A view from the bench: 21 January

I've spent the majority of my time this year cleaning and reorganizing my shop. It's been in desperate need of a makeover and the cold weather makes some of the processes a bit of a challenge so I took advantage of the extra time and made a few upgrades.   I'm finally making progress on some rods.  
So far I've got a fairly wide range of rods in progress.  A custom 9'6" 5wt 3 piece graphite blank by Thomas & Thomas from Reading's Fly Shop. A 64p.  Two 710-5's and an Ijuin Yomogi 7' 3wt.  

#'s 2-6 of this year's serial numbers.

Stella the Mighty Shop Dog occupying her spot next to the heater.

Last night I applied the first coats of finish and will apply more tonight after they spend some time in the curing cabinet.  

Next I'll get started on another round of blanks.  Gluing cork on another Ijuin Yomogi 7'3" 4wt and a Steffen 7'6" 3/4wt 4 piece custom and laying out the Graywolf Collaboration rods.  

I hope everyone is having a great week.  Be sure to check back next week to see what's going on...

Thanks for looking!

 

Collaboration

Over the years I have come to know and become friends with several other rod builders and folks in the fly fishing industry.  This year I will be collaborating with a few of these people.  The first one is with Shane Gray of Graywolf Fly Rods, whom I've come to know well, highly respect and call him a friend.  

We set up a trade of sorts since we both don't sell our blanks. I sent him a 64p and a 710-5 and in turn he sent me a 8' 4wt 3 piece and 8' 6wt 4 piece in his black s-glass.  I'm excited to be starting these builds soon and am very much looking forward to seeing what he does with my blanks.

Please contact me to reserve one of these excellent rods and be on the look out for progress reports...



Small water fly fishing: streamer design and tactics.

This article was written by my friend Brandon Bailes for Flymen Fishing Co. and published here: http://flymenfishingcompany.com/blogs/blog/77126465-small-water-fly-fishing-streamer-design-and-tactics

Small water fly fishing: streamer design and tactics.

I often struggle with deciding on which type of water I want to fish, whether it's big water with big flies and sinking lines, or small streams with downsized offerings. Both can be very rewarding but there’s something special about small streams and exploring where smaller predatory fish can live.

My definition of a small stream, warmwater or coldwater, is a watershed that is at the max 25 feet wide and a deep pool from 4 to 5 feet deep. Where I live this even includes a few tailwaters, which when generating are not navigable by boat.

These types of waters contain more than just bugs for fish to feed on. After many years of exploring these little gems and talking with other small stream fanatics, I've come up with my own way to target the meat-eaters in these waters with downsized streamers.

Streamer design.

  Profile.

The first thing I think of when filling my small streamer box is how big the baitfish are in the waters I’ll be fishing. My nominal streamer size for this type of fishing is 2 to 3.5 inches.

If you are specifically targeting bass, make sure to tie flies on the upper end (size wise) to deter as many sunfish as possible.

Keep in mind any and all materials you are adding to the hook and try to minimize unnecessary weight because this type of fishing is most enjoyable with lighter rods (3-5wt).

Action.

How do you want it to swim? I remember asking Mike Schimdt of Angler's Choice Flies about carrying small streamers on his annual small water hopper trip. He said he carried small streamers that had specific actions when stripped.

I always include some neutrally buoyant baitfish, some jiggy-style streamers, and a few just for dead drifting. All of these can trigger a strike and in small water you'll quickly know if they'll commit to strike.

Depth.

Small streams generally aren't deep, but you still need to be able to fish the entire column of the pool.

Take the average flow on the water you fish and any submerged structure into account. There’s nothing worse than carrying a box of unweighted streamers and then walking upon a deep plunge pool with a ledge 3 ft below.

Always carry Clouser-style or Sculpin Helmet streamers that have the hook pointed upward and will allow you to effectively fish the bottom of pools without snagging.

Of course, having those unweighted streamers is also necessary – when stripped they imitate dying prey and don’t nosedive straight to the bottom before a suspended fish can key in on them.

