Monday, July 13, 2020

Fishing the dreaded sinking line in saltwater/stillwater

Sturdy and stiff tipped 12wt rod rigged with a 500grain sinking line and a heavy fly. Ready to do some damage on big Coalfish.

When we fly fishermen talk about saltwater fly fishing, we tend to think about crystal clear flats, small flies and sight casting at fish. And why not? Who doesn't enjoy casting small flies at cruising fish in shallow water? There is however so much more to experience in the deep blue waters of the oceans (and freshwater too!) with a fly rod in hand and fishing a sinking line makes many of those things possible.

My good good friend Pasi with a Cape Lookout ocean dwelling Red Drum caught on a sinking line.
When I first started fly fishing in the salt (the same goes for freshwater) I didn't really like fishing the sinking line. It was so tiresome, clumsy and too much work. Over the years and seeing plenty of different fisheries and being on trips that didn't really deliver on the sight fishing department I have grown to really appreciate and actually like fishing different spots with a sinking line. I kind of like it now a days but please don't tell anyone that, so I won't be verbally murdered by the purist crowd:).

Early days of my sinking line career with Capt. Gil Berke and a big Striped bass

There are many many different ways to fish the sinking line and I'm only going to scratch the surface with this little article. I'm going to go through a few basic things about the way I do my sinking line fishing most of the time.

The set up

Rods


If you want to make things as comfy as possible you should pick the fly rod that you are going to use with the sinking line accordingly. Rods with a stiff (or should I say stiff enough) tip and plenty of juice in the mid to upper low part work best for me. I actually have a few rods that have a spare tip that is cut down a inch or two to make it stiffer for the sinkers. Even though I'm usually a 9 footer man, I do enjoy using a shorter rod with the sinking line. Many times short rods naturally have a better taper to handle sinking lines and heavy flies, but rod length is not super important for me as long as the taper on the rod is good.

It's good to be prepared for every kind of situation when going out.
Ike bending out the 10wt+ glass rod to the max. That short glass rod makes one hell of a good sinking line rod.


The red rod aka Vision Grand Daddy has proven to be an amazing sinking line rod on top of its qualities as a pike rod.

Lines

Now that you've got a beefy fly rod in your hand we need to line it up. Most sinking lines on the market that can be used on bigger rods and bigger game are so called sink tip lines. They have 25-35feet of super fast sinking tungsten infused line at the front and the rest of the line is usually an intermediate. There are only one or two models on the market for big rods that have a sinking running line like the SA Titan 3/5/7. This is a huge flaw on the market if you ask me as there would be plenty of use for other sink tip lines with a sink 3 running line on them.

Choose your line according to your rod and fishing needs. A 350gr head is usually the best for me if I want to actually cast at fish with my 10wt rod. A 400gr or tops 450gr is good if I'm basically just dredging. On 12 wt's 450gr to 500gr is usually good if there's a need to cast at fish. 500gr to 600gr if I'm mostly just dredging. On the big big rods ( 13wt +) the line can be anywhere from 500gr to 750gr. I have been planning to make a 1000gr longer head just for dredging but haven't had the absolute need to whip one up so that plan has been postponed. For freshwater fishing there are a bit more lines to choose from and I do most of my freshwater sinking line fishing with a sink3 or sink4 line and a 9 or 10 wt rod.

Be sure to bring plenty of back up sinking lines with you when going on a trip that involves big fast fish and sinking line fishing.

Things might get a bit wild at times as you never know what your going to hook up when going deep. You can end up loosing a lot of lines when the fishing gets real hot.


How to fish the sinking line

The cast and strip method


There are plenty of ways to fish a sinking line as most of you probably know. The most straight forward approach is to cast your line to its intended target and then just strip the line in the same way you would do with your floating or intermediate line. The line will pull your fly a bit deeper into the water column and many times this is all you need. You can use this method with pretty much every type of fly that you can cast comfy.

Using a sinking line and a Half&Half type pattern is a great way to target bigger fish when casting at surface feeding Striped Bass. Many times the bigger girls are lurking on the edge of the school a bit deeper down than their smaller siblings.


The "into the wind cast and snake it out" method

When you need to reach a bit deeper and there's very little current or the drift is slow this is the right method for you. Do a short cast right into the wind/on to the opposite direction that you are drifting to. Then just "snake" out the needed amount of loose line into the water to reach your target depth and fish. The deeper you want to go the shorter your cast should be and more line you should "snake" out. The loose line will let your line and fly sink in to the "zone". Then when the line starts to come tight you start to fish your fly and strip it in. You can either strip it all the way in or just pull it half way in and then drop it again and repeat. Dropping it again gives the fly a bit more time in the zone.

