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Shooting Heads Paired with Short Flyrods... whattayamean you're not using Shooting Heads!

by Captain Jim Barr on 03/23/17

I'd be willlng to bet that 95% of New England saltwater fly anglers use the standard 9 foot fly rod paired with a variety of weight forward floating, intermediate and sinking head fly lines as they fish for our customary species of stripers, blues, bonito and false albacore. How boring!
Perhaps as many as half of those anglers fish from a standup-type of boat, which for this article excludes various paddle craft. (
Don't get me wrong, I like fishing from my kayak and canoe but from the standpoint of this article- for the most part they are not applicable to the case I'm about to make for a change in approach.) I'm talking about a boat anywhere from 12 feet and longer- where the angler has the luxury of standing as they cast. Many of those mid to larger watercraft have lots of "things" that can get in the way of effectively using the conventional 9 foot fly rod with a standard fly line that typically requires a minimum of 35 feet of fly line outside the tip top (not including leader and tippet) to properly load the rod. So we have a boat with a center console, t-top, antenna's, rod holders, engine, other anglers... and then we combine all that stuff that gets in the way of an arcing fly rod- with anywhere between 35 and 50 feet of fly line and leader, with wind of varying speeds and direction plus a rolling and pitching boat. It's no wonder most anglers would rather fish with a zip gun (spinning rod) than tempt fate with a fly rod.

Dr. David Deitz

Ok, so let's change up the fly casting model and use a different setup. Let's cast with one of the several short fly rods that have been developed over the last few years. The rods that readily come to mind are the Sage Bass II Largemouth (7'11" in 330 grain), the TFO Hawgleg, that was made exclusively for Bass Pro Shops/ White River Fly Shop (7'11" in 7/8 weight), and the Loomis Pro 4x SHORTSTIX (7'6" in 8/9 weight). The Sage and Loomis rods are four-piece models, and the Hawgleg is a two-piece rod. The Sage retails for about $550, the Loomis for $400 and the TFO Hawgleg is the bargain rod at about $150. 

Now let's pair the shorter fly rod with a shooting head fly line system. This is in lieu of the standard weight forward floating and varying sink rate fly lines plus dacron backing that you would have spooled onto separate reel spools that would snap into your fly reel frame. This is the approach that Spey anglers use when fly fishing for salmon and steelhead. Instead of having multiple spools with different lines, the angler has one reel spooled with fly line backing which is then attached to a length of running or "shooting" line.
RIO Product's Powerflex Max Shooting Line is 100 feet long and is the same thickness it's entire length. The line floats and has welded loops on both ends.  It has an extremely tough outer coating, over a medium stiff core that shoots with ease.

The angler carries a zippered wallet that stores a variety of coiled Shooting Heads.  These are anywhere between 24 and 30 feet long, also with welded loops on both ends. The
RIO Outbound Short Shooting Heads are 30 feet long and come in Floating, Intermediate sinking (1.5 inches per second), and faster sink rates of 3-4 ips and 6-7ips. The angler then connects the Head of choice using a loop to loop system.
Donald J. Trump Loudmouth Crease Fly 

Unlike the standard weight forward fly lines that most anglers typically use that require a full 35 feet of fly line to be outside the tip top to properly load the rod, the Shooting Head system only requires the caster to have about 25 feet of fly line outside the tip top in order to load the rod. Also, unlike using the conventional weight forward fly line that requires the angler to utilize several false casts (at a minimum) to load the rod and to attain the necessary line speed to shoot the line to the target, the Shooting Head system minimizes the false casting to one backcast before the angler can easily shoot the line. This is because the shooting heads have more mass and are heavier than the first 35 feet of the standard weight forward fly line. This additional weight does a vastly more efficient job in pulling the reserve shooting line from the deck or stripping basket through the guide set on the fly rod. The result: Further casting distance, less work from reduced false casting and line pickup, and the ability to cast more quickly, while simultaneously taking up less backcast space to make the cast.

These changes in fly line dynamics combined with a shorter, faster loading fly rod results in a more efficient casting stroke that takes up a lot less space than the conventional combination, yet still provides
good control and lifting power when playing strong and fast saltwater fish.  

Fishing With Two or More Flies

by Captain Jim Barr on 03/23/17

Fishing with two flies simultaneously is a very effective technique for "upping" your catch rate. It only stands to reason if you increase the number of flies you are presenting to fish, that you therefore increase the odds that a fish will see and eat your fly pattern. The trouble comes into play when the second fly tangles on the leader during your casting creating a mess. Generally there are three methods to attach two (or more) flies to a leader: attaching the dropper fly (tied onto a section of tippet) to the bend of the hook of the point fly, secondly, attaching the dropper fly to a piece of tippet material tied to the eye of the hook of the point fly, and thirdly tying the dropper fly to the tag end of leader ahead of the point fly. Sounds confusing, right?

In the link below review these three methods carefully and give fishing with two or more flies a try, I think you will be convinced in short order that this approach makes a lot of sense. When fishing the cinder worm hatch and a sand eel emergence where we are competing with a lot of "real" forage, fishing a multi-fly system will definitely improve your odds of hooking up.

** Something to keep in mind however is when casting a multi-fly setup, keep your fly line loops open to minimize the risk of tangling. To create a more open loop in your fly line, widen your casting arc and make your starts and stops a bit softer, or alternatively use the "constant tension" Belgian cast discussed earlier in this newsletter.

The link below will take you to an article entitled The Two Fly Setup authored by Clint Lee. It should help you understand how to rig a multi-fly leader system.

http://theflyfishingbasics.com/two-fly-setup/  

The "Belgian" or Oval Cast

by Captain Jim Barr on 03/23/17

The "Belgian" or Oval Cast

Many fly anglers have essentially two fly casts in their inventory, the standard Overhead Cast, and the Roll Cast. These by far are the most commonly used, even by experienced fly casters. There are however a multitude of other types of casts that we use in fly fishing for situations brought on by the different flies we are casting, different fly lines, wind direction and speed, and leader construction. One of my favorite "alternative" casts is the Belgian cast, sometimes referred to as the oval, elliptical, tension, circular, horseshoe, swing-around, wind and constant pressure casts. This is a constant motion cast where the rod never stops, distinguished from the standard overhead cast that has a start and a stop motion on the forward and back casts.

Macauley Lord's Fly Casting "Bible"


There are a number of reasons we use the Belgian cast but my four primary reasons are:

- it keeps constant tension on the fly line so that when casting heavy or large wind-resistant fly patterns, the leader does not collapse due to the start and stops of straight line casting, thereby eliminating a collapsing leader/tippet/fly system

- it helps in casting heavy sinking tip and shooting head fly lines

-
it eliminates much of the risk of weighted fly patterns colliding into the rod on the forward and back casts, which can damage the rod

-
it's a great technique to use when casting in very windy conditions. If the angler were to use the standard overhead cast at the higher casting planes, it would often result in the fly line getting knocked down by the force of the wind

Being a charter boat fly fishing guide I see a lot of fly anglers struggle with casting into the wind, or conversely having great difficulty in fighting through the wind in their back casts. The Belgian cast is an ideal method to employ for both scenarios. 
 
TIPS-
-
For a strong headwind, it's important to keep the fly line at a low plane on the forward cast. The wind speed is lower closer to the surface of the water. So, on the back cast I instruct the caster to use an overhead (or high plane) back cast at perhaps a 60 degree angle to the water's surface (90 degrees would have the rod pointing to 12 o'clock) and allow the wind to push or carry the fly line out, but then to angle downward and then in a circular or elliptical fashion make a low, sidearm forward cast to the target just above the water's surface.
"Flyrod" Frank Farraye MD 

-
For a strong tailwind, the reverse motion described above would be employed. Here, I would instruct the caster to make a low sidearm back cast to keep the line close to the water's surface (again lower wind speed), but then to angle up in a circular or elliptical fashion and make a very high forward cast/presentation. Releasing the fly line at a high position takes advantage of the strong tailwind, causing the line to billow-out, resulting in a very long cast. An added technique one can employ is to introduce a short "haul" or tug as the line straightens, to help turn over the leader and fly.

**It's important to remember that the Belgian cast if used extensively will introduce line twist on each cast. If left unmanaged, this twisting will result in a fly line that will coil and kink and over time making it nearly impossible to cast. The twisted line cannot be stretched by the angler to remove the coils, rather the fly must be cut off and the line deployed over the side of the boat and stripped off the reel back to about the length of the average distance the angler has been casting. Then towing the line behind the power boat, drift boat or canoe/kayak without the fly attached, the twisted fly line can be removed.

The link below takes you to an excellent article on the Belgian Cast authored by my friend Macauley "Mac" Lord, Master Casting Instructor with the International Federation of Fly Fishers, and head of the L.L. Bean Fly Fishing Schools.

 http://midcurrent.com/techniques/the-belgian-cast/ 

Using Tippet Rings- Preserving Leaders/Facilitate Adding Tippet Material

by Captain Jim Barr on 03/23/17

I tie my own leaders for fishing in salt water, and when fishing for Largemouth and Smallmouth bass in fresh water. If I'm fishing for trout, I buy commercial leaders from RIO Products. https://www.rioproducts.com/freshwater/leader

For saltwater applications I use a straight-forward leader formula that has served me well. As for leader material, I use your basic Berkeley Trilene monofilament in 50, 40, 30, 25, 20, 15 and 12 lb test. I mix-up the leader sections a bit to create different length and heavier/lighter leaders/tippets depending upon where I'm fishing and for what species. I will use fluorocarbon material for my tippet sections with the exception of top water situations like when fishing cinder worm and small sand eel patterns, but again, nothing fancy, typically I turn to Berkeley for their "Vanish" brand of fluorocarbon. Good stuff and cheap.

