Clouser Minnow

Clouser Minnow
Clouser Minnow

In freshwater or salt, one of the best baitfish patterns around…. I recently went to Perdido Key, FL on vacation. Once a year, my wife and I take a beach vacation somewhere, usually with another couple. And while these trips are more about relaxation and socializing, I always try to work in at least a little fishing, sometimes with a guide. I didn’t know much about this area and never really even took time to research. I just packed some gear and planned to figure it out when I got there.

On our first day, while kicked back on the beach enjoying an adult beverage, I observed a tremendous amount of feeding activity in the surf. Schools of bigger fish were ripping through schools of smaller fish. It was happening up and down the coast as far as I could see. I wouldn’t have to do any scouting after all. All the activity I needed was right outside my back door!

My big problem was that I didn’t know what kind of fish were getting eaten and what kind of fish were doing the eating. Don’t you just love beach problems? My saltwater experience is just as limited as my saltwater gear, so I approached it in the exact same way I would approach an unfamiliar freshwater situation. When in doubt, go generic. It was apparent that they were feeding on some kind of baitfish. And what is the most generic, universal fly for imitating a baitfish? A Clouser Minnow.

The fly was originated by Bob Clouser in 1987. Bob was a fly shop owner and guide in Pennsylvania. He developed the fly for smallmouth bass on the Susquehanna River. I first learned of the fly in the early 90’s and fished it regularly on the smallmouth streams of Central Kentucky. Over the decades, it has been varied in color and style, and has accounted for nearly every species of fish known. Whether freshwater or salt, the diet of nearly every big fish includes small fish. And whether freshwater or salt, most baitfish have some very common characteristics. Most have a long, slender profile, a darker back and a lighter belly, and pronounced eyes that often act as a trigger for predators.

Clouser Minnow Colors
Clousers are tied in almost every color combo

While there are various color combinations to better match specific baitfish, all Clouser Minnows have the above-mentioned characteristics. They also have lead eyes positioned in such a way as to allow the fly to ride hook up. And with their bucktail bodies, they retain very little water. This makes them feel lighter and easier to cast than most other flies their size.

While I most often use this fly for warmwater species, I’ve taken a number of trout on it. It works in tailwaters and even the occasional large brown in the park will eat it. You can bet I’ll fish it more than once in late fall in the park. It’s great when those big browns begin moving before and after spawn. I tie them on traditional streamer hooks for trout, on larger gape hooks for bass, and on stainless hooks for saltwater species. I’ve had success with a number of different color combinations but my “go to” colors are white and black and white and olive.

So the first morning I was at the beach, I got to the water at sunrise with a black and white Clouser tied to my leader. On the second cast into the first school of feeding fish, I hooked up. The ol’ Clouser did it again. Add a couple of speckled sea trout and a whole lot of ladyfish to its list of victims!

Early Season Wet Fly

Early Season Wet Fly

In the Smokies, we typically see some of our best hatches of the year in spring. So, it’s no wonder that once March rolls around, most Smoky Mountain fly fishermen have dry flies on the brain. Count me in that group. I love fishing dry flies, especially to steady feeders during a hatch. But just because there’s a hatch, doesn’t always mean you’re going to have a lot of success with dry flies.

There are always an abundance of nymphs and emergers available to trout in any hatch. Trout can often feed on them more easily and without exposing themselves to potential predators. And there are certain situations that may make them even more reluctant to feed on the surface, such as marginal water temperatures. We see that a lot around here in the winter. Bugs are hatching, sometimes heavily, but you don’t see a single rise. Another scenario that many don’t consider is a dry, sunny day.

During a hatch, many aquatic insects linger on the surface while their wings dry before they can fly away. This makes them easy pickings for a waiting trout. Damp, overcast conditions are great days for dry fly fishing for this reason. The bugs are on the surface longer and the trout are looking for them there. But on dry, sunny days, they are able to get off the water almost immediately, making them a tough target for a trout. In those situations, trout often key in on the nymphs and emergers.

