Spey Tip:  Safe and Smart Anchor Placement and Cast Selection in Windy Weather

Spey Tip: Safe and Smart Anchor Placement and Cast Selection in Windy Weather

A quick check of the West Yellowstone weather report is showing that we are in for some great fall conditions, but also a fair bit of wind over the next few days.  Casting in the wind requires adjustments to technique, and Spey casting is no different.  If you don’t set up your Spey cast correctly in the wind, there is a great change that you are going to hook yourself.  So, this week’s Spey tip is about proper anchor placement and cast selection for Spey fishing on windy days.   

What it all boils down to is this.  Your anchor, and subsequently the D-loop you form to make your Spey cast, MUST BE ON YOUR DOWN WIND SIDE.

There are four situations you will need to be ready for to deal with wind.  Take note that “river right” and “river left” are determined as if you are at midstream and looking downstream.

The four situations, and the safe/appropriate casts are as follows:

  1. Fishing from river right, wind blowing from downstream.
    • Your anchor and D-loop must be on your upstream side
    • Appropriate sustained anchor casts include the Snap-T with left hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Snap-T with right hand on top.
    • Appropriate touch-and-go casts include the Single Spey with left hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Single Spey with right hand on top.
  2. Fishing from river right, wind blowing from upstream.
    • Your anchor and D-loop must be on your downstream side
    • Appropriate sustained anchor casts include the Double Spey with right hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Double Spey with left hand on top.
    • Appropriate touch-and-go casts include the Snake Roll with right hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Snake Roll with left hand on top.
  3. Fishing from river left, wind blowing from downstream.
    • Your anchor and D-loop must be on your upstream side
    • Appropriate sustained anchor casts include the Snap-T with right hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Snap-T with left hand on top.
    • Appropriate touch-and-go casts include the Single Spey with right hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Single Spey with left hand on top.
  4. Fishing from river left, wind blowing from upstream.
    • Your anchor and D-loop must be on your downstream side
    • Appropriate sustained anchor casts include the Double Spey with left hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Double Spey with right hand on top.
    • Appropriate touch-and-go casts include the Snake Roll with left hand on top, or the Back/Cackhanded Snake Roll with right hand on top.

The following videos featuring Mr. Simon Gawesworth from RIO Products go over each of the casts in detail.  Get out there, be safe, and fish on!

Snap T How To Video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4thaZs2umo

Double Spey How To Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kGzoB1qVDzM

Snake Roll How To Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPOjxH3ROko

Single Spey How To Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXkg7u5ECJ8

Rod Review – CF Burkheimer 5125-4 Trout Spey (12′ 5″ 4/5/6wt)

Rod Review – CF Burkheimer 5125-4 Trout Spey (12′ 5″ 4/5/6wt)


A big kid Spey rod with Trout Spey feel.  Kerry Burkheimer enlisted the help of Big Sky Anglers’ own Matt Klara (author of this post) and others to dial in a unique, versatile, super-fun, forgiving rod that will change your opinion about what 4 and 5wt 2-handers for trout can and should do.  For mid-sized to huge rivers, and fish in the 14-inch to 5-pound class, this is simply an amazing rod.


In the spirit of full disclosure, I have a special place in my heart for this rod as I was deeply involved in the concept development and testing of this Burkheimer masterpiece over the past year.  While the full story behind this rod may not be thrilling to everyone, I believe it is worth telling because it truly shows the roots of C.F. Burkheimer as a company, and Kerry’s philosophy surrounding rod design and creation.

The initial idea for this rod came along at the Big Sky Anglers 2019 West Yellowstone Trout Spey Days event.  My close friend and guest speaker Brian Chou and I had been checking out all the rods and we noticed that there was a bit of a gap in the collective quiver. 

Brian and I both cut our teeth on longer rods and longer lines than are represented in the modern Trout Spey game.  We both love big water, fishing in any conditions that Mother Nature can throw at us, and fishing with special gear that not only brings us joy, but also allows us to present the fly with ease and efficiency while also not completely overpowering the quarry.  Even with all the modern trout Spey offerings out on the market, we felt that something was missing.  We felt that typical 4-weight rods were able to cast the bigger flies we wanted to fish, and also made fighting trout fun, but also that they were generally too short in our opinion to give us full command on the bigger water like the Missouri, Yellowstone, Deschutes, and Sacramento, and to efficiently cast some of the longer lines.  At the same time, we felt that the available 5-weight and 6-weight 2-handers were long enough, but were a bit overkill in terms of the size of trout we most commonly pursue.

