Tonight we look at our ambassador Braden Miller. When you look at all he has accomplished it is easy to forget he is still only 15 years old. We are so fortunate to have Braden on our staff. He (and his entire family) are now family to us. I love this kid like he is my own son and Tyler calls him "the little brother I never had".
For a bit of a deeper look into what makes this fine young man who he is read on...
By Tim O'Neill
Any one who knows me knows that Smallmouth Bass are my favorite fish to chase with fly gear. Oh yeah, if it is Steelhead season I will say Steelhead are my favorite, when we are Pike fishing I will say Pike are my favorite, when the Shad are running I will say...well, you get the picture.
I have been quoted many times saying "Pound for pound a Smallmouth is the hardest fighting freshwater fish" I believe that to be true. I have also been quotes ad saying "Once you catch a truly big Smallmouth you will kick a stone at all of your Trout gear". I believe that to be true, hence the title of this article.
For us, typically the end of March into April has always been the Trout time of year. It is just what we did year after year for as long as I can remember, this would take us to the Smallmouth spawn, usually around the first week or two in June. We would start our Smallmouth Fishing after the spawn and fish them through the summer. Well, a few years ago our friend Brian Shumaker of Susquehanna River Guides (the premiere smallmouth guide service on the Susky) introduced us to pre-spawn Smallmouth bass fishing, and he ruined us forever!!!!
For us the pre-spawn typically starts around the last week in March and can carry deep into May with the month of April being the prime time. This is all temperature driven so you need to watch your waterways closely and when that water hits around 45 degrees you need to hit the water. We are typically looking for "river run" fish meaning fish that come out of the river into one of the smaller tributaries to spawn. Resident fish can grow to a large size in this area, this time of year we are looking for the migrators fresh in from the big river, hungry, hormonal, and MAD. Man, I love these fish!
Some of the smaller tributaries can be hard too access and tough to navigate once you get on the water. Our favorite pre-spawn river is no exception. Our Smith Fly Big Shoals was tailor maid for this type of fishing. Light to carry and easy in and out of the water, you can bounce this thing off every rock in the river and it keeps on trucking.
Low and slow if the key during this time of year, intermediate and heavy sinking lines are the norm and you can leave your floating line and popper box at home. Don't get me wrong, I love coaxing bass to the surface and I love the visual of the popper bite. There will be plenty of time for that in a few months, just not now. Short leaders of 12 to 15#, sinking lines and big baitfish patterns are your go to for early season Bassin, favorite patterns include Feather Game Changers, Deceivers, Clouser's and Half and Half's are all great choices. I have long believed white to be the most productive Smallmouth color and the early season choice remains the same. To throw all that payload you need a serious stick. We have been relying on the Axiom II X and the LK Legacy from Temple Fork Outfitters. These rods have the juice to launch a heavy sink tip and the backbone to land an angry 20" Bronzeback. We have been very happy with everything TFO since joining their team.
On this particular day we spent about 6 hours floating a productive section of the river. Cast, upstream mend, count the fly down, strip, strip, pause. We spend as much time on the anchor as we did on the sticks setting up on the likely fish holding water and drifting over the other. Cast, upstream mend, count the fly down, strip, strip, pause. Most of the time that pause id the most important aspect of the cast, a truly bid Smallmouth will usually hit on the drop, probably the reason the Clouser minnow and it hundreds of variations are so effective.
When we were driving home, tired, gear stowed and boat in tow I was thinking; "This was the single beast day I have had on a Smallmouth river. Never before had we landed three 20" fish, 5 18" fish and I don't know how many 14, 15 & 16" fish. Truly an epic day on the water (and I really do not like the word epic) but that is the only way to describe it.
So, like the title says Smallmouth...in April??? Absolutely! Man, I LOVE these fish! Till next time...
Tight Lines - Tim
Well, the crew made the 6 hour trek west again this year to chase what has become one of my favorite fish, the Northern Pike. This marks the second year we have done this trip and I am sure it won’t be the last. I mean, what is not to like about big, aggressive, toothy fish? I just love this type of fishing!
We left Delaware Friday afternoon, we fished Saturday and Sunday and we made the easy drive east on the PA turnpike home early Monday morning. We were all tired, worn out and sore, it was 100% worth it!
