Archive for the Gear Category

Fly fishing for albies with Fishhead Greg…

Posted in Fishing Reports, Flies - Local Favorites, Gear, Saltwater, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on October 29, 2017 by stflyfisher

Can you fish tomorrow morning?  It’s lights out albie fishing on the fly. 

email from Greg Cudnik, “Fishhead Greg”

The email was simple and to the point: did I want to go fly fishing for bait-busting albies? Is a frog’s ass watertight? Does a bear shit in the woods?

I had received Greg (aka “Fishhead Greg”) Cudnik’s email just before I left for the Jersey shore to see my parents. Greg owns Fisherman’s Headquarters on Long Beach Island (Ship Bottom, NJ), a well-known bait and tackle store and this year he got his Captain’s license, allowing him to take anglers on fishing charters.

Looking for a chance to capitalize on the fantastic fall fishing of the New Jersey shore, I checked in with him about a possible fly fishing charter. My first inquiry found him up in Montauk, chasing the legendary striper/bluefish/albie blitz. He said he would get back to me, but after hearing that, I figured he might be out of action for a while. Greg is, after all, a fishing addict as his fishing moniker attests. So I packed my salty fly gear nonetheless, figuring I could shore fish Barnegat Bay, the inlet, or the surf during my visit to my parents. And as it would turn out, that was a very good thing, for on the way down, shore-bound, I got his email – “lights out fly fishing for albies” – and it’s game on. I was anxious to fish for a species I’d long ago heard was tailor-made for salt water fly rodders…

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Call him what you want – little tunny, fat albert, albie, or more properly, false albacore – he’s fast, powerful, and will give your backing a good airing in seconds…

The false albacore goes by many names—little tunny, fat albert, albie—but whatever it may be called, this species is prized for its blistering runs and never-give-up fight. One of the smallest members of the Scombridae family, the false albacore is not a “true” tuna (genus Thunnus) but is more closely related to the mackerels. The species’ streamlined body, powerful tail, and pelagic lifestyle make it pound-for-pound one very powerful game fish, especially to light tackle enthusiasts like fly anglers. Classified as a pelagic, false albacore prefer relatively warm water and spend much of their lives in inshore waters, making them very accessible to anglers, especially in autumn. They can be found wherever baitfish congregate—in inlets, around jetties, and sandbars. Like other fish that feed in schools, false albacore will drive bait to the surface or into shore in order to concentrate the food. Albies lack a swim bladder so they must be in constant motion, which explains their phenomenal swimming speed and power.

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Captain Greg Cudnik with a “fat albert” on the fly (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik).

I met Greg at the marina before 6 am. It was still dark and the stars dotted the ink-black morning sky like so many glittering diamonds. I dressed in my foul weather gear and broke my rods and tackle out while Greg readied his 21 foot Parker center console for action. His boat proved to be a great sport fishing machine with an especially large and unobstructed bow that was perfect for fly casting.

Greg brought the 150 Yamaha to life and we slid out of the marina and cruised slowly towards Barnegat Inlet. In the darkness, I rigged my rods – a 9 foot 8 weight with an intermediate sinking tip and a 9 foot 9 weight with full intermediate line. The game plan was to fish the north jetty of the inlet while we waited for signs of bird play outside the inlet.

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An aerial view of Barnegat Inlet. The small town of Barnegat Light is to the bottom left in the picture above – the North Jetty is to the top right – with the bay entrance to the left and the ocean to the right.

Barnegat Inlet connects Barnegat Bay with the Atlantic Ocean. It separates Island Beach State Park and the Barnegat Peninsula from Long Beach Island. Watching over the inlet at the northern end of Long Beach Island is “Old Barney” the historic Barnegat Lighthouse.

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Old Barney, standing watch over Barnegat Inlet (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik).

The inlet gets its name from Dutch settlers who in 1614 named it “Barendegat,” or “Inlet of the Breakers”. The inlet can be extremely dangerous when ebbing or flooding tides run counter to high winds, building the heavy seas the Dutch must have observed before naming it.

Once we got out into the inlet, Greg nosed his boat within 30 feet of the end of the visible part of the north jetty. The rest of the jetty leading out to open ocean is submerged rock. The constant swirling and crashing of the sea over this section of the jetty creates a cauldron of froth that is known to attract stripers and blues all year. I fly fished at first, casting a streamer into the froth, allowing it to sink, then stripping it back, but no one seemed to be home. Greg had me switch up to a light saltwater spinning outfit using first an imitation eel and then a white bucktail with a hot orange plastic tail. After a number of casts I hooked up and landed a nice “cocktail” blue. Not long after, I felt a good bump and retrieved my bucktail with most of the tail bitten clean off. For the unknowing, bluefish and plastics don’t mix too well but as Greg added, at least we’d gotten rid of the skunk.

As the eastern sky began to glow orange, bird play started outside the inlet. At first, the numbers of birds were small and their concentrations, weak. Greg said the seabirds, including brown pelicans, were searching for bait. He continuously spied the horizon for denser groups of birds and sure enough, as the sun broke the horizon and the sky lightened with the new-found dawn, birds wheeled in bigger and tighter groups. Then they began diving, a sign that it was time to move in – but not recklessly. According to Greg, many anglers are apt to drive their boats right into birds and fish, not realizing how that can put the blitz down. We parked a bit outside the developing fray and Greg had me blind cast the area. The fishfinder was lit up with tons of bait.

