Backing Color and Line Weights

Hatch Reel Spools

Have you ever had problems trying to identify what line size you have on a spool?

You may know the situation.

Over time you’ve collected fly lines you like in different weights and spooled them up. Then one day you open your drawer (or wherever you keep them), and while you may recognize the fly line – you can’t recall what line weight it is. This is particularly an issue where you have one reel serving up different weight lines and where you have many spools to fit the reel.

I have a solution that works for me.

Given I use a relatively small number of fly lines (Rio Outbound – both short and regular) and line weights for saltwater, I use different color backing for different weight lines.

For my 5-weight lines, I use 20-pound chartreuse.

For my 6-weight lines, I use 20-pound orange.

And for my 8-weight lines, I use white Hatch Premium 65-pound backing.

This is a simple system that tells me instantly with a quick glance what weight line I have on any reel. Even with different reel sizes it makes it easy.

I think it’s superior to either putting dots and dashes on line (no need to unwind the front end of a fly line) or the line information some fly-line manufacturers are starting to put on their lines (no need to pull out the magnifying glass to read the information).

Give it a try. It might work for you too.

Red’s Rendezvous VI

Simon with Method Switch Rod

Last Saturday, I attended Red’s Fly Shop Rendezvous VI. The Rendezvous is an annual event sponsored by Red’s at its fly shop and the Canyon River Ranch on the Yakima River. I’ve attended all but one of these events and every year it seems to get bigger and better.

The day was filled with riverside seminars, classroom presentations, beginner casting instruction, casting competition, vendor booths, and great food.

The highlight for me was attending seminars taught by Simon Gawesworth (RIO Spey line development guru and, author of several well-regarded books on Spey casting, and an internationally known instructor).

I attended his beginning Spey seminar. He provided an easy to way to understand the elements of the Spey cast. He called it A-B-C: A-starting position of the cast; B-forward movement of the rod and arm; and C-the rotation of the rod. A simple but eloquent way of understanding a casting stroke can be overwhelming when making the transition from single-hand to two-handed casting.

The other thing he pointed out is learning the line length/rod length ratio that works for an individual caster (e.g., 2.65, 3.0,). He said that ratio would then work with any length of rod. So if a caster learned on one length rod and switched to another rod, maintaining that same ratio would allow the caster to quickly become comfortable with the new rod. As for line length, it includes the shooting head and the leader or sink tip.

After a lunch of Crusted Line Caught Rockfish and Chip in the Canyon River Grill, I attended his Single Handed Spey Casting seminar. Simon pointed out at the outset that using a weigh-forward line for single-hand Spey can be done, but it’s not optimal as the weight is forward and away from the rod tip during the roll casts. He recommended the use of a double-taper line for someone interested in focusing on single-handed Spey. He was using a line for the seminar that will be available in August; beyond that he just smiled.

Also providing Spey Casting instruction was Charles St. Pierre of Northwest Speycasting who was available all day for on-the-water instruction. Charles is widely known and regarded in the Northwest as a Spey-casting instructor and having both him and Simon on the same river at the same time was a real treat.

Every year the International Federation of Fly Fishers are on hand to help with lawn-casting instruction and beginner’s classes. I had one give me a tip when I was casting the Winston Nexus 6 weight; good tip from him, but I wasn’t impressed with the rod.

A change this year was a woman-only beginner class taught by Molly Semenik (Tie the Knot Fly Fishing) from Livingston, Montana. The class had 18 students, including my wife Terri. I think a seminar like this was long-overdue as it provided women an easy introduction to fly fishing with no pressure from husbands or significant others.

Terri came away excited and after casting a few demo days bought a Sage SALT (6 weight) from Red’s. Good choice! Great rod.

We also stopped to talk with Joe Rotter, the Guide Service Manager at Red’s. Joe’s just a great guy that we’ve talked with before, and after we thanked him for another great rendezvous, he said it was becoming what they wanted it to be: a celebration of fly-fishing. He said they’ve had some of their competitors show up without any feelings of awkward or resentment and that was he wanted.

As I’ve noted in other posts, in a small industry like fly-fishing cooperation and friendly respectful competition will help the sport grow and is good for everyone.