Small fly and a sinking line made the deal for this big pike. Fishing deeper weed-beds with a sinking line and using smaller flies can be deadly on summer/early fall pike. 

Big Zander caught on fly is a real trophy fish. Pic by Sami Passoja.

Un-weighted big hollow fly and a fast sinking line dropped to the right depth was the ticket for this big red drum.


Usually this method is performed with flies that have some weight on them, but in shallower spots or with fish that are pelagic so to speak an un-weighted fly can be effective and won't get tangled up in the leader/fly line when dropping it down as you cast the fly and leader straight out before letting the line drop.

These medium sized (5-6 1/2inch) Half&Half style patterns with relatively big but light brass dumbbell eyes is probably my most used fly for the first two techniques I explained.
Monster albies like this one are a pretty common catch offshore Florida when using a sinking line.

Dredging

When you need to go as deep as you can or there's some serious current around the spot that you are fishing for, you need extreme measures to get your fly down.

Huge schools of big coalfish like to lurk around the heaviest current they can find and usually in very deep water too. Many times you need extreme techniques to get down deep to them if they are not keen on feeding more close to the surface. That's why you need to add plenty of weight on to the leader if you are not fishing a super heavy fly. Just like Ike is doing in this picture.

Use a line that has the heaviest and preferably longest sinking portion you can. This also means that you will need a heavy rod. A short 13 or 14 wt is my choice most of the time. Regardless of the target species. Be sure to have plenty of running line after your sinking line as you will need it if you really want to dredge. Use a fly that sinks faster than your line. Use extra weight on your leader if you can and especially when you aren't using a super heavy fly. If the fly or leader doesn't have enough weight on it you can end up with a lot of tangles.

Heavy 6 inch or 15cm flies with heavy XXL lead eyes. Those tin plated versions weigh in at 3 grams so paired up with a heavy duty hook they end pretty darn heavy. 
Different tungsten coneheads and beads are an easy way to add some weight to your leader.  


The goal with this technique is to maximize the amount of free sinking time your line and fly can have. This means that you have to cast your line and fly as far "upstream" as you can. Then you need to "snake" out as much of free flowing running line in to the water as you can. This is especially important if there's plenty of current in the spot that you are fishing at. You will need a lot more line out than your target depth is. That's why it's important to use a set up that has plenty of extra line when going for this technique.

This is a fat albie from a nice morning of doing some hardcore dredging at Cape Lookout. Unfortunately the rod did not survive this workout:)
Have patience and try out a few different angles to get the best drop for any given situation. It is amazing how deep you can get with this technique and how effective it can be in the right spot. Sure, it is a lot of work, but with practice, thought and the right gear the awards are well worth it.

Hard pulling fish in hard current is well worth all the effort.
Closing words

There you go, a few introductory words on the fascinating world of sinking line fishing. Open up your mind and expand the use of fly fishing gear and techniques in the deep blue and open freshwaters. Go out there, go to the deep end and pull as hard as you can when you get the bite.

 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Clousers - my way

One of many many different species caught on the Clouser. It really is a catch it all pattern when you can catch bonefish on the flats and a Bronze Whaler on the same pattern on the same day!

Clousers are one of those select few classic patterns that transcend the lines between freshwater and saltwater fishing. It offers a platform for almost unlimited amount of modifications and has been used to fish for almost everything that swims. When Bob Clouser came up with this fly in 1985, he did all of us fly fishermen a huge service. It's a true classic that is as relevant today as it was back then.

One of many forms of Clousers I tie. A "Lefty" style Clouser.
Clousers were the first SW pattern I tied and might be my last one too. I can roughly categorize my Clousers to three different styles. All the different nuances between patterns are too many to count so we will go forward with the three main styles.

Traditional

Here's a prime example of a well tapered traditional Clouser. It has balanced proportions and a profile that matches many small baitfish like anchovy and silversides.
  The traditional way uses a bucktail tail that's tied and wrapped behind the eyes all the way to the back of the shank just before the hook bend starts. The wing is tied in front of the eyes. A good and traditional way to attach the eyes is to divide the hooks shank in to three parts and attach the eyes 1/3 away from the eye of the hook. You can however tweak the position of the eyes according to your needs. Further back and you get more leverage to turn the hook point up and a more balanced swimming action. Further up front and you get more jigging action and a more vertical drop that can help the fly to sink more in "free fall". For these traditional style Clousers, I suggest that you use a hook with somewhat smaller hook gap so you don't have to use excess weight on the eyes to get the hook point up in the water.

