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

Video on Streamer Fishing Techniques

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This is something long overdue, I have created a video. Please bear with the first 2 minutes 30 seconds but there is a reason I put those 3 casts in the program. That reason is to demonstrate that the method for rigging lines I will show you does work, they cast well. After those first couple minutes I’ll pitch into what I think may be useful to many viewers and readers of this set of articles I have here in this blog. The video is the visual companion to the two articles you can find directly below this entry on the page here.

I have met many anglers who have traveled great distances to fish for salmon, steelhead and trout. Most everyone has plenty of tackle but sometimes they are lacking in a very important way, technique for fishing submerged flies. Whether you are headed to the Great Lakes tributaries, The Maritime Provinces, Pacific North West or here to Alaska you will do yourself right by taking time in advance of that trip to practice the style fishing needed at your destination. Just recently I read a question of a fishing forum posted by a fellow leaving for his first steelhead trip in 3 days; “How Do You Rig For Steelhead?” Honestly folks, three days isn’t when you want to start asking or more importantly practicing about or for your trip.

You can practice salmon and steelhead fishing techniques anywhere that there is moving water. The presence of the target species is not necessary at all just to familiarize yourself with techniques. I have provided the link to the video below and there are 2 articles on the same subjects right here too.

I hope you find these things helpful and your comments are always welcome.

Because fish seem to be something we all can agree on I will update with a few recent catches. All of these species were caught using the rigging and techniques I describe in my articles and the video linked above.

Pacific Silver Salmon;
1000

Another Silver;
1001

Steelhead Trout
Keni Anchor Trip0970

Another Steelhead, a fresh one.
Keni Anchor Trip0981

I could go on but will save them for another entry, the point of the pictures was to support my advice given here.

Thanks for reading,

Ard

Let’s check our fly boxes………….

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One terrific thing about Alaska’s wild fishes is that you can very effectively make use of all those traditional fly patterns that you have been admiring & perhaps tying for years. You may have trouble finding fish who wallop a ‘Freight Train’ or ‘Skykomish’ Sunrise in your local river but they will take them here. That is the primary reason for my adhering to the traditional patterns and presentation methods in my fishing here.

In this opening salvo on the blog will list some patterns that have been proven to catch all the various fish that are in the waters I frequent. Your ties need not be perfect, mine aren’t……….. Therefor this post is meant to act as more of a “What should I tie or buy for fishing in AK with Ard” suggestion list. Original design patterns have the prefix – Ard’s along with their pattern name.

To keep the flies simple we’ll start with Hair Wing & synthetic patterns.

‘Click images for a closeup view of patterns, use your browser’s back button to return to page’

AK. Assassin

All 2011 Nikon Pictures Oct 30933

Species: King Salmon

Hook: 2/0 for Kings
Tail: Two bunch’s of hackle fibers one hot pink and one chartreuse
Butt: Chartreuse synthetic chenille
Body: Pink synthetic chenille
Underwing: Pink crystal flash, Make it long and lay it along the body
Wing: Opaque white poly yarn
Top: More pink crystal flash don’t be afraid to make it long enough so it will trail the fly.

[Please Note] The AK. Assassin has caught over 30 king Salmon in the past 3 seasons since I made it my first choice fly. I have no doubt it will catch again this season, 2013. They are sold in stores here but not this big and without the ‘bling’. I will provide these for King fishing.

Ard’s Freight Train Variant
All 2011 Nikon Pictures Oct 30780

Species: All Salmon – Rainbow / Steelhead Trout

Hook Sizes: 1.5 – 2 – 4  Your choice of hook brand

 Tied on a Diiachi 2051 size 1.5
Tail: Dyed hackle purple
Body: Rear half is golden yellow floss, front half red silk floss
Rib: Silver tinsel
Thorax: Blended dubbing – blue & purple sparkle dub
Under wing: Blue purple Crystal Flash
Wing: White hair your choice
Hackle: Dyed Shlapplin purple

Thor

SteelThor0001

Species: All Salmon – Rainbow / Steelhead Trout

Hook: Sizes 2/0 – 4 your choice of style

Shown on Daiichi 2055 #3 gold
Tail: Red wool yarn / per  preference
Body: Claret yarn or dubbing, I dub this body and build to suite
Hackle: A nice full Dk. Brown saddle hackle as a collar and swept back a bit
Wing: White calf tail

