Puget Sound Fly Fishing Fair

One of the great things about fly-fishing is the amazing amount of information there is about fish, the fisheries, and casting. There is always something more to learn.

Books, magazine articles, videos, and knowledgeable friends can provide a good deal of that information. But there is something very special about gatherings where experts share their knowledge in an environment of energy and enthusiasm with large numbers of fly fishers.

Yesterday Puget Sound Fly Fishers provided such a forum at the Puget Sound Fly Fishing Fair at Environmental Services Building in University Place. Sponsored by Fly Fishers International (FFI), this was a fun and informative day for those who attended.

Activities included fly-casting instruction, fly tying demonstrations, silent auctions, a local authors table, and vendor and fly shop booths. And then there were the presentations.

The challenge was choosing among the speakers and topics as simultaneous presentations were going on in two rooms. It was an excess of riches.

I chose to attend presentations by Carol Ann Morris, Leland Miyawaki, and April Vokey.

Carol Ann’s presentation was on improving one’s nature and fishing photographs. I believe photography is another area in which there’s always something more to learn.

Given my planned trip to Henry’s Fork in late September, I thought this would be a good refresher. And it was, as Carol showed mistakes in her photographs over the years and how she corrected them. A key tip was not including too much sky when it’s not needed for the focus of the photograph.

Leland of Orvis Bellevue gave another funny presentation on top water fishing for sea run cutthroat trout. I’ve heard him talk about using his popper before, but there was elegance to the way he described how he’s reduced his fishing in his choices in gear and focus on the fish he loves so much. As he said, he works in a fly shop and still basically uses only one rod setup all year.

One thing I was impressed with was when talking about where to go for information on locations, he mentioned both Puget Sound Fly Company and Gig Harbor Fly Shop. Both had booths at the fair and it was a simple but gracious act to recognize them.

And then there was April Vokey’s talk on steelhead.

I had seen photographs and articles about her for years, and had listened to her podcast. But this was the first time I heard her in person. Her talk on steelhead was the most informative I’ve heard. For someone only 34 years old, she’s forgotten more than I will ever know. Her obvious interest in others and her commitment to preservation of the natural world were evident throughout her talk.

She did exact a promise from the audience that when chasing steelhead people should catch two and then call it a day. The days of catching and stressing large numbers of those fish should be long gone as these fisheries are under pressure. The same could be said most fisheries due to population growth, pollution, and climate change.

While a number of the local fly shops conduct events and seminars and there is the annual FFI Fair in Ellensburg, this was the first event of this scope and size in Puget Sound that I can recall. The credit is due to Puget Sound Fly Fishers who planned and staffed the event.

I can only hope given the large numbers who attended yesterday that more events like this will be held in future years.

Sage SALT Five-Weight Review

Sage SALT

Most anglers looking for a fly rod for Puget Sound saltwater fishing typically start with a six-weight. The thinking is that it’s a good all-purpose line weight to handle most of the year’s fishing: from Sea Run Cutthroat Trout to Pink Salmon (in odd number years) and smaller Silvers (Coho). Chum salmon, however, require an eight-weight or better fly rod.

I started with a six-weight Winston BIII-SX. Beautiful as all Winston rods are, but it was stiff and heavy. Even worse was its big brother in eight-weight. Both soon found their way to eBay. After trying many rods (and I mean many – sometimes going back to an earlier candidate), I wound up with a great six-weight: the Scott Radian. It meets all the requirements for a good all-purpose rod for Washington. In addition to Puget Sound saltwater, I think it’d be a great rod to take over to the Yakima.

But it’s still a six-weight and I had been thinking I wanted a five-weight for Puget Sound. The truth is that most of the year’s fishing is for Sea Run Cutthroat Trout. Salmon season is four or five months long at best. And last year was a bust as no one had much luck with all the Coho that should have been coming in.

So I wanted the lighter-weight fly rod that would provide a bit more fishing fun with the smaller fish, but still land them quickly to make sure they weren’t exhausted when released. Lucky for me at about this time Sage had released its new SALT fly rod in line weights 5 to 16. it was the replacement for the well-regarded Xi3.

Gig Harbor Fly Shop’s writeup of the rod (here) convinced me, so after test casting the rod in nearby Skansie Brothers Park, I brought one home.

It is a sweet rod, from the beautiful dark sapphire color of the blank to the always excellent cork Sage uses, to the anodized aluminum up-locking reel seat and rubber fighting butt. One thing I thought was very useful, particularly if one gets the SALT in a number of weights, was the laser-etched rod weight on slide band.

