Camaraderie in Competitive Angling

A great friend, Austen Randecker, with a nice fish from yesterday. Austen and I met through competitive angling years ago. We both no longer have the time to compete, but still fish together regularly.

Do I still fish in a competitive setting anymore? No, but trust me, it is not because I don’t want to. I promise you that there is a lot more to competitive angling than meets the eye. Like anything else, there are conflicting views and some people find negative things to say about it. The truth is, many of the negative things said about competitive angling are based on false assumptions but I’ll save that for another discussion. What I’d like to talk about today is the thing that I miss the most about competitive angling. It’s not the competitions, it’s not traveling around challenging myself with new water, it’s not continually stepping up to the plate to show “what you’ve got”, and it’s not the competitive drive to continually be a better angler. Those are all things I greatly miss about competitive angling, but the thing that I miss the most is the camaraderie of other anglers.

Some of my very best friends I met through competitive angling. If you have never been to a competition, I’m sure your assumption of the relationship between competitors is twisted. Sure, during the competitions anglers are battling one another trying to find an edge to just catch one more fish. Before and after competitors these anglers are all friends using competition as an avenue to fish with each other, and learn together. You would be shocked at the willingness of anglers to help each other out, especially after the dust settles from the end of a competition. Envision a weekend away on new water with 30 really good friends that are really good anglers, that’s pretty much a competition. Sure everyone wants to fish the best they can, and perform at the top of group, but really a competition is a justification of a group of guys fishing together on the weekends.

Competitive angling is a rare gem that has the ability to draw in anglers, and allow anglers to cross paths that never would have before. I often reflect back to when I first got involved in competitive angling. I was a 15 year old kid from Pennsylvania that was obsessed with fly fishing, but I really didn’t know anyone my age that felt as passionately about fly fishing as I did. I was selected to the US Youth Fly Fishing Team later that year and fished in “World Championships” in 2007 and 2008. Immediately upon being a part of the youth team, I was introduced to approximately 20 anglers that were the same age as me, and loved fly fishing as much as I did (Not to mention I had the great privilege of being coached by many great anglers such as George Daniel, Joe Humphreys, Loren Williams, etc) . One of the kids I met that year, Matt Rose, was from Florida (Kinda ironic because they don’t even have trout there. Sorry buddy, but I had to throw that jab in there). Matt and I became great friends and for years Matt would come all the way from Florida to stay with me in PA to fish together. This is just one example, but the point is competitive angling allowed me to meet so many kids my age that loved fly fishing as much as me, that I never would have crossed paths with otherwise. That in itself is a great thing for kids and anglers of all ages.

I also competed in Trout Legend for a couple years and I miss it just as much as my time on the youth team. Through Trout Legend, I was introduced to so many people that loved fly fishing as much as I did AND they for were all from my local area. I crossed paths with anglers through Trout Legend that I am sure I will be friends with for the rest of my life. Trout Legend is a great start for anglers of any ability to become engaged in a competitive setting. There are many people who will be happy to point you in the right direction, explain how things work, and in result, help you become a much better angler. If you are on the fence about competitive angling, I strongly urge you to give it a shot. If for no other reason, the camaraderie of other anglers is well worth the time. I’m sure you will meet many great people through competitive angling, some of which will result in life long friendships.

For more information on Trout Legend, visit the official website here: 

On the website you will find information regarding competitions, rules, a forum, a store with hard to find quality products, and much more.

For more information on the US Youth Fly Fishing Team, visit the website here:


Fly Tying: Method vs. Material

Same pattern. Same material. Two different methods. Two completely different results
Same pattern. Same material. Two different methods. Two completely different results

In fly fishing, there are many areas where technique is the most important characteristic for success. Technique, or how you fish, is often much more important that what you are fishing with. Meaning how you fish a rod, is more important than what type of rod you are fishing. Or how you fish a fly, is more important than what fly you are fishing. There are thousands of scenarios that this could apply to, however, today I want to talk how technique is a very important characteristic at the fly tying bench.

Often times how a material is used at the vice, is much more important than what the material is. In fly tying, when an angler sees a pattern that they like, the first question asked is almost always “What material is that?”. I think a much more important question is “How are you using that material?”. This applies when trying to imitate different types of aquatic insects. Just one material can be used to imitate many different forms of aquatic insects, when used in different applications.

