Friday, March 11, 2016

2016 Santa Rosa Tackle and Decoy Show

     Today was the first day of this year's tackle show in Santa Rosa, California. A buddy and I went last year and had an awesome time, while picking up some good deals on a few old reels. I believe I picked up an Ocean City model 71, Martin 61, and a JC Higgins 311-3115, which is a Sears Re-branded Ocean City 35. 

     A couple friends and I headed south again today to check it out, again with rods and reels on the mind... 

15 new rods to join my collection.
Most will be rebuilt, but a
few are ready to fish the way they are. 
     It didn't take me longer than reaching the end of the first row before I stumbled upon a deal that was too good to pass up. I was talking with a guy about vintage glass rods and looking through a few he was getting rid of, and the subject of building and restoration eventually came up, and he showed me some project rods he's looking to part with. With the great prices he had everything marked, he kicked me a deal I just couldn't turn down... 

Top to bottom:
Shakespeare Wonderod - 1952-54. This rod has no guides but will be a fun build. I'm not exactly sure what model or line weight yet. 
Herters RB6Y7F
Coast to Coast 777 - True Temper blanks built up for Coast to Coast Hardware stores. 
Garcia Conolon - Live Fiber Fanwing 411 model. 
Phillipson - MF66. This 6'6" 6 wt is a rod I've been keeping an eye out for for a while and a rod I'm looking forward to fishing. I think it's going to make a great rod for bass and carp in some of the smaller, brushy creeks I fish. 
Bristol Nyglax - I don't know, nor can I find a lot of info. I would love some info if anyone knows anything. 
Garcia Conolon - 8/9 wt. Companion. This rod could easily be fished as is. 
Phillipson - Master. Not sure of the model number or line weight, but this rod has no guides at the moment. The blank is extremely clean though. I'm looking forward to restoring and fishing this one. 
Shakespeare Wonderod - 1967-68. This one is one of the later Wonderods, on a nearly translucent white blank. While this rod is fishable the way it is, I'll likely rebuilt the entire thing. 
This guy's gotta have some stories.
Roddy - "Roddy Built Custom Rods." All I know is that Roddys were built in California and sold out to Berkeley toward the late 60s. This is another rod that's totally fishable as is, but will be getting a makeover at some point. 
Herter's - RB6H20
Wright & Mcgill - President Series 7wt. The finish on the blank here is pretty rough, but in time, it'll come out as another good project I think. 
     The only real issue I've found so far is the Phillipson MF66. It appears that this rod has been busted ahead of the grip, and repaired with some fiberglass and a ferrule. However, spooling it up, and putting tension on it, it looks like it'll hold up just fine... we'll let the fish decide. 

     Every time I handle an old rod or reel, I can't help but think about the stories these pieces of Americana must have, and how great it would be to hear them.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Tutorial: Congo Baitfish (Bluegill)

     This is one of my favorite baitfish patterns to tie and fish, as it can be tied and colored in a nearly endless combination of colors, whether you're trying to 'match the hatch' or tie something completely off the wall to get a reaction bite out of a sluggish fish.

     While it is a time consuming fly, it's still relative simple to tie.

Hook: Any straight shank, wide gape hook will work. I'm used a size 4 Allen SW001 Saltwater hook here.
Thread: Uni-Mono
Tail (Gill): Red Antron
Body: Uptown Angler Marsh Fibers or Fly Tyer's Dungeon Congo Hair
Eyes: 3D Eyes, matched to the size of the fly. I get most of mine from the Fly Tyer's Dungeon.

Starting behind the eye of the hook, wrap your mono to the start of the bend where you'll tie in your 'gills.'
At the start of the bend, tie in a small bunch of red Antron, double it back, and trim just past the end of the bend.
Taking two sparse clumps of body material, tie one, in the center, on the top and bottom of the hook shank.
Once tied in, pull the front halves back and make a few wraps directly in front of the clumps.
Repeat the last step numerous times until you've reached an eye's length from the eye of the hook.
Here you're ready for the last two clumps.
For the last two clumps, the top should remain the same, while the throat is a clump of contrasting color.

Trim the fly to a teardrop shaped profile.
Add your eyes using a drop of Zap a Gap or Tear Mender and color as you see fit.
For bluegill, I'll just add a couple purple bars and a black or blue spot on the gill using Copic markers.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Bluegill Days

     Growing up amongst countless miles of Northern California rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds, I probably caught my first bluegill before I could even walk. Although it wouldn't be until after my tenth birthday that I would feel that now familiar bend on a fly rod, there few things that remind me of childhood more than chasing bluegill on a warm summer afternoon. These are the Bluegill Days.

Decent sized late summer Bluegill
     Most fly fishermen have caught their fair share of bluegill, and they're becoming more and more popular a game fish every year, but I still think they're fairly underappreciated... especially since most folks don't have to travel far to find 'em. They abound in nearly every lake, city pond, canal, and river in the country, they make excellent table fare (or so I'm told), they put up a fight, and they can almost always be fooled into taking a hook.

     Most of the year, bluegill (and most other sunfish for that matter) can be caught on nymphs, but late spring through summer, and into early fall can provide some big excitement on small poppers and dry flies. For the sake of this post, I'm going to break it down into season, my favorite flies, and where I look for fish, followed by the gear I normally use.

