Product Spotlight – Scientific Anglers Sonar Leaders

Product Spotlight – Scientific Anglers Sonar Leaders

This year several of us here at Big Sky Anglers have absolutely fallen in love with Scientific Anglers’ Sonar Leaders for trout Spey (and other applications).  They have become our go-to “sink tip” option for 3wt and lighter Trout Spey rods, and for converting the RIO Trout Spey shooting heads and light Skagit heads into super smooth casting and fishing tools.  They have even found a place in our stillwater angling bag of tricks.  Check it out!

So, what is a Sonar Leader? Simply put, it is Scientific Anglers take on the “coated, tapered leader” concept.  If you are familiar with RIO Versileaders or Airflo Polyleaders, these are similar, with what we feel are a couple of advantages worth noting.  SA’s Sonar Leaders come in 7 and 10-foot long versions (35 and 50 grains respectively), include a welded loop on the butt end, and feature a 25lb test monofilament core.  They come in six densities, including Floating, Hover (1 inch per second sink rate), Intermediate (1.25 inch per second sink rate), Type 3 (3 inch per second sink rate) and Type 6 (6 inch per second sink rate).  Especially cool is the fact that they are labeled with text identifying each one.  For example, the 10ft, 50 grain, Intermediate Sonar leader is labeled with “ SA SONAR LDR 10FT 50GR INT”.

Taper Profile of the 10-foot Sonar Leader

Pros and Cons

As far as what we really like about these Sonar Leaders, let’s just start by reiterating that they are individually labeled with text, right on the leader butt, identifying which leader is which.  No more trying to remember which color leader is which.  No more having to look up which leader has a red loop.  And best of all, no more having to unroll the whole leader just to find out it’s the short one, when you wanted to use the longer one.  Another thing we really like about these are their durability.  They really seem to be holding up to the abuse, with the loops staying intact and the core bonded to the coating nicely.  Lastly, we really like the 25lb test core strength, so that even after a bunch of use, and potential for nicks and scrapes down at the tippet end, there will still be enough extra beef to pull hard on 1x or 2x tippets.

In terms of things we don’t love about these leaders, there really isn’t a whole ton to say.  They do have  the inherent rigging and tippet attachment issues associated with all coated leaders, in that attaching tippets with a blood or surgeons knot is essentially impractical because it quickly uses up the little bit of exposed mono end on the leader.  That said, we hope that the following section on how we like to rig these leaders will help demystify that potential issue.  Other than that, we just wish that SA would add a 12-foot long Sonar Leader option to the 7 and 10-foot long options.

Labeled right on the leader!

Rigging

We mentioned earlier that an inherent issue with coated leaders is adding and replacing tippet over and over again without quickly whittling away at the short, uncoated, knotable section of the leader itself.  We’ve seen many folks adding a loop (like a perfection loop) to the end of the leader, and then loop-to-loop connect their tippet to that.  While effective, we’ve seen that connection fail on more than one occasion, especially with tippets finer than 0x.  What we have found to be equally or more effective, and certainly less prone to wear and failure, is using either a tippet ring or a micro barrel swivel, attached rather permanently to the leader using a 4 or 5 turn clinch knot.  With that securely in place, tippets can be added, removed, changed, and modified many times without shortening the leader.  We have had great luck with both RIO’s 3mm diameter Steelhead Tippet Rings, and with SPro brand Power Swivels in size 8 or 10.  To keep things as light as possible on the Floating and Hover leaders, we tend to use the tippet rings on those Sonar leaders.  On the Intermediate, Type 3, and Type 6 sinking Sonar Leaders, either the SPro micro barrel swivel or the tippet ring will work great. 

Keep in mind that, over time, any rigging will begin to wear, and replacing the tippet ring or micro swivel will be necessary.  So, keep an eye on it, and replace when things are looking warn.  The good news is that the 25lb test mono core can take a ton of abuse before it needs to be re-tied.

When rigging these for Spey applications, we tend to prefer at least 4-feet of added tippet, and often as much as 6 or even 8-feet of added tippet on the floating and hover versions with soft hackles.  For those extra long applications, it can help to actually add a tapered tippet using 3-4 feet of 0x, 1x, or 2x and then blood knotting or surgeons knotting on another 3-4ft of your choice terminal tippet of 2x, 3x, or in some cases maybe even 4x (though we have rarely if ever found 4x necessary while swinging).

