better chance at salmon I would have jumped on the offer. Sadly no one did and I had to gut it out trying the best I could. I continued to think about the guide thing until summer of 2011 then I took action.

It wasn’t an easy thing and it wasn’t cheap and still isn’t. I spent over twenty three hundred on all the training and licensing, insurance etc. in that first year and had zero customers. But that fall I threw down another 800.00 and had a website designed and bought business memberships on several forums. I also paid to have my name on the top of the Alaska Fly Fishing Guides Directory. Guess what? The first year the site and advertising was up I booked so many trips that I began fishing clients in May and finished in late September. I had not worked so hard in years, very little sleep and 18 hour days were the norm. In the second season I had to turn people away because I’m just one man, no lodge, no staff just me. This past season I turned more down than I took, I just can’t handle being busy the entire summer any longer. When I started I had trips back to back for 40 days and that was enough.

I’ve read plenty of threads about guiding over the past 9 years on several forums. The ones posted by kids still in school who believe they will finish school and then go into fish guiding, the ones about how much to tip, the good guides the bad guides, I’ve read them all. I don’t comment often because I don’t want people to think I’m like a Barker on the old Circus Midway letting everyone know I’m a fish guide.

I’m still the same guy who offered the free trips via PM’s to people and if any of those folks ever read this they know who they are. I can’t make fish bite. I can’t make it rain or stop raining. I sure as hell can’t predict how many salmon will come into these rivers next year either but I will go fishing whether someone hires me or not. I’ve had about every type fisherman with me in the past 5 seasons. There have been those who were absolutely great and a few who were measuring the experience solely on what they caught. There has been learning and laughs, I’ve enjoyed the time with people and this has really kept me in shape to a great extent. It’s a lot of work because I do camps a lot. I don’t see this going on much past the 2017 season because I want to return to just going fishing. Once I do that the PM’s will go out again but I’ll be going fishing and not guiding and I’ll take people along if they come here and want to go.

Being a guide here is not a thing where I get paid to go fishing, usually I don’t fish. During king season I am not allowed to fish when I have clients on the water with me, that’s the law. During the other seasons I spend most of my time watching people fish, offering advice and tying on different flies for them. I net fish I cook meals and every now and then I get to fish for an hour or so. When I have any time between trips I should be out there scouting fish but sometimes I’m so burnt out that I just stay at camp and relax. Seasons over now, I just came home from a 3 day fun trip where I just went fishing. It didn’t matter whether I caught anything or not but if you visit the other articles here you’ll see that I managed to get a few.

It gets harder every year, changing weather, drought, flooding, low abundance of target species, it’s tough. I still can catch fish but it is harder and harder to get them onto other peoples hooks. Remember, I do this every season. I know exactly where to cast and how to handle that line to put the fly right where it needs to be. It’s hard to transmit all that to a guy who just got here without browbeating him and I try to avoid pushing people. I offer so they know I’m there and ready to micro manage if asked to do so. If they ask I push them until we get hooked up.

I don’t think I’m a normal fish guide, I take this way too seriously. When someone doesn’t catch fish it nearly ruins me. I feel like a failure, I feel like the environment itself has let me down. It was never about making money, I just wanted to take a few people fishing with me. When I peel those permit stickers off my boat things won’t change all that much but I won’t feel responsible for whether or not someone catches a fish or not anymore.

I won’t miss the $800.00 I spend on Commercial Land Use Permits each year. I won’t miss the $700.00 dollar liability insurance policy I carry every year. I won’t miss the State business license, the MatSu business licenses which total 200 more. I won’t miss the Commercial boat launch fees I pay because I am a guide which equal another $635.00 each year. There’s a reason that I charge to do the trips and it’s clear to me that this is barely a break even thing every year. It’s been fun, I won’t ever say it wasn’t. And when someone asks about being a guide I can at least tell them what I know about it albeit admitting I’m not the average guide guy.

That’s how it happened,

Ard

Streamer Fishing / Setting The Hook?

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I can only tell people ‘what I think I know’ about almost any topic. One thing I will not do is to tell you that what I do is right or correct, it’s just what I do. I’m just some guy who fishes and has done it for a long time. I’ll soon be placing an article here on this blog page that will explain how I became a fishing guide, it may be worth the read because my course wasn’t planned here.

I do have to admit that it is kinda cool to have your own website where you can share what you think you have learned so I’ll do just that right now.

We all started somewhere, for me the starting point was North Central Pennsylvania and when I went whole hog into fly fishing things were different. Different to a certain extent that is, there were rods and lines, there were reels and waders, but no where near what is available today. There were dry flies and nymphs, there were streamers and wets. And if a young fella wanted to be a genuine fly fisherman then he learned how do use all of the various types of artificial flies in their traditional ways.

Of course I went with dry flies first because it was just so cool. I followed the dry with wet flies and nymph techniques but streamer flies were like a freight train just getting started in my mind. The process was slow leaving the depot but gradually gained speed until I wanted to learn how and I was as serious about it as anything in fishing has ever been to me. By the late 1970′s I had been tying them for a while and was getting good at about every style of classic. By the early 1980′s I had taken them to the streams and began to concentrate on how to use them effectively.

I actually have streamers I tied in 1980 because I had made so many it was inevitable that some would survive for decades without being used.
Supervisor0001
That’s a Supervisor circa mid 1980′s from one of my storage wallets……… I started my fly tying with streamers and flies like the one pictured were the result of ten years of practice by the time the 80′s arrived. Please don’t get the idea that I’m presenting all this based on fly tying, just because I can make cool flies doesn’t mean I know anything about using them. I’ll try to provide enough detail in the body of this article to help others to understand how I’ve developed what seems (to me) to be a style of fishing streamers that works OK.

With time on the waters and a load of low fish days I gradually improved my methods. A key to improvement was observation of both the streams and the fish. I guess I learned where to expect them to be and was able to up the number of encounters that way. The refinements in my techniques can be found detailed in other articles right on this blog page simply by scrolling down through the entries. In short I figured things out and I do take credit for whatever successes I’ve had because I did all this before there was an internet, you tube videos or any of the advantages we have to share information today. heck, back then there weren’t even dependable & affordable video tapes on the market where I lived so you had to rely on practice to work out the bugs.

Whether we talk dry fly, nymph or wets, there is one bug that is universal based on all my reading of questions posted to fly fishing forums. The bug is ‘How do I set the hook”? My answer to the universal problem faced by many anglers is that it is easy. With a little practice to give the technique a fair trial you may agree that I just might have this figured out. All fish are different and from species to species they go after or take a fly differently as well. In the end though they are all fish and they all grab a fly with their mouths. Some fish take more time from the angler before you’ll even feel one and others seem to flock to the fly. If you can fish somewhere that they are grabbing the fly every other cast you can cut your time way down when figuring out the best way to get them on the hook.

First let’s imagine you are fishing for steelhead, it doesn’t matter if you live near a steelhead river or have traveled to try your hand at it. One thing can happen in either scenario, you “miss” fish. When I hear a guy tell me that he missed a fish it doesn’t compute for me. If the person was fishing a plastic bead suspended beneath a bobber (commonly referred to as an indicator) I guess I’d get what he or she were saying. I’ve been with people who do that and basically it’s a game of watching the floating plastic ball until it bobs underwater, thus the bobber thing………….. When the bobber goes down the guy holding the rod has to react and react quickly because the fish has the bead / egg imitation in its mouth and you gotta rip that hook into place quick before the fish senses the bead isn’t a real egg. I get that part and I get the “I missed one” part too when it is coming from someone fishing the method I just described. I might as well get it said now before you figure it out on your own, I quit using any sort of bobber when I made the decision that I was going to become a fly fisherman. I used to drift crickets under those clear plastic bobbers shaped like a long cone and it was deadly on trout. But I wanted something more from the time on the rivers and creeks than just a body count, I wanted to be like those old guys that I admired so much because of what they seemed to know about catching fish on artificial flies.

