Monday, November 29, 2010

First Photowalk with the New Camera

As I mentioned in my post about the International Fly Tying Symposium, I recently decided to take my photography to the next level and get into the world of SLR cameras.  I did an ungodly amount of reading, both official literature from the camera manufacturers and neutral-party reviews.  Compared side-by-side, went to stores to handle different models, and read everything I could find about the models in which I was interested on message boards across the internet.  When I thought I'd made up my mind, I still kept my eyes open for other possibilities, even as I pursued the ones I was interested in.  Several deals fell through, either from the camera selling, or getting no further response from the seller before I finally found one for which everything worked out.  Once I had the camera, I ordered a lens, and now that it's arrived, I'm happily shooting away.

The Camera

I'm shooting on a Nikon D80.  I bought it from a man in Florida, who apparently took very good care of it.  The only sign that I wasn't the first person to take it out of its box was some faintly visible circles where the tripod mount was tightened against the bottom of the body.  One of the biggest reasons I went with an older D80 as opposed to a more modern D3000 or D5000 from Nikon was because the D80's larger frame feels better in-hand, and the buttons and controls don't seem as crowded together as they do on the more compact models.

The Lens

Or the first lens, anyway.

It's a Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8-4 DC OS HSM, a standard range zoom comparable to the starter lens often paired with a body in a beginner kit, with a few slight upgrades, including a somewhat larger max aperture, image stabilization, and internal zooming and focusing.  I got the lens new, so the condition is obviously mint.  It seems very well made, with a metal mount and easy-to-operate zoom and focus rings.

I won't be reviewing photography kit here at Dharma of the Drift, or rather, I won't review technical kit.  There's plenty of places on the internet that do a better job of it than I could ever hope to, so I'll leave matters of falloff, chromatic aberration, and barrel distortion between you and Google.  I may, occasionally, review a piece of peripheral kit like a bag, strap, or hood...or maybe something tangentially related to photography, such as a pair of gloves for photographers (hint, hint), or a book, or website.  But don't come here expecting benchmark images for the newest Nikkor glass.  It just isn't going to happen.

The Results

Last weekend, I went out with the hopes of doing some fishing and some photography.  As it happened, the streams were blown out, so the fishing never happened.  Instead, I gave the camera the first good workout it's had in the godless north.  Here's the shots that made the cut.

NOTE: Since I will be posting a lot of photos, I think it's best if I just post a few of my favorites, then link you to the album where the rest of the shots are located.

So without further ado, here's the results:

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

International Fly Tying Symposium

Last weekend I attended the 20th International Fly Tying Symposium in Somerset, New Jersey.  It was a great time, and I learned a great deal as well as bringing home a pile of nice material.  It's the first time I've attended a show like this, but I'll definitely be looking to attend more.  Seeing so many experts in one place, it was impossible to walk away without learning something.

I got the chance to talk with many of the tyers, and those were the times when I learned the most.  Being able to ask how or why a particular technique was used is something that you really miss out on when you go to YouTube.  Also, the simple ability to check out a fly from all angles really helps the learning process.  I learned without ever asking a question, just by inspecting ties from all angles.  It's definitely a show that I'd recommend any tyer to attend.

There were also several vendors there, selling all kinds of material and equipment, and it was a nice change of scenery compared to the usual selection at local shops.

The show seemed to be dominated by one of three types of tying: classics, realistics, and synthetics.  While some may have found this disappointing, I think that, alternatively, a room full of tyers refilling their nymph boxes with PTs and scuds would have been utterly boring (there's a reason you put it off until you absolutely have to).  Those three fields are the logical progression of technique, artistry, and innovation carried to their fullest extent.

Since my new camera (more on that in a later article) was here but it's new lens was not (I'm looking at you, Adorama), I only had the Pentax with me for the weekend, and the lack of the new toy put a serious damper on my zest for photography.  That being said, I still managed a few shots, which I'll share below.

