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Skins & Fins Film by Drew Stoecklein Check out some of our B.C. fly fisher/skier friends as they embark on a 13 day fly fishing and backcountry ski adventure out in Terrace:
Sage Technical Service Manager, Chris Andersen, just got back from steelhead fishing Southwest Alaska. After putting some of our gear to the test, check out what he has to say.
Just back from my annual trip to some of my old guide waters in Southwest Alaska fishing with my friend Patricia from Blue Fly B&B. It was truly just like old times, the average fish was from around 26-28 inches with fish into the 30’s…..all chrome bright and as hot as the hottest steelhead I’ve ever fought…only these were native Alaskan trout! If you’re ever planning a trip to the Naknek, Blue Fly has an awesome B&B and a fantastic guide service.
I used the new METHOD 8126-4 with the new Sage 2210 reel and connect core shooting line and the new Skagit Max Short (625 grain). The METHOD spey… what can I say other than amazing, simply amazing. I was fishing some very large, heavy, wind resistant, water soaking flies in the occasional 50 mph wind and that rod delivered the goods despite the demanding situations. The METHOD had tons of soul and it fought fish well without being too overpowering. The new 2200 series reels performed flawlessly. What a great reel for the price! I really like the new RIO non-stretch connect core shooting lines and the new heads to go along. I noticed a huge difference between the standard and non-stretch cores when it comes to feel and sensitivity when fishing the line as well as hook sets and holding the fish once you have them pinned. For the angler who fishes hardcore destinations, be it Alaska or our own Olympic Peninsula rainforest rivers during Winter steelhead season, there’s simply nothing better than this setup.
Chris Andersen, Sage Technical Service Manager
Here is part two of Sage ambassador Al Buhr’s guide to popping for Steelhead. Click here to see part one.
Reading a rise can be telling in what to do next. Solid hook-ups are like a free pass, making life simple. However, solid hook-ups only account for 20 to 40 percent of surface rises. A fish rising and missing the fly can be for countless reasons and can be a little mysterious. It can be frustrating to have a fish rise with a tightly closed mouth, content on drowning the fly, but it happens. In contrast, shark attacks and leaping explosions happen, too. The core task is to observe fish rise and decide to either come back with the popper or change to a small wet fly on the next cast. In any technique, surface or wet fly, there are subtle aspects that are mastered with use that make great gains. Use the visual response by the fish to your advantage. Read the rise, judge how the fish is responding and adjust the comeback to get the hook-up.
With a surface fly, observing a short rise is obvious most of the time. In contrast, a wet fly is more difficult to detect a short take, and is easy to pass over, undetected. So, when working a surface fly, plan for the short rises as a part of the game. Accept the likely odds that around 7 out of 10 rises will be short and factor in a preplan. Counter missed rises with a comeback plan to improve the outcome.
My check list in a comeback game plan:
Keeping the fly pattern simple can help improve the odds in getting solid takes. There are many steelhead surface patterns, each having some claim to fame or magical powers. Fly choice is personal; it can be a source of innovation, or ineffective glitter. A skating surface fly can be open to variations, whereas a popping bug has more specific performance needs that dictate pattern construction. Not all surface flies excel at popping. To extract what is function and what is glitter, its best to list some core requirements of a good performing popping bug:
In a search for the best functional popping bug, I have consistently found patterns with a tapered cigar or torpedo-shaped body best. A cigar-tapered body has a uniform shape (from all angles) and tends to skate in nearly all water types (fast, medium, slow), even if driven under the surface by the initial cast. The round tapered body will skate from right or left banks without extra care to the side the riffle-hitch is tied. This is not proper riffle-hitch technique, but works and is simple. When using a ‘walk-the-dog’ retrieve, a more blunt-ended torpedo shaped bug can work well without the need of a hitch.
Moose hair, packed tight when tied, or neoprene foam (weather stripping) will reliably float for an extended time. Moose is very durable and easy to clip the body shape. Foam is simple and quick to tie. A moose hair ‘Buck bug’ is modest and works good for popping. A simple neoprene foam body with legs works well for a ‘walk-the-dog’ approach. Both patterns are simplistic in form and function, with a good reliable performance that lasts all day.