I threw a “deadly dick” metal for a while – then Greg had me switch up to a white plastic. He had me experiment with retrieves, “burning it” at times, letting it pause, and even jigging it as I retrieved. I worked the water column as best I could and on one retrieve saw what looked like a boil not far off the stern. I continued my retrieve only to have an albie flash at it right at the boat, then take it solidly and dive. The drag on the spinning reel screamed and I was on. I was at once amazed at the sheer power and speed of these saltwater bullets. I’d gain a little on the fish only to have it take off on blistering run after run. Eventually, we had the fish boat-side, and Greg deftly tailed it…

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My first albie… (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik)

This first albie was followed not long after with another on the same soft plastic lure.

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Another nice albie on the spinning rod. About this time of the morning the fish began to feed on the surface (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik).

By this time the sun was up and the surface action began to improve. The albacore were driving bait up from the depths and slashing through the confused schools from all directions. Birds wheeled just feet above, hovered, and dove. With two albies tallied, Greg said it was time to break out my fly rod…

Greg had me tie on a unique fly that has been garnering a lot of attention in the northeast saltwater fly fishing world. The fly is the innovative design of local fly rodder and fly designer, Bob Popovichs. Greg felt the fly was a perfect imitation of the “white bait” the ablies were chasing.

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The “Fleye Foil” fly Greg had me use was a perfect match for “white bait” in the water. This fly looked great in the water, cast well, and never fouled (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik).

I tied this fly to 15 lb tippet off a 6 foot leader on my full intermediate 9 weight line. As the sun came up and the fishing exploded on the abundant bait, the wind began to blow and the sea took on a bit of a chop, but Greg did a terrific job positioning me for optimum casting, given the stiff breeze.

I experimented with retrieves and found that sometimes allowing the fly to sink a bit worked better than stripping fast through the blitz. This was harder than one might imagine. With fish blasting through the water, it was very tempting to strip fast. My first albie ate the fly with just one strip after the drop. The take was solid and fast and it was all I could do to clear the line and get the fish on the reel. Check out a short clip Greg took as I hooked up and began to fight the fish…

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The first of 3 ablies on the fly. I lost two more as well. The false albacore just might be the ultimate gamefish for the saltwater fly fisher (pic courtesy of Greg Cudnik).

Two more albies followed and I also lost another two fish after brief hook-ups.

As late-morning approached, the blitz seemed to settle down. Fish would pop up here and there. When they did show up they were not around long. Boat traffic may have contributed to the slow-down. Indeed, we observed a lot of fishermen driving right into some blitzes. Most anglers were spin fishing – a much less taxing way of reaching pods of fish. Greg noted many of them were throwing metals far larger than the baitfish the albies were feeding on and the lack of hook-ups for these anglers backed his theory.

Research I’ve done on angling for false albacore indicates that fly fishing is often the “high hook” method of fishing for them. Albies, like most members of the tuna and mackerel family, have excellent eyesight. When they are focused on eating one food item, anything that isn’t the same size, color and profile will be totally ignored and only a near-perfect match will score a strike. This favors fly-fishermen, who can match the color and diminutive size of almost any baitfish.

While we fished, Greg did his best to avoid the “run and gun” game. He’s fished enough days where sitting and letting the fish come to you was far more effective than chasing. The key seemed to be locating the boat in an area of action and then waiting for the schools to pass by.

Anyone interested in this form of fly fishing should gear up with an 8 to 10 weight saltwater fly rod. I found my 9 weight to be perfect. The action of the rod should be medium-fast at minimum with fast being a better choice. While the fall can be warm and the sea almost calm at times, the opposite can be true as well, and this fishing is truly open water fishing. So a stiffer action helps combat windy conditions. Also keep in mind that while casting at long distances is not always the case, you will cast a lot. For anglers used to lighter freshwater

A saltwater-rated fly reel with a good disc drag is also needed as these fish will quickly peel line off well into the backing. Multiple reels spooled with floating, intermediate, intermediate sink tip, and sink tip fly lines will address a variety of fishing conditions. If I had to go with just one line, I’d go with a full intermediate line, preferably clear, as these lines will get the fly down beneath potentially choppy seas. You’ll also want a selection of tapered fluorocarbon leaders rated from 20 lbs down to 12 lbs. Tippet should range from 20 lbs down to 10 lbs. As previously mentioned, albies have excellent eyesight. They can be finicky. Bite guards are not necessary with albacore, however, bluefish can be mixed in with these fish at times, so you might want to have at least some heavier mono available (30 to 50 lbs) just in case.

Fly choice should match the hatch but a good selection of clousers, deceivers, and the foil flies mentioned earlier will typically do the trick. Colors should also match the prevailing bait but silver, white, pink, light tan and light olive will work well in most situations.

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The Alba-Clouser is an excellent example of a clouser tied specifically for false albacore. This pattern uses synthetic fibers for toughness and flash. Note the light pink and white blend and the sparse use of material. (pic courtesy of   saltwatersportsman.com).

While fishing from surf and jetty is one way of getting into albies, this fishing is best done from a small boat. Hiring a licensed captain is a great way to get the access to these incredible fish. If fishing from a small open boat, dress for the weather. A good set of fishing bibs, a foul weather jacket, and boots will help shield you from the effects of wind and water. Underneath, it’s best to layer up in fall. The weather can turn on a dime and the wind and water can make a mild day seem very cold. A hat with a good visor and sunglasses are also key with the sunglasses serving double duty: better vision into the water and eye protection from the sun and errant hooks! Lastly, anglers without sea legs might want to prepare for sea sickness ahead of time. Small boats will move quite a bit in a sea.

I’ll end this post with a tribute to Captain Greg Cudnik for doing a masterful job guiding me for some awesome albie fishing. Greg was thoroughly prepared, organized, and had a solid game plan for the day before we set out on the water. His fishing skill and knowledge was absolutely top-notch.