As with most of my reactions to major events, here's the high points and (pretty marginal) low points:

Low Points (not many)

  • Vendor booths quite crowded on Saturday, making it hard to check everything out
  • Using a Fish-skull in place of a conehead is not innovative or original, its just a minor enhancement
  • How about a few signs to remind people not to bump or lean on the tables while the tyer is trying to tie a fly?
  • The lighting in the room really stinks for such a visual event
High Points
  • Spanish CDL wet flies
  • Being able to watch a classic being tied, asking questions along the way
  • Materials you don't see at your friendly local fly shop, and being able to inspect them in person
  • Making contacts beyond a simple customer making an order
Overall, I'm very glad I got the opportunity to attend.  I still haven't had a chance to tie with all the materials I brought home from New Jersey, but that will come in time, and you'll be among the first to see the flies here at Dharma of the Drift.

I did use some of the seal dubbing and spey hackle I picked up, and next on the list are some spanish CDL wet fly patterns.

Without further ado, here's the pictures I promised.  Not much, but better than nothing:

Monday, November 15, 2010

Drifting Flies for Erie Steelhead

With the steelhead primer being so well received by the online community, I've been getting some feedback here and there, with comments, suggestions, and, in some cases, some questions.  Whether a reader is seeking clarification on something I wrote in one of the parts of the primer, or they're seeking new information on an area I covered briefly, or not at all, I do my best to get back to them with an answer as soon as I can.  In most cases, that means within 2-3 weekdays, but in one case was as soon as a few hours.

That said, I encourage anyone reading DotD who feels so inclined to send along an email.  In addition to using the 'Contact Me' button in the sidebar, you can also send an email direct to and I'll get a response to you as soon as I can.

Just recently, Dharma of the Drift reader Bob sent in the following question via email:

Just finished reading your 5 section steelhead report, and found it interesting that I seem to be doing things pretty much the way you suggest (with a few exceptions).  Now I am more prepared to feel confident about my tactics.  Thank you for sharing this info.  I guess my biggest question is how to get the "perfect drift".  Besides what you mentioned do you have any other tips regarding a good drift. I try to cast it out, mend right away, high stick and then bow down.  Does this sound right?  

I appreciate any advice. 


First of all, I'd like to thank Bob here on the site for reading DotD and for sending his email.  Interaction with readers helps me keep the content here relevant and helpful, which, in turn, keeps you coming back for more!

After sending along what I could offer on the subject, I also mentioned that I'd like to share with the rest of the reader base and Bob agreed that the information might help out some other readers.

Here's what I had to offer Bob:

Hi Bob,
Thanks for reading, and for the email as well!
The 'perfect drift' is really the one central thing that stratifies Erie steelhead anglers.  While ten anglers on a given stretch of water may all have the same rod, reel, line, leader, and fly, the thing that will separate them is their proficiency with the drift (and detecting the strike).  I won't claim to be any kind of an expert, as I prefer to fish dries and streamers for trout (meaning that I get very little practice at a subsurface drift), but this is what I can say:
There's a lot of variance in opinion as to what the perfect drift even looks like.  Conventional wisdom tells us that it'd be a drift where the fly behaves just like a natural egg, tumbling in the current, at the same speed as the water, but many guys feel that a drift that is actually 2-3 times slower than the current is best.  
Keep in mind that the 'perfect' drift is the one that gets a bite, so when I talk about a better drift it's one that's more likely to fool a fish, not necessarily the one with absolutely no drag.  With this in mind, getting a good drift becomes more and more difficult the deeper the water being fished.  You nearly always want to bounce your fly along the bottom, and deeper water means that there's just that much more current and drag to deal with.  Slow water also makes a good drift more difficult, as the fish get more time to inspect the offering, and you have to make flawless mends and keep the drift going for a longer period of time.  This, combined with resting, spooky fish, is why its much more time-effective to pass up the deep, slow pools and head for the fast, shallow riffles.
Fast water means you need the fly to drop quicker, but you can do this.  The faster water will hide your mend and will also allow you to place weight much closer to the fly than you could get away with in the slow pools.  In really fast water, I'll sometimes use a #8 or #10 glo bug (you can also use bigger flies in fast water), with lead at 6-12" and again at 12-18" from the fly.  Having lead 6" from your fly might seem like a mistake, but it will help get your fly down in the strike zone quickly, and in truly turbid water, it will help to keep your fly and your lead in the same currents.  Also in this water, having lead that close won't really spook the fish.
From your description, it sounds like you have a pretty intuitive understanding of how to drift.  When I do it, I basically try to walk the fine line of having no tension in the line but also no slack.  Any tension means that your line is preventing a drag-free drift (proponents of the 2-3x slower than the current method will have tension in their line), and any slack will make detecting a strike nearly impossible without extremely perceptive vision or a very obvious take (unlikely with Erie steel).
I hope this helped address your question, and maybe even will help you catch more fish.

