The San Juan Worm

The San Juan Worm: The San Juan Worm may qualify as the Rodney Dangerfield of the fly world. Believe me, its gives some serious anglers the heebie-jeebies. They love to hate it. Wouldn’t be caught dead with one in their fly box. To them it’s pure bush league, something only a greenhorn would tie to a tippet. Wow, are they ever wrong!

The San Juan Worm came to my attention back in the 1980’s while fishing- you guessed it – the San Juan River in northern New Mexico. My guide showed me the fly but wasn’t crazy about using it. He felt nymphs were a more “respectable” choice. (even back then this fly was getting prejudicial treatment) Nonetheless I asked him if the San Juan Worm actually imitated something that lived in the river. He said it did and after a little digging around pull a small reddish worm off the bottom. So there it was – solid proof. The San Juan Worm wasn’t just some off-the-wall attractor pattern. It matched the hatch.

The San Juan Worm

I left New Mexico wondering if that aquatic worm was unique to the San Juan. Well a few years later I discovered it was not. This time I was in northern New Hampshire. Where the lodge I was staying at had the San Juan Worm on their list of favorite flies. Really? Naturally I had to ask. “Are there aquatic worms in this river too?”  The answer was yes. And boy did the San Juan Worm work on that trip.

Since then I’ve learned that aquatic worms are found in just about all rivers. The science literature says they live on muddy bottoms, but in my experience they are just as often associated with algae covered rocks, the kind you see in shallow riffles. But wherever you encounter them, the San Juan Worm is a very good fly. Thinking I’m kidding?  In 2005 it won the “One Fly Tournament” in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The San Juan Worm

Tying the San Juan Worm is a snap. Typically all it involves is lashing a piece of red Ultra-chenille (or Vernille) to a size 10 scud hook . Thread works, of course,  and I like to add a ribbing of copper wire. (I have seen some tied on longer curved shanks,but they don’t seem to work very well.)  Now other colors catch fish too, and in some situations they’re even better than red. I’ve used pink, brown, white and even chartreuse. If you fish fast or deep water, consider covering the hook shank first with lead wire. More recently I’ve seen a few San Juan Worms tied with a brass bead to help them sink. Give the San Juan Worm a try!

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Ocean City Fly Reels 76 & 77

Ocean City Fly Reels 76 & 77: Looking for an inexpensive freshwater fly reel? One that’s simple, sturdy, reliable, reversible, and suitable for trout? Or maybe you just want a backup reel in your tackle bag? Or something your kid can use. Okay, l got a suggestion for you. Consider an old Ocean City 76 or 77. They’re great buys.

Ocean City Fly Reels 76 & 77

Ocean City is long gone, purchased by True Temper back in 1968. And fly reels were never Ocean City’s claim to fame. No, they were mainly a manufacturer of saltwater and spinning gear. But they produced fly reels for many years starting in the 1930, constantly improving them as they went along.

I have two Ocean City fly reels – models  76 & 77. They were built in Philadelphia, likely during the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, and as such represent the apex of Ocean City’s fly reel effort. The “76” is the smaller of the two. It is 3″ in diameter and suitable for a 3 or 4-weight fly line. The larger “77” is 3.5″ and ripe for a 5 or 6-weight fly line. These reels were mass produced, and frequently marketed by Sears and Wards.  I got my “77” at a yard sale for $5. And get this: it came with a beat up “glass” fly rod attached. Gotta love that. But both models can be easily found online in workable condition for $20- $25. (By the way Ocean City also sold an even larger model called the “78”. That one is fairly rare. I’ve never see one.)

Ocean City Fly Reels 76 & 77

Like the Hardy Lightweight series, these fly reels are built in the traditional “spool-in-cage” design. See the screw in the center of each spool? It secures the spool in place. (works with a dime or a penny) Surrounding that screw is a narrow drag tension knob. It operates just as you might suspect, by creating friction between the spool and the frame. The resulting drag is smooth and plenty adequate for trout. Both reels also have a “click” switch on the back. So you can run them with a “click” or silent, as you prefer. And the line guards are reversible.

