Tag Archives: backcountryfishnerd

Break Point

The last time I published a technical article, I was met with some really positive feedback. So, Im going to follow this rabbit hole a little further. Since I have been writing everyday, there seems to be plenty of time to explore a little. Plus, my computer decided to completely clean itself out. Everything (and I really mean everything including my sign in for wordpress) was deleted, buried in an unknown digital graveyard to live out its afterlife.

Typically, people will refer to a joint in a streamer as articulation. A place where the fly is designed to flex with a rigid shank on either side of the joint. As fond as people are of articulated streamers (both dual hook and looped shank), there is a far more subtle area of the fly I like to refer to as the “Break Point”. This break point is a transition between materials tied on the hook and is often destroyed by an articulation. Greater motion with less force can be applied to a fly with a break point. It’s all about delivering the energy you create by stripping a streamer and its ability to continue that motion through momentum. An articulation will flex and absorb that energy by folding in half. It’s very much like wiggling a chain and a fly rod. The chain will hang lifeless, and when force is applied, the movement is absorbed by each link in the chain. The fly rod, given the same force, will continue wiggling after force is applied. To make this more direct, a broken fly rod doesn’t wiggle like it should either. Hence, underwater, an articulated fly must rely on constant and greater force to move as it should and you should spend a little more time thinking about material transitions.

Put simply, the break point is the point in the fly where dense, sturdy materials meet those of a typically longer and more supple sort. Usually these transitions are found at the rear of the hook shank. The break point is easy to point out in flies like the Dahlberg Diver, but can often be much more complex and hidden as the break point is elongated. For example, bunny leeches with a bunny tail have a break point at the tie in for the tail. Whereas, in a fly such as the Derp, the break point is at the center of the more rigid structure (more on this in a minute, I promise) and creates a curve rather than a hard angle. Like the bunny leech, most streamers have a “hard break point” where the fly has soft, long fibers tied in on the rear of the fly. The harder a break point is (how sharp the angle is at the transition), the more likely the fly is to foul and have its tail wrapped around the hook shank.

How flexible the break point is can be a two-edged sword. Sometimes you want a hard break point when you are oriented vertically over structure. That wiggly tail can provide movement in a place where linear movement is difficult. However, that same fly stripped over open water will fold in half on the pause. In my experience, fish hate this. I mean, when I see a cow in pasture, I look at its cuts. Where my burger is going to come from is important. If the cow is unhealthy, it is apparent. Now, imagine that same cow walking along normally and suddenly folding in half and emerging again walking normally. I don’t want that burger anymore. I think this hitch is what drives a smallie to haul over to your fly and suddenly spook when you stop retrieving, only to come back once it moves again. If you see this often, you are probably almost there in design. Continue tinkering.

There is an exception to the rule. Moving water. If you are fishing moving water, the fly is constantly on the move and great force is constantly being applied to your streamer. Kinda like one of those silly “fly tester” aquarium things. Yes, it does give you a read on how the fly will swim under constant motion in perfect conditions, but we aren’t always fishing moving water with our flies. For me, it is incredibly rare. Quite frankly, because our moving water usually has no warm water fish and when it does, access is near impossible. If you do fish a lot of moving water, the break point has less importance. Hook orientation and balance are the keys to success there.

Maintaining shape and profile are critical under stillwater conditions. Back to the cow, either folded in half or front legs jutting out vertically from its shoulders, you will notice that. But three legs or one horn or an odd color can be overlooked in the proper circumstances. The same can be said for your flies. Sure, you tied a perfectly stereotypical brown cow, which is mostly what the streamer world focuses on. However, the most important aspects of streamers deal with profile and motion. Your perfectly tied brown cow that is levitating and turning inside out like a cheap 80’s horror movie will attract the wrong kind of attention.

This is getting long, bear with me.