Now where was I when I went off track to poke the indicator people…………? Oh yeah, got it, missing fish, or setting hooks. What I have evolved into is a guy who fishes streamers of one kind or another 100% of the time spent fishing. The biggest reason for that is that where I live and fish now and have been for the past 13 seasons is that there are no appreciable dry fly opportunities here. Oh you see may flies and caddis as well as stone fly hatches but not very many rising fish so you stay sub surface with the offerings. You cast, you mend, you steer and swing those streamers to where you suspect there will be a fish to see them coming and going.

I’ll try to wrap this up quickly and simply, when I feel a fish it is usually one of two feels. Either it wails my fly so hard that it is immediately hooked up or I feel tiny light taps as my fly is swinging toward the end of the cast and going to soon be dangling downstream. Scenario number one is a no brainer but situation two requires some self control and I’m about to tell you why I think that is. Fish can be curious of a fly and when that is the case they are following it because the movement has triggered their instinct recognizing something swimming or fleeing across the currents and they give chase. When they close the gap I believe some get a better look or are just a bit more hesitant than the ones who hit it like it has done something wrong. Those ‘thoughtful types’ they are curious and I’ve watched them pursue and repeatedly tap away at a fly. I’ve felt a lot more than I’ve had the chance to actually see but the results are the same in both cases. As long as that fish doesn’t prick itself on the hook point it will continue to be curious of the streamer. If they get pricked often they will also get hooked but not always. The more lively the tapping and experimenting with a streamer on the swing is the more likely the fish will hook itself.

Self control is the key because as long that the fish is not pricked by the hook or frightened by you in reaction to the feel you are still in the game. The more pressured the fish as are many in heavily fished rivers the more likely they will not come back for a second go at the fly if you have jumped and struck with the rod as if this were a Bass Pro Tournament. I have found again and again that if I just remain cool and wait, that fish has an 80% chance of being caught. If it gets pricked by accident and not stuck well enough to be on the hook the chances fall to 0-3% that it will come again. Likewise, when people jump and strike when the fish is not actually on the hook the chances of that same fish coming a second time fall into single digit percentiles.

What really dulled my nerves was dry fly fishing on Spring Creek and others in Pennsylvania. I learned that if I ripped a fly when a fish rose one of three things could occur. The absolute worst was that I popped my tippet and lost the fly in the fish ouch! Next was that I “missed” the fish and it would not rise to my artificial again. The third was the most infrequent and that was when you caught the fish. I learned to watch calmly as a fish rose and took my fly. I figured it out the a large % of them hooked themselves as they changed directions with the fly in their mouths and all I had to do was gently lift the rod to tighten the line a little. This lesson was quickly adapted to fishing streamers since I was never a strip fisher type, I was the “wet fly swing” type streamer fisher. Once I learned not to react until I had a fish on the fly my catch rate shot way up and has stayed there for over 30 years.

Adapting all the lessons from trout fishing to salmon and steelhead fishing was simple, you do the same things. There seems to be a mindset, a sort of mystique surrounding salmon and steelhead in that people are ready to believe that “this is different”. Yes it is because they are a different species. They are different because many of us must travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to try our hand at them. But one thing that remains a constant for me is that there are still 2 types of fish that come after my flies. There’s the one who hit’s it like a freight train and the curious type who more or less experiments by tapping. In either case I don’t react, the hard hitter makes things simple but if I play the tapper right he’ll end up hooking himself and I’ll get to take the credit.

Before going on, here’s a couple fish that were caught by the means I’ve been describing, I didn’t react.
Silver Blushed0773
1050
King 0116

I could just go on and on with the fish pictures but only hoped to make the point that while it is what I say, it is also what and how I do.

Now what about a tapper, [Tapper: the fish who is there but not hooked, tapping at the flies trailing materials] whether it’s a trout, a salmon or a steelhead I have a suggestion. You could just flail away and keep hammering the line and fly back to the same zone in an attempt to raise that fish a second time. Or you could use some strategy, I like choice number 2 here and I’ll tell you why. Remember, we’re not talking about the crazy fish that just hit so hard it nearly pulled the rod from your hand, no no, we’re talking about curious Carl the fish here. And he already had doubts about that fly or he would have pounced on it like a wild dog on a cooked steak. So what do you think that fish may do if you just hurl another cast right back at him? What if he didn’t go back to exactly the same spot in the river after he abandoned his probe of your fly? Seriously, that fish could be anywhere unless you were able to see it and see right where it went after it left the fly and that isn’t always a good thing either. I mean that if it is that low and clear there may be other reasons the fish didn’t take the fly but that’s not the topic so………..

I’m hoping we are agreeing on what I put forth above, not knowing where that steelhead went, I chose steelhead for this just because I could. The way I deal with this is another test of a persons stubborn willpower. I start walking or wading upstream and I go at least 90 feet, 30 yards. Then I begin fishing all over again as if nothing has happened. I fight the urge to hurry back downstream and I work on my technique. I fine tune the swing, the speed, I mend I steer and I slowly work back down to where I know there is a fish waiting. If I do it right this all will take at least 15 minutes of more and all the better for Curious Carl to forget my line and that fly.

Because I don’t know where the fish has set up shop now I need to study the telltale surface indicators of current seams and varying speeds. Bulges made by unseen boulders or gravel shoals a couple feet deep, he could be around any one of them so I approach fresh as if I have no idea there’s a fish there or where. I do this without hesitation because it is the actual case, I don’t know where or if it is even still in this part of the river. Many times I get what I am after by taking this approach and maybe you’ll remember this laborious read one day and say, “I think I’ll try what that guy Ard wrote about” and it just might give you the same feeling I get when I do everything right. People often say to me when they know I’m headed out fishing, “good luck”. I always smile and say “thanks” but you wanna know what I really think? I think that luck is for newlyweds and gamblers, luck is not falling into the river while I wade. I like to think that when I have caught a fish it happens because I have learned everything I can about their behavior, what they like and what they are afraid of. It’s about determination and using every trick I’ve learned but it’s seldom about luck at least not for me. If I were lucky I would have won the Lottery back in 1986 when it was up to 30 million dollars in PA. That would have meant I’d have a nicer boat :)

How bout a couple more fly pictures, I still tie them.
Ard’s Nine Three
ArdsNineThreeSpeyDress0001_1
Ard’s Alaskan Lady
AlaskanLadySpey0001
Ard’s Red Head
RedHead0001
Rail Bird
RailBird0001

I’ll write more soon, all of these articles are subject to editing as I re-read them but I hope this made some sense to you.

Ard

Going To A Very Cold Place 2016;

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I don’t write much about personal fishing trips I take but on Thanksgiving day 2016 I did one that seemed worthy of some photos and a telling of the days events. I don’t know if I’ll ever start guiding late season steelhead fishermen but I do intend to purchase another boat just for use on the river I’ve been fishing late every year. My current river runner is too large for use there due to engine size regulations so there’s a second jet on the radar for 2017.