If you have never taken a Pike on the fly I would suggest you do it ASAP. This is a very visual fishery with big flies, big fish sometimes at very close quarters. The take is incredible, to the point it can actually frighten you when it happens. I just love every part of it.
We are typically fishing out of drift rafts and the Smith Fly boats are perfect for this type of fishery. The lack of proper boat ramps along the river makes having a portable, light weight boat a must. It would be very hard, almost impossible to fish a hard hull here. We like the Smith Fly rafts so much we brought a “great Big Shoals” 15 footer home with us! 9 weight rods are the norm with an intermediate shooting head line. We opted for a variety of Temple Fork Outfitters rods including the Mangrove, Axiom 2 and the new A2X rods all paired with BVK and BVK 3 reels. Lines were Rio’s Outbound Short intermediate heads with floating running lines.
If you have ever looked into the mouth of a big Northern you will see rows and rows of large, sharp teeth. Wire bite tippet is not a suggestion it is a must! Leaders were fairly simple, 30# mono, 20# mono and a section of 30 pound knotable wire. The entire leader system is less than 3 feet long.
The flies we used were pretty diverse. We threw Game Changers (several varieties) bulkhead hollow flies, double deceivers and Pat Cohen’s Man Bear Pig. On the ride home Ed said “that Man Bear Pig May be the perfect fly for this type of fishing”. One thing is for sure. What ever fly you use make sure it has a sturdy, sharp, heavy gage hook, these fish are no joke. And they will absolutely destroy a poorly tied fly with a cheap hook!
The fishing is pretty simple for these fish. Pound the banks as much as you can and strip, strip, pause. Josh, one of our guides said they get probably 80% of their pike eats on the pause. One thing I will say is you have get the fly in the kitchen, possibly on the dinner plate, and Pike live in some nasty places. You can’t be afraid to put your fly in harms way. Snags, both in and above the water are the norm, know that going in.
The first day we spent almost 10 hours in the boat. Pounding the banks and stripping the fly all the way back to the boat translated into a lot of casting...a lot. We were very thankful for the light swing weight of TFO’s Axiom rod series.
Throwing a 9 weight for 10 hours can be tough. The Axiom 9 weights could be cast all day with no issue.
Pike fishing is a numbers game, with a “moved” fish almost as exciting as a landed fish (almost) in 2 days of fishing two boats, each with 2 anglers moved close to 60 fish landing 17. Size ranged from a few hammer handles to a 36 inch tank. Not quite the fish of 10,000 casts like their bigger cousin the Musky, but not like shooting fish in barrel ether. Wile they are aggressive and once they commit they are all in, they certainly are not stupid. Good accurate casts and a varied, erratic retrieve were a must. I can’t tell you haw many times Josh would say “put some pauses in there” I am glad he did because when that fly stopped and kicked sideways…
Till next time,
Tight Lines – Tim
Every year during the change of the seasons several things happen. Snow melts, Daffodils bloom, trees leaf and the Dogwoods bloom. It seems the blooming of the Dogwoods symbolize many things in the outdoors. Any central Pennsylvania Trout worth his salt will tell you that is the time for the Grannom Caddis. Well, if you are from my area in Northern Delaware the Dogwood bloom means one thing…Shad!
Shad are a member of the Herring family and every year around the third week in April they descend on our tributaries in droves. Fresh from the ocean and looking to spawn they are strong, feisty and tailor made to be taken on the fly. The “run” can vary in length (time) and intensity. During strong runs several fish per hour is the norm and a triple digit count on a morning or evening outing is an attainable goal. Yes, it is fair to say I do love the Shad run.
Shad fishing is actually pretty simple, a five, six or seven, weight rod, a intermediate or type II sink tip line and a small selection of flies will cover it. We will cast across river, almost at a 90 deg angle, let the fly sink and they twitch it as the current swings the rig down river, below where we are standing. If you choose you can let the fly dangle downstream, if you can wait long enough a fish will come up and take it, I will usually pick it up and re-cast. Flies are fairly simple, anything bright and flashy will do, I do have several of my own designs specifically for Shad, honestly a chartreuse bigger or the venerable ole’ Mickey Finn would fill the bill just fine.
Note, to see me tie a few of these patterns visit our new YouTube page by clicking HERE feel free to click subscribe when you are there.