Break point elongation is critical in flies that you want to work with long pauses. Accomplishing this is quite the easy task indeed. First, the fly must be light. rather than using extra mass on the fly, use a weighted fly line to drag your fly to the depths. This creates a slight forward motion on the fly to keep it from binding. Now, for the big number two.

Decide where you want the break point to be in terms of total length of the fly. Like last time, break it down into thirds. This time, only work in the center third. The forward third is reserved for techniques enough to write a book. The rear third is pointless.

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In this example, the Derp has a slightly rearward and very soft break point with the hook far in front. It is a very unexaggerated motion, more of a drifting, legato motion on the pause. No hard turns or anything of the like. It can be worked with speed, but designed to be general purpose. And such are rear break point flies. The elongation of the break point is created by making a kind of mesh. Both EP and bucktail are notoriously grabby and the use of polar flash binds it all together. When the hook drops due to gravity, the structural integrity of these materials spreads the force over a longer distance and keeps the overall profile in tact. Even though the tie in transition is on the rear of the hook, through different types of materials like the sturdy bucktail add rigidity and structure to the more supple and lengthy EP.

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Transversely, the Laser Yak has a forward and slightly harder break point with mass behind the transition tie in. The break point is elongated again, but not as much, by utilizing structural materials (in this case laser dub) interlocked into longer, softer fibers. The elongation is shorter due to the suppleness of the fibers but creates more lateral motion when mass and resistance are properly added into the equation.

Keep your break point in mind next time you are staring down that fly on the vice. How can you manipulate it to get your fly to do what you want? The more forward the break point, the more lateral motion the fly will have. The more rear, more subtle motion. The harder a break point, the sharper the flex and more loss in momentum. The softer the break point, the more momentum can be maintained. Have fun and go tinker!

 

 

 

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Point-Center Mass

This may be the first time I have written a post about a technique used in fly tying. Kind of scary to share knowledge this way here. I do not normally find myself specifically writing from a technical perspective. Dear Diary, I’m not going to get terribly artsy today.

Before you begin reading it may be beneficial to understand when I refer to WEIGHT, I mean it as the application for the purposes of downward force. MASS is a reference to mass applying force and typically forward motion.

Mass is very typically overlooked. Most people use it to get deeper and that is the sole purpose, “cause that is where the fish are”. Although this is true in most cases, it is not necessarily the case for where they are currently eating. A sub par fly will function a whole lot more effectively when it is presented 5mm from the mouth of a fish. Those fish are usually snuggled up to some sort of structure. Trout live in the soft spots with great food sources, bass, in and around lots of different kinds of debris. When we present a fly to these fish, we feel like we should get closer and closer until we bug them enough to eat. It works. However, when you watch the fish you are targeting, it will often move from the feeding zone to eat something else. Not your fly.

Outside of midges, craw patterns, clousers and deceivers, we see a different sort of reaction to our flies (fish dependent). In order to move a fish (bass, trout, pike, musky, carp, etc..) you have to give it something it not only wants, but something it can wisely use its energy on. Two specific memories come to mind with this thought.

The first, when I fished the Blue River in town, the first cast with a black emerger thingy I tied, a 22″ trout shot across the cable hole 30′ to be the first to grab it. I had never seen that happen in a river full of “tight-lipped” trout. The second, an X-tail brought a musky zipping just sub-surface from at least 50′ to eat.

These are two opposing ends of the spectrum, but they both had a reaction in common. What can one glean from this information? You guessed it (whether you did or didn’t doesn’t matter at this point cause I’m going to tell you anyway), they both resembled something the fish was going to eat. Realism. Not in the “wow, that looks like the real thing” to the human eye, but the “Oh my gosh a bear! No, wait, that’s a trash bag”.

If we, with our powerful brain capacity and reason, can not tell the difference between sasquatch and a tree stump, why would we expect a fish to do the same? The same reference can be applied to how some people are unable to differentiate chicken and pork in some dishes. Or when people say, “wow, this vegan burger tastes great!”

