Fly Tying Night with Matt Ebbers (aka @ebbsforce1)

Fly Tying Night with Matt Ebbers (aka @ebbsforce1)

Saturday, October 13, 2018 from 8 – 10 pm

Join us at the fly shop for an evening of fly tying, fish stories, and fun with custom fly tier and all around great guy, Matt Ebbers.

You might not recognize the name, but if you spend much time on Instagram, you probably recognize his flies, tying and photography style, and @ebbsforce1 handle.  Matt Ebbers is, among other things, a skillful custom fly tyer and fishy dude.  We struck up a relationship with him a while back and are excited to have him at the shop for a fun evening of fly tying, hanging out, and more.  Living outside of St. Paul, Minnesota, Matt considers the waters of the Driftless Region of Wisconsin and Minnesota his “Home Waters”.  He also fishes out west a few times a year.

Matt has been tying flies for 27 years, starting when he was 14. If you have some basic math skills, you also now know his age and can make guesses about whether he has much gray hair or not.  Interestingly, he started tying flies before he started fly fishing.  Matt is deservedly a Loon Outdoors ambassador, and a member of the pro staffs for Fly Fish Food and Firehole Outdoors. Several of his patterns are also being commercially tied and sold through Fulling Mill.

In his words, “I like the creative parts of fly tying. I enjoy tying flies that not only catch fish but also look good. I am always thinking about flies! My background in photography helps with photographing flies for social media.  I have a wife and 2 young boys keeping me busy when not tying flies or fishing.”

This is a great chance to pick his brain about some of the subtleties of fly tying like keeping a clean look while achieving great buggieness, using modern materials from the likes of Firehole Outdoors and Loon Outdoors in conjunction with classic materials from Whiting Farms and more.  I know that we are interested in getting a few tips on fly photography as well.

We are planning to run some or all of the event as a live stream on @bigskyanglers, so stay tuned for more on that, and give us and @ebbsforce1 a follow if you don’t already.

 

 

 

Stillwater Presentation Q&A – Ascending/Emerging Nymphs

Stillwater Presentation Q&A – Ascending/Emerging Nymphs

I recently received this question via email from one of our readers and thought it would make a nice followup blog post.


Hi Matt,

 I just read this article on Callibaetis nymphs, and I have a question.  Don’t nymphs in stillwaters usually rise fairly straight up from the bottom?  How can I simulate that with nymph flies?  No worries on moving water, but I’m confused with this one.

Thanks so much.

 Maryellen


Maryellen,

Thanks for reading and reaching out!  Great question. I’d say that when they are emerging, Callibaetis nymphs will rise up at a semi-steep angle, but not completely vertically.  That said, the rising motion can definitely be a trigger to get the fish to eat.  Let me offer you 3 or 4 ways that you might accomplish this…

 1:  Floating fly line, long leader, and a weighted nymph.  Cast out and let the nymph sink down as deep as you think it needs to.  Maybe the top of the weeds if the area is shallow enough.  When you start your retrieve, the fly will naturally rise up at an angle following the leader up to the surface where the line floats.  When you’ve retrieved an amount of line about the equivalent to your leader length, stop, and let the fly sink back down again.  Repeat.  To detect takes, you need to watch the end of the floating fly line.  If it twitches, dives etc, set the hook.  You may not feel the take because the line isn’t drawing a straight line from you to the fly.  Pay attention while the fly is sinking back down too.  Sometimes that is the trigger!  It’s important that your leader not have coils in it so it is as straight a connection tot he fly as possible.  I’ve also incorporated a tiny strike indicator into this method at times, especially if there is a chop on the water that obscures my view of the tip of the flyline.  Foam pinch-ons work great for this.  Last tip, flourocarbon leaders sink faster than nylon mono leaders.

 2:  Intermediate sinking tip line (or intermediate sinking poly leader) and weighted or unweighted fly.  Basically this is the same approach as above, but with a sink tip to get the fly deeper initially.  If you are in say 10 to 15+ feet of water, the leader and weighted fly alone will be annoying or impossible to get that deep, especially if there is any wind.  Let it sink and then retrieve it up as before.  Then repeat.  Watch the color change of the line or where it enters the water for the take.  Also feel fro the grab.