Dubbing can be used under numerous applications to achieve different goals. A fly could be tied by being dubbed traditionally, dubbed tight or loosely using dubbing wax, laid down on the hook shank and tied on with thread wraps, or spun in a dubbing loop. When considering which application, or technique to use when using a material, a fly tyer should consider the specific purpose of the fly.

For example, there are a variety of ways to tie a Walt’s Worm that could suggest it imitating a variety of different things. This is true even though a Walt’s Worm is tied using one material, Hare’s Ear Dubbing. How you ask? Consider method over material. A crane fly larva (Tipulidae) has a segmented worm like body that is very sleek. To tie a Walt’s Worm to imitate a crane fly larva, a tyer would want to dub the body of the fly very tight to create a sleek body. This can be achieved by traditionally dubbing the body very tight, or using dubbing wax to help twist the dubbing onto the thread tighter before wrapping. A scud (Amphipoda) has many legs which gives the body a very “buggy” look. To tie a Walt’s Worm to imitate a scud, a tyer would want to dub the body very loosely so that it appears “buggy” and “spikey” to imitate the many legs of a scud. This could be achieved by using a dubbing twister in a dubbing loop, or by using dubbing wax to hold the dubbing on the thread loosely before wrapping.

This is just one example of how one material, or one pattern, can be altered to meet the characteristics of very different aquatic insects. The next time you are sitting down at the fly tying bench, consider method over material in order to create the desired characteristics of a fly. Considering method over material will let tyers create a variety of different patterns, with a much smaller arsenal of materials. After all, how you tie a fly is much more important than what material you tie it with.


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Information on the Walt’s Worm can be found at

A great resource to view pictures of aquatic insects can be found at

A great video on how to tie a dubbing loop can be found at

Breaking the Ice

A couple weeks ago I was presented with the option of trying something completely new to me in fishing. Always eager to try new things related to fishing, I jumped at the idea of going ice fishing. I really had no idea what to expect because fishing through a hole in the ice is drastically different than any other type of fishing I have done. The only time I had ever been on ice before was to play hockey. Regardless, I hopped in my Jeep Wrangler that has led me on many fishing excursions over the last 6 years and drove towards the ice. The venue for the day was at Sayer’s Reservoir located in Bald Eagle State Park. If you happen to go over to Sayer’s Reservoir, I recommend getting a bite to eat afterwards at the Hublersnburg Inn. They have great food, and it’s the perfect spot to end the day with a great tasting, high quality cold beer (Yep, you guessed it. Busch Light.) My fishing buddies for the day were my girlfriend Alissa and her father Dave (Yes, my girlfriend and her father are avid anglers and for that I’m thankful). Alissa and Dave spend their winters ice fishing with one their good friends, “Pap” they called him. “Pap” spends everyday out on the ice fishing and knows Sayer’s Reservoir as good as anyone. It was safe to say that I was in good company for the day. I wasn’t sure how I felt about sitting around on the lake trying to pull fish through a hole in the ice, but figured if my girlfriend enjoys it that it was time to “man up”. Immediately I was thrown off when handed the ice fishing rod. It was a 24″, extremely slender, spinning rod that is very different from the 7′ medium action bass spinning rods that I am accustomed too. It literally felt like I was being handed a spaghetti noodle compared to my normal Bass Pro Shop Carbonlite. The second thing that caught my eye was the line was lined through this little spring with an orange colored tip attached to the tip of the rod . I was told this was my strike indicator. The next puzzle was a fish finder with a confusing array of lines on the screen that at the time meant absolutely nothing to me. The only piece of common ground to this point was the small jig head laced with a meal worm. The overall game plan was to use the fish finder to find fish and catch those fish by jigging this small meal worm.

In this picture, Alissa was watching fish follow her jig up the water column on the Vexilar
In this picture, Alissa was watching the Vexilar for fishing moving into the area below the hole. If you look closely, the bright red area on the machine indicates the bottom of the lake. You can also see the Celsius Spring Bobber on the tip of the rod.

