12 Days of Christmas – Day Two – The Orvis Retro BSA Trucker Hat
Years ago back in Illinois, when I was just a wee lad, I was given a duck brown camo hat by my father Tom. In those days, duck brown camo was the only camo for waterfowl hunting. Wetlands camo wasn’t even thought of yet and each member of Tom’s duck hunting crew at Toe Head Slough wore duck brown head to toe. Each Christmas, I would flip through the Cabela’s catalog and order a new piece, sometimes it was overalls or a button down hunting shirt. As time when by this pattern pretty much disappeared as new innovations came upon the scene and other companies started making various waterfowl patterns. Several years ago Drake Waterfowl Systems brought the duck brown camo pattern back to life and then Orvis jumped in and helped revived it as well. Much to Molly’s despair, there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not rocking the Orvis Retro Trucker hat. She has however, convinced me to pick a new one off the shelves at the fly shop more than just once a year. Check it out in the online fly shop.
Stillwater fishing is just one part of fly fishing that truly fascinates me, and every year I seem to devote more and more of my water time to the lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. And, like most things that I become interested in, I collect literature on the subject. I love to read and study different theories and approaches to things like fly fishing. By reading well written works by other experienced anglers, I feel that I am able to gain experiences that I might not otherwise have the opportunity to have myself. I guess the hope is that one day, should I be confronted with a unique situation in my own angling, that I might be able to recall an obscure passage in an angling text and apply it with glorious, fishy results. But I also think that I enjoy just reading different perspectives, opinions, and approaches to similar situations, and trying to sort out the biases, while throwing it all into my own melting pot for forming my own (admittedly biased) perspectives, opinions, and approaches.
But I digress.
For a long time, “literature” essentially meant books, magazine articles, and maybe some VHS tapes. Now, as more and more information becomes available through electronic means, it also includes things like DVDs, blog posts, podcasts, e-books, You-tube channels, and now, smartphone apps. I’m able to find new material to study everywhere I turn, making the long Montana winter a bit easier to pass.
I’m a little old school, and I still like books the best, but it is difficult to argue with the power of a well-organized and presented video as a teaching an learning tool. Not long ago I came across Phil Rowley and Brian Chan’s Stillwater Fly Fishing App. As I understand it, this App is the first of its kind in many ways. What makes this information source fairly unique is that it is video based, but organized similar to a cookbook of recipes or fishing tidbits that are hopefully easy to find at a moment’s notice.
From Phil and Brian:
“Phil and Brian have combined their 75 years of experience fly fishing for trout and char in lakes to develop this valuable educational tool. This App will become an essential tool in the toolbox for anglers of all skill levels.
The app is broken down into chapters covering such topics as entomology, leaders and knots, techniques and tactics, equipment and favourite stillwater flies. Each topic is presented in video format that can be easily downloaded and saved to your mobile device.
Once downloaded, the video tips can be watched anywhere. No Wi-Fi connection is required to view the tips once they have been downloaded.”
I personally have found the Stillwater Fly Fishing App to be a welcome addition to my collection of stillwater angling “literature”. I’ve learned plenty of new things, particularly about entomology and rigging for stillwaters. I’ll go into the 2019 open water season with plenty of new ideas to try out. But what makes the App better, or at least different than a book written by Phil or Brian? The App format allows for continuous additions, updates, and modifications as the authors develop and test new theories and methods. In theory, this can reduce the built in obsolescence found in some printed media.
When I downloaded and subscribed to the App in early October 2018, I think there were about 105 +/- videos available among these 5 chapters.
Leaders & Knots
Techniques & Tactics
Now, just before the start of the New Year, there are 126 videos. At this point, I’ve probably watched 90% of them. Of course, I watched the Entomology and Tactics videos first! I’ve been messing around with the App enough that I feel like I can offer up a list of what I’d call PROs and CONs, for lack of a better terminology. Remember, you can download the App for free and check out all the free content, along with listings of all the content that comes with a paid subscription. So, what have you got to lose?
Content, Content, Content! I feel very confident saying that, regardless of your experience level with stillwater fly fishing, you will learn some really interesting new things from the App. There are some videos about really clever and sneaky stuff on there!!!
For the newcomer to stillwater fly fishing, dive into videos like “Essential Tackle”, “Choosing a Fly Rod”, “Choosing Leech Patterns”, “Retrieve Essentials”, and “Simple Chironomid Techniques” (all available free without subscription). The basics are all there for you to build on. Get yourself an intermediate sinking line to go with the floating line you already have, and go strip some leeches or hang some chironomids!
If you end up hooked on stillwater fly fishing like me, you’ll find that every outing will generate more questions in your mind. When that feeding binge happens that you can’t seem to figure out, you can dive deeper into the App and watch videos like entomology presentations on “Zooplankton”, “Dragonflies (Crawlers)”, “Dragonflies (Darners)”, or “Scuds”. When you are ready to experiment with new ways to move your fly, check out clips like “Strip Retrieve”, “Hand Twist Retrieve”, “Pinch Strip Retrieve”, “Rolly Polly Retrieve”, and “Indicator Retrieves”. When you finally buy that new boat, check out the two videos on boat setup with stillwater angling in mind.