The rod itself weighs 3 11/16 ounces. What’s interesting is that i think it feels and casts like a much lighter weight rod.

The tip response is fast but loading the rod further down the blank seems to be a more moderate action. Sage has said the tip provides the quick shots required in tropical saltwater fishing while the rest of the blank provides the action to go after longer range targets. Who am I to disagree? All I know is that it’s a fun rod to cast.

I did start casting it with a Rio Outbound Short, but found the casts and loops were too ragged for me. I switched to a full length Rio Outbound and everything settled out.

One thing to note is that Rio no longer offers the full length Outbound Floating / Intermediate in five-weight (the Outbound full floating is still sold in five weight). I went looking on eBay and was able to get a couple of the lines. Hopefully Rio will introduce a new line soon to replace the WF5F/I.

This feels like a rod that will be a good companion for many years to come. And while it may not work for dry flies, it can probably toss a streamer on the Yakima or in Montana (as Blake mentioned in his writeup).

George Cook on Your First Spey Rod

spey casting

Blake Merwin, owner of Gig Harbor Fly Shop, had a conversation with George Cook – the outstanding Pacific Northwest representative for Sage – about Spey rods.

Any discussion about Spey rods and Spey casting can soon sound like a foreign language for single-handed fly casters thinking about picking up two-handed casting. Blake ignored the complexities of head lengths, grain weights, and T14 and asked George three simple questions: would a switch rod be a good rod for learning to Spey cast (the short answer is no); what should someone new to Spey look for in a first rod; and what’s the best rod for local anglers looking for a do-it-all Spey rod for Washington waters (13′ 6″ – 7 or 8 weight).

You can read the interview here.

Mother’s Day Fishing

This year was a slow start to fishing for me. Poor weather, cold, other priorities kept me out until today. I was able to get up for an early Mother’s Day visit to my local beach. As it turned out, it was an outstanding start to 2014 fishing.

I used my Scott Radian (9’6″ 6 weight) with an Airflo 40+ floating/intermediate line. As a side note, in earlier posts I had expressed some reservations about the Radian, but a bit more testing caused me to take the plunge and get one at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop.

On arrival, my favorite spot below a point was occupied by a spin caster. So I started farther down the beach in a very soft back eddy. As he moved up the beach, I followed along until I got to may spot where the current is much stronger. Not sure what he was doing as he hadn’t caught anything that I could see. But I had gotten 3-4 hits as I moved up the beach on a chum baby. I switched to a Clouser-type (size 6) and then it was like magic. I was catching searuns almost as quickly as the fly hit the water. In a very short period of time I caught and released 9 fish (smallest was five inches, most were in the six to eight in range).

I continued up the beach to the edge of the seawall, getting at least one more hit until I called it a day. But not a bad day – most fish I caught in one day.

In terms of equipment, I was using a stripping basket but still had a good deal of problems with the Airflo line, the running line tangled frequently. I should probably On the other hand, the Sage performed wonderfully. When I was in the groove the casting was easy and I could put the fly where I wanted.

The Alchemy of Fly Rods and Fly Lines: Rethinking the BIII-SX

I’ve been out in my backyard over the last few days to do some practice casting and continue my evaluation of a few fly lines. It’s been sunny and relatively warm (high 50s), something that’s not going to last, with rain and wind coming tomorrow.

This time out has reminded me that much like ancient alchemists, we seek our own philosopher’s stone of mixing rod and reel to create fly fishing gold. Unfortunately, sometimes we wind up with lead.

I’ve been using my Winston BIII-SX (9’ 6” 6 weight) for this practice. In addition, I’m using the time to decide if I should keep it or sell it on eBay. I’ve had mixed feelings about the Winston BIII-SX since I got it.

It was my second Winston (my first was a 9’ 5 weight BIIIX). The BIIIX was, and is, a joy to cast. But after moving over here to Gig Harbor, I decided to spend more time focused on beach fishing for sea-run cutthroat trout and resident Coho. That meant a 6-weight in 9’ 6”. And I chose the BIII-SX as I thought it’d give me a bit of heft for the bigger Coho’s as well as being a stronger performer than the BIIIX on the steeper beaches in wind.

Initially I was excited with the BIII-SX as it was a Winston. The line choice recommended by the Gig Harbor Fly Shop was a great match: the Airflo 40+ Floating/Intermediate. Initial casting was somewhat easy and fun (if by no means as fun as with the BIIIX). The rod weight was more noticeable and at shorter line lengths it did feel more like a club than a fly rod. I’ll confess and say I hadn’t cast it before I bought it – dumb me.