So there you have it.  As I said in my email to Bob, I'm by no means an expert, and simply do what I can and what seems to work.  If anyone has any other questions or suggested additions to the primer, feel free to email or comment on any of the steelhead articles, and if I can help you out, I'll try.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fly Tying Tutorial: Stimulator

While it's still possible to take a trout on a dry fly here in Pennsylvania, most would agree that dry fly season is over for this part of the world, or at very least, winding down rapidly to its end.  I caught many fish on a wide variety of flies this year, but one specific pattern stood out from the crowd this year, establishing itself firmly as the pattern of the year: the venerable stimulator.  While top honors last year were shared by the parachute adams (which positively knocked trout sideways all spring), and a green emergent sparkle caddis (quietly representing with impressive numbers of fish in any water condition short of blown out...from late August till the first frost), this year saw the stimulator out-perform both of these.

I will qualify the above by fully admitting that a big part of this probably had to do with my increased focus this year on tiny streams, ultralight gear, and wild trout.  In this game, a fly that floats high, looks generally buggy (rather than specifically buggy), and is highly visible becomes an automatic winner, often regardless of color, and usually without much of a strict limit for size, so long as it fits into the mouths of the trout you're targetting.

That said, a stimulator, tied on a #14 long curved dry hook, took a ridiculously large number of fish for me this year.  50 fish days, while not exactly common, did indeed happen, and more than once.  Several sub-50 days could have been, if I'd have been ambitious enough to get on the water earlier, or fish through dusk.  On several days out, I used nothing but a single #14 stimmy, re-dressed with floatant as needed, and caught fish, regularly, for as long as I cared to move upstream.

Without further talk, let's get to the tutorial.  Please remember that, as always, you can click on any picture to be taken to a larger version.  (For tutorials like this it might be a good idea to simply open the image up in a new tab, so you don't lose your place in the tutorial.)


Hook: Dai-riki #280, size 14
Thread: Sheer 14/0, Tan
Tail: Elk, bleached
Body: Sparkle Yarn, Orange Rear, Lt. Green Front
Hackle: Grizzly Rear, Ginger Front
Wing: Mongoose

Disclaimer: I'm not one to be too pedantic about strict adherence to the pattern, but neither am I one of the camp that argues that all tying materials are more or less interchangeable.  As we go through the tutorial, I'll explain where I deviated from the norm, as well as ways you may consider customizing the tie, cutting corners, or sticking to the classic recipe.

Put your hook in the vise and start the thread, just a bit forward of halfway up the shank.  As far as hook choice, I've been using these Dai-riki #280's, but any long, light wire dry fly hook will work.  I do think a slightly curved shank improves appearances, but again, the extra length is the only important difference from a standard hook.

Tie in a small clump of elk hair as your tail.  Tie it in at the top of the bend, extending just over the back of the bend.  This is a bit of a tricky placement on a curved hook, but just eye it up.  If anything, err on the side of getting it too far back.  You'll want the hair to flare, so pull down your wraps tightly without pulling the hair around the hook.  As you can see in my picture, two of the hairs are either in there backward or got clipped somehow.  Ideally, remove these, but it's just for looks, not fishability.

