"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

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Fly Focus: Mini Madame X

I first heard about the Madame X at a fly fishing expo I attended back in the late 1980s. I don't remember much about that expo, but I know it took place somewhere in downtown Minneapolis, my dad got lost trying to find it, and Doug Swisher was one of the big name speakers who was there that day. Mr. Swisher is famous for writing and co-writing several well known fishing and tying books such as Selective Trout and Emergers. He also starred in several fishing and tying tutorial videos that Scientific Angler and 3M put out back in the day. On the day of the expo, I watched him tying flies and selling his namesake materials.
Doug Swisher
I bought some of his stuff, and I watched him tie a Madame X, and maybe some other flies that haven't stuck in my brain over time. He went on and on about what a great fly the Madame X was, and being the impressionable kid that I was, I absorbed everything he talked about, and then went home and promptly forgot it all.

Fast-forward about 20 years to a day on a very popular trout stream that I used to frequent. I had been having a slow day, catching a few small to medium sized fish on smallish dry flies, which was my fly of choice back then. I was making my way upstream as the day went along, and around one of the bends I ran into a guy who reported the catching of two 18"+ fish out of the next pool. I saw him land one of them. Of course I asked him what he caught them on, and he showed me a rather large deer hair and rubber legged dry fly that was very similar to a Madame X. I was flabbergasted! How could such a large and garish fly catch such picky fish?!?! I did not believe the guy, or at least I didn't want to believe the guy...

It took a while, but eventually I did tie up some Madame X's of my own. Mostly in sizes 8 and 10. I didn't know what the fish would think about them, but I did reluctantly start to fish them. First I fished them on sunfish, and they slayed them wherever I went. Big, bruising sunfish wanted to murder the Madame X. It was awesome. It was so awesome, in fact, that I decided to try them on my favorite trout streams.

Size 14 Mini Madame X
They didn't always work, but sometimes they did, and they oftentimes caught the biggest fish of the day. I would cast them upstream and twitch them like a grasshopper; I would cast them straight across and mend line to get them to drift motionless for a while; I would cast them downstream slightly and strip them back in quick, short bursts like a streamer. They really worked! Sometimes....

After a while I tied some up in smaller sizes, like 12s and 14s. On these smaller, Mini Madame X's, I would usually switch out the rubber legs and instead use some Flexi-Floss. I liked the sheen of the Flexi-Floss, and it seemed to have a little more twitch to it. They seemed to work just as well as the bigger ones. Sometimes even better, especially for sunfish. Just the other night I slayed a bunch of nice 'gills on a size 14 Mini Madame X. They battered it into submission, so now it just looks like a few random strands of deer hair and a chewed up piece of tan Flexi-Floss on a hook. I need to tie up some more, so you might as well watch me do it...

Mini Madame X Pattern Recipe

Hook: Standard dry fly hook, size 12-16
Thread: 8/0, whatever color you'd like
Tail: Deer hair
Head and Wing: Deer hair, tied on bullet-head style
Legs: Flexi-Floss, one strand on both sides of body.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

"Dream" Lake

As I mentioned in my last post, (Click Here To Read It) , there is a certain little lake near where I grew up that my Grandpa and I would frequent back in the mid-1980s. It was right in front of everyone, yet I don't remember seeing anyone else fish it back then, and I know I haven't seen anyone fish it since then. Back in the 80s it was full of scrappy little largemouth bass which averaged about 10 inches long. We caught a few that were bigger than that, but not many, and a few smaller ones too. But most of them were right around the 10 inch mark, and there were a lot of them.
I was hoping to find a bunch of these...
We had a great time fishing there, my Grandpa and me. We probably brought my older sister with some of the time, and maybe even my mom, too, but all of my memories are just my Grandpa and me, catching bass after bass on hot, sunny days.

That was 30+ years ago. My Grandpa has been gone for almost 25 years, and despite driving past this lake thousands of times since the last time I fished there, I hadn't really considered stopping to fish until recently. But for the past several months I've been thinking... Could all of those 10-inch-long bass have grown up to become 10 pound bass? Could those 10 pound bass have had babies and grandbabies and great-grandbabies which have also grown up to be 10 pounders? Perhaps!

Finally my curiosity got the best of me. I sneaked away from work yesterday and stopped my car on the busy road that abuts the lake. It looked fishy, but there was no sign of fish. I rigged up my 8' 4-weight Unstructured Glass rod and tied on a silver Wooly Bugger. If something was in there, I was sure it couldn't resist a Wooly Bugger.
It looks fishy, doesn't it?
I stood along the side of the lake, just off the road, and scanned the water for a sign of life. Suddenly, there was something swimming around, just out of reach of my longest cast. It was a small, dark fishy looking thing, probably the great-great-great-grandbaby of the bass I caught so many years ago, I told myself.  I quickly got my fly in the water and made several fruitless casts. But then another fishy form appeared a little bit closer. I made a cast that was too far to the right. No good. I made another cast that was too far to the left. No good.

Then I made a cast pretty much right on the nose of whatever it was that was swimming around out there, and bang! I excitedly pulled in line, hoping to see a bright green bass dangling from my Bugger. But no, it was not a bass at all. It was not a sunfish. It was a feisty little bullhead; I think it's the first one I've caught on a fly... When I looked back at the lake, there were dozens of bullheads about the same size as the one I caught, swimming around, eating bugs off the surface of the lake.

I have an appreciation for bullheads, having kept two of them in my aquarium for several years. I think they are about the best aquarium fish you could want, requiring little maintenance and even less attention. But, I was hoping to catch some enormous bass on this fishing trip, so a lake full of bullheads did not bring about a sense of excitement. In fact, it made me want to go back to work. So much for this "dream" lake...Maybe I'll try it again in another 30 years...