Equipment.

Fly rod.

Depending on stream size, I most often carry a 8.5ft glass 5wt but I drop down to as low as a 6.6ft 3wt on tiny bluelines. Rod action is dependent on your personal preference but I’m a glass geek and prefer a medium to medium fast action rod. To me, glass or slower graphite shines in small water….you can manipulate your streamer easily, feel everything, and great tippet protection.

Fly line.

As for lines, there’s no need to use a sink tip line here like you normally use on big flows. Your basic WF line will suit anything you should encounter. Although ( if available) I try to buy the drab color line for added stealth.

Leader & tippet.

I drop down a few sizes from what I normally use on the river. I use a leader that is the length of my rod, fluorocarbon, and I stay in the 3x-4x range. This will allow turnover of the fly but still adds stealth to the approach…although most fish striking a streamer aren’t too worried about the leader.

Gear.

For carrying everything, I take the minimalist approach…..a lanyard with nippers and tippet, along with a Tacky fly box full of confidence patterns (such as Strolis Micro Picks, Groupie Sculpins, Skulpin Bunnies, and Panther Branch Crafty Creek Minnows to name a few).

Clothing.

Wear muted clothing or clothing that matches the surroundings. This isn’t the place for your neon yellow fishing shirt.

Approach.

Approach from downstream.

Make short casts beginning at the pool tailout. This way you're not casting over fish and spooking the entire pool.

This is even true with small stream bass. I've observed both smallmouth and spotted bass behave very much like trout in these environments – where they feed, how they feed, and even spawning behavior.

Less casting is better.

Pick your target as you approach the run. Casting repeatedly in such a small area is just that… casting. The opportunity to a hook a fish goes down with every cast in the same spot.

Make the first cast your best!

Slow down your retrieve.

I have to make this adjustment quite often. It can seem strange going from throwing a 300gr sinking line and 6” weighted streamers on big, fast-moving water to throwing smaller streamers on a floating line in a creek you can hop over!

If you slow down the retrieve and your streamer is designed well, you'll be able to strip and pause while still getting a lot of movement from to the materials themselves moving.

If all else fails to reap a fish, try high-sticking your streamer.

Learn new casts.

You'll be faced with lots of casting obstacles in small stream environments.

The bow and arrow cast can be your best friend! Just make sure you are holding the streamer by the rear hook if articulated – I know from experience!

Any cast that eliminates false casting is your best friend on these waters because it reduces your chances of spooking the fish.

Quick review.

When you don’t have time to rig the boat or you’re a little sore from swinging the big gun all day during full generation, grab your trout rod and some micro-meat, and go explore those places you drive by every day!

  Brandon is an engineer tech contractor for NASA by day and at night (after the wife and kids are sound asleep) you can find him at the vise pumping out orders for his "lil" shop  Panther Branch Bugs . He specializes in warmwater patterns, from deer hair bugs to streamers. He's a self-professed streamer junkie and loves that he learns something new each time he spends the day throwing meat.

Brandon is an engineer tech contractor for NASA by day and at night (after the wife and kids are sound asleep) you can find him at the vise pumping out orders for his "lil" shop Panther Branch Bugs. He specializes in warmwater patterns, from deer hair bugs to streamers. He's a self-professed streamer junkie and loves that he learns something new each time he spends the day throwing meat.


The 64p, an unsolicited review

The following is a completely unsolicited review of my 64p 6'4" 4wt 4 piece fly rod.  Ed is a client-turned-friend who lives and fishes in the Western North Carolina area.

About a month ago a very nice USPS lady dropped off my new Barclay 64p. I opened it immediately and drooled over the fine craftsmanship, but had not fished or even lawn cast it until today. Since this rod is a new offering from Chris, I thought I'd share my thoughts. Disclaimer: I consider Chris a good friend, but I can honestly say that has absolutely no bearing on my very positive/gushing review.

