A Hero's First Tying Experience

Orvis of Madison
      "You don't tie your own flies?" he asked, "You're a fishing guide."  Those words have stuck with me since last summer when a client asked me about getting the pattern for the fly we were using.  I said, "I just buy them at Orvis."  I could tell he was shocked and maybe a little disappointed with my answer.  "Why would I tie my own flies when I can purchase perfectly good flies that work right here in town?" I said to myself.  Turns out most guides do tie the flies they throw.  Asking around I found that they had numerous reasons.  Some liked the satisfaction that they received having caught a fish on something they made.  For others it is the ability to change the colors of common flies to better suit local bodies of water.  Many just like to experiment and having custom flies in different sizes allows them to watch an idea evolve right in front of their eyes.  Long story short I needed to start tying some flies of my own, but where do you go to learn something like that?
     I headed to the internet and in typical newbie fashion got caught up watching videos of large extravagant musky and saltwater patterns.  Huge time consuming bait fish patterns that required specialized knowledge and expensive tools.  Asking around I found out that this isn't how most people start out tying flies.  The old timers I talked to said to follow the directions in fly tying books.  I decided that this made the most sense and I headed out my door to the Madison Public Library.  What I found was Fishing Flies: A World Encyclopedia of Every Type of Fly.  That's right over 1,300 flies and how to tie them.  This book would be awesome if you already knew how to tie flies.  I don't, so what I had in my living room was page after page of recipes I didn't understand.  Non standard hook sizes, thread charts that didn't make sense, and more specialized terms for chicken feathers than I knew existed. It was crazy!  I grew up in Iowa, we raised chickens on our farm, and I had never heard of these feathers.  It was actually worse than those internet videos.  At least I could watch the YouTube videos.  I can honestly say I almost gave up on the whole idea.  Seriously, for the first time in my life I was intimidated by a book!  It was clear I needed to find out how other anglers new to the wonders of fly tying got started.  Something that would help me tie common patterns, that caught fish, maybe with step by step instructions?  Then I found it, starter kits (duh), that introduce you to simple patterns with little books that show you exactly what to do, one step at a time.  These kits provide a rudimentary vise, necessary tools, and all the materials you need to tie the common patterns.  The only issue is these are kind of pricey, especially if your not 100% sure you will even like fly tying.  Then out of nowhere I got an email from Orvis of Madison about a FREE Introductory Fly Tying Class.  It was as if the universe itself was looking out for me.
     Soon the day of the class arrived and I found myself staring at a well laid out table in the middle of the store.  Turns out we would be learning how to tie flies right in front of every customer that came through the doors that day.  I signed in and filled out my name tag (I drew a little fish on it).  As we waited for other class participants to arrive I got the chance to get to know some of the stores employees.  Some were your typical driftless area trout bums, others were smallmouth specialist in the local rivers, and one was just working in the shop over the winter to make ends meet before he headed back to Alaska were he guides in the summer.  A very diverse and talented crew of anglers that were eager to pass on the knowledge they had learned from a lifetime of fishing.
     We gathered around the table and gave our introductions.  We were from all walks of life as well.  Some of us active fisherman.  Others recently retired anglers who wanted to get back to the fishing they had done in their youth. A couple were just curious about how the flies they used on a regular basis were put together.
Keep your hook level with the work surface.
     The class started with an introduction of how to setup your vise as well as the basic tools and how they worked.  We talked about the benefits of different types of vises both rotary and pedestal, and why you should own more than one pair of scissors. 
Finally an explanation
Our instructor for the class Tristan, who is also the fishing department manager, explained the differences in materials as well as how to read the recipes you find in fly tying books.  He explained the differences in hackles, hairs, marabous, ribbons, and how to pick quality materials.  We would be tying two flies in today's class.  The first one a small panfish streamer, would get the tools and materials in our hands.  The second a wolly bugger would build on what we had learned tying the first fly.  It was exactly what I was hoping for as far instruction.  We did each step as a group so it wasn't a big deal when I dropped my bobbin on the floor, or when somebodies fly started to come untied because they accidentally changed thread direction while tying.  He even got another associate involved to help us all understand how to use a whip finisher to tie off the thread when we were done with the first fly.
     We took a short break after finishing the first fly for some refreshments and to let the last hour of instruction kind of sink in.  Next up would be the wolly bugger fly.  I have bought many of these in the past because you can catch almost anything that swims in freshwater with them.  This fly would be more advanced relatively speaking, because it involved weighting the fly with a non toxic wire, as well as learning how to wrap with hackle.  I am not gonna lie I struggled a little bit at this point, but the Orvis team had my back and soon I had a fly on my vise that I am sure will catch some panfish and brook trout when spring arrives.
Wolly Bugger
I also learned a couple insider tips I wanted to pass along if your new to tying

