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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Unexpected Opportunity: Field testing the JM Reid 8592 cane single-hand prototype

Sometimes life provides unexpected opportunities and blessings...

About a month or so ago, I received a message through the Speypages board from James Reid, a very talented contemporary bamboo rod maker.  In this message James inquired if I fished single hand rods throughout the winter steelhead season and if I'd like to field test a cane single hand prototype that he was designing for winter steelheading.  I'm not one to miss out on unexpected opporturnities and blessings, so my responses to James's questions were yes.... and HECK yes!!

Apparently, my crazed dry line winter steelhead posts got James's attention and he chose me as a candidate to put his prototype through the Oregon Winter Steelhead Acid test.  James asked me to fish the rod hard, not baby it, and test it out with various lines and techniques.

The rod turned out to be 8' 5" and rated as a nine weight.  It is a splice jointed rod, with the splice slightly below the halfway point.  James stayed in contact with me as he neared completion of the rod and by early December, he took advantage of using USPS (rather than shipping from Canada)  when he came down to Washington for A Day On The River through River Run fly shop on the Snoqualime river.

James had warned that the prototype would be "spartan" in it appointments and that it was "cosmetically subpar", but he could have fooled me, because when I excitedly took it out of it's rod tube for the first time, it was genuine beauty to behold.  The finish, wraps, handle, reel seat, and hardware are all first rate

I was hoping to give the rod an immediate test on Oregon winter steelhead, but Christmas activities  provided a distraction from heading to the coast.  Instead, I was able to beg a couple quick local trips from my wife to hit the MF Willamette below Dexter dam for some initial test casting and fishing over some late summer runs.  Upon arriving at the parking area, I taped the spliced joint on the rod and mounted my favorite 3 7/8 Hardy Perfect loaded with a 350 gr Ambush head on the reel seat.

Most of the time, there was a slight upstream breeze prompting single spey and snap t casts on river left.  This rod easily flung tight loops carrying 10-11 strips of running line out behind the Ambush head.  The rod is light in hand and it's swing weight and balance were perfect.  This rod is actually crisp and powerful, not what one may expect from a cane rod.  Even at 8' 5" and rated for a nine weight line, I could cast this rod all day without tiring.  I was casting a 2/0 Winter's Hope on a 12' Maxima leader with the Winter Dry Line Swing method and the rod really shined while I fished my preferred technique.

When the wind briefly blew downstream I was easily able to make cack handed double speys while using the short bottom handle for compact two handed casting.  I was also able to two hand cast snap Ts and single speys using compact casting strokes while employing the bottom grip as well.

I recently spent a several full days on a favorite coastal river in search of some early winter steelhead.  As I got more and more familiar with the ferrule taping process, it becomes second nature to quickly get the rod setup for a days fishing.  On each of these days, I spent up to 7 straight hours casting and fishing this rod.  I tried a few different lines, but settled on the fully integrated 9wt/350 grain Wulff Ambush line as my favorite line on this rod.  The short aggressive head (20') allows easy single hand spey casting with the relatively short length of this rod and when deep wading.  The seamless transition from the head to the running line allows ease in adding hauls to the backcast (d loop formation) and forward cast - a double hauled spey cast.

As an angler who up to now, has never had the opportunity to fish with a cane rod, I was pleasantly surprised with the crisp, powerful action of this rod.  The hollow six strip design seems to help the rod track very straight with no tip wobble on the cast.

James informed me that part of the push for the design of this rod is to be able to offer customers the option of owning both a single hand and double hand rod for relatively little additional cost.  The tip section of the rod I am field testing is the same tip section used on James's 13' 7/8 classic spey model.  This is a cool idea for folks who would want the luxury of having the option of fishing a double hand or single hand cane rod.

Visit the JM Reid website for some drool worthy browsing of James's masterworks:

(This review was also posted on the Speypages board)

Happy New Year to all and a Blessed 2014!


Sunday, December 22, 2013

May the Rivers Never Sleep by Bill and John McMillan

By now, many of you may be aware that Bill and John McMillan released their book May the Rivers Never Sleep last year.  This book is a wonderful work by the joint efforts of father and son.  This book is rooted in the inspiration and influence of Roderick Haig-Brown and follows the concept of The Rivers Never Sleep which describes rivers as calendars of the changing seasons through time.