Applications

Our favorite application by far for the Sonar leaders has been for trout Spey applications.  In particular, the 10-foot long Sonar Leaders, weighing in at 50 grains, has proven itself to be a fantastic, light sink tip option to attach to Skagit heads that match 3-weight and lighter trout Spey rods.  We’ve found that Skagit heads weighing 300 grains or less have a much easier time turning over a 50 grain Sonar sinking leader than a level sink tip of T-8 (80 grains at 10 feet, or 100 grains at 12 feet).  The tapered front 3 feet of the leaders also seem to smooth out the turnover and take a bit of the clumsy “WHACK” associated with Skagit heads when used to throw lighter flies like small buggers and soft hackle teams.  We’ve also found these leaders to be absolutely dreamy when paired with RIO’s  22ft Trout Spey Shooting Heads.  By adding the tapered Sonar leader it essentially allows the angler to create a sort of multi-tip, 32-foot long Scandi line that is able to smoothly and sweetly turn over soft hackles and smaller streamers with relative ease.  For those who love fishing soft hackles throughout the entire water column, and occasionally throw a small bugger, this could be your dream line/tip kit.  For Spey applications, our most popular Sonar Leaders are the 10-footers in Intermediate, Type 3, and Type 6 sink rates.

Another application that a couple of our staffers have found for these Sonar leaders is on the lakes.  Adding a sinking Sonar leader to the end of a standard floating fly line creates a type of sink tip or “midge tip” that can be very effective for presenting emerging nymph and pupa patterns in an upward curving ach path that exactly imitates the behavior of naturals.  They are also a great option for your slow creepin’ nymph and leech presentations right above the weeds in water less than 6 feet deep.  On stillwater, we tend to gravitate to the 7-foot sonar leaders and definitely have found that looping them to flylines with shorter, more aggressive front tapers results in easier casting, but the 10-footers also have a place.  Adding 6 to 8-foot long, level tippets or tapered fluorocarbon tippets as described above creates necessary separation and invisibility required to fool sometimes fussy stillwater beasts.  For stillwater applications, our favorite Sonar Leaders are the Hover, Intermediate, and Type 3 sink rates.

The Lakes of Patagonia

The Lakes of Patagonia

Stillwater fishing with flies is, in some ways, the final frontier of fly fishing to the United States angler.  Our rivers get all the attention and most people’s romantic mental images of fly fishing are of standing waist-deep in a trout stream, making long casts to rising trout.  As such, many of our rivers are well known.  Lakes are something we have in great numbers here in the US, but they are regularly overlooked, and solitude isn’t so hard to come by.  Though I am still primarily a river angler, I have become more of a lake fishermen over the last 15 years.  I owe much of this to my experiences in Patagonia, where the incredibly dynamic and exciting angling situations in stillwaters are numerous, eye opening, and in many ways, transformative.

In my years of guiding trout fishermen on the waters of Patagonia, I have often heard from guests that they “aren’t really into lake fishing” when they arrive.  Nine times out of ten, though, anglers who are open minded enough to give it a go with me are converted by the end of the week after a few of the incredible experiences that I’m about to describe.  Many of them learn techniques and gain enough insight and confidence to take this new perspective home with them and apply these methods to their home area.  Their list of home waters usually grows significantly once they add their local stillwaters to their circuit!

In the Austral trout fishing zones, the lakes play an important role in the watersheds.  Many of the rivers that hold large fish do so because they are connected to lakes both upstream and downstream.  This allows for full range of movement of large trout, so they can choose the optimum environment depending on the food source and time of year.  It is only natural that one chases these trout into the stillwaters when the larger specimens have retreated into the lake habitats.

In the parts of Chile and Argentina where I have spent a bulk of my time, most of the lakes are crystal clear, and the fish highly predatory in nature.  Sight fishing situations abound, often comparing to angling scenarios one finds in a saltwater flats environment while fishing for bones, permit, snook, or tarpon.  These Patagonian trout cruise in search of dragonfly nymphs, scuds, midges, caddis and mayflies.  They can be found assaulting dragonfly and damselfly adults, snatching them out of the air, at times coming 3-4 feet out of the water to do so.  The first time you experience this, a memory will be etched on your mind that will last your lifetime.  On a calm day, they can be found sipping mayfly spinners or flying ants from the surface.  Generally, if you can spot them, and you can make a good cast, you can coerce them to take your fly.  If you are a hesitant stillwater angler, these situations can easily make a quick convert out of you as they bridge the gap between the sporty scenario of throwing dry flies to rising fish in a stream and the far less visual yet still challenging scenario of probing the depths with sinking lines in the search of willing participants.