Natural looking nymph tied with
some of my custom dubbing
     Spring: Spring is the beginning of the season for big slab bluegill. Spring is when big fish start moving into shallow water and start feeding in preparation for spawning, and although they may be less active than later in the year, once you can get a fly near some, you'll often get into some nice fish. Before and into the spawn, I like to fish natural looking nymphs, similar to those I'd fish for trout, and I fish them slow off of humps and along the outer edges of shoreline weeds.

Hogan's Hero in black and purple
     Summer: By the end of June, the Bluegill spawn is in full swing and the bigger fish have moved in shallower than they'll be most of the year, but the biggest fish will often be found just a little deeper than the fish you'll see along the shoreline. I'm not a big fan of catching fish off beds, so I'm usually searching for those that are either getting ready to spawn or have finished and are looking to put some weight back on. Just like spring, I like fishing nymphs, though, this time I'll throw something to get a little more attention. One of my favorites is my Hogan's Hero (a variant on Hogan's S&M Nymph) in black and purple. I'll fish it in 4-6 feet of water, and it'll often get picked up before it even reaches the bottom. Bead Head Woolly Buggers are usually a good bet as well. Once the spawn turns off, however, the biggest of the 'gills will often move back out into deeper water... this is when I'll wait until the late evening. 
Arizona Mini Hopper. One of my
favorite late season flies

     As exciting as the spawn season bite can be, nothing compares to a summer evening topwater bite. Foam poppers and spiders, Hoppers, and even your typical trout dry flies can provide some exciting, explosive action. If I find big fish, I'll fish my dries in the same places I've caught them on nymphs, or I'll make blind casts to likely holding places such as logs, rocks, current breaks, or reeds.

     Fall: The leaves are changing, the water is starting to cool, and the big fish are shallow again. Early fall signals that it's time for the fish to start loading up on protein, getting ready for a slow, lethargic winter. This is my second favorite time to throw nymphs and baitfish imitations, I'll fish the fall in the same spots I would have chased fish prior to the spawn in the spring, using the same nymphs.

     Winter: I'm usually spending my entire winter chasing anadromous quarry... but if you feel the urge to chase bluegill in the coldest months, they can still be found around shallow cover, though you'll want to fish slow and deliberate, sticking as close to any structure as possible. Just like bass fishing, winter is all about a reaction bite. On those day I don't have anything else to do, I'll fish a local pond with some Bead Head Hot Spot Pheasant Tails.

     Gear: Any light to ultralight setup will work. I have two rods that I usually fish. The first rod I ever built is a 7'9" 3 weight that I still fish to this day. The second is a Redington Classic Trout 7'6" 2 weight. Both of these rods are completed with old click and pawl reels and Rio In-Touch Perception line. 

     Although this article is technically about Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), these rules can be applies to all fish of the genus, including Green Sunfish, Pumpkinseed, Redear, Warmouth, and Longear Sunfish, among others.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Find Your Reason to Fish

     "Why do you fish?"

     Having spent a number of years working in and around the fishing and outdoors industry, this is a question I hear almost daily, and yet I can never give a single, definitive answer. Some days it's the companionship. The days where you spend so much time catching up, telling stories, and just enjoying being out with friends or family that the fish themselves are nothing more than a shadow of importance. Other days, it may be a means of getting away from everything. As much as I enjoy those days spent with friends, I look forward to the days I can spend on the water alone equally as much. 
My first carp of 2015, Clearlake, California
Caught on early 60's Sears & Roebuck glass
     There are two things from my early childhood I remember vividly. The first is sitting with my dad and granddad, on the outfield grass, under the fireworks after my first major league baseball game. The second is sitting on the banks of the Sacramento waiting for a living dinosaur of a fish to come along and suck up some shrimp. While the sturgeon wouldn't come until years later, it's these memories that keep me going, and, although my grandpa Ray had pretty much given up fishing by the time I was able to stand, it's something my dad and I have held on to to this day. 

     "Why do you fly fish?"

     No matter how many times I'm asked, an actual reason still escapes me. I challenge any like minded fisherman to give me a single, definitive answer. 

     When I was around ten years old, my dad spent a few months working in Alaska. When I'd talk to him on the phone, he would tell me about this trout filled pond and how these beautiful trout would appear from the depths of the tannin rich waters to protein load on some giant ants. He'd also tell me how many trout he'd catch on a fly rod, on the same pond. While I was somewhat familiar with the idea of fly fishing by then, it was never a real part of my life until he returned from the Last Frontier and put a fly rod into my hands that I would become, in every sense of the word, hooked. That was the same year I traded out my crappie jigs for woolly buggers. The same year I learned that the bluegill in the lake down the street were now at my mercy. 

     Twenty years later, I find myself picking up a fly rod much more often than conventional tackle, and yet, I can't explain why. Is it the additional challenge? Is it the relaxation of standing waist deep in the cool water of a mountain stream on a hot summer day, waiting for a fish that, at most times seems smarter than myself, to determine my fate for the next few minutes? Is it the entirely different skill set I've had to develop over the years? Maybe it's the history behind it... Will I ever know? I doubt it.