Fishing tricks. I mean simple tricks that solve annoying everyday problems in the fishing life that you wish you’d thought of yourself. Phil and Brian offer up more than a few of these that they have figured out over their years of fishing. Some are explicit, with their own videos, and others are nested within other topics. It pays to watch with an open mind. Using electrical tape to fix a worn out slip float, and incorporating barrel swivels into rigging are two of my favorites.
Fly Tying Tutorials. Step-by-step video instruction for piles of proven stillwater patterns. At least two dozen are available for free without a subscription to the App! It’s winter in Montana. Get in there and tie some new stillwater flies!
Regular Updates. When I spoke with Phil about his plans for the App, he mentioned that their goal was to add 4 or 5 new videos to the App each month. And, last month they did just that! Compare that to your average print mag subscription, factor in how rarely print mags cover detailed stillwater topics, and the $3.99/month (or less if you sign up for a season or a full year) subscription suddenly seems like a bargain.
Offline Capability. Once you have downloaded video content to your smartphone, the App no longer needs any Wi-Fi or other wireless cell coverage for you to watch the videos. So, you can download all the videos you’d like at your house on a fast Wi-Fi signal and then get on the bus to work, or on the airplane to West Yellowstone or Jurassic Lake, and you’ll be ready with something to do. You can even download all the videos about fishing Callibaetis and then watch them in the boat while you wait for the hatch to start out on Hebgen Lake without dealing with spotty 3G coverage that will gobble up your data allowance.
Broad Topic Organization With No Search Function. You have to organize things somehow. The format of the App, while very clean and based on relatively short, individual video tips sorted into the categories/chapters listed above, may not be the ideal format for covering a complex, detailed topic in an orderly, step-by-step manner. Of course, this is an opinion based on how my own brain organizes things. For example, if you are interested specifically in learning about the ins and outs of, say, Chironomid fishing, you will need to skip around within the App chapters and watch three Entomology videos, multiple Leader & Knot rigging videos, and two or three Technique & Tactics videos, before diving down the rabbit hole of fly pattern selection and tying tutorials. Perhaps in the future, the App could be updated to include a search function so that a user could search for, say, “chironomids”, and then be presented with a list of all the relevant videos from among the five organizational chapters.
Quirky Updating. I’m running a Samsung Galaxy S9 and the Android version of the App. That said, last time Phil and Brian announced a new set of video uploads, I had a hard time finding them on the App. I ended up uninstalling the App and reinstalling it, and the problem was solved. No biggie, but I’m glad that I follow the guys on social media for the announcements for new updates.
I actually reached out to Phil and Brian about these CONs after writing this. They were very receptive and responsive to a little bit of constructive criticism and it sounds like they will be looking into some improvements that will enhance searching and trouble shooting in the very near future. In the end, I think that’s a very good sign to see that they are interested in and committed to not only adding new content but improving the functionality of the App over time. As far as I’m concerned, I think I’ll be renewing my subscription when it comes up later in January. There’s still a lot more winter left!
My good friend Brian Chou visited Montana recently, and we were able to find time to get out on a small stream for a bit of fishing and goofing around. We took turns working our way up the small stream, one person fishing, the other taking photos, shooting short videos, and heckling (not necessarily in that order).
The video clip below, which now lives on the BSA Vimeo Page, struck me as something that could really show folks the versatility of Spey principles when applied to fishing with single hand rods.
First of all, the situation is far from what most would consider normal Spey fishing. Clearly absent are the big river, 2-handed rod, salmon or steelhead flies, and down-and-across approach. Instead, we have a small creek, a 7’10’ single handed rod, two dry flies, and an upstream approach. Yet, this cast and presentation met the situation perfectly due to the tight quarters and little-to-no backcast space.
If I had to name or describe this presentation, it would be as follows: Upstream directed, cross-body Poke, with a slight aerial mend.
As far as what that means and how this cast actually works, let me try and walk you through it in words. Next time you are out on the water, fool around a bit with these concepts and see how they might work into your own angling.
At the start of the clip, the flies are drifting downstream in the bubble line towards the bush on the left side of the screen, which is essentially straight across the creek from my position. I had to get the flies out of there before they snagged in the branches, but if I had simply picked them up into an overhead cast, they would have ended up high in the willows behind me, on the right side of the screen. I needed a way to make a significant change of direction, from across stream, to back upstream.
So, I basically just dragged them out into the middle of the creek along the surface of the water (0:06 – 0:15). That move felt analogous to the initial drag and anchor placement move in a Spey cast called the Perry Poke, or just Poke for short. Follow this link for a demonstration of the Poke with a 2-handed rod by Trevor Covich.
I recognized that the Poke would work in this situation, so I just kept it going, and dumped the line forward, in the direction I wanted to make the next cast (0:15 – 0:20). That simple move achieved the change of direction I needed. From that point, executing the remainder of the Spey cast required sweeping the line back into a D-loop (0:20 – 0:26), allowing the leader to align in the direction I wanted to cast, and making the forward delivery (0:26 – 0:34).
