Tying the Crippler

I know its the end of the season but I still have a one last rendezvous up north for late winter steelhead. Thought I would take everyone through the steps of tying the Crippler which kicked ass this year on the coast. This is a slight variation to my pattern that was featured in the February issue of California Fly Fisher. This fly is designed to be fishes in "soft" water, i.e. tailouts, glides, and slow inside seams.

First off, this fly can be tied on either a shank or a tube, with or without weight. I prefer to tie these on tubes both with and without weight. This allows for fishing in a variety of conditions.

1 1/2" plastic tube.

After attaching thread, create a large dubbing ball near the rear of the tube and tie in a collar of Arctic fox tail in front of dub ball. Easier to take tow small chunks and tie them in one at a time to evenly spread around dubbing ball.

Tie in a schlappen feather and hackle 4-6 turns closely through a dubbed body(I like Ice Dubbing).

Tie in a long thin stemmed marabou feather and make 4-6 turns, picking out and combing back marabou with each turn.

Take anywhere from 12-18 ostrich herls and clump them together. From here, wet them and then using a black sharpie color 6-8 bars to give the ostrich a barred look. Using 3-4 herls at a time tie them in and around the fly, evenly spreading out the herl.

Add some flash to the top of the fly. I prefer flashabou, krinkle flash, or krystal flash. All look good, another personal preference.

Tie in a golden pheasant tippet to create a collar. Schlappen can work as well but I really like the golden pheasant tippets because they are naturally barred and give the collar a unique look. Finish the head, burn the end of the tube and finished!

A few of the reasons the Crippler is so effective is the large profile created by the arctic fox and hackled schlappen. This allows the marabou to breath and keep a big profile in the current without collapsing. The other thing to notice is how the ass end of the fly with the dubbing ball/arctic fox glows in the light(see pic below).

Rob Elam photo

Another pic of a big profile in the water...the sink test!


2010 Winter Season comes to a close

Our 2010 California Winter steelhead season has all but come to a close. While many of our rivers are still open till March 31st, fishing has slowed and very few bright fish are showing. It's hard to believe how fast our winter season went by. While we had some good fishing, this years water conditions made fishable days on some of my favorite rivers few and far between. If we could have had an extra 8-12 days of good weather during "prime time," I hate to think how many bright natives we could have hooked. That's winter steelheading though, we rarely get ideal conditions. The following are a few pics from the 09-10' winter season. More pics can be seen on the website in the next few days...


Rio to Introduce M.O.W. tips later this spring

It has finally happened! With the help of Mike McCune, Scott O'Donnell, and Ed Ward, Rio is introducing unique sink tip system called the M.O.W. (McCune, O'Donnell, Ward). This is a tip system these guys developed over the years and guiding and fishing skagit lines and having to alter tips to meet their demands. I was fortunate enough to learn this tip system a number of years ago from Mike and have been fishing them for a couple of years now. The M.O.W systems consist of 2.5', 5', 7.5', 10', 12' sink tips and a 10' floating tip. For example, the 2.5' tip has 2.5' of T-11/14 integrated to a 7.5' section of floating line. 5' tip is equals lengths of T-11/14 and floating line. This was the 2.5', 5', 7.5', and 10' sink tips are all 10' in length helping to keep a more consistent anchor. This tip system is ideal for switch and spey rods in the 11'-13'9" range and will come in T-8, T-11, and T-14 varieties. Look for the T-11/14 systems to be available by early May and the T-8 by fall. All kits will retail for 149.95 with a leader wallet. These are a must for any two-hand angler.

For more info check out the link on speypages


The truth comes out...98% of Eel River water diverted to Russian River system during dry months.

This is a week or so old but a must read!

A lawsuit filed by the Friends of the Eel River to take action against PG&E to stop diverison of water from the Eel River to the Russian river system. During the summer months, as much as 98% of Eel River flows are diverted through PG&E's Potter Valley Project. Hopefully something will happen here and flows will be restored to the Eel, at least during the critical warm weather periods when water is extremely low and warm. This would certainly help prevent some juvenile salmon/steelhead mortality and help increase numbers in future returns.

Keep reading article here


Early March is hard to beat on the California coast. Not sure what it is about March but there are not many people out fishing. Good conditions + very little pressure = good fishing. Catching, well that could have been better. A few fish were around but was hoping for more considering the rivers were dropping and this is typically when the big late season nates begin to show.

A small front moved in late Tuesday and added a little rain and snow to the mix but did not seem to hurt the rivers at all. It actually gave the water a little more of that "steelhead green" we all like to see in the winter.

The grabs were soft and while we were able to connect to a couple, there were a few more that left us wondering, what if? Should I have set, not dropped the loop, or was it just not meant to be? That's why we love this sport. It makes us think every second on the water and then when you start to drift just for a split second, it happens!


Evolution of the Skagit line

When some people mention Skagit lines, the first thing that comes to mind are heavy sink-tips, big flies, and winter steelhead. This is true, and was the only way I thought of Skagit lines until the last couple of years. Skagit lines are a great fishing tool on both Spey and switch rods and more people than ever before are using them year round.

