"Sometimes, you just need to go downstairs and waggle a rod..."

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Fly Focus: Bitty Black Bug

When there is an obvious hatch going on, I am a match-the-hatch kind of guy. I want to fool those trout with an imitation that is the same size and color as the natural. Of course, even I have my limitations. Like when the only things hatching are size 24 midges and the only fish eating them are the small guys. At times like that, matching the hatch doesn't seem all that important to me.
Bitty Black Bug

For some reason, though, when I am fishing with nymphs, matching the underwater "hatch" is not usually something I think about. I have my standard set of nymphs that I go through, all of which are about the same size, with about the same sized bead. I rarely fish any nymph smaller than a 14, even though I know there are a ton of insects smaller than that in any given trout stream.

Pretty much the only nymph I use in a smaller size is my Bitty Black Bug, also known as the B3 for short, or the BuBBa for not-quite-as-short. I tie it in a size 18, and I think it looks a lot like almost every small insect in the water. It's dark, it kind of has the appearance of a mayfly nymph, but it could easily pass as a midge larva or any other small insect. And it's the only nymph I fish that has a glass bead instead of a brass bead. I don't know if the glass bead looks like a tiny air bubble or what, but it has proven very effective more times than I can remember. I used this fly to catch the largest whitefish of my life out in Colorado several years ago. It was also the only whitefish of my life, but it was about 17", so I call it the largest instead of the only, in the rare times that I talk about it...

Let's learn how to tie the Bitty Black Bug!

Bitty Black Bug Pattern Recipe

Hook: Daiichi 1560 or similar 1X long nymph hook, size 18
Thread: Black 8/0
Bead: Small clear glass bead, size 11/0
Tail: Webby black hackle fibers
Abdomen: Black wire
Thorax: Peacock Ice Dub

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Joy of Fly Tying: Elk Hair Caddis

The third, and last, night of my Joy of Fly Tying classes focuses on dry flies. My students have to take everything they've learned in the first two weeks and use those skills to produce smaller and more dainty flies. Usually they start out the evening filled with dread thinking about tying small flies, but by the end of it I can sometimes get them downgraded to minor trepidation. I told you I was a good teacher! The first fly of the night is the Elk Hair Caddis.

The Elk Hair Caddis (EHC from now on) should be fairly easy for my students, since they learned most of the skills needed for it on the first night when they tied a Wooly Bugger. The only new skill is installing a wing made of elk hair. That should be easy enough, right? Well, some times it goes well and sometimes it doesn't. But that could be said of every technique for a beginning fly tyer. This is one fly that all beginners should practice until they get good, because the EHC is that important of a fly.

To show how important the EHC is, I will attest to the fact that 3 of the 4 largest trout I have caught in my 4 favorite local rivers were caught on this fly. And to be even more honest, those three trout were all caught within 15 minutes of each other in the same pool during an amazing hatch of the Mother's Day Caddis several years ago. And I lost an even bigger one that same day after fighting it for 5 minutes or more. Caddis flies are very prevalent, and the EHC is one of the best imitations.

Let's watch how to tie one...

Elk Hair Caddis Pattern Recipe

Hook: Standard dry fly hook, size 8-22
Thread: 6/0
Rib: Small copper wire
Body: Dry fly dubbing to match the natural
Hackle: Brown, grizzly, ginger, or dun rooster hackle
Wing: Elk hair

Monday, April 16, 2018

Did You Know We Sell Flies?

I haven't done a very good job of advertising this, but we sell flies here on The Riffle. Really, really cool flies, and I'm not just saying that because I'm the one who ties them. They really are great flies that catch fish, and what more could you want from a fly than that? Nothing, that's what.

We sell nymphs and dry flies and all sorts of stuff! Just head on over to the My Store page on the ol' blog, and shop to your heart's delight. And if you don't see what you need, drop me a line and maybe I can do a custom order for ya. Just email me at riffle.hanson@gmail.com and we'll talk.

