Author Archives: Brian Stewart

Pros and Cons Of The “Ghost Net”

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“Ghost Netting” is just translucent “rubber” (urethane?) netting. Trout colors really “pop” when photographed in this type of netting.

I can’t remember exactly when it was I first saw a picture of a trout being held in a “Ghost Net”…probably a couple years ago…but I do remember thinking, “wow, that net is cool.  It really makes the colors in that trout pop”.  Soon I started seeing more and more great “in the net” trout pictures that actually looked really good thanks to the clear rubber ghost netting.

Then one day I was in my favorite fly shop and noticed they had my net…a Wolf Moon Oxbow...that had the ghost netting installed on it.  We called up Bill at Wolf Moon and sure enough, he could sell me a replacement bag for my net, so I ordered one up.  It only took me a year to get around to installing it, but it’s done now, and I’ve formed some opinions on it

Pros:

-Pics taken of trout in the ghost net can actually look really good.  The whitish, blueish, clearish, translucent netting really brings out the color in the trout.  Pics of trout taken in the standard black mesh netting never really can look good.

-You can’t get your hook caught in a rubber net like you can in a fabric mesh net.  I had several “hook holes” in my old bag from forcefully removing stuck hooks.  “Cockle burrs” and other “sticky” plant seeds can’t get stuck in the rubber bag, either.

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14 inch trout behave well in a rubber trout net, but what about a 20 incher?

-Rubber is easy on the fish’s slime coat…but so is soft mesh…so this one is a wash.

Cons:

-The ghost netting is a fair bit heavier than mesh.  Of course this isn’t going to keep you from using it, but it is noticeable.

-It doesn’t lay nicely on the back.  The rubber is too stiff to lay down properly, and so its common for the net to swing around when you bend down…more-so than a standard net does.  With my longish Oxbow net, my fly line seems to get caught on the handle more often now when wading deeper, because the handle sticks out at a greater angle from my back.

-Fish seem to be able to flip out of the net a little easier, particularly larger fish.  The biggest fish I’ve netted with the ghost netting has been around 15 or 16 inches and so far this hasn’t been too much of an issue, but I get the feeling a 20 inch trout would give me some trouble.  In the past, the Oxbow net with standard mesh handled 20 inch trout with ease.  12 to 14 inch fish are no problem, though.

I don’t regret putting the ghost netting on my Oxbow, but if I had to do it again, I’m not sure I would.  It certainly has its pros and cons.

Fishing Attractor Dry Flies On Driftless Area Streams, part II

“Not long after I took up fly fishing, as a teenager, I began to look upon those who fished the Royal Coachman and Parmachene Belle and other such garish and unnatural flies as…well, gullible.

I unconsciously counted myself among the new breed of fly fishers who understood that trout eat insects and crustaceans and tiny fishes and that flies should imitate these creatures in look and movement at all times.

When I’d hear chatter about the magic of red floss and peacock herl in the Royal Coachman dry fly I’d just smile a sympathetic smile of wisdom. Oh poor, ignorant fools, I’d think.

Now I think differently. Now I think, Oh what a poor, ignorant fool was I”

As we can surmise from Skip Morris’ comments above (Thanks Skip!), attractor dry flies have been around a long time…and have been looked down upon by many an “ignorant fool” over the years.  On a more positive note, many of us- mainly through the  teachings of great tyers/authors like Morris, LaFontaine, Swisher, et al.- have found out how effective these great flies can be…even here in the Driftless.
So, what are some good attractor dry flies to use on Driftless Area streams and rivers?  That list would be a long one, so I’ll highlight a few I’ve used, and a few that have been mentioned by other folks on the MN Trout Forums board.
First on my list…mainly because it is probably the first attractor dry I ever used…is the Yellow Humpy.  I’ve caught many trout on this fly, which has its origins in the Rocky Mountains, but catches fish here, too!  The Grizzly Wulff is a similar fly that I’ve used with success as well.