I found a leader formula years ago that seems to work well. I tie 10 1/2 foot leaders that consist of a Butt section, two Intermediate Sections, and finally the Tippet (end) section. Here's the formula:
1. Determine overall length of the leader.
2. Butt section should be slightly less than 1/2 the leader's entire length.
3. 1st Intermediate section= 1/2 the length of the Butt section.
4. 2nd Intermediate section= 1/2 the length of the 1st Intermediate section.
5. Tippet= 2 feet

If I have lots of time when building leaders, I will join each section of leader material using a Blood Knot. (I may even smooth Loon UV Knot Sense over the connection https://loonoutdoors.com/product/uv-knot-sense/). 
Loon UV Knot Sense
If I don't have much time, I will simply join each section using the Double Surgeons Knot.

OK, so what's the skinny on Tippet Rings you ask? 

When you repeatedly tie on and cut off flies in your leader's tippet section the length of the leader and tippet gradually shorten, requiring you to add additional lengths of tippet material typically using a double surgeons knot. In trout fishing when you are using commercially produced leaders in varying lengths and "X" factors, it's easy to lose track of the taper and the gauge of the material. When starting out with a new leader you can measure (or attempt to eye-ball) the diameter of the leader about two feet back from it's end, clip it and tie in a Tippet Ring, then re-tie the clipped tippet section onto the tippet ring and then your fly. Then when you have tied on a number of fly patterns, clipped them off and re-tied additional flies, you can readily see the diminishing length of your tippet section as it relates to the position of the ring. To maintain your original tippet length and diameter, you simply strip off a section of tippet material from the appropriately sized spool and retie it with a clinch or improved clinch knot. When using this process you will preserve those expensive commercial leaders. 

An alternative that works well when using heavy commercial leaders when fishing saltwater or when using heavy leaders for largemouth bass is to utilize the same process as described above, but instead of using a Tippet Ring, use a tiny, high quality barrel swivel, such as the Spro Power Swivel (http://www.tackledirect.com/spropowerswiv.html) . They will help immensely when casting large air resistant flies like Crease flies, poppers and hair bugs. These patterns spin as they are cast and the tiny barrel swivel will keep the leader (and fly line) from twisting and putting kinks in your leader/line system.

The following video illustrates the process of rigging tippet rings. I use them in saltwater for stripers, bluefish and false albacore. 

RIO Products makes tippet rings for trout and steelhead, the steelhead versions work great for our saltwater species.

** In the photo to the left, you will see what looks like a snap swivel. As you saw in the video, the tippet rings are very tiny and are packaged by stringing them on the snap swivel. When tying them on your leader you leave them on the swivel until the ring is firmly tied on the leader, otherwise you will surely donate them to the ground or water.

Landing Big Fish Near The Boat

by Captain Jim Barr on 03/23/17

When you're playing a big fish from a boat and you are getting close to landing it, it's very easy to put too much pressure on the tip section of your rod. When playing that fish with a fly rod- as it's coming closer to the boat, with your rod hand pinch the fly line with your forefinger against the rod grip. With your line hand strip off 2-3 feet of fly line from your reel and let it pile at your feet. With the rod hand still pinching the line, grab the leader just above the fish with your line hand while simultaneously releasing the pinched line from the cork grip. This maneuver releases the tension on the rod's tip section and eliminates the potential of snapping the tip from holding the rod in a near vertical position where the rod flex is completely on the tip section.
   Tom Rosenbauer of Orvis showed me this procedure a few years ago when we were filming a video for The New Fly Fisher, and it works great. It's also effective when using a spinning or surfcasting rod. For reels with a bail there's no need to strip line from the spool, simply open the bail.

"So Captain Jim, How Did You Get Into Fly Fishing?"

by Captain Jim Barr on 12/01/16

One of the most frequently asked questions from new charter guests is "how did you get into fly fishing?"  I tell them that I was actually shamed into it by a co-worker in my days as a corporate insurance geek. I'll digress a bit to set the background.

Worm and bobber fishing was how many of us were introduced to fishing, whether by a parent or with a close friend in the neighborhood, that's pretty much how it began for me. My father was a businessman, a busy guy with a demanding job that had him working long hours, but on weekends beginning about 1955, he often took my brother and me fishing to a nearby lake in rural Ohio. Reflecting back on it now, it was kind of a weird place. A dairy farmer with a lot of pasture land, in an effort to supplement his meager income, bulldozed a giant hole in his "back 40" and in short order groundwater filled the hole and voila, the pasture morphed into a fishing pond. He stocked it with largemouth bass, a variety of panfish and even hornpout. He had created a pay to play fishing pond and after hanging a sign on a utility pole at the head of his gravel driveway, he was in business. I think he did pretty good because it was always busy with families. We went there often and it was fun.

Simultaneously my mother's family operated a small ranch in the foothills of Wyoming's Big Horn mountains just south of Sheridan. Most summers our family would make the long drive from Ohio to visit and vacation with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. My father would stay for a couple of weeks and then return to Ohio while the rest of us would take up residence for a couple of months before returning home. My brother and I would help with ranch chores ranging from milking cows, branding cattle, repairing fences, bailing hay, etc... but on many weekends my relatives would load their pickups and everyone would go camping in the mountains. Near our campsite we would trout fish in small creeks, my grandfather using his bamboo fly rod, and me using the equivalent of a Zebco outfit. Our trout would go into the creel and would be fried up for lunch or dinner. Catch and Release was when you screwed up.
 
Fast

"Monster" Pickerel- 1958
forward ten years that included a stint in upstate New York (we moved a lot) and more spin fishing in creeks, rivers and lakes. Our family now lived in north central Massachusetts. We lived on a lake that was loaded with largemouth bass. We had a healthy inventory of boats and motors, aluminum fishing boats, wooden rowboats (very leaky), even a plywood hydroplane that my father and a friend built and we raced against neighbor kids, and small horsepower engines that were broken down half the time. Our fishing boats always had oars and bailing cans so we were never paralyzed from temperamental outboards. Either way there was always a way to reach some absolutely pristine bass water. Tackle was very basic, second-hand fiberglass spinning rods, combined with Hula Poppers, Daredevils, Jitterbugs, Flatfish and plastic licorice flavored worms, all fished in shallow water around tree stumps, brush and lily pads. My only exposure to fly fishing were articles I'd read in Sports Afield Magazine that depicted pipe smoking anglers in goofy hats wearing plaid shirts, casting flies to willing trout in pristine trout streams
Leaky wooden fishing boat - 1964
in the Rockies. I was happy with my bass fishing, and playing high school sports. Fly fishing was way above my family's pay grade, and honestly I wasn't remotely interested.

Fast forward twenty-five years, a period that included college, a relocation to Rhode Island, weekend backpacking, mountaineering and rock climbing in The White's, a marriage, three great children, lots of personal and business golf, (very little fishing), and a demanding corporate insurance job that included (in retrospect) too much travel. 

Late in that period, on a Monday morning I'm changing-up in my company's fitness center locker room and while making small talk with Alan (one of my co-workers), he asks about my weekend.  "Yeah, pretty good I responded, I got a chance to do some canoeing and fishing on the Wood River. I caught some really nice rainbow trout." Alan's response was something along the lines of, "... so what were they hitting?"  I answered that I got them on a small black Roostertail.  A very long pause...I still remember the raised eyebrows and the grimace that overtook his face, "... a Roostertail!, are you shitting me, you fish with a spinning rod?!!"   "Well yeah, what's wrong with that?" I responded .

(An aside ...This exchange reminded me of a vignette in the men's room at the high brow Algonquin Club in Boston while on a business luncheon about the same time. I'm at a urinal doing my thing and this prep school stuffed shirt businessman pulls in next to me, looks over in a semi-condescending manner, nods, unzips, does his thing. A minute goes by, I zip up and am on my way to the door, when Mr. Ivy League interrupts and blurts abruptly, "You know, at Harvard we were taught to always wash our hands after we urinate". Ballsy I thought.
Out of nowhere I found myself responding , "Well at UMass we were taught not to pee on our fingers".)

Ok, enough digression... back to Alan's highbrow insinuation that my fishing success was somehow beneath his dignity, that trout fishing should only to be done using an artificial fly . (...and maybe from his perspective one also had to wash their hands after handling the little trout, just like Mr. Ivy League).

So... week after week in the fitness center I would be subjected to what seemed like an unending torture from my waterboarding friend Alan.  Same question from him, same answer from me (well maybe the lure of choice that weekend was a green Roostertail ). This went on for weeks, then months . Sometimes the query would vary slightly ...."so are you STILL fishing with a spinning rod?"

I had had enough by the end of that summer ... I was going to learn to fly fish and shut this guy up once and for all . I had to make a business trip to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks. At the time I subscribed to Backpacker Magazine. Each issue contained a one page article entitled "Weekend Wilderness". I  pulled out all my back issues and low and behold I found an article about a combination backpacking and fishing excursion into the Golden Trout Wilderness situated on the southeastern flank of the Sierra Nevada mountains, a few hours drive from LA... this I thought, would be my chance.  I could pack in solo to a remote stream, set up camp for a few days and teach myself how to fly fish, hell it couldn't be that hard, I had pretty good eye-hand coordination, I could play a reasonable game of golf, how difficult could fly casting be? The fact that I would be in a remote area was also appealing... no one to watch in amusement and critique me . Perfect!