Here are some of the flies you can order:

BH Rainbow Scud
Spearfish Special

Rusty Stimulator
CDC-Enhanced Poor Man's Copper John

CDC-Enhanced Hare's Ear

Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Review: Katz Creek and Other Stories

I don't remember exactly when I met Perry Palin, but I know that I have known about him for a long time. I believe the first time I ever heard his name was at a local Trout Unlimited meeting. Everybody who comes to one of the monthly meetings is given a chance to win the door prize, and that door prize is almost always a container of flies tied by Perry Palin. He has been providing these door prize flies for over 35 years, and though I have never won any of them, my dad did once, and some lovely little sulphur dry flies inhabited the container. Since my dad was not much of a dry fly fisherman, those unused flies were still in the container when I recently went through all of his old fishing stuff.
Perry Palin
My most memorable experiences with Perry Palin occurred at the fly shop I used to work at, Bob Mitchell's. Perry wouldn't come in often when I was working, but the few times he did were always interesting. Perry always seemed very open with information about his flies, gear, and fishing exploits, but at the end of each conversation I found myself wondering if anything I had just heard was factual. Perry just had an air about him that seemed like he might be pulling my leg at all times, or he might have been telling the truth at all times. I could never be sure. If he was telling tall tales it was not easily apparent, but the humor in which he told those tales was very apparent. Like I said, his visits were always interesting, and very memorable!

When I worked as the Editor of the newsletter for the aforementioned Trout Unlimited chapter, I was lucky to receive a few article submissions from Perry. The article that stands out in my mind is a fly tying article he wrote about his Black Horse Fly that he tied with hair from his black horse. It was by far the funniest article I ever received in my time as Editor, and I go back in the archives of my computer every so often just to read it and have a laugh. He also ties a Red Horse Fly, which is pictured below.

When I heard that Perry had written a book - actually two books now - I knew I wanted to read one of them, but up until recently I hadn't found the time to. I could blame my four kids and busy schedule on that, and I think I will. But I recently put my schedule on hold and told my kids to leave me alone for a few days so I could have some time to read Perry's first book, Katz Creek and Other Stories. It's a collection of sixteen short stories, all of which revolve around fly fishing. But the fly fishing is just a part of the stories. Young love, hi-jinks, adventure, beaver dams, and small town life all play significant roles. And Perry's subdued sense of humor is a constant factor, as well.

The stories aren't long, which is just the way I like them. I love a good short story that I can get into and out of in one sitting, and most of the stories in Katz Creek and Other Stories fit that bill. The longest is the title story, Katz Creek, which is made up of seven short chapters. Otherwise the longest story is under 10 pages long. Though short, Perry's concise writing style packs a lot of story into a small space. 

I very much enjoyed every story in the book, but I think my favorite might be Secret Love. It has everything you could ask for: young love, small town life, brook trout, adventure, and just when you think you've got it all figured out, Zwing!, Perry throws in a curve ball that you weren't expecting. At least I wasn't expecting it...

Perry claims that the stories in his two books are works of fiction, but it is very easy to think that many, if not all of them, might be at least loosely based on fact. It all seems like it could really have happened, which I would say is the mark of a great writer. After reading Katz Creek and Other Stories, I can't wait to read Perry's other book, Fishing Lessons, as soon as I have another opportunity to put my schedule on hold...

For more info on Perry Palin's books, you can email him directly at perrypalin@hotmail.com, or go to whitefishpress.com.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Joy of Fly Tying: Rubber Leg Prince Nymph

Up until now, all of the flies I have taught in my Joy of Fly Tying classes have been old standards. Or if not old standards, at least flies that other people invented. The 6th fly in the series, while based on an old standard, is so different from that old standard that I don't feel bad saying that I invented it. While taking an old standard fly and changing it to meet my own requirements might make it seem less like inventing and more like plagiarizing, just know that things like this happen all the time in the world of fly designing, and I have no qualms about saying I invented it. Especially since I have no idea what a qualm is...
This is a CDC version, which is also a killer, but I teach my students the version with brown hackle.