Blind fishing methods are highly productive as well, of course.  Throwing streamers and leeches on sinking lines is generally effective, as is skating large dry flies on the surface with floating lines.  On some lakes, the scud populations are so large that the bigger trout will filter feed through clouds of scattering freshwater shrimp.  In these situations, a slow retrieve with a scud imitation on a floating line or under an indicator can produce tremendous results.  This type of lake produces trout with a body mass that can be astonishing.  Some of the lakes around Esquel and Rio Pico are good examples of this.  Perhaps the most well known lake of this sort is Lago Strobel (aka Jurassic Lake) in the arid steppe country of southern Argentina.

As for gear requirements, Patagonia Lake fishing is generally not very technical, but every part of the kit needs to be able to handle big fish, and big wind.  I use the same line that I use in the big rivers for streamers, much of the time and its versatility is outstanding for both kinds of fishing.  Hands-down, my preferred line for Patagonia sink tips is the Scientific Anglers Sonar Sink 25 Cold in 200 grain.  The running line has zero memory and hardly ever tangles and the head is just long enough to carry a loop tight enough to fire into holes in the willows when river fishing.  If things get a bit more complicated and we need to slow down our subsurface presentations, I’ll use a slow sinking line like the SA Sonar Stillwater Hover line, primarily with dragonfly and damselfly nymphs over shallow weed beds.

For rods, I always favor versatility, and a faster action rod is what I recommend for casting in the wind and covering water.  I really like to use 6 weight, 9 foot rods for streamer and lake fishing down here.  In recent seasons, my two favorites have been the SAGE X  and Orvis H3F.

If you do decide to try your hand at the giants of Strobel, you will likely want to pack some more specific kit to account for the sheer power of the wind and the trout, and because the fishing is done from shore!  Justin has found the following kits to be very handy over the last two years at Jurassic:

  • Sage Igniter 10ft 7wt or G. Loomis Asquith 9ft 8wt, both paired with a Rio Grand 8wt floating fly line, and 8wt Rio intermediate streamer tip. The extra line weight really brings the Igniter to life!
  • Sage X Switch Rod 7wt 11ft 4 pc with Rio Outbound Short 9wt floating and Type 3 shooting heads for overhead casting.

As for flies, standard lake food sources abound, and baitfish are often important to imitate.  Many of the imitative as well as suggestive stillwater patterns and streamers that have become famous in the States and Canada are perfect.  On many lakes, patterns with a hint of burn or bright orange are absolutely deadly.  But regardless of pattern or color, one thing is absolutely critical – make sure flies are tied on stout hooks.  When you travel so far and hook the fish you came all this way for, you want the best irons available to give yourself the best chance of being able to email your buddies a photo like this…

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – Rickards’ Stillwater Nymph

Big Sky Anglers Featured Fly – Rickards’ Stillwater Nymph

Originator:  Denny Rickards, Stillwater guru and trophy trout specialist

Hook: 2x heavy nymph hook.  #10, 12, or 14

Thread: 8/0 Olive

Weight:  Either unweighted or with 6 turns of fine lead wire placed toward the head of the fly.

Tail: Marabou, burnt orange

Body: Olive Simi Seal or other seal substitute dubbing

Hackle: Dry fly grade saddle hackle, grizzly dyed burnt orange

Rib: UTC Ultra Wire, gold, small

Wing case/shell back: Olive marabou or mallard flank fibers.  These can be coated with UV clear cure resin for durability.

Notes:  About 20 years ago I had the good fortune to attend one of Denny Rickards’ stillwater seminars right down the road at Hebgen Lake.  At that time, I’d really only fished dry flies on Hebgen during the Callibaetis hatch, and fooled around with a woolly bugger here and there on other lakes on other occasions.  Listening to Denny (and seeing his big fish pictures) inspired me to buy an intermediate sinking line and get a little more serious about subsurface lake fishing.  At the end of the class, he handed me a scruffy looking olive and orange fly and suggested that it would be a very good place to start experimenting.  His words gave me the confidence to try it, and many of his other patterns.  The Stillwater Nymph was a great fly for me from the start, and still is today.  Fished slowly, with a hand twist or short pull and pause retrieve, this is a great fly to fish when you might not be sure what to tie on, or when you know the trout are around but there aren’t a ton of any specific insect hatching.  It’s suggestive nature, and smaller size seem to get it done even in August, when the fish get a bit more choosy.

