Fly Choice

Every day on the water the subject comes up;  “Gosh Captain, You are all that is man!”  After a short discussion on wrestling grizzlies, saving small children from fires, and how to street fight an army of ninjas, we pick up and go back to fishing.  However, the other subject that gets brought up often is fly choice.  “What made you pick this fly for this spot.” I tend to have a quite a few different reasons for the flies I choose. So next time you open your fly box, think about these three things.

grey flatwing

Fly Profile:

The number one thing I consider when choosing a fly, is profile.  The profile of the fly as it travels through the water is the first thing cutthroat see.  The way is holds a silhouette, pushes water, and moves all go into this factor.  For the most part, I want the profile to fit multiple baitfish to add versatility.  To do this, I try to fit it somewhere between a herring and a sandlance in size and shape.  I like the fly to move freely in the water like a baitfish as well, so we tie all of our baitfish with a loop knot.

fly choice flatwing

Weight:

Fly choice also comes back to having the right amount of weight.  I almost never choose a baitfish that is unweighted.  Not that I always add a ton of weight, I want just enough that if my clients are slow retrieving the line, the fly will dive between strips a bit. But rarely enough that it will effect the casting of the fly.  I do this with either soft weight added to the shank, or a bead tied into the fly.  When I do add more weight, it is usually in a larger bead hidden in the fly to get the fly to drop a bit more in the summer time.   Clouser style flies are rarely in my arsenal, I don’t care for the profile, and typically the weight factor is not an issue.  

Color:

There are a few things to consider when thinking about color.  If it is super bright we  can go a bit darker and not worry about losing the fly to the light. As the light goes down (early spring, late fall, winter) I tend to fish brighter flies.  In the summer I fish a lot of dark olives, dark grey, and greens.  On the shoulder seasons and winter I fish a lot of chartreuse, light olives, teal, peach and yellows.  The next thing to think about is what all of the baitfish have in common in Puget Sound. All of our baitfish for the most part have a white belly, darker back and silver highlights.  The other details we can add is that most of our baitfish have eyes that stand out. So adding some sort of eye to your fly will finish them off pretty darn well.

These are just a few factors when considering what fly to use when fishing for Sea Run Cutthroat. Our fishery is impossibly diverse and consistently changing every day, so there are tons of other opinions and “right” choices to make. I hope this will help you next time you are thinking about fly choice on puget sound.

Sea Run Cutthroat Termite Fishing

I know it does not quite feel like it lately, but summer is winding down into fall.  Fall is a favorite of mine out here on the Hood Canal! Chilly mornings and evenings, strong bi-catch of Coho, and big happy Sea Run Cutthroat make for some exciting days! So, it should be no surprise that I for one, look forward to these days! What marks the true fall season for me is the Termites.

Termite Morning

The purist view of our sport is the image of a trout sipping a bug off the water. In our saltwater environment this is our only great chance to be a traditionalist. To see these vicious predators turn into delicate trout… Or see these vicious predators come up and violently crush a dry fly off the surface. Termite fishing is down right fun!

Termite Fishing

Here are some of the best methods we have found to target this “Hatch”. It important to find the termites in the air, from the water the best areas to search are bays down wind of a wooded point.  Late afternoons seem to be the best time for this, however we have had full days in the past where the fish seem to be looking straight up for these bugs. What makes termite fishing even more fun is that these bugs struggle in the surface film, so twitching them and slowly stripping them works really well. They like movement, therefore adding rubber legs and foam to your flies makes them even more effective.

Termite Fishing

Termite fishing is pure fun, it’s easy, and we love the surface attacks. Furthermore it is a chance to do something completely different with your time on Washington’s saltwater! Tag us in photos of your favorite termite patterns and we will pick a favorite and send you some of ours! @flyfishingjustinwaters or @seafly907 on Instagram.

Captain Justin Waters

Building a Better Box

Saltwater fly fishing has plenty of things to overly concern yourself with. “Do I need to cast further?” “Is my line getting down far enough?” “Is there any fish on this beach?”. The answers to these questions is “Just cast the best you can.” “Just fish the best you can.” “You will find out soon if you do the previous two things.”