Ocean City Fly Reel

Remember I called them sturdy? Well the frames are thick by today’s fly reel standards. So even thought both reels are cast aluminum, neither is a lightweight. The “76” with a 3-weight fly line and backing aboard tips in at 6 ounces. The model “77” weight 6.2 ounces empty. But honestly I’ve never felt these reels were too heavy in the field. And that “thickness” protects these reels if dropped. Yeah they’re tough.

Ocean City Fly Reel “Click” Switch

Wondering what that small chrome dial high on the back is for? The one marked  C,D,E,F,H? Prior to 1961, fly lines were classified by diameter not actual weight. And each diameter had an alphabetic designation. (for example a “G” line is roughly equivalent to what we today call a 4-weight) This dial allowed you to set a reminder for which the fly line was loaded on the reel. Not a bad idea!

So are Ocean City fly reels collectible? Ahhh…..not really. After all, they were made by the thousands to be “blue collar” workhorses. But hey, nothing wrong with that.

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Its Chernobyl Ant Time!

Its Chernobyl Ant Time! :  Ahhh…summer is finally here in full force; yeah the heat is on. That means cold beer in your cooler and terrestrial flies in your vest. Yes, hoppers, beetles, cricket, and caterpillar imitations are a must have during the dog days. And of course you’ll need ants as well – red ones, black ones, flying ants, cinnamon ants, and oh the deadly Chernobyl ant too.

Its Chernobyl Ant Time!

I first learned about the Chernobyl over ten years ago, while scrounging through the fly bins in a fly shop long since gone. There they were – big, butt ugly, no holds barred, crazy creations. Picking one up, I took it over to Dave Goulet, the shop owner, and asked whether this weird whatchamcallit actually worked. Busy behind his desk, Dave looked up, extracted a cigarette from his mouth, launched a shit-eating grin, and a big thumbs up.

When Dave tells you a fly is good, you best listen. He was a commercial fly tyer extraordinaire. Legend has it, back then, well over a million flies had already emerged from his vise. So based on his stamp of approval, I bought several Chernobyl ants on the spot. And that day they proved to be astoundingly good. No doubt in my mind, Chernobyl ants are killers, bringing up trout when nothing short of dynamite would.

Its Chernobyl Ant Time!

As the story goes, Mark Forsland, a guide on Utah’s Green River, invented the fly in the early 1990’s. Originally he tied it with foam and black hackle, calling it the “Black Mamba”. It worked like magic. Then along came Allan Woolley, also a guide, who stepped in and substituted rubber legs for the hackle. Bingo, the Chernobyl took on its present day look.

Its Chernobyl Ant Time!

For awhile Chernobyl ants were strictly tied all black, probably to match large stone flies or carpenter ants. Today that’s not true, these beastly flies are born in a variety of colors. Tan backs, orange backs, yellow bellies; green bellies, white bellies, man the sky is the limit.

Chernobyls are pretty much fool proof, but here are a few tips. Chernobyls may spin during the cast so I suggest a heavier tippet to reduce twists. Next, soft landings are not required. Don’t be afraid to plop these babies down on the water, especially under overhanging brushes and limbs. The “splat” brings trout running. Lastly, Chernobyls are a good choice for “hopper-dropper” rigs. Good luck on the water!

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Fishing Dry Flies Downstream

Fishing Dry Flies Downstream: Dry fly fishing is an amazing part of our sport. And there is not a fly-fisherman alive that hasn’t enjoyed it, or at least wanted to give it a try. Hell the dry fly itch can get so bad, dry flies are all some fly angler care to do! They’re hooked!

Fishing Dry Flies Downstream

Traditionally, dry flies are delivered upstream or cast up and across. And then with a mend or two, you seek that magical drag free drift. Bingo, with lady luck on your side, it works. Great, isn’t it? Still there are occasions when the right way to fish a dry is completely the reverse. Yes, at times you’ll do better by fishing dry flies downstream.

So why make a downstream presentation? There are several reasons why fishing dry flies downstream makes sense. First and perhaps foremost is logistics; you find yourself in a location where you simply can’t physically get below a rising fish. Hence no upstream delivery is possible. Second, a downstream presentation puts the fly over the fish before the leader or the fly line. In other words a downstream approach can be stealthy. Nice, that. And lastly, a downstream cast often allows you a moment to quietly adjust the path of the fly so it travels right over a rising fish’s head.