With that said, here’s what happened. Ever since the end of the first week of November I’ve been aching to get back out to fish for steelhead. There were however a multitude of things which stood between the desire and making it happen. Not the least of which was getting ready for a winter that could be bad or mild and I’ll have to comment further on that come May but by November 10th ……………

There were the wood piles which are a big part of winter here.
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Gone are the hanging baskets of summer flowers and the rest of the pretty things and wood becomes the look of our home for the winter. We fill up the front porch so that in the thick of a storm you need not go far to find tinder for the fire. There were 2 other larger piles but I think you get the idea.

Then there’s the fact that in order to go after those fish at this time of year the destination is exactly 189 miles from home one way. Add to that the fact that in order to be there at the crack of dawn you must leave home at or before 5:00 Am and the plot thickens. The drive itself although long is made more challenging in that you are going to cross Turnagain Pass and you can count on at least 75 miles of black ice on the roadways so it’s not something I take lightly. All of this led to a great deal of procrastinating and further delays.

From many past experiences in the late fall I have learned a few things, one being that you must decide; drive all the way in your waders & boots or suit up in the dark on ice. Honestly, neither seems attractive but I’ve made that drive many times looking like a Simms rep.

With each passing day it became clear that we are not going to see the temperatures become mild for an unknown period of time and ice waits for no man. Now don’t think I wasn’t using the computer to check the weather down there, I knew things were getting crunchy on the river so I had to make a decision. What I came up with was a choice, drive down Wednesday November 23, fish, then stay over at an Inn and do it again on Thanksgiving day? You see Nancy has a week off between her on shifts so I knew she would be home until Thursday afternoon and could get away with the 2 day thing. We have scheduled Turkey day for December 2nd when everyone can be here so it was all a go for me. All a go until Wednesday morning at 4 am when I had to decide. It was 12 degrees here and just dark as it can get……..

So, a new plan, I wasn’t so sure I could do 2 days in freezing weather back to back so I booked a room for myself Wednesday morning and left around 2PM which gave me light to drive in until roughly 5 when it is dark again for real. You see we’re still losing 5 minutes a day here between sunup and sun down and that accumulates fast when you think about it, 35 minutes less light every 7 days to be exact.

The drive was uneventful all except the ice fog along the river road. The river is held up by 2 very large lakes and those lakes are the only reason the rivers aren’t frozen solid like my home waters have been for a month now. Although the water is only around 33* by my best guess (it was 34.5 3 weeks ago) that is enough difference when the air is at 10 degrees to produce ice fog and that made things interesting for a long ways.

I scored a room for 69.00 and it was a nice one so I went to bed by 9PM and was up at 5 the next morning. A quick run for coffee and I was all set. Returning to my room I checked all the tackle so that I had things in place before leaving for the boat launch. Oh, I didn’t mention that this was to be the first cold weather test for a Mokai and I tried to be prepared. I even had an extra battery and jumper cables because this was to be a negative temperature start.

I should have taken more pictures but did the best I could. This was about 3/4 mile from the launch.
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There was only a two degree difference at the launch of -4 so I didn’t bother as I had things to do, namely start the Mokai. It fired up and things were looking good. However I used jumper cables from the truck so I didn’t drain the little battery in this tiny watercraft. I knew very well that a dead battery when I wanted to leave could be a big problem so I played safe. I moved quickly and made a concentrated effort to ignore the ambient air temp. Dry bag with tackle – rod tube – PFD – net – ear protectors – extra gloves, check, all in the boat so I parked the truck and hoofed it to the waters edge. Solid ice there so be careful big fella…….. There’s an art to getting into a Mokai without dragging in a quart of water every time but I can’t tell you that it involves being graceful. My butt landed on the seat and I hit the throttle.

Start the engine and push off all before 9 AM, pretty good. Here’s how things looked as I began the long drive up river.
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That was a good view but as I went on for a couple miles there were areas with such heavy fog caused by the water being 33 degrees and air at -4 or there about that visibility was very bad. The problem is that as things get colder these rivers get lower, if you can’t see through the surface of the water you’ll find all the low spots for sure. About half way into it I knew 2 things. One was that I had bottomed out on a gravel bar and needed to check my jet intake and second was that I should have put a little HEET into my gas tank.

I stopped to check the intake and pluck rocks and did a little walking around to get the blood flowing.
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I choose that spot because of the log, you need to elevate the back of the boat to pick the stones out of the intake grill………. There was also some sun hitting there if you were tall enough. The whole business of having to get down on hands & knees to pluck rocks from the intake with pliers is made even more enjoyable by inclement weather conditions. After this break I resigned myself to staying only in the very center of the river channels and the current. This was due to visibility issues and the desire to not hit gravel again. It did slow things down because of that darn current………..

In case you’ve been wondering, ‘What’s a Mokai’, they are an 11′ 6″ kayak with a 36″ beam and a big cockpit. Mine both have a 7.3 horse power Subaru Robin 4 stroke engine in them and the crank shaft will turn the impeller at around 3400 rpm. The impeller sucks water through an intake under the boat and creates a jet thrust which will move you at about 5 – 7 miles an hour upstream depending on current. The motor on my riverboat is too large for use on the rivers where I was fishing so until I buy another smaller boat I use Mokai’s to get to the fish.

I snapped this while I was stopped there so I would remember the morning sun.
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It’s times like this that although I try to stay focused on the fact I’m doing these things so I can fish but my mind wanders off to a place where reality hints to me that what you are doing is crazy. I didn’t bother hanging my thermometer out, I’m not sure I had it but I really didn’t want to know. Back in the Mokai and onward to the promised land I went.

Arrival! I assembled my rod and remembered I should take some pictures but having hands out of the gloves was becoming something not so cool by now.
7.

It was a very cold place. I snatched the 13’6″ Sage One eight weight from the holder and slapped on an Evoke reel and quickly threaded things up. Next came a variation of the Wilkinson Sunray on a pro Tube and a jamb knot to secure the hook. When I looked down for my nippers I noticed my forceps’ were frozen.
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One more self portrait just so I was sure the smile was still there and I waded into the river. You know 33 degree water isn’t so bad if the air is actually 37 degrees colder. It wasn’t bad.

As I began fishing this is what things looked like in my stretch of sight.
Looking upstream;
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And looking down;
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Even looks cold huh?

Second cast I had a fish plucking at the fly so I dropped some line then slowly pulled it back to the length where the taps occurred. No dice, so I moved a considerable distance upstream which is my normal when I’ve had a fish show interest but not really hit the fly. I figure to give them some time to readjust and then to bring that fly back down. Another thing that may be worth sharing is that even when catching a fish seems important I don’t strike with the rod. I don’t do hand sets with the line, essentially I do nothing. Notice I said I felt taps? A fish tapping away at a fly does no harm to the best of all my experiences with this soprt. What will do harm is if you are wound so tight that you react to the first indication of a fish playing around. I’ve never been underwater watching but when they are short striking at a fly they may just be curious. Trust me, if they ‘tap’ too hard they will get onto the hook and you’ll know it when that happens but if you rip the fly away from a curious fish one of several things can happen. Worse case is you prick the fish with the hook and usually that may mean game over. Second bad thing is that you had a curious fish and when you ripped on the rod or line you have startled the fish sending an alert to the survival instincts. I find these things much more important when fishing a species that is in pressured waters and not so critical in a very remote area where the fish may never have seen an artificial fly or lure before. Even in the remote settings it is always beneficial to belay any reactions until the fish is definitely onto the hook. When there is weight on the line it is then time to tighten things up and try to drive that point perhaps a little deeper. Honestly I can say that 95% of fish I catch hook themselves and I just assist a little.