The 6th fly in the series is my Beadhead Rubber Leg Prince Nymph. Regular old Prince Nymphs are awesome, except for two things: peacock herl has a tendency to break, either while wrapping them on the hook or after a fish tears it up with its teeth; and goose biots are the worst! Biots have a mind of their own, they almost never stay where I want them to, they are too short to hold on to, and I just generally hate them. So, on my Prince Nymphs, I don't use them. Ha! I have found that fish like rubber legs a thousand times more than they like goose biots (this claim has not been substantiated), so I started to use black rubber legs where the black biots normally go, and white rubber legs where the white biots normally go. Oh, and to take care of the fragile peacock herl problem, I started to use peacock colored dubbing instead of herl. Once I made those two switches, I started to enjoy tying Prince Nymphs, and my life got exponentially better. Woohoo!

The most apparent new technique that students learn with this fly is how to use beads. Actually, a substantial number of students learn how to drop their bead, never to see it again. If you are going to teach how to tie a beadhead nymph to beginning fly tyers, make sure you bring plenty of beads!

This is an awesome fly for trout. I think they like it because it's big and meaty, and it has those tantalizing rubber legs, which no fish can resist. It's also a great panfish fly. And I used it to hook two gigantic carp last summer, both of which instantly bolted and broke me off. My corpuscles are still pumping from those carp! I vow to land one of them this year...

Let's watch how to tie my Beadhead Rubber Leg Prince Nymph!

Beadhead Rubber Leg Prince Nymph Pattern Recipe

Hook: 1X-long nymph hook, size 8-12
Bead: Gold bead, sized for the hook
Weight: 4-8 wraps of lead wire. Shove it up into the back of the bead.
Thread: 8/0 black
Tail: 2 black rubber legs, tied splayed
Rib: Medium gold oval tinsel
Body: Peacock colored dubbing. I like Arizona Synthetic Peacock or Ice Dub
Hackle: Brown hen, 2-3 wraps
Wing: 2 white rubber legs, splayed

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Joy of Fly Tying: Gold Ribbed Hares Ear

After learning how to dub on our previous fly, the Partridge & Orange, we are going to up the ante on our next fly, the ubiquitous Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear (GRHE) nymph. We will be using the same type of dubbing that we used on the Partridge & Orange, rabbit fur, but we will be using a whole lot more of it on the GRHE.
Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Nymph
As you might deduce, the original GRHE nymph used fur from the ear of a hare. Hares have slightly longer and spikier fur than a native bunny that you see running through your neighborhood, but bunnies are more abundant. Instead of going out and harvesting a bunny on my own, I rely on the good people at Hareline Dubbin Company to supply me with some fur. When I get it from Hareline it comes in convenient little zip-lock bags, which might not seem like you are getting a full bunny's worth of fur, but it will be enough to last several years, unless you tie a million GRHE's every year.

I sometimes use the bunny fur they mix with Antron, too, which is nice because it adds some sparkle to my nymphs, and it's almost impossible to harvest your own Antron. Believe me, I've tried...

The GRHE is one of the most important nymphs you can fish. When wet it looks like pretty much every mayfly nymph known to man. You can tie it in any size you want, but sizes 8-20 would be a good start. Don't forget you can always add a bead if you'd like. I don't teach my students about beads until the next fly, but feel free to add one here if you think it might help catch more fish (HINT: You would probably be correct...).

Let's watch how to tie a Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear nymph, shall we?

Gold Ribbed Hare's Ear Pattern Recipe

Hook: Standard nymph hook, size 8-20
Thread: Tan or brown 8/0
Weight: Lead wire to suit
Tail: 6-12 pheasant tail fibers
Rib: Small gold oval tinsel
Abdomen: Hare fur
Wing case: 6-12 pheasant tail fibers
Thorax: Hare fur

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Where Are They Now? Bob Mitchell's Edition

Since not all of my readers are here in the Upper Midwest where I live, I will do a brief explanation of what Bob Mitchell's Fly Shop is. Bob Mitchell's is the oldest fly shop in the Twin Cities metro area. From 1978 to 1994 it was owned by Bob Mitchell and his wife Jean. Since 2013 it's been owned by Robert Hawkins and his wife, Rhea.