In short order I found an LLBean catalog and telephoned-in (no internet then) my order for the LLBean Beginner's Fly Fishing Kit... $100... 5 weight rod (whatever that was), backing, floating fly line (weren't they all), a leader, a few flies, and an instruction book on how to assemble the whole thing, together with basic diagrams on how to make a few rudimentary casts. Perfect!  A few days later the kit arrived. I packed my business bag and briefcase together with my backpack with the fly fishing kit strapped to it and I was off to the airport.
LLBean Starter Fly Fishing kit

F
ollowing the business part of the trip, I rented a car and drove east through the desert, 150 miles to Inyokern, then northwest on US 395 to Nine Mile Canyon Rd. to a pullout at the end of the gravel road. I strapped on my pack and hiked down several miles into Rockhouse Basin. The trail descended into a canyon, at the bottom of which lay the south fork of the Kern River (just like the article read). Paradise Found!  I added a couple of miles further downstream for extra privacy, finally settling into my camp for the next three days. It was there on the bouldered shoreline of the Kern that I unpacked my fly fishing kit, assembled it step by step according to the instruction book, then practiced my casting... and the best part, proceeded to catch many willing Brook, Rainbow and Lahontan Cutthroat trout.

 
South Fork Kern River (internet photo)
 
South Fork Kern River (internet photo)











Lahontan Cutthroat (internet photo)














I likened that fishing trip to what it felt like as a child to have my father unbolt the training wheels from my bike, and following a few crashes, suddenly experiencing the thrill of finding myself balanced and riding on two wheels. Camping and learning to fly fish, and catching trout on the South Fork of the Kern River in southern California was a unquestionably a magical experience. In retrospect, in many ways a turning point in my life.

So that's my not so short story on how and where I learned to fly fish. Since then, to say it consumed my life, would be an understatement.

When I saw Alan in the fitness center the following week and he asked if I had gone fishing the past weekend... I responded affirmatively, and then proceeded to tell him my story.  Since that time Alan and I have fly fished together many times and when we do, I often close my eyes and mentally taste those precious days on the Kern.  Thank you Alan , a debt of gratitude is owed.

Self & Alan Passante- Bighorn River- 2002

Tips to Keep in Mind on a Guided Fishing Excursion

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

If you've never been on a guided fishing trip the following points should help you be better prepared and make your trip more enjoyable and hopefully productive.

 

1.Fishing unfamiliar waters? ...save the first day of going fishless, and up the odds that on successive days and return trips by hiring a guide. Guides are expensive but they spend a lot of Time on the Water. Learn from them and if possible, guide yourself on the following days or on your next trip.

2.Guides know their waters at all times of the day, at all tides, and in all seasons. They know what fly patterns to use and which presentation techniques work.

3.Before casting,  understand the wind direction and check your back casting room for obstructions- such as the guide, your fishing partner, the boat antenna etc. Use the back hand or off shoulder cast to keep the fly line from crossing over the boat and getting hung up or worse-yet, causing injury.

4.Use stripping baskets on boats for line control, particularly if you are experiencing windy conditions.

5.When the guide tells guests to pull their lines as he is about to move, do it immediately- lines can get tangled in the prop very easily that results in losing valuable time, and worse yet causing equipment damage.

6.As an angler you should always have at minimum 10 feet of fly line (no including  leader and tippet) outside the tip top and a minimum of 30 feet of line at your feet or in a stripping basket. You need to be ready to make several false casts to get your 30 feet of fly line aerialized to effectively load the rod to make the cast.

 

7. Things to do before and during your fishing each day:

•Cast for several minutes to warm-up especially if sight casting. This improves your timing, loosens you up, develops confidence, and shows the guide how you cast

•Have your terminal tackle prepared if using your equipment

•Make sure hooks are sharp

•Stretch the fly lines you are going to use

•Have already cleaned your line and leaders and inspect them for nicks and frays and change them if necessary

•Check that all knots are strong 

8.If you have hired a guide...help the guide. Be upfront and honest about your experience and particularly your casting abilities. Don't be locked into using a fly rod if your skills are inadequate or if conditions make it difficult to use a fly rod i.e. too much wind, too bumpy, or a low tide that does not allow the guide to position the boat close to productive water.

9.All eyes and ears are focused on the job at-hand. When fishing difficult areas with rocks, swells/waves- help the guide with input on water depth, an oncoming swell, and alerts about navigational and lobster pot buoys.

10.Your guide is not your butler. The guide's principal job is to put you ONTO fish. He cannot catch fish for you.

11.If you are on a guided trip and you're into Bluefish... let the guide handle the fish and to crush the hook barb, do not risk injury that requires a trip to the Emergency Room to remove a hook or stitch a laceration.

12.Tell the guide in advance if you cast right or left handed, this will help the guide attempt to position the boat best for each of you given your respective casting skills.

13.If your guided trip is mostly about learning a fishery and less about catching a lot of fish...advise the guide accordingly and ask him to spend more time than usual talking about how best to fish that fishery. The good guides will help you, the selfish ones will be closed-mouthed.

14.Some anglers are trophy hunters, others just want to catch a few fish and others may just want to learn a fishery. Discuss your preferences at the beginning of the outing.

15.If you have any special medical, dietary or drinking restrictions, they need to be discussed with the guide before your fishing day begins.

16.If you are going to use your equipment, tell the guide in advance of your intentions. You will frustrate the guide and yourself if you are fishing with equipment not up to the task.

17.Sometimes a guide acts as a referee between two anglers who are competing for the optimal casting position on the boat. Accept the guide's recommendation, he can allocate the preferred casting positions fairly.

What Casts/Techniques Should You Know?

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

This short article is addressed to the fly angler who has a good grasp of the basics of fly casting but who aspires to get better. What follows are a lit of casts and techniques that I instruct in my Advanced fly casting lessons. Most apply to fresh and saltwater environments but typically are used more frequently when fishing in saltwater where we typically need to achieve greater distances and with faster presentations, and are less concerned with the need for accuracy (i.e. dropping a dry fly on a rising trout's nose). None of them are difficult to learn and typically most can be picked up in a couple of two hour lessons. If interested and you are in the southern New England area, please contact me for private casting lessons.

Casts:
  1. Saltwater Quick Cast- typically used by an angler on a flats or bay boat who needs to make an accurate and fast cast to moving fish in relatively calm water. This cast is imperative to know when fishing for Bonefish, Tarpon and Permit, and for Bonito and False Albacore in New England waters.
  2. Single Haul- this is "one-half" of a double haul. It is designed to help speed-up a number of types of casts and to quickly achieve higher line speed and distance.
  3. Double Haul- used to achieve higher line speed, greater distance and with less false casting. This cast and the Single Haul are imperative for anglers fishing in windy conditions and who may be casting large air resistant fly patterns.
  4. Off Shoulder Cast- this cast is helpful to the angler who has wind blowing against their casting arm/shoulder where the fly line passes perilously close to the angler on both the forward and back casts, and when the angler needs to present a fly when a traditional back cast cannot be made due to wind or obstructions.
  5. Roll Cast- typically used to cast the line when there is no room to make a traditional back cast due to obstructions such as bushes, trees, a boat's center console, another angler on the boat etc. This can be combined with the Off Shoulder casting technique. The Roll Cast can also be used very effectively to quickly reposition line and to assist in stages of repositioning a sinking line closer to the water's surface in preparation for a cast.
  6. Single Water Haul- using the surface tension of the water to load the rod in preparation for the backcast to achieve additional distance.
  7. Double Water Haul- using the surface tension of the water to load the rod on both the forward and back cast as a setup to a high overhead forward cast.
  8. Long-Line pickup- a casting technique used to pick up very long lengths of fly line in preparation for a forward cast.
  9. Casting with the Wind at your Back- a variety of techniques to take advantage of wind blowing from behind the angler to achieve significant increases in casting distance.
  10. Casting into the Wind- techniques to help the caster achieve higher line speed and presentation angles to be able to mitigate the distance shortening effects of wind.
  11. Belgian Cast- a wind casting technique that utilizes an oval shaped path of the fly rod starting with a low casting plane for the back cast and coupled with an "angled-up" forward cast in order to take advantage of wind at the casters back.
  12. Change of Direction Cast- a casting technique that allows the angler to make a quick change in direction after a cast has been initiated.
  13. Extra High Back Cast - a casting technique designed to get the fly and line above an obstruction to the rear of the caster or to insert the back cast into an opening behind the caster (such as a space between trees) to allow for a longer forward cast.
  14. Barnegat Bay Cast- a backhand fly casting technique that allows the angler to present a low angle (plane) cast in windy conditions and/or to keep the fly line on the forward and back hand casts outside the interior of the boat.
  15. Dapping- a simple way of presenting the fly at very short ranges using a "high-stick" approach.
Other Techniques:
  1. False Casting uses
  2. Why we overline a rod and by how much       
  3. Casting heavy lines
  4. Slipping line
  5. Casting Shooting Heads
  6. Controlling long line with coils
  7. Controlling line on the Shoot
  8. Open v Closed Stance
  9. "Fishing the Hang"
 

What Fly Patterns Do You Really Need?