For this outing we were fishing some new TFO gear. I had my TFO A2X 9 foot 5 weight. I have been using this rod to throw streamers to Trout on some local rivers, this shad run was the specific reason I got this set up. I was throwing an intermediate shooting head with a short (1.5 foot) T8 sink tip. Tyler was fishing the Drift rod set up as a Micro Spey. Two handed casting with a 2, 3, or four weight Micro Spey set up is fantastic fun on the Shad river.
We were into fish form basically the first cast, I don’t know how many we landed, we estimated about 150 between the 2 of us. It was a fantastic day on the water.
The Shad run is something special that happens each year. Some better than others, some are epic. One thing is for sure, these fish are a ton of fun!
If you would like to learn more about this great fishery book my "Shad Fishing 101" presentation for your club or private group. It is full o tons of information to chase these strong, hard fighting fish. Till next time...
Tight Lines , Tim
For anyone that knows me they know I absolutely love the Trout Nymphing game. I love tying the flies, love watching the sighter in a tight line rig, love watching the indicator on a indy rig, I lust plain love nymphing! Over the years my Trout game has revolved around the nymph, it still does and that will probably never change. That being said, every once in a while I get a hankering to throw streamers for Trout. It is not that I am against it, I actually quite enjoy throwing streamers, I always seem to gravitate to the nymph when talking about Trout.
We had quite a bit of rain through the week and all of our rivers were running high. my good friend and Norvise ambassador Ed "One Boot" Hays sent me a text on Friday afternoon, you all know the text, the kind that two fishing buddies send to each other. Few words, but the message is loud and clear ""Killing it on the FF section" That was it, but that was enough, I knew exactly where he was and I knew I would be throwing streamers on Sunday morning.
The Axiom II X;
When I first cast the Axiom II X at the Virginia Fly Fishing and Wine festival back in January Nick Conklin of TFO told me I was going to like it. He was right, When I first cast Tyler's A2X 8 weight in October I said "I see a LOT of iridescent blue in my future. When I saw that TFO was offering this rod in a 5 weight with a fighting butt I know this was going to be my first purchase. Originally, this was to be my new Hickory Shad set up. Paired with a BVK sealed drag reel and a Outbound Short F / I line this was going to be some bad mojo for Shad this spring. Well, COVID-19 took care of our Shad season and I was itching to get this set up out on the water. Sunday was my day.
I went to my tried and true streamer set up. as mentioned I already had a Outbound Short intermediate line on there, to that I looped to looped a 1.5' piece of T11, a 3' piece of 3X and my all time favorite streamer, Kelly Gallops Zoo Cougar.
When we first hit the water I was surprised at how easy the Axiom 2 X could handle the weight of the rig. Not that this was a ton of weight, it just didn't feel like I was throwing a sink tip at all, it barley feat like I was throwing an intermediate line. As mentioned Ed was with me, he too was throwing the A2X five weight.
Now, I would much prefer to fish over wild fish. Today scheduling and family commitments would prevent us from making the day trip to our favorite wild fish river, we would have to stay closer to home and beat up on some stockers. Now to be clear I said I would "prefer" to fish over wild fish, I have no problem catching stocked fish. "They have fins" as the boys down south always say, I agree, so we were on the water early Sunday morning rigged and ready to go.
It didn't take long, we had fished down about 100 yards of river and I saw Ed come tight to a fat Rainbow. The formula was simple, pound the cut banks from the far side, strip, strip, pause. Let the rig do its thing and settle the fly down in the slot. Strip, strip, pause, repeat. Take a few steps down, bomb the far cut bank, strip, strip, pause, repeat. Every once in a while, on the pause BANG! I love the violence of a streamer take.
We had been fishing for a while, not setting the world on fire, but catching a few fish. I was as interested in working the rod as well as catching fish. I was impressed with the accuracy I could obtain with the weighted head, I was really impressed with how well the rod could handle a inverted loop cast, a cast you must have in your bag of tricks if you are going to wade and streamer fish. I had a few of the Bugger type flies pictured above sent to me by mu buddy Tony Muncy of Muncy designs. These things looked cool and I wanted to see how they looked in the water. Three casts in I was hooked to a solid rainbow. Ed took this picture just as I netted the fish.
These leech type buggers worked very well, so much so that I contacted Tony today and placed an order for 3 dozen, Then I bought every color of dubbing he uses to make the body of these that the company makes. Yup, they looked that good!
