By Tim O'Neill
The spring Shad run can be one of the most prolific fisheries of the spring, it can also be one of the most overlooked. Starting at around mid-April our rivers and tributaries will fill with these migrating fish as they start their yearly pilgrimage to span and repeat the circle of life. A quick circle it is as the entire spawn lasts around 6 weeks. If it is past the third week of May and I have 2 subpar outings, a sub-par outing is less than 30 fish, it is time to move on to Smallmouth. What is a good outing you may ask… on a year with a strong migration, when targeting hickories, triple digit catch numbers is the goal, and an attainable goal it is.
There are over 30 different species of Shad, all members of the Herring family. The two most popular and the ones we target with fly gear are the American and the Hickory Shad. The crown jewel of the Shad family is the American Shad. These fish start their migration a little later in the year, they are usually in my home waters of Northern Delaware around Mother’s Day. A 4-to-6-pound average fish with a deep forked tail and shaped like a bullet, these fish will give a stout 8 weight a solid workout. The smaller cousin to the American is the Hickory shad. At a 1-to-3-pound average, what they lack in size they make up for in numbers and tenacity, they aren’t nicknamed “Poor man’s Tarpon for nothing”. At the time of hook expect to feel several violent head shakes followed by the ole’ “airborne ranger” as these fish usually come out of the water at least one time during the time you are trying to land them.
The gear we use to chase these fish is pretty simple as are the techniques we use to catch them. We mentioned Smallmouth earlier, with the exception of flies, all the gear you use for Smallmouth will fit into the Shad fishing arenas quite nicely. For Hickories 5 to 7 weight single handed rods are ideal. Early in the season we may be dealing with high, fast moving water. Weighted flies and heavy sink tips could be the norm. Do your shoulder a favor and take a 7 (or possibly an 8 weight) when hucking the “chuck and duck” rig. Later in the season, when the water flows are considerably lower a 5 weight with an intermediate sink tip is ideal. In 20 years of chasing both Americans and Hickories I don’t believe I have ever used a floating line and I am not sure I have a need for one. Beings we are typically using a form of a sinking line leader construction is pretty simple. I will typically build a short, 3-to-4-foot, leader out of Fluorocarbon consisting of two feet of 12 to 15# blood knotted to a 1.5-to-2-foot piece of 1 or 2X. If you enjoy throwing 2 handed rods these new Micro Spey rods were tailor made for these fish, especially the smaller Hickories. Smaller two handers in the 3 to 5 weight range are a joy to cast all day (you do A LOT of casting during a day of Shad fishing) and the smaller, Micro Spey’s let you “feel” the fish very well.
Fishing techniques are very simple, typically we will implore the wet fly swing. Position yourself up river of a spot of deeper holding water, cast down and across river, put a large upstream mend into the cast and let the flies settle in and hunt. Keep the line tight and follow the rig with the rod tip as it swings through the run. Don’t forget the dangle. At the end of the swing let the fly hang in the current for a bit. You will be surprised when a Shad comes up, whacks the fly and almost takes the rod out of your hands! Remember, these are migrating fish, you want to find your spot, stake your claim and stay there as long as you can. If the fishing slows a bit just be patient, the pod you were fishing over has probably moved up river above you. Rest assured, there will be another pod coming along shortly. Also, don’t be afraid to change fly colors. Even if it is the same pattern in a different color, sometimes a color can go “stale” and the fish will stop engaging it. A quick fly change and you are right back in the game catching again.
Speaking of flies…just like everything with Shad fishing Shad flies are pretty simple. Small Buggers say size 8 in bright colors are fantastic choices. Hair wing bucktails are another great choice, the tried-and-true Mickey Finn could possibly be the perfect shad fly. Small Clouser Minnows have brought plenty of shad to hand. Having been a Shad a holic for many years you can bet we have designed some of our own patterns. O’Neill’s Shad Crack is our number one pattern. You can see this fly being tied on this month’s beginner fly tying video series. Other favorites we will be showing are O’Neill’s Hazardous waste, and O’Neill’s Dart. Black will sometimes be a good producer, other productive color combos include Chartreuse & Red, White & Pink, Orange & Silver, Yellow and Orange, and my all-time favorite Bubblegum pink & electric blue.