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

I have tied both freshwater and saltwater fly patterns for a very long time. Someone once said... "well, in the long run you will end up saving lots of money by tying your own".... Not!
You end up buying tons of materials, tools, hooks and books, and ... the list goes on forever. No, at the end of the day most anglers who tie their own patterns end up spending a lot more money on the latest and greatest of supplies and never get anywhere near a positive ROI. I have never tied flies commercially nor have I ever been even remotely interested in doing so. I would make more money selling pencils on main street and in the process preserve my eyesight and not have to manage a huge inventory of fly tying materials. However, tying is not just an exercise in an effort to save money, it's much more. It's about being creative, having fun, and it fills the down time particularly during the winter months when many of us are closed-in due to the elements etc. I still enjoy going into a fly shop and marveling at the tremendous array of fly patterns and scanning the walls and bins marveling at all the latest and greatest of esoteric materials. I also get a kick out of the creative names for some of the fly patterns, and certain tyer's who feel compelled to slap their name on the pattern as if it's the first of it's kind ever produced. It's all good as far as I'm concerned.
 
On my boats I carry a lot of fly boxes that are loaded with flies of every shape, color and size. Most are the basic patterns that have been around for many years, however some are the more advanced and material intensive patterns like the ones in the fly shop. Many of these fancier ties come from articles on fly tying that I've read that looked fun to tie nad experiment with and that just might make the difference in getting a hookup.
Despite having these huge collections of fly patterns, typically I end up using about five or six that do the trick from the first stripers arriving in April to the last fish to swim our waters in October and early November before they go south for the winter.
 
Just for kicks I contacted a number of fly fishing guides as well as hard core recreational fly anglers to poll them as to their successes with various patterns. The exercise was designed to develop a short list of patterns that work year-in and year-out in our regional waters so that if you were so inclined you could streamline your fly boxes, simplify things and cut costs.  What I expected from this project proved to be the true. Here are the top eight fly patterns chosen by ten very experienced northeast professional and recreational anglers.
 
Anglers polled all noted that these patterns should be tied on hooks ranging from size 2 for the smaller forage species such as cinder worms, sand eels and surf candy's, to upwards of size 6/0 for the larger baitfish-type of patterns such as the Clouser Minnow, Lefty's Deceiver, Gartside Gurgler and Squid. Color choices most often suggested included Chartreuse, Green, Tan, Yellow and White, and reds/browns and tans for the Cinder Worm imitations.
 
So, what's the point?... simple, if you don't want to spend a lot of money or waste a lot of time tying or shopping for the fancy and more costly fly patterns, chances are very good that with these eight patterns, in varying sizes and color combinations, should be enough do the trick.


 
Bay Anchovy
Surf Candy
Squid
Lefty's Deceiver
Hines Cinder Worm
Sand Eel
Gartside Gurgler
Clouser Minnow

When in Doubt- Fish on Structure

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

No doubt you have found yourself with the opportunity to fish in unfamiliar water. Sometimes that means you are going with a friend or maybe you will be with a guide. There will be those times however when you will be solo, whether on foot or in a watercraft of some sort. If you prefer to fish shallow water as I do, you will always be on or near what we refer to as "structure". Structure comes in many forms, in saltwater we consider rocks, ledges, coastlines, reefs, sand bars, shallow water flats as forms of structure. If you fish in fresh water structure can mean rocks, sand bars, underwater brush piles, downed trees, docks, weed beds- the list goes on.  As you plan your excursion to unfamiliar water, do some homework first. Find a map or chart, access on-line resources such as Google Earth, scout interesting waters at low tide or if in fresh water, survey streams and lakes when water levels are down...and look for structure. Structure provides nurseries for bait, protection from fast moving water and predators, ambush points for predators, and food collection areas for drifting forage such as insects in a trout stream.
Pay attention to the following:
  1. Near shore reefs/ ledges
  2. Shallow and protected salt ponds 
    Fish breaks between shallow and deep water
  3. Smaller bays
  4. Estuaries
  5. Salt rivers
  6. Beaches
  7. Flats
  8. Boulder fields
  9. Docks, wood and concrete pilings, rock piles, ledges, dropoffs - they all hold bait- Fish on and near them.
  10. Fish where current meets or leaves ledge and other structure.
  11. Scout boulder fields and shoreline contours during low tides.
  12. When you spot boulders and ledges not on your chart or chart plotter, set waypoints for return night time excursions.
  13. Break down large sections of water into understandable and manageable (fishable) pieces.
  14. Think of the saltwater environment like you would a trout stream or a freshwater bass pond- fish cover & structure.
  15. Bass will be moving toward or away from structure as current changes and bait repositions.
  16. When flats fishing from a boat look closely at the dark grass patches on the bottom, bass will spend more time on dark areas where there may be more bait and where they are camouflaged.
  17. Look for "highways" that bass use for access and egress to/from the flat. They don't always follow defined channels.
Fish rock piles and reefs


Fish coastal points, bars and breachways

General Angling Tips/Techniques

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

  1. Fish where flats meet deep water breaks.
  2. Fish where current meets or leaves a ledge and other structure.
  3. Fast moving water & turbulent water provides ambush points for stripers.
  4. Scout boulder fields and shoreline contours during low tides and mark them with your chart plotter. This is particularly helpful at night for wading anglers with a handheld GPS to allow you find these spots at night.
  5. Mark structure not on your chart with your GPS so you won't run afoul next time.
  6. Use "drift socks" (drogues) on your boat to counter the effects of wind and current.
  7. Use top water hookless lures as teasers in shallow or dangerous waters to prospect for fish.
  8. Use a heavy "river anchor" in muddy soft bottom areas where a traditional fluke type anchor will not hold.
  9. Stripers will stay on the flats all summer as long as the water temperature stays below 75F.
  10. Tides are critical, a flooding tide is typically more productive than an ebbing tide.
  11. When the flat is emptying, fish are hastily retreating off the flat to get to deeper water.
  12. When flats fishing from a boat look closely at the dark grass patches on the bottom where bass will be spending more time than over the white sand.
  13. Drape fishing nets over your outboard, hydraulic lines, cleats and any obstruction that can foul a fly line.
  14. Use blue painters masking tape to cover smaller fly line fouling areas such as cleats, rod holders, etc.
  15. Stay put when fish blow up. Resist the temptation to do large moves. Where possible drift through active areas several times. Some fish (False Albacore/ Bonito for example) will repeat a feeding pattern. The bait that fish crashed just minutes ago is still there and the predators will often times circle back.
  16. When fishing a surface frenzy, particularly tuna species, it often pays to dead-drift your fly pattern or use a very slow retrieve and to also vary the retrieve.
  17. During windy fall fishing... 8wt rods are generally not up to the task.  Go with the heavier rod and the sinking line to power through the wind.
  18. Fish creating swirls may actually be 2-4 feet below the surface but because of their size and large tail fins, they are moving a lot of water.
  19. Feeding fish signatures- mornings generally provide the best conditions for spotting fish feeding during flat water conditions. Look for swirls, breaks, birds looping/hovering/dipping, baitfish spraying.
  20. Have your fishing partner cast into the immediate area of a fish being played. Oftentimes others will be closely following a hooked fish and they can be easily caught.
  21. Use a kayak or inflatable in combination with your "mother ship" to access hard to reach or private and delicate waters.
  22. On the Rhode Island flats you will rarely see bass feeding on top, they will be on the bottom scouting for crabs and shrimp.
  23. Always bring binoculars to spot fish and birds. Binoculars with a built-in compass allows for pinpointing a bearing in open water having few or no landmarks or navigational aids for reference.

What Casts/Techniques Should You Know?

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

This short article is addressed to the fly angler who has a good grasp of the basics of fly casting but who aspires to get better. What follows are a lit of casts and techniques that I instruct in my Advanced fly casting lessons. Most apply to fresh and saltwater environments but typically are used more frequently when fishing in saltwater where we typically need to achieve greater distances and with faster presentations, and are less concerned with the need for accuracy (i.e. dropping a dry fly on a rising trout's nose). None of them are difficult to learn and typically most can be picked up in a couple of two hour lessons. If interested and you are in the southern New England area, please contact me for private casting lessons.

