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

"Write what you know. If you don't know, make it up..." - Scott Hanson

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!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Saddle Up!

I don't know what makes me opinionated about some things and completely non-opinionated about other things, but if there's one thing I definitely have an opinion about, it's saddle hackle. Specifically dry fly quality saddle hackle from Whiting Farms. This might seem crazy to you, but my opinion of Whiting Farms dry fly saddle hackle is that it is....AWESOME!

OK, maybe that's not such a crazy opinion. Whiting has the reputation of being some of, if not the highest quality hackle in the fly tying industry. And I would wholeheartedly agree with that. I tie a lot of dry flies, most of which are size 16 and under, and Whiting saddle hackles are perfect for that application. The feathers are long, so they are easy to hold on to. And that length lets me get 8-12 flies out of each feather. The barb density is always very full, so it takes fewer wraps to get the nice thick hackle that will help to float my flies. The stems of the feathers are supremely supple, meaning that they are less apt to break whilst wrapping. I can't remember the last time a Whiting hackle has broken on me in the middle of a fly. And the colors are vibrant, both the natural and dyed colors. While natural colors have some variance from bird to bird, Whiting's dyed saddles are very consistent, so when I go buy my next Dyed Dark Dun saddle, I know it will be the same color as the saddle I have been using for my Blue Winged Olives over the past several years.

I don't mean to sound like an advertisement for Whiting, but their saddle hackles are pretty great. Next time you're in the market for some dry fly hackle, make sure you check out Whiting saddles.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Fly Focus: Stimulator

I am going to step away from my Joy of Fly Tying series again, and do another Fly Focus post. If you remember, my Fly Focus posts focus on a favorite fly of mine which I don't teach in my beginning tying classes. These flies could be something I invented, something I love to tie, or something I just think looks really cool. Today I am going to be focusing on the Stimulator.

I've been on a Stimulator kick lately. I tied up a few while tying at the Film Festival in River Falls, WI two weekends ago, and I tied a couple gross of them at the Great Waters Expo last weekend. Whatever a gross is... it sounds like a lot...
Is this a gross, or maybe just a gaggle? Who knows...

I like to tie Stimulators at shows because they are big and easy for my fans and groupies to see from across the table. And they look good. I used to tie smaller flies, especially parachutes, at shows like this, but when there are several rows of people around your table trying to see what you are doing, the poor people in the back row can't see such a small fly. Not that anything like that ever happened, but, you know, it could. I want to do what's best for my fans...

The Stimulator was originated by Randall Kaufmann to imitate stoneflies out west. Here in the frozen North we don't have all that many stoneflies, although there are some that are around at various times of the year. I like to use a Stimulator as an indicator dry fly, hanging a nymph a couple of feet below it. It's super buoyant and I like to tie them in bright colors so they are easy to see. And every once in a while the Stimmie catches the fish while the nymph goes unnoticed. It works great in this regard.

It also can imitate a grasshopper in a pinch. It's not that much different from an old Joe's Hopper, and with rubber legs it can look like a hopper kicking its way across a pool. It's also a good fly for panfish and bass. In other words, it's a great fly for many situations. You should fish it!

Let's see how to tie a Stimulator, shall we...

Stimulator Pattern Recipe

Hook: Tiemco 200R or other curved shank hook, size 6-14
Thread: 6/0 Uni
Tail: Elk hair
Rib: Small copper wire
Abdomen: Yellow, olive, brown, tan, gray, or other color dry fly dubbing
Rear Hackle: brown or ginger rooster
Wing: Elk hair
Front Hackle: Grizzly rooster
Thorax: Any buggy nymph dubbing. Orange and peacock colors are good.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Philling My Phillipson Phissure

For the past few months there has been something missing in my fly fishing life. To be more accurate, there has been something missing from my rod arsenal. To be totally pinpoint accurate, there hasn't been a Philipson rod in my quiver. I have nobody but myself to blame for that, since I am the one who sold my last Phillipson rod a few months ago. I sold it to help fund the purchase of another rod, which is cool, but I missed that Phillipson rod, which was not cool. Ever since I put the last piece of tape on the cardboard shipping tube, I've been looking for another Phillipson rod to take its place.

