Tackle Selection and Preparation​​​​​​​ for Tactical Nymphing Pt 1 - Knots

As I guide and teach many anglers in tactical nymphing, many of my them ask questions about how I choose and prepare my gear. The following post will seek to answer the many questions I get. This will be an ongoing series.


Q.) How do you attach your leader to the fly line?


Leader - Line Splice


Q.) What knots are you using to make tippet repairs?


"Orvis" or Figure 8 Follow Through Knot.


Q.) How do you attach the fly?


Davy Knot for non-jig flies

Non-Slip Loop Knot for attaching Jig Patterns.

If you tie it right, will not fail. For those that see an overhand knot as a weak point, bear in mind that the overhand knot is no longer an overhand knot after you complete all the steps in its construction.


Q.) How do I add a dropper?


Perfection Loop


Don't Match the Hatch, Match the Conditions.

This week I found myself faced with a somewhat unusual situation of not having the right weight of fly to meet my tactical angling needs. I have been dredging the depths of rivers for so long looking for the largest fish a stream might hide that I completely overlooked stocking my boxes with lightly weighted flies. My tactical focus became locked in on presenting heavily weighted nymphs in deep slots and thus ignored having a good plan for low water conditions. 

The Rivers in Western Colorado are currently flowing below average for this time of year. With our rivers so low, the pools that I frequently fish are now shallow, which causes a significant change to the hydraulics. This change in the hydrology moves fish out of the reliable pools and into other locations within the stream channel, generally, in pockets behind boulders or riffles. My attempt at drifting dense stonefly patterns into those locations was an exercise in futility. Fishing densely weighted patterns in shallow water may require more effort in maintaining a good drift, and in fact, it can be tricky.


I am re-tooling many of my favorite spring fly patterns to be lighter to make low water tactical angling manageable. I am tying Perdigon nymphs with smaller than usual beads for gently sinking into shallow pockets behind boulders and soft hackled stoneflies for drifting just above the cobble in riffles. I  even added a few smaller streamers that I can fish with my thirty-foot French leaders.

While it is necessary to match the prevailing benthic macroinvertebrates that are present in your trout waters with our pattern selection, it is also vital to match the conditions as well. This year's low water will require an adjustment in tying lighter weight nymphs, so they will slowly reach the bottom without immediately banging into or getting snagged in the rocks. Brass beads are a lighter alternative to using tungsten beads can offer the solution for this requirement.

Besides bead selection, color is also an essential factor to consider. Somber hued, less flashy patterns are less likely to turn off the fish in low water conditions. Leave the bright hot spotted attractor patterns at home until it rains. Choose materials such as pheasant tail fibers, hares ear fur and partridge. These materials are buggy and dull lending to a natural looking fly. If using reflective materials such as tinsel, do so in a judicious manner. A little glint in a fly pattern can make them more attractive to fish, but just a dash too much can ruin it.

A Spring Fly Box for Out West


No task has daunted me more than the endeavor to compile a top ten list of my favorite fly patterns for spring. Spring is the awakening of trout streams worldwide offering a wide array of insect hatches. With so many different hatches occurring from one location to another, no single list could ever be reliable enough to share publicly. My list of top ten fly patterns of spring is entirely useless for someone else in another region of the world encountering different insect hatches.

In the American West, spring wreaks havoc on our emotions. We wake up and look at the weather forecast for a clue to what we might expect that day only to be sucker punched with something entirely contradictory. I have had friends visit in the Spring ask me what clothing to bring while packing. I  always reply, "pack for every season."

Spring mornings may often begin warm and sunny, only to have it snow and hail an hour later, and vice versa.  Our bi-polar weather can interfere with your chances of encountering any of our favorite spring hatches to the odds of winning a blackout BINGO. The key is to plan for anything and everything; be prepared. 

Being prepared is the key to success during the spring fishing season. My spring fly boxes reflect my attempt of being ready for anything. My fly boxes contain medium sized stonefly patterns for imitating later instar juvenile nymphs having not yet reached maturity. Smaller free living caddis larva in green, gray and tan. These same free-living caddis larva will continue to get larger as the season progresses. Midge patterns for matching the spring chironomid blizzards. Various Baetis patterns in case the weather cooperates enough for the Blue Winged Olive's to hatch. Finally, I keep a few caddis emergers and wet fly patterns for matching the Mothers day Caddis hatch

Fly Patterns of my Spring Flybox

The Algorithm of Fishing.


I am frequently asked by my guiding guests and angling friends how I decide to change locations or move on when fishing. While I like to think that I have a magic formula for this, in truth, most of it is instinct muddled with a healthy shot of the "explore or exploit" algorithm.

An exciting book that I read over the winter is called Algorithms to Live By written by Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths. A book about using computer science algorithms in our daily life to make decisions. For someone like me, who likes to analyze the mundane such as counting every single thread wrap while I tie flies or how many casts I should make in each spot; Algorithms to Live By further confounds the mind into thinking that an underlying logic exists in an otherwise random order of things. 

The "explore" or "exploit" algorithm in chapter two is just how much time someone spends exploring a topic or experience versus how much time they should spend exploiting it. In our instance, it is how much effort to give while fishing a given body of water. For someone unfamiliar with a particular body of water, such as a pool, riffle or run, the algorithm leans heavily towards exploration. When someone is in exploration mode, that person should take more time observing each hydrological feature that the fish may benefit from to find cover from above, a reliable supply of food channeled into a small area, and respite from the current. If on the other hand, you have already explored a given piece of water and have had success, you will have the location logged in your mental catalog and are thus free to spend more time exploiting it. As your inventory fills with more and more successful sites, your algorithm starts to lean towards spending more time exploiting your database of experiential knowledge instead of exploring.


On a daily basis when I decide where I would like to go fishing, I think about how much effort I may have applied using the explore/exploit algorithm. When I moved to the banks of the Roaring Fork River in 2014, I spent 70% of my time over the better part of two seasons exploring the river outside my front door and 30% of my time exploiting its bounty. Now that I have a full portfolio of locations that I like to fish, I can easily choose where to go fishing. For example today, I am planning on going to an area where I have had a lot of success when the conditions are very similar to today. In short, I know where the Baetis will be hatching and where the fish will gather to exploit the resource based on the ambient temperature and cloud cover.

Once you have chosen a location based on your inventory of successes, you can reduce the granularity of our algorithm and apply it to smaller features. When I approach a pool that I have fished many times and knew where the fish are, I have to make another decision on how much effort to apply while fishing it. In historically productive locations, I will make more casts or change flies more frequently in an attempt to exploit it to its fullest known potential. In water that occasionally produces a fish, I will apply less effort and move through it more quickly on my way to find better spots. In essence, I am utilizing the 70% exploit, and 30% explore on a smaller scale while fishing each pool. 

When I am guiding, I only take my guests to water that I have a high degree of personal success fishing. I will not spend a lot of time exploring the big river as I have already done that over the course of four seasons, instead, I will spend all of our efforts exploiting. I know through experience how many fish I should be able to catch in each pool. If the guests are not catching to my expectations and they are fishing the location well, I will have them move through the water at a faster pace so that we can find the fish. We may spend more time working a pool if I know the fish are there and they are not fishing it to its potential.