Casts:
  1. Saltwater Quick Cast- typically used by an angler on a flats or bay boat who needs to make an accurate and fast cast to moving fish in relatively calm water. This cast is imperative to know when fishing for Bonefish, Tarpon and Permit, and for Bonito and False Albacore in New England waters.
  2. Single Haul- this is "one-half" of a double haul. It is designed to help speed-up a number of types of casts and to quickly achieve higher line speed and distance.
  3. Double Haul- used to achieve higher line speed, greater distance and with less false casting. This cast and the Single Haul are imperative for anglers fishing in windy conditions and who may be casting large air resistant fly patterns.
  4. Off Shoulder Cast- this cast is helpful to the angler who has wind blowing against their casting arm/shoulder where the fly line passes perilously close to the angler on both the forward and back casts, and when the angler needs to present a fly when a traditional back cast cannot be made due to wind or obstructions.
  5. Roll Cast- typically used to cast the line when there is no room to make a traditional back cast due to obstructions such as bushes, trees, a boat's center console, another angler on the boat etc. This can be combined with the Off Shoulder casting technique. The Roll Cast can also be used very effectively to quickly reposition line and to assist in stages of repositioning a sinking line closer to the water's surface in preparation for a cast.
  6. Single Water Haul- using the surface tension of the water to load the rod in preparation for the backcast to achieve additional distance.
  7. Double Water Haul- using the surface tension of the water to load the rod on both the forward and back cast as a setup to a high overhead forward cast.
  8. Long-Line pickup- a casting technique used to pick up very long lengths of fly line in preparation for a forward cast.
  9. Casting with the Wind at your Back- a variety of techniques to take advantage of wind blowing from behind the angler to achieve significant increases in casting distance.
  10. Casting into the Wind- techniques to help the caster achieve higher line speed and presentation angles to be able to mitigate the distance shortening effects of wind.
  11. Belgian Cast- a wind casting technique that utilizes an oval shaped path of the fly rod starting with a low casting plane for the back cast and coupled with an "angled-up" forward cast in order to take advantage of wind at the casters back.
  12. Change of Direction Cast- a casting technique that allows the angler to make a quick change in direction after a cast has been initiated.
  13. Extra High Back Cast - a casting technique designed to get the fly and line above an obstruction to the rear of the caster or to insert the back cast into an opening behind the caster (such as a space between trees) to allow for a longer forward cast.
  14. Barnegat Bay Cast- a backhand fly casting technique that allows the angler to present a low angle (plane) cast in windy conditions and/or to keep the fly line on the forward and back hand casts outside the interior of the boat.
  15. Dapping- a simple way of presenting the fly at very short ranges using a "high-stick" approach.
Other Techniques:
  1. False Casting uses
  2. Why we overline a rod and by how much       
  3. Casting heavy lines
  4. Slipping line
  5. Casting Shooting Heads
  6. Controlling long line with coils
  7. Controlling line on the Shoot
  8. Open v Closed Stance
  9. "Fishing the Hang"
 

Musings... and a Trade Secret for the May/June Worm Hatch

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

It was an early May in the late afternoon, probably twenty years ago when I first started fly fishing the Rhode Island Cinder Worm emergence. I didn't guide then, and for most of my saltwater fly fishing I wade fished, rather than fishing from a boat. One of my favorite spots was Ninigret Pond in Charlestown, RI. I still fish in Ninigret, but now it's 100% from a boat and most of the time I'm guiding. The Grassy Point area of the pond is easily accessible by car combined with a short walk to one of the better coves in the eastern end of the pond. In those days the drill was to get to the pond no later than 3:30pm basically any day from about the end of the first week in May to about mid June. You can still fish the worm hatch from this location but as you near the end of May, the worm "hatches" as we call them, mostly happen at some distance from the Grassy Point area- that's pretty much still the case.
Capt Jim Barr Hickory Hills 1963
1964- Lunenburg, MA
    
  I'll digress a bit... I often fished solo then and even today when not guiding I still enjoy going alone, I don't know why, it's not that I'm anti-social, far from it actually, but it's just something in the genes that drives me to seek privacy when I fish. As a kid I would often fish alone, sometimes not returning home in my rowboat until way past dark on Hickory Hills lake where we lived... I would always be worrying my parents when I wasn't back by dark, and be reminded of that too frequently. No such thing as calling in from a cell phone to advise that all was well and that I was making my way back.
  
Anyway back to Ninigret Pond thirty-two years later. The worm hatch is very much a top water game. I still refer to it as the closest thing a fly angler can get to dry fly fishing in salt water. In 1994 the worm hatch was far less popular than it is these days. You pretty much knew most of the anglers you encountered there, most were from Rhode Island. Many of us were good friends who had migrated part time from fly fishing in freshwater for stocked trout. We still loved wading fresh moving water, but there was this allure of catching much stronger fish, ocean fish, using our heavier weight fly rods. Some of us had 8-weights because we used them for fishing for largemouth bass, some even had 9's for those who journeyed north to fish New York's Salmon River for steelhead or and to New Brunswick to fish the Miramichi for atlantic salmon.
The patterns we used to fish for stripers in Ninigret Pond during the worm hatch were pretty much home-developed and for the most part, untested. Most of us were freshwater fly tyers, fairly creative, and in some cases, very talented. We could with ease replicate what we thought to be reasonable facsimiles of the cinder worms we saw swimming in the pond. One day I stumbled across a cinder worm pattern at the Fin and Feather flyshop in East Greenwich, RI, a shop owned by a couple of good friends. "The Fin", as we called it, was a place where many of us would stop by on a Sunday morning, shoot the bull, sip coffee, watch an 8-track fishing video on the TV above the fireplace, and to catch up with one another on our fishing successes, what was hatching and where, and to learn the latest about each other's family and careers. It was a very warm and genuine place where no one was an expert and people were a hell of a lot less bossy and disrespectful than today. I miss that place and those days.
The real deal

   This is becoming a ramble, sorry. Let me get back to the point of the article which is to offer a tip on fly fishing the Rhode Island Cinder Worm hatch. One particular day at The Fin, I found a pattern in their fly bin, the Page Rogers Cinder Worm. It was a very odd looking thing, bright red in color, tied with what looked like a decorative velvet tubing that you'd see on a couch cushion or stuffed chair. It was mounted on a 1/0 stainless hook and had a dark head made from either black or dark green chenille or maybe it was iridescent peacock herl. I had never heard of Page Rogers but after I bought a few of these baubles, I looked her up and a year later actually arranged her to present at the United Fly Tyers of Rhode Island, a fly tying club I started with a couple of friends, a club that was authorized by the original United Fly Tyers of Boston. Anyway, I added these weird looking flies to my saltwater box and used them one particular night fishing the worm hatch in Ninigret Pond.
Page Rogers Cinder Worm

   I was fishing alone that night. Bass were really chowing down on a solid worm hatch that was unfolding right in front of me. They were slurping on the pinkish/tan colored naturals. I was trying what seemed like every pattern in my meager collection, attempting first to catch fish on my flies...without a heck of a lot of success even though, TO ME, my patterns looked remarkably like the real deal.
  
A hundred yards to my left, down the beach at Grassy Point were two fly anglers who were absolutely slaying the bass, one after another, hooting-hollering-laughing. I was jealous, perhaps a bit insulted, and nearly at my wits end. Then I remembered the Page Rogers pattern made from that bright red couch piping. What the hey, I tied it on, and in short order caught a bass, and another, then another- maybe fifteen minutes between each take. But those guys just down the beach from me, were hooking up on every other cast. WTF were they using?
In those days we often fished into the night, wanting to eek out that last take before reeling up and making the fifteen minute trek back to the car, to get out of Ninigret Park before the 9:30pm curfew, when the park ranger locked the gate. It was time to go. The anglers to my left were ahead of me by a few minutes so I had to hurry to catch up with them to try and find out what pattern they had been using.  I had to know. In short order and panting from being out of breath, I caught up with them and with my tail tucked firmly between my legs, begged to learn their pattern. I was sweaty, out of breath, and desperate. They were well groomed, cool, and somewhat pompous donning their Orvis wear. I must have looked pathetic, but I didn't care. I was just short of going to my knees to implore them to give up there secret fly. They were "Connecticut shrewd", probably corporate insurance geeks (like me). They first asked to see what I had been using- I gladly showed them my bright red Page Rogers couch fly, a small and humble price to pay for the key to their Holy Grail. They snickered to one another, pulled from their flybox a fresh Page Rogers couch fly... in TAN!
   Another (inaudible) WTF! on my part...  One of them smiled and in what I perceived as somewhat of a descending manner, told me they start out with the same red version, but dip it in a solution of Chlorox bleach and water morfing the worm into something ranging from pink to tan. The longer the fly remained in the chemical bath, the more tan it became.
That was It!... a mere subtle color variation!...everything else the same. Bright red vs. bleached to pink and tan, the difference between world class catching and my struggle.
Since then, my go-to pattern for fishing the cinder worm hatch is the "Page Rogers Bleached". For me, it outfishes by a clear margin every other pattern I have experimented with in the twenty plus years of fishing the cinder worm emergence.  Whodathunkit?
  
Water, hooks, peacock herl, thread, Goop, and Chlorox bleach are all easy to find... bright red velvet tubing is not. On scrap furniture collection day in Newport and when local colleges let out for the summer and students trash their dorms and apartments of beat up furniture, I can be found cruising city blocks and campuses scouting for bright red couches with velvet tubing trim. There's a method to this madness.
2014- Charlestown, RI
The following YouTube video takes you through the tying process of my version of the Page Rogers Cinder Worm fly. I start out with bright orange velvet tubing for this pattern. It's best to first bleach a length of the tubing (assuming you can find it) before you tie the pattern. The original bright red fly can still be found if you look hard. My recommendation is if you do find them, strip off the head material, then bleach the fly, then retie the head so it's dark, close to the coloring of the real worm. Alternatively, if you bleach the fly with the dark head, you will have to use a black or dark green Sharpie to recolor it appropriately.
Wine not Cinder Worm
Good luck!

Good Lord!, where did you learn to fly cast?

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

I give a lot of private and some group fly casting lessons, and before we begin each lesson I go through a process of casting the student's fly rod and line combination if they have brought their own equipment. Half the time the combination is horrible- totally wrong, 25% of the time the combination is "just OK" with the balance being "pretty good", but most of the time none that perfectly matched. So where do these abysmal decisions as to line/rod combinations come from? I suppose some come from people who buy their combinations "on-line" through an internet store, some combinations are purchased at big box stores and from a sales person who is not qualified to provide good advice on fly fishing equipment, and some come from fishing shops who should know better on how to counsel the customer but who don't either carry an adequate inventory to provide a diverse selection, or who lack the casting expertise to provide good advice,  and/or worse yet- who are motivated more with profit pushing with products with the highest margins.  In almost every case, the customer does not have the benefit of knowledgeable advice that creates a solid value proposition.