So where was I? Oh yeah upstream innoring the cold and the fact that I knew I had a fish about 30 yards below my in that bucket just down from that gravel shoal……. I went to the casting with hopes of finding another but never felt a thing until I started bringing it back down into the same bucket and……… There you are I said aloud.

I knew when the fish hooked itself and I put on some pressure, I knew it wasn’t a salmon. The jump and the runs are just different and you don’t have to catch a hundred steelhead to get that figured out. You would perhaps be amazed with how I handle this catching business. I’m not really interested in fighting fish although some make runs that require a little more attention from me than others I usually just turn and start for shore where I will be safe and have some soft water to land fish in. So I turned and unceremoniously waded to shore stopping only when the fish protested being towed along on the trip. It made a decent dash for mid river and I loosened the drag a bit and then resumed the trip.. I think I was about 80 or 90 feet out in some pretty heavy current when things got started so getting to a safe spot is important.

I got my feet onto the icy shore and pumped & reeled the fish into a nice backwater below a gravel bar, that’s when I got my first good look at what had grabbed the Wilkinson. It was only ten forty in the morning and I knew that if I didn’t touch another fish before dark the cold ride to this spot had been worth it.
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It wasn’t the thickest steelhead I ever met but was as long as the scale on the handle of the Nomad Boat Net which said an honest 29 inches maybe even a hair more so I was very warm at the time.
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Wouldn’t you know it, even people who live their life in a bubble believing that if they try hard enough things will work out can get a break on a very cold morning. The next couple hours were filled up with silver salmon who had gotten well into the spawning colors and were very aggressive. These salmon are one of the reasons there are steelhead hanging out in this portion of the river and it’s inevitable that some are going to attack a fly as it swings. Oh there were salmon and they can be a problem because every time you have one grab the fly you have to take it to shore and quiet water to deal with them and this day there were 8 to be dealt with. Figure it this way every one of them takes at least ten minutes from when it grabs – you wade to shore – get it reeled in and unhook it – check terminal tackle and wade back out to cast. That’s eighty minutes when you have roughly 5 hours to fish at the very most…….. That and you have no idea if there are more steelhead there because a salmon has the fly again. They beat catching nothing and the color wasn’t too advanced. I actually had a couple that raised quite a fuss.
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Maybe just one more memory of that first steelhead OK?
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I continued to walk up and fish down for another couple hours but never raised another trout. I dropped downriver at 1:50 PM, time flies when your fishen even when it’s cold and on the first cast into a fresh current rip I caught a second steelhead albeit way smaller and a bright hen it was still exhilarating when it went airborne. It was only about 16 inches I think, just a quick shot with the second fly of the day and I let her go.
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Before I knew it the sun was dipping and it was past 3:30 and I knew I had to go, cold hands and all so I took a few more pictures and got headed back down river.
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It was cold on the way down also, my waders froze pretty solid and my gloved right hand froze to the throttle on the way back to the boat launch. While I’d love to share days like this with others I also understand this was not a day that I can even imagine anyone I know enjoying.
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One more of me on the trip down river, it’s about 11 miles.
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I had to remove my hand from the glove frozen to the throttle and then peal the glove off when I reached the launch. I wish I had some video of me trying to get up out of the boat when I arrived. I’d been wading deep and my butt was frozen to the seat. Every time I tried to push myself up something was holding me down. My butt was about numb so it took a while to figure out what was going on. The frozen waders made it interesting as well. Really, I couldn’t bend my legs very well at all and was wondering if those Simms G4′s were going to hold up through this whole trip, they did. When I loaded the Mokai onto the trailer the temp at the river was 8 degrees so my suspicions were confirmed, it had not warmed up much between 9 AM and 4:30 PM. Those few degrees, all 11 of them were appreciated. It may not seem like much but there is a difference.
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Of course I didn’t remember to take a picture of the temp gage until I was almost a mile from the launch but you have my word it was cold.

So what was it all about? I knew I would catch a steelhead if I went. I’m not sure how or why I knew but I just did and I knew that at least one would take that Wilkinson tube fly. In the end it really was a mission, one that you had to believe in and when that first fish leapt from the rivers cold surface I forgot about the fog, the cold, and the difficulty a trip in sub zero temperatures can present you with. I enjoyed the day although it was short and a good deal of it spent just driving a 7 HP jet kayak 11 miles up a swift river. Would I do it again, you bet I will but I’ll have yet another extra pair of gloves and I’ll add HEET to my gas.

Today I feel like something is lost, that something is my 2016 fishing season. I know it’s over now and I need to find something else to dream about rather than the next trip searching for those fish. Only 5 this fall but I got an immense satisfaction out of each one and I will hope to catch a few more next fall / winter. There’s something else I feel today and that’s the numbness of 6 of my ten fingertips. Just a mild case but a reminder that I need to find gloves I can learn to handle line with. Today is December eighth and the fingertips are still a bit numb so be careful if your going to fish in the cold. I did remove my fingerless wool gloves for landing fish because I knew getting them wet would be a mistake. Another thing I had going for me was that I was using a 45 foot Super Scandi line with integrated running line and a 14′ leader. Add the length of my Sage One and I was not stripping line at all. The only reason I had ice in my guides was reeling in the fish. There’s something to be said for not having to strip in 40 feet of line before every cast I think :)

That’s that,

Ard

Time For Some Fish Photos;

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No fish were harmed in taking these photos and all were caught using Spey rods and swung flies :)

A Good Shot

Please don’t overlook the many other articles on the Alaska Flies & Rivers Blog after viewing some of the fishes, the articles discuss the tactics used to get those fish in front of the camera :)

I will depart from my normal program of writing huge texts and just post a string of photos. if you have questions or comments please post them and I’ll reply.

Ard

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I’m going fishing tomorrow Wednesday November 2nd if the ice isn’t too bad.

{Additional Photos} The river was frozen solid at the boat launch so I was home by 1:00 PM. There’s no way to know unless I hitch up a boat and drive to the river. I haven’t been down there for almost 4 weeks so….. Doh!

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Just An Update Regarding the 2016 Season.

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I can’t say that this was a normal year. I didn’t host any King trips and didn’t fish for them at all myself. There were reasons for that and I’ll try to be brief although this seldom works. The 2015 season was wrought with low water conditions on all of our non glacial rivers here in South Central Alaska. While the glaciated flows were running very high most small tributaries were so low that use of the boat was limited and the boulders and gravel bars were plentiful. With careful navigating and a lot of hiking we still got into some good fishing.

I had 2015 in mind when I decided to forgo Kings this year. We had very little snow pack and I fully expected a repeat of 2015 so I laid out an ambitious work load for the cabin and spent the king season out there oblivious to what was really happening. It seems that in my absence and the presence of unusually warm weather some rivers were doing fine. What little snow pack we had provided a late May / June runoff and the king returns were strong. Bummer, but what could have been an outstanding king season for me or anyone fishing with me ended up as a work detail. The work must be done and when you are a one man operation like me, one man and a dog that is, choices must be made.

I was able to get the logs cleaned and sanded – re- chink the exterior and apply a fresh finish to the place as well as build a new addition to the dock. The grass cutting thing takes up much of my time out there because the Bush is intent on reclaiming our hard fought clearing, I see a heavy duty lawn tractor in the future for sure.

So here’s the King season…………….