In closing, when you are unfamiliar with a body of water, you should spend a majority of your time exploring the possibilities searching new locations on the map and fishing every possible spot. As you grow in familiarity, you can shift your time towards exploiting the water and fish the productive runs at a speed that fits that particular spot. If the fish aren't biting...move along.

The Caddis are Coming - Mothers Day Caddis


Brachycentrus Occidentalis and Brachycentrus americanus are the two species that comprise the Mother's Day Caddis in the American West that hatch in late April and early May, coinciding with the Mother's Day holiday.

Brachycentrus caddis species are considered to be super hatches only lasting a few days in duration in a single location while progressing rapidly upstream. A hatch that can create blizzards of insects filling the air. There may be no other display of the "safety in numbers" survival strategy in the natural world that can overwhelm and confuse a predator by the sheer volume of insects present than the Mother's Day Caddis.

I have seen the hatches of Brachycentrus occur so dense as to form rafts of adults on the water. On one such occasion, I was fishing a river in eastern Washington state. During the early stage of the hatch, I was able to coax a few fish to the surface with my dry fly imitation. Within a half, an hour, rafts of caddis started to blanket the river's surface. I had found a small pool of surface feeding fish. After 30 minutes of casting to the fish with no takes,  I noticed that the fish were not feeding on the surface of the water but feeding just subsurface. I could tell this because I did not see the whites of the mouths but rather only the backs of the fish as they turned downward, stopping their upward momentum just inches below the surface but carrying enough energy to break the surface of the water. A tell-tale indication that fish are feeding just subsurface of the water on emerging pupa.

I switched over to a wire caddis pupa imitation which was the the forerunner to my current zika caddis. I cast up ahead of the pod of fish allowing the fly to sink to a few feet in depth and began lifting my pattern towards the surface. This lifting technique is called a Leisenring Lift, which imitates the upward swimming motion of emerging pupa. I had hit the mark with both the fly pattern and my tactical approach. A half hour of not catching anything in the midst of feeding fish during a caddis blizzard was finally over. I was now catching fish on nearly every single presentation that I had made. After landing 25 fish in the next 45 minutes, the pool was played out. 

I returned to my boat and paddled to the nearest take out. At the boat ramp, I had two different guides approach me and ask what it was that I was doing as it seemed that I was the only person on that section of the river catching fish that afternoon. I mentioned to them that in this case where there was an overwhelming number of insects present, the fish shifted their focus away from feeding on the surface to a much more natural and less confusing strategy of feeding on emergers just subsurface. I merely started fishing a subsurface soft hackle pattern. One such “guide” -- the quotations marks around the word guide are a snarky gesture because as he is not a guide, but rather, fancies himself the greatest fly fishier in all the land -- quipped to me that he would “never stoop so low as to fish a fly subsurface.” My only retort was to point out, due to his self-imposed limitations, he will be relegated to sit in his boat and watch me land fish after fish on every subsequent day after that if he kept up that shitty attitude. I have never spoken to him ever again; nobody needs that kind of negativity in the world of fly fishing.


Proven Mother's Day Caddis Patterns.

Little Green Caddis 3 Pack

Covers the gamut of green caddis hatches thet linger all season long. Use these for the Mothers Day Caddis Hatches and the nightly caddis of summer.

Add to Fly Box
Caddis Flymph

The species of Mother's Day caddis present two stages that are most vulnerable to predation, the prolonged emergence and the ovipositing diving adults. This flymph works at imitating both. This pattern covers all the small green summer caddis.

I fish this fly with a traditional english wet fly swing at dusk when I need to feel the take.

Add to Fly Box

What's in a Name

I often forget there is a significant divide between scientific names and common names when writing blog posts or commenting on social media posts. Common names are entirely inadequate for describing an organism’s biological status and can lead to mass confusion in the fly fishing community.

I posted a photograph of a green drake nymph I had tied on Instagram the other day when a young east coast angler lamented that my fly looked nothing like a green drake and I was full of shit. He then proceeded to tag me in a post about what he believes green a drake is. I had to point out that the common name of “green drake” is generic for a lot of various species of mayflies. What he knew as a green drake in Pennsylvania was Ephemera guttulata whereas my green drake pattern out west was in the group of western drakes such as Drunella grandis, Drunella doddsii, Drunella coloradensis and Drunella flavilinea respectively.

The differences between the western green drake and the eastern greed drake are not subtle. The nymphs of the two species are dramatically different. Eastern green drakes are a long slender minnow type burrowing mayfly nymph found in soft water, and silty bottoms and the western green drake is a short and stout clinger type of mayfly found in fast rocky streams.

Western green drake - Drunella grandis


Eastern green drake - Ephemera guttulata


On common naming systems, your green drake and my green drake are two separate species of mayfly altogether. The same holds true for almost all of the standard names used in fly fishing. Over the centuries, the common names had become convoluted when fly fishing crossed the pond and landed on the east coast shores of the United States. Names such as march brown were attached to mayflies that are entirely different than the march brown mayflies of England. Further convolutions occurred when anglers migrated westward and attached the common name march brown to yet another species of spring mayfly. I dare not count the degrees of separation between a western Rhithrogena morrisoni and the eastern Maccaffertium vicarium march brown. The English march brown (Rhithrogena germanica) is more closely related to the western march brown (Rhithrogena morrisoni). No wonder that kid from Pennsylvania is confused with a single standard name used for so many different species. Confusion between Latin and common names is why we should learn some of the Latin names of the essential naturals that we choose to imitate with a fly so we too can share a common language.

Binomial nomenclature, the two name naming system that uses Latin as a standardized naming system used internationally as a method of zoological naming. This method of naming is used in science to describe organisms without leading to confusion amongst scientists around the world.

You may never need to learn the Latin two-name naming system, but at least I implore you to visit your local library and read a few books on fly fishing entomology such as Hatches A Complete Guide to Fishing the Hatches of North American Trout Streams by Al Caucci & Bob Nastasi or Selective Trout: The Last Word on Stream Entomology and Aquatic Insect Imitation by Swisher and Richards.

Note: To add further confusion, many taxonomic names have been recently changed since Hatches was published. Nevertheless, reading a real book instead of the internet might actually make you smarter.

 A questionable green drake pattern for use on the East Coast but perfectly suited for use out west.

A questionable green drake pattern for use on the East Coast but perfectly suited for use out west.


Every Fly You Need to Cover Every Important Stonefly

I organize my fly boxes based of the insect species I frequently encounter in the field. Over the years, I have been able to consolidate the number of patterns that I need to carry with me in order to match ALL the hatches I encounter. In truth, I only need to carry a dozen to a dozen and a half patterns to match all the stoneflies including caddis and mayflies everywhere I go. 

I recently updated my stonefly nymph box and made a small chart to ensure that I had the patterns I needed to match all the stoneflies. We may not think to use Czech Nymphs to imitate stoneflies or simple little micro glint jigs, but both can also be useful stonefly imitations. We need only to match the general size shape and color of the natural for success and to have a fly in your box that serves that function.