The mark of a great guide or captain is truly recognized at the end of a day fishing. For me, it was in that good tired feeling from fishing hard, the joy in attaining a fresh perspective on the amazing opportunities for fly fishing in the salt, the gaining of new-found knowledge, and lastly, the capture of so many memories of a deeply bent rods, screaming drags, and the still-present rocking motion from a day on the water. Above all though, it’s the renewed passion one gets to get out and do it again. See you on the water soon, Greg!

 

 

 

 

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A stick for Jeff…

Posted in Gear, Rod Building, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on June 16, 2017 by stflyfisher

My son brought the box in and its long triangular shape immediately gave it away. It was, of course, “the rod”. As I opened the box I thought about what this fly rod symbolized: a payback to my brother-in-law.

Packaged neatly inside the box was a long clear sleeve with four glossy deep green sticks, a bag of rod guides in pewter grey, and a third bag that contained a cork grip and a rosewood reel seat. I was immediately smitten with the materials at hand.

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My mind raced back in time to my first fly fishing experience. My brother-in-law, Jeff, took me fly fishing at my wife’s urging. I did not – could not have – realized the enormity of the event. That early morning the river was entombed in thick fog, the result of the warm early summer air over the very cold water of the tailwater. Jeff set me up with his new, expensive, Winston 3 weight, in nymphing mode – an indicator, 2 nymphs, and some weight, and instructed me how to fish the rig through a nice piece of riffle water. Then he headed downriver and vanished in the river fog.

You can probably guess what comes next – beginner angler’s luck – as if destined from the fly fishing gods. After a number of repeated lob casts, my indicator rocketed to the bottom and all it took was a lift of the rod and that wonderful butter brown flash. I landed the fish, much to the applaud of a couple of veteran anglers – a fat 18″ brown. But it was I who was truly hooked that day. So there it began, on the fabled West Branch of the Delaware River…

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Looking downstream just above the Gentleman’s Pool – where it all started…

Fast forward many years, miles of wading, and a lot of fly fishing. Jeff returned to the West Coast for work, and though our distance made fishing together a once a year thing at best, we have remained close fly fishing brothers. We’ve done a few trips together – the San Juan River, the Bighorn. We’ve fished local Southern Tier rivers on occasion as well. Jeff is an excellent fly fisher, especially skilled with the dry fly. And since that epic day fishing with him, I have benefited from his advice and guidance and have improved my game from that first “angler’s luck” experience.

And then came along the start of our local FFI chapter – the BC Flyfishers. Joe Swam, featured in posts here before, is a very experienced bamboo rod maker who volunteered to teach a rod building class for the chapter. I signed up as a way to expand my fly fishing experience, learn more about how fly rods are made, and build a fly rod of my own.

The class was a success for the BCFF chapter and a great experience for me. I learned first hand from a master rod maker and completed the class with a really nice 8 weight fly rod I could use on local warmwater rivers as well as the salt.

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My first fly rod served me well on the local warmwater rivers. Built with saltwater grade components, it now resides in Destin, Florida where it will live the rest of its life chasing saltwater trout, redfish, and jacks, among other saltie species.

Late in 2016, Jeff set up a guided trip to the Bighorn river in southeastern Montana. He typically spends a week on that river every year: I’ve only gone with him once but it was an incredible fishing experience and well worth a do-over. This would be a very special trip – one celebrating his 60th birthday – so unlike past years, I jumped at the chance to go.

With the birthday Bighorn trip in mind and the BC Flyfisher’s second annual rodbuilding clinic looming in 2017, I began to search for a fly rod I could build for Jeff as a 60th birthday present. I already had one rod under my belt – I could only get better with this rod, especially under the tutelage of Joe Swam.

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Master rod maker, Joe Swam, does practice wraps and demonstrates the effect color preserver has on wrap color. BCFF chapter member Dennis See looks on.

And so the process began – first with searching for the right rod blank / kit. Jeff’s preference in a fly rod is for moderate action – what used to be referred to as a “dry fly” action. I chose the TFO Finesse rod – an 8 foot 9″ blank of moderate action with a sweet zone made for casting at “presentation” distances. Next came choosing the thread wrap color. I wanted a wrap color that matched the rich rosewood reel seat, and a pewter gray metallic thread for accent wraps. The red wrap color I chose came out perfectly – but note to neophyte rod builders out there – even color preservative will always alter the original color of the thread. In my case, my prediction that the brighter red thread would darken to a red wine color was spot on. Finding a metallic thread that would match the pewter guides and reel seat hardware was another matter. My initial choice of a pewter color was off, and the good folks at flyrodbuildingkits.com suggested I used a gunmetal grey thread which ended up an exact match. I’ll note that they sent the replacement thread free of charge: great customer service. And finally, I had to decide on the finish I’d use for the wraps. On my first rod, I used McCloskey’s marine spar varnish, provided by Joe Swam. I was very pleased with how my wraps came out. For this build, I decided to try Epifanes marine spar varnish. Originating in Holland, a nation with a strong maritime tradition, the name Epifanes, a Greek variation of EPIPHANY, denotes an appearance, a manifestation, a resplendence, or a moment of insight. I was very impressed with the result, and felt a company headquartered in Holland can’t be all wrong when it comes to maritime weather-proof varnish.

Then came the building. The winter snow hit the Southern Tier hard this year – we narrowly beat out Syracuse as the snowiest NY city with over 135″.