  • Start with simple patterns in large sizes to learn the dimensions
  • Only buy material for the flies you want to tie
  • Own 2 pairs of scissors.  1 for cutting wire, 1 for cutting feathers
  • Leave plenty of room at the hook eye to finish your fly
  • When using expensive hackle tie smaller sizes first so you get more flies out of each feather
  • Tie each fly with different weights, eyes, or colors to see what works best in your area or fishing conditions

     So am I gonna start tying my own flies?  I honestly don't know.  What I do know is that the team over at Orvis of Madison did an amazing job of instilling tying confidence in each and every one of us.  If you are curious about fly tying you should check out these classes the next time they come around.  They are a great way to check out tying without any type of monetary commitment.  Already have experience tying and want to take your skills to the next level?  Then get in contact with Orvis since intermediate and advanced classes will be starting soon.  Until next time...
2 new flies to add to the box
       Tight Lines.

14th Annual Muskie School

     The 14th Annual Muskie School put on by the Capital City Chapter of Muskies Inc. is coming up.  I have been attending the school for the last 4 years and I can honestly say that it is worth every penny.  Food, fun, and prizes, await those in attendance.  Plus the information and knowledge that you gain being surrounded by other like minded fisherman is extraordinary. I've also heard that the Shorebound Hero guy will be teaching a class on Shore fishing and Kayak Muskies.  If you or someone you know wants to learn more you can find a link to the printable registration form here.
     Tight Lines.

Meandering Mendota Perch

     It all started with a text message Thursday afternoon.  JJMuskie was going to Lake Mendota and was looking for some company out on the ice.  Always looking for an excuse to go fishing I made plans to join him when I got off work Friday morning.  I don't get a lot of opportunities to catch deep water perch.  Bringing perch up from 40-60 feet deep causes the fish to die due to accute pressure changes so I almost never head out the door in pursuit of them.  This was an opportunity to try out my new rod and reel combo as well as fish with a great friend.
     Arriving at the pick up point I phoned JJMuskie and watched for his ATV coming across the ice.  When we arrived at the spot I found that he was all setup and ready to go having arrived earlier that morning.  He already had a few fish on the ice and was in good spirits.  I dropped my Echotail through the ice and watched my line waiting for it to go slack letting me know I hit the lake bed below.  It never reached the bottom of the lake.
Black Echotails have been the hot bait on Madison lakes.
     The fishing was fast and furious, for about 5 minutes.  We iced a few perch than the fishing slowed a bit.  It happens quite often fishing Mendota in January.  The schools come and go so you just either keep jigging or move.  At this point I convinced JJMuskie to stay put telling him that the heavy vibration from the Echotails would keep the schools in the area and interested in our bait.  We were on the edge of a break watching the perch come up in waves and hit the lures.  It is actually quite interesting to witness on a Vexilar.  Deep water jigging is the one time I would want to own a Vexilar so getting to watch one is always a bit of an eye opener.  As we were laughing and catching my St Croix rod suddenly doubled over and I fought what would turn out to be the largest perch I have caught to date.  We high fived as I lipped a new personal best perch at 12 and a half inches long.
     At this point the fishing slowed dramatically and we pulled out our phones to decide on the next spot (more on this in a future post).  We figured the schools had moved off the break and decided to look for them in deeper water.
It's a lot of gear to move, but it has it's perks.
     Once we were set back up the fishing continued to be slow.  The temperature had dropped off and the cold front had turned off the fish.  We ground out a few more meandering perch before I had to call it a morning.  It's always good when you can get out fishing with a friend.  Even if you don't catch your limit.

     Tight Lines.

Game Fish Are Too Valuable

     Tight Lines.