Start by attaching the eyes about 1/3 from the hook eye. I'm using a size 1 Mustad C70SD on this one.

Attach the clump of bucktail in front of the eye first and then tie it flat along the hook shank all the way back.

Add some flashabou or body braid on the body if need be. Then tie the first wing directly in front of the eye.

Add a few strands of flash on each side and then tie in a small clump of pink bt.

Finish the fly with one more tie of olive bt.

Add some UV resin or epoxy on the body and eyes for strength.



Looking good

I use the traditional way mostly on mid sized Clousers and mid sized lead eyes. Hook sizes are mostly 2 to 1/0 on these. They have caught many different fish for me over the years.

You can also use synthetics to make these.


Not the most common catch with the Clouser, but this Bronzie was hot after this one.
Golden Trevallies love Clousers

The Clouser is the gold standard fly to catch false albacore.


Lefty Style

Set of Lefty style Clousers ready for action.

Lefty style or "flats" style Clousers are the second method I use a lot when tying Clousers. This style has all its tie in points in front of the eye. No tail is added when using this style. You can use body braid, flashabou or something similar to make the body if you want to, but a bare hook shank works just as well.  The benefit of this method is that you can use wider gap hooks and lighter eyes and still get the fly to swim point up easily. They are also very foul proof. The 1/3 rule for eye placement works well for this method too as you need room to tie in front of the eye especially if you want to taper your fly well with multiple ties. However, you can set the eye right up front if need be and still get the fly to ride point up easily as there is no tail to counter this effect. This style is the fastest one to tie and I use it mostly for small Clousers with light eyes, but also on big wide gap hooks and bigger eyes if I absolutely need to use them. 

Attach the eyes firmly to the hook. 1/3 rule applied on this one.

Tie in the first tie just in front of the eyes

Tie in the second tie just in front of the first. Add some flash.

Tie in the last tie in front of the second one. Remember to taper the ties smoothly to get that nice baitfish shape.

Add UV or epoxy for strength.

Give it a wash and take out any annoyingly flaring strands of bucktail.

Easy

Like said before I use this method mostly for small and light Clousers and can go all the way down to  size 4 hooks on these. I also use this method a lot if I need super heavy, wide gap hooks. On that type of hooks you don't want to use the traditional method or Half&Half's as you will need to use extremely heavy eyes to make them swim point up. Much easier on those situations to just go Lefty style. 

I sometimes bend the hook shank on my Lefty style Clousers a bit to get a more streamlined look for them.


Here's a simple Lefty style Clouser tied on a 3/0 short shank wide gap hook. These things are super simple cannon fodder for bigger fish. Using yak hair from the great Rupert Harvey and H2O Flat'n Fine for this one.


I catch a lot of perch here locally with this method and it's my Clouser of choice if I am using Clousers on top water feeding tunoids. It is also my shallow water Clouser of choice as the Clousers you usually use on the flats are small and light. Jack's and other trevallies love Clousers on the flats and it's also a good fly for bonefish in certain situations.

Big perch is the ultimate game fish around here

Smaller perches are the best table fare in Finland. 
It's amazing what you can catch around a flat that has a steep drop off
Clouser loving bonefish
My good friend Timo with a Lefty style Clouser caught Rankin Cod.
Small and light Lefty style Clousers are great flies to fish for baitball feeding Albies. 

Half&Half style

Classic H&H's with rooster feathers at the back.
This style originally comes from mixing a classic Lefty's Deceiver with the Clouser. Over the years it has evolved to a style that lets the fly tier add a bit more meat to their Clousers with the added possibilities to make wider profiles. I use this style with many different materials and tail options. Feathers, ostrich and Nayat are my top three choices but different types of synthetics and yak hair work very well for this style too.

Big H&H's with a ostrich tail and XL lead eyes
Big H&H made with yak hair

Medium sized H&H with synthetics.


They can be made super big or medium sized with this method. Really small ones are not the way to go on these. Hooks that have a narrower gap and a longer shank work best for these. Eye placement should be 1/3 or further back. You need relatively big and heavy eyes for these as the tail and the wider, more meatier profile resists the hook point turning up. 