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March, 2017 and a record 35″ of snow in 24 hours. In between shoveling, a rod was being made…

That made rod building a perfect winter activity, better in my opinion than working at the vise, though that too is a relaxing way to spend an afternoon with the white stuff flying cloaked in bitter cold…

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Jeff’s stick on the rod wrapper. Saranac Legacy IPA, deep winter snow, and a warm fire make for beautiful guide and ferrule wraps.

I took my time with the build – the goal to ship the rod in time for Jeff’s July birthday. Every weekend, the winter through, I added to what started as graphite, cork, and a forms of metal. Measure twice, cut once, was the theme. Along the way a Lamson Waterworks fly reel was ordered, backing, a Scientific Angler’s Mastery Trout fly line, rod sock and a powder coated aluminum tube.

The wraps looked good, secured with color preservative, but it was the varnish that gave the rod that final touch. Every building coat deepened the luster…

And then came the finishing touch – that last coat of Epifanes over the measuring wraps on either side of a rainbow trout decal…

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On either side of that rainbow trout decal, are 17″ and 20″ measuring wraps, soon to be broken by some Bighorn ‘bows on the dry fly…

Of course, glossy green graphite sticks, a rosewood reel seat, snake guides, wrapping thread, and the rich scent of spar varnish will never come close to the gift Jeff gave me – the gift of fly fishing. Even the feeling of satisfaction when a rod made with your own hands, carefully joined, and given that fly shop wiggle will never approach it. But perhaps building a fly rod is one of those things that continues the cycle of giving. Maybe that same rod will fall into the hands of another – a grandchild, a neighbor, or even a disabled veteran or cancer survivor. Lee Wulff once said, “The finest gift you can give to any fisherman is to put a good fish back, and who knows if the fish that you just caught isn’t someone else’s gift to you?” While Lee Wulff is credited for having started the catch and release initiative and greatly improved conservation efforts as a result, I’d argue that before the fish comes the creation of the fisherman and what better way to pay back or forward, than by building a fly rod and passing it on.

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Deep bends, Jeff…

How to own a piece of fly fishing history

Posted in Gear, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , on September 10, 2016 by stflyfisher

“Ever since I started making fly rods, I wanted to make the finest rods available – not just good rods, but the absolute finest rods available. I truly believe that these are the finest graphite and fiberglass fly rods currently in production, and others are starting to agree. I have put all of my creative talents into designing and building these rods, and I think that my efforts are apparent not just in how they perform, but in how they make you feel. Much like holding a rare cane rod or a fine side by side shotgun, a McFarland fly rod possesses that same magic and resulting feel of wonder and amazement. It is just one of those things that you can’t quite explain; that unmistakable ambiance that surrounds only the very finest objects. When you have one in your hands there is no doubt that you are holding something special.”

Mike McFarland – Owner and Rod Designer, McFarland Rods

Fly fishers looking to own a bit of history, beauty, and excellence need not look any further for the opportunity than an upcoming auction to be held by the BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF. On the auction block is a custom fly rod specifically built to honor Cortland Line Company’s 100th anniversary in business. The BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF was fortunate to receive fly rod #5 of 100 from the Cortland Line Company and will auction it off to some very lucky angler. The auction starts with the chapter’s September 22 general meeting

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BC Flyfishers IFFF chapter President, Nick DiNunzio, receives the 100th Anniversary fly rod from Brooks Robinson of the Cortland Line Company.

The 100th Anniversary rod is the quintessential trout rod as you’d expect any fly rod representing a company that’s an innovator in fly lines to be. It measures out at the standard 9 foot in a 4 piece configuration and it’s rated for a 5 weight line – standard trout fare. Best of all, it’s completely handmade, including the graphite blank, by the McFarland Rod Company located in Bellwood, Pennsylvania.

Mike McFarland, McFarland Rod Company’s founder, likes to feature premium components on his handmade fly rods. The handles on all of his rods are turned from the finest quality cork and the guides are hand wrapped and expertly finished. In the case of the Cortland 100th Anniversary rod, the reel seat is a true nickel silver seat by REC. The wood is California buckeye burl with the Cortland logo engraved in it. While Cortland picked the reel seat, McFarland picked the rod wrap color, using gold to give the rod a bit of a nostalgic look…

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The finishes on the 100th Anniversary Cortland Line Company fly rod really stand out…

 

Every rod is hand signed with the marking of the 100th anniversary and serialized…

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Note the nickel silver winding check and hook keeper…

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There are only 100 of these very special rods in the whole wide world…

McFarland designed the Cortland 100th Anniversary Fly Rod to embrace the old and new in fly fishing. While it’s built with modern-day graphite, it has a traditional fly rod feel in terms of its medium action. The rod blank was rolled using a unique composite of varying carbon fibers and features a special ferrule design that not only adds strength but also provides a seamless transition of power from butt to tip. Says McFarland; “The taper design of these rods combines a refined progressive taper and classic action with updated materials and resin system.  The result is an extremely smooth casting rod with great line feel and perfect performance with just a few feet of line out the tips as well as at longer distances.” Indeed, at its very heart, this is a trout rod that does its best work at casting distances in the 15′ to 50′ range. It will make a perfect dry fly rod but will also serve the trout angler well fishing nymphs, wet flies, and streamers.

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Mike McFarland began building fly rods in 1991 as a hobby while he was in high school. He continued building rods while in college, selling them for “beer money” as he explained to me while I interviewed him over the phone. After college, Mike started to build the business and as anglers purchased and used his hand-built rods, word got around and the business grew.

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McFarland’s work in graphite – beauty and performance…

He has made a name for himself in that he not only finishes rods, but also manufactures the blanks. In fact, the bigger part of his business is selling blanks to other rod makers. He produces blanks and finished rods in both fiberglass and graphite.