Mid-April is a great time to get out and shake off the winter shack nasties. It is also a great time to get your distance cast tuned in after spending an entire winter of flipping a nymph rig up river and watching it float past. I call Shad the perfect fish at the perfect time of year. Hopefully this year you can get out there and chase them with us! Till Next time...
Tight Lines - Tim
By Norvise ambassador Brittany Davenport.
Are your favorite trout rivers blown out due to runoff or spring rains? Here in Idaho, we have a nice window of trout fishing pre-runoff. But once the snow pack starts to melt, well, it just makes more sense to look for other options until the flows subside a bit. (Not that trout can’t be caught during run off… but that’s a topic for another day and another blog post!
In past few years, I was introduced to lake fishing, and specifically, fishing for panfish. When I started fly fishing, I jumped straight to trout fishing—and somewhat overlooked fishing for panfish, the typical gateway drug for many folks.
I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring temps, and the local lakes and reservoirs to ice out and start warming up a bit. We’ve had a couple nice warm spring days to tempt us, and it is finally time! Spring fishing for panfish can also be a great cabin fever reliever if you have been stuck inside all winter.
Spring fishing for panfish is also a great opportunity to bring a child or new fly fisher along. Panfish have a way of bringing out the kid in any angler, even the seasoned ones! They are a willing target, and a blast to catch, for anglers of any age!
Now let's talk gear. First, be sure to have a good pair of polarized sunglasses. This will help cut the glare on the water and make it easier to see fish in the shallow waters. I like to use a 4 wt rod. Mine are 9’, but a shorter one is adequate. Some folks drop down to a 3 or 2 wt rod. The catching is more fun, that is for sure! But if you encounter wind, you are at more of a disadvantage with those lighter setups. Any time you are lake fishing, it is beneficial to have a variety of fly lines—a weight forward, and various sinking lines. However, when targeting panfish in the spring, a WF will do just fine. I like to use a 7 1/2’ 4x or 5x leader. You can also purchase some poly sinking leaders, if you want to get just a little deeper. The nice thing about spring fishing is that the fish are generally in the shallower, warmer areas of the lake. Also be sure to bring along some indicators (ie. Bobbers) to suspend flies from.
As for flies, general lake fishing patters are adequate. Thankfully, panfish usually aren’t extremely picky. And during the spring, the bull panfish are more aggressive. Flies with movement are a safe bet. You can use some high floating flies, like a small popper, as an indicator as well. I like to use wet flies, small streamers, and small bead head nymphs. A chartreuse copper john will likely always be one of my favorites for panfish. They just can’t resist.
Editors note: the Norvise Fine Point Conversion is perfect for tying the type of flies Brittany is talking about here.
As for access, we really love to fish our lakes and reservoirs from our Maxxon XPW-239s. They allow for great fishing, maneuverability, comfort, and I can pack both of them down and fit them in the back of my Subaru. You can use a pontoon or belly boat (float tube). However, the water is still on the colder end of things, so be sure to wear your waders, and appropriate layers underneath. If the bottom of lake is firm, you can wade along the shoreline-and fish parallel to it. If the bottom is soft however, your best bet is to stay on shore. Be sure to watch your back cast! The other options would be a boat, kayak or canoe. Use what you have. Simple as that. And if you don’t have any watercraft, stick to the docks, shore, etc. You can still find plenty of fish.
Now for tactics—so at this point in the year, panfish will be moving into the shallower, warmer water. Fishing is usually best once the sun has warmed up the surface water. So it does afford some sleeping in, and enjoying your coffee in the morning, before you have to get out. Often times, bays and coves will be a bit warmer than the rest of the lake. These warmer areas often have the newer weed growth, which draws plankton and aquatic insects, which are food sources for the panfish. Crappie typically spawn in 5 to 6 feet of water or more, while bluegills are shallower, in 1 to 5 feet of water. Keep in mind though, that often, the bigger blue gills will hang out in the 4 to 6 foot range, with the smaller fish being in the shallower water. One effective way to target them in the spring (and any time really) is to float a fly under an indicator, or buoyant dry fly. Set the depth accordingly. If you find a weed bed, set the depth so you are fishing just over top of it. Use flies that have plenty of movement, to elicit a strike from the bull fish. As to presentation, you can let it sit and twitch it occasionally, or use a slow retrieve with a number of pauses in it. If you find you are catching smaller fish, try using a bigger presentation, or a heavier one, that will drop quicker. Often times the bigger panfish hang out below the smaller ones.