My recommendations are straight forward:
  • If you are just starting with fly fishing, ie. you've never gone before, and you don't know where to start, get to an IFFF Certified Fly Casting Instructor for a few lessons. Don't even think about buying your own equipment before your lessons. Thank your friends for offering their help, but find a professional. Every good instructor I know has a quiver of fly rods and line setups they can bring to a lesson for the student to play and experiment with. I would much rather go to car dealer who carries ten different makes and models than to go to the Henry Ford dealer, where you can have any car you want as long as it's a black Ford.
  • If you have been fly fishing for some time but you're struggling with your ability to consistently cast 40 feet with accuracy, get professional lessons, and in that process your instructor can test your fly rod/line combination. It may be that you fall into that 50% category where the majority of your problems come from mismatched equipment. A good instructor will also immediately recognize poor casting form and start to put you on the path to improvement. Many instructors will take video of your casting technique and provide you with not only immediate video feedback, but assemble a short series of videos they will provide you illustrating before and after techniques, and to reinforce advice provided the day of your lesson.
  • If you know how to fly cast reasonably well and are in the market for a new rod or fly line, buy that equipment from a seller who is knowledgeable and who will allow you to thoroughly test several rods and lines so that you are making a tested and well informed decision. Buying fly rod and line combinations must be a much more cautious process than selecting surf, spinning or conventional casting rod and line combinations.
Where do you go for good advice and qualified instruction, my recommendation is find a Certified Fly Casting Instructor associated with the International Federation of Fly Fishers based in Livingston, Montana. (http://fedflyfishers.org/). Take a tour of their website first to become familiar with the organization, but hone in on the "Casting" page and specifically in the drop down box, "Find a Certified Instructor"... here's a direct link.(http://fedflyfishers.org/Contact/Locate/CastingInstructors/tabid/301/Default.aspx)
Every state has certified instructors- find one closest to you and take a solid step towards improving your fly casting and fly fishing fun.

It only stands to reason, that if you can REACH more fish, you can catch more fish.

Let RIO PRODUCTS help with your Fly Casting

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

As a recreational fly angler initially, and then as a professional fly fishing angler, I have developed my preferred list of equipment, to include rods, reels, fly lines, leaders, tippet material and of course, fly patterns. For the sake of this brief article I will skip the rods, reels, leaders, tippet material and fly pattern discussion and save them individually, or collectively for another day and another article. (FYI, in the January 28, 2016 newsletter I penned an article pertaining to my thoughts on saltwater fly patterns.)
 
Of the entire suite of fly fishing hardware used to get a fly in front of a fish, in my estimation THE most critical item- is the fly line.
 
I don't have the time or the interest in experimenting with and testing all the fly lines in the market place and laying out all my findings in an elaborate Excel spreadsheet to help identify the winners. I will leave that to someone else who gets paid to do those kinds of things, or someone who has more time. I have tried most of the major fly line brands, and yes it's probably fair to say that I have not kept up with the "latest of the latest" developments of the various horses running the race to be "the best", but I have a pretty good handle on what's out there. In my estimation, of the high-end lines now available, most are pretty good, some are absolutely horrible irrespective of their pretty packaging, marketing hype and cost, but with only a few who are leading the race to stay ahead of the field by consistently researching, testing and developing new technologies. I don't offer the following opinion out of any pecuniary incentive to do so, my intent is only to provide good guidance to my friends and clients on how to cut through a lot of the marketing bull and get to a point where they don't have to go much further in making a sound purchasing decision.

From where I sit, RIO PRODUCTS is without peer. In the four years that I have been associated with Far Bank Enterprises, the holding company for Sage, Redington and RIO PRODUCTS, I have been primarily fishing with RIO lines. They have performed wonderfully, so much so that in preparation for the upcoming season I recently swapped out all other manufacturer's fly lines (for saltwater and freshwater applications) from my personal and professional inventory, and likewise am recommending RIO to all my fly casting students (both freshwater and saltwater anglers). RIO's fly lines are the only lines that my clients and I will fish with going forward. They offer the largest inventory of fresh and saltwater lines of any manufacturer. Their diversity of types, weights, lengths, densities , coupled with unmatched customer service and technical help desks, is beyond any other fly line company in the world marketplace. I will also say that if you don't have a resource available to you that is knowledgeable about fly fishing and in particular the best fly lines for your type of fishing and level of proficiency, who can provide you with good guidance on what's the best line for you- you can't go wrong by consulting with RIO's experts in Idaho Falls, ID at their manufacturing offices. Some may opine- that's like asking the fox to mind the chicken coop, and I get that, but I think their products and integrity are that good.

In my opinion, for saltwater fly fishing in northeast United States waters, the four most critical features of a fly line are:
  • "Slickness"-  During the cast the ability of the line to freely sail with minimal friction through the guides on the way to the target.
  • "Non Slinky-Toy Behavior"- Lines that retain "memory" from being wound on the reel will develop tight coils when being stripped from the reel, and the propensity of the line to resume the coiling behavior when on the deck or in your stripping basket even, after you have done your best to stretch it before and during your fishing outing. A coiled line will in many cases either prevent you from making a cast, or at a minimum, rob you of casting distance.  
  • Using a line that has minimal stretch. A line that stretches under load will cause you to miss strikes and hooksets, and will be problematic when fish make long runs in current combined with changes in direction. The inability of the angler to maintain a tight connection to the fish as a function of the traditional 30% stretch factor existing in most lines, is the primary reason for fish coming unbuttoned, aside from poor hooksets.
  • For the beginner to low intermediate fly angler, to have a line that has a shorter and heavier "head" section, that has the mass and weight of the fly line concentrated in the forward-most section of the line, which permits easier loading of the rod, and faster presentations due to less false casting, particularly in windy conditions.
Many of my fly casting clients struggle with their casting, particularly in bumpy and windy conditions that are made worse when they must use a backhand cast to reach the fish that are positioned to their "unfavored" side. In my parlance, unfavored means essentially an awkward cast to their non-dominant side when the angler is not allowed to bring their back cast over the interior sections of the boat on account of safety considerations for the captain and the other angler.
Mads Potter Pond bass
Ms. Madeleine- with fly caught striper
OK, what's the point?
RIO manufactures a group of fly lines they call their InTouch Outbound Short series. The head or front section (heaviest portion of the line) is 30 feet long in each of their four lines in this line series- full floating, floating running line with intermediate (slow sinking) tip, full intermediate, and their fast sinking tip with intermediate (slow sinking) running line.  Because the front loaded head of each of these lines is only 30 feet long, they load the fly rod very quickly, and enable the angler to cast very long distances even with heavy/bulky fly patterns. Also, the line has what RIO refers to as their ConnectCore that provides ultra-low stretch performance. Aside from ConnectCore, RIO boasts other breakthrough technologies namely MaxFloat Tip, MaxCast, AgentX and Extreme Slickness. These technologies are explained on their website.
 
As to fly line construction, most lines have a head section that is anywhere between 35 and upwards of 50 feet long (as in the case of RIO's Bonefish line). For the beginner and intermediate caster, these longer head lines can be very difficult to pick up quickly and cast without excessive false casts to build line speed and load energy into the rod.
 
RIO's InTouch Outbound Short line series with the short, aggressive front taper, loads rods deeply and efficiently for effortless casts- the perfect prescription for many fly casters. If you fish and/or take saltwater fly casting lessons with me you will be using these lines and will quickly see how they improve your casting performance.
 
For more information on RIO PRODUCTS visit their website at: http://www.rioproducts.com/ To go directly to more information about their InTouch Outbound Short series of lines, go to: http://www.rioproducts.com/fly-lines/saltwater/coldwater/intouch-outbound-short/

Also click this link that will take you to RIO's Fly Line Selector tool that will help you identify the best fly lines for your specific fly fishing interest.

   

False Albacore- Next on the hit parade

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

A false albacore caught on a fly or on light tackle is an unforgettable experience. September and early October bring scores of these fish to Newport area waters. If you are unfamiliar with these fish, the following slide copies were pulled from a PowerPoint presentation I gave this late winter at the Rhode Island Saltwater Anglers Association fishing show. They will help you better understand their physical characteristics. We don't travel far at all to find these ocean speedsters, in a typical fall we will find them in good numbers in Newport's near-shore waters and in the lower sections of Narragansett Bay.

These fish are not necessarily difficult to catch, there's a lot of hype surrounding the challenge. Targeting them from shore can be a difficult proposition if they remain out of casting range, but in all years they can be landed at quite a few Rhode Island shore locations. Without question however, the best way to target ocean green bonito and false albacore, is from a boat. I chase these fish every opportunity I have when September arrives. Typically I start looking for them in earnest during the first week of the month. Oftentimes they are running with the bonito that arrive in late August. False albacore are not good table fare. The only time I would eat one is (maybe) if I were stranded at sea and had nothing else to eat. Their flesh is extremely dark, oily and not pleasant. The bonito on the other hand is a great eating fish, both grilled or sashimi style. These fish are somewhat similar in appearance but very easy to distinguish. Last year I had on-board several gentlemen who were professional chefs. They wanted to take a few false albacore back to their kitchens for a special recipe they knew about. I did my best to convince them these fish were not palatable, but they insisted on taking a few home. I followed up with them a few weeks later as to how the recipe worked out... their paraphrased response... "well, it's an acquired taste". Oh yah, sure guys... you mean it sucked like I told you it would!   Good fun!
 