I ran slightly off topic, but I feel like you need to know a little deeper about my thought processes of why fish eat certain things. A different approach to realism. Motion. The proper motion in the water can make the difference between a fish laying mundane in a spot and moving far out of its way to eat.

So, where was I? Oh yeah, slapping weight on the front of a streamer kills any motion the fly could potentially gain. Unless, you are only going for vertical motion. You can also get some nifty motion from combinations of front mass and head resistance (a topic for a different day). Today, I’m diving into “Point-Center Mass”. If you divide you hook into thirds, you’ll end up with front, center and rear. Side note: I typically refer to the “head” as the front third with added materials. I definitely want to make that difference clear as they will become very different things.

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Every hook will be different and we will use this 2/0 Gamakatsu B10S as an example.

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Point-Center Mass starts from the hook point and travels into the front third of the hook but is slightly off of true center depending on the hook. In this example, .035″ lead-free round wire is used to get the proper weight.

The mass distribution in every hook is different, especially in terms of mass around the bend of the hook. This should be taken into account when figuring weight distribution. In the case of this B10S, the bend starts early and is (when straightened) 1.5ish times the length of the shank. Weighing roughly 800 milligrams in total, that means the bend weighs roughly 500 milligrams. Exact numbers do not matter, but knowing roughly where you are can make a great deal of difference. Does that mean you should you buy a scale and be put on an FBI watch list? Probably.

The full idea behind Point-Center Mass is to add mass between the point and the eye of the hook to further balance the end product. Although it is one of the more complex aspects of design, it is the most simple in terms of application and has very broad coverage of different flies. You can put nearly anything on this hook and it will do exactly what you want. Essentially, you are adding the weight of the bend again into the center third of the hook. Your weight distribution in thirds from front to rear is 150-500-500 milligrams. If the weight ends up being over the point, you are adding unnecessary mass to the rear third. The transition when adding weight from the point forward is smooth. When you look at its distribution in terms of numbers, you’ll notice that the front is light. This is when it gets interesting (as if it weren’t interesting enough already, amiright!?).

When the head is light and creates a lot of resistance, the resistance slows the head and the mass behind the head tries to catch up. A lot like slamming the brakes in your car and the rear tires lock up. Your car will turn backward. But, when you add a tail, (depending on the materials) it will calm the swing of the fly and tighten the swerve. When the weight shifts, a magical thing happens. The mass continues pushing and, because it is so close to the head, the fly rocks back and forth when no force is applied by the act of stripping. The motion continues slightly even when force is applied. Giving your fly realistic mimicry of a fish and prolonged motion when you aren’t working for it. In most cases, this will make a fish move from anywhere it is at to eat. Some flies are great on the strip and terrible on the pause and some opposite of that. In those cases your fly is only working half of the time. If you increase the effectiveness of both types of motion, you double your total time on the water.

Try point-center mass techniques in your favorite single hook, non-articulated flies. A couple great ones for the technique are Dahlberg Divers and Bohen’s Buford or even Zimmerman’s Stuntman Eddie (you’d have to break some rules though). Not to mention my Laser Yak. Go crazy with it, the simple rule is making a fluffy head.

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The Horde

There comes a time in every fly tier’s life where there is an insurmountable task ahead. For some it is design and the pressures that follow it. For me, the act of tying is the clincher. I do not support using anything remotely close to free labor unless it is my own. I know and understand there are others out there like me. I would not mind one iota if there was fair labor overseas. Even if they were paid slightly under our own minimum wage. They aren’t and there is no cushy way to put it even if you are supporting an entire colony of people for pennies a day.

My issue here is, as much as it does help one from a third world country, it could be more. There are no strictly enforced labor laws, no regulations. If you were really looking to sincerely help those from other countries, import the people here or export our regulations and American pay rates. You are, after all, selling to Americans with American dollars.

