What really matters?

A friend of mine and I recently got into a “debate”, not truly a debate, but more of a conversation about what really mattered when fishing. This specific case had to do with fly fishing and fly tying. We ranked in order of importance, in our opinions, what matter the most when fly fishing. Is it the fly? Is it the presentation? Is it the size? We both came to a settled agreement that 1st is presentation, 2nd is pattern of the fly, and 3rd is the size. I thinking, personally, 2 and 3 are interchangeable, while 1 is pretty concrete.

This can be applied to all facets of fishing. Whether you are talking about saltwater vs. freshwater. Fly fishing vs. Spinning/Bait-casting. There are several factors out of our realm of control. Weather, pressure systems, temperature, food availability, and the list goes on and on. The fact of the matter is, we have fewer options of things we can control vs. the amount of things we can’t. That’s why they call it fishing, not catching. So let me break this down in my own take on how I have perceive my successes on the water and how am I am able to catch fish.

Presentation vs. Pattern

The first bit of this debate is comparing pattern to presentation. Whether we’re talking flies or crankbaits, the same rules apply. I am an avid fly tyer, I have been for a long time. I fish what I tie and tie what I’m going to fish. I am also an avid bass angler, I fish from a canoe, from shore, boats (when one is available). Let’s start with fly fishing first. I am not a perfectionist by any means when it comes to my tying. I have been around quite a few seasoned tiers and have seen what they do and how I can be a better tier. When I am tying my flies, I look at three basic things. 1.) are the proportions appropriate for the hook 2.) Are the basic parts of the insect present (tail/shuck, abdomen, thorax, head, wing)? 3.) Is the color close enough. Those are the things I focus on. I don’t sweat to many of the details most of the time. For instance, “I forgot a leg on my stonefly”, to me not a big deal. I am a biologist by trade and I know nothing in nature is perfect. More than likely the nymph missing the leg is going to be eat first. Remember that thing Darwin said, “Survival of the fittest”, missing a leg isn’t all that advantageous and trout are generally lazy. I think pattern is more crucial on dry flies rather than nymphs, but that’s my opinion. The same holds true for bass fishing or any freshwater fishing for that fact. Does my bait resemble the natural food of the fish I am targeting? This is when presentation becomes and overwhelming factor in your success on the river, ocean, lake etc.

I can tie the prettiest fly in the world. I can have the most realistic lure and fly out there, but if I don’t present it right? All the doesn’t matter. Let’s talk about dry flies really fast. Some rivers, you can cast a dry fly and it gets whacked immediately. Other rivers, if you don’t have the perfect drift, you’re essentially screwed. I’ve caught plenty of fish on a poorly tied fly that was presented nicely. Trust me, some of my first flies were garbage compared to what I’m tying today. Those early flies still worked though. A bit of luck was involved, but they we presented properly and gave the fish an opportunity to strike. For arguments sake, we could tie a fly that looks great on the underside, but horrible on top. The fish only sees the bottom of the fly thats floating, right? I’d like to do an experiment about this, maybe that’ll be a later post.

Back to presentation. I have had plenty of success bass fishing to. The action of the lure is super important in bass fishing. You and I can throw the same lure in the same hole and work it differently or not at all and one of us is going to elicit a strike. It comes down to how the fish sees that lure. If you’re working a bait pattern there are 3 ways to ignite a strike. 1.) Working the lure as if the bait is injured. Injured bait is easy bait. 2.) Show a fleeing bait, fleeing bait can cause strikes. A fleeing bait doesn’t give the fish enough time to analyze and sometimes they will strike out of instinct. 3.) Drop the lure right in front of them eliciting an instinctual strike. The 3rd is  particularly affective when throwing heavy jigs into deep cover, such as lily pads. Most of the time, fish that are holding in heavy cover will hit the heavy jig or bait on the initial decent or after 1 jig. If they don’t hit by then, take the bait out and plunge it into another section.