A trick I use to improve the solid hook-up ratio is to twist the hook bend, tilting the hook point off to the side. Occasionally a hook will break, so this is best done before tying the fly. To twist the hook: grip the hook point parallel with the shank, and then grip the shank (if hook is bare) or fly body. Twist carefully, turning to point about 10 degrees to one side. When fishing the fly, use a riffle-hitch, tying the hitch to the side the hook point cants. This is important; tie the hitch in to align with the hook point. With the hitch tightened, the canted hook point and leader (knotted to the side of the bug) will align (when tensioned). With the hook point and leader in alignment, penetration is easy. Moreover, with the hook point canted, the point is exposed and not concealed under the fly body. By having the hook point canted with the hitch aligning the leader, the fly is lethal. When a fish grabs the fly, it’s hooked. The odds just got better.
In my observations, popping invokes an instinctive predator reaction. A strike can come from any commotion of the bug; either the initial cast, or as it works across. As a strategic aspect, defining where and how the cast and popping is presented can provoke or compel a strike to happen. The strategic aspect of compelling a fish to strike is one element in the game. A bug chugging across the surface radiates a compulsive and spontaneous attitude, giving a ‘spaghetti western’ spin to the game; anything can happen. What sparks a steelhead to rise also draws other fish to strike. A wide range of fish: trout, smallmouth bass, whitefish and coarse fish, will attack a popping bug. It is an added bonus; anything that swims is fair game.
To some extent there is a level of expectation and uncertainty in each cast. There is expectation of a rise, yet unclear as to what will rise and how the rise will happen. Expectation, infused with uncertainty, makes popping a compelling obsession. At a minimum, popping will test personal preconceived notions to presenting a fly to steelhead. It’s all good.
Al is an avid steelhead fly fisher in the Northwest, and associated with Sage for many years. He enjoys teaching fly casting, is a FFF certified Master, certified THCI, and FFF Board of Governor.
He is an author of two books on fly fishing:
Two-Handed Fly Casting, Spey Casting Techniques, a comprehensive guide to learning spey casting.
How to Build Fly Lines, a complete guide to making custom fly lines.
I started popping for steelhead by chance. I was swinging a wet fly with a twitch, an effective technique for half-pounders. Fishing was good, so a change in tactics was timely. I switched to a surface fly, and without thinking, the ingrained routine of twitching the wet fly automatically engaged. The fly skated and popped a few times, and ‘wham!’, a big surge and steelhead on. At that moment, I realized the fly was skating and popping and soon I became obsessed with this technique. Countless times I have been amazed at the effectiveness of popping. I have had many unbelievable situations and incredible takes with popping. The first photo is one example of many impossible moments. The iced rod guides and ice-coated rocks hint at the below-freezing temperatures that popping is effective in. The fish pictured is the second of three landed in the pool and one of many in extreme conditions.
Popping a skating fly is a quick and effective way to search for steelhead. The key word is ‘search’, as it is extremely effective in getting a fish to boil, while less effective in actual hook-ups. However, once a fish is located, via the initial rise, a choice can be made to come back with the surface bug or change to a wet fly. Coming back with a wet fly will have higher odds of getting a solid grab. For several years, I have cross-checked popping by following back through with a wet fly. Nearly always, the popper located more fish in the run. When reversing this experiment by having the popper follow after the wet fly, occasionally an additional fish would show. Popping has a few weak points, but is outweighed by its strengths, such as quickly locating fish.
What is popping all about? This technique combines both skating and popping the fly. The popping technique is more intense and versatile than skating alone, and has a wider angle-of-change, around 45 to 60 degrees. If needed, a wide angle-of-change (as much as 90 degrees) can be made by using a ‘pop-and-strip’ technique. ‘Pop-and-strip’ is done by cracking a pop, and then following with a smooth strip to remove any slack and maintain the fly’s presence on the surface. Creating a presence on the surface is important and defined by some motion to the fly disturbing the surface, even if it is not waking. This presence on the surface, waking or not, will better guide a fish to the fly.
To visualize the popping technique in another way: imagine you and a friend are in a crowded airport lobby. Needing the friend’s attention, you turn and call ‘hey’. The friend turns back, looking at you. A short, clear call gets the desired attention. Now, in the same setting, you shout ‘HEY!!!’ loudly. The friend and all others move away as security moves in; not good. So, a streaking outburst is not presentable. Visualizing a short attention-getting ‘hey’ is a clear picture to the principle of popping. This technique is about creating spunky pop to make the bug stand out, creating interest. If overdone, the commotion becomes a distraction. When popping, don’t shout; more is not better.