In no way will I use this blog for political rants (cause I hate politics) or pursuing any agenda, but the influx of products made through cheap labor is astounding. This is all encompassing in the fly fishing world. Unavoidable. I’m only one guy, but chasing that dream of someday having flies tied by people who fish in the same places I do, is something maybe I can help attain. It seems futile with all the deal chasers and the myth that a full fly box catches more fish.

That scheme, “hand-tied” flies to novices is like a moth to flame. Fluttering toward the prospective that real hands attached to people that live and die by the river touched the fly they desire. And it is only ninety-nine cents! Even “pros” get sucked into this mess. “designed by so-and-so”, to which all flies are cheapened and tied differently from the original design (if any real time or processes are involved). Should really say “fly pattern inspired by” as though they are loosely based on a true story. Tie it how it was intended, take the extra .0001 cent and eight seconds to slap on the extra marabou.

My frustration with the industry as a whole reveals itself. I know that it can’t be changed.   I have no net positive or negative outcome on it. The clock keeps ticking and the horde keeps flowing in on ships to saturate this industry as well. Caught up by industrialist inspired work in an industry with a need for craftsmanship and personal interaction. From people, no matter where in the world, who stand behind their work whole-heartedly and with pride.

While the incoming horde grows, I sit contemplating my own. Every detail, every rotation of thread carefully and willfully planned. Not because I am told to. Not because I can make that dollar if I hit my quota. Because I want to see people catch fish on a well executed fly they can connect with. To bring back the sense of non-mechanical joy.

75 down 225 to go… Oh yeah, then I have to actually tie them.IMG_1437

 


Mitosis Egg!

I set out filming Fly Hacks to help people understand the “why” and “how come” that I find myself asking when watching other videos. Anyone can bake a cake by recipe, but knowing how and why certain ingredients are used can lead you to make better cakes. I feel the same with flies. We can copy other patterns, but when we understand what we are doing, we can take an idea further. I hope my readers and watchers can take my patterns further. It is more about how you can use a material than it is about what new materials are out there.

 


Here Comes the Ice Cream Truck!

When I was a kid, it was a bell, it was a child’s call to arms. These days it is bad digital music through a megaphone often precluded by a child’s voice saying “Hello!?”. A process that further complicated the simple world of the ice cream man. I do not wonder why hordes of kids carrying pitchforks are not chasing these big white box trucks around. They have gone too far trying to make the truck acceptable and cool. What ever happened to good ol’ bright colors? Unusual, bright color combinations that just attracted children. Blue ice cream and hot pink sprinkles!? Yes please! There is something otherworldly about the colors, as they are not commonly edible. Why do kids love them? The answer is ultra simple. Curiosity.

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It is common in science to conclude that animals have minds equivalent to young humans. They can accomplish seemingly complex tasks in the wild, but when it comes to processing new information or training, animals seem to have trouble. We can teach them to speak sign language, yet it does not give us much insight into the way they think. We can only observe. Maybe observing a young child’s behavior when it comes to food can give us insight into highly educated fish. Which takes me right back to ice cream.

When I was young, chasing after the ice cream truck was a habit. If my parents did give me money, it might have been a dollar. Enough to get an ice cream cone, probably bubble gum. Yes, I wanted something more than bubble gum ice cream, the coveted “Rocket Pop”. It was $2.50 if I remember correctly. Never had enough to buy one. Something about it called to me and I can’t quite pinpoint why. It just looked like unending bliss, or maybe I would fly to the moon after eating one. Who knows?

Nothing has changed over the years. I was digging through my materials one day, looking for some that were rarely used. I saw it. A hot pink northern bucktail. Not something I would normally buy, but this one was perfect. I proceeded to tie some muskie flies. For some reason, I combined it with chartreuse and my brain exploded. Working with the hair took too long and I needed a quick and easy go-to pattern for the times when I’m in a hurry to go fishing (always). I bought up a handful of materials and began to tie. What I came up with was an articulating and suspending, not really fishy looking fly. It was the colors that looked delicious. The “Rocket Pop”.