Skykomish Sunrise
Skykomish Sunrise0001

Species: All Salmon – Rainbow / Steelhead Trout

Hook: Single salmon #2/0 – 4
Tail: Orange & yellow hackle barbs, stacked
Body: Reddish orange wool, chenille, or spun fur ribbed with heavy gold tinsel
Wing: White buck tail or Polar Bear
Collar: Orange and yellow hackles wound in that order, orange first.
Head: Red or black

Ard’s Double Dare

Double Dare

Species: King Salmon

Hook Size 2/0 – 2 your choice of hook style

Hook: Here I use a 2/0 single hook
Tag: Heavy French Braid in gold
Tail: Two Gold pheasant crests dyed scarlet red
Tip: Rear section is scarlet red floss, front is black floss. This tipping makes up half the hook shank
Body: Black chenille
Hackle: A scarlet red Spey hackle is palmered over the black chenille body and then finished as a collar
Ribbing: Beginning at the black floss tip heavy French Braid brought forward and covering the hackle stem for strength
Wing: Up top place a full bunch of white calf tail

Max Canyon

Max canyon0001

Species: All Salmon – Rainbow / Steelhead Trout

Hook: Standard Salmon size 2/0 – 4
Tail: 2  generous bunches of hackle tips, orange on bottom white on top
Body: Rear 2/3 deep orange wool – front 1/3 black Mohair yarn
Rib: Medium gold oval tinsel
Hackle: Black Schlappen
Wing: Orange buck tail with some sparse Polar Bear or substitute over top, top it off with white buck tail
Head: Black

Ard’s Bush Doctor

Bush Doctor Spey Spey starboard view0001

Species: Silver Salmon

Hook: Single salmon #3
Thread: Black
Tag: Flat silver tinsel
Tip: Doctor blue floss
Butt: Dyed ostrich, red
Body: Wide flat silver tinsel ribbed with oval silver tinsel
Hackle: Silver Doctor blue Spey hackle
Wing: Silver Fox body hair
Head: Switch to 05 red silk and finish with multiple coats of lacquer to achieve a beautiful garnet like finish

That group of six hair wing patterns will make a decent selection for salmon fishing and often times a trout will grab onto any one of them, that’s why I listed trout & steelhead trout along with salmon as species specific for the patterns.

For targeting trout – char – and grayling I use patterns that are smaller and somewhat more delicate in both their construction and the appearance in the water when in use. Many of the patterns use more subtle color schemes and are designed to imitate the salmon and other various species who’s spawning produce large numbers of ‘fry & fingerling’s’ that fill the rivers and creeks here. So with that as an explanation I’ll go forward and display my very best patterns for the game fish other than salmon.

‘The Trout – Char & Grayling selection’

These first 2 patterns are by far the number one fish catching flies I have tied to a leader since making my first cast in Alaska’s rivers & creeks. They are based on the feather wing streamer “Nine Three’ which originated in Maine many years ago. I made certain artistic changes to the original patterns to the extent that I felt I could call them ‘Ard’s’ patterns, and I do. Almost every trout or steelhead picture in the photo gallery here on the web site was caught on one of these 2 fly patterns and I continue to use them every season with great results.

Ard’s Nine Three streamer style

Ard's Nine Three0001

Species: Rainbow / Steelhead Trout – Char – Grayling

Hook: Long shank ring or ball eye streamer hook size 2 – 6
Tag: Flat silver
tinsel
Butt: Black ostrich
Body: Flat silver tinsel, I like the old metal type for the weight factor
Throat: Sparse white buck tail hair
Wings: Two Olive saddles over which are two black saddles tied upright
Shoulder topping: Black crystal flash tied on both sides of fly, long
Cheeks: Jungle cock

Ard’s Nine Three, Spey dress style

Ard's Nine Three Spey Dress0001_1

Species: Rainbow / Steelhead Trout – Char & Grayling

Hook: A.J. Steelhead iron size 3 or any similar hook
Tag: Flat silver tinsel
Butt: Black ostrich herl
Body: Flat metallic silver tinsel ribbed with oval silver tinsel
Wing: Paired slips of goose shoulder feather dyed olive green
Collar: Goose shoulder, bleach burned and dyed jet black ‘choose long fiber feathers for this pattern’
Cheeks: Jungle cock