Yellow Humpy

Next on my list would be the mighty Madam X.  This fly is without question the father of many of the more modern attractor dry flies that use “X-pattern” rubber legs.  Doug Swisher knocked it out of the park with this one.  To this day, I can clearly recall a large trout slowly rising out of a deep pool to inspect my Madam X, only to turn away at the last moment!  More on that later…

Madam X

Of course I must mention my own creation, the Slurpster.  Obviously the intellectual progeny of the Madam X, this fly has proven to be a very effective and quite durable fish catcher.  This has been my “secret weapon” for around a decade now, and I’ve just recently declassified it.  Trout typically take this fly with a slow SLURP, and the rises are often dramatic.  Makes for fun fishin’!  I tie this fly in tan, olive and black, with black being my favorite.

Can you see the Slurpster?

As I said, there are many great attractor dries that can be very effective on our local streams.  Other local fishermen have had great success with the following patterns:  Stimulators (many different flavors!); Royal Wulff; Pass Lake Dry; Clown Shoe Caddis; Royal Caddis, and other homebrewed patterns yet to be made famous.
So now we have an idea on what flies to use, now how about when, where and how?  Well, there are no hard and fast rules on any of these, so I will simply describe what has worked best for me over the years.
When: I typically start having good luck on attractors around the end of May.  By this time, there typically has been some major hatches of various caddis and mayflies, and terrestrial insects are active.  All this adds up to trout being more prone to “look up” for their food.  Good fishing on attractors will last throughout the entire remainder of the season…even in the “dog days” of summer.

summer-time brookie on a Slurpster

Time of day:  I’ve had good luck at pretty much any time of day, although the best times are of course the best times for any type of fishing:  morning, evening, and overcast days.  I do remember going out very early one morning (on the water right before dawn) and finding many fish rising.  I could catch virtually all these rising fish on a Slurpster.  They would take it without hesitation.  What a great morning.
Where: For whatever reason, I’ve had my very best luck on attractor dry flies on “unimproved” trout streams, and streams with a good population of larger fish. On streams that have high populations of smallish trout, it may be wise to go with smaller attractors, such as a size 14 Yellow Humpy or Royal Wulff.  For some reason, the big Madam X dries get more “false rises” than the smaller patterns.  I”m not sure why.  It could be just the streams I fish…I am working on a smaller rubber-legged patterns for streams like this…
How:  It’s been my experience that large patterns like the Slurpster and the Madam X fish best on a dead drift with no hint of drag.  It often happens that trout follow these patterns for several feet as they drift along before deciding whether or not to take.  9 times out of 10, when the fly starts to drag, they turn away (see big fish memory above).  Long drifts aren’t always necessary, but I’ve been surprised more than once by a trout that takes the fly after it has drifted for long time and I’m about to pick up for another cast.
Smaller, bushy hackled flies like the Humpy, Stimulator, etc., can be fished dead drift, but twitching or skating them can also lead to some violent strikes and more takes.  My guess is that these patterns look more like some kind of hatching insect, and so giving them “life” can be an effective method.
Finally, I’ll leave you with the “why” to fish attractor dry flies:  because it’s FUN!  To paraphrase David Letterman:  “If fishing attractor dry flies doesn’t drop ya, ya ain’t hooked up right!”

Fishing Attractor Dry Flies on Driftless Area Streams, Part 1

It’s interesting to me that two of our sport’s most iconic “hatch matchers” also were enamored with “attractor” dry flies.  After all, attractor flies are, in a sense, the opposite of these tyer’s well known hatch matching patterns. This little observation should stand as a lesson of balance for all us Midwestern fly fishermen.

Doug Swisher, along with coauthor Carl Richards, wrote the classic book “Selective Trout“.  In it they describe a new fly they invented, the now legendary “No-Hackle” (not a very catchy name!).  This fly is the epitome of hatch matching flies.

Gary LaFontaine, with his book “Caddisflies“, taught us how to fish this prolific hatch.  His Sparkle Pupae and Emergent Sparkle Pupae patterns are extremely effective hatch matchers and a staple in many, if not most, fly angler’s boxes.

Okay, so these guys knew/know their bugs.  But they also studied and came to understand the importance of pure “attraction” in regards to dry fly design and what triggers a trout to take a fly. Swisher invented the Madam X. Not only an awesome fly in its own right, but also the prototype for many subsequent attractor dries.  LaFontaine wrote two books dealing with attraction:  “Trout Flies: Proven Patterns” and “The Dry Fly: New Angles“.  While less well known than Swisher’s Madam X, LaFontaine developed several innovative, effective attractor dry flies, such as the “Double Wing” and the “Air-Head”.  Gary’s daughter Heather also designed a great attractor dry, the “Mohawk“.