Popping is a short-line game with an effective distance of around 50 to 60 feet. At distances beyond 70 feet, it can be difficult to make the pops crisp, and consequently it becomes less productive. When working at 40-feet and closer, greater care must be given to the approach and wading. A short-line game requires a level of stealth; often you are working within the comfort zone of holding fish. When working short, extra caution is needed and is well worth the experiences gained with the action happening up close.
This popping technique is effective in all water types. Pocket water can be searched effectively at various angles. In a classic steelhead run, one can start popping in the riffle, moving non-stop to the end of the tailout. Popping can draw fish from a distance, so a slightly faster pace through the run can be used in comparison to wet flies. The ideal popping water is much like perfect wet fly water; a soft flow of three to six feet deep with good rock.
Step one in this game is getting the right tool. To effectively twitch a fly, a responsive fast to medium-fast action rod is needed. The key word is responsive; how the rod reacts to a command. Add in the stealth aspect of the short-line game, and spey casting becomes a necessity. The TCX rods have been a good choice. However, the ONE rods have the edge as the perfect steelhead popping rod. The Konnetic graphite construction makes for a more responsive and durable rod shaft. The ONE rod has spunk without the feeling of a stiff stick, providing a sharp pop of the bug with ease. A rod that is more responsive also makes for a better spey casting rod. I used a 691 in tight spots where long casts were needed and this rod performed awesome. The 691 ONE has lifting power too, handling 6 to 9 pound fish without a problem.
When popping, presentation matters. The ‘pop’ must be short and crisp. It is critical that the bug moves a minimal distance, less than a few inches. In teaching this technique, most attempting to ‘pop’ use their wrist and forearm, resulting in the bug streaking across the surface. Moving the bug three or more inches is less productive. Popping is about creating momentary attention to the bug; not an alarming streak.
Two variations to this technique: popping and ‘walk-the-dog’. Popping is a short and distinctly crisp movement of the bug, whereas, ‘walk-the-dog’ is a more passive rock or wiggle of the bug. Both methods work well and can substitute for the other. That said, each method will excel in specific situations. A crisp pop can be more effective in pocket water, deep holding lies, riffles and fast water (places where greater awareness of the fly is desired). The more passive method of ‘walk-the-dog’ works well in quiet water, or when close and fish are wary, and with long casts where a pop is not sharp, or when a two-handed rod is used.
The skinny on how to pop effectively:
Making a spunky pop without streaking is essential. A sharp pop comes from a flick of the rod shaft. In contrast, most perceive popping as snapping the wrist, which creates a streak to the movement. A streaking or strip movement may work for bait fish patterns, but is far less effective in raising a steelhead.
A distinct pop is best made with a tightening of the hand-grip in a sharp clinch. Do this by the rod hand relaxing the grip, slightly opening the fingers, and then snapping into a tight clinch. Some twitching of the wrist is included, yet the hand clinching tight is the dominate energy source to a snappy pop. When the hand-grip relaxes, the rod lowers, slightly creating slack and then immediately snaps the line tight, creating a sharp pop while only moving the bug an inch or two.
Here’s the step-by-step ‘how to’:
To pop with a single-hand rod or a switch rod:
Popping with a two-handed rod is doable, utilizing a slightly different technique. Because of the length, a two-handed rod responds slower than a single-hand or a switch rod. A sluggish responding rod can be difficult to pop a fly with, via a rod twitch. With a two-handed rod, use the line hand to twitch or tug the fly line, causing the fly to pop. Using a hand twitch may take some practice to get the short and sharp pops in play. A good alternative is the ‘walk-the-dog’ method, using the line hand to work and rock the bug as it skates.
To pop with a two-handed rod:
Start with the fly skating across the surface.
The passive alternative, ‘walk-the-dog’, is effective and easy to do. This method is done similar to popping, and is less intense. It is just a rocking the surface bug as it skates. The rod tugs the line, rocking the bug, rather than causing a sharp pop. In teaching surface fishing techniques, ‘walk-the-dog’ is the easier for most to master.