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Top 10 Spots I Want To Fish

I spend a lot of time thinking about places I want to fish. I guess that's part of the charm of this sport, daydreaming about far-off places that may or may not have bigger fish than you are used to. In my daydreams they are all monsters...

I've been quite a few places already, and the fishing has always been at least adequate, but not necessarily any better than it is back home. I've taken several trips to Colorado, fished in the Ozarks, been to Yellowstone, and fished for migratory trout and salmon in Great Lake tributaries. All the trips have been memorable, but the fishing hasn't always been great. I've been skunked in some very famous destinations. Still, as a lifelong fly fisherman, I can't help but think that there are more and bigger fish in other places, so I have put together a list of my Top Ten Spots I Want To Fish Some Day.

In no particular order, they are:

1. That one little lake I used to fish with my Grandpa 35 years ago that was full of 10" long bass. I haven't seen anyone fishing it since, even though it's right there in front of everyone's faces...

2. That lake I drive by every time I take the 2-year-old up to my mom's apartment on Mondays. It looks super fishy, but I don't know how to get access...

3. That trout stream out West that flows through the golf course...

4. The pond on the 18th hole of the golf course I used to work at. I think there are bass in there...

5. That one tributary to my favorite trout stream that is full of brookies...

6. That one trout lake that I caught all those rainbows in up near the Canadian border. Maybe next time I will catch one of the elusive splake that are supposedly in there...

7. That one urban lake that used to be filled with giant sunfish, until the one year that it wasn't, causing me to not go back since...

8. The Bighorn...

9. That smallmouth river that makes me feel either brutal or brilliant whenever I have fished it. In my daydreams I am always brilliant...

10. Pretty much anywhere that has fish...

Well, that's my list. I hope you weren't expecting me to give up any secret spots. I would be silly to do that here on the internet, where anyone could come along and read it. I might be willing to sell my soul for clicks on the ol' blog, but I'm not stupid...

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


As I wrote about back in early December of 2017, (Click Here to read Boo!) I won a John Irgens-built bamboo rod at my Trout Unlimited Chapter's Holiday Banquet. It was super exciting to win something, but I am not a bamboo guy, and the bamboo rod I won was not an everyday kind of a rod, being a 6'6" long 2-weight. I wasn't really sure when I would fish with it, but tonight I finally took it out of its tube and hit the favorite local water with it. And I gotta say, it was pretty fun!

First fish on the bamboo rod

My quarry tonight were bluegills, something I figured the diminutive bamboo rod could handle. I fished with a size 10 Foam Rubber Spider, and the rod handled it just fine, as long as I didn't try to make any 50' casts. Thankfully there were a ton of hungry 'gills close to shore, and every one of them put a nice bend in the rod. My wife was nearby, and whenever she saw me fighting a fish, she assumed I had a brute on the end of my line. She was always surprised at how ordinary all of the fish turned out to be...
A very ordinary bluegill put this nice bend in the rod. At least my 2-year-old was impressed!

In a half hour or so I landed about a dozen fish, and missed a lot more that were just nibbling. It was a fun way to christen my bamboo rod, and I think I'll bring it out again in the near future!

Gear used: John Irgens 6'6" 2-weight bamboo rod; Maxcatch Avid 1/3 weight reel; Size 10 black Foam Rubber Spider with chartreuse legs.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Fly Focus: Spearfish Special

For years I had heard all of the virtues of the Pheasant Tail Nymph. Everyone said that it was one of the best all-around nymph patterns you could use. They said that it was easy to tie and a deadly fish-catcher. But I had never had much luck with it. Of course, I wasn't much of a nymph fisherman back then. Fishing with nymphs was not as visually stimulating as fishing with dry flies. Not that I was a dry fly purist or anything, but I was mush more adept at fishing dries than I was anything else.

Still, I liked to tie nymphs, and wanted to become a better nymph fisherman. So I tied a lot, and tweaked the standard patterns to try to find some that worked for me. It was while doing some of this tweaking that I decided to add a CDC hackle to standard nymphs to see if it helped. I figured the barbules on the CDC feather might trap tiny air bubbles under water and look like an insect getting ready to hatch.

I tried my CDC nymphs often around here in western Wisconsin and SE Minnesota. I never had much luck, so I stuck them in my nymph box and forgot about them. Then, on a trip out to the Black Hills, I was fishing a stretch of Spearfish Creek which had a beautiful riffly stretch, and I could see trout cruising around in the crystal clear water, eating nymphs all afternoon long. After many fly changes I finally put my Pheasant Tail Nymph with a CDC hackle on, and caught a big bruising brown on my first cast. That fly continued to slay the trout all day long, and my confidence in it grew exponentially. I decided to call my fly the Spearfish Special, since that's where I first had success with it.

Since then I have had great luck, not only with the Spearfish Special, but with all of the nymphs I have added CDC to. My CDC-Enhanced Hare's Ear is an absolute killer! But that's a fly for another day. Let's watch how to tie my Spearfish Special now...

Spearfish Special Pattern Recipe

Hook: Daiichi 1560 or other 1X-Long nymph hook, size 12-18
Bead: Copper or gold, sized to the hook
Lead: 6-8 wraps of .020 lead wire
Thread: Rust colored 8/0
Tail: 6-10 ringneck pheasant tail fibers
Rib: Copper wire, size Small or Brassie
Abdomen: 6-10 ringneck pheasant tail fibers, wrapped forward
Hackle: natural dun colored CDC
Thorax: Peacock colored Ice Dub