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A McFarland “butterstick” that surely casts as smooth as glass…

So how would a small rod maker afford the high caliber equipment needed to produce top-notch blanks? The answer circles us back to the very fly rod that’s up for auction.

It turns out Cortland Line Company once purchased the Diamondback Rod Company, based in Vermont, but eventually ended up closing the factory and moving fly rod production offshore. In March 2015, Cortland Line Company President Randy Brown announced that they commissioned McFarland to design and build a special, limited edition fly rod to celebrate Cortland’s 100th anniversary. McFarland had struck up a deal with Cortland to build the 100th anniversary rods in exchange for the Diamondback Fly Rod Company’s rod building equipment, a savvy move and a win-win for Cortland, McFarland, and the very lucky angler who will one day grace the water with a rod as beautiful as the very trout it was designed to catch.

 

A fly rod all my own…

Posted in Fishing Reports, Gear, Smallmouth Bass Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , , on June 8, 2016 by stflyfisher

Fly fishers are blessed with opportunity and not only with all the fly fishing that’s available throughout our great country. This wonderful sport offers participants so many other ways to be involved beyond wetting a line, and these niches, in and of themselves, can become full time fly fishing activities. One look at the fly tying greats and it’s readily apparent that some spend more time fly tying than actually using their flies to fool fish.

Beyond fly tying, fly fishermen can learn how to tie custom leaders and how to make nets, wading staffs, and other wading accessories. They can pursue the art of fly casting or focus on the conservation side of the sport. Entomology is yet another area that can be mastered for those anglers with a scientific bent. And finally, there is the craft of fly rod building.

My own foray into rod building started when my local fly fishing club, the BC Flyfishers chapter of IFFF, offered a class on the subject. For $125, the class offered participants a fly rod kit. Most kits were 9 foot, 6 weight, 2 piece kits, but a participant could substitute another rod kit of their choosing, as I did. I purchased a 2 piece, 8 weight, medium fast action PacBay blank in a rich forest green finish. The kit was reasonably priced and with the right components could serve duty as a heavy warmwater river rod, lake rod, and light saltwater rod with saltwater grade components. Rod building materials such as epoxy and varnish, tools such as a basic wrapping station, files, and other items, and free instruction given by a master rod maker over three, 4 hour classes, were also included in the price of the class. The class ended up being one of the best “investments” of money I’ve ever made in the realm of fly fishing, much of it attributed to the outstanding instruction of Joe Swam, BCFF member and professional rod maker.

I’ve documented the details of the class with slideshows on my Examiner.com site where I write as the Binghamton Fly Fishing Examiner, but as an overview, I’ll list the basic rod building process:

  • Finding the spline – a critical step used to determine guide orientation.
  • Installing the grips – this step consists of prep work to allow the cork to seat into position on the rod and then the application of 2 part epoxy to secure the grip in place. Additionally, the reel seat is shimmed for gluing later in the process.
  • Ferrule wrapping – this was just the beginning of a lot of rod wrapping. The ferrules (where rod sections are joined) are a stress point and would break eventually if they are not reinforced by wrapping.
  • Prepping the guides – filing and sanding the guide feet is critical for secure guide placement on the rod blank.
  • Wrapping the winding check and the hook keeper.
  • Spacing, aligning and wrapping the guides. Lining guides up true can be challenging.
  • Prepping and epoxying the reel seat in place and gluing the cap.
  • Setting and expoxying the tip-top guide in place.
  • Wrapping the tip-top guide.
  • Treating the wraps with color preservative (optional) and then finishing the wraps with varnish or epoxy.
  • Adding cosmetic touches such as a decal, measuring wraps, etc.

While the steps don’t look difficult on paper, the “hands-on” of fly rod building takes a bit of doing. It’s easy to say, for example, “ream the cork grip, glue the rod blank, and slide into place”, but a seasoned rod maker like Joe Swam made all the difference by providing the nuances of the process, like the proper fit of the cork grip, how to mix the 2 part epoxy, and how to ream out a little extra flare at the butt end of the cork grip to give the excess glue a place to collect. I cannot imagine doing this the first few times on my own, and I’d highly recommend that anyone interested in building a fly rod take a class in the art of rod making – even a very basic one – before trying it on one’s own.

Building a graphite or glass fly rod is a matter of assembly. The blank is already fabricated and finished, unlike bamboo where a rod maker truly builds the entire fly rod, blank included. And while a master rod maker can build a bamboo fly rod in 40 hours, beginning graphite or fiberglass rod makers will require this amount of time and quite possibly more.

I found that the building process literally “built” upon itself, excuse the pun. Tying that first wrap and doing it well was motivation to repeat the step with the same or better quality.

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Wrapping the rod guides was enjoyable work, and a fine beer seemed to lubricate the process quite nicely…

Certain components, like the cork grip, and stripper guides, spur one on to complete the project as a blank starts to look more like a fly rod.

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Full wells grip assembled in place with the butt end of the blank shimmed for the reel seat.

Raw materials slowly add character. One can feel the rod evolving. And then at last, the beautiful wraps cry out for varnish or epoxy – the rod blank asks for adornment.

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My fly rod benefited from the kharma that “Hemingway On Fishing” provided – the book served as a great thread tensioner…

I followed the advice of Joe Swam who recommended the use of McCloskey’s marine spar varnish for coating of the wraps. The other option was the use of a two part epoxy, which is common in the industry, but Joe prefers varnish for his bamboo rods and feels it is easier and more forgiving for a beginner, yet still makes a great finish for even an expert rod maker such as himself.