When Brita and I fish we have a running joke, she changes flies, and I almost never change flies. We both catch plenty of fish, we both enjoy our own style of fishing, and we both fish our flies almost completely different from each other. I always tell brita that she has chronic fly changing problems in-between fish. However, I would never tell her to fish any differently because she is enjoying herself, and I want to remain inside of the boat.

Brita casting

One thing you will immediately notice if you look in either of our boxes before a serious week of fishing or guiding is that our boxes are full, and our boxes are fairly well thought out. Even Brita’s chaos is organized chaos. I have my “Topwater Box”, my “A Box” and my “B Box”.

Fly Boxes

My topwater box is my favorite, it’s a old Cliff box full of fun. This is probably the most straight forward box as far as thought. One side is gurglers/popping shrimp, one side has a handful of sliders and injured baitfish, then terrestrials that might fall in the water. I don’t bust this one out as much as I wish I did, however when I do we have a lot of fun with the different ways of targeting fish on the surface. Surface attacks are addicting and this years overcast weather has resulted in some awesome surface saltwater action. Not unlike any addiction, once you open that box, it’s hard to go back.

topwater

My A box is the most used… hints “A Box”. This is a C&F Design saltwater box Brita bought for me from The Avid Angler. This is the baitfish box. This one goes from weighted to unweighted. This is the box that unavoidably ends up in any puddle, stuffed in waders if beach fishing, dropped on the deck of the boat, and falling off the tailgate at boat launches while rigging up. C&F makes the toughest box on the planet, and if you think the knock off fly shop logo ones make up for it, I’ll bet you the price of a new C&F that I will destroy it or the seal will fail within two months of guiding. These are the boxes that have the flatwings, the jungle-cock finish, and polar bear flies. Let’s not fill it with saltwater and hope for the best. www.Avidangler.com call them up and order yourself one. I promise you will never go back.

baitfish box A

The ol’ B-Sides box holds the back ups. The ones that are good enough to fish but don’t make you proud to tie on. It holds the A Box flies of years past. There are levels to fly tying and as you “level up” the flies get moved into this box. This is a larger fly shop knock off box, it doesn’t come out but once or twice a year, however it’s always in the boat bag. Truthfully I carry the B-side box for a few different reasons. 1.) a color combo is working and I run out of the best ones. 2.) I was filling my A box and left it on the tying desk the night before (almost never happens…almost) 3.) The A box somehow goes missing or falls off the boat while running. I have never had this happen but I have heard plenty of sad stories.

Epoxy Minnows

Putting thought into the fly box allows you to quickly get your flies in the water when changing flies or re-rigging a broken leader. My A box is always in my rain gear or on my center console right next to my tippet. The faster you can get the flies back in the water the more fish they will catch. The most efficient fishermen catch the most fish. That means not only covering the best water, but covering the best water quickly, confidently, and moving on to the next section of best water. Every aspect of your set up should be thought out to add to this. We fish out of a boat 99% of the time, meaning we can carry and do carry WAY more flies than we would ever need. These are a few ways that we try to organize our furry chaos.

 

 

Fish Mask

When I have a client that ties flies I always ask them to see their patterns. There is nothing fly tiers love more than catching a fish on a pattern they tied. When they see the rods rigged up with my flies in the morning almost all fly tiers ask about the heads. I tell them Fly Men Fishing Co. Fish Mask makes it quick and easy to make perfect looking epoxy heads every-time. There are a few different things they also allow the tier to do.

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1.) Build up a bulky front to add to a baitfish profile. Adding extra material to the front of the fly and pushing it back with the Fish Mask not only fills the mask and makes it look more epoxy like, it also makes the profile of the fly look more full and realistic in the water.

2.)The Fishmask allows you to add weight like a bead behind the eye of the hook and still have a strong platform for your eyes on baitfish. Pushing the fish mask over a bead head wrapped in dubbing hides the weight and adds a nice finished look to any conehead patterns.

3.)Add a cleaner look to any frizzy or overly threaded heads. We have all done it, stopped a little short on the hook shank or got a little greedy adding material to a fly and ended up with a overly dressed or way to many thread wraps on the end of a otherwise great looking fly. The fish mask allows for us to cover up these “oh shit” moments.