Ard’s Red Head

Red Head0001

Species: Char – Rainbow Trout

Hook: A.J. Steelhead iron size #3, or similar
Tag: Flat Gold tinsel
Body: Dubbed with blended opossum, claret & black, use what you can find that’s close
Rib: Heavy French braid gold, ribbed over all; tag and body
Hackle: Goose shoulder feather bleach burned and dyed rusty red (Rite Dye)
Wing: An under-wing of polar bear or similar white hair, veiled with brown mallard flank
Head: Finished with bright red / orange lacquer paint

Green Butt Skunk

Green Butt Skunk Spey0001

Species: Char – Grayling – Trout

Hook: #4 single salmon, I use a Partridge Bartleet #4 here
Thread: Black
Tag: Flat silver tinsel
Tip: Light green floss ribbed with flat silver tinsel
Tail: A bunch of red hackle fibers
Body: Black dubbing (choice) palmered with a black saddle hackle and ribbed with heavy oval silver tinsel
Collar: Guinea hackle
Wing: White hair, Skunk or whatever is handy, I use deer tail on most

Jock O’ Dee

All 2011 Nikon Pictures Oct 31300

Species: Grayling just Love this! Trout too

Hook: I tie on Partridge Bartleet #4 & 6 hooks
Tag: Oval silver tinsel
Tail: I use a small bunch of orange hackle fibers with a golden pheasant crest feather  topping
Body: Butt section is lemon yellow silk floss or rayon, the front is black silk or floss
Rib: Silver tinsel, flat / silver twist
Hackle: Gray hackle (long fibers) wound Spey style, I use Blue Eared Pheasant or gray Schlappen feather
Throat: Widgeon flank or similar
Wings: Cinnamon turkey or Brown Turkey (these are tied in the ‘Dee’ fashion, if you don’t tie I may have some for use)

Santiam Spectrum variation

Santiam Spectrum0001

Definitely not for the fly tying beginner but a great Char Catcher.

Hook: AJ. #2
Tag: Half silver, half gold, flat tinsel
Body: Rear is red floss, front is dark purple dubbed hair, your choice
Ribbing: Flat gold counter wrapped with oval tinsel
Hackle: Purple spey feather
Collar: Purple saddle with Teal flank
Under wing: 2 strands each of red, pink, and orange floss strands
Wing: Brown mallard flank
Good luck with that, I don’t find these easy to tie.

A Couple Feathered Salmon Specials, not as simple as a hair wing but will catch the salmon.

Ard’s Orange Amnesia

Amnesia Orange0001

Species: All Salmon

Hook: Daiichi 2051 single size 1.5
Thread: Black
Tag: Oval silver tinsel
Tip: Orange floss tied long
Butt: A black saddle hackle wound and angled back; over this is a bunch of orange hackle fibers as a tail
Body: Orange dubbing of your choice picked out a bit
Ribbing: Wide embossed silver tinsel
Wing: A sparse bunch of long black bear or dyed buck tail
Hackle: Goose shoulder that is bleach burned and dyed bright orange

Ard’s Chartreuse Amnesia

Amnesia 0001

Species: Salmon

Hook: Daiichi 2051 single size 1.5
Thread: Black
Tag: Flat medium silver tinsel, use metal tinsel not Mylar, the latter will not hold up well.
Tip: Chartreuse floss tied very long
Butt: A nice black saddle hackle wound and angled back toward bend of hook
Body: Chartreuse green floss
Ribbing: Wide embossed silver tinsel followed with a chartreuse green spey hackle
Wing: A sparse bunch of long black bear or buck tail dyed black
Collar: A bright yellow saddle hackle

That should do for a starter selection of traditional fly patterns for fishing in Alaska. I am a fly tier and so I make these to fish with, you do not have to have flies like what I have listed here. however, staying close to the sizes and color schemes would be a good thing. Many people are now fishing the Intruder style flies and I understand that they catch well. If you have flies already prepared for a trip then you are set to go.

You may have noticed that my flies are not weighted. If you wish, I can set you up with a leader which I make that will take your un-weighted flies to where the fish are. i will make an entry here regarding the leader and how it is configured so that you can build your own. They have been the staple of my wet fly fishing for 20 years and you may find them very useful also.

Ard