It’s my observation that many angler’s here in the Driftless tend to overlook or marginalize the attractor dry fly.  If there is not a hatch going on, many of us default to dredging nymphs.  If we see an occasional rise, we may tie on whatever hatched recently, generally going smaller if the fish won’t take our initial offering.  Of course, these methods do catch fish.  But I’m here to tell you that if you are not fishing attractor dry flies, you are missing out on some fun, and maybe some nice trout!

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I’ll talk about some specific patterns & how to approach fishing an attractor dry fly in the Driftless.  In the meantime, please read my latest fishing report, which tells of the effectiveness of the attractor dry fly on our local streams.

 

 

Slot Limits and Harvesting Trout

Thanks to improved land use practices, habitat restoration, and a focus on wild trout management, Southeast Minnesota, is blessed with a great abundance of trout.   This great abundance is most obvious on our streams that have a special regulation called a “Slot-Limit” placed on them.  The  slot limit you will find is Southeast MN is a 12″ to 16″ protected slot.  This means that you must release all fish you catch that measure between 12 to 16 inches in length.  For the exact wording of the regulation, and which streams have it, see this MNDNR page.

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One 10 inch trout makes for part of a great breakfast.

When fishing these slot limit streams, an angler may actually be doing the trout population a favor by keeping a limit of trout.  This is because these streams typically have such a high population of trout, that they can’t grow to their greatest potential.  So, by protecting the trout that have grown to a larger size, while at the same time reducing the numbers of smaller trout, we hopefully end up with a more balanced size structure with more large trout.  That’s the theory.  The reality is that there just aren’t enough trout harvested to make much of a difference.  And that’s the bottom line: there’s just not a lot of harvest going on on many of our streams to negatively impact the overall trout populations.

Of course there are scenarios where harvest could possibly affect a trout population:  Streams that have low populations of trout may be negatively affected by over harvest.  This is not common here in MN.  Another scenario is that when anglers harvest too many larger (over 12 inches in our case) trout.  This has the effect of eliminating the stronger, faster growing fish from a stream, while leaving the smaller fish to reproduce, effectively stunting the overall fish population.  And this is another reason we have the slot limit protecting these larger fish.

So, next time you are planning a trout fishing trip to Southeast MN, consider fishing one of the streams with a slot limit, and plan to keep some trout.  Not only are these wild fish of gourmet quality on the plate, they need to be thinned out in order to better balance their populations.  At the very least, you won’t be hurting anything by keeping them.

Do You Suffer From F.S.S.?

If you’re not catching fish with a Pink Squirrel, check your drift & depth before changing flies. It’s a rare day that the Pink Squirrel won’t catch some trout!

F.S.S., otherwise known as Fly Switching Syndrome.  We all suffer from it at some point.  Sometimes it hits you during a heavy hatch of bugs, or while casting over a pod of trout that you can clearly see huddled near the bottom of a pool. No matter what the fishing scenario, a sure sign of Fly Switching Syndrome is a fly patch that has more flies stuck on it than what’s left in your fly boxes!  So, is there a cure for F.S.S.?  Yes! Well…sometimes…At the very least we can learn to minimize the traumatizing effects of F.S.S.

So, what are the cures for Fly Switching Syndrome?  In no particular order, they are: Confidence; Patience; Observation; Experience.  Experience could also be expressed as the combination of knowledge and skill.  Let’s take a look at how these 3 ideas combine to minimize F.S.S. and help you catch more fish while using fewer flies.

Insect hatches can be magical fishing experiences,  or lessons in frustration.   Often times we focus on what fly to use, when we should be focusing on how we are presenting the fly.  This can lead to major bouts of Fly Switching Syndrome.  Patience and observation are very important when fishing a hatch.  Through those, we can gain experience & knowledge.  Before you even move into casting position, take the time to find out what is hatching.  Once that is determined, watch the fish to see what kind of rise form it is making.  This will be how you choose your fly.  Observe your surroundings to determine what is your best casting position.  NOW you can start to fish.  During a hatch, timing can be critical.  You may have to make several casts to any one fish before you get it timed to the fish’s rise.  Don’t automatically think you have the wrong fly just because a trout isn’t taking it on the first or second drift.  Analyze your timing & the “quality” of your drift before you decide to change flies.  Be patient; observe; have confidence in your fly pattern; catch fish.