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The 16 foot X 4 foot extension came first and although copious amounts of adult beverages were consumed the entire project went off without a hitch. It was however supervised by Boss who sees every project through with me. Below you see the new section complete with float logs and approved by Boss also.

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I’m not wild about the looks of that 30 gallon drum strapped to my console for fuel but it is a 75 mile one way trip just to reach the cabin so an oversize tank is in your best interest out there.

Then there was the cleaning and chinking followed by finish…….

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Yes that’s another Mokai on the front porch. I keep it out there and move it to rivers by strapping it into the front of the ATEC Sockeye. I also took a picture of the interior as it continues to improve, I’m going to carpet the second floor this winter. The paper taped in the windows helps to avoid bird strikes.

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During all that I did take time out to go down on the dock and make a few casts with my old Orvis 9′ nine weight.

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With proper water conditions and some prospecting you can catch some appreciable size pike in the lake. The largest this year was caught by my stepson Robert at just under 40″. He was fishing from the Mokai and released the fish without even a picture?? He doesn’t have a fishing website so it didn’t occure to him I guess, shame that was.

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During the warm weather I spent my share of time swimming right down by the dock and had to take the obligatory underwater Lilly shot.

I’ll put together some more content and include some fish that were caught when we finally started fishing, I hope you’ll come by to read and view the entries.

Ard

Getting The Fly Down To Where The Fish Are At;

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I’m hoping that this article may intrigue some of you to experiment with some different ways to sink your flies. Please feel free to comment on or question what you are about to read.

What I am going to propose to the readers here may or may not be a new concept to you. You may have read post from me at any time over the years about how I rig my lines for streamer fishing. I am quite sure I am not the only fly fisherman who uses this method but I can say that I’ve never came across a detailed article regarding how and why it works. Something else I should mention is that it is not my intention to ‘convert’ people to this way of doing the job, I don’t sell leaders and am not affiliated with anyone who does. It’s just a way of doing things that I stumbled into and then fine tuned over the past 25 years. 

How you sink your line or fly is a big thing to consider. This is true whether  you use a Spey rod or a single hand rod when swinging streamers / Spey type flies / salmon flies. It seems an ever growing array of lines are being produced to meet this need doesn’t it? What I am going to describe is a method I took up in 1994 and continue to use today. Prior to developing my skills with the system I will describe as best I can to you, I carried either extra spools or reels to meet certain conditions. The most economical aspect of the system is that it eliminates the need to purchase spare spools and the expensive sinking lines we would put on them. 

Before you read on and before I continue writing there’s something to get out of the way first. We’ve all heard someone tell us, “If you aren’t getting snagged and losing flies you aren’t doing it right” or some version of that philosophy haven’t we? I hope you’ll have an open mind and understand that I don’t take offense when someone says that to me. I also will trust that you will not take umbrage when I say that I do not enjoy becoming snagged every sixth or seventh cast. I really don’t like losing my flies and I think one of the most ridiculous things I can see while I’m out fishing is someone who, every time I glance in their direction is tugging and bouncing with their rod due to being stuck on the bottom. Honestly, I don’t care how many fish that fellow may catch, there are no fish worth that level of frustration to me that would compel me to do it. I have been there, I have tied slinky’s to my expensive fly lines and my 400 dollar rods all the way back in the 1980’s. It didn’t last long, not at all, a few hours and I’d had enough. I love to fish and better yet I live for days when not one thing can bring a foul word from my mouth, heavy weights combined with heavy sinking heads will make you curse. Me, I’ll settle for a few less fish and a curse free day. I’m a fly fisherman and I don’t spend a lot of time tugging, rod bending or leader popping because I’m stuck to the bottom as if I were fishing bait with a sinker. There, I said it, Now you know where I’m coming from so let’s continue. 

Anyone who has fly fished using both a floating fly line and a sinking line knows that these are two different worlds when it comes to casting. Two things (although there may be others) stand out when you make the switch from floater to sinker or sink tip line. Most sink tips have a 15’ section spliced and molded onto the front of a floating line and these are much more common than full sinking lines to most of us I believe.  Let’s look at fishing a streamer with a floating line first. Rather than to expand on this I will suggest that you read the article just below this posting titled ‘Fishing / Controlling The Submerged Fly’.  

I think we can all agree that casting is easier with floating lines. You are able to swing your fly until it hangs straight downstream and then sweep up the rod and a significant length of fly line to re-cast without too much effort, correct? Now when you put on that 15 foot type 6 or Hi Density tip things will become a lot different. You will notice that in overhead casting the sink tip will not only feel different but in most cases it will fly further when you let her go.  I was always a fan of that added distance on the forward cast. I started with a sink tip line in 1979 and believe they were just being introduced around that time. Prior to that I had a full sink as my wet fly line but we’re talking sink tips and I digress. Aside from that presumed added distance on your delivery cast there is a minor amercement involved with using a sink tip line. You’ll no doubt notice straight away that it sure won’t sweep up with the same ease as your floater will it? When using a sink tip I customarily I had to strip in a great deal of my fly line prior to re-casting. Now if you are catching a fish every other time that you are dragging the fly back upstream I won’t tell you not to do it.  I myself have caught so few by that means over the past 4 ½ decades that I found it to be almost punitive to have to strip in all that line for every cast. Please bear in mind I have never been much of a Stillwater fly fisherman where this stripping action can be of premier benefit, I fish streams & rivers primarily.  

Enough of the buildup; how do I get away fishing my streamers and salmon flies without using a sinking line per say? I use small sections of various sinking materials in the middle portion of my leaders. I have talked about this in the past but this writing is meant to lay out the specifics of ‘How, Why, and when I make the decision of what length and weight per inch of the material I utilize in any and all fishing situations. When I first took up fishing using a 13 foot Spey rod I fell for the sink tip trap.  I thought fishing with a Spey rod was a whole new thing, wrong! It’s all the same, but let me explain what happened. I bought a Scientific Anglers 55′ mid belly Multi Tip Line. I used that line for an entire season and by June of the following year I was so frustrated with my lack of improvement as a Spey caster that I was at my wits ends. It was at that time, camped on a river here in Alaska which was full of salmon, however I was struggling so much with my casting that the fun index was at a very low point. I waded back to shore where I had a chair unfolded and took a seat. Quite disgusted at that moment I was questioning whether or not I could do this. Of course the long rod had its advantages and not all casts were complete failures but something was wrong. As I sat there my gaze fell on the boat and in it sat my old tackle bag. Why not, I thought, why not use the same leaders and lead heads I’ve been using since 1994 on my single hand rods? It should work! To the boat I went and retrieved my old bag and within a few minutes I had tied some Perfection loops into some mono for a butt and for a tippet. The center section which is a weighted line comes with a braided loop on each end and ready to go so no work there. I threw a leader together having a 48” braided lead head from Beartooth Montana  fishing products. I had bought a bunch of them at a going out of business sale back in late 1993 or early 94 and had used them with great success on PA. & CO. streams and rivers until I left for AK. ten years ago. The difference was realized immediately, I could cast without my line stuck in the water like cement.  That was 2011 and I never looked back. Prior to taking up the Spey rod I had used these leader sections on my single hand rods but somehow thought / believed a Spey rod was different. No they are not! 