13 Fishing Wicked Long Stem Spinning Reel Review

     My recent purchase of the new St Croix Gold Series ice rod left me with a perfectly good rod that needed a reel.  Since I don't own a dedicated combo for deep water panfishing I decided that my old St Croix ice rod would be a good fit, if I could find an ice fishing specific spinning reel.  Ice fishing reels have came along ways in the last few seasons.  New features like offset spools, longer stems, composite bodies, and smoother drags, have changed the way many look at ice fishing reels.  
     This brings us to the 13 Fishing Wicked long stem spinning reel.  Having used the 13 Fishing Black Betty reel with much success I knew that they made a great product.  Even though I had never personally used there spinning reels.  I grabbed my Christmas gift card and drove over to Gander Mountain to pick one up.

     The specs on this reel are as follows:
  • Composite Body with Aluminum Spool and Handle
  • 4.8:1 Gear Ratio (Spools goes around 4.8 times for each turn of the handle)
  • Instant Anti-Reverse
  • 5 Stainless Steel Bearings
  • Compact Offset Spool
     First thing I noticed right out of the box is that the reel had a quality feel.  You know what I mean?  Some reels just have a cheap feel to them.  This reel feels like a solid product.  The composite body feels good to the touch.  Under regular fishing conditions I haven't noticed any more flex than you would experience with a standard metal body reel.  Using a composite body gives obvious benefits when it comes to weight.  The reels weight balances well with the short length associated with ice fishing rods.  
See the how the spool turns up?
Having the spool offset (angled) slightly allows for a more direct line path through the guides.  This helps cut down on unnecessary line twist.  When fishing deep water line twist or "loops" can be a real issue when trying to deliver a set jigging cadence.  It just makes sense if you think about it.  The less your jig is spinning on the drop the easier it will be for the perch to hit it.  As far as the gear ratio is concerned 4:8-1 is more than adequate for the depths I am fishing.  It is fast enough that I can easily take up excess line on the take, but not so fast that I am reeling in a couple feet at a time when I miss a bite.  Stainless bearings are pretty much standard in the industry these days and it reels nice and smooth for the price.  Having the long stem is a game changer for fishing with a gloved hand.  Normal length stems make it harder to operate the reel.  Your gloves can have a tendency to get caught in the bail while reeling and the long stem solves this issue.
     That's the positives for the reel, as for the negatives I only have a few.  First is the drag adjustment on the reel.  I find I constantly have to fiddle with it each time I am on the ice.  It's smooth, it just isn't the most consistent.  It may have to do with the temperature, maybe tighter when really cold and looser when warmer.  I'm not 100% sure why it changes, but the fact that it does could be a turn off for some users.  Also when fishing without a shanty the ice on your line freezes to the bail when reeling in line.  This has caused what I feel is an excessive amount of line freeze.  I just don't like to spend this much time trying to fix my line or chip ice off my reel.  If you fish in a shanty this shouldn't be an issue.  If your an outdoors in the open kind of ice fisherman keep this in mind if you purchase the 13 Fishing Wicked reel.
13 Fishing Wicked Long Stem Spinning Reel
      All things considered I would recommend this reel for deep water perch fishing.  In fact I like this reel for most styles of panfishing.  Yes it has a couple of minor issues, but if you fish from a shanty most of these issues will never show themselves on the ice.  The long stem for gloved fishing and the offset spool for good line delivery easily make up for any problems I have with the reel.  Considering it's price at only $34.99 you really get a lot of ice fishing reel for your money.  You can pick them up at most retailers that sell 13 Fishing products or just order it directly here.  The 13 Fishing Wicked Long Stem spinning reel will perform as advertised and make quick work of any panfish you'll find under the ice.  They look pretty sweet when paired with a St.Croix ice rod too.

     Tight Lines.

Setting Up Your Echotails For Panfish

     Since attending the Milwaukee Ice Fishing Expo I have gotten a few emails from customers that bought the 1/10th oz Echotail for pan fishing.  They have asked that I explain what I meant by hooks up or hooks down depending on the species I am after.  Well after taking a lot of photos and trying to explain it in writing I gave up and made a short video.
     Tight Lines.