A few weeks after the event, Brian and I ended up separately chatting with our mutual friend and extraordinary rod designer Kerry Burkheimer about Trout Spey and the things we had been up to.  We each independently told Kerry that we thought that a longer rod in the 4/5wt category would be really cool and extremely applicable to a lot of the fishing situations that we find ourselves in.  Something with a lot of feel to make trout fishing super fun.  And that was that.  Life happened and the idea faded a bit in my own mind as winter took an icy grip on the Rockies and something called COVID-19 began to take over our collective consciousness. 

Then, one day, a message came in.  It was Kerry.  He had a prototype and needed my address.  WHAT?!  The first version of what is now the 5125 came my way in a reused cardboard tube.  The prototype’s cork was pitted and barely even sanded.  The guides were attached to the blank with masking tape.  There was no butt end on the rod, so I fashioned one from duct tape.  I dug through all the lines I had at my house, then called the flyshop and a couple of friends, and eventually cobbled together an assortment of line options that I thought would be worth a shot based on the intel I got from Kerry.  After the first few casts I knew that Kerry had hit a home run.  After the first full day fishing it I was even more excited.  Each line I tried seemed good or great, and different styles and weights of line activated the rod in different ways.  Everyone I know who cast it, loved it. If you didn’t look at the taped together pieces, you could tell it was a true Burkie, with a wide grain window, forgiving action, crisp recovery, and piles of feel.  The first trout I lifted into with the rod was a solidly built Missouri River rainbow.  As the rod flexed deeply, I felt every bit of power from that wonderful fish transferred straight to me.  I quit thinking about my cold toes completely.   

The original prototype in action, complete with taped on guides and duct tape butt end.

Some minor tweaks were made to the overall design through the winter and spring, but by June the project was complete.  Our dream rod had become a reality in less than 10 months, and everything about it was distinctly C.F. Burkheimer.  The production model ended up even better than the prototypes, in my opinion.  With the components and construction refined, the rod seemed even lighter in hand.  Flawless wraps replaced the masking tape, and my hastily fashioned duct tape butt end was now beautifully sanded composite cork.  The foregrip was smoothly tapered, just as I had asked.  A “Western Trout Spey” grip. 

At some point I was on the phone with Kerry, catching up, sharing line recommendations, and promising to fish together soon.  On a bit of a whim, I asked him how he started C.F. Burkheimer.  I wish I’d recorded his exact reply, but to paraphrase part of the story, he said it all started to take off when some of the fishy folks that had gotten their hands on some of his original designs some 30-odd years ago came to him with new ideas for a rod that was a little different and with a little more feel than everything else out there.  I instantly felt connected to the story.  “Kerry”, I said, “that’s exactly how the 5125’s story started.”

There was a pause on the other end, then a little laugh.  “Man, I guess you’re right.  That’s pretty cool.”

Yeah, Kerry, that’s pretty dang cool.  Thanks again for everything you do.

A perfect brown on the finished 5125-4.

By now I’ve managed to tell a long story without saying much about the rod itself.  Let’s change that now.  Numerically, it is the 5125-4.  A 5wt +/-, 2-handed rod, 12-feet 5-inches in length, that breaks down into 4 pieces. The rod strikes a rare balance between big water presentation ability and trout Spey feel, where the focus is perhaps a bit less on fish size and more on fun size.  A quintessential Burkie, the 5125 has a wide grain window (300-420gr) depending on how you like your cast to feel and how you measure these things, which is alluded to in the rod being labeled as a 4/5/6wt by Burkheimer.  It is a testament to Kerry’s rod design ability that a rod can so comfortably and beautifully cast such a wide variety of lines in such a wide grain window.  This not only makes it easy to find lines that work well with the rod right away, but also allows super nerds like me to experiment endlessly and dial in combinations that perfectly fit my own casting style or mood.  The rod is not stiff, but rather flexes progressively deeper into the blank depending on power application and line choice.  While it can be flexed deeply, it is not a “slow” rod.  On the contrary, it’s recovery is fast and crisp.  In my mind, when compared to other rods across manufacturers and the fly lines that those rods comfortably throw, it rates as a 4/5wt.  It feels like a true Spey rod, making long casts and line handling a breeze.  The extra length also makes pulling sink tips much easier than with shorter rods.  And for those willing to experiment, you can even find mid/long-belly line equivalents for the rod that cast like a dream.