 

Fly Men Fishing Company has consistently provided tiers with the most innovative materials in the game of fly tying, and this is probably my favorite of them all. Give them a shot, you can get them at any worthwhile local fly shop or order them direct from Fly Men Fishing Co.

Match The Hatch

baitball

Sea Run Cutthroat in Puget Sound and Hood Canal feed on many different bait fish. Right now we have a aquarium of bait in Hood Canal. Chum fry are spilling everywhere still From about Hoodsport north we are still seeing giant swarms of chum fry. We have Sandlance swarming in and out of the more developed eel grass beds, herring bait balls are as large as the eye can see in the more northern reaches of the canal, and the perch are starting to spit live babies all over just to further add to the massive buffet of food.

First lets talk a bit about Chum Fry and why these baitfish are so spread out in timing. Hood Canal has a diverse run of Chum Salmon. No I am not going to give up the run timing of each creek, but Hood Canal gets a run of chum fry in the summer (February-April Chum Fry) then again we get a run of chum in the fall (March-May Chum Fry), then we get a run in the early winter (March-June Chum Fry) which means, these fish are pretty accustomed to eating chum as a little snack this time of year.

britamatchthehatch

Brita Fordice

Sandlance are the next stop on the baitfish train. These fish spawn on the sandy beaches along shorelines of Puget Sound and Hood Canal and forage in the nearshore waters in the area, which happens to be the same places Coastal Cutthroat forage. These baitfish make up a big portion of the diet of Sea Run Cutthroat and just about every other predator from kingfishers – some of our local whales. Because these fish are active for most of the year they remain some of our top baitfish patterns.

britamthsandlance

Brita Fordice

Surf Smelt spawn at high tide on shaded beaches and seem to be very predictable in their timing. The bulk of the returning adults (two years of age) seem to come into Hood Canal in the late fall and winter months. It does not take many of these adults to fill up a Cutthroat and make them lazy in their attack of flies. However the young surf smelt look like clear chumfry and are a great snack for aggressive Sea runs!

 

The Pacific Herring are a baitfish we have a love/hate relationship with. These baitfish tend to draw the biggest strikes, biggest fish, and most aggressive cutthroat in the water. However it takes one or two to slow the fish down and the schools tend to gorge the entire beach. What we have found is if we can get ahead of the schools a bit and throw a weighted herring fly we can find some serious fish. The trick is simply getting ahead of these huge schools. Two- Three year old Herring start spawning for the first time in the early Spring-early summer in HUGE schools or baitfish. This brings the bait right onto some of our favorite beaches to hunt big cutthroat. We can watch cutthroat literally throwing up herring as they eat our baitfish flies.

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Brita Fordice

Our friend the Party Goblin are the old reliable among all SeaTrout fishermen. The Sculpin is among the most prevalent year round food sources in puget sound. The young sculpin seem to be under almost every big rock in the sound and spread up along just about every beach we can think of. These fish are scavengers in nature however will absolutely crush a lazily stripped fly, so if you end up catching one my advice is “speed up your strip.” The sculpin has spines on its gill plates that prevent the larger ones from being a favorite food source of Cutthroat, however the smaller sculpin seem to be a big hit with Sea Runs of all sizes.

britmthsculpin

Brita Fordice

If aliens existed they would be in the form of polycheate worms… Slowly I am convinced these creatures are trying to invade land and take over our youth… This could be why Missy Elliot was so popular in the 90s. Either way the cutthroat love to feed on these nasty sea worms whenever they present themselves. After full moons we see them washed up on the boat ramps and shorelines after spawning by moonlight and we find that the Sea Trout are throwing up the remains of a moonlit feast. I give polychaetes a hard time, however they have outlived 5 mass extinctions, come in every shape, color, size, and feed just about every species of fish in Puget Sound. Plus some of these worms have a pretty wild sex life. Bundling in giant worm orgies on the surface while being picked off by fish and birds then breaking apart to release their young. Being a great food to cutthroat, and knowing how to party, they quickly become a favorite pattern of most Cutthroat loving anglers.