It was a great rendezvous. I look forward to next year’s!

Fish Fundamentals and Responsible Angling

This spring has been slow in the South Puget Sound for finding Sea-Run Cutthroat (SRC) Trout. Even my nearby beach, which tends to be prolific on an outgoing tide, has been barren this year. The last three times I was there I caught nothing, with not even a hit.

I was discussing that with the guys down at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop – and one of the guides mentioned that he’s noticed in the relatively few years he’s been around here that the SRC population appears to be much less than it used to be.

There may be many reasons for that; my opinion is that the fish are sensitive to the growing pressures on them from the urban and industrial pollution and runoff that surround Puget Sound. That is only going to get worse as the impacts of climate change bear down upon them – and us humans.

One may argue cause and effect, but one thing that seems inarguable is that anytime we come in contact with fish in our sport activities we should do whatever we can to protect them so we, and others, can continue to enjoy our sport.

Patagonia’s The Cleanest Line has an article by Andy J. Danylchuk, PhD on how to properly handle fish – whatever the species.

He recommends the usual practices: matching rod and line to the species; using a barbless hook; and keeping the fish in the water as much as possible.

Other recommendations may come as a surprise to those who have sought “hero shots” in the past. He recommends not lipping a fish (holding it by its lips) as that can put undo torsion on the head and vertebrae. Even holding a fish in a net (in the water) is to be avoided, as it’s a risk to the fish; much better to keep the fish totally submerged and use a forceps to reduce the hook.

Underwater cameras, as Andy points out, are becoming mainstream. One hopes the new ethic for fish handling and the “hero shot” is that of the fish kept totally submerged, underwater held only briefly until the shot is taken and the hook removed by a forceps.

The “new normal” may mean treating sport fisheries as the precious resource they are.

You can read the article here.

Two Reminders for Stopping Tailing Loops

Tailing loops plague most casters at times – generally when dealing with longer casts. Gink and Gasoline have a brief post that reviews the two most common causes of tailing loops: jack-hammer starts and creep.

These are two simple things to check when on the water – particularly by stepping back for a few minutes and thinking about what’s working (or not) and why.

You can read the article here.

Northwest Steelhead Primer


Leland Miyawaki, former Fishing Manager of Orvis Bellevue, has written a terrific piece on Northwest Steelhead. Leland discusses how Northwest steelhead are categorized by the years they spend in the ocean before returning to spawn and what gear is needed for each year group. He also discusses fishing tactics and emphasizes the need to be able to cast 80 – 100 feet on the bigger Northwest rivers – a polished double haul is mandatory.

You can read the article here.

Tips on Getting Your Fly Fishing Photographs Published

I came across this article by Zach Matthews, where he offers tips on breaking into commercial magazine photography.

Zach focuses not on tips for photographic artistry or hero shots but on the essential business aspects of commercial photography. In general, focusing only on the former means someone is a talented amateur. Becoming a professional, i.e., getting paid for one’s work, means understanding and mastering the business side.

You can read the article here.

The Sculpture of Fly Casting: Eliminating Shock Waves

I think the mastery of fly-casting is like a sculpture. The initial stages of learning and practice knock off the rough edges to form the outline of a fly caster. Then with a lot of time and practice the fly caster reaches the competence of an intermediate. An intermediate fly caster is similar to the form of a sculpture when the artist first thinks the sculpture is done.

Beyond that point is where progress becomes elusive. Subtle changes are made, requiring study, reflection and frustration – at least for most of us.

I’ve gotten to the point in my fly-casting that I’ve begun to pay attention to things that weren’t visible to me even a year ago. Lately, I’ve spent more time watching the forward cast and have noticed the dips and peaks that occur when the line is rolling out. Those are shock waves and I’ve been trying for some time to eliminate them.

I suspected that too much power or too much speed for the amount of line was causing them. And with some work I’ve been able to reduce much of it. But I wasn’t perceptive enough to understand how they were actually being introduced.Then I came across an article written by a Federation of Fly Fishers member that discussed shock waves and explained that rod tip oscillations generate them. It was obvious – at least after reading the article.