This certainly doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t fish dry flies on sunny days or when the water temperature is less than perfect. But when things aren’t going your way during a hatch, you may want to consider changing your tactics. For me, that often means fishing a wet fly. The Early Season Wet Fly is a great one for, you guessed it, early in the season.

Most of the aquatic insects that hatch around here in the early season, until around mid April, are dark in color. So this fly, with its darker body and wing, does a great job mimicking the majority of bugs that a trout might see. Past April, I might fish a similar fly in a lighter tan or yellow color.

I honestly don’t know where this pattern originated. I’m sure there are many traditional wet fly patterns that are very similar. But I believe this particular version originated in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Regardless, I learned about it from the same source that I’ve learned most things about fishing in the Smokies: Walter Babb.

I fish it a number of different ways. On days when I’m expecting a hatch in the afternoon, I might fish it in the morning in tandem with a dark nymph – maybe a Pheasant Tail or olive Hare’s Ear. In this situation, I’m usually fishing it with a dead drift. At the very beginning of a hatch, or throughout a hatch with little surface activity, I might fish two of these flies and allow them to swing in the current. And even during a hatch when fish are actively feeding on the surface, I often fish this fly as a dropper off the back of my dry fly.

In any case, it’s a go-to fly for me in the month of March and a good one to have in your stash. I doubt that it’s available anywhere commercially but if you’re a fly tyer, I’ve included the recipe below. Learn more about Smoky Mountain hatches and flies in my hatch guide.

Early Season Wet Fly

Hook: TMC 3769 (or equivalent) #14 – 12
Thread: Tan or brown 8/0
Tail: Dun hen hackle fibers
Rib: Copper wire
Body: Mix of grey and tan hare’s ear dubbing
Hackle: Dun hen
Wing: Mallard flank feather dyed grey

Dressing For Success

One of the Easiest Ways to Catch More Trout in the Smokies….

I recently guided a husband and wife on a small brook trout stream in the Smokies. The stream, like most in the Smokies, consisted of a lot of pocket water. That meant getting closer to the fish. Both were novice fly fishers and their skills improved steadily as the day went on. As a matter of fact, their skills were about equal, but as the day progressed the wife was getting 5 or 6 strikes for every 1 strike the husband got.

We were moving up the stream together and they were taking turns fishing. They were fishing the same fly. And as mentioned before, their casting ability, approach, and presentation was nearly identical. What was different, you ask? The wife was wearing a drab green shirt and the husband’s shirt was bright red. Simple as that.

Bright Colors in the Smokies
Look how this white shirt stands out

Casting can be challenging. Getting good drifts can be challenging. Figuring out what the fish are eating can be challenging. But dressing appropriately is one of the easiest things to control and can greatly improve your success on the stream.

Blending in on a Smoky Mountain Stream
Now look how well this fisherman blends in

Years ago, three seasoned fishermen from Montana walked into Little River Outfitters frustrated that they had fished two days without catching a fish. One was wearing a bright blue shirt, another was wearing a white shirt, and the other’s shirt was bright coral color. My good friend, Walter Babb, was sitting in the shop and without pulling any punches, said, “Well, those fish saw you guys get out of the car!”

When the fishermen pointed out that they wore the same clothing in Montana and caught plenty of fish, Walter went on to explain that in big western rivers, your background is the sky. Here it’s the trees and bushes.

Camouflage
This is a bit extreme!

You don’t have to be a fly fishing commando decked out in camouflage and twigs in your hat to catch fish in small mountain streams, but dressing in earth-tone colors does make a huge difference. Think drab greens, browns, tans, and greys when you dress for a day on the water. While bright white t-shirts and orange Tennessee ball caps may be appropriate for game day at Neyland Stadium, they are doing you no favors on the trout stream.

What about strike indicators? They’re bright and colorful. Don’t they spook fish? Sometimes they do, but usually for different reasons. It’s not really the bright color that spooks fish; it’s movement. These are wild trout in the Smokies and they’re right in the middle of the food chain. Any kind of movement, particularly above them, often means a kingfisher or heron is about to swoop down and eat them! The less you blend in to your background, the more pronounced your silhouette is, and the more noticeable your movements are.