Numerous customizations are available on the rod as well.  C.F. Burkheimer is truly a custom rod shop, and Kerry and Co. will put whatever touches you want on a rod for you.  I mentioned that I had mine made with a tapered style of top grip that we’ve started to call the “Western Trout Spey Grip”.  For those fans of full wells style foregrips, that is also an option.  Component packages fall into Burkie’s standard “Classic”, “Presentation”, and “Vintage” categories, with custom blank colors, wood reel seat inserts, inscriptions, titanium hardware, and even extra tip sections all possibilities for the angler who wishes to own a true one-of-a-kind fishing tool and piece of art.

As far as reel pairings, that is absolutely a matter of personal preference, and I won’t dare get into the aesthetics of fly reels here.  That said, line capacity and weight (to nicely balance the rod in hand) are both important considerations when choosing a reel for any 2-hander.  For the 5125, I’ve found that reels weighing in the 7.25 to 8 oz range balance the rod best.  Also, reels designed for 7 or 8 weight single hand rods seem to have the appropriate line capacity to handle 100 to 150+ yards of backing, a typical 100-foot long running line, and a modern shooting head and tips system.  Do your research, dig around in your gear cave, and feel free to reach out to us via email for suggestions that fit this category.

The following are a few of the fly line pairings that we’ve found to work well on this rod, along with some comments on the best fishing/casting situations for each.  My two personal favorite line pairings are noted accordingly.

RIO Scandi Short, 360 grains, 31ft – Matt’s Pick for Floating Line and Small Wets
  • If you come from a Spey background of dry lining for summer steelhead and want to get into swinging wets for trout on big water, this could be your line.  This line enables dreamy, Scandi-style casting with a crisp high rod stop.  In addition to our local trout scene, this line would be glorious for the folks who swing out on the coast for half pounder steelhead.
  • To get the most performance out of this line, we like a 15 or 16 foot mono or flouro leader.  Build your own with 40, 30, 20, and 10lb mono, or go for the easy button option by adding 4 feet of your preferred tippet material onto a 12ft, 12 or 16lb RIO Steelhead/Salmon Mono leader.
  • This is my current favorite line for fishing soft hackles with this rod.
  • NOTE: For a slightly lighter, “tippier” casting feel, drop down to the same line in 330 grains.
RIO Trout Spey Shooting Head, 305gr, 22ft
  • This is a sneaky option that we felt cast like a dream and could be a sort of “One line quiver” for this rod.  The 305 grain weight seems light at first, but the secret here was to add SA Sonar Leaders (10ft and 50gr) to create essentially a 32ft Scandi head of 355 grains (see RIO Scandi Short 360 grain, 31 feet) with a sort of interchangeable tip. 
  • Varying the Sonar Leader density and tippet length allowed us to fish from near surface (using the Intermediate sink rate leader) to the depths (using the Type 3 and Type 6 sinking sonar leaders).
  • This line system is for folks who like Scandi-liscious crisp casting that will handle soft hackles and even smaller streamers like a Thin Mint or even a Sculpzilla!  If you like a light feel and don’t want to mess with multiple lines or big heavy flies, this is a great option.
RIO Trout Spey Shooting Head, 350gr, 22ft – Matt’s Pick for Streamer Fishing
  • The RIO Trout Spey Shooting Head is truly a versatile line.  Up-lining with the Trout Spey Shooting Head from 305 to 350 grains allowed us to throw sink tips and larger streamers a-la Skagit lines, but the length and taper of this line made for really clean loop formation and turnover for casters who prefer to cast with a bit more velocity and performance than typically associated with classic Skagit casting.
  • This line handed a 12ft T8 tip and a medium sized weighted streamer with ease, and is my preferred line system for streamer fishing with this rod. 
RIO Skagit Max Short, 375 grains, 20ft
  • If your game is medium-to-big flies, hucking weight, and worrying less about style points than getting your fly into the zone, this is a great line option.  No messing around here.  This will get it done on big water and cold conditions or when you just need/want to throw the junk.
  • This line is able to throw T8 and T10 tips of 10 or 12 feet with relative ease.
  • NOTE: For a slightly lighter feel, the Skagit Max Short in 350 grains is also a great pairing.
RIO Scandi Body 400gr, 23ft
  • Justin wanted to try this after using the same line with Jon Hazlett on the Sage X 12ft 5wt.  It cast fine on this rod as well, but resulted in a completely different feel vs the much stiffer SAGE.
  • On the 5125 Burkie, this line gave the rod a very deep load, and a heavy (not necessarily in a bad way), Skagity feel to the cast using SA Sonar leaders or T-tips and streamers.  The result was definitive, Slow-mo, easy button bomb lobbing. A nice option for all you Perry Poke fans who like a longer Skagit head.  If you are super mellow, and want to worry more about the soaring eagles and majestic mountains than your casting, this is the setup for you.
  • This line choice definitely takes away a lot of the lively feel of the rod, but definitely gets it done, and highlights the insanely wide grain window that Kerry builds into all his rods.
Three amigos of the CF Burkheimer 5125-4.