polychete

Brita Fordice

britamthpolychaete

Brita Fordice

Words by Captain Justin Waters

Photos from Brita Fordice

Cheeseburger In Paradise

Out in the wilds of Hood Canal we are still seeing plenty of Chum Fry. They are about an inch and a half long, starting to fatten up, and jumping all over the surface. We are still even able to catch some small cutthroat on good ol’ Epoxy Minnows and other chum fry patterns. However, the larger fish have pretty much all transitioned over to the bigger fattier meals. Meaning if you are going to get a big fish to chase a fly down and crush it, you might start thinking of the other baitfish in the water.

epoxy minnow

Hood Canal has literal buffet line of baitfish in the water for the next 6 weeks, and what we find is that representing all of them and none of them at the same time seems to be the most effective fly choice. In other words a fly that might represent the profile of a Sandlance, Smelt, Anchovy can be more effective than say one that is meticulously designed to be a single species of bait. The amount of life in the water right now is unparalleled for the rest of the season, so there are plenty of possibilities for patterns and we find that having confidence in them and keeping them fishing results in the most hook ups.

baitfishloon

Looking in the water from the casting deck can be mind-blowing in May- June.  I took a good friend of mine Mike out on Monday to explore some new water (more on that in the next post) and he asked if he could run the push pole for part of the day. which made me realize that I had only ever cast off the front of the boat maybe 3 times ever. So he got his work out for a while because I was blown away by how much life was in the water, and just wanted to look down and I think I’ve earned the “Bow Hog” status for a few hours. I envy each person that gets on the deck for the next 6 weeks of the giant baitfish migrations.

mikefish

FlyMen Fishing Company

Flymenlogo

To be fair about this, I am going to suspend my thoughts about the folks that work for FlyMen, as I believe them to be the nicest people in all of fly tying (sorry Loon Outdoors, you guys are great too).  However it will be impossible to write this without sounding bias without doing so.

Fly Tying is a passion in our household. As I write this, Brita is sitting at the desk whipping up some sort of masterpiece that I just can not keep up with. Both of the kids are intrigued by the creations we make, even Trout the cat likes to watch the flies dance in the swim tank. There is not an item in the house that does not glisten in the right light from a stray piece of Angel Hair or Lite-Brite that has flown off the table, or three tying desk. When a toy breaks the kids ask for Zap a Gap instead of duct tape. Our lives are pretty well sewn together with GSP thread and hackle feathers.

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A few baitfish headed to Henry’s Lake

I have to be honest, I did not know the company behind the Fish Skull, I had no idea who invented that cool swim tank I had seen at shows and on social media. I certainly didn’t know they would change the way I tie my favorite guide flies.  The merging of Brita’s and my fly tying (the biggest commitment I had ever made), she said “Justin, you have to contact Flymen Fishing Company, they are great to work with.”  So I said, “Who the hell is that?” and did a bit of research…. which unveiled the most interesting company in fly tying…

North Carolina?  What does North Carolina know about fly tying?  Certainly at the time enough to make Fish Skulls, Fish Mask, and a unique plethora of Shanks.  Plus have super cool marketing that I was intrigued by.  Most importantly to me was they were smart enough to work with some of the most innovative tiers on the planet.  So I naturally wanted to join the team.

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Seatrout caught with a Fish Masked Flatwing

I have worked with many companies over the years, and let me tell you, most of them do not want to hear they could do something better.  These guys actually care about their product.  They care about the people using their product, and they listen when you have anything good, bad, or otherwise to say about their products.  I have not experienced this with many other companies.  This shows in their products, the Fishmask (My personal favorite product) went through a transition from a hard unforgiving plastic to flexible rubbery plastic that can withstand being bounced off the side of my boat by clients or pushed over the eye of a hook that might be slightly larger than recommended. The Faux Bucktail is the greatest Synthetic hair fiber on the market, because they listen to the guys that test the products and they truly want to make the best products to work with.

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Fish Mask making perfect heads every time.

Here’s to a company that is putting it on the line, putting more fish in my net than any other, and making me proud to show off my flies. Thanks Guys! It’s been a couple years now, and I hope for many more to come!