Tag Archives: Fly Tying

Mother’s Day Shad

Those of you who have followed this blog for a few years will recall that hooking a Shad on the fly has been one of my goals for a few years. Rewinding to 2014, I missed some Hickory Shad on the fly but was unable to land one. I did not attempt to shad fish in 2015 or 2016 due to time constraints and/or work commitments along with the low water levels that made for a poor season. Early 2017 has progressed and the drought has lifted from the Delaware River watershed. This weekend after having Mother’s Day events with the family, I found some time to check the Shad Reports. It was clear to me based on the reports that I should go out and try for some shad on the fly.

My first American Shad and first Shad Fly Fishing!

Fly Gear

I had previously acquired the proper gear for Shad Fly Fishing prior to my earlier Fly Fishing adventures therefore, I had all the necessary equipment and some flies tied up on deck ready to go. I used my St. Croix 7WT Bankrobber Streamer Rod strung up with Rio Sink Tip line and a 8LB test Bass tippet material. As for a fly, I used something called Al’s Shad Fly #4. This consists of a size four or six hook, dumbbell eyes, yellow hackle, yellow hackle tail, yellow yarn and silver tinsel. I also tried out some others but this seemed to get the most attention.

My version of Al’s Shad Fly #4

Where to Look

Using the Fly Rod puts you at a slight disadvantage to a spin fisherman when seeking Shad. On the Delaware, through Warren County, where I typically fish for Smallmouth in the summer there are no major dams for the Shad to “stack up” like they do in Deer Creek, Maryland. Therefore, you must seek out pools downstream of major runs or those created by tributaries. Swinging the fly into slower water pools on the side of fast water or before a major obstacle in the river should yield results.

With some luck, they will still be in the river next weekend an I’ll find some time to target the Shad in between the guide trips I will be running.

Feathers, Flies and All Things Unimportant

I must have been eight years old when I first witnessed a fly fisherman, plying the placid waters of New Hampshire’s Lake Sunapee. I watched in amazement as his line danced through the sky and his casts landed eloquently with the precision and purpose. I quickly asked my father what the man was doing and was told that he was fly fishing. I was truly intrigued and, in my vigor to learn, asked my father how the man was able to catch the flies he was using for bait. With a strange look, my father simply shook his head and walked away. Thus began my romanticism with feathers, flies and all things unimportant to the rational world.

As a young man, I was ready to take on fly fishing full steam. My father purchased a cheap combo from the local department store, assuring that if the wand or my spirit had broken early in the foray, he wouldn’t be out a significant sum of money. My flies consisted of poorly tied blobs of fur on a hook, little foam spiders and a few of my own creations, which were nothing more than sewing thread hanging off a hook. Needless to say, between my belabored casting technique and my fly selection, fishing became more of an attempt not to hook myself or anyone else within casting range.

SteelheadI was blessed to grow up on the banks of the Passaic River, at the time the ninth most polluted river in the United States. The fishery was diverse, with carp, catfish and car parts as my quarry. Although I could not get any of the behemoths to take my flies, I did occasionally slip a piece of crusted bagel on the hook to entice fish to look at my offerings. This was fly fishing at its finest.

Next came the finer points of entomology and the three main classes of aquatic insects; mayflies, caddisflies and stoneflies. Well, not to get ahead of myself, my classifications were more loosely defined as green bugs, brown bugs and black bugs. When in doubt, a combination of all three was thoroughly explored.

My thirst for knowledge was boundless and I sought out the writings of greats like Art Flick, Joe Brooks and Lee Wulff, all who seemingly could go into great detail about which goop would allow your fly to float the highest or sink the deepest and which color fly line would deter or attract the greatest amount of fish. And I thought fly line color was all about personal preference.

Then came the feathers….those magical materials that cost so much but could be found near every duck pond in New Jersey. There were necks and capes, roosters and hens and flanks aplenty. Then came the grades.

I did fairly well in school and knew that a grade of A was certainly better that of an F. I also knew that I was rewarded when the grades on my report card came back higher than anticipated but found this logic flawed when it came to feathers. Those D grade feathers that littered my bag seemed much friendlier to my wallet than the snobbish A grade feathers hung so high up on the shop’s wall. Perhaps they were like the rare A plus I brought home on one of my many math tests, which hung high on my parent’s refrigerator so proudly for many years.  In any event, I was happy to have my mallard feathers, goose quills and dog tail, a proprietary shop mixture, to adorn my hooks.

Somewhere along the journey, my technique was refined, insects were identified by their Latin names and goop became dessicant powder. My flies began to take on more of the size and shape of the naturals and I even had a few fish willing to grace me with their presence.

In near 30 years of fly fishing, I’ve been lucky to have some wonderful equipment and stand on some majestic banks of a few famed rivers. I have caught some grand fish and lost more than I care to remember. I have met some wonderful friends and mourned those I have lost silently out on the river.

All those years ago, I took up fly fishing as a way to become a better fisherman, to challenge myself, test my abilities, my patience and my sanity. All these years later, I realize that fly fishing has made me a better man. It has taught me to appreciate what I have, it has made me realize that catching the fish is not the sole objective, it has reminded me that all living things around us have meaning and purpose and has taught me to be humble and accept what life has to offer.