On H&H's I many times start by tying the tail first before adding the eyes. Start with bt 360 around the hook.

Reverse tie some Nayat on top of the bt.

Turn and secure. Add some super glue or resin to the stem of the hair so it doesn't tangle up in use.

Add the eyes

Tie a clump of bt behind the eyes. Start the tie in front of the eyes and then go behind the eyes.

Add the first tie of bt in front of the eyes. Add flash.

Second tie in front of the first one.

On this one I added some peacock herl. 

Add resin and cure.

Done

Belly

Looks decent?
I mostly use my H&H's for pike here in Finland and for Striped bass, Redfish, false albacore and other hungry predators. Never leave home without them!

Big and super heavy H&H's are the ultimate weapon for big Coalfish.

Huge Stripers love H&H's
H&H's are the weapon of choice when fishing for Albies behind trawlers with sinking lines as they are focused on bigger food.
These monster Red Drum love H&H's

Early fall is a great time to catch big pike with H&H's. That time of the year they are at somewhat deeper water and really love medium sized fly with a jigging action on it.
This one too.
Here's a Youtube video of me tying a ostrich tailed version of the H&H.



Hooks

There are a lot of good hooks on the market, but not very many choices if you are looking for that perfect Clouser hook. Sure, Clousers can be made on almost any hook. However, hook selection is something you should think about if you want to perfect your Clouser game.

Three of my most used Clouser hooks. Mustad C70SD 2/0 and #2 and the king of Clouser hooks Gamakatsu SL11-3H 1/0
The best and easiest hooks to use for Clousers are hooks that have a standard or long shank and a narrower hook gap. On hooks like these it's easy to place the eyes right and make them swim point up without using excess weight. Of course sometimes you need to go with a short shank and wide gap hook and there are ways to make them work too, but they are not optimal hooks for Clousers.


My top five Clouser hooks are:

1. Gamakatsu SL11-3H. Perfect hook from all the way down from size 4 to big game Clouser hooks at 2/0. Perfect dimensions, shape and strength. These are absolutely perfect hooks. Shame that the availability of bulk packages are limited to the USA so they don't get as much use as I want to.

2 Mustad C70SD. Really good alternatives for the Gammies and much easier to buy. I use them from size 2 to 3/0. 3/0 is basically only used on big eyed H&H's. Dimensions are not as perfect as the Gamakatsu, but good enough. Has enough length on the shank and narrow enough gap to make things easy. I've caught some big fish with the 1/0 and 3/0 hooks and have a lot of confidence on these hooks.

3. Mustad S71SNP-DT. Only good at the 1/0 or 2/0 sizes. The rest of the lineup are a bit flimsy. Excellent proportions and dimensions. Great hook gap too. The long shank of the 2/0 makes tying H&H's very easy and the narrow hook gap makes sure you don't have to use excess weight to make them swim point up.

4. Daiichi 2546. Good Clouser hook from size 2 to 2/0. Best at size 1 and 1/0. Good dimensions, but the somewhat poor availability and stainless steel material drops it down the list.

5. Daiichi x472. Great hook gap, very strong and sharp! The shank is a touch too long which limits its uses a bit.

Daiichi 2546 at size 4 and Musta S71SNP-DT at size 2/0

The number one spot on that is list is pretty solid. I don't know if there will ever be a better hook for Clousers than the Gammy. However the rest of the list is wide open and I'm always looking for more options.

Closing words by Brian Horsley

Brian with a world record class Spanish Mac.


Brian is a legend in the field of fly fishing and has been my friend and mentor for quite many years now. He is also a personal friend of Bob Clouser and the late great Lefty Kreh so who better to quote and share some of Brian's excellent pictures of just a tiny fraction of the fish he has caught or seen caught with Clousers.

" The first fly I learned to tie was a Clouser Deep Minnow.  Good thing-it is easy to tie and effective on almost everything that swims.  I think before Lefty passed he had caught over 78 different saltwater species on the Clouser Minnow. As a guide for almost the last 30 years a effective quick tying fly is essential.  

The beauty of the Clouser Minnow is it can be tied with a wide variety of materials.  This lets the tier adjust the size and to a lesser degree the profile of the bait.   As traveling angler always looking for new saltwater destinations I never leave home with out a good selection of Clouser Minnows is a wide range of sizes and color combinations. "

Big Red's love em
Amberjack

Buffalo sized Albie on the Clouser

Two legends. Bob Clouser and Brian Horsley