Fishing Dry Flies Downstream

Yesterday I was fishing the Farmington River in New Hartford. Initially I used my new 10′ Scott Radian to work nymphs, but in late afternoon the itch to fish dry flies struck. So returning to my car, I dug out a shorter stick, my 8′ Diamondglass 4-weight. It turned out to be a good idea. I caught several trout including two nice browns, one about 18″ (seen at the top of the page), and one of 15″ (seen below it). Both took dries presented downstream.

Before I forget, if you’re new to fishing dry flies downstream, let me give you a tip. You’re hook set should be a tad slower. A quick set can literally pull the dry fly right out of the trout’s mouth. Believe me, I’ve done it.


Posted in Fly Fishing in Freshwater | 2 Comments

Review: Scott Radian R10044 Fly Rod

Review: Scott Radian R10044 Fly Rod: Recently I slapped down the magic plastic card and purchased something new – a 10-foot, 4-weight, 4 piece fly rod. I’ll talk more about why I bought it in a moment, but lets begin with a closeup look at this Scott Radian R10044 fly rod.

Review: Scott Radian R10044 Fly Rod

Man, this is a handsome rod. Right out of the tube you’re hit with eye candy, something you can’t say about some other high-end fly rods. There is a lot of attention to detail. And given the cost of upper level fly rods today, its something we should expect. Even the box the tube came in is attractive. Scott delivered their “A” game.

Review: Scott Radian R10044 fly rod

The blank is grey, unsanded, and sports tungsten framed stripping guides. It has a nicely formed 6.5 inch full wells grip, and the cork is the finest I’ve ever seen. I mean it; the cork is flawless. No other rod in my collection even comes close. Impressive. The reel seat is a single, uplocking design with an exotic wood insert. Wraps are grey, accented with a hot orange band. Yes indeed, the ferrules have alignment dots. The rod sock is attractively embroidered with the company name. Tube length is 32.5″. And rod tips the scales at 3 ounces, respectable for a 10-foot 4 piece wand.

A new and useful feature, found only on Scott rods I believe, is measurement marks. As the red arrows note in the photo below, they’re at 12″ & 20″.  A handy dandy reference, that. I’ve already used them in the field, although the 20″ mark hasn’t quite been reached yet. LOL Hope to change that soon.

Scott Radian Measurement Marks @ 12″ & 20″

So why a 10- foot 4-weight?  Well, the 4-weight part is a no brainer. I’ve spent over 50 years behind a fly rod, so perspective is something I have. Back when I started in the sport, a 6wt fly rod was considered the best general purpose trout rod. Yes I’m talking back when fiberglass ruled. With the advent of graphite in the 1970’s, a shift slowly occurred, and by the 1980’s a 5wt worn the crown. Nowadays, the 4wt fly rod is emerging as king of the hill – the one stick to do it all in small to medium rivers.

Okay, there’s still a 900 pound gorilla in the room. Why a 10-footer? Several years ago I tried euro-nymphing with the longest rod I owned – a 10-foot, 6-weight. Unfortunately I lost the tip section in the woods one night while walking back to the car. That ended my brief euro-nymphing career. But I’ve long wanted to try again. Hence the 10-footer.

At this point, you wondering why I got a conventional 10-footer and not a longer rod specifically designed for euro-nymphing. After all there are plenty on the market, right? I did go into Upcountry Sportfishing and wiggle several “euro-rods” from $200-$ 900. They were all nice. Yet in the end I decided a conventional 10-foot, 4-weight would “nymph” just fine and be a far more versatile fly rod, capable of also handling dries, soft hackles, and even small streamers. So I took a couple such rods outside, and cast them for a time. The Radian was the winner.

This rod went along on my recent trip to the upper Connecticut river (previous post). Armed with a 10′ butt section,  a 2′ euro-nymph “sighter”, and a 4′ foot 5x tippet, the rod cleaned house. It was so effective at “nymphing” I fished it pretty much exclusively for 4 days, accounting for all the bigger fish.

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