I will try to explain how this works and why I believe it is (for some) perhaps  the best way to fish submerged streamers on any fly rod with a floating line opposed to sink tip lines. When we use a sink tip line or attach a tip directly to the floating line it sinks. The problem is that not only does the length of the sinking Tungsten line sink but because it is spliced directly to your floating line it will tend to pull the floater under as well. At first just a few feet of the floating tip and as the line is used hour after hour you may see as much as the first ten to 15 feet of your floating line going subsurface too and I don’t mean by an inch or two.  I can’t be alone in this observation can I? If you have already read my writing on fishing and controlling the submerged fly then you know that the mainstay of fishing them is to have, and to maintain control by mending with the floating line. It is Simply a fact that the more of your line that is beneath the surface the more difficult it will be to affect control over the fly itself. 

Now let us use the mind’s eye to envision something different. You have a good quality floating line and have kept it clean and dressed with a product tailored for this purpose. That line floats very well and when you have allowed it to make a complete downstream swing it has barely went beneath the surface on you.   Somehow you felt confident that you had your fly swimming deep enough to attract a strike had there been a willing fish there. How’d you do that? If you are doing what I do, you had between 5 and 6 feet of 30 pound monofilament attached to the end of the floating line. Looking at the simple illustration below follow this concept from the floating line to your fly.

Click this work of art to enlarge

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Your long mono butt has very little resistance to being dragged under the water unlike your hi floating fly line and can be taken down using significantly less than 15 feet of sinking line. This is due to mono having a higher specific gravity than water, it’ll sink on its own. When you attach any form of weight to monofilament it will sink quickly & readily. When you attach a 4 foot (or longer / shorter) section of T material to the end of the mono butt section that weighted line with a much higher specific gravity than water will take the mono down & do so rapidly without disturbing the floating vinyl coated fly line to any great degree. Your line stays up better and longer on every swing while the fly and the leader find the fish. 

You’ll notice that you have a length of tippet material which due to its reduced size offers even better sinking properties than the 30 pound butt. If you chose to attach a weighted fly such as a cone head or similar to the tippet it too will have a propensity to sink. Depending on the length and weight of your weighted leader section you can determine how fast and how deep the fly and tippet will sink. You can mix these combinations up as follows: a heavier section of T material like T-14 and an un-weighted fly will allow you to put the leader at or very near the bottom while the fly should maintain its course slightly higher in the water thus avoiding possible snagging. Conversely you may chose to go with 5 feet of T 8 or 11 and use a fly with a weighted head or cone. These decisions are made site by site taking into account the velocity of the flow and it’s depth. Slower water allows for even more choice in how to rig and swifter flows dictate heavier leaders and perhaps flies also.  Capisci? 

Because the sink tip is not connected directly to the floating line your ability to mend and control that line right down to the tip is greatly enhanced. By spending just a very short time observing your leader & fly at close range while counting seconds you can easily ascertain how quickly the unit as a whole is reaching a known or perceived depth. I gotta ask; are you getting this or is it confusing  to you, if so just comment and I’ll try to clear up any questions. 

Now if, and that is the key operative word here ‘if’ you have been focusing on reducing drag on your floating line as discussed in the article about fishing & controlling the submerged fly, you are getting the hang of allowing your fly to reach its maximum potential depth. You are reaching this depth without the fly being moved to the surface by excessive drag formed by the bow in the line caused by current, or by overzealous line movements made by you the fisherman. When you combine good line management & control habits with a mental awareness of how the fly is being sunk and at what rate, you are able to present your fly where the fish will see it.  My observations on fly control using this type sink system are as follows: because the mono butt section has very little resistance to the water it readily will react quickly to any change of direction imparted to the tip of the floating fly line via you and your various mends for directional control. Because the weighted section is at the very longest, 6 feet, it will also react readily to being directed by the fly line and the fly and lighter tippet follow suite. You can judge quite well what your fly is doing directionally simply by looking at the end of your floating line, because it’s floating :) it don’t get much simpler than that, no more guess work, you can become adept at knowing what’s happening underwater. I once wrote that “until you are in control of your line and fly in an active fashion, you are just standing there holding the cork”. There are times when I just hold the cork, but it’s nice to believe that you can impart some action and control if you deem it appropriate wouldn’t you agree? 

Regardless of what you use to sink a fly there will always be a section of water so swift – so deep that nothing short of a 1 ounce bell sinker will reach the bottom. These areas in my personal view were not, and are not meant to be fished with traditional fly gear and so I don’t bother with such water while fishing. That isn’t to say that I don’t swing through it as far down as I can get to see if there are fish willing to play nearer the surface, I just don’t try to feel the bottom nor am I obsessed with the notion that I must. 

If or when you adapt to this system of fishing with your streamers you will notice how much easier it is to bring a 2 – 3 – 4 or 5 foot length of T line up to the surface for re-casting than it is to strip in a 15 foot sink tip to a manageable length. Part of the strategy and technique of fishing wet flies is to cover as much water with each successive cast as possible while continually moving the cast and swinging fly down the stream channel. Once you have adapted a means to do this without time spent pulling in half your line before re-casting you are fishing more. This ability is also very helpful when you locate a fish that taps or bumps your fly during the swing but fails to get hooked. If you are able to cast again without significantly shortening your line it is simple to repeat your exact cast both in placement and length of swing / arc.   I have to ask again; are you getting this concept? Is this making sense? God, I hope so because it took forever to compose to this point :D What I just told you is the best method I have found to produce a ‘come back’ strike from a trout – salmon or steelhead. ie;  Knowing that your fly is taking exactly the same course through the stream because you were able to sweep up your line to cast without stripping in. This allows for you to duplicate any cast or to shorten it by a foot or two before throwing it back out. I generally go shorter by a foot or 2 because I’ve seen countless fish return to the same area but a tad further up channel when they stop, then drifting back to find their sweat spot in the current. The important thing is I have essentially the correct length of line before I even cast again……. 

In the diagram, all of the connections are made via loop to loop splices.

Click image to enlarge

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If your fly line came with a welded loop you may want to consider the braided connector that I will show you in an upcoming post here, you’ll have to scroll around to find things due to the way WordPress enters my writings here, sorry.

If you are currently carrying extra spools or reels to accommodate changing between floating lines and sinking lines the method I have attempted to explain may be useful in lightening your load. If you are currently using multi tip lines – sinking leaders like polly leaders that attach directly to your line and essentially do the same thing as a sink tip ie; drag the floating line under and protest when you need to sweep them from the water to re-cast, this may be helpful to you too. 

 A quick recap: I’m not saying it’s right for everyone but it works for me. I determine how much and what weight section of T material to add to my leader based on best guess in regard to current and average depth of water fished. If I run into a shallow run and have 5 foot of T-17 in my rig, I cast more quartered down and across and I hold the tip back toward upstream to create drag enough to keep my fly from snagging. When I come into a run averaging 6 feet deep I cast straight across and use the mending and following technique described in the Fishing the submerged fly article. Pretty simple, it’s actually a trigonometry exercise, angular velocity is what you are trying to solve for. If you are mathematically inclined you can easily create an equation for what we are trying to do if that will help you in grasping the meaning of this entire article.  

I will put together a ‘How To’ post for making your own T sections if there is a need, you could I assume find a video on-line easier though 

Fishing / Controlling The Submerged Fly;

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In this writing I will share some technique that resulted from my use of streamers and salmon flies over the past 40 years. I hope it will be useful to the readers.

After a fly has been cast into the flow there are a lot of things that one must train their mind and hands to do. A few of the control factors are current speed, depth, and whether or not you have a targeted zone where you expect there to be fish. 

Think about the relationship between the rod tip which represents the semi stationary terminus of the line. The fly represents the moving point of your actions as it travels down and comes across the current in its effort to come to a halt directly below the rod tip hanging in the current. All of the things that happen between when the fly lands and when it reaches the dangle straight bellow the rod tip are in the realm of control of the angler. 