I have owned a handful of Phillipson rods over the past few years, and like all brands of fly rods, I have liked some and thought some left a little to be desired. My favorite was the Phillipson Royal 7' 6wt that was most recently sold. It was as smooth as butter, yet it had power to spare and a deft touch, all attributes that make a rod sweet. Another Phillipson-built rod that I enjoyed was an Orvis Golden Eagle 7' 5wt that I had a couple of years ago, although I would say it was more of a 3wt than a 5wt. I tried it with a 4wt line and it still felt overpowered. If I had needed another 3wt rod I probably would have kept it, but I already had a Scott and a Steffen 3wt, so off it went.

As I mentioned earlier, as soon as I sent off my beloved Phillipson Royal to its new owner, I started looking for a replacement. It took a few months, but I am happy to say its replacement has arrived. And it's just as sweet of a rod as the Royal was. It's an old Phillipson-built LL Bean rod labeled the "Beans Double L", and it's another 7' 6wt. It's even the same color deep red that my Royal was. I took the Double L out on the yard/snow yesterday afternoon, and it made all the casts I asked it to. The real test will come when the ice finally melts on the lakes and I can try it out on my local sunfish/bass/carps, but the way Spring is going around here that might not happen until 2036. I will let you know how it works out.

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Joy of Fly Tying: Partridge and Orange (or Green, or Yellow, or Purple...)

The second night of my Joy of Fly Tying classes starts with a fairly easy fly, the Partridge and Orange. Most of my students have tied exactly three flies in their life, the three they tied during the first night of the class, so I don't want to throw anything too difficult at them to start the second session. They already have done all of the techniques required to tie a Partridge and Orange with one exception: dubbing. Thankfully there isn't much dubbing on a Partridge and Orange, so the hyperventilating is usually kept to a minimum. Although trying to get new students to use the proper amount of dubbing, and not half a rabbit's worth, can cause me to hyperventilate. I should probably have them all meditate while repeating the mantra "Less is more" over and over again before we start the dubbing lesson...
Partridge and Orange

The Partridge and Orange is a very good trout fly when it's fished down and across on the swing, especially if there is a caddis hatch taking place. I think the trout see the buoyant wet fly as an emerging caddis fly. At least that's as good a theory as I can come up with. Despite not always being all that bright, I still find it difficult to dumb myself down enough to think like a fish...

The Partridge and Orange is not the only color scheme you can tie this pattern in. The Partridge and Yellow, Partridge and Green, and Partridge and Purple are also popular flies, and really you can tie it in any color you want. Just change the color of the floss you use for the body, and Voila! you have a different fly. Experiment and see what works the best on your local trout stream.
Partridge and Yellow

Watch the video to learn how to tie the Partridge and Orange.

Partridge and Orange Pattern Recipe

Hook: Any standard length nymph or wet fly hook, size 10-18
Thread: 8/0 to match the body
Body: One strand of 4-strand rayon floss
Thorax: small ball of rabbit fur
Hackle: Hungarian Partridge feather

Monday, March 19, 2018

Great Waters Expo, Day 3

The 2018 Great Waters Expo ended yesterday. Like most Sundays of past years at this event, it wasn't nearly as busy as the previous two days. But there were still a good amount of people. And there were very few, umm, let's call them "atypical" people there compared to previous Sunday crowds. For some reason it has always seemed like Sundays brought out the "atypical" people to this event, not that there's anything wrong with "atypical" people. They are just a little, you know, "atypical". I'm sure a lot of, if not most, people would consider me to be "atypical" in certain environments... I kind of missed seeing some "atypical" people this year...

Since I wasn't on the schedule to start tying flies until 1PM, I was able to partake in one of the seminars in the morning. It was a "Writer's Roundtable", in which fly fishing writers from around the country gathered together to talk their trade. Being a blogger and sometimes freelance writer, I was excited to hear what they had to say. I learned a few things, but the main thing I learned is that writing is a very personal thing, and I just gotta do it the way I do it. Sounds good to me!
I didn't take any photos of the actual Writer's Roundtable, but this is a pretty good facsimile...