Art Lee wrote the book Fishing Dry Flies for Trout on Rivers and Streams . In this book he discusses the differences between “Matching the Hatch” and “Presenting the fly”. He stated “No fly is right unless it’s fished properly”. I’m not saying never match the hatch, but you can’t live and die by that outlook on fishing. Thus the development of attractor patterns. These flies are made to standout and do not necessarily “Match the Hatch”. Sometimes a fly that sticks out of the crowd gets eat.

A perfect example of when “Matching the Hatch” can be a downfall is looking at the Palolo worm hatches in the Florida Keys. The palolo worm is a worm that lives in various water. During the spring and summer these worms spawn. This in turn causes a Tarpon feeding frenzy. It’s hard not to get excited when you see numerous tarpon breaching and rolling on the waters surface as they eat these worms. They gorge themselves. You’d think that throwing a palolo worm pattern would be easy pickings in these conditions. It’s not! Think about it. You’re asking a fish to pick your fly out of thousands of spawning worms in the ocean. The pattern isn’t going to catch the fish. How you present the pattern is going to catch the fish. Working the fly in a way that makes it stand out from other worms is what gets you hooked up. Same same can be true during large hatches of mayflies. Out of all those flies to choose from on the water, the odds of your fly being picked out diminish. You have to work the fly pretty much perpendicular to the rest of the group.

 

Pattern and Size

It’s tough to make a distinct distinguishing element between the two, when talking about their affect on fishing of course. I think these two things are interchangeable in respect to their importance in successful fishing. One day, the color of your fly may be crucial, while on another day, the size of your pattern may be crucial.

This is one of those situations where you need to take into account the conditions surrounding your fishing. If water is calm and clear, you probably should throw something to flashy or to big. Fish are especially choosey in these conditions. They’re vulnerable and susceptible to being preyed on. If it’s easy for you to spot them, it’s easy for other predators to spot them. Trout will most likely be feeding on natural colored patterns of appropriate size. This is something any steelheader will atest to. I fish winter steelhead. During low water conditions when water becomes more clear, the steelhead are less likely to strike bright colored egg patterns. I find myself switching to smaller nymphs of natural colors, usually brown or black in a size 12-14. During times when water flow is up, I increase my nymph size and am able to play around with the color a little more.

The same is true about bass fishing. Color is more of a factor than size when bass fishing, most of the time. You usually pick natural colors in clear waters and brighter more vibrant colors in murky water. This is particularly true with crankbaits and most other hard baits. I have had better success in deep cover using the opposite. Murky water I tend to use more muted colors. Fish are generally reacting to vibrations and silhouettes at this point. The color is the last thing on the fishes mind. Heavy baits that move a lot of water are going to help you get strikes and land fish, in my own experience that is.

Saltwater

Saltwater is a little different. In freshwater, you have a hierarchy of predator and prey. Generally you’re able to target the predatory fish relatively easy. Saltwater is a different story. Everything in saltwater is food for something else. The lines tend to be blurred in saltwater at what is predator and what is prey. Predators are prey, and some prey of other fish are predators for others. It gets really crazy out in the ocean. The other factor that affects success in saltwater is conditions. Fish are either on or off. It can range from water temps to the phase of the moon, to the movement of the tides, to the amount of wind in an area. A well placed, well tied, perfectly matched fly can be flat out refused in saltwater. It’s frustrating to the point of madness.

I would have to stay the overwhelming front runner in saltwater success is presentation. At least from a fly fishing aspect. A fly has to be presented properly and in a short amount of time. You have seconds, not minutes or hours, to present your fly and make strips an tics to entice your trophy. That’s just get to going. Hooking up is another feat in and of itself. Hook setting is an art of it’s on the flats at least. Trout setting is a no go, strip strikes are the name of the game.

 

Conclusions

I’d have to say that I stand by my scientific background when I say how ugly your fly or how pretty your fly is, in the grand scheme of things won’t make as nearly as big of an impact as to how well you present the fly. Also your lure, if not worked in the proper way, may not elicit  strike. Feel free to comment, share, and discuss. This is how we change tactics and learn new things. I learn new things all the time to better improve my fishing. Neat tricks and techniques can help anyones game.