With each coat of varnish, the wraps filled and smoothed with glossy goodness. After the final and fifth coat was applied, all that was left to do was to add a custom decal. I kept my inscription pretty simple: my name, “rod maker”, and the length, weight, and action of the rod. After securing the decal, a very simple process, I applied two coats of varnish over the decal and let the rod dry adequately over a few more days.

The finished rod impressed me after a lawn casting session. Naturally, I have some bias, for what father isn’t proud of their “child”, real or otherwise. The rod handled a floating WF line just fine, but it was the way it threw an intermediate sink-tip line and a sinking tip fly line with relative ease that really caught my attention. I noted that my addition of two stripper guides (for a total of four) in place of snake guides may have given it a bit more backbone. After casting, thoughts of fishing big flies on the Susquehanna and even casting for blues and stripers in New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay, swirled in my head.

On May 24th I took my rod to the water for its baptism. Nicknamed “The Golden Bear” for its Vestal school colors of green and gold, I strung it up with an 8 weight intermediate sink tip line and waded downriver. The rod balanced perfectly in my hand.

I cast a #6 streamer across a shallow bay and loved how well I could bomb out long casts. Later I set it p with the sink tip line and worked some deeper water. I caught a number of very nice 18″+ bass that evening and returned a few days later to land a best-of-the-year fish.

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This Susquehanna River smallmouth bass nudged the 20″ measuring wrap – a promise that Hemingway’s kharma was there and would hopefully bless the rod for many more years of great fly fishing.

Rod building has bitten me hard. While I truly cherish my production fly rods, in particular my Scott, TFO, and JP Ross fly rods, among others, the feeling of building and customizing the rod as you truly want, adding touches that identify the rod as wholly your own, and then casting it, fishing it, and finally, feeling the head shake of a good fish – well no fly rod company can sell that…

 

 

 

 

The All-Rounder…

Posted in Gear, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , on April 30, 2016 by stflyfisher

You might have heard it as you worked your way up through high school, preparing for college, a profession, or work: “you should go out for track (or band, or the debating club, or…) to be more ‘well-rounded’. Whether that worked out for you or not, there is some merit to the strategy of being a “renaissance man”, so to speak – so much so that a version of the term even eked its way into fly fishing.

The Orvis Company, a giant in fly fishing, began a transition to graphite rods in the early 70’s, thanks to Howard Steere, the superintendent of the Orvis fly rod shop. Steere loved bamboo but had the vision to recognize the potential of graphite as a fly rod blank material. During this era, no company had built a satisfactory graphite fly rod. Orvis eventually came out with their own  and these rods included the Orvis 8’3” All Rounder 7wt. The name of the rod recently caught my eye, especially in light of my parent’s well-meaning lectures to be ‘well-rounded’ in life…

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The Orvis All-Rounder – 8’3″ of versatility…

While there is truly no all-around fly rod, the Orvis All-Rounder is considered by some to be a good attempt at a noteworthy objective in rod design. It is a full-flex rod with great butt strength and a soft tip and because of its design, it has the ability to cast a lot of line or cast short. The rod handles small flies fairly well yet due to its line rating, can throw streamers in the salt. Its short length allows its use in small streams that have close alder growth and cover.

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A description of the All-Rounder found in an old Dan Bailey’s fly fishing catalog…

As I researched the All Rounder, I started to realize how specialized fly fishing product has become. These days one can buy a myriad of fly lines with tapers targeted to specific fish species, casting taper (WF, DT, Intermediate, Sink Tip, etc.,) and even fishing conditions. A recent scan of one online fly fishing store’s inventory showed a Mastery Redfish Warm and Mastery Redfish Cold fly line. Talk about niche fly lines! The same applies to fly rods where the choices must be absolutely bewildering and intimidating for beginners. Material choices have expended and now include bamboo, fiberglass, and graphite, as well as composite blends. The lengths of fly rods range from diminutive 5 foot creek rods to 14 foot spey rods, all offering different cork grip options, reel seats, guide types, ferrule types, and sections, including a return to one piece rods. Actions vary from slow to ultra fast and then there are rods built for specific species or types of fishing, switch rods and nymph rods being recently marketed niches.

And yet, many of the old timers and the greats of fly fishing did just fine without the specialization. Lee Wulff, for example, spent a lifetime pursuing larger fish on lighter tackle and frequently used a one-piece, six foot bamboo rod to catch fish ranging from small stream trout to Atlantic salmon up to 26 lbs!

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I happen to own a Scott G706/3 (7′ 6 weight 3 piece) that is a replica of the fly rod that Scott’s founder, Harry Wilson, first built for Lee Wulff. It supposedly became Lee’s favorite rod and he used it to catch everything from trout to Atlantic salmon to permit.

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None other than Lefty Kreh was interviewed in an excellent video about his fly fishing biography during which he bemoaned the fly fishing industry’s over-pricing of product so that many people – particularly the working class – have not been able to afford to enter the sport of fly fishing. Lefty also discusses fly rods during this video and has an intriguing take on their classification. He breaks down fly rods into 3 categories as follows:

  • Presentation weight – up to 6 weight. These are generaly used for trout fishing where tippet protection is of most importance.
  • Distance weight – 8 to 10 weight. These are used where distance casting and the use of large / heavy flies is common such as with smallmouth and largemouth bass, pike, and carp.
  • Lifting weight – 12 – 14+ weight. Lifting weight rods are almost exclusively used in saltwater fly fishing where the rod’s primary function is to fight and land big fish.