To be completely honest, at first I thought it was absolutely preposterous that we were using a $530 dollar fish finder to catch crappie, perch, and blue gill. Many days in the summer, it can be impossible not to catch these fish every other cast while pursuing other quarry. Within ten minutes I was fascinated by this piece of equipment, and promise you that I would never want to ice fish without one. The Vexilar was an absolute game changer. It is the eyes of the operation considering without this piece of equipment you would be blind sitting above “the hole” that you cannot see through at all. After having a trained eye for the machine, it was possible to read depth, identify fish moving about, identify the location of the lure, and track the lure as it was led up and down. Not only could you identify the fish, but it was possible to watch the fish follow your lure up the water column. The best tactic for us was to bounce the jig on the bottom a few times and then let it sit still. After detecting the fish close to your lure it was crucial to slowly manipulate the jig up the water column and pray that the fish followed. If the fish followed then I would switch my attention to the Celsius Foam Attached Spring Bobber that is on the rod tip. This indication was another complete game changer because without it I am sure we would have missed takes. Even the slightest indication of a take registered on the spring bobber and required a hook set due to the light sensitive takes of small fish in cold water. This technique of fishing had me hooked more than the fish. Catching crappie blue gill and perch does not necessarily thrill me, but catching them with this style of fishing was an absolute blast. Not to mention it has been so brutally cold lately that all other forms of fishing are arbitrary. I will be sure to become an avid ice fisherman through the winter months. I may even consider trying to fish venues where it is possible to catch pike or musky along with the perch, crappie, and bluegill.

The first fish that I have ever caught while ice fishing. Not the biggest fish I have ever caught, but it will certainly be a memorable one.
The first fish that I have ever caught while ice fishing. Not the biggest fish I have ever caught, but it will certainly be a memorable one.

The take home message is that ice fishing is just an incredible amount of fun. I had an awesome time sitting beside Alissa talking, joking and competing at catching fish. Although it was a cutthroat competition, this is where I must admit she bested me 11-7. I am more than happy to admit that my girlfriend outfitted me; I couldn’t me more proud that she is capable of doing so. This just goes to show you that all types of fishing requires a different skill set. This is exactly why I like fishing as many different ways as possible. The more ways an angler challenges himself to put fish in the net, the more complete that angler’s skill set will become. I would much rather be the angler that is capable of picking up any rod and catching any fish anyway then the angler who is only a master in a certain field.  Ice fishing allows anglers to catch fish during times of the year when no other methods are productive. There is nothing better than being able to spend more days with a rod in hand! If you have never tried ice fishing, get out there and give it a try.

Penns Creek Education

This post was written by Andy Wagner, a good friend and fishing buddy.

My informal education began the day after Thanksgiving in the first year of the new millennium.  It was my senior year of high school, and as my formal education was coming to an end, I was unsure of the future, and what career to pursue.  That Thanksgiving a friend of mine, knowing that I had been fishing for some years and that I had recently purchased my first fly rod, invited me for a day of fishing on Penns Creek.  He warned that the fishing would probably be slow but that I might enjoy the river and the surrounding landscape regardless.

We took off sometime around noon and drove north over the rolling Pennsylvania mountains as a light snow dusted the higher elevations. These same mountains have junked 3 of my vehicles and countless sets of brakes since that first trip. We put on our waders and warm clothing and trudged upstream to a few of his favorite sections of pocket water.  I was unprepared for a stream of this size and more than a little intimidated as I waded in and began throwing weighted nymphs into the icy runs.  The stream bottom was terribly slippery and to be quite honest, I saw no fish activity as I peered through the surface of the stream.  He spoke of strange insects, patterns that represented the bugs, and unfamiliar techniques to catch trout.  These were things of which I had never heard of, let alone could possibly understand at that point.

I struggled throughout the entire day and never managed to land a trout, but the scenery was captivating, and the valley was beautifully remote. I was sucked in by the hills, dark oak forests, and minty green flow of the river.  In the fading light of late afternoon, my friend and guide for the day hooked, then landed a fat wild brown trout and held it up for me to admire. It was a beautiful fish, maybe 15 inches, and was painted with colors I had never seen before. The fish looked nothing like the stocked trout that I had mastered in the streams near my home. The gold flanks, creamy underside, and red spots with bluish halos were unreal.