Save the Glades

everglades_national_park_31_aou%cc%82t    For those who aren’t aware, the Everglades and it’s surrounding waters are in danger of being extremely polluted (Though they already are quite polluted) and the Everglades themselves being greatly reduced. There are two ways to look at the growing problem in the Everglades and it’s surrounding coastal waters. 1st, the quality of the water entering and leaving the Everglades. 2nd, the quantity of water entering and leaving the Everglades. Let’s talk about water quality first. Pollution of the Glades and surrounding coastal waters happens from agricultural runoff that is dumped into lake Okeechobee. When the lake floods, the water overflows and drains eventually reaching Everglades further down into the Keys. This runoff brings and unhealthy abundance of nutrients, such as phosphorus, toxic sulfides and nitrogen. Which in turn causes dangerous algal blooms and kills resident plant life. These algal blooms can choke out the waters fish, amphibians, native reptiles, insects and so on. Also, the flow of the rivers and other bodies of water has been altered so much, that the Everglades is actually shrinking. It is not receiving the runoff it once did, at least not in the volume it did. What runoff it does receive is polluted by agricultural fertilizers and other chemicals. Now, lets talk about quantity. The Everglades was covering almost 3 million acres. That number has been greatly reduced; about half the original size to be exact (www.evergladesfoundation.org).

How did this happen? Well in a simple answer, we did it. Throughout time, humans have created canals to drain water from the Everglades. This was done to allow more land to be used for agriculture and housing developments. This is a growing issue in more and more locations throughout the world. As a species, we have a tendency to build outward, not upward. Three key pieces to a stable ecosystem are, space, resource availability and an ability for organisms to perpetuate their genes. The Everglades is host to thousands of species of plants and animals (both vertebrate and invertebrate). We’ve greatly decreased the size of the Glades, which limits the amount of space these species need to grow and reproduce. We are damaging an ecosystem that was already fragile to begin with, like most wet lands.

What does this mean for fishing? Like all ecosystems, there is a nutrient cycle from beginning to end. The runoff from the Everglades supplies the coastal waters with nutrients, which in turn feeds to marine organisms near by. However, when this runoff is polluted, you create a bigger problem. Some organisms thrive on an abundance of incoming pollutants, such as phosphates and nitrates. Organisms such algae. This abundance causes algal blooms. These algal blooms can cause acidification of the water, not through a release of toxins from the algae themselves, but rather by using up a good share of dissolved oxygen in the water and also through death and decay of the algae. This causes an acidification process and harms fish and other marine life. If you’ve ever had a fish tank, you have to keep track of the pH of the tank. If the pH becomes to basic or to acidic, the fish die or get very ill. Essentially this is what is happening in the coastal regions surrounding the Everglades. Couple this with climate change, whether you believe climate change to be real or not, that’s not the point. It’s happening, it’s here and you can’t deny it. 2016 has been the hottest year on record according to overall average temperatures. If you don’t believe, research it on your own. I assure you there is no conspiracy afoot. Rising ocean temperatures and acidic waters are a causing a plethora of issue, and also impacting the sport we love.

If you care about this world and the activities we do, do your part and stop the nonsense. We have a voice, we should use it. If you want to try and help the cause in the Everglades, follow the link at the bottom of the post and sign the petition.

http://www.savingflwater.com/petition

 

Product Review: Scott Meridian 7wt

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve fished on different occasions in the Florida Keys. The Keys is a beautiful, and at times, a unforgiving SOB. It’s hard on your emotions, sanity, and especially your gear. The environment and it’s inhabitants must be met with the sturdiest of gear. I am a firm believer in, “You get what you pay for”. I have no issues spending money on gear. I would rather invest a good portion of my hard earned money on quality, tried and true equipment. Which brings me to the Scott Meridian fly rod.

The Scott Meridian is a true saltwater rod and 2015 IFTD “Best of Show” winner. This is a rod that comes in at a premium price, $865. This is not a cheap investment, but one you’ll be glad you made. The Scott Meridian has premium components, a “saltwater” wells cork grip, a solid reel seat with fighting butt, aesthetically pleasing blank, quality guide wraps, and a beautiful natural finish. Let’s also add that this rod is an American product, handcrafted right in the USA. Scott’s base of operations is in Colorado. Scott handcrafts all their rods, making sure to hit all the details.