Lefty’s approach would definitely help any beginner angler slim down their choices to a few, rather than pursuing a stuffed quiver of specialized rods such as I now own that fill up an entire corner of my study. And while Lefty doesn’t see much use for transition weight rods (7 and 11 weight), it’s interesting that the All Rounder happens to fall squarely in the gap between presentation and distance categories.

My own start in fly fishing began with the purchase of a St Croix Pro-Ultra 9 foot 5/6 weight 2 piece fly rod. I bought it at a Dick’s Sporting Goods store for $99.00. This rod served me well until I began to read fly fishing magazines and then fell under the product trance they sometimes cast. It wasn’t long before I started purchasing higher end specialty rods under the auspices that they would somehow make me a better angler. It’s ironic that even now, with some very good yet high priced rods in my stable, I’ll pull out the St Croix…

So, I’m on the verge of taking action on the goal of fly fishing for a year with some sort of “All Rounder”, just to see. I’m certainly no Lee Wulff or Lefty Kreh, but maybe fly fishing with one rod could be a good thing. Maybe it would force me to focus on improving my skills, rather than relying on new fly rod design and technology to bolster me up. And quite possibly it would then put a halt to expanding my inventory of fly rods, putting a smile on the wife, reducing credit card debt, and making a seller’s presence on eBay? Stay tuned…

 

 

 

 

The Seiko 5…

Posted in Gear, Uncategorized with tags , , on March 9, 2016 by stflyfisher

In 1968, the Seiko watch company had a great idea for a watch that would surely appeal to a mass market. The company decided to make a watch that had 5 key attributes: 1) Automatic winding, 2) Day / date displayed in a single window, 3) Water resistance, 4) Recessed crown at the 4 o’clock position, and 5) Durable case and bracelet. The watch was originally titled the Sportsmatic 5, but all watches that have these very basic characteristics are considered “Seiko 5’s”.

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A classic Seiko 5 – everything that makes a good watch…

From the start, the Seiko 5 was designed to reinvent watch performance and to bring to the 1960’s generation a watch that belonged to the age and that fitted into their lives. As perhaps never before, the Seiko 5 needed to be a watch that could go anywhere and everywhere and therefore it had to be very durable. To be durable, the watch needed to be impervious to water and shock.

Water resistance was built in as standard to every Seiko 5 watch, and metal bracelets were used so that, from “buckle to buckle”, the watch was resistant to water and sweat. Shock resistance was assured with two Seiko inventions. First, the mainspring was made from “Diaflex,” an unbreakable alloy, and the “Diashock,” system was created to protect the movement from shock within the case.

Legibility was the next vital attribute. Today, it’s taken for granted that day and date are presented in a single window but, in fact, this was an idea built into the Seiko 5 to enhance the legibility of the dial. The genius was to create a unique system that allowed both day and date to be shown in one plane.

The final challenge was to create a distinctive look that defined the brand. Thanks to the extraordinary Seiko invention of the ‘Magic Lever,’ the winding efficiency of Seiko 5 is very high, and the wearer rarely needs to use the crown. So the designers made it smaller and hid it under the lip of the case at 4 o’clock, giving Seiko 5 its signature look.

Inside these watches beat several different movements. The 7S26 features 21 jewels while some improved versions feature 23 jewels (the 7S36, for example).  The caliber 7S25 automatic movement is featured in watches where only the date is displayed. All of these movements beat at a rate of 21,600 bph (beats per hour).

There are currently many versions of this great watch in the marketplace. They range from basic “beaters” to sports watches…

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A military green version of the Flieger (German for pilot) Seiko 5

I own a black-faced Flieger and it’s been a steady companion around the house, in the yard, on walks, and while fishing.

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The glass back casing reveals the simple but reliable inner workings of the Seiko 5’s automatic movement.

The Seiko 5 does a lot of things well and that is its genius. In fact, if I was asked to wear only one watch that was reasonably priced (< $150, and some can be found as low as $50), this would be the one.

And besides being easy on the wallet, most Seiko 5’s are also easy on the eyes, light on the wrist, and feature luminescent hands and dials. What you won’t get with a Seiko 5 are features like hacking, manual wind, extreme water resistance via a screw down crown, or a bezel.

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A dressy version of the Seiko 5

For fly fishing and general fishing use, I prefer the Seiko Monster, which I posted about in this blog some time ago. The Monster is essentially a Seiko 5 on steroids, and features incredible ruggedness, reliability, and superior water proof qualities, at an albeit higher price. It is a not-so-distant cousin of the Seiko 5, though much heavier on the wrist.

For everyday use, reasonable cost, and a great all-rounder of a watch, it’s hard to beat the Seiko 5. And even if you do slip on the Monster for on-water fly fishing duties, you’ll be glad to have the humble Seiko 5 when drinks are served back at the lodge…

 

In like a lion…

Posted in Gear, Trout Fishing, Uncategorized, Writing with tags , , , on March 2, 2015 by stflyfisher

So it is said, however the month of March comes in, it will go out exactly the opposite. In like a lion, as in bad weather, means one should expect a gentle, lamb-like, exit to the month. And the start of March seemed very much lion-like on the eve of my 56th birthday this year. I planned to trek south to Lancaster, PA to attend The Fly Fishing Show as well as visit Cabelas and the TCO fly shop in nearby Reading.

I was on a mission to look at some switch rods. Several of the rods and brands I was interested in were either at the show or at one of the retailers nearby. And the one I had the most interest in, a JP Ross Trib switch rod, might be on hand at the Tailwater Lodge booth at the show. Tom Fernandez kindly said he’d try to have some available though he himself wouldn’t be at the show.