To make the bug walk, use a similar method as popping, just soften the hard snap or twitch. When using a single-hand rod, use the rod to rock the bug. With a two-handed rod, use the line-hand to work the fly line, nudging the fly. Make the rock distinctive; the motion is just one notch lower than a pop. Use a 3 or 4 count timing between rocking strokes. In slower moving water, allow the bug to travel around 4 feet between nudges. A ‘pop-and-strip’ technique can be modified to walk a bug across tanky-slow water. When ‘walk’n-the-dog’, try a simple small bug with legs that will pulse with each tug.
Popping demands focus in working the fly. It is important to see how the fly is coming across the surface. The fly must be on the surface waking between pops. If the bug is submerged under the surface, it’s not likely to raise a fish. When popping, the pops must be short, and ideally spit a little. If using a ‘walk-the-dog’, the bug needs to shake or rock without traveling or streaking. A critical part in maintaining focus is reading the rise when it happens. Reading the rise is a story within itself, and will best guide you in making a good comeback choice.
To be continued… Look for part two tomorrow!
I grew up with a father who would drive anything as long as it was a Chevy. When I was old enough to drive I took a different path and fell in love with Land Rovers which I still drive to this day. I will shoot any camera as long as it is a Nikon. Fly any airline as long as it is Delta and I’ll fish any fly rod as long as it is Sage. Sound stubborn? Maybe, but there is something to be said about being loyal to a brand and the older I get the more I appreciate quality in workmanship, in performance, and in pride of ownership.
Board a Delta jet and watch CEO Richard Anderson on the monitor describe his airline to you. This is a guy who is obviously proud of his company and his people and the job they do. Anderson makes you feel safe and welcome to be aboard and I have felt safe for the past million miles that I have flown with Delta. Land Rover ads have forever taken us into the deepest parts of Africa and beyond. I’m talking about Land Rovers not Range Rovers – the trucks that have a mystic and personality about them. Tank-like and just plain ugly to some, others like me fell into a cult-like love affair with the darn things. When it comes to cameras my Nikons have rarely let me down even when I have unfortunately abused them. There is a certain feel and ruggedness about my Nikon SLRs and an distinct love-that-sound when you click the shutter. As Paul Simon once sang – Give me a Nikon camera I love to take a photograph….well, enough said.
Watch any of the Sage videos with rod designer Jerry Siem and you immediately know that this guy loves what he does. Siem is totally into it, ask him about any of the Sage models and we enter Jerry’s world of rod tapers, exotic materials and rod actions. Cast a Sage and you know in your hand you have the state-of-the-art in fly rod design and it is totally Siem. When I did my first Sage factory tour, I was overwhelmed by the amount of hands-on attention required to finish a fly rod. Certainly there is automation but the bottom line is a well-organized team of individuals who are as committed as Jerry is to producing the finest graphite fly rods in the world.
Last year my wife Cathy and I were hosting a group of anglers on the Bighorn River in Montana. We had arrived at the Billings airport three hours ahead of our group so we sat in the airport arrival area. Across from us a young man and his father were waiting for their checked bags to come out and I noticed that the boy had a Sage ONE rod tube across his lap. Cathy and I have worked for Sage for over twenty years and we fall loosely under the Marketing Department which means that we get paid to promote Sage. I know – not a bad gig. Our job includes saying thank you to customers that we meet and who like us are Sage fans, so I got up and walked over, introduced myself to the father and son and said thanks for buying the Sage rod.
The young boy’s father told me a story that eventually morphed into this blog. His son decided that he was going to buy his first fly rod. He had been using a hand me down from his grandfather that turned out to be an old Sage RP. After visiting the Sage web site and then a trip to his local fly shop he decided on a Sage ONE . His dilemma was the price, he was a senior in high school and had a part-time job after school but funds were short and the price was high so the fly shop clerk suggested another brand that he said would work just as well as the Sage and was much more affordable.
The boy said no thank you it was going to be the Sage or nothing at all, so he took a second part time job on weekends and in time saved enough money to buy the ONE. This was his first trip to Montana, a graduation gift from his parents, and it was also the maiden voyage for his new rod. The look on his face told the whole story, the excitement of the trip and the pride in the fly rod that he held across his lap. I went back to my bag and pulled out two Sage hats, a couple of decals, and a few extra flies to use with his new rod. I gave them to the young man and thanked him once again for his support and watched them walk away to collect the luggage.