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The Aesthetics

Let’s talk about the aesthetics first. Scott has chosen not to sand and paint this rod. Giving it a natural finish. Scott rod designers believe that a rod should be judged by it’s performance, not it’s looks. That being said, this is a very beautiful rod. The natural carbon fiber look is accented by blue thread on the guide wraps. Also, the white hand painted Scott logo with rod model, length, and rod weight. Scott has also laser etched their logo on the reel seat, and have also laser etched the rod weight right on the reel locking ring, which allows you to grab the right weight rod on the skiff quickly.

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The Components

Scott has chosen to use titanium recoil snake guides on this rod. This rod is also fitted with two large stripping guides towards on the first section of the rod. The use of the titanium guides adds strength, reduced weight and extreme corrosion resistance. The two stripping guides are lined with a Silicon Carbide. This material is extremely durable and doesn’t crack under intense temperature extremes. The reel seat is designed from mil-spec III aluminum, which is an extremely corrosive resistant aluminum. Without getting to technical about the reel-seat, the mil-spec III is an aluminum that goes through a more intense galvanizing process.

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The Technology

This rod is technologically advanced, as far as rods go. Scott uses x-core technology and ARC carbon reinforcement in their blanks. This process creates a very strong and durable blank. Scott also doesn’t skimp on castablility and feel in the Meridian. The have incorporated ReAct technology in the rod blank. the ReAct technology ensures that energy generated during your cast isn’t lost to unnecessary vibration throughout the blank. The coupled with x-core technology makes sure that energy is transferred more efficiently from your casting stroke, through the blank, to your line for a eloquent presentation.

My experience with the rod

Now that i’ve gotten the technical jargon out of the way, let’s talk about how the rod performed. Now, I will note that I am not the best caster, but I am also not the worst. Saltwater fly fishing will test even the very best of anglers, which is an important bit to remember when evaluating your gear. If the gear isn’t doing what you’ve expected it to do, it’s probably the user. That being said, quality gear can make your job a lot easier. Especially in unforgiving environment. Rod’s definitely are an extreme factor in quality casts. However, something that most anglers neglect to look at is the line their using. A good rod is nothing without properly matched line. I personally prefer a shorter shooting head for distance casts, especially in saltwater.

During my time in Key West, I was using RIO bonefish taper line on a nautilus CCFX-2 6/8. This was/is my go to combo for bones. The Scott Meridian performed flawlessly. The rod loads quickly and allows for quick casts that are essential on the flats. Most of the time you are making quick casts at various distances. With little opportunity to make several false casts, you need a rod that loads and shoots line out quick and fast. This rod does just that. The Meridian is a fast action rod, with plenty of backbone to make those quick casts. I would also like to add that this is an accurate rod. It will put your fly where you want it when you want it there. It casts various saltwater flies very well. I was casting mainly shrimp patterns, which are pretty streamlined compared to crab patterns. Like most saltwater flies, I was casting weighted shrimp and crabs. The Meridian handled these with ease. The rod presents delicately, but also has enough backbone to launch those weighted flies precisely where you want them.

Every rod performs differently at different distances. Some rods perform well in the 30-40ft range, others at longer distances. I have to say that this rod performs well at all distances. However, that being said, this rod performs its best at 50-60ft. I could send a fly in a tight loop and turn it over well at this distance. Put the rod in a different person’s hands and the result will inevitably be different.

The Meridian is satisfyingly light in hand, which causes less fatigue. The power of this rod is surprising for how light it is. That is a rare thing to have sometimes. You usually sacrifice one for the other. This is not the case with the Scott Meridian.