So I woke up early Sunday morning and with coffee at my side, looked bleary-eyed at weather.com. I had every intention of leaving at 6 am so I could get a full day of browsing and shopping in, but the weather forecast was pretty shady for starting off in the dark. It was snowing heavily already, and the forecast was for more of the same for the next few hours. I figured I’d wait for light and then hit the road.

I left around 8 am and drove down Grippen Hill without too much of a problem even though the roads were not plowed. I passed a guy coming up the steepest section – his Corolla was at a slipping crawl. That was the first moment of many where I began to question my judgement.

Being an early Sunday, the likelihood of plowing activity was not good but I thought, optimistically, the highways should be clear. I was soon on Route 17 West and found the highway in pretty poor shape. The slow lane was clear with tracks – the fast lane was completely snow-covered. But I continued on despite it all…

I made Lancaster by noon. A fine and historic town I must say. Everywhere it seemed there was brick, colonial architecture, narrow roads, plaques speaking to history…

Lots of old brick in Lancaster - charming, but slippery after freezing rain and sleet...

There’s lots of old brick in Lancaster and it’s charming. Just beware the brick and stone sidewalks after freezing rain and sleet…

After parking, I walked to the convention center through pelting sleet and snow. I walked carefully, then decided to take a covered walk that was two steps down from the sidewalk. Wrong move – feet up in the air – followed by back, elbow, and stone stairs all colliding at once. Oh, I got up fast enough, like a pro boxer unexpectedly knocked down by an underdog. I brushed myself off and headed into the convention center entrance wondering if anyone saw me.

The convention was nice. I’ve been told the Somerset version of The Fly Fishing Show is better, but this was a first visit for me so I was impressed with what I saw. I walked around to get the lay of the land. I saw Bob Clouser, Joe Humphreys, Lefty Kreh, and George Daniel. I stopped at some of the fly tying booths, gawked at all of the fly rods and reels. I breathed it all in and thought of spring fly fishing.

The casting seminars were great. I was particularly intrigued with the casting demonstration of Joe Humphreys. He MC’d every cast, threw in puns and jokes, and made it a lot of fun to watch. It was all about simplicity and just watching him made it all seem so easy.

Joe Humphreys and a beautiful brown trout.

Joe Humphreys and a beautiful brown trout. Picture courtesy of the Lackawanna Chapter of TU

Fly tyer Safet Nikocevic was on hand. He ties some beautiful Caddis nymphs that I had read about in a fly fishing magazine. So was Mike Hogue of Badge Creek Fly Tying – a great local fly tyer, fly fisherman, and retailer.

Safet Nikocevic at the vise...

Safet Nikocevic at the vise…

As I walked around I finally spied the Tailwater Lodge booth. Two nice ladies were at the booth, but I saw no fly rods. I was expecting a rod rack and possibly some other gear but the exhibit was only about the lodge.

Tailwater Lodge offers some great accommodations on the banks of the Salmon River. The reps at the booth were as accommodating as this picture suggests...

Tailwater Lodge offers some great accommodations on the banks of the Salmon River. The reps at the booth were as friendly and welcoming as this picture suggests…

After a few laps of the exhibits, I thought I’d better at least ask about whether the rods had made it down to Lancaster. I approached the booth and before even opening my mouth to inquire, I was immediately greeted with, “Oh we have two rods for you…”. I assembled both rods, gave them a wiggle, and admired their beautiful fit and finish.

The JP Ross Trib Switch Fly Rod...

The JP Ross Trib Switch Fly Rod… (picture courtesy of JP Ross Fly Rods)

It’s not a first for me, being a JP Ross fly rod owner. I purchased a Beaver Meadow 7 foot 4 weight 2 piece years ago and was utterly impressed. I soon put the rod to good use on the creeks and small streams of the Southern Tier.

A nice little Cayuta Creek brown thanks to JP Ross and a Picket Pin wet fly...

A nice little Cayuta Creek brown thanks to JP Ross and a Picket Pin wet fly…

I also purchased a workhorse of an 8 weight that has done double duty for smallmouth bass and steelhead.

A nice smallie that inhaled a double bunny streamer. Delivery courtesy of a 9 foot 8 weight JP Ross fly rod...

A nice smallie that inhaled a double bunny streamer. Delivery courtesy of a 9 foot 8 weight JP Ross fly rod…

This switch rod is designed primarily for trib fishing for browns, rainbows, steelhead and salmon. I plan on putting it to work on the Salmon River this spring for hungry dropback steelhead.

Two JP Ross Trib Switch rods, ready for duty...

Two JP Ross Trib Switch rods, ready for duty… (picture courtesy of JP Ross Fly Rods)

Beauty and the beast. I've found these rods to be both beautiful to own and sturdy fishing tools...

Beauty and the beast. I’ve found these rods to be both beautiful to own and very sturdy fishing tools… (picture courtesy of JP Ross Fly Rods)

After going over the rods thoroughly, I knew I couldn’t walk away. They felt too good in my hand. The Salmon River called to me and I decided to bring the 8 weight home.

I spent a little more time at the show but decided I best leave by 3 pm. I was advised by Mike Hogue that the bad weather was not letting up. So with rod tube, fly tying supplies and other miscellaneous tackle in hand, I set out for a long drive home. A 3 hour drive gradually lengthened to 6 hours – 6 steering wheel death-gripping hours, with my side still hurting like hell. Cars littered the side of the highway – snow plows came out in force. Darkness overtook the light. I drove on, just wanting to get home.

I finally got to the base of Grippen Hill, and after looking up a steep climb, the road deep with virgin snow, decided that March had indeed roared in like the King of the Beasts. After a long bitterly cold winter, it seemed like spring was ages away, not a mere 21 days. At least tradition promised a lamb on the other side.