Dr. Frank Farraye- Sharon, MA.
Anyway, these fish are generally moving pretty fast when you find them. If you want to nail one with a fly rod, you need to be fast, very fast in your casting and you need to know how to cast in all directions on very quick notice. There are times when they will slow down and corner bait and a normal cast will result in a hookup, but when I am preparing charter clients for a shot at their first albie or bonito, I stress the need to be quick with the cast and to lead the fish. Their primary forage are small bait fish. Generally the bay anchovy is the predominant bait but they will also chase the atlantic silverside, peanut bunker and baby butterfish. As for fly patterns, nothing esoteric is required, most of the time I am using small Lefty's Deceivers, Clouser Minnows and small (size 4 hook) bay anchovy patterns, all pretty straight forward stuff, and flies that I personally tie.  
 
Alex Key- San Francisco
As for the light tackle angler, again nothing fancy or expensive is required. We catch these fish on everything from the Rebel Jumpin' Minnow (5" hard plastic twitch bait in bone color), poppers, shiny metal spoons such as the Crocodile, the Hogy Epoxy Jig, and soft plastics, the best being the Hogy Original in 7-8" in white and pink. None of these baits are expensive and on any given day they all work great.
 
My drill is this: As for fly fishing, I prefer clients use my fly rods in 9 and 10 weights (All are Sage rods). I reserve use of the 10's for when we have windy conditions. Lines are manufactured by RIO Products featuring their Intermediate Sinking Outbound Short (1.5" drop per second), and Sinking Tip Outbound Short (6" per second). I don't use floating lines for albies and bonito- they are too light to punch through the wind, and I want the fly to be sinking, not sitting on the surface. Leaders are standard 9 feet in length, comprised of both monofilament and fluorocarbon. I tie all my leaders using standard Berkley Trilene monofilament for the butt and middle sections (40-30-20 lb sections with the last section being fluorocarbon typically in 15 lb). Many times when there is no need to get fancy with fluorocarbon tippet (when fish are plentiful and not picky)- the leader and tippet will be 100% monofilament. Fluorocarbon is a stiff material and is not "knot friendly" and frankly most of the time it's unnecessary you use it, but when it is, Berkley's Vanish fluorocarbon works just fine, and it's cheap.

For the light tackle angler, the setup is simple: 7 foot medium to heavy medium flex spinning rods manufactured by Bass Pro Shops. Their Inshore Extreme rod is superb ($99), nothing fancier necessary. I use the smaller versions of the Shimano Saragosa and Quantum Cabo and Smoke spinning reels. All are great reels at reasonable price points. For line, I use Bass Pro's XPS 8 Advanced Braid, in 30lb test, in green.
Bay Anchovy

All of this equipment (with multiple backups) are on-board my boat.
 
If you are keen to get in on this action for September and October, call me soon and make a reservation for an outing. You will have a blast, of that I'm  confident

Rehabilitating Flies and Prepping for Bluefish

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

A fly fishing guide's fly patterns take a real beating in the course of the fishing season...Stripers and Bluefish really tear 'em up. They come off the fly tying vise as "semi" works of art but in no time they are pretty beat up, so much so they won't catch fish.

You have a few choices, scrap them and buy replacements (god forbid at $4 and up per copy), tie fresh new patterns, or try and rehabilitate them to the point where they are serviceable. Having been a fly tyer and tying instructor for a very long time, and having maintained a ridiculous supply of hooks and materials, my first choice is to see if I can rehab these beauties, sometimes just good enough to use as flies for bluefish. As you know, blues are not too discriminating when it comes to fly patterns and lures. Some have opined that if you tie a hook onto a flattened beer can, toss it into a school of crashing blues you can get a hook up. That's pretty disingenuous but probably close to being accurate.

By mid-summer I have a fairly sizeable collection of ratty looking flies. I throw them into a plastic bag and wait for down-time to get out the vise and replacement materials, to then go about with my rehab project. Much of the time I will store rehabilitated flies in my bluefish collection.  

Below are a few photos of this week's before and after rehab project. Just a little time to bring them back to life after cutting off the damaged materials and replacing with new feathers, buck tail, flash and chenille. The flies are arrayed in the exact before and after positioning. Not bad, at a total estimated materials cost of about $1. 


 Here are a few closeups of the before and after for a few of the uglier patterns.
      
    
    
This collection of rehabilitated flies now go into the bluefish collection although some are clearly good enough for stripers, false albacore and bonito.
 
At the age of 14 in 1962 my father gave me a Niagara Fish Hook Holder (now $25 on EBay) to keep my snelled largemouth bass hooks organized. A number of manufacturers still make knockoffs, but "The Niagara", manufactured by H.C. Buicke & Sons of Tonawanda, NY was the first to make them (I think). Anyway, it and other spin fishing gems from days gone by remain in my ridiculously large inventory of fishing tackle, most of it not used, but I hold onto it because it reminds me of my dad.

However, The Niagara I still use as a type of "leader stretcher" for my wired bluefish flies. For those who don't know (but may care), a bluefish is a saltwater fish with extremely sharp teeth. They routinely slice through nylon monofilament fishing line when they eat the lure or fly. If an angler does not protect his/her lure or fly pattern using heavy wire, the bluefish takes it and you don't catch the fish.

On one end of a 4" section of 30 lb. plastic coated wire, I tie a loop knot. On the other end I tie the same loop and then I tie on a snap link or swivel. I put the wire of the snap through the eye of the fly pattern, then put the loop of the wire leader onto a spring loaded sliding hook on the hook holder and insert the hook into another slot on The Niagara. All my bluefish leaders and the flies are stored on this antique for ready access when we need to quickly rig up for blues. By keeping them on the stretcher, the wire leaders do not coil and this technique makes changing flies very fast. When the fly is nearly destroyed I unsnap it and quickly replace it with a fresh reconditioned fly by simply opening then closing the snap. Perfect.  My father was a McGyver-type ... he would have loved this setup
 
The Niagara Hook Holder
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Green River, Warwick, RI

Odds 'n Ends

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

Skinny Water Charters got a mention in the Spring 2016 issue of Anglers Journal magazine in an article entitled "Magic Hatch",  authored by Capt. John Jinishian. This brief but well crafted article talks about the Rhode Island Cinder Worm Hatch. Here's the link:  http://www.anglersjournal.com/saltwater/magic-hatch/  

In the next couple of days I am having a foredeck casting brace installed on my bay boat. This will provide a significant level of stability for anglers wanting to cast from the foredeck in bumpy conditions. The brace is removable and will be stowed behind the helm leaning post when not deployed. It will look something like the photo on the right. 
 
 
A fly rod that gets a lot of use will in time show a significant degradation of the cork grip. Typically the grip will get dark and slippery from wear and tear, and from hand oil, perspiration, sunblock, fish slime etc. Also the cork rings will begin degrading as small pieces of the cork material begin chunking out. There's an easy fix for this that will bring the grip back to near factory condition and it doesn't take much time. First off, use some very fine grain sandpaper and gently sand the grip from the top to the bottom, take your time and be careful. It's best to cover the rod blank near the grip with standard masking tape, a two inch protective wrap is all that's necessary. Likewise protect the first inch of the reel seat with tape. This will provide protection to these delicate components as you sand the grip. Next, find a wine cork (I have plenty- just ask) and with slightly heavier grit sandpaper, sand the cork and save the cork dust in a small container. Next on a large "Post It" pad, make a small pile of the cork dust and mix in Elmer's wood glue (cream color) with a coffee stirrer or toothpick. Then go about filling the pits in the grip with the cork dust/glue mixture- carefully packing each pit and then smoothing the surface as best you can without pulling the mixture out. Allow the grip to fully dry and then sand it again, at first very gently with the heavier sandpaper you used on the wine cork. This will remove a lot of the rough spillover material and high points. Then, use the fine sandpaper to sand the grip smooth. You will be amazed how nicely the cork glue mixture has restored the grip. 

And then there were 5!  I didn't break this four piece 8-weight rod from a section of the rod that came unseated, I broke it putting too much pressure on a gorgeous steelhead I hooked last December on the Elk River, in Erie, PA. However, I have seen anglers on my boat who choose to fish with their own rods, routinely cast off the tip section and the next section below it when they are false casting. Over the course of a five hour or longer charter, with god knows how many false and actual casts being made, multi-piece fly rod sections will start to work free from one another, no matter how firmly you seat them when you set up your rod for the day. (This applies less to zipguns- my term for spinning rods, but even multi-piece zips will work free.) A surefire and easy way of preventing this from occurring is to apply simple candle wax to the male ferrule sections. Then when you join each section during the setup, join each section at right angles to the other and slowly twist and push the two sections together. I can virtually guarantee they won't migrate during the day and cause you to cast off a section or break the rod from a loose connection.