 3:  Full sinking intermediate line and unweighted nymph. This line system draws the fly through the water horizontally for the most part and is my #1 way of searching for fish before, during, and after a Callibaetis hatch if I don’t see them rising in a way that allows me to effectively target them on the surface.  But, at the very end of the retrieve, when the fly is deep, and you begin stripping the last few yards of line up toward the surface, the fly does rise at an angle.  A lot of folks just pick up and cast again.  This is a mistake.  UK stillwater experts preach about “fishing the hang” at the end of a retrieve.  Focus on the last part of that rising retrieve.  Pause it, sink it, and raise it again.  Don’t strip the fly right to the rod tip, but leave a bit of line out and slowly raise the rod tip itself to make the fly ascend.  If you start getting fish only when the fly is rising, maybe you need to switch to one of the first 2 methods!

Take Care and Fish On,

Matt

The Five Gallon Bucket

The Five Gallon Bucket

On many warm summer weekends you can find me out one of my favorite lakes, casting flies for trout.  I particularly enjoy the long casts and relaxed pace of cast and retrieve angling with either floating or intermediate lines, searching likely parts of the lake with a damsel or Callibaetis nymph.

In my experience there are really only two things that can ruin the calm that I find in this type of fishing.  The first is a grab from a nice trout, but you will never hear me complain about that!  The second is a tangled mess of fly line clogging up my stripping guide during a cast.

Fortunately, I’ve found a simple, inexpensive piece of gear that solves this annoying problem while offering some additional benefits.  What is this piece of gear?

The Five Gallon Bucket.

Yes, that kind of five gallon bucket.  The kind that drywall mud, or paint, or an completely excessive volume of mayonnaise might come in.  The kind that you can find for $2 or $3 at your local hardware store or for $0.25 at a neighbor’s garage sale.

Here is how it works.  Get yourself a five gallon bucket and bring it with you in the boat next time you go out on the lake.  When you get situated and anchored up and ready to fish, scoop up some lake water in the bucket – enough to cover the whole bottom to a depth of ¾ of an inch or so.  Make your cast, and instead of retrieving the line onto the boat deck like you normally do, retrieve it into the bucket.  When you make your next cast, you’ll notice a couple of things:

  1. The fly line shoots without tangling thanks to the magical properties of water and surface tension, and because the wind or motion of the boat was not able to move the loose coils of fly line around and create interwoven loops of line.
  2. The fly line shoots like a dream because it is lubricated by the water in the bucket and because no dirt, sand, and grit from the boat deck stuck to the line between casts.
  3. As the day becomes warmer with the climbing sun, you may also notice that, compared to when you used to strip your line onto the hot boat deck, your fly line stays cooler (and therefore stiffer) which also reduces tangles and improves shooting.
  4. As the season progresses, you may notice that your fly line is showing less wear than you might expect given the number of days you’ve been out here. The bucket is the reason!  Using it keeps the grit off the line and contains it while keeping you from accidentally stepping on it in the boat.

Are you convinced yet?  Saltwater guys have been using variation of stripping baskets and buckets for years.  I don’t know why it took me so long to do this on the lakes.  Give it a try!  You may already have a five gallon bucket in your garage.  If not, you can go and buy two of them for less than the price of a spool of your favorite fluorocarbon tippet!  Definitely get two, because your boat partner is going to want one when they see you using it.

I got mine at Lowes because I liked the blue color.  I think other places have orange ones, red ones, and white ones.  Nice.  Then, I put a few cool decals on mine to cover up the hardware store logo and make it look like a really fancy and expensive piece of fly fishing kit instead of… a five gallon bucket.  Sweet.