Phil’s Favorites for Yellowstone Country

Phil’s Favorites for Yellowstone Country

Phil Rowley is a well-known Canadian angler who has made a real name among the stillwater fly fishing community alongside his good buddy Brian Chan.  His love of fly fishing has taken him across North America and beyond pursuing trout, Atlantic and Pacific salmon, char, pike, walleye and numerous other species on the fly. Phil is a super friendly guy who is always eager to share his knowledge and stories with a fellow angler.  His unofficial motto is “Because you never stop learning!” which we totally dig here at Big Sky Anglers.  Phil and Brian’s Stillwater Fly Fishing App has brought the old school fishing book format into the 21st century with a very fresh, visual, and constantly updating format that really matches well with the idea of fly fishing as a journey filled with exploration and learning.

We struck up a relationship with Phil during his most recent trip to Yellowstone Country and were super excited to find out that he makes semi-regular trips to our area to fish the local stillwaters.  Phil is a signature tier for Montana Fly Company, and we’ve carried a few of his patterns in the shop since our doors opened.  When we found out that he has some real first-hand experience fishing our area, we began comparing notes on effective patterns and presentations.  It didn’t take long before we hatched an idea to share Phil’s Favorites for Yellowstone Country with our readers, and combine our own experiences with the patterns with Phil’s thoughts and suggestions on when, where, and how to use his flies in your own angling adventure.

If you are just getting started in stillwater fly fishing in our area, or are looking to take your fly selection to the next level, these patterns are a great way to do it.  We stock all of these in our fly bins at the shop if you are looking to get a few, and we are also happy to help you get the materials and tips you might need if you are looking to tie your own.

Balanced Leech – Bruised, Black, and Claret

According to Phil, the balanced fly philosophy has had a huge impact on his fly tying in recent years.  He is not alone.  The concept, introduced originally by Jerry McBride of Washington State, is nothing short of a revolution, bringing the effectiveness of jigging and drop shot presentations used by conventional anglers to the fly fishing universe. These leeches are designed and weighted to suspend in a horizontal manner, imitating the swimming orientation of many stillwater food sources like leeches and baitfish. By Phil’s account, a balanced pattern will outperform a traditionally tied version by a wide margin when presented under an indicator.

Fishing Tips: When fishing any fly under an indicator, but especially a balanced leech, do not make the mistake of thinking that you are merely casting it out an waiting for a bite.  Covering the water, moving, and incorporating retrieves that move the fly horizontally and vertically through the water are all parts of the indicator approach.

We find the balanced leech especially effective fished under an indicator in marginal or very cold water conditions in which the trout become less likely to chase a faster moving, retrieved offering.  The approach lets you put the fly in the zone and keep it there while adding enticing action without rapid movements.  On the river, most anglers will quickly shift from retrieved streamers or swung soft hackles to dead drift nymphing when the temps drop and fish get lethargic, but for some reason the adjustment is often considered “cheating” in the stillwater environment.

Balanced flies work well cast and retrieved, too.  They jig, dip, and pitch when stripped, creating a different action than a standard tie.

BSA stocks the balanced leech in all of Phil’s Favorite colors, plus a few others that we’ve found to be equally deadly, like Olive/Burnt Orange, and Olive Pumpkin.

Head over to Phil’s Youtube channel for a video tutorial and materials list if you want to tie your own Bruised Balance Leech or  Olive Pumpkin Balanced Leech . If you just want to hear Phil say “Laser Level”, skip right to 6:45. ?

Pearly Damsel

According to Phil, the slim lines of the Pearly Damsel match those of the natural nymphs and when fish are in a selective state this pattern has worked for him consistently to coax a take or two.  Based on our experience with this bug, Phil is likely downplaying the patterns effectiveness, as we’ve had days where “a take or two”  happens every few casts!

Damsels are a critical food item on several area lakes, with July emergences on Henry’s Lake often being described in legendary terms.  When the damsels are migrating, the biggest trout in the lake take notice and go on the feed.  Damsels are also important food sources on Hebgen, and other weedy stillwaters like Georgetown Lake near Anaconda, MT.