As a kid you may have played with a Slinky toy, I still do, but the ones I play with belong to clients and are actually coiled and twisted fly lines from either having been stored on the reel for way too long without stretching before a fishing outing (line memory), or line twist that can be caused by a number of factors that include casting with an oval path of the rod tip. Let me explain the latter. Fly casting at it's very basic definition is the back and forth movement of the fly rod, and the fly line that kind of goes along for the ride. Multiple and linked forward and backward strokes that we make without actually shooting the line to the target is what we call "false casting"- a process that gets us ready to make the final cast. False casting can be done to lengthen line, incrementally change the direction of the fly line, dry a fly that has been waterlogged, gauge distance to the target, etc. As we go through the motions of casting, the rod tip should follow a straight line path (SLP) in it's front to back movement. A rod that follows a SLP with proper power application and good starts and stops on the forward and back casts will cause your fly line to develop narrower loops (generally good) and avoid large loops from a convex rod tip path, or tailing loops caused by a concave path of the rod tip.  For further information about SLP visit https://youtu.be/0eBlMG2Ds9Q .As for line twist this can develop from casting large non-aerodynamic fly patterns, stripping off too much line and not casting all of it and from the casting stroke itself.

As for the casting stroke, if we unconsciously introduce an off track casting stroke or an elliptical or oval stroke in our forward and back casts such as in the Belgian cast, and we do it repeatedly the off track path and the more exaggerated elliptical path of the rod tip can introduce line twist and coils resulting in a line that does not freely pass through the fly rod's guides. The spare line at your feet below the reel can be severely coiled and the line between your line hand and the deck or water's surface can be severely twisted onto itself.

How this plays out will not only affect your ability to achieve distance in the cast because the coiled line gets hung up in the stripping and snake guides as it leaves the fly rod toward the direction of the cast, but the coiled line can actually be so severe that it will not pass through one or more of the guides. In the latter case, let's say you have made your cast, a strong and fast fish eats your fly and immediately heads for Block Island, your coiled line gets hung up in the guides and you, 1. Break off the fish of your dreams, 2. Rip out a guide on your rod, 3. Break the rod because you cannot control the fish, or 4. All three.

So, how do we solve the problem of coiled lines? First, before you fish, stretch your line at home or at the dock or have the guide tow your fly line (with no fly attached) behind the boat as you leave the dock. The water tension acting on the line will not only stretch it but uncoil it. Alternatively try these steps as illustrated by a RIO Products representative:  https://youtu.be/N4O5YBSapRgtwist

To fix bad tracking problems first see if you have the problem. At home (not while fishing) examine the path of your rod tip and fly line as you practice casting. Lay out a target in front of you on the lawn (a hat, soccer cone etc) and another behind you. Run a string, rope or tape measure between the two targets (spread the targets about 120 feet apart). Stand on the halfway point and begin your false casting along the line. Carefully watch the fly line in both directions and adjust your casting stroke so that the line tracks to each target. Better yet, before you make any changes to your casting stroke set up a tripod with a GoPro or camera phone. Position the camera 60 feet or so away from your casting position facing you from your front target. First false cast toward the camera for 5 minutes, then turn around leaving the camera as is and cast towards the rear target. Examine the footage of your video and you will readily see if your rod and line are tracking correctly  Make corrections as necessary and record yourself again.
Another option of course is to contact a IFFF certified fly casting instructor for professional assistance.  
 

Golf Clubs and Fly Rods

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

A number of years ago I was deplaning in Albuquerque for my connection to Farmington, NM. I was on my way to fish the San Juan River, an absolutely gorgeous river that holds massive rainbow trout. In those days there were very few restrictions as to what you could bring on board and stow in the overhead bins. Four piece rods were not the norm then, it was a two and three piece fly rod world. In addition to five rods (4-6 weights) I carried on a daypack holding a few fishing essentials such as reels, flies, waders and wading boots (in the event the airline misplaced my checked equipment). As I was standing in line in the aisle which was very slow in moving, I noticed a guy behind me dressed in a pastel knit shirt sporting the Pebble Beach logo. His perfectly clean golf hat was labeled "Ping", he sported bermuda shorts, and Weejun loafers... he was basically a peacock. I had been traveling all day from Providence, I was worn around the edges, probably smelled like I needed more English Leather, my cutoffs were tattered, I wore sandals. We clearly were at opposite ends of the sartorial splendor chart.

So, as my five rods that were duct taped together brushed up against his pink Ping golf shirt, he got a little annoyed. I could hear him clear his throat as he was about to say something that was likely going to be a smart ass remark. I had seen a lot of guys like him before when I was in the insurance business, he looked like the typical snotty producer (sales guy). Sure enough then came his opener... "So, are you going fishing?" I turned around, looked down on him, made a point of taking my time in the response as I studied his foppy attire and immediately determined he was indeed a wise guy. My turn.  I responded...."so what makes you think that?" He replied, "Why On Earth would you need to bring five fishing poles?". (Fishing "poles"!!, oh man). I replied, "...well sir judging by your attire I suspect you are a golfer, I love golf and we therefore have something in common. Now let me ask you this, why on earth do you carry 14 clubs in your bag? Different conditions and distances require different clubs right? Well in fly fishing we don't carry five "poles" to the river, instead we assess the conditions on any given day or time of day and make a choice which "pole" to use based on a whole raft of variables. Sometimes we change "poles" as we encounter changes in wind, water flow, different fly patterns that require a stronger rod, and sometimes we even break a rod while wading the river or playing a big fish." 
At first he looked a bit befuddled, but then the peacock smiled, and then apologized for being a wise guy. We chatted in the terminal, wished each other well. He made his connection to Carmel and I made mine to Farmington. I love these kind of encounters- make a point and make a friend.

MacGyver Stripping Basket

by Captain Jim Barr on 09/14/16

Like many fly anglers, my first wearable fly line stripping basket was a Tupperware dishwashing tub with two holes melted into it on either end of one of it's long sides using a heated screw driver, and finished off with a bungee cord fixed to the holes, and then stretched around my waist. Simple, super cheap (and cheap looking), but it worked. Then came a variety of iterations such as laundry baskets, then molded plastic inserts with an array of "cones" that were dropped into the tub designed to keep the line from tangling onto itself, secured by epoxy or in my case pop riveted into place. There were also designs that used heavy duty string trimmer line, clipped at 2-3" lengths and epoxied into the floor of the tub... on and on.

Then somewhere along the time and expense continuum, Orvis developed their version at $80 a copy, made from a sturdier plastic, with a fancy web belt, and injection molded cones together with a rod rest. They are nice, but heavy and pretty expensive. Whatever the size, construction and cost, they all worked great for helping to manage fly lines, particularly on windy days and in the surf, and if you didn't put holes in the bottom to let the water drain, they also made pretty good open-top beer coolers. Most of us however defaulted towards constructing our own MacGyvered versions.

Then as fly fishing in saltwater from boats became increasingly popular, along came a variety of deck-positioned stripping baskets or line tamers, as the case may be, again- neat designs but many of them pretty expensive, some running in the vicinity of $200, like this beauty. Nice, but expensive.

Most of my charters following the serenity, no wind and flat water conditions of the spring cinder worm hatches, are in Newport near-shore waters. For the spin fisher, wind acting on their fishing line is a non-event. Line is always in reserve on the reel so the wind is only a factor in reducing the distance of the cast or perhaps it's direction. However, wind, a bumpy boat and a wave-splashed deck acting on excess/loose fly line can be a show stopper. Fly line will always find something to hang up on, be it a cleat, the trolling motor, your feet, etc. Storing excess fly line in a stripping basket as you are casting will definitely up your catch rate because the line can run freely into the guides as the fish takes off. Also, while moving from location to location, a secured stripping basket will enable the angler to temporarily stow the rod and loose line in the basket while the helmsman makes longer runs to new fishing locations. The following video was taken in the fall of 2011 and depicts two anglers on their first false albacore fishing outing. In this video you will see one angler tight to a hot Albie but because of poor line management manages to get a loop in his fly line that hangs up in the guides nearly resulting in the angler losing the fish or worse yet, breaking his rod. Both of these anglers had excess line on the deck during the outing in danger of tangling. When a false albacore is hooked, typically they will swim away from the boat at top speed, that's 60 feet a second! A tangled fly line gets jammed in the guide-set in a heartbeat, oftentimes resulting in a lost fish, or the sections of the rod coming apart.  This video is displayed not to embarrass anyone but simply to illustrate the importance of line management. The tangled line would likely not have occurred if the angler was using a stripping basket (personal or deck positioned).
 

With a bit of creativity and small money I developed for my boats the "Ryobi Special" deck-positioned stripping basket. This design may be a bit different than other MacGyver's have devised, but it basically follows the same idea of using a leaf bag as a container for slack fly line. Materials for two baskets rang up just south of $80 and took about an hour and a half to design and fabricate.

Materials for two baskets:
Ryobi 21" diameter collapsible leaf bags-$40 (Home Depot). 5/8" rubber doormat-$10 (Christmas Tree Shops). Ensolite ground pad- $0 (Eastern Mountain Sports,  leftover from my backpacking days). 10 lb barbell weights- $10 each (Walmart). Zip ties-$6 (Home Depot). The leaf bag is spring loaded, collapsible, with buckles to hold it closed when not deployed. The combination rubber door mat and Ensolite pads provide cushioning and encapsulate the barbell weight that's used to stabilize the basket and keep it from being blow overboard. The zip ties create "fingers" that keep the fly line immobilized and free from tangling. I sprayed the barbell weights with clear polyurethane to prevent rust and corrosion from rain and salt spray.
 
 

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