Subconsciously, perhaps, as the loop was unrolling, I added a very slight aerialized reach mend to the right, to adjust for a current anomaly that I probably noticed during the prior drift.
After all of that, no fish ate my fly in that pool. So it goes!
Take Care and Fish On,
PS – This fishing was done using a T&T Lotic 7’10” 5wt rod and matching WF-5-F Airflo Streamer Float flyline. Neither of these pieces of gear are made specifically for Spey Casting, but together they work beautifully to deliver the flies.
I recently received this question via email from one of our readers and thought it would make a nice followup blog post.
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.
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!
It turns out that winter can get a little long here in West Yellowstone. That leaves plenty of time to look back on photos and bring back memories of the warmer days of the past summer, and to look ahead to the upcoming season.
I haven’t spent an extensive amount of time in Montana or fished every “Gotta fish” river, but the places that I have been in this naturally wild state have been a great introduction to what fly fishing this vast state has to offer. My first real introduction to fly fishing in Montana was in the summer of 2012, while working in the small town of Twin Bridges – the home of Winston Fly Rods. The main waters there include the Jefferson, Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Ruby Rivers. Each of these waters has its own specific personality and time of excellence. Fast forward to 2017, and I found myself standing in a soon-to-open fly shop in West Yellowstone, Montana called Big Sky Anglers. My first day consisted of picking up and organizing wet flies (soaking wet flies, not flies intended to fish subsurface) off the basement floor because there was a leak in the foundation. Meanwhile, I’m thinking to myself, “Great, what have I gotten myself into.”
Within two weeks I realized that I was working with some of the most respected, experienced, helpful, and genuine people in fly fishing, and everyone one of them was truly passionate about what they are doing here in West Yellowstone.
The owners and experienced crew at Big Sky Anglers introduced me to some of the local water, and also encouraged me to pull out a map, find a blue line or blob that looked interesting, and go exploring. Which brings me to talk the about fishing around here. Basically if you placed a drafter’s compass on a map centered in West Yellowstone and drew a circle with a radius of about 50 miles, you would be circling enough moving and still water to fish for rest of your life. Working for Big Sky Anglers and living in town for the 2017 season gave me the opportunity to merely scratch the surface of these special places.
I grew up bass fishing in Southern California. In that setting, I fell in love with that feeling of tranquility of being on a motionless, glassy piece of water. But my ignorance and lack of exposure never properly mixed the joy of a calm lake with fly fishing for trout. Last summer, fishing on Hebgen Lake changed all that.
There are many interesting fishing opportunities that present themselves throughout the season on Hebgen, but the Callibaetis hatches and spinner falls during mid-summer set things up for one of my favorite fishing games. It is truly exciting to witness big, healthy lake rainbows and browns choke down Callibaetis spinners like a hungry bear that just ended its hibernation.
Imagine sitting almost motionless on a glassy lake with beautiful tall pines kissing the water’s edge. There you sit, waiting for the signal. You look down into the air and on the water for any cues of life. Actually, you are looking for signs of the end of life, since we’re talking about mayfly spinners here, but that’s getting a bit picky. In time, you see a brilliantly speckled Callibaetis as the boat slowly drifts over the water. Then, more start to appear and you finally hear it – the gulping sound of a twenty inch rainbow trout arching its nose out of the water to inhale a Callibaetis spinner. It makes me smile just thinking about it. Mixing the emotions of hearing it with actually seeing it and it’s like tasting Nutella for the first time. You just can’t stop eating it.
The challenge of successfully gulper fishing adds another interesting element to the pursuit. You can’t be messy at this game, at all. Only bring your A-game and be prepared to mess up a few times along the way. This angling is best done with a partner, or better yet a seasoned guide. One angler positions the boat and spots for rising fish while communicating with the other angler who holds a rod at the ready while also looking for trout noses. As you scan the surface, you are mentally preparing to make deadly accurate cast of anywhere from fifteen feet, if you are lucky, to sixty feet or more. Easy right? Some days these fish have a more rhythmic feed style and other times they’re what I’d describe as being “all over the place”. Hebgen’s gulpers can change feeding directions on a dime and will make you waist a lot of casts. If you shout out enough clock positions to your partner and have your line untangled and organized before you make your cast, you can catch a couple of these fish. They jump, run and dart for cover like you want them to and are truly a gratifying fish.
I remember the first time I went out on Hebgen for gulpers with friend and Big Sky Anglers guide Donovan Best. My casting motions were too open which made the boat rock ever so slightly sending little waves out to the feeding fish. That slight and subtle error spooked several fish before I modified my casting stroke. Learning from my mistakes, and adjusting what I was doing resulted in a couple of fish that day, and the feeling of discovery was just fantastic!
I’m so excited for summer, gulpers, and the many other amazing fisheries around our area. I hope you get a chance to head out there yourself during the 2018 season. If you’ve never experienced stillwater fly fishing of this type, I encourage you to give it a try. Please pop by the shop, say hi, and introduce yourself. We’ll be sure to give you the details on this fun, local game we call gulper fishing. Until then have a great winter and remember, when you free the heel, you free the mind. ?