Last Cast

It’s been an absolute pleasure for me working with CF Burkheimer on this project and getting to see this rod come to life. I’m happy to share as much as I discover about this wonderful fishing tool. If my writeup here spurs any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch with me via email – mklara@bigskyanglers.com And, if you’d like to take it our for a cast, swing by Big Sky Anglers, as we have a demo model on hand.

Take Care, and FIsh On,


Late June in the Rockies

Late June in the Rockies

The days are long now, and often warm. Runoff wanes.  Water levels drop and water temperatures climb into the optimal range.   Everything is green.  Streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds all explode with life.  Wild rose blooms on the banks and cottonwood fluff is in the air.  Everywhere you look there are colorful songbirds, herons, sandhill cranes, and osprey.  Gophers scatter in the fields as you bounce down the gravel road to your favorite stream.  The deer are finding places to give birth to the next generation, or fattening up in the alfalfa fields.  It’s quite a contrast to the short, chilly days of winter. 

The biggest difference (to the flyrodder, at least) is the bugs.  In winter, a calm day might produce a smattering if tiny midges and kindle the hope of finding a couple fish rising in the slowest currents.  Now, on a calm afternoon or evening the space above the water is filled with a veritable smorgasbord.  Mayflies. Stoneflies. Caddis.   I’m talking about the drakes, PMDs, giant salmonflies, golden stones, smaller yellow and bright green “sallies”, Rhyacophila, Hydropsyche, and the list goes on.

The angler isn’t the only creature that takes notice of the bugs.  The birds and garter snakes are snapping up the clumsy fliers and those that linger too long in the grass and willows.  And the fish are “looking up” in expectation that their next meal has a high likelihood of coming off the surface.

It’s a dry fly paradise. 

I hope that you spent some time this winter dialing in your fly boxes, because this is hatch matching season.  Even if you don’t see fish actively rising, this is the time of year where searching the seams and riffles with your favorite dry fly can really produce.  The fish have the feed bags on, and the surface takes are often startling in their aggression.  On top of that, the fish seem to be in peak physical condition.  With the exception of the cutthroats up in the highest country, the spawn is well behind them and the trout have had all spring to regain their fitness snacking below the surface.  The water is cool, and well oxygenated.  At this time of year, when your fly disappears in a swirl and you come tight, don’t be surprised if the fish goes airborne instantly.  And if your barbless hook comes free on that leap, or during the following run, take solace in knowing that you at least got a good look at your prize, and that the next drift of the fly might raise another trout, even fatter and more lovely than the last.

Take Care and Fish On,


Smarter Than A Goldfish?

Smarter Than A Goldfish?