He provided a way of demonstrating how shock waves are introduced and could be eliminated.

Take an unrigged fly rod and do a sidearm cast. When you stop the rod count the number of times the tip oscillates before it stops. Then do the sidearm cast again, but begin the cast as slowly as possible and speed up only at the last instant before stopping the rod. The number of oscillations should have been reduced.

With this understanding, immediate feedback on one’s technique is provided. Too many shock waves means that the cast is being started too fast and it’s time to slow down.

I think it’s time to watch the backcast more too. Shockwaves there would interfere with control and timing of the forward cast.

The Rod Breaking Blues

Broken Rods

I came across an old post from the Sage Fly Fishing Blog on primary causes of fly rod breakage.

As in most things, periodic reminders of the “safety rules” are worthwhile. Of course, most of it is common sense, but most common sense isn’t. One of the ways I hadn’t thought about is breaking the rod while stringing the fly line.

You can read the post here.

Killing Trout for the Hero Shot

Look at the majority of fishing (fly or not) magazines and web sites, and there’s typically a photo of someone holding a recently caught fish. You know the photo – the one with the smiling person proudly holding the sought after fish. It’s understandable to some degree – it’s about a trophy and sharing a memory of the event.

But what’s often not clear to me is whether that fish is being returned to the stream or water, or whether it will wind up in someone’s fry pan later that day. In many cases, and required in sport fisheries, those fish will be returned to the water. What’s left to ponder is how many of those fish ultimately survive the encounter.

There are many causes if they do not: Using too light a tackle and playing the fish too long; think about that next time someone tells you how they really like to use “too light” tackle. Or careless handling – stripping the protective mucous from the fish by not wetting hands before handling the fish. Or tossing the fish back into the water rather than letting it swim out of your hands.

And then there’s the most obvious – holding the fish up and away from the water for the shot of the happy fisher with the prized catch.

It’s difficult to resist. I know that. I posted earlier about my careless handling of a sea run cutthroat trout. That led me to the use of a net for all catches. See my post here.

But for those determined to hold up the fish for the prized photo, the fish needs to be held carefully to avoid damage to the heart, liver and gills.

Bishfish has an excellent post that shows examples of crushing grips – the same kind of grips one often sees in photos – that likely lead to fish mortality. There is also a photo of a fish held properly.

As I said above, it’s difficult to resist the urge to get the trophy shot; as either a keepsake or as proof of one’s skill with a rod.

But with the pressure on fisheries everywhere, unless the fish is to be taken and eaten, it should be left in the water. A fish in the net can still be a great photo.

Perhaps the ethic John Muir expressed about the woods – “Take only memories, leave only footprints” – needs to become the ethic of the 21st sport fisherman: “Take only memories, and leave the fish in the water.”

You can read the Bishfish post here.

Fly Tying 101

GHFS Image

A year ago I got a small fly tying kit as a 2012 Christmas gift. That should have been the impetus to take a class. But other events, the decision to move to Gig Harbor, and all that came after that put fly tying off in favor of moving and fly-fishing.

So I signed up late last year when the Gig Harbor Fly Shop scheduled its classes for the first weekend of January.  Blake Merwin, the shop owner, taught the class.  Originally we were going to tie three trout patterns, but the student interest was on flies for the local saltwater so we first tied a woolly bugger, the moved to a Clouser Minnow, and finished up with a small trout fly.

What I found fascinating was how easy it was to begin well and then start making mistakes, which are the inevitable costs of learning. As it most things there were three reasons for mistakes:  not knowing what I was doing, struggling to keep up through thread breaks or losing tension on the fixed vise that came with the kit; and finally lack of muscle memory.

With all that, it was still an intriguing and relaxing three hours.

One thing Blake told us was that even for him each new pattern needed to be tied at least six times before he felt as if he had it down.  That was a good bit of perspective.

And as we were wrapping Blake told us we weren’t the worst class he ever had – not by a long shot.  Good – may as well be in the middle where most people start.

As the class concluded, I ran over to the area of the vises and made my first purchase: a new Renzetti Saltwater Traveler 2300.  I knew I was going to learn to like tying and a new vise was the place to start.