A couple more added bonuses that I’ve found:

  1. If I’m moving a short distance between spots, I just strip my line into the bucket and then put the rod butt into the bucket as well to keep everything tidy while I move the boat. As long as I’m not going full throttle everything stays together.
  2. If you happen to be a parent who likes to have their little one out on the lake with you, get an extra bucket for your boat. My toddler always seems to want to play in the water when we get out on the lake, and his mom and I have found that filling up the bucket with lake water turns it into an awesome toy!

Until next time.

Take Care and Fish On,

Matt

Flylines and the AFFTA Standard:   What’s in a Number?   or  When is a 6wt line really an 8wt line?

Flylines and the AFFTA Standard: What’s in a Number? or When is a 6wt line really an 8wt line?

The short answers –

NOT MUCH, and

MORE OFTEN THAN YOU THINK.

But the long answers are much more interesting, and hopefully quite useful to you as an angler, so here goes nothing.

It starts out with a history lesson, of course.  Once upon a time, long, long ago, the physical weight of virtually all manufactured fly lines was done according to something called the AFTMA (American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association) Standard or the AFFTA (American Fly Fishing Trade Association) Standard.  Those standards were developed around 1959, to ideally bring some standardization to an industry which had, according to accounts I’ve read, run rampant for a while, creating confusion among anglers and manufacturers alike.  The idea was that the physical weight of the first 30 feet of a fly line (excluding level tip) would conform to an industry standard for the given line rating.  For example, this would make all 6-weight fly lines, in theory, more or less the same weight for the first 30 feet.  In a perfect world, this system would also serve to bring some standardization to the labeling of fly rods, making rod/line pairings (more on this later) easier.  As far as fly line taper, head length, and overall head weight, though, all bets were off.  But in the early days of synthetic fly lines, double taper lines were king, and our modern complex tapers were barely a dream, so it didn’t matter much.

The AFFTA Standard for single hand fly lines (not Spey lines or shooting heads) remains the same to this day.  Here is the table.  If you are like me, you’ll want to print one of these out for your wallet or save the image in your smartphone.  You’ll see why in a minute.

Where are we now?

The standards were developed in the late 1950s.  I didn’t come around to fly fishing until the early 1980s, and didn’t really get into the nitty gritty until the 1990s.  So, for some of this history I’m relying on second and third hand accounts.  An engineer by training, my brain desperately hopes that the industry strictly followed the standards, at least for a while.  One thing I do know for sure is that line manufacturers no longer follow that standard in most cases.  It is actually rather challenging to find a modern fly line that conforms to AFFTA Standards.  And, if you are like me, who typically really likes how rods cast when lined at or near the AFFTA Standard, just buying a fly line based on a product description and a numerical line rating on the box NO LONGER WORKS MOST OF THE TIME!

What the… ? 

When is a 6wt line really an 8wt?

I do a lot of research on fly lines, both for myself, my friends, and for Big Sky Anglers.  As a result, I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of fly line designs – tapers, 30-feet weights, total head weights, head lengths, cores, and coatings vary WIDELY from line to line and brand to brand.  I love taper diagrams, tables, and spreadsheets that might give me a hint about how a line will cast when paired with a given rod for a specific fishing approach.  The more research I do, the more variations from the standard I find.  Even for someone who likes this stuff, it can be downright confusing.  For most folks that I know who just want to get a smooth casting outfit that is fun to fish with, it’s just black magic.

Why doesn’t the industry follow the industry standard?  It’s a good question.  There are more than a few answers that I’ve heard.  One or more of them may be the reason for the divergence.  Or not.  It’s basically a game of finger pointing.  Some say that modern, super-fast action graphite fly rods have become so stiff that a rod rated as a 6wt, really casts and flexes more like a 7wt or 8wt, despite its super light feel in hand.  And, as a result, line manufacturers have altered their numbering just so that their 6wt line feels right on that aforementioned 6wt rod (even though it’s really a mislabeled 8wt rod).  Many in this camp would like to see a full revision of the AFFTA Standards that conforms more with our modern fast action graphite rods that it did to historical fiberglass and cane rods with slower actions that were the norm at the time the original standards were developed.  Others blame casting ability, and the common desire for instant gratification without effort.   Those pundits say that poor casting ability among the masses has forced line manufacturers to create heavier and heavier fly lines so that those without the skills needed to properly load a fly rod at typical casting distances can actually FEEL something and get a cast out past the end of the driftboat oars.