Getting Hitched

Do you ever lie awake at night thinking about all those little ideas churning around in your head? I am plagued with them almost every night. Some ideas are jotted down on a note, and others keep rattling around for years. Like a pestering earworm whose record keeps skipping over that same chorus over and over again in your head, listening to the song in its entirety is said to be the remedy. Chasing a persistent idea just might get it out of your head. Such was the case back in 2004 with the trailer hitch.

My home water for many decades was Oregon's Metolius River. Managed as a wild river the Metolius is for fly fishing only. In addition to being fly fishing only water, regulations prohibit the use of additional weight attached to the fly line or leader. This regulation posed a problem for me, as I discovered that the fish in the Metolius are primarily hiding in the deepest darkest pools and rarely out in the open riffles. Getting my patterns into the depths required copious amounts of weight tied into the fly.

 Newburys Stinger Stone version 2.0

Newburys Stinger Stone version 2.0

The Metolius river has an abundance of golden stoneflies dwelling amongst the cobble and stones. Imitating these large nymphs provides the perfect substrate in which to tie anchor flies for use in the forbidden depths. A 4mm metal bead and 15 wraps of .20 weighted wire were sufficient to bounce bottom in 4 feet deep water. Life would be perfect if all I ever had to fish were this one pattern alone, a fly pattern I developed on the Metolius for getting deep the Stinger Stone.

The Stinger stone was my first pattern that employed the addition of a mono loop in the rear of the fly. In its first incarnation, I did not initially tie the fly as a stinger style pattern, just a bead-headed stonefly on a curved shank grub hook. I found the grub hook to be problematic in that the point was too long and had killed a few fish. Pinching the barbs also caused the droppers I used to slip off the bend of the hook. I had to remedy the hook problem, so I cut off the bend of the hook and added a short shanked egg hook instead. One thing led to another, and I further complicated the pattern for Umpqua Feather Merchants who picked it up for commercial production. After sales declined from a design we all considered a failure, I kept the mono loop and started using it in my other anchor patterns.

Laying the foundation for anchor jigs

The trailer hitch has stuck around in the guiding boxes providing me with a tool in an arsenal of tactics to accomplish a task: fishing a multiple fly rig with a dropper affixed to another fly that will not slip off a barbless hook.

I have had no documented failures in the loop itself breaking or coming untied. The knots are no more vulnerable than any other knot you can use. I once had a commenter on a social media post about mono "cutting" mono. If that were the case, your poorly executed tippet repairs would all fail. No sir, you CAN use a mono loop and not have it fail if you practice good knot tying skills. The only issue that plagues me with the hitch is that I have to check it for fouling frequently.

Here is a post that SwittersB wrote a few years back about the mono loop I use .


A pile of Copper Johns sporting the hitch


You Keep Turning Me Upside Down

I have enjoyed the best summer seasons of my life as a field fisheries biologist collecting data and observing fish and aquatic insects in their natural habitat. In that time, I have snorkeled numerous rivers counting and identifying fish and benthic macroinvertebrates. My most memorable time was watching insects behaving naturally underwater. On a few occasions, I was blessed to have taken a front row seat in witnessing emergence activity and how fish feed during a hatch. In all that time I was underwater, I have seen very few living nymphs drifting upside down for more than just a few seconds in the current. Living naturals of most species of aquatic insects are remarkably adept at remaining in a dorsal up position despite the heaviest of currents tossing them about. If naturals do get inverted, they are quickly self righted through the dorsal light polarization phenomenon. However, giant Salmonfly nymphs are the most prone to prolonged inverted drifts but get soon oriented. More on that later.

 A completely round fly displays the same color and profile despite its orientation in the water.

A completely round fly displays the same color and profile despite its orientation in the water.

I have heard there is a video floating around out there somewhere illustrating jig flies tumbling in the current in all orientations. However, physics will dictate a jig weighted with a slotted tungsten bead will remain in a mostly hook point up position while occasionally tumbling along in the current. This of course depends on current speed, line tension and bead weight.  

Because some folks out there seem to think that weighted jigs can be prone to a limited degree of tumbling -- depending on where and how you fish them -- I have gone back to the “tied in the round” philosophy adopted almost a half century ago by Major Charles E. Brooks who also observed salmonflies in the Yellowstone River occasionally become inverted and fish avoiding them. Subsequently, Brooks came up with his tied in the round patterns such as the Brooks Stone Nymph

My pet peeve is focused on perdigon jigs that are tied upside down with the wingcase painted on the side of the fly that is going to drift in a dominant downward position. Brooks observed fish will refuse upside down nymphs (I do not support nor deny these claims). However, It makes little sense and entirely unnatural to me to present an upside down fly to the fish based on my field observations and that of my elders.

To ameliorate my pet peeve of upside down jigs, I have omitted the wingcases altogether and have done away with the issue of fly orientation altogether. Problem solved!
Note: I still use wingcases on non-jig perdigon.

Now, let's talk about all those videos documenting unusual hominids meandering around leaving giant footprints in the woods…

You can read a short info on Charles Brooks in the round philosophy here.

Perdigon nymphs are designed to fish the fast turbulent sections of rivers where naturals are most prone to tumbling. So in all fairness, it doesn't really matter how the fly is oriented as the fish only have an instant to take the fly in water where good hook sets are more likely to occur. I would avoid using perdigons in slower sections of rivers where fish can have a better look and spit out the fly faster than the some of the best angler can detect the take. Tungsten beads are not a regular item on the trouts diet and are quickly ejected. For less turbulent water, choose a fly with some softer materials for the body or collar.

 A tied in the round style micro jig #18.

A tied in the round style micro jig #18.


My Top Winter Patterns (updated)

Glenwood Springs Winter Morning

If you are fortunate enough to have a local river that has an endless season, and possess the mental fortitude to suffer through numb fingers and frozen toes, then winter fly fishing season is a great opportunity to fill your fishing logs with additional entries.

Fish and thier prey are still active throughout the winter months -- albeit with slower metabolic rates --  allowing for additional fly fishing opportunities. Only during the coldest spells of deep winter can conditions truly get bad out there leaving the most attractive option to stay home to restock fly boxes. What I find amazing is that when the mercury drops into the teens and below, a few die hard individuals will gleefully brave the elements to chase fin with a fly rod.

The following selection of fly patterns are frequently added to my winter fly box that have served me well throughout a variety of winter fly fishing conditions. 

Cased Caddis

While midges, aquatic worms and baetis dominate the buffet line when sustaining fish through the long dark winter months, cased caddis are a frequent food source. Caddis larva will engage in behavioral drift in search of fresh food supplies or to redistribute the population for better genetic diversity. This behavior makes them vulnerable to easy predation. I often find cased caddis in gastric samples beginning in the late fall and throughout the winter months. 

I often employ a heavy tungsten bead jig as an anchor fly in a multiple fly rig in tandem with an aquatic worm or midge larva imitation. Pictured left is a simple cased grannom with a trailer hitch for adding a dropper behind the fly. What better way to get down deep than with a cased caddis pattern that will both serve to look like a typical stream resident and a likely food source?