I was so blessed to be able to receive a signed copy directly from Bill last year.  I was amazed by the beautiful photos by Bill and John, including John's incredibe underwater photos.  Bill and John alternate with the writing of the chapters discussing each month of the year.  As I read through the book,  I could not help but feel so much gratitude for the love and dedication to rivers and steelhead that Bill has embodied and passed down to John from youth.  Haig-Brown's influence on Bill and John has been profound, just as Bill's and John's influences on me form the foundation of my values and ethics as a steelhead fly fisherman.

Bill talks about how he and John took up snorkeling rivers just as Haig-Brown did, and this opened up a whole new world of discovery and understanding of rivers and fish.  It is true that as anglers, we are limited to the single dimension of looking at rivers and fish from above the surface and focused on the single minded pursuit of hooking a steelhead.  May the Rivers Never Sleep helps give the rest of us a glimpse into a deeper understanding of rivers and steelhead.

Bill and John discuss how over time, run timings on our rivers have changed due to years of hatchery management, habitat degradation, and over harvest.  Recent discoveries about anadromy of rainbow trout/steelhead is also discussed and how a "resident" rainbow can become anadromous and a steelhead can become a resident trout, depending on conditions.  I find myself going back to this book as each month goes by and rereading the chapter corresponding with the current month.

Despite the ravages mankind has brought upon our rivers and steelhead, this book is ultimately about hope for the future.  Dams have been coming down as John discusses about his home river the Elwah, and hatchery practices are slowly changing and management for wild steelhead becoming more frequent, thanks in no small degree to the tireless conservation work and scientific study of Bill and John.

Copies of May the Rivers Never Sleep can be purchased through the Wild Fish Conservancy store Duvall, WA:  Purchasing the book through the WFC will allow extra funds to go towards wild fish conservation.

Wishing all a Merry Christmas and may Jesus Christ reign as the supreme reason for the season!


Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Dead Drift

Bill McMillian's Paintbrush
       For as long as man has angled for steelhead he has presented his offerings in a downstream manner.  It should be no surprise that fly angling for steelhead this way should also be effective. So effective in fact that it is held in contempt by many. Recent developments in angler ethics and equipment give plenty of reason for this technique's maligned reputation. However room still exists within the technique for it to remain effective, satisfying and traditional.
      The tug of a steelhead while swinging a fly is the most exciting moment in our sport but there are times when that presentation simply isn't going to work.  Not every scenario we encounter with our fly rods in pursuit of steelhead lends itself well to the swinging approach, nor does the across stream presentation appeal to every fish we encounter. Dead drifting is a tool that a properly prepared angler can use in these situations.
      Before I start let me make it clear I am not talking about what is commonly known as nymphing which uses lead and a float.  I am talking about fishing tied flies on a floating line with little or no added weight,  no lead eyes no split shot and no indicators.  There is plenty of information on that elsewhere so I'm not going there.
        Anglers using a swinging approach with a floating line only need to alter their gear slightly to begin dead drifting. First you'll need a line with a belly long enough to allow you to stack mend.  A stack mend is simply and underpowered roll cast intended to stack slack line directly on top of  your fly. This allows your fly and leader to sink faster. Anglers that fish unweighted flies on a floating line for winter steelhead probably do this already. The preferred line is the double taper. Some weight  forwards such as steelhead tapers  have a long bellies and are also great.
     The  second alteration you may need to make is to lengthen your leader.  Mono-filiment has much less water resistance than a fly line therefore a 12-14 foot leader will give your fly a faster sink rate thus allowing you  to fish faster and deeper  water with effectiveness , something a 9 foot leader cannot do because of the fly lines buoyancy.  Though Fluorocarbon is less buoyant than mono I do not advocate it's use. Being non-biodegradable and causes a greater risk to wildlife when lost.
Bill McMillan's Silver and Orange
     Flies for the dead drift can vary by season and personal preference. For summer fishing a simple 1/0 skunk does most of my work whether fished across or downstream. In Winter I am  more concerned about getting down and staying down as the fish are less likely to move up. Winter flies should be sparse, tied with materials that absorb water and  that give the impression of bulk. Webby saddle hackles, tinsels and calf tail are great materials for tying fast sinking flies. Patterns developed by Bill McMillan such as the Paint Brush and Silver and Orange give an angler all that is needed. Both patterns adapt well to colors changes to suite to any conditions. The hook choice for these patterns is the Mustad 7970. It is heavy wire bronzed down eye hook that sinks like a rock. Sizes 1 and 2 are perfect  for most situations. The barb on this hook however does require some attention. It is large and often pinching it with pliers isn't sufficient. A file however easily removes any remnants.  Heavy wire hooks also require substantial sharpening. For this reason your flies  should be prepared before reaching the river.
     Dead drifting is not for every situation it is for those times and places where the swing has not or cannot produce. The North Umpqua is a wonderful river on which to use this approach as a back up or a follow up. On many occasions after having raised a  fish while swinging a wet fly and having repeated presentations refused brought the fish back to the fly by presenting it dead drift. Likewise many times I have pitched my 1/0 skunk upstream into a likely looking but un-fished pocket that cannot be approached for a proper swing and been rewarded with a take. It  can also be effective on visible  fish that have rejected a swung  fly however great care  should  be taken  not to harass a fish just because you know it's there. I grew up on the Washougal river where sight fishing was common even in very shallow water and saw  first hand the inevitable outcome of such harassment, foul hooking. If you dead drift your fly past a fish over and over again sooner or later you'll snag it, a bad outcome for you and the fish. Some runs, particularly on smaller rivers, just do not have wide enough holding lies to swing.
       The dead drift is great for small streams because of the speed at which depth is attaind and the length of time the fly remains in the strike zone. Dead drift presentations can develop into a swung presentations seamlessly with just a mend allowing you to effectively to cover the same water with two methods in one pass.  The dead drift is least effective on large rivers with the broad gravel bar runs that we all love so much to swing but even there a few extra casts into the buckets by a simple drift angle change can be rewarding.
     The dead drift will never replace swinging  for steelhead. It's not as pleasurable as or personally gratifying as the across stream approach but it has it's uses and  As every steelheader knows it never hurts  to have another trick up your sleeve for those times and places where the swung fly just  doesn't get the job done.