Dislikes

I really only have two major complaints about the rod. 1st, the price. At $865, this is not a cheap investment. Especially for the occasional saltwater angler. You could go with a more median priced Sage Motive at $450 (Which I have in a 9wt, I’ll review that a different time), or a lower entry level priced TFO Mangrove or TiCr X rods, both ranging from $259-$299 depending on rod weight. This is in the same category of premium salt rods as the Sage Salt and the G-Loomis NRX, with the NRX being the more veteran rod in this category. I chose the Scott simply for the fact that it seemed every one had the Loomis and I wanted something different. Also winning the IFTD “Best of Show” in 2015 didn’t hurt either. My 2nd complaint is the size of the lock ring on the reel seat. It is a bit small and gets stuck on beefier reels such as the CCFX-2. Other than that the rod is spot on.

Overall Rating

Overall I give the Scott Meridian a solid 9.5 out 10. Losing half a point for the price and the smallish reel seat. This rod is, for lack of a better term, sexy. The aesthetics and performance are unmatched. Scott is a stellar company turning out solid products. If you’re in the market for a saltwater rod and don’t have an issue with shelling out $865 bucks, then go with the Scott Meridian.

 

The Salt

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”

-Winston Churchill-

 

 

Ok, this story starts off on August 3rd, 2016. I was in Key West, getting ready in my hotel room for a three-day excursion in the backcountry. My flies were set, my gear in order and my head was in the right place. If you’re new to the whole fly-fishing for the top three in the keys, bonefish, permit, and tarpon, you better rethink it. I prepared for months, casting into the wind with heavy flies working on my double-haul. I tied for hours making variation of barred shrimp patterns. Tying dozen upon dozens of Atpe tarpon flies. Crab patterns for days. I have a brief case full of flies, what I would estimate to be about $600 dollars worth a fly shop down there. All that and nothing was what I expected.

The views, second to none, the weather unpredictable, hot, sticky, humid weather anyone with an A/C would say, “You’re crazy”. The word oppressive doesn’t do it justice. 96 degrees with 96% humidity is the epitome of oppressive. Its something you have to experience for yourself. There’s a reason why summer is the slow season in Keys. Most people would just stay cooped up in their hotel rooms. This didn’t faze me. I was ready to go and was perfectly fine sweating it out. I wore long sleeves, hat, sunblock and whatever other piece of gear was necessary to get the job done.

I met my guide at about 630am that morning. Luke Kelly was my guide. If you want his info, I’ll place in the “The Salt” page on the site. He was fantastic; he knows the backcountry like no other. He was a coach, confidant, and counselor after a tough loss, more on that later. We arrived to our first spot about 30 minutes later. We cruised through the crystal blue water, which in itself makes the trip worth it.

At our first spot we began site fishing for some tarpon. Tarpon are usually to target of choice in the early morning. They feed during this time and are easy to spot when they break water. We had a few roll on the surface but not close enough to chuck my purple and black Apte fly at. We fished for about an hour with no fish movement. We decided to back up and move to our next spot. By that time the tide was on its way back out and the permit and bones would be moving. That first day was tough; we fished until about 2pm and decided to pack it in for the day. That’s the one thing about Luke I learned really fast. He’s a guide, yes, but he’s also a fisherman. He knows when to call it a day and he rewards you in the end.

The second day was pretty much the same. I was tough those two days following a big thunderstorm in Key West. My wife on the other hand had a good day, for the most part. I decided to take a seat for a bit after some unsuccessful casts and frustration. My wife, Erika, took the to bow. Luke spotted something in the distance and said “Erika, about 40 feet out drop your shrimp”. My wife rarely fishes, but that day you could have sworn she was a pro. She dropped that shrimp in the kill zone. Almost instantly the drag on her spinning reel started screaming. Luke responded with “You have no idea what you just hooked”. She hooked a trophy size permit. Luke estimated it to be about 20 pounds. She fought the fish for about 10 minutes until it wrapped her into some mangroves. I was both upset and pleased she lost it. I was upset because it would have been a great accomplishment for her. I was pleased because I wanted to catch one first. Selfish, I know. We got a lot of sun and again called it early, after the bite turned off.