An Incidental Lesson

     This past weekend I got to take a new client out on the ice.  He wasn't new to ice fishing, he just hadn't been out it in the last 20 or so years.  When we were firing emails back and forth about where to go and what to fish for I noticed a theme.  He spent the majority of his time freezing on a bucket in the middle of the lake.  I was sure I could show him a better time than just sitting on a bucket.  Problem was I was getting really nervous about taking this client out fishing.  Why was I nervous?  Well to be honest this particular client has become something of a mentor to me.  He has been really supportive of my business and the idea of guiding from a kayak.  Also this would be the first time I was taking him out to fish and I didn't want him to be miserable.  I was nervous because as most people know I am an experience fisherman.  I don't carry a heater or a shanty.  In fact I don't even use a sled!  I love being outside in the elements.  What in the world was I gonna do?
Frabill Shanty and Heater
     I decided that the only logical thing to do was abandon the way I fish in favor of giving him the normal ice fishing experience.  A few phone calls later and I had commandeered a shanty for the outing.  My buddy JJMuskie was happy to loan me his shanty and portable heater.  Funny thing was he wanted to know why I needed it.  "You don't fish from a shanty" he said, "They slow you down."  He was right, I don't use shanties, they slow people down.  By the time you get done unloading them from your truck, dragging them across the ice, and getting them setup most people are happy to just drill a hole and sit.  Luckily I am not like most people.  I enjoy "Ice Trolling."  Essentially drilling a bunch of holes in a zigzag pattern and hopping from place to place in search of fish.  I stay mobile, warm, and normally spend a good portion of my day unhooking fish.  Not this time though I was gonna drill a hole, flip over a shanty, and turn on a heater.  To be honest I wasn't really that excited about it.  I couldn't wait to get to know my new client/mentor better.  I just wasn't all that fired up to sit and fish, I like to be on the move.
     Soon the morning arrived and it was quickly turning into a typical start for the Shorebound Hero Guide Service.  I woke up a little late and that's when I noticed that all the bait had died in the fridge.  Then I discovered that my boot socks were still in the washing machine.  To add insult to injury it turns out that since I was experimenting with different jigging patterns in the bathtub the day before none of my rods were setup and ready to go.  I was scrambling, but I was determined to be on time and professional.  I doubled up some socks and headed out the door.  I knew that the bait shops on the east side don't open till 7am so I swung by Walmart for some bait before flying across town to the Lake Wingra launch.  I arrived with a few minutes to spare and set about unloading the shanty from the back of my Silverado.  As I manhandled the gear in the parking lot I couldn't get over how heavy all that stuff actually was.  "Why would anybody ever want to go ice fishing," I muttered under my breath.  After a few minutes my client arrived and we headed out onto the frozen lake.
     It didn't take very long pulling that sled before I realized that I was tired and miserable.  I drilled a couple holes and setup the shanty.  It must have been pretty obvious in hindsight that I wasn't used to the shanty because my hole spacing was horrible.  Almost half of the hole I had drilled for myself was actually outside of the shanty.  On top of that I couldn't even work the heater.  It wouldn't start and soon I was getting frustrated.  At this point the only thing I had going for me was that the fish were biting.
     As the time passed the conversation soon turned to my guide service and why I thought expanding into kayak angling was a good business move.  My client is an expert when it comes to the paddle sports industry and he had a lot of insights on how to grow my business.  Then it happened, out of nowhere he asked "So this is how you usually ice fish?"  I came clean and let him know that this isn't how I normally fish at all.  I explained that I don't like being confined to a shanty.  I know sooner got done explaining the benefits of my style of fishing when he mentioned that he's a snowshoeing enthusiast and is getting kind of cold just sitting in the shanty.  He too likes to be on the move and that we should lose the shanty and go catch some fish.
     Instantly I was back on top of my game.  Drilling holes, explaining how I locate fish, and laughing the whole time.  We were telling stories, swapping gear ideas, and enjoying a beautiful Madison sunrise.  The birds were singing and the hot chocolate was flowing.  Best of all the fish were extremely cooperative.

     We were only able to fish for a few hours that morning.  That was all I needed to learn this lesson.  You have to be yourself when out with a client.  I was so worried about showing him a great time that I forgot why he was out there in the first place.  He came out that morning to fish with me.  I am still rather new to guiding and I still sometimes question my tactics.  I worry that people want the regular experience even though I warn them from the beginning that I am not your typical fisherman.  I do the things I do because they work well for me and I am confident that they will work for my clients too.  I went out that morning to teach my client/mentor how to catch fish through the ice.  Turns out that he was the one teaching an incidental lesson.
     Tight Lines.