Fishing Tips: Fish a damsel slowly, just above the weed tops, anytime during the early to mid-summer as an attractor, as the nymphs are always crawling about.  The pattern really shines during emergences though, where casting and retrieving the fly on an intermediate or midge tip style line (depending on the feeding depth of the fish) is the presentation of choice.  If you see numbers of damsel nymphs swimming near the surface, crawling up in your boat or float tube or on to shore, get ready!  Try a series of short but quick pulls followed by a significant pause that imitates the natural movements of the damsel nymph, and don’t be surprised if most of the grabs come during the pause.

Head over to Phil’s Youtube channel for a video tutorial and materials list if you want to tie your own to dial in your colors to perfectly match the damsels on your favorite stillwaters.

Black Sally

Chironomid fishing is nearly synonymous with Canadian stillwater angling, and black and red is Phil’s first choice in chironomids colors when he doesn’t have any inside information or when he starts out exploring a new stillwater.  Often, the results don’t warrant a change from this color choice.

This color combo has always been a killer on Hebgen, and the Black Sally makes for a really nice alternative to a standard Ice Cream Cone style pupa that uses a white bead to suggest the gills, especially late in the season and in parts of the lake that see the most angling effort.

Fishing Tips: Phil says that maintaining presentation depth is key when fishing any chironomid pupa.  The more emerging pupa there are the more focused trout become to a specific depth.  It’s just an efficient way to feed.  Suspending chironomid pupa under an indicator is a deadly way to suggest staging chironomid pupa.  Plus, it’s just plain fun to watch the indicator disappear beneath the surface.

He recommends that you begin with your fly a foot off the bottom and work your way up from there in one foot increments until you find where they are feeding.  In MT, where it is legal to fish two flies at once, we like staggering two chironomids by 18 to 24” on the leader, which can really shorten the time it takes to dial in the depth, or to pick up on changes in the depth at which the trout are feeding.  The deeper the water, the greater the fly spacing can and should be.  Phil suggest the following presentation – Keep an eye out for emerging adults and cast pupal shucks.  Anchor amongst them if you can.  After completing the cast allow sufficient time for the fly or flies to sink.  Let the sit still for a while.  If there are no takers begin a slow hand twist retrieve to cover water.  Move the line slow enough so it creates no surface wake.  Add the odd strip to attract fish to the fly.  The strip rises the fly up and the pause lets the fly settle once again.  Always watch the indicator right after the strip as this is when a take is most likely to occur.

This is not only a great imitation to fish during active chironomids emergences, but also a no brainer as a second fly/dropper fly to fish while exploring or prospecting during non-hatch times.

Head over to Phil’s Youtube channel for a video tutorial and materials list if you want to tie your own.

Chromie

According to Phil, this is probably his favorite chironomid pupa pattern, and a pattern that he has popularized with the help of thousands of trout across the western US and Canada.  The Chromie produces well when chironomid pupa are actively hatching, as the silver body does a great job suggesting the trapped gases the natural pupa use to aid their ascent and final transformation to winged adult.

Fishing Tips:  Fish this pattern like the Black Sally or your other favorite chironomids imitations.  The Chromie seems to be a real standout in Yellowstone Country when fishing in darker conditions, in deeper water, or in algae clouded or otherwise colored water.  My personal experience is that the reflectivity can be a bit much in shallow water combined with calm water and bright sun, but I know others who swear by this pattern in nearly all conditions.

Head over to Phil’s Youtube channel for a video tutorial and materials list if you want to tie your own.

Clearwater Pupa – Black

According to Phil, this ultra-realistic chironomids pupa really shines in clear water conditions or when the trout are getting wary of seeing too many beadhead style patterns.  This fly is super slim and translucent, but with just the right amount of flash.  It also includes the wing pads which are not typically a part of simpler beadhead patterns.

Fishing Tips: Fish this pattern like the Black Sally or your other favorite chironomids imitations.  It’s a great one to fish as part of a tandem rig with a weighted chironomid during a hatch.  Around our area, the place I automatically think of when it comes to this pattern Wade Lake.  The crystal clear water and pale mud shoals are a local proving ground for realistic stillwater insect imitations, and this one has passed the test.

Head over to Phil’s Youtube channel for a video tutorial and materials list if you want to tie your own.

Rowley and Chan’s Stillwater Fly Fishing App – A Review

Rowley and Chan’s Stillwater Fly Fishing App – A Review

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.”

MK’s Breakdown

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. 

Entomology

Leaders & Knots

Techniques & Tactics

Equipment, and

Stillwater Flies

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?

MK’s PROs

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.

MK’s CONs

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.

In Conclusion

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!