The mends flipped into your floating line either upstream or down are your means to control both the flies depth and its direction of travel to some extent as well as its speed. The speed with which the fly travels is often a direct result of whether you are handling the line and rod correctly. Too fast = not enough depth, too slow = hitting bottom and possibly snagging your hook. The position of the rod tip, your stationary point of the line to fly connection is one of your primary tools for controlling the speed of the flies course. The speed with which the fly travels can and will have an effect on the maximum and minimum depths obtainable given the waters speed. The mending is your way to counteract the varied current speeds and seams of current between you, the rod tip, and the fly which is moving but doing so in direct relationship to the mends and movement or lack there of in the rod tip. It is a combination of line control (mending) and movement (or lack thereof) with the rod tip which allows for you to have some say in how fast – how deep and where that fly will travel. 

All of what I will say here was learned fishing with traditional single hand fly rods and then applied to my casting & fishing using the Spey rods. I believe that the single greatest misconception people must deal with when they progress to using a 2 handed fly rod is that they must completely change the way they fish. What I am about to expand on is basic single hand fishing using a streamer fly. This is exactly how I have continued to fish in the wake of taking up a Spey rod. Let us assume that you have been using traditional North American fly casting & fishing techniques for an extended period of time here. By this I mean the single hand fly rod. The use of the Spey rod is simply your graduation to a more effective way to fish with a streamer type fly. The added length and the 2 handed grip make for control of the fly line and thus the fly much easier. Remember please that I do not use Skagit or full sinking lines as you read on. I believe that when using a very short shooting head you sacrifice your ability to control your fishing (the line and fly) to accommodate ease of casting. The braided or for that matter any running line you may have loaded behind the ‘head’ provides very poor mending and thus poor control over your fishing. Likewise a full sinking line leaves you at the mercy of the river once the line and fly have settled in and began their down stream trip. I am not saying that either of these lines don’t catch fish but they do limit your ability to actively interact with the swing to a great extent. So let us focus on the use of a floating line with a head length of at least 45 feet as I continue please. 

I made a crude drawing that I hope will aid in my ability to reference the act of controlling a cast after it has landed and sometimes just before the fly has landed.

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I find it very handy to put the very first upstream mend into the floating line just as the cast is unfurling, right before the fly slaps the surface that is. This would be mend ‘A’. Please don’t confuse this with a ‘Drop or Slack’ cast because it is not. The mend is made as the bulk of the fly line has reached the surface and the leader is yet to turn completely over. It is at that precise moment that the wrist rolls creating a much larger circular motion in the rod tip and thus throwing the mend upstream. Depending on the length of line between rod tip and end of line, you will need varying amounts of power in that ‘wrist roll’ motion. The technique of doing this without a thought will be something you will at first need to focus on and remember to do, eventually it will become just part of your cast. Now why is this important you may wonder? Every motion of either pull or slack that you make to the line via the rod and rod tip are directly transferred to the sinking fly and leader. When you allow a cast to land – the fly to begin to sink & gain depth – and then remember, ‘oh I should make a mend’; that mend, that pull on the terminal end of the fly line which is that sunken fly will jerk it back upstream and Toward the Surface. Since the whole concept of the streamer type fly is for it to get down in the water column and swim along like something that may be fun to eat, everything you do with that rod and line should be targeted at keeping the fly down and traveling through or toward the area you believe there to be a fish. Make sense? By training yourself to instantly put a generous upstream slack loop into every cast you avoid jerking that fly back up toward the surface by a foot or more. In the game of sunken streamers every second and inch of sink after the cast & fly have landed are critical. After all the deeper the better is the rule in most cases right. So there’s something to begin with, if you already do this like a machine, good. If you don’t then perhaps that’ll be useful. 

Now lets look at the smaller mend ‘B’ in that wonderful drawing of mine.

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This or these depending on current speed & depth, this is a smaller effort at giving the fly more hang time / sink time. In the scenario I am describing here we are assuming that the target water lies somewhere to your 11: O clock if we consider straight across the channel as 12: O’ clock, and the Dangle point which is at your 9. You can make as many upstream mends as seem appropriate but do remember the lesson about not jerking the fly back toward the surface when doing this. It is during these mends that you may or should be following the cast and swing of your fly with the rod tip. The follow comes natural because you will end up pointed right where you think that fly is at the end of each mend motion. You’ll find that with rods between 13 and 15 foot in length it doesn’t take much effort to make the floating line respond to a gentle flip of the rod / tip. Did I mention to be sure your line is clean and floating as high and dry as it can? I guess not and it’s time, I have been using Glide from Loon Outdoors and it seems to do a good job. Having that line bobbing along like a cork makes all the other pieces come together much better. You will find a sticky thread in the Spey forums here; How to make The Braided Connector For Your Welded Loop Spey Line; If you scroll down past the How To pictures you’ll find how I make my sinking leader. This system keeps your fly line on the surface better than anything else I ever tried. I have stayed the course since 1994 using some variation of this for sinking my flies. Whether or not you choose to try the novel way that I sink the fly will be up to you but if you do you may find that it leaves your line floating and allows for easy pickup and sweep when you are ready to cast again. 

Looking again at the diagram that I so finely crafted

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We have now determined that we are indeed following the fly with the rod tip as it courses the stream or river. However we are following in relation to that series of light flips or the rod tip we’re making to offer more time to sink to the fly and less drag from the current on the line between you – the rod tip and the fly. Good, we’re keeping it down as best we can all things considered. During all this focus and control the fly will pass through your ten O’ clock and advance through the 11 area. It is here you may want to consider the mends marked ‘C’. These are down stream mends made ever so gently so as not to greatly disturb the swinging fly. They do however have an effect that we sometimes fail to consider. The downstream mend allows for a very slight pause in the flies movement followed by an acceleration in swim speed and a slight change of direction. The size or sharpness of radius put into the loop thrown into the downstream mend will alter the direction the fly is traveling. The fly will deviate from the rather wide down and across path it has been following in relation to your position and take a more lateral cross current path before returning to the radial swing. This cross current action is what was known as the Grease Line Technique. Remember you & the rod are the fulcrum point in this angler velocity exercise, everything else is moving much more than either of you. You do have the control tool in that rod and floating line if you learn to utilize them to their fullest degree. With each ‘small’ downstream mend the fly will seek to realign itself with the new radius you have created in the floating line. I have found over and over that this slight variation in speed and direction is the trigger for many a grabbed fly as I near that last portion of the swing. 

Getting to the ‘D’ or Dangle point, that’s what this has been leading up to. Everything you’ve done since you made that unconscious strong mend before the fly landed has been designed to slow the swing and to keep the fly in the water as long and as effectively as possible to this point. Let us not be hasty once the fly has reached point ‘D’ okay? When the fly has reached it’s destination directly bellow your position without a bump that doesn’t mean the cast is over, not by a long shot. Depending on the depth of the water directly downstream a curious but not sold fish may follow the fly from any point of its journey to the point of the dangle. Let’s for the sake of finishing this discussion that the water straight down below ‘you’ in the diagram is at least 18″ deep OK? Remember, don’t be in a hurry if the water bellow is not so shallow that you’ll get stuck. You are not done with fishing this cast. 

