Kicker Fish

Photo by Brian Doyle.

I cannot tell you how many times guiding during the year I see anglers talk about wanting to cast to the bank on the other side of the stream. Usually something along the lines of stepping into a piece of water and them turning to me and saying “Wow, there has to be a fish over there by the bank”. Sometimes they are right, but often, I reply with “And how many fish are you neglecting between that far bank and your rod tip? I mean how how many fish are you willing to cast over just to try your luck on the far bank that looks appealing?”. If there was ever a way to apply the old “grass is greener on the other side” mantra to fly fishing, it would certainly be this scenario.

I want to make sure to note that I am not discouraging anglers to fish the far bank or what appears to be “the greener side of the stream”. I am a firm believer of covering every inch of a section of water in order to maximize catch rates. This means that I am not a fan of anglers skipping pieces of water in order to “cherry pick” what they feel are the good sections. An angler should always work the water from close to far, meaning start with what’s right in front of you and slowly work towards the next closest section, doing so in a way that will not skip over or spook any fish. Reading water and having the ability to know where the most productive spots for catching fish is one of the most important aspects of being a great angler, but that still doesn’t grant permission to skip over the not so good sections.

When fishing a piece of water, given certain conditions, there will be certain areas and water types that will be more likely to produce fish than others. Those areas should be focused on more heavily than the water types that are less appealing to produce fish that day. However, it is obviously much easier to catch fish in the “good spots”. The thing that separates a great angler from a good angler is the ability to produce fish in the spots that are not ideal. Going back to the days I fished competitions, we referred to these fish caught in the not so ideal spots as “kicker fish”.

“Kicker fish”, whether your a competitive angler, guide, or just out catching fish for a good time, make a significant difference in a day of fishing. As I said before, there are ideal holding spots in streams that produce fish almost every time they are fished. The not so ideal spots hold a smaller number of “kicker fish” that are much harder to catch due to the water type they live in being more technical (harder to get good drifts in and harder to approach). These are the fish that add up and make a significant difference at the end of the day.  These “kicker fish” can be the difference in winning a session or not, or they could be the difference that turn a good day on the water into a great one.

It can be easy to fall into the trap of looking for the greener grass on the other side of the stream. Don’t get trapped and swayed into fishing only the ideal holding spots, or “that far bank that just looks so good”. Focus on the fish close to you and cover the water one holding spot at a time in a way that makes sure you do not skip over fish. Fishing in a way that covers water to maximize catch rates requires a serious amount of discipline, but at the end of the day that angler will be rewarded with a higher number of fish. Whether your fishing in a competition, guiding, or just out for a good time, catching some “kicker fish” will lead to a more successful day on the water.

If you like what you read, take a small amount of time to show your appreciation to The Fishing Flow by liking our Facebook page here:

Photo taken by Bryan Doyle. This is a shot from Bryan’s trip to the White River over the winter. To read about Bryan’s trip, click HERE.


One Less Split-Shot?

“The difference between a good angler and a great angler is often one piece of split-shot.” This is a quote that is often recited to me by clients while I am guiding, however, it is only ever mentioned when an angler is referring to adding more weight to a nymphing rig. You never hear this statement being made when an angler has the intention of removing weight. I think a lot of anglers have fallen into the trap of fishing rigs as much split-shot as they can get away. This is a sure way to make sure flies are always getting down, but at what cost? When trying to fish as much split-shot as a piece of water will allow, you are sacrificing one vital part of what we do as anglers, DRIFT!

Everyone is always bantering “Presentation is Key”. That is one part of fly fishing I will never argue. I also agree that in some types of water adding one more piece of split-shot could be the difference between catching fish or not. The difference is, I have a completely different approach towards getting that result. Instead of fishing as much split-shot on a rig as a piece of water will allow, I fish rigs with the least amount of split-shot as a piece of water will allow. So what does that mean? I use the least amount of weight I possibly can to still achieve the required depth. Why? DRIFT, more weight than necessary on the line increases resistance and friction. Think of a dry fly, it is much easier to get a natural drift with a dry fly because there is no weight involved. The difference between a good angler and a great angler could also be one less split shot. Think about this. If two anglers are both fishing the same run that is the same depth and getting there flies down. One angler is accomplishing depth with 3 split shot, the second angler is accomplish depth with 2 split shot of the same size. Wouldn’t you agree that the angler with less weight at the same depth is probably getting a better drift? And wouldn’t a better drift lead to catching more fish. Now I bet you are wondering how they could both be achieving the same depth, without the same amount of split shot.

There are three major ways to achieve more depth, without actually changing the amount of weight you are fishing on your rig:

1. Cast farther upstream. Casting farther upstream from yourself allows the flies more time to get down by the time they reach the area you are fishing.

2. Adjust tippet. I know it sounds minimal, but you would be amazed how much of a difference there is in the sink rate of tippet between just one size. For example, 5x sinks faster than 4x because of the smaller diameter.

3. Perform a “tuck cast”. A “tuck cast” is achieved when an angler elevates the rod tip back towards himself after completing the casting stroke, and before allowing the flies to land. This tucks the flies under the leader and rod tip with allows them to hit the water first and lead the line towards the bottom.

I have been focusing on achieving depth with the least amount of weight as possible in order to get the best drift possible. The next time you are setting up your nymphing rig, think about how you can achieve the desired depth with the least amount of split-shot. Fuel for thought, enjoy! Feel free to leave comments with any questions!

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.


Please “Like” The Flow – Fly Fishing Blog on Facebook:


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.