After the writing seminar I headed over to my table in the fly tying area to tie up a few more flies and talk to people. I was still on my unexplainable Stimulator kick, but I changed up the color again to a rusty brown and peacock color scheme. I think they will work well... Last year at this event I tied a lot of Stimulators, too. Maybe I will figure out something different to tie next year. I have a year to think about it. I would hope I could figure out something by then, but knowing me, I probably won't. Who doesn't like Stimulators?!?!
Some of my flies being sold at the Lund's Fly Shop booth. Oh yeah...
Some of the other peeps working in the Fly Tying area. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Great Waters Expo, Day 2

Today was Day 2 of the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo here in the Twin Cities. It was a lot like yesterday, only there were way more people there today. I'm sure the fact that it was a beautiful 50 degree day here on the frozen tundra made people want to get out and do something, and a large portion of those people came to the Expo. I spent a majority of the day tying more flies. I had a lot of people stop by my table to watch me tie, including two of my former students from my Joy of Fly Tying classes. Coincidentally enough, both of those former students are named Steve... Maybe I should make a rule that all of my future students are named Steve, since it seems that my tutelage only really works on Steves... It's something to think about at least.

The best part of the day was when The Wife and The Four Kids stopped by to see me. They got to see me tie a Stimulator and interact with the public. I'm pretty sure they were amazed at my ability in both those regards. Actually it was quite obvious that they were more impressed with the live aquatic insects that local esteemed entomologist Dean Hansen had at the show. All four of my kids ooohed and aaahed while peering into the plethora of tubs that held countless mayfly, caddisfly, stonefly, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs. They were speechless when they saw the enormous hellgrammites. And they squealed with disgust when Dean picked up a 5-inch-long hellgrammite and asked them if they wanted to pet it. I like bugs, but even I didn't want to pet that thing! It looked like it could take my pinky finger off with a slash of its jaws. No thank you!
The King Daddy of all hellgrammites!

Other than that, the day pretty much revolved around flies. I started out tying more rubber-leg Stimulators like yesterday, only in different colors. From there I moved on to some yellow Madame X's, but I wasn't real happy with the way they were looking, so I went back to tying more Stimulators in even more colors.
Rubber Leg Stimulator
Yellow Madame X. Meh...
Regular old Stimulator
Tomorrow is the last day of the Expo for this year. If you are anywhere near the Twin Cities and are in any way interested in fly fishing, I highly suggest you drop everything and head over there. If you do, swing on through the fly tying area and say Hi!

Friday, March 16, 2018

Great Waters Expo, Day 1

Today was the first day of the annual Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo here in the Twin Cities. Over the years it's been held at several different venues in various parts of the metro area, from Bloomington to Blaine to White Bear Lake. Now, for what I believe is the third year, it is being held on the campus of Hamline University in St. Paul. I have enjoyed this current venue the best, and I'm not just saying that because it's the closest it's ever been to my house. It also is a great venue! Lots of space, the presentation rooms are close to the main area, and the fly tying area is huge. That's where I usually spend most of my time, and this year is no exception. I did some demonstration tying today from 1-7pm, I will be there tomorrow from 9am-6pm, and I will also be there on Sunday afternoon as well. I have a feeling I am going to get a lot of flies tied...

Today I tied up a bunch of rubber-leg Stimulators and a couple of Madame X's. there was a good crowd for a Friday, but there were also a couple of lulls, so I had a chance to walk around and look at booths, as well. I also had a chance to head outside to get some food at a food truck called Potter's Pasties and Pies. I got my very first pastie, which is not as titillating as the name might suggest. It's essentially a gourmet Hot Pocket, with meat, veggies, potatoes, and gravy inside of it. It was very good! And big! If you are heading down to the Expo over the next couple of days and find yourself hankering for some food, I would recommend you try one.

Let's take a look at day one of the 2018 Great Water Fly Fishing Expo, as seen through my phone!

My fly tying table at the Expo
Rubber Leg Stimulator
What was left of my pastie when I realized I should take a picture of it...
A T-shirt that was for sale at one of the booths. I want one...