If you don’t have years of experience, how do you choose a fly that you can have confidence in?  This is where you can lean on other’s expertise to help you choose.  Look to local knowledge for the best advice.  The message board here at MN Trout Forums is a great place to find solid, up to date information on what flies are working throughout the season.  I can also say, with confidence, that all the fly patterns available through Bluff Country Flies have been thoroughly tested throughout the Driftless Region over the past 10 to 20 years.  I developed many of the flies while overcoming bouts of F.S.S., and now rely on these relatively few patterns for the majority of my fishing.  They are my confidence flies, and can be yours, too.

An angler may never totally overcome Fly Switching Syndrome, but through patience, observation, confidence & experience, we can minimize it’s effect and better enjoy our time on the water.

Try a Bigger Fly!

I think I should admit, right here at the start, that I have an aversion to fishing small flies.  Oh, I’ll fish with them if I have to, like during hatches of BWOs, midges, or other tiny bugs.  If that’s what it takes, I’ll do it, but during an average trout fishing outing in the Driftless, I rarely tie on anything smaller than a size 12.  My experiences have taught me that not only do larger flies do just as well as smaller flies when “prospecting” for trout, they also have added benefits that smaller flies do not.

Larger flies…let’s def016ine that as size 12 & up…are often more “attractive” than smaller flies, leading trout to move quite a distance to take the fly.  I’ve seen this numerous times with both dry flies & nymphs.  My favorite dry fly, the Slurpster, is a monstrous size 8.  I’ve watched fish move several feet & even halfway across a decent sized stream to take this fly (<–see pic!).  I’ve not had the same reaction with smaller, more standard dry fly patterns.

It can be the same with larger nymphs as well.  I remember one occasion filming an episode of “Northland Adventures” with Dave Carlson.  I had advised Dave to put on one of my larger nymph patterns for this particular stream.  He insisted on using a size 14 Pink Squirrel, which is a great fly, no doubt.  Well, after several drifts through a nice run with zero takes, Dave was ready to call it a day.  I asked if I could have a shot at the run before we wrapped it up & he said sure.  I had on a large, size 6 or 8 rubber legged nymph & on the second or third drift hooked & landed a beautiful 19 inch brown, which was captured on film.  After releasing the fish, I made another series of casts higher up near the head of the run & hooked another large brown that got off.  My guess is that the smaller pink squirrel just wasn’t worth the big trout’s effort to swim up & grab.  Either that, or it went unnoticed in the swift current.  The big fly, though, did the job well.

I believe that larger flies also attract the larger fish within a school or pod of fish, leading you to catch fewer really small fish.  I’ve noticed this with nymphs in particular.  A size 12 scud is very effective at catching average & above average sized trout, but I catch very few of those little 4 to 6 inch trout that can be common (and annoying) when fishing smaller nymphs.

Lastly, I’ve also found that larger hooks sizes do a better job of physically hooking the fish and keeping it on the line.  I guess that is pretty self explanatory!  Even switching from a size 14 to a size 12 has increased hook-ups for me, both with dry flies & nymphs.  My favorite streamer pattern, the Bent-Head, is not a giant fly by any means, but it is larger than many trout streamers, and has a large hook gape for its body size…it practically hooks the fish all on its own.

You may think that larger hook sizes might lead to a chance for greater harm coming to the fish.  This has not been my experience.   With the larger streamer hook, it seems that the trout are less likely to take it deeply, as most of the fish I catch are hooked in the jaw, rather than the throat.  With the larger dries and nymphs, when a fish is hooked a little deeper, there is more hook to grab onto with a hemostats & so in that regard are actually easier to remove than a smaller, more obscured hook.

So, this season don’t be afraid to try a larger than average sized fly.  You might catch fewer small fish, but your catch rate for average or large fish might increase.  And, for me at least, nothing beats watching a nice trout inhale a big ‘ol dry fly that you don’t have to squint to see!

-by Brian Stewart, bluffcountryflies.com