The thing is, the reason for the departure from the standards isn’t important when it comes to picking the right line for you.  Fly line and fly rod manufacturers aren’t all of a sudden going to change how they label things just because there are guys like me that wish they would.  And there are still plenty of folks who own and enjoy fishing with glass, cane, and fuller flexing graphite rods.  So, what is most important is that you, as an angling consumer, are informed about this topic well enough to be able to make the right choices when it comes to your next big $ fly line purchase.  At a baseline, you should be informed enough to be able to ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS when you are talking to an employee at a fly shop or a line manufacturer.

What are some things you need to know in order to get this right?

First, the good news is that modern graphite rods are typically designed with a progressive flex pattern, and are able to accommodate a variety of line weights both above and below their labeled rating, assuming the caster has a reasonable level of skill.  So perfection is not required to achieve functionality.  The bad news is that your rod might not FEEL as sweet as you want it to without the right line on it.

In the past, there was always a lot of talk about up-lining stiff rods to get more flex and feel out of them.  In many cases with modern lines, the manufacturers have essentially done that for you by creating a line labeled as a 6wt that meets the AFFTA standards for a 7 or even an 8wt rod.  Be aware of this trend, because if you were used to up-lining in the past based on the AFFTA standard, and do that with a modern line that is already up-lined at the factory, you may end up with something way heavier than you wanted.

When you decide to buy a new fly line, at baseline you should go to your local fly shop and talk with the in-house fly line nerd armed with an understanding of:

  1. What fly rod you own, and what the rod’s action is (fast/stiff, medium-fast, medium, slow). If you aren’t sure, bring it to the shop.  If you are sure, also bring it to the shop!
  2. What type of fishing you do, and at what distances. If you are a small water angler, nympher, long distance dry fly guy, lake specialist, streamer junkie, etc it will influence the line you choose.
  3. Your casting ability level, currently, including power application, tracking, typical amount of line you like to carry in the air when casting, etc. Be honest with yourself.
  4. Your goals for improving your casting ability. Everyone can get better.
  5. How you like to achieve distance. Do you like to shoot line for distance or carry more line in the air and shoot less for distance?

You should also go into the fly shop ready to ask some questions about the fly line that they might suggest for you.  Fly line manufacturer websites can also be a good source of this information.  At baseline, for weight forward fly lines, be prepared to ask:

  1. What is the head length of the fly line?
  2. How much does the first 30 feet of the head weigh (aka, the 30-feet weight)? And, how does that relate to the AFFTA Standard for that line weight.
  3. How much does the total head weigh, assuming it is longer than 30 feet?
  4. How does the fly line taper relate to my preferred fishing style and skill level? This is another can-of-worms topic that may need its own blog post.  Just remember, even if the manufacturer names a line something like “salmon and steelhead” or “indicator”, it doesn’t mean those lines are necessarily bad for the fishing you do which doesn’t involve those things.  Go at it with an open mind.
  5. Do you have any demo lines that we could cast on my rod out in the parking lot? This is the consumer’s ace in the hole.  If you can cast a line before you buy, DO IT.  Understand, however, that it is impossible for a shop to have demos of every line they carry on the shelves.

Without going down the rabbit hole of fly line taper design, if you can answer basic questions about your rod and your casting (the first list), and can get the answers to the questions about fly line choices (the second list) from your local fly shop, the line manufacturers website, or from the CIA, then you are ready to make an informed decision.  I would recommend following these general guidelines to start, and remember, if you can cast the line on your rod before you buy it, DO IT, and do it with a fly on leader rig that you intend to fish.