I myself, have gravitated towards Skagit lines for almost all my steelheading be it spring, summer, fall, and winter. In the summer and fall months I just swap my sink-tips for a floating tip and 12-15' tapered leader and am ready to fish. Part of the reason for fishing these lines in the summer and fall months has to do with the number of anglers and pressure many of our steelhead rivers now see. I have had to learn and fish new water to try and escape some of the pressure "traditional" runs and riffles see throughout a given day. I find myself fish smaller, tighter spots that don't allow much backcasting room, forcing one to get the fly out there with a very limited to almost non existent back cast. The shorter, quicker load of a skagit line allows one to do this. The second major factor has to do with guiding first time Spey casters into steelhead. Skagit lines allow one to learn and understand the basics of the two-hand casting a hell of a lot quicker than any other line out there. What once cold have taken two weeks for one to learn a single cast, now only takes an hour or less. It simply allows many of guides to guide their clients into fish a lot quicker and easier.

The last couple of years have seen tremendous growth in the spey fishing world. More and more anglers are getting into the two handed sport which has placed an emphasis on technology, teaching, guiding, and fishing. Learning to spey cast with a two handed rod is now easier than ever. When I first started spey casting we were using 14-15' 9 and 10 weights with Windcutter lines. It took me nearly a month to feel confident enough to tie and fly on and fish a run without have to worry about hooking myself in the neck. Not that these outfits were bad, they just took a lot more skill and practice to learn the spey casts. As Spey casting grew, so did rod and line technology.

In the last 5-6 years we are seeing a growth in the use of the Skagit lines. There is a big reason for this, Skagit lines make casting and fishing two handed rods much easier and more enjoyable. Skagit lines were designed by the likes of Ed Ward, Mike McCune, and Scott O'Donnell on the banks of the Skagit/Sauk rivers while trying to find a line that was able to cast big flies on heavy sink tips. Little did they know, that the design of this line would make a huge impact in the world of steelhead fishing.

Rio was one of the first company to design a Skagit taper. These lines were 27' in length and varied in grain weight, 350, 450, 550, and 650 grains. Soon there was a demand for more lines and Rio introduced more lines varying in 50 grain increments. Not long after, Airflo and Scientific Anglers followed suit and Skagit lines gained in popularity.

While many of these lines were great for the 13'6"-15' rods, many were having to modify lines to match some of newer, shorter, lighter Spey rods on the market. In the last couple of years, manufacturers have begun to design Skagits that were better suited to today's shorter lighter rods. Airflo was the first company to introduce a line of Skagits designed to match almost any Spey/switch rod starting at 360 grain @ 22.5' and going up to 720 grains @ 28.5'. Soon Beulah followed with the Tonic that ranges from 22.5 - 27' and match switch rods as light as 5/6 up to 9 weight spey rods. At the same time Rio launched their line of Skagit Shorts designed for switch and small spey rods. Rio's Skagit Short range from 275 grains to 525 grains and are 20' in length. As the popularity of Airflo's Compact Skagit grew, Rio soon followed suit with their new Skagit Flight than range from 425 grains @ 24'to 750 grains @ 31'. Now there are almost too many choices out there for an angler to choose from. This just shows the growth and popularity and Skagit and Spey casting.

While there are many options out there to choose from, it is extremely important to make sure you get the proper line for your Spey/switch rods. The other thing to remember is that not all line recommendations will work for you. Many anglers prefer different loads in their rod while casting. Some prefer a heavier, deeper load(more grains), while others like a lighter load(less grains) and cast more off the tip. If you have had any two-hand casting experience, you should have an idea which you might prefer. That being said, if you are a beginner and have not spent any time with a two-handed rod, it is best to get a recommendation from a reliable source and go with a line that is "middle of the road" as far as grain weight it concerned. Many fly shops have employees that Spey fish and can give an angler a good line recommendation. There is also a decent amount of god info on the internet but be careful not to always listen to the internet experts, aka(speypages forums). Shops such as Kiene's Fly Shop have some excellent and knowledgeable Spey information and can provide the correct Skagit line recommendations.



Bobbers, Indicators, Floats, Balloons, and Sindicators

All the recent talk about Idylwilde's new Sindicator has been both ridiculous and hilarious! Growing up I was taught the importance of learning to cast a fly rod, read water, and fishing dry flies. Hell, most people started fly fishing after seeing Brad Pitt/Jason Borger making beautiful casts and hooking fish on dry flies in a River Runs Through It. Years later, it seems as if this sport has become more about how many fish one can catch. Here's where the Indicator, Bobber, and Balloons come in.

It all started with ye old plastic red/white. Most of us started fishing ponds and lakes as kids with old red/white. Then some of us might have transitioned into a float, drifting marabou jigs for steelhead on a spinning rod. Now many fly fisherman seem to get into the sport with fly fishing's version of the bobber, i.e. yarn indicator, corkies, thingamabobbers, balloons, and more. The newest revelation being "trapped air technology" such as the Sindicator, Thingamabobber, and of all things Balloons.

With other blogs such as Blanco Honky and Moldy Chum calling the Sindicator "shameless" and "ripoffandduplicator," it makes me think of how many yarn indicators are on the market. My guess would be at least 5 or 6, but we don't hear much about how similar they are. Now there are multiple versions of a balloon, i.e. bobber using trapped air technology and the shit hits the fan. Get over it! I have no problem with people using a bobber, float, indicator, or balloon but it is just not for me. If I was to use one it would surely be on a spinnning rod floating down a seam with a jog underneath. While I would like to see more people swinging flies or casting dry flies to rising fish, most people just seem to get into the sport through indicator/bobber fishing. To me it has almost eliminated the essence of fly casting but for those who just care about catching fish, it does get the job done.