Update: I often have mallards and other dabblers feeding in the shallow riffles above the pools that I like to fish. The dabblers feed on cased caddis and often knock them loose in the drift. if I have feeding ducks upstream of me I will use a cased caddis imitation.

Brachycentrus Cased Caddis


Hook: Hanak 400BL #14-16
Bead: Raw tungsten.
Tail: Green Antron burned on the ends to make a small head.
Rear Collar: Grizzly hen hackle, 1-2 turns.
Body: Blended Hemingway's Frosty Dubbing, brown, black, gray

Breadcrust Nymph (not available in store)

Breadcrust Jig


Hook: Hanak 400BL #8-12.
Bead: Black or gold tungsten.
Band: Optional - metallic orange.
Underbody: Uni-stretch.
Body: Red phase grouse, split and trimmed.
Collar: Hen grizzly.

Aquatic Worms and Larva


The Big Pink Worm

I learned to love the Big Pink while winter steelheading in the Pacific Northwest. I used to tie up six inch long rabbit strip versions of this to swing in front of winter steelhead. My largest, a 20 pound steelhead was taken with a pink MOAL articulated pattern. 

For trout's sake, we don't have to anger them by intruding thier personal space with a massive swimming Mother of All Leeches dressed in pink. Instead, a reasonablly sized pink tungsten beaded version does nicely.

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #8-16.
Thread: pink.
Bead: Pink Tungsten.
Rear Collar: Pink frosty dub.
Body: Pink micro chenille.


OSS (Oh So Simple) Blood Worm

Blood Worms are found in the sand/silt margins of all bodies of water. After a freshet, sand/silt pockets become perturbed and blood worms can end up in the drift. This is a great fly to have on hand to use after a pulse disturbance in the flow regime. You may want to try one of these if you are fishing downstream of another sloppy angler. Think San Juan shuffle?

Hook: Firehole Sticks 321 #8-16.
Thread: Red 14/0.
Body: Small blood red D-rib, wind forward leaving a distinct gap between wraps. Mark the thread with a gray marker at the thorax area before winding thread forward.

Midges Midges and even more midges

One can never have enough midges in thier fly box, nor have enough variety of patterns. Midge patterns are like the little jewels of a fly box with beads, wires and a variety of colorful tinsels all adorning the smallest hooks. Aside from tying such small patterns, I love the creative license when tying attractive midge patterns.


#1 Holographic Warrior

A spin off of Lance Egan's rainbow warrior which is a spin off of the Lightning Bug which is a spin off of...

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #18.
Bead: Silver tungsten.
Tail: Dyed red hackle fibers.
Body: Veevus holographic rainbow tinsel.
Rib: Small silver wire
Thorax: 16/0 Veevus red thread.
Note: By far my most productive fly over the last two winter seasons.

Gun Metal Shop Vac

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #18.
Bead: Killer Caddis gun metal glass bead.
Body: Dyed adams gray pheasant tail (Nature's Spirit).
Rib: SemperFli .1mm ice blue wire.
Wing: Hemingway's white frosty dubbing, clipped short.
Thorax: Black hares mask.

The Gun Metal Shop Vac is a cross-over pattern that does well at imitating both midge pupa and baetis emergers.

D'Bling Midge

Hook: Midge hook #18, 24.
Body: D-rib, Olive green, black, tan or gray.
Flash: Small Pearl mylar tinsel, coated with UV resin.

Super simple and most effective.

Zebra Blood Midge

Though frequently referred to as a bloodworm for its worm like larva, the zebra blood midge is actually a chironomid, or a true midge fly. These active 1/4-1/2" or larger larvae are found in almost all water types all year long, but winter finds them more abundant than other available foods. Blood worms prefer soft sandy or silty substrates often found near back eddies or along stream margins to colonize. After a freshet, blood worms are often dislodged from these soft areas and sent adrift making them available for trout. 

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #14-18.
Bead: Iridescent Silver glass bead. silver tungsten for heavier patterns.
Body: Red thread.
Rib: Small silver wire.

 Ble Mercury

Ble Mercury

Blue Mercury

The color purple and blue perform wonders in the winter because the low angle of the sun allows the blue wavelengths of light to dominate. This allows the cooler spectrum of colors to radiate nicely, especially when sunk deep into a trout filled pool.

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #16-18.
Bead: Iridescent silver glass.
Body: Blue and silver small uni-wire.
Thorax: Teal blue Veevus holographic tinsel.

 Opal Midge

Opal Midge

Opal Midge

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 #16-18
Bead: Iridescent silver glass
Body: Opal tinsel
Collar: Peacock herl
I found this pattern floating around on the internet and gave it a try. It has a lot of qualities that I look for in a fly pattern: simplicity, flash and iridescent qualities.


Barking at the Moon

moon activity.jpg

Today was one of those days I was skunked. It doesn’t happen all that frequently, but when it does happen, it stings. It had already been a rough week with several lackluster guiding trips in the books. Luckily, the guests that I took out this week were new to fly fishing so just catching their first fish was the goal of the day. It wasn’t easy for one particular guest who fished all day, working every inch of every productive run to catch her fish. Reports from other guides indicated I was not alone in having a difficult time.

As a skilled angler, I have an extensive portfolio of tactics from which to choose when the fishing gets difficult. For me, the most important skill is to know why fishing might be difficult and then how overcome it. In the spring, the challenge might be high dirty water with the tactic being heavier flies to get deep or searching for fish along the margins of the river where fish seek rest from the nagging current. In the late summer when water is low and clear, it might mean fishing smaller, less flashy patterns with lighter tippet. Winter may require small midges, egg and worm patterns.

This week has been an enigma to me, as I had no idea why the fishing was so difficult. I simply could not recognize the cause for my failure. I tried large searching patterns in the deep slots, small dark patterns on the edges and shiny emergers in the film. I tried the finest tippet I could use on the longest leaders that I have. I eventually started blaming the full harvest moon shining a bright light on the water allowing fish to feed at night and rest during the day as cause for the difficult week on the river. I am not one to dive into folklore, legends and myths, so I remain keen to dismiss lunar phases having an effect on fishing, as easily as I dismiss the notion that being a capricorn makes me an asshole solely based on the location where Jupiter and Saturn were located on the day I was born. 

Today, I am blaming the full harvest moon because I have also experienced dismal fishing on other days immediately following the light of a full moon keeping the river illuminated all night long. I have stayed awake late at night to watch blizzards of caddis or aquatic moths emerging and fish feeding in the lunar glow, only to catch nothing the following day. Is it possible to have good fishing during a full moon when the night sky is darkened by overcast conditions? In other natural systems, many species of fish and amphibians time thier mating cycles with specific lunar periods. Is it likely that the moon can affect fish beyond illuminating the night sky? The scientist in me is beginning to wonder. I’m now interested in overlaying the lunar cycles on top of my catch data charts to see if the peaks and valleys in my data can correlate to lunar cycles, including moonrise and moonset. Maybe the fishing will be better tomorrow as the moon wanes?

Addendum: I added a chart with full moons overlaid on top of catch data and see no relationship between full moon and effect on fishing success.

 My current season catch data with full moons indicated with dates. 