It’s Autumn here in the Rockies, and that means there is a war going on between Summer, and Winter weather.  This war happens every year.  We all know that Winter wins this war every year, eventually, but we never quite know how each battle will play out.  Weather can change from day to day, hour to hour, or even minute to minute.  This year has been particularly polarized as we’ve bounced back and forth between full on multi-day winter storms with big snows (September 29th and October 9th) and glorious Indian summer sunshine!  The complex interplay among high and low pressure systems, cold and warm fronts, bright blue and gray overcast skies, and larger precipitation systems makes picking clothes feel complicated, and making fishing plans feel nearly impossible at times.

Ask any experienced angler about the effects of weather, wind, and changing barometric pressure/water temperature on fish and fishing, and you will surely get an answer.   You might get 10 different answers even!  You may hear that a falling barometer is a disaster for angling, or that wind can ruin everything.  You may also hear that an incoming storm front can trigger a feeding binge of epic proportions.  Others paint a more nuanced picture, citing rates of change in barometric pressure, the effect of sunlight on creatures that lack dilating pupils and eyelids, and maybe even throwing in something about solunar tables for good measure.

I have my own theories about weather and how it effects fishing, and sometimes I feel like I am able to effectively apply my opinions to a situation, resulting in great fishing.  But I’ve seen a sure thing turn into a bust plenty of times too.   I’m pretty confident that extreme weather and pressure changes can put the bite off on a lake, but I also feel like it effects river fish less.  But subtle changes are still a mystery to me, perhaps because other factors end up coming into play in a way that makes patterning more challenging.  One thing I do know is that if I have the chance to get out fishing, I never cancel the chance because I think a weather pattern will put the bite off.  I might switch plans to fish one water to another because I think that I might have an insight as to which will fish better (or which might be less miserable given extreme wind or weather), but I still would rather be outdoors getting skunked than home wondering what might have been.

I will leave you with a final observation that may or may not be relevant to angling.  I have three pet goldfish in a tank in my home.  I’ve had them for many years, and have spent a lot of time watching them, because I find it both interesting and relaxing.  During the summer, my goldfish are active nearly all of the time, swimming around in what I assume to be a happy state.  When you walk into the room, they will often crowd into a corner and “freak out”, which I have come to translate as them “begging for food”.  During the summer around here, high pressure systems and stable weather patterns are the norm, and my goldfish rarely change in their behavioral patterns.  But in the spring and autumn, when we have more tumultuous weather patterns with often rapid changes in pressure, outdoor temperature, and cloud cover, there are times when my goldfish just aren’t their normal happy selves.  Some days I catch them sulking, lying motionless with their bellies on the stones.  Approaching the tank might make them wiggle a bit, but they don’t bother “begging for food”.  I know they are healthy and that there has been no appreciable change in water chemistry/quality in their tank.  I can only assume that, at those moments, the weather is having some sort of effect on their mood, as the sulking events typically coincide with the onset of significant weather changes.  Sometimes they sulk for half a day.  Sometimes it only seems like they sulk for an hour or so.  Whenever I see them doing it, though, I wonder if the fish at the lake or down at the river are in a similar foul mood.

Take Care and Fish On,


Imitating Baitfish: Factors to Consider

Imitating Baitfish: Factors to Consider

Streamer fishing is one of the oldest versions of fly fishing, yet it also seems to be one of the fastest growing types of flyfishing today. I don’t know why that is the case, but streamer fishing is certainly an interesting, complex, and exciting way to angle.  It also opens up new doors, and allows the fly angler to experience many “new” and exciting fisheries where insect imitation with dries and wets simply cannot and will not work.

You may have already guessed that I’m referring to fisheries where baitfish are the primary prey.  You’d be hard pressed to catch many of today’s popular gamefish on the usual mayfly or caddis imitations.  Saltwater species like striped bass, roosterfish, dorado/mahi mahi, tuna, queenfish, jacks, trevally, and billfish all eat other fish – and little else.  Even in freshwater, anglers will find situations where the fish they want to catch will only eat other fish.  I’m thinking of certain trout fishing situations, certainly, but also other targets like smallmouth bass, walleye, freshwater dorado, and more.

Of course, impressionistic patterns may be good enough in many instances.  But, more often than not, a good baitfish imitation on the line of a competent angler will win the day, and outfish other patterns.