The 3rd day was a different story. Erika decided to stay back that day. She had her fill for the trip. I met Luke at about 730am the third day, trying to take advantage of the current and tidal flows. We headed out to our first spot. He asked at my arrival if I wanted him to get bait for spinning gear or if I was “Fly or Die”. I said “Fly or die my man”. We headed out got to our first spot about an hour later. We were on the flat for about 10 minutes when Luke saw a school of bones moving toward us. He said “Nik, 1 o’clock, we have bones moving toward us. Make a 50 foot cast and let the shrimp sit for a second then tic it.” My cast was dead on I ticked that fly and a bone gulped it up and made a run. I had finally dialed in my cast after three days. After about 10 minutes on the line, I landed my first bone. I hopped down in the water and took a picture with my trophy. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. I told Luke “If this is the only thing I catch today, I’m ok with that. That bone just made the whole trip”.fb_img_1477573679395

After that first bonefish we moved to the adjacent flat. I saw something moving around in the upper right corner. I asked Luke what it was; he thought maybe a lemon or nurse shark, “Not sure thought, didn’t get a good look” I trusted his word; he knows the flats better than I do. Not even a minute later I hear him frantically saying “1 o’clock 30 feet out cast and let it sit!!!!” I casted to his location and let the fly sit. “Tic it!” Then drag screaming, into my backing on my Nautilus. “You just hooked a trophy permit”. I watched it unfold; it was if it was in slow motion. I saw the fish coming and stop dead over my fly. It was amazing that the permit just stopped dead over my fly. I watched the permit gulp my fly. I battled the fish for about 30 minutes. I was a little out gunned on my Meridian 7wt. An 8wt or 9wt would have been a game changer. We were both in hysteria over the fish. I hooked and landed my first bone about 5 minutes earlier and now I was hooked into another trophy. The fish finally was giving up and I got the fish to the boat and started to turn him over for Luke to tail. Then it was if the world gave me the middle finger and I watched as my hook dropped out of the permit’s mouth. Luke and I both began shouting profanities and freaking out. I was sick to my stomach. I had hooked and lost a fish that people spend a good portion of their career in pursuit of. We fished the rest of the day chasing tailing permit, without any success. We packed it in for the day and I thanked Luke for an amazing three days.

So what did I learn? Salt-water fly-fishing will test your patience and skill as a caster. I always felt I was a pretty proficient caster. Not the best but not the worst. My regular fishing partner, ironically Luke, but a different Luke, not my guide, is a much smoother caster than I am. What else? Permit become an obsession. That permit hasn’t left my mind since that day. I can’t wait to get back down there and get my first permit. You find yourself out on the salt. Much like a backcountry trout stream, there are not a lot of people out there. A vast landscape and endless water makes isolation out here it’s finest. You contemplate life and who you are as a person. Peace and quiet isn’t the way of describing it.

Tell me what you think. Ask questions. Contact Luke for a great trip. In a new post I will detail the cost of my trip, where I stayed and where I ate.

 

Captain Luke Kelly.

Located in Sugarloaf Key, Florida

http://www.lowerkeysflatsfishing.com

email: keyflat@mac.com

 

Tips:

  • Cast as much and as often as possible.
  • Practice in the worst conditions (Wind especially) a majority of your casts are straight into a strong head wind.
  • Use your guide.
    • Your guide is your coach, confidant and counselor (Remember my permit)
    • They will direct you to the right spot and casting.
    • They are the experts; don’t guide your guide.
  • Accept the fact that you may go back empty handed. These fish are trophies for a reason, they spook relatively easy and they refuse more flies than they take. The eat the fly and immediately know the different between a crustacean and your fly made of fur, hackle, and hair.
  • Do not trout set!!!! You will lose 90% of the fish that take your fly. Strip strike is the name of the game.

Gear:

  • Scott Meridian 7wt
  • Rio Bonefish taper WF7F
  • Nautilus CCFX-2 6/8
  • Barred shrimp pattern
  • Seagaur guide provided tapered leader material
  • Simms guide pant
  • Columbia Omni-freeze long sleeve shirt
  • Orvis neck gaiter.
  • Rep your water cap.