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Joy of Fly Tying: Peacock and Brown

The Peacock & Brown is the third fly my students learn to tie in my Joy of Fly Tying classes. It's a pretty straightforward wet fly that is very effective on brook trout. With the Peacock & Brown, students pick up where they left off on the two previous flies, the Rubber Leg Spider and the Wooly Bugger, and learn a couple of new skills. Specifically they learn how to handle peacock herl and how to tie in and wrap a collar hackle. They do all this on a much smaller hook than anything they have tied on before, a size 12 wet fly hook.

Peacock & Brown

Let's see how it's tied, shall we...

Peacock & Brown Pattern Recipe
Hook: Any standard nymph or wet fly hook, size 12-16
Thread: Black 8/0
Tail: Red floss, one or two strands
Body: 3-5 peacock herls
Hackle: Brown hen hackle, sized to match the hook

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Film Fest!

You probably have already heard of the Fly Fishing Film Fest. If you haven't, it's a fun event where a plethora of short fly fishing-themed films are shown back to back, and fly fishing enthusiasts get together to watch, critique, and tell each other their fishing-related tall tales. At least that's what has happened at all the Film Fests I have been to. They are all great fun!

I was lucky enough to be asked to do some demonstration tying at the Film Fest that occurred last night in River Falls, Wisconsin. I and three other guys tied flies and chit-chatted with patrons for the 2 hours before the films started. I like to tie flies, but my favorite part of events like this is seeing old friends I haven't seen in a while and getting caught up on their lives and their fishing escapades. And I saw plenty of old friends, so the time went quickly.
Three Stimulators
I did get a few flies tied, as well. I tied Stimulators, since they are fairly large and people could see what I was doing fairly easily. It always takes me some time to figure out what to tie at events like this because my specialties are small dry flies, but small dry flies aren't very visible for people unless they are standing right behind me or sitting on my lap, and generally speaking, things like that are frowned upon by event organizers.

I didn't get to see all the films since I was off doing other things, but the ones I saw were very good. I especially enjoyed a film that I believe was titled "Confluentas", but don't quote me on that. It was about small river fishing for Bull Trout somewhere in North America. The story was good, and the video of huge Bull Trout being caught in a tiny creek was jaw-dropping.

All in all, it was a great night. Over 500 of my fellow fly fishers enjoyed great films, fantastic food, and exciting fellowship centered around our finny friends. If you have a chance to attend a Fly Fishing Film Fest in your area, I would suggest you do.
A box of flies I donated to the bucket raffle.

Look at all the tickets of people who wanted to win my flies! Woot!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Joy of Fly Tying: Wooly Bugger

The next fly we are going to learn in my Joy of Fly Tying series is the Wooly Bugger. The Wooly Bugger is one of the most delicious looking flies you can fish with, at least according to the fish. Of all the species of fish I have caught in my life, most of the biggest of each species was caught on a Wooly Bugger. There's just something about the buggy-looking saddle hackle and the titillatingly wavy marabou tail that has the ability to drive fish crazy. This is one of the most important flies to carry in your arsenal.

You can tie Wooly Buggers in any color scheme you can think of. For trout I like to carry them in brown, olive, black, silver, yellow, and one of my favorites is a variegated brown and tan and olive Bugger that I have called the Mushroom & Swiss Bugger. Panfish love yellow and chartreuse, amongst other colors. Bass like big Buggers in silver and chartreuse. My largest smallmouth bass was caught on a rusty colored Wooly Bugger which the big ol' bass may or may not have mistaken for a crayfish. I didn't think to ask him... I have often heard that all white Wooly Buggers can be very effective for an assortment of species, but I have never caught anything on one. You could even tie big Wooly Buggers in red and white or red and yellow color combinations for pike. There are no limits when it comes to Wooly Buggers, and I am pretty sure any color combo will catch something at some point in time.
Mushroom & Swiss Bugger

I put beads on 100% of the Wooly Buggers I tie for myself, but I don't have my students use beads until later on in class. So the Wooly Bugger in the video will be beadless. In the first fly of the class we tied a Rubber Legged Spider, which is a pretty basic fly that allows students to learn how to tie materials on the hook, how to start the thread, and how to tie off the thread. The Wooly Bugger adds to those skills with the ability to measure tails, wrap lead wire, wrap body materials and ribbing, and how to size and wrap hackle. That's a lot of new skills! Let's watch how to tie one!