Thoughts on the Dry Line Swing in Winter Part 1

For some that read my blog, you may know that I have been a regular poster on the Speypages forum (since 2008) and my username there is "808steelheader".  The Speypages board is a wonderful place with good helpful discussions about all things spey, steelhead, fly tying and beyond.  There is also a great classifieds section as well (be careful on there!!).

I've made many friends through the Speypages board and maintain contact with other local friends there as well.  Some Speypages friends I actually fish with or have fished with include Keith Tymchuck (moethedog), Adrian Cortes (Fshnazn), Aaron Ostoj (aaronostoj), Terry Robinson (Flyfisher231), Mark.Stangeland (theWaker), Tony Torrence (Riverman), and Randy Clark (Clarkman23).  There are several others who I correspond with regularly on the board or through PMs (private messages) that I have yet to meet in person, but hope to have the pleasure of meeting in person in the future, hopefully on the river.

Speaking of Speypages, it seems that each winter, a thread on the Winter Dry Line Swing gets going and seems to keep going!!  This year I decided to be the troublemaker to get the Winter Dry Line thread started:

If you do a search on Speypages you will also find older threads on Winter Dry Line discussions from prior seasons.  There appears to be a strong interest by many in this subject, judging by the discussions that continue and never seem to get old.  When I started the Winter Dry Line thread on Speypages this year, there were over two pages of discussion within 24 hours.  I absolutely love participating in these discussions.  Some posters are already well versed in the technique, have experienced some success and are as passionate as I am about it.  Some are curious and just dabbling, while others are slowly gaining confidence in the method as they continue to persist with it.  Unfortunately, some folks become offended by Winter Dry Line discussions and feel like Winter Dry Liners are elitists and preaching the best way to fish that others should follow.  But overall, the discussions on Speypages (and actually on other boards as well) about the Winter Dry Line Swing or "Deep Wet Fly Swing" as it was called by Bill McMillan, are good-natured fun, informative, and carry a spirit of camaraderie and generosity in sharing of information and experiences with the method.

I've thought about and wondered of the reasons for the level of interest many have recently taken in the method.  Many folks happily fish sinktips or indicators and do well, so why would someone want to fish a method that requires more self-imposed restraints and typically, sacrifices in numbers of steelhead hooked?  A few reasons come to mind:  Bill McMillan's book Dry Line Steelhead has had a far-reaching and profound influence on many of us and the notion of hooking a winter steelhead on a floating line without the mechanical advantage afforded by a sinktip may have romantic appeal to those looking for a new challenge; some may want to feel like they are utilizing a more "traditional" approach to steelheading;  some may want to feel like they have beat the odds with a method that is overall, a lower percentage proposition; some folks just plain hate casting sinktips, even with modern Skagit systems; and some may even become interested in the method through discussions on internet forums (and blogs...).

Whatever the reasons are, I'm glad for the rising interest in the Winter Dry Line Swing, it gives me more like minded company on line and on the river!!