Here’s that work of art one more time;

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Considering that the ‘you’ is you, when you look past your left shoulder you see there is a significant amount of water between the straight down dangle and shore. It never hurts to make at least a couple mend flips with your rod tip to your left and shore. These are the ‘E’ mends and I like to make them in both directions before I sweep up the line. E stands for extra fishing on a cast and if you flip a loop toward shore then one back toward the straight down dangle you’ll see how the fly follows your leading loop. Be patient and allow the fly to make its course and not only might you get a bonus grab you’ll get some fly to fly line reference material for further use. If there is a fish hanging just below your fly trying to figure out just what the heck it is this may be all it takes to get commitment and a grab. Whenever you are in fishy areas every cast should be played until you start feeling stupid about it. Another good habit is; while on the dangle release about a foot of line to allow the fly to drop straight down a bit. Then gently lift the rod tip to move back upstream. I have caught enough trout doing this that it is part of my cast at least 75% of the time. 

The hookup; generally when a fish gives an honest effort to grab and escape with the fly anywhere between 11:00 and the dangle they will hook themselves. You feel the pull and all you need at that time is to lift making sure it’s really there. At that point I like to keep tension with my free hand on the line and point directly at the fish. Tighten the line tension with the free / line hand pulling firmly back and lift that rod a little harder. In many cases that will finish the job and the fish is on solidly. 

When you are using articulated flies or any pattern having a long tail being jumpy when you feel a tap will not lead to more hooked fish. Quite often it’ll be less and you may very well spook them from even trying again because of your abrupt reaction to the tap or bump. Consistently hooking and holding trout or steelhead on a streamer fished as I have laid out here requires good nerves and self control. I have caught fish after feeling them tapping repeatedly on my swimming fly as many as 3 or more identical casts and swings. The fact that they finally got hooked alone is testament that I never flinched and struck back.  

I will write a thread about hooking fish soon. There’s more to it than luck, believe me. What we call the come back fish, one who follows again and again tapping and bumping but not hitting hard enough to become hooked could be an article on its own. Knowing how to judge where they go after a failed attempt to capture the fly is another part of the catching puzzle. Do I always catch fish? Well…………….. I can usually raise something unless they are just plain shut down so I actually believe my experiences could be useful to some folks.

Ard

The Trout;

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The very best fun of the year was seeing the fellows catch trout. Unlike salmon fishing there was no pressure because the trout were everywhere and they provided some memorable days for each angler. These are some of the trout of 2014, everyone caught plenty of trout. The size range of these fish runs from 13″ to 22 – 23 inches. Average catches will be 15 – 18 inch rainbows. There are a lot of pictures on this post so take your time and enjoy the absolutely beautiful coloration of these marvels of nature.

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Fish0165      Fish0157Fish0152      Fish0164Fish0155      Fish0148

Not many Grayling at all this year, I don’t know why.

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Everyone had to stop and admire the fish at least once or twice. however some fellows caught and released a great many fish each day with hardly a photo snapped. The trout fishing when combined with the scenery and solitude are second to none.

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Now this last picture……….. you had to be there to get the irony of this. Chris is from Switzerland, he learned to Spey cast on day 2 of his week long fishing trip. During his days he was catching a lot of really nice trout and I believe he became desensitized to the fact that these fish were big and fat. I kept urging him to allow more pictures but he just kept on unhooking trout and casting again. He told me that when he caught a really big one we would take a picture. When I saw this fish on his line and he was so far from shore I tried to get him to come in with the fish. Finally I called for him to “lift the head” so I could tell how large it was.

He did this.

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Of course I hollered “No No not like that”. Oops, that ten pound test popped like 6X tippet. The knot attached to that tube fly hook broke when the trout protested a split second after I took the picture.  I know now that I should have ran out to net it but honestly he was catching a fish every other cast. He was just reeling them and unhooking them one after another and told me we didn’t have to mess with a net……………. As far as we know it was unharmed but with a size 6 trailer hook  stuck in the tip of the bottom jaw. The tube fly was retrieved when it fell free but we never had a chance to have a good look at the trout. The fisherman is 6 foot 2 inches tall and I’m guessing that trout to be the largest ‘landed’ all year, perhaps an honest 26 inch or a little more. I myself as well as others have hooked some truly large trout this past year, the problem is getting them into a net before they escape………………… Great catch Chris!

There were hundreds of rainbows caught in 2014 and I’m going after some just as soon as this winter is over. If you decide to come up I’ll be taking you with me on another adventure to where we can fish in peace.

Ard

Spey casting with Life On The Line;

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A Good Shot

In short, I am a Spey caster who uses floating lines ranging from 45′ Scandi lines to 70′ long bellies. I know where the best water to swing flies for salmon and trout are on my regular rivers and believe that positions me to be a good guide to other long rod fly fishers. I am just now beginning to update the website with what I hope will be useful articles about the flies – tackle – and techniques I use here to feel some life on the line as often as I can.  Please keep the site bookmarked and check for new posts as we head into 2015. Your comments and questions will be answered promptly as long as I am home and not working at the cabin.

Fishing the 2 hand rods here is the very best way to approach the various conditions on the rivers I fish. They allow for casting a wide range of fly sizes and weights and will enable the skilled caster to reach the holding water where those fish are at. I have begun using a lot of tube flies and Sculpin patterns with great success. The few flies I’ve posted above are all proven fish getters and I will be providing some step by step tying posts as January takes over Alaska.

For those who are new to the Spey rods and wanting to learn how they work I have a matched set of rods and lines especially for instruction and for your use. The outfit rods are 11 and 1/2 foot Hardy Swifts in 7 weight and are lined with 475 grain Beulah Elixir short Scandi lines. They are easy casting and make learning the basics a snap as in Snap T. There are also 13′ eight weights for once you have the basics working and the longer rods will enable you to reach more fish.

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Above; a nice rainbow and some Wilkinson Sunray tubes that the trout grab.

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Above; An orange tube design and small Green Butt Dee pattern both very good patterns.

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Above; One of my best Sculpin patterns and a salmon who took a small shank tied fly.

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Above; A typical fall rainbow and the fly that will catch them.

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And that’s me looking way too serious, I’m working on my smiling fish pictures but most look like this.

 

 

Trout & Silver Salmon Fishing from 2014;

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Thus far while the salmon returns can be hard to predict the rainbow trout continue to support day to day angling with some of the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen caught daily. In order to experience trout fishing at its best multi day trips are necessary. This is due to the locations we will be fishing for the trout. The easiest way to reach the best river in South central Alaska is by air and I will be happy to help you arrange the most affordable transit into the Interior. Once you are on the ground I will meet your plane and finish the transport via river boat to a camp that will serve as our home until your departure. Here in Alaska there are few roads compared to wherever you may be used to fishing. There are roads that cross many streams but as you may suspect those access areas suffer a great deal of pressure. There are places that see very little fishing pressure but those are the ones that require some logistics planning to reach.

The trout take up all the slack in a days fishing and they average right around 18 inches in size. Throughout the season they continue to increase in weight as they feed like crazy all spring – summer and fall. This makes for fishing where the fly pattern does not matter as much as your ability to cast to where we need that fly to land. Below are a few of the trout and silvers that were caught in 2014.

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David with Trout0129
Brad with Silver0132
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Gary With Fish0027
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Every trout was released unharmed and those pictures were staged with just a quick lift of the trout or salmon to provide some memories. Many, many more fish were caught but I won’t bore you with a never ending string of photos. The fishermen also caught Chum and Pink salmon as well as a few Grayling and Char. All in all a great days fishing for everyone and those who were here know who you are…………

Ard