This was not the first time that I’ve seen this kind of loyalty, but at the moment it made me think of my own life and my commitment to a brand. I think it simply boils down to the pride we have in owning and using a product that really means something to us. Maybe something that we’ve sacrificed and waited for, for no other reason than we wanted the best. Knowing that behind the brand there is also a commitment from the manufacturer to provide us with the best of the best. So I will continue to drive Land Rovers, shoot Nikons, fly Delta and of course fish Sage. Still sounds stubborn doesn’t it? Maybe. But I think not.
Team USA member and Sage employee Russ Miller wanted give us an update on the Americas Cup Fly Fishing Tournament that happened this past weekend in Vail Valley, CO. Have a look below.
Having a fishing competition during one of the biggest water events that Colorado has seen was a bit of a surreal experience. As rivers were reaching upwards of 10,000 cfs a group of 75 anglers were gathered to compete on some of Colorado’s best fishing venues. Watching the news made me wonder why we would be fishing in flood stage conditions, but the waters around the Vail Valley were in great shape and the massive flooding was isolated to the Northern Front Range. In fact the lower blue river flows dropped to half of what they were before the competition started, we were fishing low water about 225 cfs to be exact.
Since Vail announced that they are going to host the 2016 World Fly Fishing Championships the group of international anglers has increased. This year there was a Czech team, a Polish Team, and a dream team of ex-world Champions from around the globe. They were all there to do get a feel for what the 2016 Worlds are going to look like. These great teams are in addition to the top teams from around the country and also extending up into Canada. Needless to say that the competition in attendance was fierce.
This year there would be two river venues both on the Blue River, two loch style venues, one on Dillon Reservoir and one on Sylvan Lake, and to round things off there was a bank session on Black lake at the top of Vail Pass. Between the variety of water types and fisheries it would test anglers in a number of different situations and require top anglers to be well versed in a variety of techniques.
After five 3 hour sessions of pounding the rivers and lakes with everything from dries on 6x to streamers on sinking lines all who attended were totally exhausted from performing at peak performance. I know that I was. Why would one ever want to put themselves through the ringer instead of enjoying a day on the water? Its different for everyone, but for me its all about learning new ways to catch fish and innovating on the go. Plus its way to much fun, especially when you look back on it all.
I was lucky enough to be packing the best gear on the planet. The ESN rods in the 10ft 3wt and 4wt make the perfect river dry dropper rods and nymphing rods for the wild browns and bows on the Blue. I used my 5100-4 ONE with the In-Touch type 3 as my streamer rod on the rivers and predominately used the 5100-4 ONE in the lakes as well. Most fish were between 28 cm and 42 cm. The lighter rod helps protect smaller tippet and prevents me from losing smaller fish when fishing barbless flies. For the bank venue I brought along the 7100-4 ONE for more distance in an effort to cover more water, but found myself on the 5100-4 ONE, as I was using ultra-light tippet. This decision would eventually lead to my demise. As for reels, I have transitioned over to the new 2200 reels for all my RIO lake lines and they are proving to be a perfect solution for a great lake fishing reel. I can carry all the lake lines I need to target feeding fish in all the different water columns at an unbeatable price.
In the end, one fish on Black lake kept me out of the top 4 or maybe 3 and kept our team from getting a team Gold medal. I had her buttoned up with a dry on 6x and was bringing her in, after some aerial acrobatics, she was calm, under control and heading toward the bag when she surged one last time 6” from me. I decided to hold my ground and try to land her, the 17 in bow was stronger than my tippet. Sigh… Instead Team USA finished 3rd and we brought home bronze. Devin Olsen from Team USA got to take home the Cup this year and Team USA Youth continued their domination on the water and earned Gold. The international Naranja Dream Team tied Team USA in placing points, but edged us out on fish points . When all the dust had settled all the competitors shared many laughs, exchanged secret flies and techniques and cheered each other on waters well fished.
Team USA Youth – Gold
Team Naranja Fly Fishing Academy – Silver
Team USA – Bronze
Devin Olsen – Team USA – Gold
Yann Caleri – France – Silver
Pat Wiess – Team Freestone – Bronze
What an amazing experience and a BIG congrats goes out to all of the Medal earners that attended and made this a ultra-competitive memorable event . A full list of top finishers can be found at www.theamericacup.com
Until the next comp….