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I know, it doesn’t look like a fish, but it was never meant to. It was meant to tap into the brain of a child, to make things that looked delicious and unreal. It was the idea that maybe children also have the same primitive instinct and curiosity as a predatory fish. The same fish that spends his entire life hunting prey, knowing exactly which fish to eat. One with senses about as sharp as his teeth. One quick in his reflexes and right in his choices. One with a weakness, the ice cream truck.

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Lesson #20: Be a kid. You never know when it might come in handy.


The Beginning

For twenty years, I didn’t know this photograph existed. It was buried away in a shoebox time capsule waiting for a time when it may be of some use. The use was an ear to ear grin about a time when things were simple, unadulterated. Although it may have been just the simple act of fishing, life was easy then. No quotas or deadlines, no bills or worries, and no liars or thieves. As a child, nobody was out to get what they could from you, their only goal was to add what they could. It takes a child or mother or father to see the real beauty here. Not that I’m saying that those are the only people who will see it. Rather, you have an element of one of those within you. To others, it is a poorly handled and obviously dead, fish. I would sacrifice that fish again, if it meant that I could live it all over the same way.

That's me on the left!

That’s me on the left! Please also note that I have the same hairdo.

Life beyond that moment was changed forever. In the following weeks, I would pick up fly fishing. For me, there were no hand-me-down rods and reels, no mentor, nobody to tell me right and wrong. Just magazines and books totaling endless hours at libraries and grocery stores. A kid dreaming about his first fly rod through a Bass Pro Shop catalog, asking his mom what we could and could not afford. In reality, we couldn’t afford any of it. Christmas that year would tell a new tale, beginning the life of a fly fisherman. Not one who entered by means of indoctrination, but one that entered by the majesty of the fish itself.

 

Through my pleading, my parents would take me to wonderful places. Montana, Colorado and Wyoming were some of the most memorable places. For some reason, New Mexico was where I could really get out and explore. It is where I felt the most comfortable. While looking through these photos, I realized that I had a fishing outfit. A very large white shirt. Most of my clothes belonged to older and larger people before they found their way onto my back, but no matter, I was doing what I loved to do.

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The first place I ever fly fished will remain in my heart forever. It was my companion and mentor. It was my teacher of life and self reflection. It was, in essence, a hero of mine. As the years passed, it remained a constant in my life and showed me some amazing fish along the way. The beauty of the canyon and the wildlife within it were my escape through high school and may have also been my saving grace from drugs and other crime amongst my childhood friends. The creek was there through it all. Rather than go to a party, I would find myself wanting to fish. Life just worked out. In the long run, everything was ok. I only ever saw one other fly fisherman on this creek one time. I think the creek knew me well and felt the same as I did. When I left for Florida, the creek died. It dried out from cattle ranchers damming up the springs and feeders. They killed the trout in the wake of it all. It died from lack of use, lack of people that loved it.

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What happened next, I feel is an odd turn of events. With the drying up of the creek, the white sucker and goldfish populations exploded out of control. The state had no other choice but to put a predator in to kill the rough population. With that, there was new life and a new species to fly fish for. They have grown to their full adult size around the time that I stumbled back to this place, the place that taught me that a river can be a friend too. The place where I found fly fishing. Is it chance?

Lesson #19: Secrets can be dangerous to some places. Without people, your secret can dry up and you will carry it with you to your grave. The real secret is sharing it with the right people.

Side note: One of the photos is of the San Juan LONG before any habitat projects. The hole I’m standing in is the “Kiddie pool”. I’ll try to replicate this image in another post to show you how much it has changed.


Seeing Red

The day started off quite well. I woke up early, took a shower, brushed my teeth and headed west. The brisk nature of high desert winter still loomed from the night before. The sunrise peeked assuredly from mountains slowly fading into the horizon. I felt as though I raced time herself, like the sun was setting again as I drove opposing the rotation of Earth. I was unknowingly driving back in time, back to the Miocene Epoch when ancestors of the modern Esox genus roamed the deep. Of course, this could have also been my imagination.