There is a great amount of information available on the web, about fishing for panfish in the Spring. If it peaks your curiosity and cabin fever, a quick google search can keep you busy for hours. If you do the Facebook thing, there is a great group called Panfish on the Fly, that is also a source of great information. As we look forward to warmer summer days, while our rivers are blown out, panfish can offer us a much needed excursion to wet a line. I truly believe, that no matter an anglers experience, we can all have a dang good time fishing for panfish. There is just something about it that brings us back to simpler times and makes us feel like a kid again.
And on that note… bring a kid or new angler along with you. They will forever remember their time spent with you chasing the eager little fish at your local pond. Till next time...
This month I was honored to have been asked to do an interview for "On the Fly South" online magazine. This was a fun interview, Usually people want to talk about the vise or how Norm and I started to work together. That is fine as I always like to talk about Norvise. This interview was a little different as you will see. To check out "Getting a Grip on the Fly Tying Business" Click the image below.
I am always humbled when I am asked to do these types of things. Never in a million years did I think I would be in this position. Thank you for reading, thank you for your support, and thank you for tying on a Norvise! Till Next time...
Tight Lines - Tim
By Braden Miller
Thursday, after 8 days in Emerald Isle Albie fishing, spending time on the beach with my family, wearing board shorts and flip flops we made the four hour drive home to meet Tim at my house. Mom and I were home for a hour and a half, just enough time to unpack the trucks, switch some clothes into another bag and we got back in the truck to head to Sylva, NC for the Tuckaseegee Fly Shop’s Norvise Demo Day at their Sylva location. Our 6 hour drive ended up being close to 8 hours due to accidents and all lanes closed for a bit. Friday morning we woke up to temps in the 40’s so we traded our board shorts and flip flops for jeans, sweatshirts and shoes! Mom, Tim and I got some breakfast before we headed to the shop to set up our vises for Demo Day on Saturday before we heading to the river with Shannon “Big Mess” Messer (I loved how he answered the phone Tuck Fly Shop, Big Mess speaking can I help you?). We all got our waders on (even Mom) and headed out to do some Euro Nymphing, which I had not done before.
Tim and I both were using the Temple Fork Outfitters Drift Rod. After a quick Euro Nymphing lesson and some tips from our amazing guide, Big Mess, Tim quickly caught his first wild rainbow of the day and I wasn’t far behind him. After fighting Albies in the Atlantic Ocean for a week, I set the hook rather strongly and launched two poor little rainbows right out of the water. Luckily for both the fish and myself they stayed on the hook and landed back in the water. We fished several sections of the river and probably caught 25 or so wild rainbows and Tim landed one wild brown.
We caught a bunch of beautiful small rainbows, a handful of decent sized rainbows and I caught a rather chunky fellow. Shannon recommended we have dinner at really good BBQ restaurant called Haystack Smokehouse. Man was that some good food; from the Brunswick Stew, to the pulled pork, brisket, andouille sausage and especially the Banana Pudding. I can personally say we will never go to Sylva and not eat at the Haystack Smokehouse (man now, I wish I could eat dinner there tonight). It was an early night for the three of us so we could be ready for Demo Day Saturday.
Brr, Saturday morning was even colder than Friday! This was the first morning this year I have seen frost on our truck. We arrived at the shop around 7:45 to make sure we were ready when the store opened and so Tim could record his episode for the shop’s *podcast called, Tuck Cast, With A Splash of Bourbon, with Shannon “Big Mess” Messer, Bobby the Bearded Wonder and Coach Dale Diesel Collins. Tim and the guys talked about the story/history of Norvise and what makes it so unique. They dove into Tim's relationship with the late Norm Norlander and what it takes to produce the Norvise Fly Tying System. Saturday was Big Mess’s 50th birthday and Tim’s 49th birthday.