I believe that was the very moment wherein I began my new education.  Standing there knee-deep in that icy flow of water, I took the first step that would change the rest of my life.  That day, scared and trembling like a 5-year-old, I left the familiarity of home and stepped into the classroom like it was the very first time.  I enrolled in the elementary school of fly fishing, and there was no turning back.  For the first time in my life, I loved learning, and there is no better place to learn than Penns Creek.  It is a school that has been rated by many as one of the more difficult places to learn, but there is also the argument that it turns out a better class of students.  We are students that understand things like wild trout, insects, and techniques, as well as the deeper meanings of a life spent angling.  Now, as I finish the end of my 15th year on Penns, questions about the future seem to be coming to the forefront as they did in my formal education. Questions like “What do you want to do with your life? and Will you continue your education?” seem to be pending, waiting for my answer.  Just like my senior year of high school, I am nervous about the future, but things are slightly different now. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt what I want out of life.  The truth is that I simply want to be a life-long student.  You know, that guy you see semester after semester walking around campus. He doesn’t really fit in with his graying hair, out of date clothes, and 1992 edition Jansport backpack. He doesn’t talk much but always seems to be on his way to some important class or lecture. Everyone thinks he’s a little strange, and the comments about him are always the same. Everyone agrees that, He should probably grow up someday and get a real job instead of bumming around like some kind of kid for the rest of his life.

-Andy Wagner

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Erie Steelhead Alley: Road Trip

A few weeks ago Walt Young, a good friend of mine, and myself decided to take a trip to fish in Erie. Neither of us had been to Erie for a couple of years and were well over due for hard fought battles, heavy weight rods, and fresh steelhead. Steelhead are known for putting up lengthly struggles compared to Trout, this is mostly because they reach the same sexual maturity at a much larger size than Trout do. In the spur of the moment, Walt and myself gathered our things and hit the road towards Erie. We had no idea how long we were going to stay in Erie, unsure of where we wanted to spend our time fishing, and not a clue where we were going to stay each night. This seemed very fitting for our friendship and sure helps in having an adventure.

Fortunately, we were able to find a room at the Riveria Motel which was 50 dollars a night, directly across the street from 2 bars, and had a “Welcome Fisherman” sign out front. This seemed as though fate was on our side, at least for the moment. Unfortunately, it did nothing but rain the first two days that we were there and we had very little time to fish due to streams being unfishable from high water. This was not a big deal, we spent the majority of our time those two days either touring the Presque Isle State Park, visiting a local bar, or in the Presque Isle Casino. Not quite the fishing trip we had intended, but according to me this vacation is getting out to a great start. All that we needed to do was catch a couple fish the last day of our trip and we go home very happy men.

On the last evening of our trip I was monitoring the stream gauges using my phone with an app called “Fishhead” (If you do not have this app, it makes checking stream gauges a breeze and you absolutely need to purchase it.). Walnut creek appeared to be dropping very rapidly, which is very typical of the Erie tributaries, and it looked as though we were going to be able to fish the next morning. The Erie tributaries are small streams that drain small areas, relatively. This is the reason that these streams have the tendency to rise and fall very quickly. To give you more of an idea, Walnut Creek peaked at nearly 500 cubic feet per second at lunch time and by the next morning at 7 am it was back down to only 150 cubic feet per second.

Successfully put a fish in the net working off color water near the mouth of Walnut Creek.

The high water had receded which created perfect fishing conditions the last morning of our trip. The water was still a tannish or greenish color depending on which section of the stream you were fishing. High water and zero fishing pressure from all the rain left the fresh fish (often referred to as “chromers”) that came in the stream untouched for two days. The peach colored egg bite was on and we were into fish almost the entire day on both Walnut Creek and Elk Creek. Fortunate to have a good friend who is a writer and photographer, I was able to be the “model” for some great pictures that Walt took. If any of you are from the Altoona area, Walt wrote his column in the Altoona Mirror last week on our steelhead trip and included a picture of the fish I caught on Elk Creek.

A nice fish coming to hand on Elk Creek.
A nice fish coming to hand on Elk Creek.

It is always nice to be able to spend time getting away on fishing trips with good friends. This “mini” trip to Erie with Walt will be one that I will remember for a long time. Erie is always one of my favorite places to go fishing during the winter months. The steelhead fishing can still be very good and you will see a lot less angling pressure during this time of the year. I try to make it a habit of getting to Erie at least once a year for some steelhead fishing. After checking out the Presque Isle State Park, I think my next trip to Erie will be in the spring pursuing bass in the bays. If you have never fished for steelhead in Erie, or had the privilege of viewing the Presque Isle State Park (which has more visitors per year than Yellowstone National Park) these are two things that you need to put on your bucket list.

Thanks to Walt Young for taking all of the pictures from this trip, below are a few more awesome shots from him.