The Rod

For those who haven't heard about the rod, the 64p is a semi-parabolic 6'4" 4 piece 4 wt that Chris developed (the little brother to his fantastic 75p).


The first thing that jumps out is how small the tube is. It really shouldn't be surprising (do the math, a 76" rod built in 4 pieces), but it is still amazing to see a rod tube the length of a pop-up umbrella. The short tube can easily fit in a backpack for hike-in fishing or as carry-on luggage.


I paired the rod with a Hardy JLH 2/3/4 and a 406 4 wt. The reel weighs 3.2 ounces empty and I thought the pairing was just about perfect. If anything, I'd suggest a tad lighter. I know Chris fishes his with a Ross RR-1, which weighs 3.1 ounces.

The Destination

I decided to go to a nearby river that I thought it would be representative of the types of waters I will use the rod on. I love the river because it's close, easy to wade and gets very little pressure, but I've never had a great numbers day there, although it is known for its browns and I've caught several in the 14" range.

Looking downstream. In most places the river/stream is much narrower, often no more than 10' wide.

I hadn't been to this river in about 6 months and it's amazing how much it has changed in that time. There were so many fallen trees -- not a bad thing if fishing for trout.

The Fishing

Since the purpose of the outing was to try out the rod for the first time, I intended to fish dries, nymphs and streamers. I decided to start fishing upstream. It was around 9:30 and only 31 degrees (so nothing was hatching), so I decided to start out nymphing. My rig consisted of a size 8 or 10 Girdle Bug and a size 16 caddis pattern. I chose the Girdle Bug because I wanted to see how the rod would handle a fairly good-sized nymph and, more importantly, it's a fly that has worked well there in the past.

I started out at the run below.


I worked out a little bit of line and cast upstream just short of the fallen tree. Since it was my first cast, I was still settling in and wasn't entirely focused on watching my drift. Wait, did my indicator pause? Probably hung up on the bottom, but might as well set. Ah, rocks don't wiggle!


A fish on the first cast! What a way to break in a new rod. It was about 10" and I'm thinking that this may be the largest Rainbow I've caught at this river. But it wasn't. Because a little later I landed this guy...


Between 11-12". Definitely the largest Rainbow I've caught there. This new rod has some serious mojo!

It was all Rainbows today.

It was great to catch some nice fish, but the focus was to put the rod through its paces. And boy did it ever perform.

Nymphing: The rod handled the nymph rig great, with easy turnover. It roll cast great. Most of my casts were short, probably no more than 15-20'. It certainly could have cast farther, but that is a normal distance for me when nymphing, particularly on smaller waters. What was really impressive to me was how well the rod cast at very short distances with almost no line out. While it's nice to be able to bomb out long casts, if I'm grabbing a 6'4" rod I'm probably casting in tight quarters and so what matters most is how it loads for short casts.

Streamers: I cast a tunghead Muddler and Slumpbuster and the rod performed great with each of them, with most casts in the 30-40' range but also some at 10-15'. Both of these streamers are on the smaller side (I chose them based on the water I was fishing) but fairly weighty for something of that size, and based on the easy turnover I'm sure the rod can handle something larger/heavier. For a warm water outing I could easily see putting on a popper without hesitation.

Dries: I only cast a dry briefly (nothing was hatching and I had seen no surface activity), but again the rod performed just great at distances from 10' to 40'.  

More Casting Thoughts: I'm not a great caster by any means, but I was just amazed at how accurate my casts were. Maybe it's because the rod is so short that it really feels like an extension of your arm, but whatever the reason the rod is incredibly accurate. Right at the end I came to a stretch that had some overhanging shrubs on the far bank, leaving maybe 2' of clearance between the water's surface and the bottom branches. I made several side arm casts of about 35' feet that put the fly under the branches right near the bank, certainly impressive for me.

Parabolic Action: Although most of my rods have a progressive action and would probably be best described as medium fast, I had no trouble adjusting to the rod's action. I found the key is to simply slow things down and make sure I let the rod load and do the work. And does it ever -- the softer feel does not equate to a loss of power. And it's really neat to see the rod double over with a fish on!