My current season catch data with full moons indicated with dates. 

A Gentle Plea

 A gravid female  Oncorhynchus mykiss  exhibiting a pronounced urogenital pore indicating she is ready to spawn.

A gravid female Oncorhynchus mykiss exhibiting a pronounced urogenital pore indicating she is ready to spawn.

This very healthy girl is ready for a spawn. O.mykiss spawn all season long as a survival strategy. She was not touched and fully revived before being allowed to swim off on her on volition.

Tactical barbless hooks often fall out in the net facilitating an easy release. I implore you to please stop using barbed hooks. I’ve seen a lot of needles injuries lately caused by barbed hooks and excessive handling of fish during release. As a guide, I inform my guests that they may lose a fish or two. I also teach them how to fight a fish using barbless hooks. My guests appreciate our efforts to protect our resources. Your guests will also appreciate it. Just get over your fear of losing a fish or two and you will be fine. You will still get handsome gratuities if you keep a positive and energetic attitude as stewards of our fisheries. 

If you look at my previous blog entry, you will see that I actually land more fish with barbless hooks than I did with traditional hooks.

Catch Statistics Comparing Two Seasons and Hook Changes.

I am a certified data geek. I log every fish that I catch and how I caught them. I can learn a lot about my sport by paying attention to data trends when I analyze the numbers in my log.

This year I switched out all of my hooks from TMC hooks to new tactical hooks such as Firehole Stix, Hanak and Moonlit. I was tired of losing so many fish on hooks that I had to pinch the barb or hooks that straightened out when I tightened the screws on a big fish.

I compared my 2015 season in which I used TMC hooks exclusively to my 2017 in which I am using tactical hooks exclusively. My 2016 season had a mixed bag of hooks with some tactical and some traditional so I discarded that data in this comparison.

I am not making any conclusions or inferences between these two charts that compare the two season. Instead, I will allow you to draw your own conclusions. Needless to say, I feel that things have improved for the percentage of losses.

A loss is defined by having a fish on the end of the line for at least three to five seconds. 


As you can see in 2017 I have fewer private fishing days than in 2015 but caught more fish. What's remarkable is that I went from losing 33.1% of fish to 12.59% of fish in 2017. As in data science, there can be many variables at play including tactics used, but I will leave that discussion alone. Let's just say I love the new range of tactical hooks now readily available on the U.S. market.

Fishing The edges - Reading the water Pt IV

When I guide with guests who wish to learn more about fly fishing or to sharpen their skills, I teach them two mantras: fish the edges & the foam is home. Finding fish is the most important part in fishing. However, you would be amazed at how many times I show up to a crowded beat on a river and see people ignoring the prime water, and instead, fishing water because they are observing an occasional fish feeding here and there. They are fishing with their eyes and not their river reading skills. Knowing how to find hidden fish in heavy water can yield big results.

FullSizeRender 4.jpg

Recently, I was on a popular beat of the Yampa River in downtown Steamboat Springs. I have a favorite spot that conceals a lot of very nice fish. My river log will tell you my success on the Yampa and much of it can be correlated to this particular spot among just a handful. The froggy pool above me had two anglers swinging patterns to no avail and the pool below me was occupied, as it usually is on a daily basis. Yet, right smack in the middle of the river lays my favorite spot hidden in plain sight.  I wade across to begin my approach while thinking to myself that surely, someone had to have pounded this spot and my efforts might be to no avail. I made my second cast and hooked and landed a nice 18" brown. I hooked and landed a few more fish and broke off a large gator rolling rainbow. I know that this spot does get fished as I have removed many flies that have broken off in the snouts of fish here. Perhaps these fish had been hooked elsewhere and sought refuge in this rarely fished spot?

What makes that particular spot on the Yampa and other similar spots unique is that it contains well defined edges and foam lines. An edge is where differing current speeds slip past each other and are often bordered on one or both sides by heavy water. Steelheading anglers know this as a current seam and that is where steelhead like to hold or travel along. Edges can also be defined by channel morphology such as gravel bars and drop offs or converging currents. In short, it gives fish structure both above and below the water surface.

Fish need three conditions for basic survival. Cover from above, a steady predictable food source drifting within close proximity and respite from the current. Edges usually provide all three of these conditions. If you find edges that contain a bubble line or a foam line you have found an ideal location to probe with a tactical nymph. Bubble lines are a clear indication of a current feature that funnels everything drifting downstream into a reliable path and if one is located near an edge you have eliminated a lot of guesswork. You can read about foam lines here.

The image below is perhaps one of the best examples of what a very "edgy & foamy" section of river can look like. On the left is a gravel bar forming an edge with a heavy section of current forming the other edge. A foam raft near the top provides cover for fish and the bubble lines gives us a clue that there is a food path for the fish. This pool also provides cover from above and bowling ball sized boulders on the bottom providing a buffer from the current. You can see the size of the boulders middle upper right. I watched two anglers fish this pool before I reached it and I managed to catch a few more fish out of it before calling it a day.

Gravel Bars


Green areas are the prime spots within the confines of this edges to pay special attention to. Don't forget to fish both sides of a heavy current edge and any pockets whereabouts additional fish might be found.


Hydraulic Edges


This pool is another example of an edge. Here, converging currents create a hydraulic edge thus defining a feeding lane and cover from above. Fish will hold very near the fast water slipping away to intercept anything edible that might be coming down the pipeline. There is a special spot near the top center of this riffle where the fish are protected on both sides from current cover allowing them to move either left or right in search of food. Can you find the sweet spot?


It's worth attempting to fish the near side of this current edge however, heavy angling pressure will likely cause the fish to concentrate in the water seeing less pressure. I landed a 21" rainbow and 18" brown rainbow out of the green section of this beat.

 This beautiful bow was pulled from the sweet spot within a hydraulic edge.

This beautiful bow was pulled from the sweet spot within a hydraulic edge.

Have fun out there looking for those edges both obvious and more subtle.

My Top Ten Flies for Autumn

 Photo: David Lambroughton

Photo: David Lambroughton

Autumn is the most spectacular season in Colorado. The dogs days of summer are over. Angry August gives way to the mellow days spectacular September. Monsoons are slowly fading out while the daytime temperatures become reasonable again. It is worth bringing along a pack jacket or venture out in a comfy flannel plaid shirt. Ambient mid day temperatures may require you shed a layer to stay cool. 

Aside from the weather being agreeable to us bipedal terrestrial pescadores, the cooler water temperatures bring fish back within the optimal range for thriving instead of just surviving. As the water temperatures drop, many find that wet wading is still very pleasant.

You can count on new cast of characters as well as some lingering summer hatches to comprise the bulk of your fishing options.

On overcast days or early in the morning, streamer fishing is a very popular tactic. Bring along two rods, one with a sink tip for chucking streamers and your 10' nymph rod.

Below is a short list of likely insects that make the A list throughout most of the west.