Baitfish fly patterns go way back in time.  Carrie Stevens’ Grey Ghost and other trolling streamers come to mind.  With their long shank or tandem hooks, flowing feathery lines, and eyes made of jungle cock nails, they share many features of modern baitfish imitations.  But the modern fly tier has access to a nearly infinite variety of materials that have made tying baitfish imitations into more than just an answer to a vexing fishing problem.  We can do so much more with the modern materials than we could with only fur and feathers.  Tying streamers – particularly baitfish imitations – has become as much a science as it is a craft.

So, what makes a good or great baitfish imitation? In the end, the fish will be the only relevant judge and jury.  There are hundreds of patterns out there available at your local fly shop.  Guides carry them too.  But there is also a joy in selecting your own or even crafting your own lure.  I’m less interested in telling you what flies to buy or tie than I am in getting you to think about this topic a bit more, maybe in a new way.  With the remainder of this piece I hope to at least call attention to a few factors that I believe are important to consider when sitting down at the vise with dreams of catching big fish that eat smaller fish.


Color is probably the first thing an angler notices about a fish, a baitfish, or a fly pattern.  Tan over white.  Olive over white. Brown. Blue. Silver.  Tannish olive over white with flecks of blue and silver.  Baitfish come in loads of color combinations.  I really like how some of the modern synthetics come in complex colors.  I try to match the baitfish whenever I can.

Have you considered how baitfish look alive vs dead?  A living minnow rarely looks the same as a dead or dying one.  A baitfish that is alive but has been in the live well for 2 hours can look different than they do when freshly netted.  It can make a difference which color phase of the bait you are imitating, especially in fisheries where live baits or dead baits are used as teasers or chum.


The size of the fly should approximate the size of the baitfish you are trying to match, similar to matching the size of a mayfly during a hatch.  While I have not experienced extreme selectivity to overall size, I try to get my fly as close to the expected size of the bait as possible.  In instances where a certain baitfish is extremely prevalent, however, it can backfire to match size exactly as your offering will blend in among the thousands of naturals.  In that instance a slightly bigger fly can make a difference.

Some fisheries are based on very fast growing prey species.  Early in the season, the predators may be used to seeing 3 inch long bait, but a few months later all the bait may have grown to 5 inches.  If possible, it’s good to do some research and be ready with the right size flies.

What about a customizable pattern? Some flies can be trimmed on the water to make them smaller while they retain all the necessary fish catching qualities, but few can be made larger.


When I refer to profile, I mean the overall shape of the baitfish.  Some are long and thin, others short and fat, or somewhere in between.  Some baitfish have a circular cross section – with bodies as wide as they are tall (mullet  or sand lance).  Some are laterally flattened – a fancy term for taller than they are wide (sardina).  Others are dorsoventrally flattened – a really fancy term for wider than they are tall (sculpin).

It goes without saying that fly pattern should address the overall shape of the bait being imitated.  Again, material choice plays a big role in this.  So does the technique used to attach materials to the hook and build the body.  It’s always good to make sure the fly keeps the proper profile when wet and retrieved in the desired manner.  More on that later!


Eyes may be the first thing that a predator fish notices about your fly, or it may be the last thing it notices when deciding to either refuse, or gobble your offering.  Many baitfish species have prominent eyes, or false eye spots.  On translucent baitfish, the eye can be just about all you see of them.  For that reason, I like eyes on most of my baitfish flies.

On the other hand, a baitfish like a sculpin does not have prominent eyes, and therefore adding them to your pattern may be less important.


Some baitfish are flashy.  Some are not.  Simple, right?  Sort of.

It seems to me that flash is often the absolute difference maker when it comes to how well a fly works.  I’ve noticed that in bright sunshine and clear water that flash is often a turn off for the fish I’m trying to catch, even when I perceive the live baitfish as quite flashy.  Maybe the modern flash materials are so reflective that it is easy to overdo it.  Maybe we perceive shininess differently than predator fish in some instances.

Then, other times, maybe for a different predator, it seems like you can’t have too much flash.  For that reason alone it may make sense to tie a variety of patterns or the same pattern in a variety of flash combinations.  I like to think about how I might be able to alter a fly on the water as well.  Can I turn a flashy fly into one without flash with scissors or nippers?


Something I learned about many baitfish species is that they look very different in the water vs out of water.  In particular, many smaller baitfish are virtually invisible or at least highly translucent in the water.  Often, all you see of the prey is an eye, and a lateral line, or the digestive tract.