Wooly Bugger Pattern Recipe
Hook: Any 2X or 3X long streamer hook. The Tiemco 5263 is a good choice
Thread: 6/0, color to match the body
Weight: 8-12 wraps of lead wire
Tail: Marabou of any color you choose
Rib: Fine wire
Body: Medium chenille, any color you choose
Hackle: Saddle hackle sized for the hook

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Rods From the Past...

As I have mentioned before, I love to acquire new fly rods. After all, fly rods are the most awesome tool ever created by man, and they are all different, so I might as well try them all out, right? Actually, I have no intention of trying them all out, since I know some of them will not be to my liking. But I am more than happy to try out any and all fiberglass rods I can get my grubby mitts on, whether vintage or new. And older, softer graphite rods are always fun to try, too.

So, over the years I have owned a bunch of rods, most of which turned out to not be the best fit for my casting stroke. So, those rods got moved on to a new owner, while I have kept the ones I like. I thought it would be fun to look back at some of the rods from the past, and talk about what I liked and didn't like about them. Here are some of my Rods From the Past...

First up is my first Shakespeare Wonderod model 910UL, a 7' 5 weight. If you don't know much about Wonderods, they were some of the first fiberglass rods made. Wonderods burst onto the scene in 1947, and were manufactured up until the early 80s. A majority of them were white in color, although you can sometimes find green, black, and other colors of Wonderods. I had heard a lot about the casting prowess of the shorter Wonderods, so when I had a chance to get this 7-footer, I snapped it up. It really was a fun little rod, but for some reason that I can't seem to recall at the moment, I decided to move this one on. I'm sure it was a good reason...

I had always wanted a Heddon fly rod. I think probably because my dad had a rod tube made by Heddon, and he seemed to think they were a well-made rod, even though he himself didn't own one. Over the past few years I have owned several Heddons, but there was always something I didn't like about them. Mostly it was that they were too heavy for my liking. I did like this Heddon Mark #8251, which was supposed to have a "Wet Fly Action", whatever that means. It's the only Heddon I have owned that didn't have a metal ferrule, which probably helped keep the weight down. Over time, though, I realized it was too slow and whippy for me, so I sold it.

Next up is my old Orvis Silver Label graphite 7'6" 3weight. This is one of the few rods I have owned that I bought new. I had it for a long time, and caught a lot of trout on it. But there came a point in my life that I stopped using 3 weights. I just really liked the greater flexibility that a 5 or 6 weight gave me. I liked having the ability to throw bigger nymphs if need be, so I decided that I would never have a need for a 3 weight again, and I sold it. It didn't take me too long to realize that a 3 weight can be a lot of fun sometimes, so now I am back to owning a couple of them, neither of which have the soul that my old Orvis had...

My second Shakespeare Wonderod Model 910UL came shortly after I sold the first one. I got a great deal on one that turned out to be brand new, still with the tags on it. Never been cast! I couldn't believe my fortune! But I also couldn't get myself to take it out on the water. It was over 50 years old and had never been fished! I could hold onto it for another 50 years and sell it to the Smithsonian...or I could move it on to someone who would appreciate it more than me. After all, I'm a fisherman, not a rod collector. I did move it on, and I haven't regretted it once. But I did get myself another 910UL a couple of months ago...

My last rod that I will talk about today is an old Winston 8'6" 5weight fiberglass rod I acquired a couple of years ago. I was super pumped to own my first Winston rod. Winstons are the Rolls Royces of fly rods, and I had been used to casting Geo Prisms. But there was something weird about this Winston. I never could figure it out, but it just didn't feel right. All my buddies who tried it out felt the same way. I guess even Rolls Royce makes a few lemons every once in a while...

Well, I hope you enjoyed this virtual walk down memory lane. There are a bunch of other rods from the past that I might write about some day. I will dig through my old photos some time and see what I can find.