  • Slate Wing Mahogany Dun
  • Black Drake
  • Red Quills 
  • September Stone AKA Short Winged StoneClaassenia sabulosa
  • Little Black Sedges
  • Micro Caddis
  • Black Midges
  • Hoppers and Beetles
  • Streamers
  • Eggs

Orange Ribbed Sexy Walt's

Hook: Hanak 400BL, 450BL (pictured)
Bead: Round slotted tungsten bead, black nickel
Body: Hares mask dubbing
Rib: Uni-Mylar peacock/orange
Note: covers so many bases I don't know where to begin. I've used em during the red quill and PMD hatches but almost any time is a good time.

Zika Jig

Hook: Hanak H400BL Jig Classic 16-18
Bead: Round slotted tungsten silver.
Abdomen: Black and silver uni-wire
Thorax: Black Hare'e Ice dubbing

Flashback Black Pheasant tail

Hook: Firehole Sticks 633
Bead: Round black nickel tungsten
Tail: Dyed black pheasant tail fibers
Abdomen: Dyed black pheasant tail fibers
Rib: Small stainless steel wire
Thorax: Black hare'e Ice dubbing
Wingcase: Peacock uni-mylar and UV epoxy

Possie Bugger

Hook: Firehole Sticks 839
Bead: Black Nickel Tungsten
Tail: Australian opossum
Abdomen: Australian opossum
Rib: Small oval gold tinsel
Thorax: Tan Brahma hen followed by black hares mask fur.
Note: Makes an excellent imitation for the September stones.

Sexy Betty

Hook: Hanak H400BL
Bead: Painted fluorescent pink tungsten
Tail: Australian opossum
Abdomen: Australian opossum
Rib: Small UV blue mylar (flashabou)
Thorax: Adams gray hares mask fur
Collar: Black hares mask fur
Note: Brown trout, brook  and cutthroat trout spawn in the fall. Think eggs?

Black Foam Caddis

Hook: Hanak H130BL
Body: Black foam wrapped
Hackle: Black micro saddle, slightly undersized
Wing: Natural elk

Thread Quill UV RS2

Hook: Firehole Sticks 315
Tail: Medium pardo Coq de Leaon
Abdomen: Olive, tan & black 8/0 uni thread treated with UV resin
Wing: Dun CDC, clipped short
Thorax: Olive gray superfine dubbing.

Gray PT Frenchie

Hook: Hanak H400BL
Bead: Round slotted tungsten, black nickel
Tail: Medium pardo Coq de Leon
Abdomen: Dyed gray pheasant tail
Rib: Small stainless steel wire
Thorax: Adams gray hares mask dubbing
Collar: Optional, pink Veevus stomach body thread
Note: Red Quill, Slate winged mahogany and a host of many other aquatic edibles.

Traditional Olive Czech Nymph

Hook: Hanak H300BL
Abdomen: Light Olive, dark olive hares mask dubbing
Rib: Fine oval gold tinsel
Thorax: Dark olive hares mask dubbing
Counter Rib: Small stainless steel wire
Shellback: Olive scud back
Dorsal Markings: Dark gray Copic marker
Note: The net spinners get bigger in Autumn. I carry sizes 8-12 with me

Beadhead Miracle Nymph

Hook: Firehole Sticks 316 (not pictured)
Bead: Round tungsten silver
Body: White thread
Rib: X-sm copper wire
Collar: Black marking pen on thread.
Note: Sometimes a small white shiny thing gets the job done.

My Top Ten Flies of Summer


I have scoured many famous fly fishing blogs in search the ten best fly patterns that are popular today. Many lists I have found, favor traditional shop flies, and lean heavily towards a predictable collection of pheasant tail and hares ear nymphs. Sure, we should carry many of those with us as we head out in search of fishing action. Personally, I rarely use many of the most popular fly patterns and save them for when something goes wrong with my personal A-list. You see, I am an out of the box, square peg in a round hole kind of guy. I hate convention and stagnation, and I am a progressively minded explorer of possibilities always on the lookout for the next best killer fly pattern. I have spent the better part of four decades refining my top ten list throwing out less productive patterns instead of better designs.

I have tied and fished with the Prince Nymph, Pheasant tail, Adams, Elk Hair Caddis and the other top ten patterns that everybody has listed on their blog (yawn). Sure, those flies will always catch fish because they elicit a strike response from curious or hungry fish. Sometimes they even imitate what the fish might be eating at the moment you are using them. Most of all they look a lot like something edible but not like anything in particular, and that is why they end up on everyone's list.

A fly pattern must imitate many possible food forms to earn its keep in my guiding box. Every fly in this list has been in service because of its multiple possibilities AND functionality. You see, not only do they fly have to look edible, it has to have a tactical function. A tactical role for the fly is the weight and depth that it is designed to be presented and what life stage it might be imitating.

Dirty Hipster, Natural Hares Ear

When just a spot of color is needed to invoke a curiosity response but anything more flamboyant would turn off the fish.

I was in search of a tactical jig that I could use as an anchor fly anytime, anyplace that would also function as an effective attractor nymph. I tie these in a wide array of sizes and bead weights to get to the depths I need. Even if this fly is not on the fishes menu, which is very rare, the somber tones and buggy appearance will not put the fish off. I tie in a trailer hitch in the back for attaching a dropper fly.

available in the store.

  • Hook: Tactical Jig.
  • Bead: Black nickel slotted tungsten.
  • Thread: Hot orange.
  • Tail: Dark pardo Coq de Leon.
  • Tag: Optional, hot orange lite bright or stomach body thread.
  • Rib: Small oval gold tinsel.
  • Abdomen: Dark hares mask fur.
  • Thorax: Dirty spike blend (Black rabbit and fox squirrel body hair 50/50).
  • Legs: Rootbeer barred grizzly micro legs.

Bank Maggot

Several decades ago a horse had died at the head of a riffle in my favorite beat of the Deschutes River. I fished below that carcass for an entire season using a simple white maggot pattern. Historically, fish hatcheries used to hang carrion around the raceways allowing the maggots to fall into the water thus feeding the fish. Fish relish delicious ripe maggots.

I had forgotten about the maggot pattern for a very long time until I relocated to the Roaring Fork valley. As is customary, I take a gastric lavage to determine what food items are currently being ingested. **Relax my friend, I'm a trained fisheries biologist that has spent years conducting field research, I know what I am doing and do not harm our fish.** In several gastric samples, I had observed opaque white body parts of benthic macroinvertebrates. It is likely that what I was seeing was the effects of gastric juices denaturing the proteins of the insect or that the fish had taken the insect during a molt into the next instar. It did spark a memory of fishing the maggot patterns below that horse carcass on the Deschutes. I went home and whipped up a few of these bank maggot patterns.

I have discovered that when I am having a slow day and none of my usual patterns are turning the fish on, I found that the Bank Maggot works. Mostly, I found this patterns works best in low light conditions such as on overcast days, in the shade or early morning. I like to use these when the water is stained from run-off and following a monsoon that can cause increased turbidity. In my forthcoming book, I reveal why this pattern works well in less than optimal lighting situations.

I have since found aquatic sowbugs of a similar shape and color in my river that this pattern mimic nicely..

Available in the store.