So I might have just consoled myself that it was a Winston and kept on using the AirFlo 40+, except for two things.

The first was that I wanted to go with floating lines for casting some beach poppers, and that’s when I started to see the BIII-SX had some major issues with its dependency on lines. I first got a Rio Outbound (OB) Floating in 6 weight. I figured the 37.5 foot head would cast approximately like the the Airflo with its 35-foot head (though the Airflo is heavier at 261 grains versus 240).

It did take some practice to get my casting down with the OB, but once I did I was hitting around the 70 foot mark as with the Airflo. Shorter casts were doable – but as with the Airflo – without any feel. For both lines it seems I needed to have at least 30 feet of line out – making approximately a 50 foot cast the minimum for the BIII-SX.

I then got the Outbound Short (OBS) Floating in 6-weight and put that on. I thought the compact head (30 feet versus 37.5 for the OB) would load the rod better. The OBS was almost as heavy as the full length OB (235 versus 240 grains).

But all the theory was irrelevant. The rod never really seemed to come alive; heavy and unresponsive. I have a sense a 7 weight OBS might work better. But that points to the problem with the BIII-SX series: I they are all actually at least one rod weight higher.

Late last year I had also tried casting the BIII-SX in 8 weight with an 8 weight OB and it was like casting a broom stick. The rod wouldn’t load at all. Even when putting a 9 weight OB on it was not much better. I’m guessing it’s at least 1.5 – 2 weights heavier than stated. Winston blew it with this series.

Then there is the other thing – how the BIII-SX compared to casting other rods. I’ve had the chance to cast the Orvis Helios 2 Tip Flex, Sage One, and the Scott Radian.

They were all superior to the BIII-SX, at least for me. I didn’t like the Sage One in a 9-foot as it’s too stiff too, but it was still better than the BIII-SX (and much lighter).

The Scott was definitely a fast rod, but I was able to feel it at distances less than 30 feet, while at longer distances I could feel the power and speed of the rod. It was a different casting experience than a Winston and while it’s a very fine rod, the thicker grip was something that felt uncomfortable. A person’s muscle memory sure plays a part in evaluating a new rod. If I had a couple of weeks to cast it to get used to the grip I might change my mind. Adding it to the list for future consideration.

The Helios 2 was the best of three as far as I was concerned on this day of testing – easy to cast at all distances. Feel wasn’t great at short distances; it was sort of there but not as noticeable as the Radian. At longer distances, there was feel and control. The only problem I noticed was that with longer casts, I had to work a bit – more than with the Radian. So not perfect, but very close. It’s definite candidate to replace the BIII-SX.

After all of the above, I’ve come to see the BIII-SX is a much more specialized rod than an all-around rod. Maybe that’s what Winston intended it for – heavy flies in heavy winds at distance where feel and easy casting are not part of the equation. That narrow use may make it a standby rod, but not the first choice for many trips around here where sea runs and Coho are closer to the beach.

Maybe eBay will be getting a listing soon. But I think I’ll get some time on a BIIIX first. I may have just made a bad decision based on moving away from a rod series I like a great deal. And maybe take another look at both the Helios 2 and the Radian.

Oasis “Lazy Susan” Fly Tying Organizer

Oasis Lazy Susan

After I took an introductory class on fly tying at the Gig Harbor Fly Shop, purchasing fly tying materials and tools became the obsession. It became almost immediately clear there would be a need to find someplace to put “stuff”, to borrow the metaphor from George Carlin’s brilliant comic routine.

The material was easy – I have a few organizer plastic boxes I got at Target. In them go the feathers, hair, flash, eyes, and hooks. Easily stacked, translucent, and able to be stored in a drawer.

The bigger issue was tools. I didn’t want to have to put everything in a box or bag and have to pull everything each time it was time to tie. In addition, I thought keeping the tools and vise on display would serve as a reminder to get tying; and would make my desk look like a little bit of a fly shop.

After seeing what was available, I decided on Oasis Fly Tying Benches’ The Lazy Susan. Compact (8 inches by 8 inches by 9 inches tall), with room for a lot of things in little bit of space, the small bench is perfect for someone who needs a small footprint on a desk or work area.
This is a two-layer platform – the top for tools, the bottom for spools and other materials. The platform attaches to the base via a metal ball bearing roller, making rotation of the unit very smooth and easy. I like that feature.