Once the shop opened there was a steady flow of customers throughout the day. We meet some current Norvise owners that came to visit for Demo Day. Some upgraded their vise or added a new Auto Bobbin or two to their collection. There were some who came to the shop to check out exactly what the Norvise was capable of and some came with intentions of joining the many other Norvise tiers. Tim gave his normal show demo for a group of people, he challenged several to take his bet could he tie a wooly bugger in under 60 seconds? If you have never seen him in person at a show, Tim bets someone that if he can tie a wooly bugger in under 60 seconds then they have to purchase a full set up and if he fails, he will give them a full set up. I have been going to shows with Tim for two and a half years now and I have never seen him lose… not too many people ever take the bet. I spent my day tying game changers and a baitfish or two. Every time I finished tying a new game changer, someone would buy it from me. I know selling flies is what a tier strives for, but for those of you who know me, whenever I tie a new fly, especially a game changer, I form this sort of attachment to each one of them. I am very thankful to those who loved the flies I tied Saturday so much, they wanted to fish with them. I look forward to seeing what they catch.
Mom, Tim and I all had a wonderful day at Tuckaseegee Fly Shop for their Norvise Demo Day. We look forward to returning to Sylva soon to visit the shop again, see all they guys and Norvise fans, and of course to do some more fishing in the trout capital of North Carolina. Thank you to everyone who came out to the Norvise Demo Day to see Mr. Tim and I, and for checking out what makes the Norvise the most innovative fly tying system on the market today. If you are ever in Sylva or Bryson City, North Carolina you have to remember to stop in one of Tuckaseegee Fly Shop and say hello. Till next time...
Tight lines - Tim
Here is installment #2 if the beginner fly tying series we are doing for The Riversage Journal. In this video we talk about some of the knots we use to tie on and finish the flu as well as tying a staple Trout Fly that should be in every Trout fishers fly box. Click the logo below to see the video.
We hope you are enjoying watching this series as much as we are enjoying bringing it to you. while you are there check out the Riversage Journal, there is a ton of good information there for the beginner and advanced outdoors men alike. Till next time...
Tight Lines - Tim
As Fall is upon us and Winter is fast approaching the "cold" fishing season will soon be here. For many of us, our thoughts turn to winter time fishing. The winter months can be some of the best fishing of the year. Due to the weather conditions we face during December, January and February they can be some of the toughest times to be out there. I would like to give some of our thoughts and insights as to how we dress for the tough months in hopes that you can extend your time on the water. Hypothermia is a serious consideration during this time and we want to be sure you are protected from the elements. Let’s start with our feet and work our way up.
Layering is the key to staying warm in the winter and our feet are no different. We generally like to start off with a liner sock of some type. Polypropylene gets the nod here as it is the best material to wick sweat away from your feet, the key to keeping your feet warm. From here the temperature will determine the next layer for me. In mild times say 30 degrees and up a simple wading sock works for me. In extreme temps, 30 and below I will usually wear a liner sock, a cotton type crew sock and then a heavy wading sock like the Simms Extreme wading sock. This combo keeps my feet warm in the coldest of days. Play around with your sock combo until you find a system that works for you. One item of note; as you add layers of socks on your feet those wading boots that feel great in April and May might be too tight in January. Tight boots equal cold feet, period! A sizable investment for sure, but a pair of boots a size or two bigger can be a godsend.
Next would be the body layers. Again the conditions will determine how many or how few layers you need. Anything that touches your skin needs to have some wicking properties. We all sweat and the key to staying warm is to get that perspiration away from your body. One of the newer products on the market that gets the nod from me is Merino Wool. A Merino wool base layer will go a long way to keeping your body temperature regulated. My next layer would be some sort of fleece. Simms and Redington both have several different types of fleece in different weights to fit your needs. From light weight shirts and pants to heavy weight crew tops and extremely warm one piece “jumpsuits.”There is a product for everybody. To this I will usually add a Windstopper jacket of sorts and this combo seems to keep me warm on most excursions. On those extreme days I might add a mid weight or heavy weight layer of fleece on top of a light weight layer. The key is to have interchangeability in your system so you can adapt to the changing climate.