Trout Cone of Vision
The cone

All of this becomes more and more important the closer you have to get to the fish, even when you’re behind them. Trout actually have a “cone of vision” above them that even extends a little bit behind them. The closer you get and the higher up you are, the more you will be detected in that cone. So in addition to what you wear, think about how you move through the water to reduce the chances of spooking fish. Move slowly and quietly. Stay low, particularly when fishing in close quarters. See that big boulder in the stream? Don’t fish from on top of it. Stand behind it.

Finally, keep your false casting to a minimum. Fly lines are often brighter colors so that you can see them in order to mend and achieve good drifts. Remember, it’s not the color so much as the movement. Repeatedly false casting a fly line over a trout’s head is excessive movement in that cone of vision and will send him under a rock.

Nippers

Fly Fishing Nippers

It’s Time to Quit Using Your Teeth….

Welcome to the wonderful world of nippers! It’s probably pretty easy to figure out that the primary function of nippers (aka clippers, cutters, snips, etc.) is to cut your line. They are mostly used to trim the tag ends of monofilament after tying a knot or to cut a new piece of tippet from a spool. But as you’ll see, the right pair of nippers can perform a number of other tasks as well.

As I described before, my beginnings in this sport were humble at best and my funds were rather limited. There was a lot I could do with $10 back then and I certainly didn’t want to waste it on nippers – not when I could just use fingernail clippers. That strategy served me well for a time, until I figured out what a lot of fishermen eventually figure out. First, they make fingernail clippers out of very cheap, soft metal. After you repeatedly clip monofilament line, they form a series of nicks in the blade. It’s not long before they become completely useless. Second, when regularly exposed to water (such as every time you go fishing), they rust – quickly.

So you can constantly replace in expensive fingernail clippers or you can do what I ultimately did – drop $10 on a decent pair of nippers. They’re rustproof and will last years before the blades begin wearing out. The other benefit to a good pair of nippers is they are designed to cut line, not fingernails. What does that mean?

When working with smaller trout flies, particularly dry flies, it can be difficult to prevent the large, curved head of generic fingernail clippers from also clipping away some of the hackle. The straight, somewhat recessed blades on fly fishing nippers work and cut in tight spaces. Most nippers designed for fly fishing also include another simple but highly useful feature – a small needle.

When a fly tyer finishes a fly, he knots the thread at the hook eye and coats it with a thin, invisible cement. Well, in the world of fly tying, time is money and production fly tyers apply that cement quickly, often leaving an invisible layer in the hook eye. When you need to tie that fly on your line, you can’t get the tippet through the hook eye because it’s coated in glue. This happens even more frequently with painted, hard-bodied poppers, only the paint coats the hook eye. The little needle on your nippers will clear that layer of cement or paint and preserve your sanity when attempting to attach a fly.

Multi Tool Nippers
Multi-tool nipper

As with most any fly fishing product these days, there are seemingly endless nipper styles and features to suit your needs and tastes. Some have a different shape, boasting a better ergonomic design. Others come with additional tools for tasks such as tying knots or sharpening hooks. Want to take it to the next level? Check out this description of Abel’s nippers:

  • Designed, manufactured and assembled in the USA
  • Anodized 6061-T6 aluminum body construction
  • Replaceable jaws – machined out of premium grade Crucible CPM S35VN stainlesssteel, then heat treated to 58-60rc
  • Engineered to cut 7X – 100 lb mono and braid
  • Two Year limited warranty on the jaws after initial purchase
  • Pin – 316 stainless steel
    Abel Nippers
    Trout print nippers

    And they can be yours in black for a mere $85. For custom colors, they’re just $105. And with a cool fish print… a steal at $165. Yep, $165 for line cutters. All of a sudden, $10 for a pair of nippers doesn’t sound too bad, does it? As with anything else, if you have the disposable income and want to spend $165 of it on nippers, go ahead. I won’t judge you.