Some of my fondest moments were trying to take random knowledge, mismatched materials and salvaged tackle to have some fun and catch a few fish while doing it.

My life is still filled with feathers, flies and many things unimportant but it is also those very same things that remind me what is.

Enjoy your passion and find passion in what you enjoy.

All the best!rod and reel

Welcome to Smallmouth Country

The days are long; the work is light while the air is hot and heavy. Fishing is entering the midsummer doldrums for most cold-water species. The heavy spring flows have since subsided to a trickle with the welcome exception of a midsummer freshet. Trout are hunkered down in springs and at the way bottom of pools uninterested in any fly you may wish to throw. All this while one fish is running hot and heavy in these rivers, the Smallmouth Bass. Taking in the relaxing summer just makes you want to watch old Marlboro commercials and shout, “Welcome to Smallmouth (Flavor) Country!”

(PSA: MKFF does not condone any particular brand of tobacco product or tobacco use in general.)

The fishing rod hangs out the back of the MKFF Chevy.
The fishing rod hangs out the back of the MKFF Chevy.

“Oh the buzzing of the bees in the cigarette trees, by the soda water fountains, By the lemonade springs where the bluebird sings, in the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

They hide in places like these.
They hide in places like these.

In the Big Rock Candy Mountains you never change your socks,
Little streams of alky-hol comes trickling down the rocks.
Oh the shacks all have to tip their hats and the railroad bulls are blind,
There’s a lake of stew and whiskey too,

And you can paddle all around it in a big canoe
In the Big Rock Candy Mountain.”

 Big Rock Candy Mountain

The Species

The Smallmouth Bass has a scientific name of Micropterus dolomieu, micropterus meaning small fin and Dolomieu being a French mineralogist. The fish is native to the Midwestern United States, coming as far east as the St. Lawrence. It has been widely introduced throughout the United States, now inhabiting the Delaware River and its tributaries in New Jersey and New York.

Pulled this out on a fly, traded my fly for a beer to someone floating by.
Pulled this out on a fly, traded my fly for a beer to someone floating by.

The Smallmouth Bass is not as tolerant of fast flows as the Trout whom it may share habitat with. This type of Bass does enjoy gravelly streams with moderate gradients; they tend to inhabit the pools in good oxygen conditions. The preferred water temperature for the species is between 68 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, they can tolerate up to 90 degrees.

Mark pulled this one out on a Crayfish imitation.
Mark pulled this one out on a Crayfish imitation.

Tools of the Trade

Throughout the summer Smallmouth Bass are prevalent in most New Jersey streams. The most well known places are the Delaware and the Raritan; they can also be located in streams connecting to these rivers. I have even dredged a Smallmouth or two out of the lower Big Flatbrook though they rarely venture up when the water is at summer flow levels.

Smallmouth food, this is what they eat.
Smallmouth food, this is what they eat.

Due to the variety of stream sizes and water conditions that this highly adaptable species will habit there are several fly rod options you can use. I prefer to consistently use floating line as the waters are never high enough at this time of year to warrant sink tip or full sink line.

This is my go to fly, modify color and size for larger rivers.
This is my go to fly, modify color and size for larger rivers.

I have the most luck using Woolly Buggers to prospect for these guys and girls. Green seems to work the best for me, orange is better in streams with more crayfish, sizes six through ten with a gold bead head. The body can be Chenille with some flash or Marabou; they bite it if you fish it correctly. Preferably there will be a little bit of lead wrapped around the hook shaft.


Smallmouth living in streams like the Paulinskill have an almost unbelievable biomass. Depending on the season and water temperature, the same runs where the Smallmouth will populate in the summer Trout used to frequent in the spring. Where do all the Trout go? Mostly down into the deep pools with springs, or to inlet streams and areas of high oxygenation.

If you don't have a boat, you will need to explore Smallmouth country on foot.
If you don’t have a boat, you will need to explore Smallmouth country on foot.

The traditional northeast streamer technique, cast across and slightly upstream at the transition area between fast water and slow water. Once the streamer bounces off the bottom a little bit you are doing it right. I then let the line drift taught, hold for a few seconds and start to bring it back in a wet fly style retrieve. If this doesn’t get the Smallmouth going, they probably are not there.

Flavor Country

Smallmouth Bass are one of the treats to look forward to during the dog days of summer. In northwest Jersey farm country, summer is a time of plenty like Big Rock Candy Mountain. The crops are coming up, thunderstorms bring fresh water to the streams, and the trees provide the shade. Find a spot to camp on some land, or rent a little campsite on the Delaware for the weekend.

Summer fields and the kittatinny Ridge.
Summer fields and the kittatinny Ridge.

If you don’t have anything going on this weekend, fire up the old SUV, load your gear and drive out here. We don’t have cigarette trees or streams of alky-hol but we do have fresh air, shade trees and Smallmouth Bass! However, if you do find a good spot, keep it a secret because loose lips, sink fish!

The MKFF staff bush pilot takesoff at Andover Aeroflex.
The MKFF staff bush pilot takesoff at Andover Aeroflex.