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These prehistoric critters have had a lot of time to become more and more efficient. If I was on the Earth for over five million years, I would be one hell of a fisherman too. Time after time, these fish remind you of how long their species has been smarter than ours. It only took us 20,000 years to develop the fly rod that we use today. Even after all of this time we have yet to develop polarized vision. They even have sensors on their bottom jaw that contain little tiny hairs that detect the signature of swimming fish. This is standard issue on these fish! We had to spend THOUSANDS of years just getting smart enough to figure out side scanning sonar! GAH! I digress…

These fish can present difficulties, they are even called the fish of 10,000 casts. There are intensely difficult days and I think I know exactly why. Have you ever brought a muskie up to your fly and it stares at it for a second, gives you a “Pfft” and a giggle as it meanders back off into the deep? Sucks, right? Let us say that someone drops a pink hat on the ground. Roughly 5% of humans would pick it up and wear it. The other 95% would look, but scoff at it instead. Due to the individuality among groups of muskie, they would also rather not wear a pink hat. At least not today. After all, it only took them five million years of being angry and territorial to become more individual. Although the group of fish has very common habits as a whole, each fish also has a set of personal tastes. Call me crazy…

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I looked over the partially frozen lake to find an ice free section of water that has been known to produce a handful of fish. I sat down to dig through my box for the weapon of choice. A green and blue double articulating streamer, deadly in the fall here. After one fish and a handful of follows, I gave up on the fly and fumbled through my box for other patterns. The idea here is common for me. Change flies, cast twenty times, count follows and takes, rinse and repeat. I tried many different patterns over the next few hours, ruling out common streamers and color combinations until one nearly punched me in the face. I felt stupid when I pulled it out of the box. Every other fly that day was weighted. This was not. Just simply a red and black articulating streamer. Armed with a sink tip line, this fly would suspend exactly where and when I  needed it too. Within ten casts, I was into two fish with no follows (follows are usually bad). This means the fish were taking the fly when they saw it. Red. It had to be red. Every other color did not produce results. I really think this was a sign. Muskies are, as usual, plotting against you.

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If you have been reading this blog for the past few months, you will know that the muskies and I are at war. Allow me to paraphrase, the muskie took flies and snapped hooks, I vowed to go after their entire race and here we are today. I should have known they were out for blood when they chose red as their feeding color. The bad color. When landing fish, I noticed they would tightly close their mouth. Unusual for all of these fish to display this. They were telling me something. Getting them to open up requires a simple trick, just put the fish underwater until they become buoyant. Their mouth will open right up. This puts you in a rather precarious position when fishing from shore. Crouched and unstable next to the subject who is in it’s element almost entirely. Mano a fisho. The last fish of the day went well. Quick fight, hook removed, easy release. Until I looked down. A pool of blood was gathering at my feet and the line was sticking to my fingers. I hadn’t injured the fish, the fish injured me. I did not feel a thing. I have nicked my knuckles and other parts of my hand on teeth before, but apparently thumb wounds are like head wounds. It was just bleeding and I couldn’t stop it. For a couple minutes I fished on. I never realized how important your thumbs are while stripping fly line. I had to stop. Since there was no superglue in my Jeep, I went home with my tail between my legs. The muskie won the battle that day, but I learned a very powerful lesson. Never trust a muskie.

Lesson #18: Although they appear soft and cuddly, the muskie is a voracious predator and a reckless surgeon. Try to keep your hands out of it’s mouth full of tiny scalpels or lose your scruples. And by scruples, I mean your digits. And by digits, I don’t mean your phone number.

*Warning!!! Graphic image below!*

Much like bigfoot, the culprit is always fuzzy.

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The aftermath

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