Hands head and face. We all have heard the saying that you loose most of your body heat through your head. If that is the case lets cover it with a quality hat to prevent that from happening. “Beanie” type hats are fine in mild temperatures; I wear them all the time. I particularly like the visor type of hats from Simms. The next step up would be the Extreme hat from Simms. We call it the “Elmer Fudd” for obvious reasons. Insulated to the max with ear flaps to boot if any hat is going to keep you warm this is the one. Not the most fashionable looking hat, but when it is 10 degrees keeping warm is the priority. Remember this isn’t a fashion show. To this I might add one of the polar Buffs. This insulated, fleece lined “collar” is designed to keep your neck warm, and can be worn on your face like a half mask. Both are a priority in order to keep warm. Last but not least are gloves. I like the finger-less models so I can have some dexterity when tying knots. Actually I believe it is impossible to tie knots with gloves on. If you are prone to cold fingers one of the fold over mitts may be better. These have a finger-less glove inside and a mitten flap that will fold over the entire thing. A great idea, but fishing with mittens on will take a little getting use to. In the winter time try to touch as little water as possible. Once you get your hands cold in February it is tough to get warm them back up without leaving the river. Some of those hand warmers stuffed in your top wader pocket and help with this.
During the winter season, especially during bitter times I try to always fish with a partner. Safety in numbers goes a long way when it is 20 degrees out. I try not to stand in the water for extended periods of time. If you feel your self getting cold get out and go for a little walk. The foot traffic on the rivers is usually light this time of year. Many times I can walk for ten or 15 minutes to get warmed back up and return to the same spot. Also I always carry a “fall in bag”. If I do happen to take a spill (and believe me I do) I have a warm, dry set of clothes waiting for me at the truck. If you do go in the water this time of year IMMEDIATELY get out and head to the truck. As I said earlier Hypothermia is no joke and needs to be taken seriously. Get out, get dry and go home. The fish will be there tomorrow.
Hopefully these tips will keep you warm and out on the river this winter. Have a safe and fun filled winter season. We hope you catch a ton of fish. Till next time…
Tight lines - Tim
As many of you know way back at the beginning of Covid we started a fun little fly tying competition called the Norvise March Madness contest. Basically we took the format from the popular collage basketball tournament and modified it to fit a fly tying contest. Recently I wrote an article about the contest, we were fortunate enough to have the article picked up by Fly Fishing and Tying Journal. Check it out here...
It is a pretty cool feeling to see something I have written published in a major industry magazine. I would like to thank Tony from Amato publishing for running this article, Chris Dougan and Casey Miller for all of their help on this. Proud moment for us at Norvise, we hope you enjoy. Till next time...
Tight lines - Tim
P.S. We will be running the March Madness contest again in 2021, stay tuned for the official announcement later in the year.
This week's blog post comes to us from Norvise ambassador Mike Corrigan. Mike spent some time chasing the fish of 10,000 casts during the pandemic and he shares his experience here. This is a timely post as we just put up his video "Mike Corrigan ties the Comet Minnow" on our YouTube page. You can see the video by clicking HERE If you have not already you may want to subscribe to the new Norvise YouTube channel. we are posting 2 videos per week, this is a great resource for learning new techniques on the Norvise.
Since landing my first Musky a few years ago, I have been addicted to the maddening follows and the mayhem that ensues if the fish do commit. When able to spend a day on the water pursuing Muskies, I generally define success simply by the number of “follows”. Fish or no fish it is a day well spent just to be able to entice these predators. Interestingly, the smaller lakes that do have Musky here locally are generally devoid of other fly rod species; there are Musky and there is bait!