All in all it was a great morning on the water, we got into some fish, I got to try out a new rig that I am VERY happy with (Ed loves his as well) and we had a good time. In the end, isn't that what it is all about?
Till next time.
Tyler and I had the pleasure of fishing with central Pennsylvania's premier Smallmouth guides, Brian Shumaker. Brian is the owner of Susquehanna River Guides and has spent the past 30 years floating the rivers in and around west central PA including the fabled Susquehanna and Juniata rivers. Brian has become a good friend over the years so we jumped at the chance to spend a day on the water with him.
We did the 2 hour ride from our place to the meeting spot in record time where we then followed Brian with his Hyde drift boat in tow to the um, well, we will say...boat ramp. We were on a smaller piece of water Brain can only float in his hard hull during the Spring. later in the year there is simply not enough water to get down this particular river. Getting the boat in the water was interesting, but we got it down the bank and we were soon on our way.
Smallmouth are my favorite fish, they are beautiful, hard fighting and are tailor made for fly fishing. We spent the day pounding the banks and back eddies with streamers and slowly stripping them back. "Stripping them back" is really a bit of a misnomer, really we were just letting the flies hang and swing a bit and just keeping the line tight as the boat drifted down river. This is a cool technique as once you "get" it you can literally hold the fly in one spot for an extended amount of time to entice a big ole' bronze back to come up from the deeper water and smash it.
We started off a little slow, typical with spring time smallmouth fishing as the water was still a bit on the cool side at 52 degrees. When the sun got up and the water warmed so did the fishing. As soon as he stepped up on to the front casting position Brian was tight to a solid smallmouth. Literally it was on his first or 2nd cast!
nThis was not a guided trip, it was what we call a "row and go" meaning three guys are in the boat, 2 guys fishing and 1 rowing the boat. We would switch positions so every got to fish and every one would row. If rowing a drift boat is not something you do every day you will soon appreciate the skill of an accomplished oarsman. It is not as easy as a good rower makes it look...just ask Tyler. I really think you should spend some time on the oars if you can, it will give you a better appreciation of how everyone needs to work together for the boat to be successful. Tyler was picking it up toward the end, I am very excited for our Smith Fly raft to be completed so we can start floating some of our local (and not so local) rivers this summer.
On his second stint on the bow Tyler stuck a good fish followed by an even better smallie.
Tyler and I were fishing some of TFO's new gear, mainly the Axiom 2 X rods and the new BVK sealed drag reels. As mentioned smallmouth are my favorite fish to fish for, coincidentally we spend a lot of time chasing them each year. For years my go to set up has always been a 7 weight. We throw some pretty big flies when chasing smallies; Game changers, O'Neill's Controlled Chaos, O'Neill's Hovercraft, weighted crayfish patterns and the like. For me a 6 weight just doesn't have the muscle needed to punch these bigger, wind resistant flies through the air. It is not uncommon for us to be on the water all day and honestly an 8 weight was just too heavy to cast for 10 hours straight, that is why I prefer a 7 weight. Until now.
During one of my turns in the back of the boat I looked down in the rod holder and low and behold there was Tyler's Brand new A2X 8 weight. Will, I am not one to let a new rod to go to waste so I figured I would break it in for him. As mentioned earlier I am a huge fan of a 7 weight. That being said, if you get a little more than I light breeze the shortcoming of the 7 weight quickly comes to light, especially if you are trying to punch 60' casts with big flies. This was the first time I really got to spend with the A2X 8 weight. The first thing you notice is the overall weight of the rod. If you didn't know any better you would swear it you were holding a 6 weight. Load it up to cast and it is quite apparent what you are holding. Paired with an aggressive, weight forward shooting head this stick is an absolute rocket. It is light in the hand, you can cast it all day and it has plenty of punch to drive a big, articulated fly through the air with ease. It is a bit early to say it is my new favorite, but it will be a staple in my quiver for sure.
Several hours later and sever rotations on the oars we were at the take out. We had had a fantastic day with several Smallmouth landed along with a bonus Walleye, my first ever.
If you are looking for a fantastic central Pennsylvania Smallmouth experience Give my buddy Brian a call or check out his Facebook HERE. You will be glad you did. Till next time...
Tight lines, Tim