This is your brain on AFFTA Standards

When to Consider a Line “Way Heavier” than the AFFTA Standard

By “Way Heavier” I mean something like a 30-feet weight equivalent to 1.5 or 2 line sizes above the AFFTA Standard.   Consider a line of this type when you are:

  • a beginner level caster, and own a fast/stiff action rod
  • a caster who needs or likes to feel a lot of rod loading in order to cast your best, and own a fast/stiff action rod
  • an intermediate or advanced level caster, own a fast/stiff action or medium fast action rod, and fish almost exclusively at very close range
  • any level caster, and like to load the rod very quickly with minimal line out of the rod tip, and shoot to achieve distance (As a side note, using a short, 30-feet long head flyline the equivalent to 2 lines sizes heavier than the AFFTA standard is essentially the definition of a “shooting head”). You will sacrifice the ability to carry longer amounts of line in the air as a result of this choice.

When to Consider a Line “A Bit Heavier” than the AFFTA Standard

Here, by “A Bit Heavier” I mean something like a 30-feet weight equivalent to 0.5 to 1 size above the AFFTA Standard.  Consider a line of this type when you:

  • a beginner level caster, and own a medium or medium-fast action rod
  • a caster who needs or likes to feel a lot of rod loading in order to cast your best, and own a medium or medium-fast action rod
  • an intermediate level caster, and own a fast/stiff action rod
  • a caster who needs or likes to feel some clear rod loading on shorter casts in order to cast your best, and own a fast/stiff action rod
  • an angler who primarily fishes at close to medium ranges (say 45 feet or less)
  • an angler who is happy with carrying a medium amount of line in the air and shooting for extra distance when it is called for.

When to Consider a Line Weighing Similar to the AFFTA Standard

Here, by “Similar to” I mean something like a 30-feet weight within the AFFTA Acceptable Weight Range in the table above.  Consider a line of this type when you:

  • a beginner level caster, and own a slow action rod
  • a caster who needs or likes to feel a lot of rod loading in order to cast your best, and own a slow action rod
  • an intermediate level caster, and own a medium action rod
  • a caster who needs or likes to feel some clear rod loading on shorter casts in order to cast your best, and own a medium action rod
  • an advanced level caster, and own a fast/stiff action rod
  • a caster who is ok with feeling minimal rod loading on short range casts and can still cast your best, and own a fast or medium-fast action rod
  • an angler who regularly fishes at medium to longer ranges (say 45 feet or more) and is capable of adjusting power application for shorter casts to still achieve good results
  • an angler who likes to carry a longer amount of line in the air and shoot less for extra distance, or an angler looking to both carry a long amount of line in the air and shoot significant line for extra distance. (Note that for the latter case the overall head length and fly line taper design you choose will be of utmost importance)

And with that, I believe I have said enough.  I have probably dug myself into a hole that I may never emerge from, and/or guaranteed that I will receive a series of corrective emails and texts from my casting nerd friends.  At the very least, I hope that this saves some of you who are thinking about getting a new fly line some trouble, and that you are able to find the joy that is a properly paired rod/line combination that meets your casting and fishing style.

Take Care and Fish On,  Matt

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – Chan’s Maroon Chironomid Bomber

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – Chan’s Maroon Chironomid Bomber

  • Originator:  Brian Chan
  • Hook: TMC 2302 or equivalent, #10 – 16
  • Thread: 8/0 Uni, dark brown
  • Bead: White, sized to match hook
  • Body: MFC Sexi Floss or Spirit River Flex-Floss, brown
  • Rib: Uni Wire, small, red and silver

Brian Chan is a Canadian Stillwater angling expert and signature tier for Montana Fly Co.  We’ve found his Chironomid Bomber patterns to be absolutely deadly on Hebgen both before and after the more glamorous hatches of Callibaetis, Tricos, and damselflies.  These can be fished static, under a strike indicator, or slowly retrieved using a hand twist on a floating or intermediate tip line.  You’d be amazed at how strong the takes are on a fly that is barely moving!  Another great thing about this pattern is that, if you tie your own, you can easily experiment with other color combos.

– Matt