  • Hook: Firehole #633 #8-18
  • Bead: White tungsten or brass
  • Thread: Veevus white (only this brand has a nice UV quality)
  • Rib: White Uni-Flexx floss
  • Abdomen: Light gray, tan and white hares mask fur.
  • Thorax: White hare'e ice dubbing

Pautzke Hares Ear AKA Sexy Walt's or the Pink Bunny

What started off as a Sexy Walt's Worm and a metallic pink bead has morphed into a local favorite dubbed the Pautzke Fly. That big pink bead affixed to the anterior portion of the fly looks like a Pautzke cured fish egg that you can buy at local bait shops.

Fish have an innate strike response when encountering eggs drifting downstream. Not only do eggs provide a nourishing snack, free drifting eggs are a danger to other redds as they can spread fungus. I have observed fish in my hatchery devour eggs that are denaturing (becoming opaque) in order to keep the remaining eggs from becoming infected. This also provides a clue as to why the white bead of the bank maggot works so well as they look like unfertilized fish eggs.

I've heard from the typical naysayer, "I've never seen an egg eating nymph before". You are anthropomorphizing things friend, the fish aren't thinking to themselves, gee that looks like delicious egg eating nymph. In fact the fish aren't even thinking. Fish are only biological machines having several separate innate, unconscious neurological triggers occurring concurrently. Who are we to argue with what the fishes brain might interpret what out fly looks like?

Note: I add a trailer hitch to this pattern for use as a dropper rig.

  • Hook: Moonlit ML058 #10-14.
  • Bead: Large metallic pink tungsten.
  • Tail: Dark pardo Coq de Leon.
  • Abdomen: Natural hares mask fur.
  • Rib: Fine opal tinsel. (optional, include some without for wary fish)
  • Thorax: Dark spike blend.

Goa Larva

This pattern imitates so many things living in the depths of a trout stream. Caddisfly larva, cranefly larva, Athericidae larva, riffle beetle larva an all be imitated with this one simple fly. My best summer searching pattern in low water bright light conditions.

  • Hook: Firehole 633 #8-16
  • Bead: Black nickel tungsten
  • Thread: 50D GSP.
  • Abdomen: Dark olive hares mask.
  • Rib: Uni-Mylar clear.
  • Thorax: Hemmingways peacock UV bronze dubbing.

Green Papaya Czech Nymph

I am not sure when I first started tying this color combination, but ever since I did, trout have been in love with it. I use it all summer long, but especially during the yellow sally hatch of summer. Again, this fly works at drawing the attention of trout by representing multiple food items.

Available in the store

  • Hook: Hanak H630BL  #8-16
  • Thread: 50D GSP.
  • Weight: Flat tungsten tape
  • Abdomen: Light olive, yellow and sulphur hares mask dubbing in three separate sections.
  • Rib: Fine oval gold tinsel, counter rib GSP thread.
  • Shellback: Semperfli bug shell back thin skin golden brown.
  • Dorsal markings: Brown copic marker.




Drowned Spinner

Never overlook the importance of having a drowned spinner imitation in your box. Many important mayfly species have rusty colored spinners. I often fish these early in the morning when spinner falls may have occurred overnight. One way to find out if a spinner fall has occurred is to find a back eddy where debris accumulates and look for dead spinners being conveyed about. Chances are trout will still be on the lookout for these.

  • Hook: Firehole Sticks 633#10-18
  • Thread: 50D GSP.
  • Bead: Metallic brown tungsten in the thorax.
  • Tail: Dark pardo Coq de leon. 
  • Abdomen: Rusty spinner colored goos biot.
  • Thorax: Rusty spinner hares mask fur.
  • Wing: White organza.
  • Collar: Reddish brown cock hackle wound wet fly style.

Zebra, Zika Midge

Always affixed as a dropper on my multiple fly rig. Whether it is sunk under a dry as a dropper or as a brace of flies on a tight line. This fly has so much mojo that I use it year around.

  • Hook: Firehole Sticks 316#14-18
  • Thread: 50D GSP.
  • Bead: mercury glass.
  • Abdomen: Silver and black Uni-Wire sm. wound together.
  • Thorax: Ice dub peacock black.

Flashback Black Pheasant Tail.

I digress, I just had to add a variation of a Pheasant Tail Nymph because this is an all around good fly that I have relied on for many years. One of my top sellers too.

Available in the store


  • Hook: Firehole 633 #10-18.
  • Bead: Black nickel.
  • Thread: 50D black GSP.
  • Tail: Dyed black pheasant tail.
  • Abdomen: Dyed black pheasant tail.
  • Rib: Small stainless steel dubbing brush wire.
  • Thorax: Black hare'e ice dubbing, coarse.
  • Wingcase: Peacock Uni-Mylar and UV resin.

Yellow Sally Flymph

I have used this on picky fish taking PMD emergers and performs well as an emerging caddis or yellow sally. Yup, that yellow sally emergers mid-stream like a caddis, hence why this fly swung shallow at the end of a drift gets clobbered. Used primarily as a dropper behind a heavy jig or under a dry fly.

  • Hook: Firehole 633 #10-18.
  • Thread: White 50D GSP.
  • Tail: Medium pardo CDL.
  • Abdomen: Pale yellow turkey quill biots.
  • Thorax: Yellow hares mask fur.
  • Hackle: Dyed yellow grizzly hen, 3 turns through thorax.

Polish Quill Emerger

The RS2 and the Swiss Straw Emerger got together and had a baby. This is pattern is an amalgamation of so many patterns that it just has to work.


I describe my favorite French leader set up for long range nymphing large rivers.

I am often asked to demonstrate my favorite french leader set up for fishing the larger western rivers. Since I started using the Czech nymph method in 2001, I have experimented with a lot of leaders and how to build the ideal leader for the type of nymph fishing that I do. Many years of evolution and research has landed me on the french leader system described in Jonathon White's book, Nymphing The New Way.

 In this video I talk about how I rig up my tactical leader rig with 3 flies.

Lead Free Angling - Fishing with a conscience

We are faced with many social and environmental choices in our day to day lives. Do we throw that scrap of rubbish in the garbage bin only to be hauled off to the landfill, or do we place it into a recycling bin to be used again? Should we use chemical or organic fertilizers on our lawn, or should we even have a lawn in the first place? Do we avoid using red dye in our hummingbird feeders? Should we worry about lead in our fishing gear? After-all, I’m just one guy occasionally losing a handful of split shot to the rocks. What’s the harm in that?

So many of our actions may seem benign at first, but when you add up our small actions and then multiply them by the global population, our actions become amplified. If we consider the number of anglers fishing a popular destination river such as the Madison, Yellowstone or even the Roaring Fork Rivers, we might start to see our individual choices have a larger impact on the ecosystem as a whole, when we add everything up.

On a midsummer day in July, I counted 35 drift boats cruise by me on a stretch of the Madison River in an 8- hour period of time. In each boat, there were at least two anglers. Hypothetically, let's suppose each boat was fishing the traditional western nymph and bobber technique popular with rowing guides. I cannot ascertain with what technique they were fishing, but suppose for the sake of this argument that all of the anglers were fishing with split shot attached to their leaders. It is not uncommon for anglers to lose a lot of gear, especially new anglers.