With a good bit of tension in the thread, wrap forward up over the hair, causing it to flare out to the sides.  As you wrap, work your thread up through the ends of the hair, ideally, ending up with all of the ends wrapped over by the time you reach the point where you started your thread.  You can even sweep the hairs back slightly if you need to, the main idea here is to spread out the hairs across the back half of the body to create a smooth transition rather than a bump where the butts of the hairs end.

After this, trim the butts of the hairs as close as you can get them with your scissors.

Return your thread to the tie in point of the tail, and tie in a dry fly saddle hackle, the smallest you've got (that's smallest in terms of barb length), by the butt, concave side of the curvature facing forward.  The curve direction isn't super critical on a fly this heavily hackled, so don't get discouraged if your hackle is being unruly.  The hackle I used here is from a Whiting Midge saddle, and although I didn't size it, it'd typically be appropriate for a #18-22 dry fly.

After that, tie in a length of sparkle yarn about 3-4" long, in the color you want for the rear half of your fly.  If you don't have sparkle yarn, you could get some (its cheap) or use dry fly dubbing, peacock herl, mylar tinsel, or any other typical material for a dry fly body.  With yarn, popular colors are yellow, orange, red, green, and brown, though I could certainly see black, white, blue, or any other color working as well.

Wrap the sparkle yarn forward to your original tie in point, tie off, and trim.  You can either twist up the yarn for a segmented appearance as I have here, or leave it as it is, for a smoother, flatter appearance.  Frankly, I don't think it matters in the slightest.  If your sparkle yarn is especially 'fuzzy', go ahead and trim up some of the unruly fibers.

Palmer your hackle forward to the same point and tie it off and trim it as well.  Palmering means simply to wind the hackle along the length of the body, nothing fancy.  A few tips here would be to use a good bit of tension.  Don't break the feather, but wrapping over the yarn body won't splay the hackle barbs as much as winding them about a bare hook shank, so some added tension will help them spread apart for a bushier, more evenly hackled fly that will float higher.  Also, try not to trap barbs under your hackle stem.  If they're getting trapped, back up, sweep them back with your fingers, and continue.

Select and prepare (by pulling out underfur, and evening in a hair stacker) a clump of hair to use for your wing.  Traditionally, elk or deer hair is used...usually matching whatever you used in the tail.  I've also seen stimmies tied with squirrel, woodchuck, and other hairs.  In this tutorial, I found a small clump of mongoose hair on my tying bench and decided to try it instead, having never seen a mongoose stimmy before.  Mongoose, as I discovered, behaves more like squirrel than elk.  It's hard, solid, not inclined to flare, and slippery as hell.  It isn't necessarily wrong for this fly, but it's suited far better for use as streamer winging.

Tie in your wing at the point where you started your thread (and tied off the yarn and hackle of your body), and use the same method of flare & trim as you did with the tail.  (For me, using the mongoose, my hair simply would not flare, so instead I lifted the butts of the hairs and trimmed them at an angle, smoothing the transition in that way.)  You'll want the trimmed butts to end about 1 eye-length behind the eye itself to give yourself room to finish the fly without crowding.  All these steps are why a 2X long hook is nice; it gives you the room to do all of this.

Just like the back half of the body, tie in your hackle and yarn.  Unlike the rear half, you'll want this hackl slightly longer (again in barb length), about the same size as the hook...even a size or two bigger.  You can use any color hackle for any part of the fly.  Really.  Though I tend to use grizzly in the rear (mainly because that's the only color midge saddle I have) and some other color in the front.

Wrap your yarn forward, tie it off, and trim it.  Then, do the same with your hackle, again, try to leave some space for a head.  I struggle with this on dry flies more than streamers, but if you can do it, it really does make for a better looking, stronger fly.  You can see the lack of flare in my mongoose wing pretty clearly now.  If it was elk, it would be flaring to about 3-5x the width of this wing.  The way this one looks doesn't necessarily make it wrong, or any worse of a fly, but may reduce visibility by a little bit.  The biggest problem I have with it is just that I like the look of the big, flared wing, so it's subjective.