In between, from 1994 to 2013, it was owned by Mike Alwin, a jovial-yet-crusty bugger who enjoyed nothing more than giving his customers some gentle grief while also doling out gobs of fly fishing knowledge. During many of those years that Mike was the owner, a motley group of part-timers also worked there, helping out where needed, tying flies for the shop, and giving Mike gruff as often as he dished it out. Mike called them his "henchmen", a term that seemed to fit them well.

Mike and the henchmen, circa 2013

When Mike sold the shop, all of the henchmen left, too. It's now been five years since that happened, so I thought it would be fun to find out Where Are They Now?

First of all, Mike Alwin is enjoying retirement with his wife Deb in a posh and tony suburb of St. Paul. Now that he doesn't own a fly shop, he has more time to actually fish. He also has been tying huge numbers of flies for Lund's Fly Shop in River Falls, WI. When I asked him to provide a brief synopsis of how life has been these past five years, he sent me the following: "After Rickie died, I waited about a year and a half for Deb to tell me she was ready to get another dog. To make a long story mercifully short, we got a four year old English Springer from the English Springer Rescue Association. Her name is Gina and she is fabulous. The first year we had her she killed four squirrels in the back yard. The next year she killed two rabbits on our walks and one of our neighbors doves. That one got a little too far over the fence and a little too close to the ground. Last year she killed a squirrel, a rabbit and two song birds...all in our back yard. Last year we took her out west and she learned to swim on the Boulder River. So, we're still camping and traveling and fishing, but now we're doing it with a swimming killer.Sounds like life is pretty good, unless you happen to be a small mammal or bird within Gina's eyesight...
Next up, as far as tenure at Bob Mitchell's goes, is Gabe Schubert. Gabe worked at Bob Mitchell's on and off for what seemed like an eternity. He started there while still in high school, and now he's 94. His thick, luxurious beard helps to hide his age... No, I have no idea how old Gabe is, other than that he is younger than me. After Bob Mitchell's, Gabe continued to work in the construction/carpentry industry for a little while, but in recent years has transitioned into full-time work with a company called Dry Fly Sales, where he reps Simms, Hatch Reels, G. Loomis, Umpqua, and Scientific Angler. He also works as a guide, taking clients on musky and smallmouth expeditions, as well as a few trout trips thrown in for good measure. He lives in a secluded cabin at the confluence of the Apple and St. Croix Rivers, and is one of the guruiest of musky gurus in the Twin Cities. If you want to catch big muskies on a fly, talk to Gabe.

Gabe the Musky Guru

After Gabe came Ron Kuehn. Ron started working at Bob Mitchell's in the late 1990s. He is an electrician by trade, and is excited that he recently has begun to work the day shift, and has weekends off, although he misses being able to fish mid-week when there are less crowds. He still works part-time at a fly shop, only now that shop is Lund's instead of Bob Mitchell's. He claims to be perennially behind on his fly orders for Lund's, which I assume is true. He has become much more involved with his local Trout Unlimited chapter, and is super excited that his daughter, Anna, has become involved in fly fishing. He can't wait for the two of them to get out soon so she can use her new St. Croix rod she got for Christmas. 

Ron and his daughter, Anna

There was one more henchman at Bob Mitchell's. He was the new guy because he only worked there for 12 years. That guy was me, and I won't go into too much detail, since I write about myself all the time here on the ol' blog. But I will say that I have gotten into teaching, through fly tying classes at various Community Ed departments around the area. And, like Mike and Ron, I also tie flies for Lund's Fly Shop. Plus I write, both here on the blog, and in magazines. Life is pretty good!

Scott, the newest henchman

Yup, things have changed in the past 5 years, but it seems as though all of us are doing pretty well. Look for the next Where Are They Now? Bob Mitchell's Edition in 2023!