Let’s assume that each boat that drifted by was using nymphs that day and that each angler in each boat all had lost 6 split shot each. A single BB sized split shot weights .02oz. There were 35 boats x .24oz lost in each boat = 8.4oz.

That is over half of a pound of lead in one day alone!

If there are 100 guide days per season and 35 guided trips per day, on average, that equals 840 ounces of lead, or 52.5lbs, in one single river in one single year. FIFTY-TWO POUNDS OF LEAD.

It is highly unlikely that 52lbs of lead was actually lost to the river bottom that year, however, because not every boat was fishing with lead attached to the split shot or lead based weighted fly patterns. Even if only 20% of the anglers used and had lost lead rigs, it's still a lot of weight donated to the benthic zone in that year alone - possibly ten and a half pounds of lead.

I have not even mentioned the use of lead anchors. I watched one so-called "guide" (the same "guide" I mention in the caddis are coming post) lose 2 anchors in one day on the Yakima River many years ago. Heck! That’s probably 20lbs of plumbum on the bottom.

As we have seen in our natural world, lead lasts a long time in the environment and can possibly migrate throughout an ecosystem. A case in point might be the California Condors, who have been suffering lead poisoning near the Grand Canyon due to lead shot used in hunting.

According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department[1]:

Lead toxicity has been identified as the leading cause of death in condors in Arizona’s California condor reintroduction program, and high mortality rates are the primary obstacle to recovery of this species. Multiple condors have died of lead poisoning since 2000. Condors are trapped annually to have their blood tested for lead. Biologists began testing for lead exposure in 1999. Each year, 45 to 95 percent of the condor population tests positive for lead exposure. Chelation treatment is often required to reverse dangerously high blood lead levels.  Surgery has also been necessary in the worst cases. Without these treatments, more condors likely would have died.

A number of scientific studies collectively provide strong evidence to support the hypothesis that spent lead ammunition is the primary source of lead exposure in condors. The information gained from these studies can be collectively presented as a set of scientific findings or observations, linked together to create a logic chain. Individually, each link in the following logic chain has been demonstrated by a scientific study, and collectively the links form a logic chain that provides strong evidence that lead ammunition is the most likely source of elevated blood lead levels in free-ranging condors.
—   http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/california_condor_lead.shtml


I am not entirely certain if, or how, lead migrates through the food web of trout streams. A possible hypothesis can be made concerning lead in our aquatic ecosystems by reviewing some scientific literature by Dr A Cristini [2].

More complex aquatic plants, such as the submerged aquatic vegetation that have roots and a multi-celled structure, appear to take up more lead than plants without roots; this may be related to their absorption of lead from sediments. Uptake of lead in aquatic systems varies with many different factors including the pH of the water, the presence of other minerals in the water, and the availability of organic compounds or other chemicals that may bind up the lead, making it less available for uptake on the one hand, or on the other, actually facilitating its uptake by the organism. In some aquatic plants, rooted in sediments, lead taken up by the roots can be translocated or moved to the shoot, although lead can also be directly absorbed from the water especially if the lead concentration is high there. Lead measured in aquatic plants may also include that adsorbed at the surface or taken up by bacteria that reside on the surface of the plant. In one study, 46% of the lead measured from the plants was actually in the epiphytic (surface-resident) bacteria. Certain bacteria can increase the toxicity of lead to aquatic plants by synthesizing methyl- or other alkyl-lead compounds. These are organic compounds consisting of one or more carbon atoms and associated hydrogen atoms; the organic compounds are more soluble in the fatty membranes of plant and animal cells and more readily taken up. Although these methyl-lead complexes are not nearly as important in food chain contamination as comparable organic mercury compounds, they can be as much as twenty times more toxic than an equivalent weight of inorganic lead.


It has been observed that some forms of lead do not migrate up the aquatic food chain, however one can make a simple observation that lead in plant leaves will get eaten by bacteria that then get eaten by benthic macro invertebrates which belong to the shredder/scraper functional feeding group. Fish will then consume the macro-invertebrates and consume quantities of lead.

Dr. Cristini continues:

Even at lead concentrations at or below the 50 parts per billion previously considered safe in drinking water for human consumption, chronic lead exposure to fish may bring about increased mortality rates, reduced hatching success and indications of neurotoxicity as indicated by higher incidences of black tails (darkening of the caudal area) and spinal curvatures. In a Colorado stream that received contaminants after a dam holding back tailings from a mining site broke, rainbow trout exhibited neurological damage, including spinal curvatures and blackening of the tail. The stream contained up to 50 ppb of lead per liter of water. Because of the sensitivity of these fish, a Maximum Acceptable Toxicant Concentration (MACT) of 7.2 mg/l (ppb) has been suggested for rainbow trout. Brook trout also showed scoliosis (bilateral spinal curvatures), an abnormality of the spine, and reduced growth after long term exposure to lead. These effects lasted over several generations.
— http://www.rst2.edu/ties/LEAD/university/resources/experts/leadinanimals/animal1.htm


Dr. Cristini's paper continues to discuss the effects on waterfowl, humans, amphibians and crustaceans. As sportsmen and women, we may not even consider other impacts we are having which include the impacts on birds, waterfowl and amphibians.

More and more, we are learning that we are having a greater impact on our natural world. Alone, each individual may not pose a substantial risk but en masse, we pose far greater risks to our environment than we realize. Perhaps we start to look for alternatives to using lead in our fishing gear. Fly companies are starting to sell lead free flies, or even better, tungsten beaded flies, which sink fast. There are tungsten weights and sinkers and tungsten putty that can be used as well as tin split shot offering a viable alternative to lead.

[1]           http://www.azgfd.gov/w_c/california_condor_lead.shtml

[2]           http://www.rst2.edu/ties/LEAD/university/resources/experts/leadinanimals/animal1.htm


Photography Tips

I get a lot of emails requesting that I put up videos on how I photograph my fly's. I am always in a quandary about this because it really is beyond the scope of anything that I have ever done yet. you see, I have been perfecting my art since 1986 when I started photography. I have since spent several thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on pursuing a fine art degree, honing the skills required to produce the images by applying optics and color science.

Professional photographers, including myself, wish that people could understand that photography is not just a matter of taking a picture and having it come out of the camera ready for publication. There is a great deal of digital darkroom involved to sharpen images and correct contrast not to mention composition and lighting. 

As a professional photographer who's life work hangs in galleries, I just simply ask that people respect the labor and toil involved in creating these works of art. As a professional artist, my specific "how to" get images to look the way I do is not something that I am willing to give away for free. Not at least until I have recouped my investment in learning this craft. Most professional photographers cringe everytime someone asks them to give away thier work. Would you  spend your life learning how build a house, labor in its construction for 30 years and then just give it away for free to a complete stranger? 

To be fair and get you going in the right direction, I will say that you should perfect your in camera (DSLR) white balance, use good studio lighting such as soft boxes and quality optics including macro lenses. Learn your lenses optimal aperture for the sharpest image. You should also go to Lynda.com for tutorials on color correction, selective sharpening and other photoshop image editing procedures. The web also has tons of macro photography videos. I still go to YouTube and watch tutorials on a regular basis. After 30 some years, I am still learning something new every time I seek it.