This is where the modern synthetic materials blow nearly all natural materials away.  Pick your material wisely and match the translucence of the live bait.  Don’t be afraid to go really sparse as well.  Test your flies in the water before you tie 50 of them!  If they look bad, make a modification.

Action and Tracking

I mentioned this briefly when discussing profile.  Here is a whole lot more.

Action is the way a fly moves in the water.  If your fly looks and acts wrong, you are probably out of luck, so I think this factor is worth a decent amount of discussion.  Part of a fly’s action is the motion that the fly angler imparts to the fly to make it look like a real fish, or at least to make it move (or not) in a way that elicits a take.  While the retrieve has a lot to do with the action of a fly in the water, the true action of a fly begins with material selection and construction at the vise.  In reality, the two must work together perfectly and the angler is well served to take both elements into account when selecting a fly.

Different materials move differently in the water.  If you have fished with me, or followed my old Frontpage rants on Sexyloops.com, you probably have heard me say that “nothing moves like rabbit”.  Well, that’s true.  Similarly, nothing moves like marabou, or EP fiber, or bucktail, or slinky fiber, or kinky fiber, or (name your favorite material).  Knowing the relative stiffness and wiggle of materials and purposefully experimenting with them in your baitfish patterns can really take your flies to the next level.

More than anything I would urge to you observe how the bait you are imitating acts in the water.  Do the baits dart quickly then dive for the bottom?  If so, maybe you need some weight up front to create a jigging action when stripped.  Do they swim continuously, without pauses, in a straight line?  Then consider stiffer materials that hold profile under constant tension in the water.  Do you want your fly to have motion even when it isn’t moving?  Softer materials will do that for you, but watch out for fouling.  Do the baitfish twitch and dart left and right and up when injured?  Time to get really creative with your tying and experiment with intentionally off balanced patterns.

Tracking is another part of fly action.  I consider tracking to be the way the fly moves through the water relative to its own vertical axis plane.  The concept is similar to tracking in fly casting.  Keep it in line for best results!  If a fly unintentionally “tips” off its vertical plane or flips over when retrieved, then I consider it to be tracking poorly.  Fouled streamers track poorly, and I feel like that is why they don’t work. Poorly designed flies also track poorly.  Baitfish (most of them at least, when they are healthy) swim effectively and remain “upright” even when moving at maximum speeds.  Predator fish are used to this behavior.  If a predator is following/chasing down your fly, and the fly happens to tip over on its side for even a split second, there is a chance that you will experience a fantastic refusal.  This is particularly true, in my experience, with roosterfish.  I started thinking really hard about this after seeing dozens of roosterfish refuse flies at extremely high speed and at very close range after the fly wobbled or tipped just slightly.

In the Pacific Northwest, many conventional anglers “pull plugs” for salmon.  These guys and gals know that the way the plugs run or track (straight and true) can make a big difference, and so they spend hours “tuning” their plugs to ride just right.  Why should it be different with flies?  I am now a huge believer in tank testing patterns.  Bathtubs, sinks, ponds, rivers, puddles, fountains, etc. have all been used as testing grounds.  Not just one of a pattern, either.  Every fly!  Sure it’s crazy, but it gives me confidence in every fly I have in my box.


This last factor is one that I consider most abstract and difficult to test and understand.  For that reason it is a wildcard in my own mind.  Maybe the real reason that some flies out produce others for no apparent reason.

Water transmits sound and vibrations much better/faster than air, and fish are equipped with a lateral line that allows them to pick up on vibrations from other fish, predators, and prey.  We know that fish use feel to navigate, feed, and avoid danger.  Conventional anglers use vibration and the way their lures sound or feel much more than fly anglers.  Why should it be that way?  I’m not suggesting that we equip all of our flies with spinner blades and rattles, but it makes sense to consider the way a fly pushes or displaces water.  It may be more important than we fully understand.

Last Cast

Of course, there is much more that could be said.  But I think I’ve said enough for now.  It’s time to fish.  After all, there is no substitute for experience, gained through hours and days on the water.  So, get out there.  Fish.  Observe.  Learn.  Enjoy the day.

Thanks for reading.  Take care, and Fish on!