Whip finish and trim the thread.  For a fly like this, I find it beneficial to use a Thompson-style whip finish tool like the one shown above.  You can use any method you like, but I find this tool better for crowded conditions.  While it doesn't seem like there's a lack of space at the eye of this fly, I just feel more comfortable using it with this tie, so I do.  Normally, I go with my Matarelli style tool for 90% of my whip finishing needs.

The completed fly.

Front view.

The stimulator is an extremely popular attractor pattern, not meant to match any specific hatch, but rather imitate nearly any hatch generally.  It also makes an excellent hopper as well as a stonefly adult if the trout happen to be taking a few downed adults off the surface.  Being this heavily hackled, the stimulator rides extremely high in the water, not making any kind of a clear body impression in the surface film (as befits an attractor pattern).  This, combined with the large wing, means that it floats on any water, even the turbulent riffles and rapids common to small streams and pocket water.  Also, this big, buggy tie is easy to spot in nearly any conditions.  If you find you still have trouble spotting the fly in choppy water, it's a simple thing to add some hi-viz antron in hot pink, orange, or green to the wing, for an even more visible fly.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Getting a Face Lift

I'm sure all the regular visitors have noticed that the site recently received a pretty significant face lift, this was due to some sort of conflict or error in the coding, which was causing the featured content slider to lock up.  After several days of tinkering, altering, adjusting and muttering bad words, I finally decided that it was a lost cause, and went shopping for a new template.  Amazingly enough, the sliders weren't working in many of the templates I tried (leading me to believe that the problem may not have been in this site's code after all), but eventually, I found this one, which I think looks pretty sharp.  I hope you'll agree...or at least not disagree so much that you stop reading!

In any event, I'm going to do my best to keep this layout clean, uncluttered, and functional.  I'm open to suggestions as to things I could include or take away from the sidebar, so if you've got an idea, leave it in the comments.  The coding for this slider seems a little bit more robust, and I'm doing my best to keep a backup saved at all times, so hopefully that mess won't happen again.

I'd also like to put out a call for some input.  Over the past few months, Dharma of the Drift has attracted a lot of new readers.  The steelhead primer had a lot to do with that, and I do have a few ideas for a few more steelhead articles, but I'd like to hear from the new readers as to what sorts of things you would be interested in seeing.  I will be putting a step-by-step fly tying tutorial up within the next few days (maybe even today) for a Stimulator, but I'm open to all sorts of ideas for articles.

The point is, I write for you, the reader.  As you can see, there are no ads, not even google adsense bars, so I'm not making any money on this, I just do it for the enjoyment of sharing with the community and helping others out.  Some reader feedback goes a long way toward accomplishing just that.  For example, Dharma of the Drift got an email a week or so back asking a question about steelhead fishing.  The response contained some information that could help anyone, so I'll be making a post of it.  Just one guy sending an email will result in a post that might be able to help any number of other readers.

In short, I just wanted to thank my readers, welcome those who've recently discovered Dharma of the Drift, and explain the new look, as well as my plans and hopes for the near future of the site.



Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More Fall Photos

Haven't been doing much fishing or tying lately, though now that Halloween is behind us, that is soon to change.  At very least, I need to resupply my glo-bugs before my next trip north.  Recently, though, I've made myself content with getting out of the house here and there to drive around and take some nice pictures when the light is right.  As the sun dipped down, the image quality rapidly deteriorated, but I was fairly pleased with these shots...

As always, these images are links, and clicking on them will take you to the full-size version.  If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please leave a comment below!

Well, that's it for now.  If I ever find my way to my vise again, I have loads of ideas...hairwings with black bear, a new idea for a steelhead stonefly, and several new materials to try out.

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