Final Thoughts: This is just a terrific rod and is something I will use for hike-in outings during the Spring and Summer in particular. While I think anyone would enjoy this rod, I think it may be particularly desirable for people like me who already have more rods than they really need but still like to try out new things. I mean, I guess you could convince yourself that you need a 7'9" 4 wt to fill that glaring gap between your 7'6" and 8', but for most people I suspect this rod is truly something very different than just about any other rod you have. It's just an exceptional, special rod that is a blast to fish. What more could someone ask for. 

Well done Chris!

~Thanks Ed!

Yet another blog?

BLOG!? Unfortunately my old blog The Bream Bum is no more after being left alone for far too long. And I've been asked occasionally if I'll start up another blog that centers around rod building, fishing and other related, or not so related ideas.

So after thinking about it I figured that it would be a good and fun idea. I also needed to overhaul my website so I decided to do both at once.     

I decided to call my blog small water mainly because that's where I prefer to fish.  It's simple and peaceful, challenging and fun.  Recently I heard from a client whom I built a rod for and he said that he loved the simplicity of my work and that simplicity, when it's boiled down is quite complex in the attention to detail and care and restraint it takes to accomplish.  Thanking him, I remarked that some do not like simplicity and are not comfortable with it.  His response was a quote with an unclear origin - 'Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.'  This has stuck with and encouraged me.

 Most of my rods are designed to fish small water and I feel at home on small water.  And, if you consider it, all water can be considered small.  When fishing with my friend Tomo (of Ijuin-Rod) last year I came to truly understand that if you pay attention to the details, all water is small.  Whether it be the foam lines on the Manistee and AuSable, the current seams on the Battenkill or the small open area between the lily pads on a Texas farm pond.  Fly fishing is about the process and details, and that's what small water is about.

So, thank you for being here.  And while you're here, please check out my new and updated website!  Please come back often and tell your friends.  Sometime soon I hope to figure out how to put one of those little sign up boxes on here for you to put in your email address to subscribe to updates, newsletters, etc. So be on the lookout for that.

Thanks and good fishing!

Chris

 Small water in the Driftless Area.

Small water in the Driftless Area.



2015 in review

Happy new year!   

A few quick updates for the new year… price changes and shipping included on ALL rods.

Coulee Conclave coming soon.  A fishing-centered get together in the Driftless Area and celebrating the Driftless Angler’s 10th year!

More new rod designs, collaborations and Limited Editions.

Stay tuned and as always, contact me for more info.

Good fishing!

Chris

Introduction

I have fished since I could walk. I cut my teeth fishing for bream and bass in southern farm ponds with my mom, grandmother, uncles and cousins. My fishing evolved into fast-paced bass tournaments. I started fly fishing while in college in Nacogdoches, Texas shortly after marrying my lovely and understanding wife, Valerie. We moved to St. Louis in 2001 and now have two amazing children as well as a semi-wild cat and the ever present and obedient Australian Cattle Dog Stella – all inside a 1907 brick house that needs constant attention. Since moving to St. Louis I have discovered the joys of wild trout in small streams, however I still hold on to my love for bluegill and bass, the fish of my youth.

The first time I fly fished, I rediscovered my passion for fishing. It was so simple and pure. It didn’t involve 15 rods and 50 pounds of plastic worms and crank baits. It was quiet and self-paced. No 200hp bass boats. No weigh-ins. Very much like when I started fishing as a kid.

I like my fly rods to reflect that functional simplicity. Building fly rods in a classic, timeless style is a passion of mine. I enjoy building rods almost as much as I enjoy fishing. Working as a trim carpenter after college taught me a tremendous sense of attention to detail and pride of workmanship. Working in people’s homes taught me customer service. I pride myself on both. I build on fiberglass, bamboo and graphite blanks from a variety of makers and of my own design. They are designed to help my fellow fly fishers enjoy fishing, not add to life’s complexity.

Thanks, and good fishing!  Chris