The top platform has 24 holes for tool storage – scissors, bobbins, bodkins, bobbin threaders, and anything else. My only criticism is I wish a few of the holes were a bit larger for bigger scissors or forceps, but it’s only a small nit.

The bottom layer has 12 brass rods (that you install yourself – so you have to be a bit careful to get them all at the same height) making space for 24 spools of thread or other material. There are large holes around the lower layer, providing room for glues, hair stackers, etc. The only problem I’ve found so far is that my Zap-a-Gap bottle is too large for the medium holes and too small for the large holes, so it tends to fall over if I spin the unit.

In addition, there is a hook to hang hackle pliers and a foam insert for bodkins. And there is a magnetic patch on the lower layer for hooks and razors.

For me, it’s about perfect.

You can find it at a number of online retailers or directly from Oasis. I’ve found prices vary a bit, but it’s basically around $90. You can order it from Oasis 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.

Beach Fishing 101

Fishing the Ebb on Puget Sound
Fishing the Ebb on Puget Sound

When starting something new, one of the first questions to be considered is how to begin? The choice at the extremes comes down to plunging in or taking a class.

In my case, I’ve always believed one can never know too much or learn too much, so I opted for a class; assuming I’d pick up the needed technical information, local knowledge about where to go, and get some instruction on casting (for which too much instruction doesn’t exist).

Given I’d been fishing fresh-water rivers, I already had most of the gear I needed. I did pick up a Winston BIII-SX (more on that in a later post); and bought a few flies for the species of choice: sea-run cutthroat trout (bought a few more the day of the beach session).

There are a number of outstanding fly shops in the Puget Sound. But I chose Gig Harbor Fly Shop’s class. I like the area a lot and there are tentative plans to move there when I can cast off the harness of corporate America. The shop’s location overlooking the harbor borders on the sublime. And I was impressed with the shop staff in both past online orders and talking to them in the store.

Their Puget Sound Beach Course (Fly Fishing 1.5) was held in two sessions: the first was three hours on a Wednesday night followed by a four-hour session on the water.

Taught by Blake Merwin, the owner of Gig Harbor Fly Shop, the course was a great introduction to fishing in the salt water of Puget Sound.

The three-hour classroom session, taught with slides and a lecture that was interspersed with tales of trips local and afar, was like drinking from the proverbial fire hose. I scribbled notes furiously as the course covered equipment, target species, food sources, tides and winds, and where to find good fishing. When I reread my notes I was surprised how much ground we covered. One tip: if you take the course please bring beer – none of the five students in our class did and it’s a shop practice!

The Saturday session was held on a sunny Saturday morning on a local beach near Gig Harbor. The tide tables called for a -1.3 foot low in the afternoon so we were in prime time to fish the ebb.

Driving over the Narrows Bridge earlier, the winds were calm and the water smooth. By the time we met at the shop, bought a few last remaining items, got down to the parking lot and got into our waders, the wind was up. A very visible back eddy in front of the beach matched the strong ebb.

Blake took some time to explain the beach and where good fishing should be found as well as tips for fishing different types of flies.

We five students separated along the beach and sought to catch a sea-run. Unfortunately, the back eddy never dissipated allowing a rip to form close to the beach. The bottom line is that no one caught anything.

And it wasn’t just the five of us. Water birds on the water weren’t diving for anything; a seal that poked his head up out of the water disappeared; likely finding better fishing elsewhere.

But I wasn’t disappointed. One doesn’t go fishing to only to catch fish. As Haig-Brown consistently alluded: fishing is more about context than practice. Standing on Puget Sound watching the sea birds and a bald eagle circling overhead, and feeling the chill of the wind and the warmth of the sun more than made up for getting skunked.

The course gave me the tools and information to head out on my own. And we did get some good information on where to go on our own. But you’ll have to the class to find out where.

6 Weight Rods for Beach Fishing

Gig Harbor Fly Shop just reported the results of their recent shootout on beach rods used for sea-run cutthroat trout. Similar to river fishing when the wind and water are bigger or when sinking lines are used, the rod weight of choice for our salty fly fishers is 6 weight.

The number of rods used was relatively small – based on the preferences and use by their staff and customers. But the results were interesting with the winner being the Winston BIII-SX. While i’ve not yet cast the BIII=SX, I do own the second place finisher the Winston BIIIX. The Scott S4 came in third, followed by the Sage One.

Complete results can be found at the following link:

6 Wt Shootout Results