A year ago I decided to hire a guide and get serious about chasing Musky. Where I am living in central Canada there are a lot of Musky, but no guides that cater to fly anglers. As a former guide, all I was looking for was someone with the knowledge of the water and the habits of the fish. The lake the guide selected was absolutely perfect for fly fishing, it is a long narrow lake with lots of bays and as it turned out an abundance of fish; both Musky and Tiger Musky. Much to the guides surprise, we did very well that day, well enough for me to plan a trip back in 2020.
Over this past winter, with last years trip in mind, I contacted some buddies in at my local fly fishing club (Manitoba Fly Fishers Association) and it was very easy to fill the 5 other spots. The plan was to stay at a drive to lodge a few hours away, in the heart of Musky country, and give it a go. Four of the 5 others had never cast a fly to a Musky let alone seen one in person. With expectations tempered for the “fish of ten thousand casts”, and warnings from the lodge owners that Musky on a fly was a tough go, we hatched a plan. Fly fishers, it seems, are certainly the eternal optimists.
Between that December 2019 fishing pact with the group and the whole world being turned upside down with the COVID issue things were touch and go. The trip was on then off then back on, then delayed. Our assigned week was moved 3 weeks past the season opener, but we did have the plan finally come together with the original 6. The 4 newbies hired the guide I had used the previous year for a day; splitting the morning and afternoon session so all had a chance to learn the way of the Musky.
The fly patterns we used were small compared to the ones that are touted as a requirement to catch Musky. The fly I refer to as my “Goldfish” accounted for my 40” and 41” fish plus numerous other smaller ones. We didn’t throw flies any longer than about 5”. The Musky were also keyed into top water and large 1” square poppers did the trick. As an aside, I do fish Musky from a pontoon boat on some of the smaller local lakes. I have observed, on several occasions, that during the Hexigenia hatch the Musky will slurp these easy prey like a Trout. So, it is not all about the top predator only eating baitfish. Apparently, Musky like to change up their food source as well.
For the duration of the trip we all fished barbless hooks. It is not a local requirement but it is just the way we fish. Most of the Musky we landed did not require any hook removal whatsoever. With their nasty sets of teeth we reasoned that they bite down on the fly and their teeth get tangled in the material that we dressed the fly with. Once they feel the net they seemed to open their mouths and the fly “self-released”.
One morning we had a rain delay and I went through leader building with the Knot2Kinky wire. It is amazing stuff to use once you get comfortable with the knots. As most anglers know a normal store bought leader would be good for one toothy fish and then it is finished.
During the week we noticed some rather odd Musky behavior. We had several fish put their noses literally on the gas motor as we were using the electric to maneuver the boat along the shoreline. We also had a 40” plus fish follow us along the side of the boat (within a rod length) for several hundred feet of shoreline; we literally cast over its head into the likely holding water. It seemed they may be programmed that a release of a tired Walleye might happen? For most of the week we would follow up a cast with a large oval pattern with the rod tip, often seeing Musky appear from the depths. We would drop the rod tip well within the water column, so the fly would have a downward movement followed by raising the rod tip and subsequent ascent of the fly. This technique would end up producing several fish including my largest. Figure 8’s aren’t impossible with a fly, but they are more difficult.
The week really was one for the memory banks and it was a trip of a lifetime for most. We have plans for 2021 already in place and we may do some exploring to some neighbouring lakes as well. Like I say this part of Canada is Musky Central and there are lakes available with the 50” plus brutes, but I am still “baby stepping” my way up to them after landing some of the hawgs on this trip.
Were were recently approached by our friend Ray Miller of Riversage Journal. Riversage journal is an online publication that focuses on wing shooting and fly fishing. There is a ton of great info here and best of all it is free! Ray had asked us to shoot a series of videos geared to the beginning fly tier. In the first installment we talk about some of the tools you need to get started and the differences between some of the types. To see the video click the Riversage logo below.
We will have a new video in the next several issues, each one will go a little deeper in to the world of fly tying for the beginner. As always, if you have any questions please feel free to contact us. We would love to here from you. Till next time...
Tight lines - Tim
I was recently asked to be a guest on Justin Lovell's podcast CB Fly Fishing. We talked a bit about Norvise, O'Neill's Fly Fishing and TFO. You can give it a listen here.